Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End of Year Wrap Up

The clock is counting down to the end of 2011. Now, I am ready to sum up this year of reading and tell you about my favorite books this year. It hasn't been the strongest year for me, I didn't finish a lot of reading goals I've set for myself, but I had a lot of fun reading and that's what really counts, right?

Without further adieu, top 5 favorite books read this year:

1. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss - review
I have been waiting for this installment in the Kingkiller's Chronicles for a long time and it was well worth the wait. Amazingly well-written, immersing epic following Kvothe's adventures. It's a must for anyone who loves epic fantasy, character-based stories, and good writing.

2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami - review
This atmospheric science fiction novel set in 1984 Japan won my heart this year through its amazingly windy plot and literary references.

3. The Prestige by Christopher Priest - review
Two magicians vie to discover the mysteries of each other's special techniques. Somehow I missed the movie, but the book is excellent in its own rights.

4. The Local News by Miriam Gershow - review
A heart-rendering story of a sister coping with the mysterious disappearance of her older brother. Touching and impossible to put down, this is my favorite non-genre reading of the year.

5. Ship Breaker by Paolo Baciagalupi - review
An apocalyptic young adult fiction about a boy who has to survive by scavenging on the old oil rigs and his adventures after he discovers a ship crash on his shores.

Now let's see how I did on my goals this year. The first one was to finish 48 books this year. I fell really short of the goal and only completed 36 books, so 3 per month instead of 4 I wanted to do. The second goal was to read 20 new authors. Looking back, I've read 13 new to me authors, which is not too shabby given that I didn't even come close to my total book goal. My third goal was genre diversity, here's a summary of the genres I read this year:

Science Fiction - 13
Fantasy - 8
Young Adult - 6
Fiction -2
Mystery - 2
Urban Fantasy - 2
Children - 1
Romance - 1
Steampunk - 1

I did get at least 7 different genres, but only 3 of them have at least 3 books read in them. Ack!
It's quite interesting to notice that for the first time this year science fiction has overtaken fantasy in the book count. I've been finding myself reading more and more science fiction lately and this trend is likely to stay in 2012.

A few other reading stats: 13 of the books I read were written by women and 26 by men. I read 4 books released in 2011, 9 released in 2010, 3 in 2009, 5 in 2008, 9 in earlier 2000s, with the oldest book being published in 1892.

All in all, it has been a long year with its ups and downs. I hope the next year will bring lots more exciting books to read and I am ready for it with my newly minted Kindle Touch. Thanks to everyone who's been reading my reviews. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Genre: Detective short stories
Published: 1892

Recommendation: A classic collection of detective stories, entertaining and well worth reading.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: A collection of 12 stories dealing with various cases of Sherlock Holmes, narrated by Dr. Watson.

Reactions: No, I did not go to see the latest Sherlock Holmes movie in the theaters. I was somewhat annoyed by the first movie, where Sherlock Holmes just runs around and punches people. Instead I decided to pick up this collection of short stories and re-read them since it has been a long time since I have read them.

Each story in the collection is narrated from the first person view of Dr. Watson who assists Holmes in his cases. Mostly he seems to tag along, exclaim in amazement at deductions, and congratulate his friend on the amazing deductive abilities. Still, the cases themselves are quite entertaining to follow and I would always try to predict the outcome before the story would tell itself. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes not, but either way I had an entertaining time reading this classic.

In complement to the reading, I also started watching the BBC series Sherlock, which is a modern day interpretation of the story and one I found rather better than the movies. Hence my holidays have been shrouded in enjoyment of mystery. I would definitely recommend this collection and the show to anyone who has only seen Sherlock Holmes through the lens of the recent movies.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Series: Chaos Walking, book 1
Genre: YA fiction
Published: 2008

Recommendation: Interesting science fiction YA novel, but you better be prepared to read the whole series because the first book ends in cliffhanger.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Humans have left Earth and moved to a faraway world to colonize. A second wave of immigrants is coming, but what they don't know is there is a virus on the planet that infects every man and broadcasts their thoughts all the time. Now a boy from a colony and a girl from the scout mission must make a journey to warn the settlers.

Reactions: I have seen this book pop-up on a number of blogs and decided to give it a try. I like the premise of the story, and found the mechanics and consequences of mind sharing that's limited to men only pretty interesting. As you may imagine, it creates quite a bit of tension between genders, and some entertaining situations.

The main characters are an almost-teenage boy named Todd and a girl from the second wave of immigrants, Viola. Todd is a pretty sympathetic character, he runs around, makes mistakes, acts in not-so-smart ways, but also has a big heart. Viola, on the other hand comes off pretty reserved, and to me she doesn't feel entirely authentic. Together with Todd's dog Manchee, who can also talk, they spend the majority of the book running away from people fighting them.

The plot moves quite briskly and has a surprising amount of violence for a novel aimed at 13-year olds. People get stabbed, tortured, killed, kicked, drugged, etc. I am surprised the two characters are still able to move at the end of the novel. The writing itself is easy to read and the reading goes quickly. The book does employ a very irritating technique of misspelling the words to show off the main character's "uneducated" talking, which I tried really hard to ignore.

So it took me only two sittings to finish the book. Unfortunately, the finish of the book was a big disappointment to me as it ended on a cliffhanger. I found that so entirely irritating, that I am not even sure I will pick up the rest of the books in the series despite enjoying the novel up to that point. I might change my mind eventually :).

All in all, it's a reasonably interesting science fiction YA novel with a cool premise, but rather (overly) violent and with a cliffhanger ending.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Magician King

Title: The Magician King
Author: Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians, book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: Read The Magicians first, if you like it, the sequel is for you.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Quentin, Elliott, Janet, and Julia are the rulers of Fillory. They have a castle, all the amenities they could ever want, and their every wish catered to. However, Quentin isn't happy and searches for a quest; of course he soon begins a journey with higher stakes than he expected.

Reactions: The Magician King turned out to be everything I expected of the sequel to the first book. It had a combination or magic, heroism, quests, and love combined with grittiness, pain, loathing, etc. This is just the style of the novels, an interesting combination of children book world with adult realities.

At the start the book wandered quite a bit and I didn't see the plot coming together until well into the second half of the book. The first part just felt like Quentin stumbling around getting into trouble one way or another. However, the plot did come together and made a lot more sense in the retrospective of the ending. The ending is indeed quite elegant and I am happy with how the author handled it.

As I read through the book, every so often, there would be a chapter following Julia's life on Earth after her failed examination at Brakebills and before her reunion with the gang in The Magicians. I rather liked her story being told, she turned out to be an interesting character with a lot of flaws, but sympathetic at times. I thought it was an interesting perspective on some of the events we only saw from Quentin's eyes before.

All in all, The Magician King was what I expected it to be. It was well-written and entertaining and gruesome in places, but it didn't blow me away. Still, it's a good read and one I would recommend to those who enjoyed the first book in the series.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Zoe's Tale

Title: Zoe's Tale
Author: John Scalzi
Series: Old Man's War, book 4
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2008

Recommendations: A good stand-alone adventure science fiction, less interesting to those who have read The Last Colony already.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: The same story as told in the The Last Colony, but written from Zoe's perspective.

