Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Wrap-Up

The hours are counting down to the end of the year and I am taking stock of what I've read this year. There were plenty of really good books and a few that I enjoyed less.

Here are some of my favorites from this year. I would recommend you each and every one of these books. They are very different books spanning from hard sci-fi to fantasy to fiction, but they are all awesome and totally worth reading!
  1. Among Others by Jo Walton
  2. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  3. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
  4. Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
  5. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  6. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  7. Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht
Next I crunched some number on the books I read this year. The total number is 32. This fell 10 short of my goal for the year mostly due to the reading hiatus I took in the fall. I also had a rather even distribution of the genres I've read this year. The two top genres were fantasy and mystery ties for the first spot with 6 books each. Next were science fiction and urban fantasy with 5 books each. Next followed fiction with 4 books, non-fiction with 3 books, short story anthologies with 2 books and one steampunk novel. I am pretty happy with this distribution, and especially with the fact that I've read 3 non-fiction books.

On the gender divide, it was an almost even split of 17:15 male to female authors of the books that I've read.  I actually managed to meet my goal of reading 15 new-to-me authors this year, which I am excited about. I hope I will get to meet even more new authors in 2013. Finally, I also met the resolution of reading on book from before 1900 with Three Men in a Boat.

I've also made two other, non-book resolutions in 2012. The first one was to climb a 5.11b cleanly. I blew this one out of the water, no only climbing a 5.11b, but flashing a 5.11c and cleaning several others. This goal was a success and I hope to improve more in 2013. My second goal was to do 20 pull-ups and that was a failure -- I could finally manage a pull-up this year, but I can do 3 at most. Sigh. Pull-ups are tough!

For me, 2012 was a year full of ups and downs. On one hand I was sick a lot this year, with a bunch of unpleasant trips to the doctors and specialists. On the other hand my work has been going well, I've moved to a new nicer place, and I've got two adorable kittens. I hope 2013 holds all sorts of new and exciting books and life events both for me and you. Happy New Year!

Bone Dance

Title: Bone Dance
Author: Emma Bull
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: 1991
Rating: 8/10

This is one of the earlier-published urban fantasies from before the era of long stilettos and werewolves that overfills the urban fantasy genre now. Instead it's a novel set in an urban, post-apocalyptic world, full of dying technology that also contains a magical aspect to it, or hoodoo, as it's referred to in the novel.

The main protagonist is Sparrow, whose story is told in first POV. Despite not being an unreliable narrator in a traditional sense, he does hold quite a few surprises. Sparrow keeps his friends at bay and doesn't let anyone in -- if he can help it.

However, strange things are happening. Sparrow is losing his memory for days at a time, he ends up in a number of dangerous situations, and everything is connected in ways he doesn't understand quite yet. The book's pace moves quite swiftly from one chapter to the next and I found this to be a relatively fast read. The plot structure is a bit surprising with two climax points -- but it works reasonably well, though perhaps it's a tad rushed in the end.

Each chapter name is a card from Tarot deck with the interpretation of the card according to different sources, e.g. Crowley, Gray, Waite. I was not familiar at all with these names, but a quick search online told me they were different inventors/interpreters of various Tarot decks. Of course the chapter cards tie into the action that happens in the book and in a way foretell the story.

Overall, it's an unusual and interesting story. There are lots of revelations about Sparrow and his friend, there's the growth of the main character, there are mystic aspects. Altogether, I felt like I didn't quite get all the references to both myths and general popular culture, but I enjoyed the novel.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Time Traveler's Wife

Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Science fiction / Romance
Published: 2003
Rating: 8/10

I picked up The Time Traveler's Wife at a second-hand book sale for a couple dollars as an after-thought. I've heard of the book before, but didn't know much about it -- I just wanted to avoid getting change from my five dollar bill.

It sat on my bookshelf until the day before yesterday when I decided I needed to read something by an author whom I haven't yet read to help along my 2012 resolution of reading new authors.

This is a rather hefty tome, though mostly due to the thick paper and large print. About 500 pages later, I am done I have to say I enjoyed every page of it. The story is told in first person POV by the two main characters Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire. He is born with a genetic disorder that causes him to involuntarily time travel backwards and forwards in time. She meets him at first as a little girl during his travels to the past and then again once she is grown.

The entire book tells the story of their relationship and time together. It's not an action-packed affair, but rather a slow revelation of their time together. At times it's too melodramatic and at times it seems unrealistically perfect, but most of the time I felt drawn into the book and feeling the story flow, enjoying the character expositions and just wanting more.

