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.