Reactions: When I bought this book, I knew I was buying a story from Old Man's War series written from Zoe's perspective. What I didn't realize was that the story spanned the exact same period of time as The Last Colony.

The fact that the plot mirrored the previous book was somewhat disappointing. While there are several different scenes/adventures that Zoe undertakes that weren't covered by the previous books, overall it was a bit redundant to follow the exact same story as before. I think the book could easily stand on its own, but is a bit less interesting for someone who has read the previous 3 books.

Nevertheless, I did like Zoe as a narrator. We got to learn a lot more about her friends and people who were only minor characters in the previous books. The emphasis in the plot was also a lot more on relationships, and coming of age. I would almost say that this reads more like a YA novel.

All in all, it was a quick uncomplicated read that I enjoyed. However, it wasn't as good as The Last Colony without the scheming and the politics of the previous books. Not to say there was no scheming at all, but it was a bit simpler in Zoe's case -- and also seemed unrealistic to me at times.

Still, Scalzi is undoubtedly a very talented author and I will be certainly reading more of his stuff.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Recap

I finished 3 books in November:

  1. Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
  2. Austenland by Shannon Hale
  3. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My favorite book of the month is without any doubt 1Q84. Having finished this rather long but epic novel, I feel like I am back in the reading mood again and I hope to read a lot more in December. I doubt that I will be able to make my yearly goals, but I hope to make up for the reading drought in October.

I have started reading Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi, to be followed by The Magician King, unless something new and shiny catches my eye. Let the festivities begin.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

1Q84

Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A fiction immersion experience for those who like the weird and lots of character development.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Aomame is a fitness instructor in 1984 Tokyo. She takes a taxi to get to an appointment, but the traffic on the highway is blocked. The taxi driver suggests she take an emergency staircase off the highway and she does, ending up in an alternative world on 1Q84. Tengo is a math teacher who spends his spare time writing a novel. He is approached to rewrite a story by a 17-year old and becomes embroiled in the magic of the Air Chrysalis.

Reactions: I bought 1Q84 because of several reviews I've seen of it, extolling its virtues as the best book of the year. I have never read anything by this author before, so I have decided to see for myself what's the story about.

I realized rather quickly that this wasn't going to be a fast-moving story. The story switches between the two main characters each chapter and takes its time to show us the connection between the two stories. The narrative weaves and ducks and detours, but the patterns do emerge throughout the book. And despite 1Q84 not being an action-oriented book, I found myself quite engrossed in the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the book builds a certain atmosphere and immerses the reader into it. We learn everything there is to know about each character, what they think, how they live, how they grew up, and what motivates them. They are not necessarily the most sympathetic characters, but Murakami does make them feel real and quite unique as well. The supporting characters are also amazingly developed, varied and plausible. My favorite was Tamaru, but overall I felt all the characters were quite outstanding.

A lot of strange things happen in 1Q84 world. Worst fears come true. There are two moons in the sky. History changes itself and Little People inhabit the world. When introduced, many of the phenomena don't make sense, but as a book progresses, they tie more and more into a more cohesive whole and get connected in unexpected ways. Of course, not everything is explained and a lot of the events are symbolic -- but they have this special rhythm that makes the book come together.

On one hand, the book felt somewhat slow, but on the other, I enjoyed a number of the detours it takes and took even more detours myself to investigate the references it makes. For example, the book mentions Sinfonietta by Janacek and I ended up listening to the piece to understand the reference better. George Orwell's 1984, Anton Chekhov, and Proust also get more than one mention.

As I was finishing the book, I learned that 1Q84 was nominated for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. I can see where the nominators are coming from. This is not a book that would get your aroused. But somehow the style in which sex is described fits perfectly with the rest of the narrative. There's a lot of atmosphere and symbolism in it and not a whole lot of fun.

It's not always serious though, I think my favorite excerpt from the book would be the following quote:
There is no other choice -- a perfect example of the process of elimination. So perfect an example, it makes me want to print it up in a pamphlet and hand it out to people on the street. Hi, how are you? Check out the process of elimination.
Some of the passages can be tongue-in-cheek. Certain characters more so than others.

Altogether, it was one of the most interesting books I've read this year and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting and unique read.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Austenland

Title: Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale
Genre: Romance
Published: 2007

Recommendation: A fun chick-flick with lots of Austen references.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Jane has almost given up on finding the right man when Jane's aunt buys her a vacation in England. A vacation, involving a stay at Pembroke Park for 3 weeks, immersed in Austen's world.

Reactions: I guess I'll have to confess to reading all of Austen's novels. And liking them. And having that be enough of a lure to have me buy this book, even though it's in the category of books that I consider slightly embarrassing to own. I'll have to hide it next to my copy of Twilight.

All in all, it was actually a pretty fun read. The main character is the every-woman, mostly sane, but not without her own hangups. We get to follow her stay at the vacation resort, playacting the part of an 19th century lady and flirting with actors hired to inspire romance with the residents.

It's a short book, but well-plotted with a nice little twist towards the end. And of course there's the happily ever after. Certainly recommended if you like romances.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cold Magic

Title: Cold Magic
Author: Kate Elliott
Series: The Spiritwalker Trilogy, book 1
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A good epic fantasy intro with a strong female heroine.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Cat Baharal is raised by her uncle's family after her parents died when she was a child. Cat and her cousin Bee lead a peaceful existence until one day a Cold Mage shows up at the door. He presents a contract her family signed many years ago to marry the eldest Baharal daughter; so married Cat is sent of to the far-away Four Moons House where she will learn new truths about herself.

Reactions: I have read some fantasy by Kate Elliott before a long while back and enjoyed it. Then this book caught my eyes with a whole bunch of positive reviews and I decided to give it a go.

After my previous read, I wanted something easy, fast-paced, and fun to read. This book is indeed pretty snappy when it comes to the plot despite being decently thick. And yet, it didn't manage to capture me as much as I had hoped it would.

The characters of the novel are a bit cliche, but with their own personality quirks. Cat is an orphan with a destiny and her cousin Bee is a seer equivalent. Cat's new husband is haughty, but good at heart, while the enemy is cold and merciless. There's a great deal of epic fantasy stamps in the book, which dampened my enthusiasm in reading it. It's not badly written, but I haven't felt like reading traditional fantasy for a while and I found I am still not all that enthusiastic about it now.

On the other hand, the world is a pretty interesting history alternative with Rome and Celts fighting over control in Europe. I found the politics part of the plot to be pretty good, an echo of industrial revolution. There is technology and magic co-habiting the world and I liked the balance that the author strikes between the two.

