Saturday, January 30, 2010

Santa Olivia

Title: Santa Olivia
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2009

Recommendation: A touching coming of age story that won't let go. Read it!
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Loup Garron is born in an isolated military zone between U.S. and Mexico. Her father is a genetically-engineered soldier who passed by the town and Loup's life is tied to her half-brother Tommy until their mother dies and she is taken care of by the church where she makes friends and her adventures begin.

Reactions: Santa Olivia is one of those atmospheric books that you can just plunge into and get caught up in the events of the story without ever wanting to put the book down. The main heroine, Loup is very sympathetic, an underdog in a sense, and has the reader rooting for her throughout.

I had some qualms about calling this book fantasy. In fact it's more of an alternative history/post-apocalyptic type novel that may be put into a number of genres. As anyone may expect with Jacqueline Carey there are romance undercurrents in the novel, and as expected the love story is far from traditional. Nor does it dominate the plot, which to me is one of the best traits in Carey's work. Overall, I felt this was a fantasy based on the strong idealistic and heroic streak running throughout the story. In some ways the spirit of it reminds me of some David Gemmell works.

There is emphasis on relationships and the story is very much character driven. I like the character cast and their interaction is certainly catching. I hung on to every word until the very end and I certainly hope there will be a sequel. While there is a logical ending to the story, enough is left to speculate on what would happen next. And in fact, Jacqueline Carey announced that a sequel Santitos at Large will be published sometime in 2011. Looking forward to that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Title: Ringworld
Author: Larry Niven
Series: Ringworld, book 1
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1970

Recommendation: Decent read if you can get past all the scientific explanations.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Louis Wu is approached on his 200th birthday by Nessus, from the race of puppeteers who have long left human space. Nessus is looking for a crew for a mysterious mission. The rest of the crew are Speaker-to-Animals, from the violent race of kzin, and Teela Brown whose ancestors are all Birthright Lottery winners. Together they will explore Ringworld.

Reactions: This is one of those books that I've heard mentioned many times and with many praises. Yet somehow I managed to open the book without any foreshadowing of the plot or characters. Still, I am pretty surprised about this book winning Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards.

The biggest problem for me is that reading Ringworld didn't have the mental or emotional impact I have expected. There is some thinly veiled commentary on human psychology and genetics that don't come as a particular surprise. Yes, humans have sex a lot. Yes, it's a cool thought experiment about the genetics of luck. But there is no oomph to it.

Having said that, it was not an unenjoyable read. The main characters are all very colorful, varied, and it's fun to watch them interact with each other. I found Teela to be rather irritating, but the rest of the crew was great. The plot pacing is pretty flat, but it kept my interest throughout. All the scientific explanations took the pace down a notch unfortunately while managing to sound rather implausible to me.

There were a few places of revelations that stood out for me. In particular, the place where Speaker, Louis, and Teela learn more about puppeteers survival methods and interference. The fallout is something to watch! It made the reading a lot more fun.

To sum it up, it was a decent read, but didn't live up to my expectations of a great classic science fiction novel. I don't regret trying it out though and might even consider braving the next book for the sake of the colourful characters.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Diana Gabaldon on An Echo in the Bone

I went to see Diana Gabaldon in person last year when her tour for An Echo in the Bone reached my town. In her talk, she said almost word for word what she says in the interview and much more. But those who haven't seen this yet or seen her speak might be interested in watching the interview which I found through Grasping for the Wind.

An Echo in the Bone is still sitting in my unread pile until I feel in the mood to read a monstrously large book.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Disreputabe History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: YA Fiction
Published: 2008

Recommendation: A very entertaining read of high school drama and adventures.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Frankie Landau-Banks is a sophomore at prestigious boarding school, Alabaster. This is a story of how she starts out as a somewhat geeky girl and changes herself into a criminal mastermind.

Reactions: After reading a glowing review, I bought a copy of the book. This is a nice edition: dust-cover, thick pages, decently sized font. While the edition is not extraordinary, I am used to YA novels coming in paperback and this is a nice surprise.

The book itself ended up being enjoyable as well. I read the whole novel in one sitting, which meant staying up till 3am to finish reading. Still, I couldn't put the story away since I wanted to know what happened to Frankie and the Loyal Order of Basset Hounds.

Frankie is a very likable protagonist: she is smart, funny, daring, but at the same time just another nice high school girl. The story centers in on her, and in particular, I enjoyed her mental dialogs with herself. They tend to be hilarious and at the same time pretty ingenious. I wish I would think through what I say this well!

The only problem with The Disreputable History is how heavy-handedly the author handles the underlying theme. To sum it up, Lockhart says: Old Boy clubs run the world and don't let women in even if they are "worthy". It's not that I disagree that there is an issue there, but I felt that the book spelled things out a little bit too much and pushed it into the reader's face. The message would carry just as much weight without all the supporting characters pointing out the same issues over and over again.

