Saturday, January 28, 2012

Among Others

Title: Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: Absolutely worth reading.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Mori is a Welsh 15-year old girl who gets to meet her father for the first time and is immediately sent off to an upper-English boarding school by her aunts. Coping with the death of her twin sister, Mori reads an inordinate amount of science fiction.

Reactions: I ended up with mixed feelings regarding Among Others. It's certainly not a typical fantasy book. The reason I even call it fantasy is because the primary fantastic element of the book is that Mori can see and communicate with the fairies. It makes for a really interesting twist, but was really somewhat secondary to the character development that happens during the book.

First, I need to get off my chest the two reasons that this book doesn't rate 10 for me. The first is the literary technique used by the author to continually mention Mori's traumatic past without providing the comprehensive picture of what happened. I understand why it's done, but found it somewhat irritating to get the information doled out in tiny pieces and yet continually touched upon. As a reader you can figure out just enough of what happened but without getting that feeling of closure and knowing.

Which brings me to the second problem I had with the book. The book moves along on a very stately pace, in the form of Mori's almost daily diary entries. However, when it comes to the ending, we get a rather rushed and to me a somewhat baffling resolution. I was very happy with the book until the very end and then I was just left gaping and feeling the story didn't sufficiently build up towards the ending.

Other than the two gripes above, I thought Among Others was absolutely wonderful. It's told from 1st POV presented as Mori's diary and her voice is both sympathetic and believable. I could really identify with her and thought that the author captured a smart but lonely and bookish teen down to the roots of her hair. I don't think you have to have been one yourself to really like Mori's courage and good sense. At the same time, she is not at all perfect and comes off very realistic in her coming-of-age story.

There are some really good quotes in the book too:
"Bibliotropic," Hugh said. "Like sunflowers are heliotropic, they naturally turn towards the sun. We naturally turn towards the bookshop."
I don't know about you, but that generally describes my shopping patterns pretty well indeed!

The other enjoyable part of the book is that there are lots and lots of references to classic science fiction novels and Mori's musings on them. The book is set in 1979-1980 and I haven't read a number of classics that they mention (though now I have lots of notes on which ones to take a look at). But some of the classics have a place in my heart like Zelazny's Amber series and it's very gratifying to see Mori pick them up, enjoy, and dissect them. Though only the first three books of the series are yet published at the time. (I checked the dates and the first five are all published by 1980, but I guess not in England yet).

All in all, it's a very well written, whimsical tale of a girl's coming of age story that I wholeheartedly recommend. I don't believe it's a series, but if it was, I would be happy to go back for more.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Fog of Fury

Title: A Fog of Fury
Author: Jon F. Merz
Series: The Lawson Vampire Series
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A quick fun urban fantasy novella.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Lawson is a Fixer for a supernatural government organization that sends him to settle a dispute in a backwater town. He brings along his guest Jack who has some skills of his own.

Reactions: I grabbed this novella opportunistically since it was a free download and I needed some airplane reading. I haven't read any other books in the series, but it wasn't too difficult to figure out what's going on though I am guessing there's more to the backstory.

On the surface it's a fairly generic urban fantasy series. It's modern, there is a mystery, there's a main hero with special powers. It has a noir feel to it and it seems fairly similar to other works like this. However, the plot moves well and the writing style is easy, so I found it to be an excellent book for my travel.

I also rather enjoyed the main character. He stood out to me as a fairly well developed and credible tough guy type. He had enough uniqueness about him to make reading interesting and wasn't so ridiculously overpowered that there wasn't any suspense.

A Fog of Fury is a fun, quick novella that's perfect for an engaging read on a plane ride. I might even pick up another book in the series for the way back.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Heat Wave

Title: Heat Wave
Author: Richard Castle (fictional)
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2009

Recommendation: For hardcore Castle fans only.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Nikki Heat is a NYPD detective, who has the journalist Jameson Rook tag along on her cases to help his writing. In Heat Wave, she and Jameson investigate the murder of a real-estate tycoon who falls to his death from the 6th floor of his apartment building.

Reactions: I have to start by saying that I've resisted buying this book for quite some time. I watch the TV show Castle on regular basis and I noticed this book in the stores when it first came out and thought it was pretty cute. The cute part stems from the author of the book being Richard Castle who is a fictional novel writer on the TV show. That's a pretty cute marketing move, taken all the way. There is no mention of the real book author and the biography on the back is the biography of fictional Richard Castle.