All in all, it's a good epic fantasy for the fans of sword & magic & politics type books, but it just didn't quite hit the spot for me. Still on the fence on whether I want to pick up the next book in the series.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Recap

October has been a pitiful month in terms of reading. I only finished one book, Spirits in the Wires by Charles de Lint. I am currently in the middle of reading Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, but while it's a pretty enjoyable and well-paced book, I just can't seem to concentrate on reading for long these days. Instead, I've been watching a lot of TV & movies. I just hope the reading will go better in November.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Spirits in the Wires

Title: Spirits in the Wires
Author: Charles de Lint
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: 2003

Recommendation: Pass on it. Not worth the time.
Rating: 5/10

Summary: A number of people around the world disappear mysteriously.  The disappearances seem to be linked by the fact that the users were checking the Wordwood website at the time. Saskia is among those who disappear, and her boyfriend Christy witnesses it. Now he needs to find a way to bring Saskia back.

Reactions: I thought the book's premise sounded fairly interesting when I picked up this book on the Borders sale. The execution, however, didn't really live up to my expectations.

The story starts out quite slowly. We are introduced to two main characters in the novel Saskia and Christiana who share their life stories with each other. This takes up first 50 pages of the book and there is very little progress to the story.

The story is told in different chapters with the 1st person POV switching between the characters. After meeting Saskia and Christiana in depth, it turns out they are not the only main characters, but there are 4-5 more protagonists who just keep joining the story as it moves along. I think the main reason I didn't enjoy the book is not actually liking any of the characters who were telling the story.

Everyone in the book seems to be in the middle of an existential crisis. And it's really hard to connect with people who are doing little more than complain about not understanding themselves all the time. Or at least I found it pretty hard to connect with them.

The slow pace of the book continues throughout the novel. It took me almost 3 weeks to finish this book because I could easily put it away at any point in time and there was very little bringing me back to it. I think I finished it out of sheer stubbornness and dislike of not finishing the book. Fortunately the ending was a bit more bearable than the rest and some conflicts actually do get resolved.

There is a pretty interesting mix of technology and mythology in the book and I do think there are a few cool ideas there about spirits living where the human attention goes. However, most of the technology mentioned felt outdated to me and I didn't feel these ideas were resolved very well in the book. There are also a bunch of mythical characters who seem like they are interesting, but all of them are very marginal to the overall story.

So altogether this was a rather disappointing introduction to Charles de Lint. I didn't particularly enjoy the style, story, or pace of the book. It wasn't badly written, but I really couldn't get engaged in the story or the characters and I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September Recap

It's fall now, but despite it being a busy month, I actually managed to get some reading done in September.
  1. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  2. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
  3. Blameless by Gail Carriger
My favorite this month is actually Neil Gaiman's anthology. I am not typically big on anthologies, but this one really stood out for me. Lots of really good stories. Carl is also reading and discussing Fragile Things this month on his blog, so check that out too.

In addition to all the reading, a bunch of the TV shows came back with their premiers for the season. I am back to watching Castle, How I Met Your Mother, and Community. On top of that, I am trying out the new show Ringer with Sarah Michelle Gellar if only for the actress. The jury is still out on whether I'll stick with the new show. House and Bones should be making their appearances as well in the next month. So lots of TV watching to compete for my attention.

I am now reading Spirits in the Wires, but it has not caught sufficient interest so far and hence it's going quite slowly. Hopefully I can get through it and move on to something with a bit more pace. Ciao.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Q & A with C.S. Friedman

I have read a number of books by C.S. Friedman over the years. I really enjoyed the Coldfire trilogy as well as her standalone novels. However, somehow I never knew much about the author besides the fact that C.S. Friedman is a woman despite the androgynous name.

So when I stumbled across this video that's been recently shot on her promotional tour of Legacy of Kings, I found it a pretty interesting one in several ways.

On one hand, I found her style of speaking a little offensive. Perhaps it was the irreverence to the writing process and the genre that rubbed me the wrong way. Not even sure why that would rub me the wrong way given that I don't write, nor do I revere the profession as whole, but here it is. The self-congratulation nature of some of her comments grated on me a little bit too.

On the other hand, she does say a lot of interesting things about how she writes, and what's important to her in her writing, and how she gets inspired. And I actually ended up enjoying listening to the Q & A and at the end found that I am probably just as likely to pick up her books as before if not more.

This is an interesting experience for me because on reading a few opinion pieces by Orson Scott Card, I stopped buying his book despite having enjoyed the Ender series. I guess personality differences don't affect me the same way as knowing the author's politics. Hmm.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blameless

Title: Blameless
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Alexia Tarrabotti, book 3
Genre: Steampunk
Published: 2010

Recommendation: If you enjoyed the series so far, this one won't disappoint you either.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Alexia is pregnant and all of London knows about it. When her parents kick her out of the house on learning the news, Alexia decides to travel to Italy and find out how it's possible that she and Conall sired a child and what that child is going to be.

Reactions: At the end of last book in this series, I didn't think I would be continuing. However, I bought this book on a whim in a Border's sale and actually ended up enjoying it. Perhaps, it's just the matter of mood, but I found this particular installment more witty and less frustrating than the previous novel in the series.

The most distinctive part of the novel is certainly the jokes, puns, and sarcasm that Carriger strews around liberally. It's the sort of voice where you either enjoy it or it grates on you. This time around I snorted at the jokes and altogether finished the book pretty fast. There were a couple of mildly irritating uses of pet names for Alexia by various cast, but beyond that I found the language amusing.

The plot itself is not particularly surprising in its conclusion, but it's a pretty exciting romp and altogether kept my attention well and didn't strain my incredulity too much. A fun, fluffy type of book to read in the last days of summer.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Player of Games

Title: The Player of Games
Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture, book 2
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1988

Recommendation: A fast, fun science fiction epic.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Gurgeh is a renowned player of games in Culture. He lives a fairly quiet life, playing strategy games and studying them until his peace is upset by an ex-Contact sarcastic robot, Mawhrin-Skel. And then Gurgeh is off to the far away Azad Empire, where he is to play the most complex game of his lifetime.

Reactions: I wrote half of this review and then lost it in a browser refresh, so this version might end up much shorter than I originally intended it to be.

All in all, The Player of Games is so far my favorite book by Iain Banks. Perhaps my passion for German strategy board games made me relate to this book more than the average reader, but overall I really enjoyed following Gurgeh's story and I stayed up late reading the novel until it was finished.

For me, the best part of the story was following Gurgeh's character transformation as he explores the new world and masters the most complex strategy game he has ever encountered. The plot is well-written and well-paced if a little predictable in places. I could see many of the twists coming, but it didn't reduce my enjoyment of the book.

All-in-all, it's a solid story, full of nuanced characters and game play. It strongly reminds me of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card in its spirit. So, I believe you may enjoy this book if you liked Ender's Game. But regardless, I would recommend The Player of Games as solid entertainment as well as a good character study and even a society commentary.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fragile Things

Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2006

Recommendation: A great anthology with a variety of stories - something for everyone.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: This is a collection of short stories and poems written by Neil Gaiman throughout his career.