Overall though, it was a fun & entertaining read with boarding school pranks, romance story, and some great character development. Two thumbs up.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Prince of Mist set to publish in 2010

I may be the last to find out, but I just stumbled upon the fact that The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is set to be released on May 4, 2010 according to

The English cover is not yet available, but I am absolutely looking forward to reading more of Zafon's books.

The description (courtesy of Google Translate) doesn't necessarily stand out. It seems to be a story about a house haunted by the ghost of previous owner's son. And the mystery revolves around the strange circumstances of his death.

Still, I expect this may be enjoyable since I've learned to expect a lot from this author so I am definitely looking forward to this release.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Orphans Tales: In the Night Garden

Title: The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Series: The Orphan's Tales, book 1
Genre: Fairy Tales
Published: 2006

Recommendation: Only for those who really want to read a long series of fairy tales.
Rating: 6.5/10

Summary: A girl left all alone in Sultan's garden because of her strange eyes, by night reads the magical stories off her eyelids to the Sultan's son.

Reactions: I don't remember how this book ended up on my Amazon wish list, but it did and I ended up receiving it as a gift on my birthday last year. I finally gotten to reading it in the last few days, but was rather disappointed.

I think partially my disappointment comes from the book being not quite what I expected. In the Night Garden is a collection of fairy tales. And while I like fairy tales, I found it had to stay interested in pages and pages of somewhat disjointed stories.

The format of the book is quite unique. The best description for it is that the story telling is recursive. The girl in the garden tells the story, the story character tells the story, the character that the story character met tells their story and so on, sometimes it goes 5 or 6 levels deep. In addition, each story is told from the first point of view of each narrator which makes for some confusing switches in the story telling. The confusion is alleviated by chapter headings each time the narrators switch and eventually I got used to the format though it was hard to grasp at first. The biggest downfall of the format for me was that it kept interrupting the thread of the story and I found it difficult to get back into the original story once the diversion was over.

Part of the reason I didn't enjoy the book is the style in which it's written. There is a lot of very flowery prose with some rather strange similes. For example:
Sigrid's smile crept away from her face like a cat through a door left ajar.
And so it went like this for many years, while thirteen summers like fat orange roses sprang and withered.
Some may enjoy this type of stylistic story-telling, but I mostly felt bewildered by the fact that summers were like fat orange roses and it took me some time to get to used to it. By the end of the book, I found myself reading more easily, but still not a huge fan of the style.

Finally, I guess my problem was that I really enjoy character driven stories, while in these fairy tales the characters were colourful and varied, they were usually exactly what they seemed to be. You could know everything you needed about them from the first character description. In fact I enjoyed the second tale of the of the book more because one of the characters was more surprising than the rest.

Overall, I found it hard to keep reading and was rather tempted to put the book down when I came to the end of the first big tale. But dislike leaving any book unfinished, so I persevered and found the second story to be somewhat more enjoyable, partly due to content, partly due to getting more used to the style and format. I imagine those who like fairy tales would enjoy the book, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to a reader of fantasy.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reading Goals for 2010

It's the time of the year to set some reading goals.

1. Read 45 books this year
I didn't even come close to my 50 book goal last year. It seems I averaged about 3 books a month and could only pull off a higher number when I read shorter books or books I enjoyed so much that I read them nonstop. Going to try for 4 books/month this year.

2. Read at least 2 non-fiction books
I have a cookbook and several psychology-related non-fiction books that has been waiting for me to read them. Hoping to get through them this year. I have a lot of trouble sticking with non-fiction reading.

3. Read more science fiction, in particular classics
I am much more well-read in fantasy genre than in science fiction. I would really like to read some of the classics I've heard so much about but never gotten to. Larry Niven's Ringworld is probably going to be first since it's already sitting on my bookshelf.

4. Have fun
Yes expect more silly book reviews because sometimes it's fun to read something easy breezy cheesy :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking Forward to in 2010

Five titles I am planning to read that will (hopefully) be published in 2010.

1. Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (Feb 2010)
One book I have already pre-ordered on Amazon. Robin Hobb returns to the Rain Wilds world with a new set of characters. Being a big fan of Hobb's previous series set in the same world, I am in anticipation of the new story.

2. Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey (June 2010)

The second book in the series following Moraine and her adventures. Since the first book of the series made my top 5 reads of 2009, I am definitely looking forward to the next book.

3. Wise Man's Fears by Patrick Rothfuss (???)

The publication date for Wise Man's Fears is still unknown, but following the author's blog, it seems that the manuscript has been submitted, so I am hoping to see this book come out this year.

4. Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison (Feb 2010)

The next installment in The Hallows series. I expect it to be thoroughly fun like the previous books in the series.

5. CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold (November 2010?)

Miles Vorkosigan has been a favorite character of mine for a long time. Despite being disappointed in Bujold's new Sharing Knife series, I cannot help but be excited about a new book featuring Miles. The book is completed and should hit the stores by the end of the year.