The genetic explanation for Henry's travel in the book was interesting -- however, I am not sure I like the deterministic outlook of the author on time travel. The book tries to convince that nothing you do in the past would change the future, but I felt that in character's shoes I would try a little harder to disprove that theory. Attempt to make a difference. The deterministic aspect of the book just felt a bit too fatalistic to me -- though I am guessing it made keeping internal consistency of the world much easier for the author.

Altogether, it was a really fast read that I absolutely enjoyed despite the fact that this is probably not the book that'll change your life. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Dog Said Bow-Wow

Title: The Dog Said Bow-Wow
Author: Michael Swanwick
Genre: Science Fiction stories
Published: 2007
Rating: 6/10

This book took me a long time to finish. I started reading it in the summer and slowly made my way through about half the stories before I stopped reading for a few months. Recently I picked it up again and finally finished off the rest of the book. I really don't like leaving books unread even if they are going slowly.

Turns out I am just not a huge fan of Swanwick's style of writing. The stories he writes are very clever. They are layered, they often reference mythology or make fun of established fantasy and science fiction tropes. I thought I would enjoy this book a whole lot more than I actually did. The reason I didn't is that I generally failed to connect emotionally with the characters and the story being told. At the end of the story I might think "Ha, that was cleverly played!", but there was no feeling of wonder and satisfaction accomplishing the thought and that failure to really connect with the reading is really the reason for my low rating.

I imagine if Swanwick's writing speaks to you and you like clever twists in your stories, you will enjoy this book a whole lot more than I did. But for myself, I think Swanwick is just not the author for me.

My favorite stories among the bunch was The Skysailor's Tale and A Small Room in Koboldtown. There were also a number of other stories where some parts of them or twists I found really cool, but I didn't like the ending or didn't connect with the story as a whole -- for example in The Bordello in Faerie the main character ends up serving as the "man for hire" in the bordello and becomes addicted to the life, which is a rather neat reversal of roles that one might expect. However, the details of how that addiction is resolved just felt a bit like a let-down at the end of the story.

 I also didn't particularly enjoy the stories about Darger and Surplus though on the face of it both of them are very unique and interesting characters. There are three stories in the book about them: The Dog Said Bow-Wow; The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Sport; Girls and Boys, Come out to Play. The last is probably the best of the bunch -- particularly because they both get played more than they make out themselves.

All-in-all, an interesting collection of stories that I didn't enjoy as much as I hoped to.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Naughty in Nice

Title: Naughty in Nice
Author: Rhys Bowen
Series: Royal Spyness, book 5
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2011
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: To help ease my way back into reading after a long hiatus, I decided to pick up the latest book in the Royal Spyness series. The book continues with adventures of Lady Georgiana Rannoch (Georgie) who is sent to Nice by the queen to retrieve her stolen snuffbox. On the way to Nice, Georgie meets Coco Chanel and once there gets tangled in crime, schemes, and parties.

The book kept my attention really well and while it was following the same formula the rest of the books in the series do, I nevertheless found it a rather enjoyable read. There was a good dose of romance, British-isms, and quirky humor to keep me coming back for more. All-in-all a great way to spend a few hours -- comfort reading all the way.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Hammer & Hello, I am Back

I haven't posted since September for one simple reason -- I haven't read anything. But I have some new cute excuses for my wanton abandonment of books:

Yes, kittens can apparently be entertaining enough to replace books for a few months. But old friends (like books) always end up coming back and so I did end up finishing one book this month.

Title: The Hammer
Author: K.J. Parker
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011
Rating: 8/10

The Hammer is a standalone fantasy novel whose main character is a nobleman's child growing up in exile. What could be more cliche, right? But there's something about the narrative as well as the story itself that sets it aside from countless other fantasy books. For one, the dark tone of the novel immediately makes it clear that the story is not going to be fluffy. There are the continuous incongruencies between the supposed noble state of Gignomai's family and their actual livelihood and behaviour. It's a study of characters who adapt and grow and I ended up enjoying the novel very much. The direction that the novel takes is very different from the typical epic fantasy and I love it when the author can make their point within one tome. There's a grim satisfaction to the ending in this book.

This is the second book I've read by K.J. Parker and I liked it better than The Company. Both share this dark tone and character-oriented plot, but I felt this one was closed out better and had fewer annoying characters. Will definitely be on the lookout for more books by Parker.