Reactions: I am not generally a huge reader of anthologies. The ones I've previously tried tend to be of variable quality and interest to me. And since the stories are not tied together, there's a great likelihood of me finishing a story I didn't enjoy and then just not picking up the book again. Surprisingly, this was not the case with Fragile Things. I just kept wanting to come back for more stories, and the overall quality of this collection is amazing. While, I've already enjoyed Gaiman's works before, I think I've gained new respect for him as an author. The breadth and the depth of the stories in this collection is astonishing and I enjoyed pretty much every single one of them.

Nevertheless, there are several stories that really stood out for me in this collection. The first one is also the first story in the collection, titled A Study in Emerald. It's an alternative Sherlock Holmes story in a mystically changed England, which I found very cleverly done and just as much fun to read as the original Conan Doyle stories. Though I suppose, someone who is not familiar with the original material would miss half the fun in the story.

My next favorite story in the collection is Bitter Grounds. It's one of those stories where mysterious things happen and they stay pretty unexplained, but the real focus of the story is the main character. It follows a man who, after having his heart broken, leaves the town and travels across the country until he gets accidentally involved in the life of an anthropology professor traveling to a conference in New Orleans. The whole atmosphere of the town, the mystical things that happen, and the community is very well done and lead to a poignant ending. Certainly a very well-crafted story.

Another story I enjoyed a lot was Goliath, which is a story based on the premise of the movie Matrix. I read the story and enjoyed the references quite a bit without knowing that they were quite intentional and apparently the story appeared in the promotional materials for the movie right before it was released. I am not even sure what it is that attracts me to the story so much since it's probably the least unique of the bunch, but in some ways it's just a lot of fun to mess with time in a story and this is a good example of that.

There are many more stories in the collection and most of them are interesting, evocative and clever. On top of it, there is an introduction to the book which tells about how each of the stories came to be and provides other tidbits about the story. I would read each story and then flip to the introduction to see more information about it, which surprisingly enhances the reading experience and sometime explains why the story is told the way it is.

All in all, this is a top notch collection and one I would recommend without any hesitation. There's a wide variety of stories -- mysteries, horror, personal accounts, fairy tales, stories about relationships, sex, crime, and afterlife. You will be impressed.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

August Recap

Whooosh -- that's the sound of summer months dancing away. August has not been too productive in terms of reading -- mostly because I have been so busy at work lately. The two books I did finish were
  1. The Last Colony by John Scalzi
  2. The Prestige by Christopher Priest
Both books turned out to be really good, but The Prestige was certainly my favorite. Now I am in the midst of reading Neil Gaiman's anthology Fragile Things and I am enjoying it so far.

In terms of other entertainment, I watched the Death Note anime series. It turned out to be pretty fun. The premise of the story revolves around a notebook, the "Death Note". Any person whose name is written in the notebook dies. The protagonist is a guy who decides to punish criminals using this notebook. The police and a highly mysterious detective L are looking to stop the killer. So it's a detective story with some mystical elements to it. I enjoyed the first 2/3rds of it very much. It goes a bit downhill towards the end, but still it left a pretty good impression on me overall.

So, August was altogether pretty good, but I am looking forward to the return of the fall TV shows in September and hopefully a lot more reading between now and the end of the year. Adieu.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Prestige

Title: The Prestige
Author: Christopher Priest
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1995

Recommendation: An engrossing read for fantasy fans and non-genre readers alike.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Two magicians, Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier are magicians in London at the end of the 19th century. Their lives become intertwined through a continuous feud over each other's secrets and the feud will take them further than they have ever imagined.

Reactions: I came across this book browsing the bookstore shelves and bought it without any particular knowledge about the contents or the author. The jacket proclaimed it to be the winner of the World Fantasy Award and the unusual description intrigued me.

Having finished the book, I am very glad to have stumbled across this particular gem. The Prestige is a superbly written account and masterful in a variety of ways. The most obvious one is the narration of the novel. The story is presented in roughly three parts: one part follows a meeting between the descendants of the two magicians, the second part is presented through Alfred Borden's diary, and the third part is the presentation of the same events through Rupert Angier's diary. All three are masterfully connected together through a set of mysteries that slowly become revealed to the reader.

It's a fairly unusual type of fantasy novel in that for the large part of the book there's almost nothing mystical or fantastical about it. Only about 2/3rds into the novel something unusual occurs and it's almost in the realm of science fiction or alternative history. Yet, the twist is very important to the story and brings the whole narrative together to a good ending. There's also an amazing sense of the plot being tied together and I can only applaud the author at how well he intertwines the lives of the two magicians and echoes their respective lives across the narratives.

On top of all this, we get a pretty authentic feel for the stage arts of the 19th century magicians and get a feel for a solid cast of characters who are well-drawn, realistic, and very distinct from anything a fantasy reader would associate with the term "magician".

So if you have lived under a rock like me and have never heard of this book before, I highly recommend it. Apparently there is even a movie based on the book directed by Christopher Nolan that came out in 2006 and has good ratings. Yes, I clearly live under a very remote and mossy rock for I missed the movie as well. Time to go check Netflix....

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Shopping

As almost everyone has heard by now: Borders is going out of business and closing all their stores. I am rather saddened by the fact since I did enjoy having a store nearby where I could go browse books at my leisure. Now I am left with one little bookstore nearby carrying only the latest releases or a Barnes & Nobles store that's a good 20 minute drive. Not to mention that my Borders Rewards card they talked me into buying didn't pay off.

But regardless, yesterday I joined a throng of shoppers picking the Borders bare with their going out of business sale. I managed to buy four novels and a book of cryptic crosswords -- all for 40-50% off the original price. Not too shabby.

The first book I picked up was The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett. It's a book that's been talked about on the fantasy blogs for a few years now and I am curious to give it a try. The second book is Blameless by Gail Carriger; it's the third book of the series that I wasn't planning to continue reading, but at a sale price it somehow seemed worthwhile.

Then I picked up Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. It's a collection of short fiction and I do enjoy Neil Gaiman's works most of the time. Finally, I picked up Spirits in the Wire by Charles de Lint. I don't actually know much about the book besides the blurb I read, but I've heard a lot about the author and decided he would be worth trying.

So, now with my reading stack replenished and this being the first free weekend in almost a month, I'll go get some quality reading done.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Last Colony

Title: The Last Colony
Author: John Scalzi
Series: Old Man's War, book 3
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2007

Recommendation: Absolutely worth reading if you have read the first 2 books in the series. And if you haven't -- you should!
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: John, Jane, and Zoe live quietly on a colony as a family until John and Jane are offered a position as colony leaders for a new hybrid colony Roanoke that will take colonists from 10 existing planets. But the colony's life won't be simple with the new threat of the Conclave...

Reactions: I was traveling this weekend and managed to have my flight delayed both on the way there and back. The only upside to this was that I got to read The Last Colony -- and in fact finish it before my return flight took off the ground.

The Last Colony returns to the main character of the first book, John Perry and I greatly enjoyed having him back. While Jane can be pretty kick-ass, I think it's John's sarcasm that I missed in the second book.

The story flows quickly, taking lots of twists and turns. I liked the political intrigue that permeated the book and the character interactions on the colony. I was also very satisfied with how the series got wrapped up.