I resisted buying the book because I assumed that like all other books based on TV/movies it would be pretty bad. However, looking for some light reading a few days ago, I came upon the book again and this time decided it was just what I was in the mood for. Turns out, it's not nearly as bad as I feared and it fit the entertainment bill quite well.

Having said that, this is hardly a book I would recommend buying to someone who has never seen the show. It reads almost as a show episode in book form. The emphasis is very much on the action, you get into the characters' heads as much as you would by reading their facial impressions on the show. There's a very similar level of banter and the mystery is about as involved as one on an episode of Castle.

Altogether, it's quick fun book which follows the characters very, very closely to those of the show. Mr. Castle becomes Mr. Rook (hah!) and detectives get new names, but otherwise it's business as usual. I would say this would only be of interest to the fans of the show -- the ones who just can't wait for the next episode.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Tiger's Wife

Title: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A slow literary narration about life in Balkans and the little moments in life.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Natalia is a doctor in her 20's telling the story of her grandfather's life and her own childhood after her grandfather dies. The story takes place in an unnamed Balkan country and examines the wars, the encounters with the deathless man, and the story of Tiger's Wife.

Reactions: There have been no lack of reviews for this book. I would classify it as fiction, but there are mythical elements to the book that could earn it a "magic realism" qualification that may have prompted so many folks in the speculative fiction community to read it. That and the endless glowing reviews that the book receives. Since I received the book for Christmas, I decided to see if it would live up to expectations.

The book is certainly evocative. The language is rich, descriptive and detailed. The author captures the atmosphere on the pages of the book. The only problem is that all the descriptions are getting in the way of plot progressing at any reasonable rate. I noticed at page 99 that up to this point, we've only been introduced to main characters and started out on the first encounter with the deathless man. I felt like prodding the author with the sharp stick to keep going at this point. Fortunately, the book does pick up pace as it progresses.

There is a lot of culture and mythology in the book that's familiar to me. In some ways it worked well because I could relate to the book, in others it irritated because of the above-mentioned abundance of descriptions. If someone spent three pages describing a typical American living room to you, chances are you would wish for it to go a bit faster too.

I felt that to me there were parts of the book that were brilliant and touching followed by parts that felt unmotivated or disappointing. I loved the stories of meeting with the deathless man, I loved the bit with the elephant. On the other hand, there are lots of places in the Tiger's Wife storyline that I found illogical (e.g. the circumstances under which she becomes married) and certain other behaviors in the village.

Altogether, I felt the book was a mixed bag, but there are bits of the book that I felt captured feelings or ideas so well that it made for worthwhile reading despite the parts I didn't enjoy as much. I would recommend the book to those looking for a book about people connecting and who are not afraid of long descriptions.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

To Say Nothing of the Dog

Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1998

Recommendation: Funny, delightful, and fast paced. Recommended for those who like to read about time travel and laugh.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Ned Henry is a historian in 2057 who is travelling back in time in search of the bishop's bird stump lost in an air raid on the Conventry Cathedral in 1940. Having been at it for awhile, he is sent back and rerouted to Victorian England to rest and fix a small incongruity introduced by another historian who brings a cat over to the future. Needless to say, rest is difficult to find in peaceful Victorian England.

Reactions: I don't remember where I first heard of this book. However, it's been sitting in my amazon wish list for a long time until someone at a New Year's party mentioned it to me again, praising the book. I promptly downloaded it to my Kindle and started following the adventures of Ned Henry.

If I had to use on word to describe the novel it would be delightful. It's such a fun, whimsical book with a strong sense of irony that it just keeps tickling the funny bone and I may have not stopped smiling the whole way through.

The story is told from the first person narration of Ned Henry who just keeps getting into one scrape or another in Oxford of 1888 in hopes of repairing a mistake that may change history. The plot moves along a lively pace and kept me reading late at night rooting for the characters to make things right.

The cast of the book is a pretty varied bunch whom Ned meets in the vicinity of Oxford. There's Terence St. Trewes, an Oxford student who invites Ned to share his boat going down the Thames; Cyril the bulldog who accompanies them; Princess Arjumand the cat who is changing history; exceedingly silly owners of the above-mentioned kitty and many others. I enjoyed them all, each one is a foil for common Victorian characters, but at the same time with plenty of individuality to spare.

"God is in the details" is the motto of Ned's employer in 2057 who is doing a cathedral restoration project. And I would say this applies to the book itself that has so many fine touches in it, that I couldn't help, but love it. There are old-fashioned chapter starters that tell you what will happen in the chapter without actually revealing anything. There are numerous references to historical events, figures, literature and quotations that add to the atmosphere and make this time-travelling romp much more fun than others I have read.