My main issue with the book is some deux ex machina applied to get the characters out of a sticky situation on their new colony. But all-in-all the fun reading experience outweighed some small eye-rolling aspects of the story. I would absolutely recommend this series as a whole.

Monday, August 1, 2011

July Recap

August is already here -- I really don't know how the time manages to fly by so very quickly. Fortunately some solid reading got done in July and I managed to finish four books:
  1. The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
  2. The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett
  3. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  4. Poison by Sara Poole
Without any doubt, my favorite book this month was The House on Durrow Street. It came just at the time when I was in a mood for such a book and I would say it was even better than the first book in the series.

In addition to good reading, I am also watching the latest season of Torchwood. Torchwood is a British show that spin-off from Dr. Who. However, unlike the characters in Dr. Who whom I don't really like, Torchwood has many awesome characters and somehow hits just the right intersection of sci-fi, action, and complete silliness. If you haven't seen any, I would recommend watching from start because the show is so good. However, in terms of plot one could easily start at this season since it's quite self-contained. The premise of the season is simple: what would happen if one day people just stopped dying? You can't die no matter what -- not from age, not from poison, not even by being exploded into pieces by a bomb. And of course Torchwood is in the middle of things investigating. Good times :)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance

Title: Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance
Author: Sara Poole
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Pretty fun, but needs better writing.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Francesca Giordano is 17 and after her father's brutal murder she connives her way into the service of Rodrigio Borgia as his personal poisoner, taking over her father's trade. Hard work is ahead of her since Borgia is making plans for becoming the next Pope and competition between the cardinals of the church is getting fierce.

Reactions: This book came to my attention because of a pretty good review I've read and since it was only $2.99 for the Kindle edition, I decided there was little to lose here. Overall, it was an entertaining book, but not a particularly well-written one.

From the very beginning my beef with this book was the narrator's voice. Francesca is presenting her story in 1st person POV and unfortunately in quite a few places the author just seems to speak out of Francesca's mouth instead. In one instance the description of Rome by Francesca sounds a lot more like something out of a modern tour guide than out of someone living in the actual Rome of 1490's. In other instances, she presents views so modern that it's hardly believable a girl of her age could possibly conceive them. This inconsistent narration was #1 reason I didn't give the book a much higher rating.

For all the issues, the author managed to create a fascinating world with interesting characters, intrigues, breath-taking adventures, assassination attempts, love and sex. It's an entertaining yarn from start to finish and it was quick and enjoyable reading -- until one or another of Francesca's remarks would annoy me.

The plot also follows a number of real historical events around the death of Pope Innocent VIII and the election of Pope Alexander VI. It's not an era I am particularly familiar with and it was an interesting introduction to the politics of the times. In fact, reading the book prompted me to read a number of related Wikipedia articles on the Borgia family and other associated characters which was quite interesting and educational to boot.

To sum it up, the book itself is not amazingly well written, but entertaining and a pretty good catalyst for learning about Rome. Not sure I would entirely recommend it, but if the plot sounds appealing to you, it may be worth picking up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Coraline

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Children
Published: 2002

Recommendation: A horror novel for children and adults alike.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Coraline and her parents move into the new house where she discovers a door that looks bricked, but actually leads into another apartment just like her own, and at the same time very different.

Reactions: I haven't watched the movie based on this book, but I have a pretty good opinion of Neil Gaiman and I enjoyed The Graveyard Book previously, and thus I ended up purchasing and reading Coraline.

Coraline is the title heroine and a pretty interesting character: smart beyond her years, brave and curious. She sounds like entirely the sort of character I love in a book, but somehow she didn't turn out too likable in this novel. I still rooted for her and applauded her wit, but I didn't feel as emotionally drawn into the book as I hoped to be.

Perhaps, it's that she is a little too smart for her years. Just take the following quote:
"I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?"
Yes, all she says is true, but when would you ever hear such a thing from a little girl?

I did enjoy the suspense in the book though. The book is very atmospheric and even scary in places. At the same time, it's definitely targeted at young audiences in the type of scary things it uses. I believe a kid could easily relate -- but so could I, which is a mark of good writing.

All in all it was a fun book for bedtime reading and a book that would be fun to read out loud to someone else. Recommended.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The House on Durrow Street

Title: The House on Durrow Street
Author: Galen Beckett
Series: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A really fun installment into the series, recommended to everyone who enjoyed the first book.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Ivy Quent is back in the city and is in the process of repairing her father's house on Durrow street. In the house she discovers two door that have been covered up before. Ivy also finds her father's diary, left under the floorboard of her bedroom which starts to provide her with information on what her father's work was all about. Yet there are many more unanswered questions yet.

Reactions: I really enjoyed The House on Durrow Street. Despite being pretty busy over the last couple of weeks I found an hour here and there to read and stayed up late a few times unwilling to put the book down. The sequel turned out to be even better than the first book.

Since it's written in Victorian style, this is not a fast-paced novel. Nevertheless I didn't feel like it went too slow as things continually happened and I very much enjoyed following Ivy's discoveries of the old house as well as her continued relationship with Mr. Rafferdy. My only complaint about the book is that Ivy becomes a little too popular, it just seems unlikely that everyone likes her that much at all times. Other than that, I did enjoy her move into society and some of the new relationships she establishes in the book.

Part of the book follows Mr. Garritt and his advancements in the arts of illusion. His story was also well-told and eventually ties into the main plot of the book quite neatly. The author does a great job bringing the story lines together and tying off the loose ends. Clearly the series is not finished, but at least we aren't left with a cliffhanger waiting for the next book.

Nevertheless, I am very much looking forward to the final installment in the series that's scheduled to come out in 2012. There aren't that many well-written Victorian-style fantasy stories to read after all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blog Design

My blog design hasn't really changed since I started this blog in 2009 and I finally got to changing it. This is just something I am trying out, it may still change dramatically or stay as-is. We'll see how it goes. Mostly I got tired of my rounded corners and narrow posts. Trying something simpler and wider.

The Ghost Brigades

Title: The Ghost Brigades
Author: John Scalzi
Series: Old Man's War, book 2
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2006

Recommendation: A well-paced and well-written sci-fi that's fun to read.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Charles Boutin has turned traitor to the humanity and conspires with Rraey, Enesha, and Obin to destroy them. In order to figure out why, the military creates a new member for the ghost brigades, Jared Dirac who is implanted with the recorded consciousness of Charles Boutin. His job will be to find Boutin and bring him back.

Reactions: I was a bit disappointed in The Ghost Brigades. Part of the reason is that the book doesn't continue the story of John Perry. I found him to be a much more interesting protagonist than Jared Dirac. We do get to see Jane Sagan again in this book, but her role in the story is rather secondary. There are a few amusing scenes with her taking on her superiors which I really enjoyed.

And all-in-all I still liked The Ghost Brigades. It just didn't have the same oomph that Old Man's War had for me. The writing is still excellent and I read the book really quickly. The plot moves along at a good pace and there is plenty of action as well as character development.

From the preview, it seems the third book in the series actually goes back to John Perry, so I will probably be returning to this world to see what happens next to the characters.

Friday, July 1, 2011

June Recap

Half a year of reading had come and gone. Amazing how quickly the time flies! I have not read nearly as many books as I hoped to in the first half year, but I have enjoyed many of the ones I did read. I believe I completed 20 books and a surprising number of them were great! I hope the second half of the year will treat me as well.

This month I finished:
  1. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  2. Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey
  3. The Local News by Miriam Gershow
I have trouble choosing a favorite between Naamah's Blessing and The Local News. Both are outstanding, but in very different ways. It's action vs. introspection and hope vs. despair. I think I will declare The Local News a winner overall, due to its novelty for me whereas Carey's book is solid, but stylistically familiar.

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Enjoy 4th of July festivities this weekend if you are in the USA.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Local News

Title: The Local News
Author: Miriam Gershow
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: A character driven novel about loss and coping. Slow and impossible to put down at the same time. Two thumbs up.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Lydia Pasternak's older brother goes missing. Her parents become distant and uncaring, withdrawing into their loss. Smart, but not popular, Lydia suddenly becomes the center of attention at school. Dealing with all the changes is not easy given her strained relationships with parents, brother, closest friends, and everybody else around her.

Reactions: The Local News is not the type of fiction I typically read. But it came highly recommended and a gift at that, so I started on the book almost immediately. The first book that came to my mind as I started reading The Local News is The Lovely Bones which deals with a similar subject matter of a kidnapped child. There are a few interesting parallels between the two stories, such as the reactions of the families to the tragedy, but The Local News is told from a very different perspective than The Lovely Bones.

At the center of the story is Lydia, who is smart and bookish, but not particularly popular. She is very observant, but rather closed off and introverted. The story progresses with her family, detectives, and everyone in the town searching for her brother who was a popular jock at the same high school prior to his disappearance. Now his friends are suddenly nice to Lydia and her struggle to deal with the new situation and people to whom she was invisible before really strike the mark.

We follow Lydia into the dark recesses of her brain as she spirals down trying to deal with being alienated and the loss of her brother. It's not an action-packed story at all, but I was very much fascinated by Lydia's world and read late into the night unwilling to put the book down.

The supporting cast of the story is very well drawn. From Lydia's best friend David who surprises her by making advances to her brother-adoring Lola, there is a variety to characters and motivations. The relationships grow and change, interactions are nuanced, feelings are hurt and truces are made. This is a story about relationships down to its core.

All in all, a very enjoyable read and one I would recommend heartily. It's dark without being depressing and entertaining without being fast-paced. Only towards the end did I feel my incredulity a bit strained at some of Lydia's reactions. Overall though it's a well written story that is definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Naamah's Blessing

Title: Naamah's Blessing
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Kushiel's Legacy, book 3
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A fitting ending for Moirin's adventures.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Moirin returns to Terre d'Ange with Bao to find King Daniel depressed and unable to rule while Jehanne's daughter becomes neglected. Moirin becomes the daughter's oath-sworn protector -- not a popular political move. And more challenges are yet on the way, including a trip to the recently discovered Terra Nova.

Reactions: I pre-ordered the book last year, knowing that I will want to finish reading the series as soon as I can get my hands on the book. It was a pleasant surprise that the book was released a couple weeks earlier than the originally posted publication date and got delivered to me at the end of last week. Without much adieu, I submerged myself in this final installment of Kushiel's Legacy over the weekend and finished it.

There's really something magical about Carey's writing that grabs attention and submerges the reader into the story. The plot moves along at a lively pace and doesn't slow down for anything. If I could have read the book in one sitting, I certainly would have. It's really hard to put down Moirin's adventures.

It's not that the story itself pushes the envelope. In a sense there's not much suspense in the book since the victory of the "good guys" is almost assured. But at the same time, the lyrical language, description of the tribes they encounter, characters they meet and travel with all make for a wonderful reading experience. I was satisfied with the book's ending and with how the story lines were concluded. Overall, a very fun and well-written series. Recommended.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Fire Upon the Deep

Title: A Fire Upon the Deep
Author: Vernor Vinge
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1992

Recommendation: A solid science fiction adventure on a scale.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Beyond the Beyond, humanity discovers something very old and powerful. A perversion that will take over unless something can stop it. An item that was taken far into the Slow Zone onto a planet inhabited by wolf-like creatures and kept safe by two human children.

Reactions: This book has been mentioned to me as a good example of a human-alien contact story. Vernor Vinge has indeed done an outstanding job creating a world where multiple species coexist. We get deep into the psychology of Tines and get quite familiar with the race of Riders.

The story is told from two angles. One part of it happens on the world of Tines where two human children end up being marooned in a medieval civilization. The other part follows Ravna, a human who works at the Relay and her relationship with Pham. Eventually the two stories become one, but Vinge takes his time to draw out of the characters, introduce the world, and build conflict.

I was enjoying the book a lot at the beginning. There is a lot of world building happening, but it's well combined with character interaction and developments in plot. However, somewhere around the middle of the book, I felt my pace slow down and felt that the book could probably be more concise. It picked up the pace again towards the ending and did a pretty nice job tying off various subplots of the story.

Overall, it was a pretty good read with world building being the strongest point in the book. It also has some very interesting ideas on evolution of civilizations. However the pacing left me wondering whether I would want to pick up another novel by Vinge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Recap

May is over and June is here! I am still reading Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and enjoying it so far. My book count is up this month, but it almost feels like cheating with the YA being so quick to read. Though it's not quite clear whom I am cheating in this case since I enjoyed the books.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gun, with Occasional Music

Title: Gun, with Occasional Music
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1994

Recommendation: A solid science fiction parable with a mystery plot and a message to boot.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Conrad Metcalf is a down-on-luck detective in the future Oakland. He is hired to investigate the murder of a man who was his client just before and follows the threads of murder in a society where animals talk, everyone uses drugs, and asking questions is impolite.

Reactions: One of my co-workers mentioned this book to me a while back and I remembered it because of the unusual title. It turned out to be a good recommendation despite the blurb on the book that didn't sound too interesting.

Conrad Metcalf is a very intriguing character. He is a man not afraid to ask questions in a world where questions are taboo. He is not motivated by money, even though his business isn't doing too well. At the same time, he is a drug addict and not a stranger to violence. It's hard for me to say that I really liked him, but I really rooted for him throughout the book.

The futuristic world that the plot takes place in is a rather bleak one. Most people are on mood altering drugs all of the time. The government encourages the drug use and the main character is no exception in this regard. The world is run by karma points which can be given or taken away by the police. If your karma points run out, you are placed in a freezer to be released months or years later. Children can be given a treatment to mature faster and turn out smart and cynical. Animals walk on two legs and speak, but are second-rate citizens in the world. It's not a pretty picture.

The plot revolves around the murder of Metcalf's previous client. I found the mystery part of the plot to be well constructed if a bit slow at first. It picks up the pace mid-book and kept my interest well. I was very satisfied with the resolution of the novel. The second part of the book is definitely my favorite.