It probably helps to know something about the book Three Men In a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome as there are numerous references to it. But I haven't read it myself, though I rather want to as the aftermath of reading this book. There are also lots of references to Agatha Christie mysteries and a number of other books, so I think everyone will find something they recognize and relate to.

All-in-all, this science fiction comedy seriously exceeded my expectations by being funny, charismatic, having a quick moving plot and plenty of literary references. I would recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking forward to in 2012

Many of the series that I have been following have either released their last book last year of have gone on a hiatus (Scott Lynch, where are you?). So there are only a handful of 2012 releases that I am actively awaiting.

The first on the list is the 3rd book in Galen Beckett's series about Mrs. Quent called The Master of Heathcrest Hall. I have enjoyed the second book in the series and I am looking forward to the conclusion of the series coming out on March 27th.

The second one is a new book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon coming out sometime in the summer of 2012. The Prisoner of Heaven returns to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Sempere bookshop. Since The Shadow of the Wind was a book I gave 10 stars a few year back, I'll definitely be looking out for this one.

Finally, the last book I am looking out for in 2012 is the City of Dragons by Robin Hobb. It's coming out on February 7 -- but I am slightly apprehensive about it. I think it's once again got split into two volumes and I may choose to wait for the fourth book to be released before getting this one. Reading a book with a story arch that doesn't wrap up is just not a lot fun. Still, Hobb is consistently on top of her writing and having read almost everything else published by her I find it hard to stop now.


On a separate note, there's also one movie that I am looking forward to -- The Hunger Games! I really enjoyed the books and the trailer looks pretty awesome too.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Leviathan Wakes

Title: Leviathan Wakes
Author: James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse, book 1
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A decent space opera, but not outstanding.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Detective Miller is a seasoned cop working on Ceres. He gets assigned to find and return the daughter of a wealthy family who ran away from home. Following the leads, Miller ends up in the middle of the war between planets. Jim Holden becomes a survivor of a water-hauler Canterbury with a small crew when they are attacked by unmarked vessels. This act of aggression begins a war that Holden will be in the middle of.

Reactions: I have been seeing this title pop-up in a lot of places, but didn't pay too much attention until I saw it on sale for Kindle for $2.99. Since I just got a Kindle Touch for Christmas, that seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out both the device and the book.

The book received a number of positive reviews in the blogosphere, but I probably would have avoided it if I had first read a review that mentions the fact that the book involves vomit zombies. I am really not a big fan of horror, but zombies in particular tend to put me off. Still, zombies in Leviathan Wakes weren't too bad since they arrived pretty late in the story and weren't too prominent.

Most of the book is spent switching between the stories of Miller and Holden. The two men are pretty different, but both are tough types prone to going on risky adventures. Miller is a character taken straight from noir detective fiction, while Holden is something like Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly, but without the witty banter. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Firefly acted as somewhat of an inspiration for Holden's ship. There's an amazing pilot who is not hardened to violence, the strong-female XO, a mechanic whose penchant for women and drink strongly reminds me of Jayne.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't have the brilliant dialogue of Firefly and while the personal character stories were interesting, I found my interest in the plot flagging somewhat midway through the book. I felt the book ended up being drawn out a little too long and would be much more appealing if it was 200-pages shorter.

Altogether, as it says on the cover, the book involves lots of kicking ass and lots of space opera. There are politics and there are battles and there are crazy unbelievable maneuvers. I think some readers may find the book more fun than I did and for those who like space operas I would recommend it to them. However, I felt overall the book lacked something to make it outstanding and I finished it with a sense of dissatisfaction. Not dissatisfaction with the plot conclusion, but with the overall impact of the book. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year Resolutions

It's that time of the year. Time to set goals for 2012. I am not going overly ambitious this year, but hoping to do more reading in the year to come than I did in 2011. So, in short my goals are:

1. Read 42 books.
2. Discover 15 new authors.
3. Read at least one book published before 1900.

These should not be incredibly difficult to meet, except that I better get cracking on that reading. Perhaps to meet my reading goals I ought to set so goals like, watch at most 6 TV series at a time. But since I love discovering new TV series (and I am re-watching Firefly for the 7th time), that's not going to happen. So instead I decided to set myself some fitness goals this year, which I am recording here so that I cannot back-out of them:

1. Do a clean climb of a 5.11b
2. Do 20 pull-ups in a row

I have high hopes for 2012. I hope it will be the best year yet with more reading, climbing, working, gaming, and friends. Now I am off to make some tea and continue reading Leviathan Wakes.