Gun, with Occasional Music is the sort of book that is entertaining, but also clearly written as a parable to the dangers of losing the critical thinking skills. It's full of ironies and clever subtext. On one hand, I appreciated some of that, on the other it makes the plot feel somehow secondary to the message at hand. All in all, definitely a book I would recommend reading, but at the same time not my favorite this year.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends



Titles: The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, Real Live Boyfriends
Author: E. Lockhart
Series: Ruby Oliver, books 2 - 4
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2006, 2009, 2010

Recommendation: The rest of Ruby Oliver quartet is just as fun as the first book.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Ruby's saga continues over the next 3 years of her high school experience.

Reactions: Having read the first book in the series, I decided that the rest would be fun as well. Unfortunately I couldn't find the sequels in a local bookstore, so I decided to continue reading in my Kindle app. I found myself relieved because the second book switched the footnotes formatting to make them easier to navigate, however books 3 & 4 returned to the original formatting. "Ag." as Ruby would say.

I couldn't imagine myself writing separate reviews for the three books though. It would probably take me longer to write the reviews than to read the books themselves. All three were quite a breeze to read and I gobbled them up without pause.

There's something strangely addictive about these books. I got involved in Ruby's life, her progress in making herself a better person, her parents' contentious relationship, and her boy drama. So I've read the rest of the series and was pleased to see Ruby grow, but at the same continue having adventures as ever. All in all, it was good fun.

In a way I regret getting these novels as ebooks. I doubt I would re-read them, but I can imagine giving them to a teenager and sharing the fun I've had reading the books. I am looking forward to the time when there will be an easy way to do so with ebooks. Meanwhile I have to pick what to read next...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Boyfriend List

Title: The Boyfriend List
Author: E. Lockhart
Series: Ruby Oliver, book 1
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2005

Recommendation: Entertaining high-school drama narrative.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Ruby is experiencing panic attacks after her boyfriend breaks up with her and her friends shun her in school. Ruby's parents send her to a shrink, who gives Ruby an assignment to write the boyfriend list. Then Ruby's story is told through discussions of the boys on the list.

Reactions: I've read another book by E. Lockhart a while back and enjoyed it a lot. I noticed this book being reviewed on another blog and decided to pick it up. Overall, the book was just what I expected. A novel aimed at young adults with lots of relationship drama, a fun main character, and amusing writing. It's a super simple read, but not any less enjoyable for that.

While Ruby's high school experiences are nothing like my own, I found that Lockhart got the high school atmosphere just right and many of the things resonated with me. The cliques, cafeteria seating, boy drama, rumors -- all of it is part of most girls' high school experiences and it was definitely fun to follow Ruby's steps in this world.

I found Ruby to be a sympathetic character, though somewhat clueless. The story is told from 1st person narrative and the reader gets a good feel for her personality. Many of Ruby's snarky side-remarks are printed in the book as footnotes and I thought it was a pretty interesting way to organize the book.

My only issue with the footnotes was one of technical nature -- the Kindle app on my iPhone made it a very finicky business to jump between the footnote and my current place in the book. Half the time, I would end up on the previous page and the other half I would get back to where I was, but all the text would be shifted to a different position on the page. That was rather frustrating. If I buy the next book in the series, it's going to be a physical book.

All in all, this was a quick read. Nothing earth shattering, but a solid book with a good understanding of teenage psychology and a funny narrative.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Book Shopping

It's May, it's nice weather, the mood is good and got even better as I visited a few book stores today. I came away with 5 books and pretty happy with my purchases. Here's what I picked up:

1. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. This is the second book in the set of Culture novels. I believe it's a standalone set in the same world as Consider Phlebas. It's commonly mentioned as one of the best Culture novels and given my enjoyment of the prior novel, this was not a difficult choice.

2. The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. This is the continuation of the Old Man's War. Another easy pick since I really liked the previous book.

3. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I've never read anything by Vinge before, but the book came highly recommended. It's an alien-contact type sci-fi and not my typical fare, but I think I may find it interesting.

4. The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett. Another instance of second-in-series buy. This is a fantasy novel that continues The Magician's and Mrs. Quent.

5. Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem. This is another pick of an author I've never read before. However, I got a strong recommendation from a co-worker and flipping through the book in the store made me even more curious to try it. Looking forward to reading it.

Now that I have replenished my TBR pile, time to get reading :)

April Recap

This month has been pretty good for reading, though I am very much falling behind in my reading projections for the year. I've been intending to read 4 books per month, but has been doing 3 instead pretty consistently. This month is no exception, the books I read were:

The quality of the books read was quite good though. Ship Breaker was everything I hoped for from Bacigalupi and the other two books were very enjoyable with solid writing. With all these solid books, I think you'll find my next book pick pretty frivolous, but I am enjoying it -- review coming soon :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Consider Phlebas

Title: Consider Phlebas
Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture, book 1
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1987

Recommendation: A solid science fiction epic that will keep you hanging onto every word.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: Horza is one of a dying species of Changers, a people who are able to alter their appearance in any way they want. He is fighting on the side of Idirans in the Idiran-Culture war, but his path to fulfill a mission on the Planet of the Dead isn't short or easy.

Reactions: This is the second book I've read by Iain Banks -- the other being Against a Dark Background -- and I enjoyed this book thoroughly. Banks certainly doesn't lack in imagination or the writing skill. From start to finish this space opera is one big thrill, well written and entertaining.

One of the somewhat shocking aspects of this book is the sheer number of ways the main hero manages to get in trouble and the rather graphic violence that ensues. I admire the creativity of all the different ways Horza manages to be tortured beginning from page 1 and progressing in various ways from there. The violence is well justified in the plot of the novel and overall it didn't bother me, but I can imagine some readers may find this a little too graphic for them.

The plot of the book is very well done. It's a pretty hefty book at over 500 pages and Banks doesn't skimp on details and world building. At the same time, it's packed with action and I stayed up rather late finishing the book, unable to stop. The novel concludes with a historical overview of the era that the book is set in and details what happened to the various characters after the book end. I really liked this as a way of ending the story.

My least favorite aspect of the book was probably the romance subplots of the book. They felt somewhat forced and some of them didn't feel very believable especially towards the end of the story. The characters themselves are well-written and unique though not always likable.

All in all it was a very good fast-paced read and I am certainly planning on picking up more books by this author in the future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ship Breaker

Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: YA, Science Fiction
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Top notch dystopian science fiction with a great protagonist.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Nailer works on the light crew, which means he gets to climb through ducts in an old oil tanker and collect the unused wiring. It's hard work, but he is better off than many others living on the shore and struggling to survive. However, one large coastal storm will change Nailer's life.

Reactions: I have heard many good things about Ship Breaker and was looking forward to the book since I enjoyed The Windup Girl a whole lot. There are some similarities between the two. One is the dystopian future with large corporations taking control, widespread poverty, and climate change. Also there are some rather grim scenes in Ship Breaker. But at the same time, this is not a depressing book, there's hope in it, and that makes the reading it enjoyable.

Nailer is a teenage boy and the main protagonist who gets the readers' sympathies early in the book. He is resourceful, lucky, and surprisingly very upstanding for his environment. Nailer's struggles in the book are easy to relate to and his mix of naivete and shrewdness makes him a very layered hero.

The book itself kept pace very well, there's plenty of action, but enough exposition to bring out the world and the characters as well. The language in the book is intended for younger audience, but the writing doesn't compromise -- it's well-written and readable. Few authors are able to hit the balance so well. One element I found surprising was that the book ended much faster than I expected. On e-book the progress in the book is less obvious and I was actually a bit surprised when the book ended. I really wish it had been longer.

All in all, Ship Breaker really lived up to its hype and I will be eagerly awaiting more books by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Series: A Flavia de Luce Novel, book 1
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2009

Recommendation: An entertaining mystery novel with a young detective.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Flavia de Luce is an 11 year old girl, who is the youngest of 3 sisters living in an old English estate with their Colonel father. Flavia's life gets a lot more exciting when she finds a dead man in her garden one early morning and her father is arrested for murder. Can she find out who the real killer is?

Reactions: I picked up this book based on Carl's glowing review. And it certainly sounded like I book I could very much enjoy. Overall, it turned out to be a pretty good read, but it didn't quite win me over the way I had hoped.

I think the main thing I disliked about the book is the 1st person narration. We see everything from Flavia's point of view and from the very beginning it's quite clear that she is a flawed narrator in the way she perceives the events. It's pretty clever to give us the story from her point of view, but I just found the narration somewhat frustrating. Some of the conclusions seem quite obvious to me for a long time before a lightbulb goes off in Flavia's head. And possibly that's quite realistic given her age, but I found myself fidgeting when she starts explaining what she just figured out and I already know it as the reader. Not to say that there weren't any surprises in the mystery, I didn't seem them all coming, but some things just went a bit slowly.

On the other hand, the supporting character set and their relationships with Flavia are very well done and very amusing. From her rivalry with her two sisters, to Inspector Hewitt investigating the case, to Dogger who gets "episodes" after the war, I thought the background characters came alive quite well and I enjoyed reading about them very much. Here's a small snippet from Inspector Hewitt talking to Flavia:
"I shall brook no frivolity. A man is dead and it is my duty to discover the why, the when, the how, and the who. And when I have done that, it is my further duty to explain it to the Crown. That means King George the Sixth, and King George the Sixth is not a frivolous man. Do I make myself clear?"
The language itself is pretty interesting in the book. Sometimes it distracted me from the story a bit, but mostly I enjoyed the descriptions. For example,
In the heyday of the motor showroom, it had been the garage where autos had their oil and tires changed, their axles lubricated, and other intimate underside adjustments seen to.
So all in all, it was a good read even though I didn't quite connect to the main character the way I expected to. There are more books coming out in the series and I'll certainly think about picking up another mystery by Alan Bradley.

March Recap

I didn't get to read nearly as much in March as I had hoped. My vacation plans had to be canceled and I found myself rather busy at work. Nevertheless, the two books that I did finish were both very enjoyable. The first was Old Man's War by John Scalzi, which surprised me with how enjoyable it was despite the fact that I was at first skeptical about the plot.

The second one was the much awaited Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I was disappointed in that I couldn't manage to meet Patrick Rothfuss during his book release tour, but the book itself met my already high expectations and more. I managed to make the reading experience last and it made for many-a-night of enjoyable reading. So overall, I am very pleased with this month.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear

Title: The Wise Man's Fear
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Series: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: If you haven't read The Name of the Wind, read it first, otherwise you don't need my recommendation to know that you want to read this book.
Rating: 10/10

Summary: Kvothe continues to narrate the tale of his adventures at the University and abroad.

Reactions: I've been waiting to get my hands on The Wise Man's Fear for a really long time, but the experience of reading the book made up for the wait. The book itself is quite beautiful. DAW didn't shortchange the book, the pages in the tome feel thin and silky to touch, but strong at the same time. I am really glad I've got the physical copy instead of buying it on Kindle.

The book begins with Kvothe continuing with his studies and intrigues at the University until he leaves for an adventure that takes him much farther than he expects and gains him a wide variety of experiences. I'll give a small spoiler in saying that some of those experiences are sexual and I almost feel like that chapter is reminiscent of Jacqueline Carey's work, though not nearly as explicit.

The beauty of this book is in its language, its flowing story, its absorbing surrounding, and its relationship developments. It's a long book and I enjoyed it from beginning to the end, the plot moved along at the pace that kept me interested, but the book had space to create the atmosphere and suck me into the story.

I didn't want the book to end, but eventually it had to. I rather liked how well many of the story plot lines were tied up towards the end of the book. Not to say that there isn't a cliffhanger, but the ending was satisfying. That will help me wait for the third book in the series.

And to leave you with a quote from the book:
There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Old Man's War

Title: Old Man's War
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2005

Recommendation: Anyone who loves character-driven books has got to love Old Man's War.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: John Perry is 75. His wife has been dead for many years and the advances in medicine still don't know how to solve the problem of aging. However Colonial Defence Forces (CDF) recruit the elderly with the promise of being young again in exchange for 10 years of service. With nothing left to lose, John Perry joins up and begins his exploration of the universe beyond Earth.

Reactions: I knew I was going to enjoy this book a whole lot before I even finished chapter 1. John Perry is developed as the protagonist from the very beginning and it didn't take me very long to start liking him a whole lot.

There are a number of excellent wryly humorous scenes that I really enjoyed in the book. Here's a short excerpt of one that happens at the very start of the book when John comes to enlist.
"You're John Perry," she said.
"That's me. How did you guess?"
She looked back to her computer. "Most people who want to enlist come in on their birthday, even though they have thirty days afterward to formally enlist. We only have three birthdays today. Mary Valory already called to say she won't be going. And you don't look like you'd be Cynthia Smith."
"I'm gratified to hear that," I said.
"And since you're not coming in for an initial sign-up," she continued, ignoring yet another stab at humor, "it stands to reason you're John Perry."
"I could just be a lonely old man wandering around looking for conversation," I said.
The scene continues with John's attempts at humor getting repelled in the most deadpan fashion. And the book itself continues to have a number of other enjoyable scenes with witty dialogue that I appreciated a lot. About half way through the book, I got pretty convinced that I've really been missing out on John Scalzi.

While the book was almost perfect for the first half, I found myself somewhat less enthusiastic about the second half of the book. Partially, I felt there were some holes in reasoning when it came to the scientific explanations and partially I didn't really care for the part of the plot Scalzi decided to emphasize. At the end, the book ending didn't quite have the bang I was hoping for.

Still, I enjoyed the characters in the book very much. I liked the touching moments between friends and the strongly rooted common sense of the main protagonist. The writing was smooth and witty and this was an altogether enjoyable read.

I learned that there is also a sequel which may be the answer to my need for closure in this book. I will most certainly be reading more novels by John Scalzi.