Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Wrap-up

Last day of the year! Time to reflect and tally all the reading done in 2013. I decided to put favorites in a few categories this time around.

Favorite book(s) of the year

This is the most difficult category to pick into because I've enjoyed a lot of books this year. I've read a round total of 40 and most of them were quite good. After some deliberation my favorite read of the year goes to Connie Willis for Blackout and All Clear.

Favorite book published in 2013

Altogether, I've read 11 books that were published this year. The top pick goes to The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

Favorite book from a new-to-me author

I've actually discovered quite a few new authors this year, which I am really happy about. In total, I've read books by 19 different authors whom I have never read previously. The favorite is actually The Fault in our Stars by John Green. A total tearjerker, but oh so good. Apparently there's gonna be a movie too next year.

Favorite series

It's really common to have series in the genres I read: sci-fi, fantasy, mystery. And sometimes it's hard to say that this one middle book in the series is the best thing since sliced bread, but it maybe quite awesome as part of the series development. Over half of the books I've read this year are actually part of a series. This year the category goes to Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. I've read 9 mystery books from this series this year and all of them were enthralling, entertaining, and enjoyable. Now I am stuck waiting until the next book in the series is published.

There were a ton of other books I really enjoyed this year and I am starting to comb through everyone else's top 2013 lists to make a great reading pile for the next year and I am feeling really excited about what 2014 will have in store.

Soon I Will Be Invincible

Title: Soon I Will Be Invincible
Author: Austin Grossman
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2007
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I received Soon I Will Be Invincible as a Christmas gift. As an aside, Christmas gifts are awesome for getting one out of a reading funk. They are also good at introducing books and authors that one might never pick up on their own. For me, Soon I Will Be Invincible is one of those books that I probably wouldn't have picked up myself.

The book is told from two different perspectives in alternating chapters. The first perspective is that of a super-villain, Doctor Impossible, who escapes the prison for the 12th time to hatch yet another plan for world domination. The second perspective is of a superhero, Fatale, who joins a band of other famous superheroes called The New Champions. The original Champions and a few new members are brought together to stop Doctor Impossible and find out what happened to CoreFire, a missing member of the original group.

I have to make a disclaimer that I have never been big on superhero cartoons or comics. I didn't grow up with them, I have never read the comics, and I've only seen one or two of the superhero movies that came out recently. I can be relied upon to not remember the difference between Spiderman, Superman and Batman. So at first I was a bit put off by the fact that the whole novel is about superheroes.

However, Grossman handles the subject in a surprising manner. He takes the usual tropes for superheroes and villains and he twists them to fit into the real world. It's an adult handling of a subject usually dealt with in kids' media. The villain evokes pity rather than fright, despite his abilities and clear malevolent intentions. Since half the story is told from Doctor Impossible's POV, there is a much clearer motivation than usual in these types of stories. The superheroes are not as impressive either, squabbling, facing family issues, divorced, disillusioned. They are typical adults with a few extraordinary powers. It's hard to tell whether the heroes are the villains in the novel are more twisted.

The novel in itself moves pretty well, there are lots of interesting elements to it, and a nice twist at the end of the book which I didn't see coming. It's well written, but the dark tone is not necessarily something I want. Here's an example from the scene where Doctor Impossible breaks into The Champions' residence:
Splendid, but the place smells like they always do -- sweat and ozone and disinfectant, hospital smells. The ability to stretch your limbs or secrete acids can wreak havoc on the human metabolism. There's a fine line between a superpower and a chronic medical condition.
Even if I hadn't made a connection from Austin Grossman to Lev Grossman at first, I definitely would have as I was reading the book. There is a common element to The Magicians and Soon I Will Be Invincible. They both take subjects that readers associate with their childhood and think of with nostalgia; and turn them into adult themed books.  Turns out they are brothers, and I really wonder why both of them decided to treat, what I assume to be their childhood interests, in this manner.

Overall, it's an interesting and unusual narrative. I think folks who don't mind a more edgy and adult treatment of superheroes will enjoy it a lot. For me, it was entertaining, but not entirely satisfying.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Perfect Escape

Title: Perfect Escape
Author: Jennifer Brown
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2012
Rating: 8/10

Review: I received Perfect Escape as a Christmas gift and read it in one sitting on the Boxing Day morning. On one hand it's clearly engaging enough for me to finish it in one sitting, on the other hand I have a hard time putting a finger on what exactly I enjoyed about the book.

The two main characters in the book are 17 year old Kendra and her 20 year old brother Grayson. Kendra is a model child, being perfect is her way of getting attention which she feels always goes to her brother. Grayson scores sky-high on his IQ tests, but is severely handicapped by an OCD, which causes him to hide out at a local quarry counting stones, panic about germs, and be deadly afraid of highway overpasses.

Kendra's perfection is threatened when she becomes involved in a cheating scandal and rather than deal she grabs her brother and drives off on a whim, heading from Missouri to California, where her best friend from childhood now lives. The trip is entirely unplanned, short on money, and keeps being justified by Kendra as exposure therapy for her brother.

The appeal of the book is in how Jennifer Brown captures the feel of the road trip. The highs and lows of being stuck together for long time and the exploration of the relationship between Kendra and Grayson. The journey is more about accepting each other than about the destination.
Right there, by the car, I realized that sometimes you don't have to say you love someone for it to be true. Sometimes you just have to hang out in that person's shadow and be okay with it.
I guess it goes without saying that there is angst, and misunderstanding, and Kendra blowing things out of proportion at times. But it's human, visceral, and I hung onto the story for every minute of it. This is definitely an author I'd love to read more of.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Title: Libriomancer
Author: Jim C. Hines
Series: Magic Ex Libris, book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: 2012
Rating: 7/10

Review: I've heard of Jim C. Hines and his book mostly through the blogs of John Scalzi and Patrick Rothfuss who seem to be friends enough to pose semi-naked together in photographs. Clearly these guys have a sense of humor and I liked the premise of Libriomancer, so I gave it a chance.

The book is told from the first POV by Isaac Vainio who is a libriomancer, part of a secret group named the Porters. What libriomancy entails is the ability to reach into any book and pull out an object from it. However, Isaac has been banned from the field for losing control of his magic before and exiled to file books in a small-town library in the middle of nowhere. All of that changes one day when he gets attacked by three sparklers, vampires of the type Sanguinarius Meyerii. He then joins forces with a dryad and begins to unravel the mystery of some of the Porters going missing.

The very strange phenomenon in this book was the fact that I kept thinking that the main character is female when I started reading it. Given that both the narrator and the author are male, it didn't make much sense, but the narrative just felt that way to start with. I guess I associate kindly bookworms with girls. But then, of course, Lena appeared and Isaac spends a bunch of time deciding whether to sex or not to sex and his gender became pretty apparent.

The book turned out to be pretty fast-paced and fun. Isaac and Lena go around, getting into trouble, and surviving the fights beyond all odds. The plot is quite linear and somewhat predictable, but it's all good fun. As one might imagine, there are lots of references to other novels an SF enthusiast would be familiar with and I got a kick of out of the various magic artifacts Isaac manages to pull out of books.

What bothered me a bit about the novel was the romantic conflict of the book. Lena is a character brought from a book written so that she becomes what her lover desires her to be. The author meta-sneers at the cliche, and yet spends a good part of the book having Isaac expound the moral choices of taking such a lover, and in my opinion spending way too much time on this fantasy and resolving the conflict in a way I didn't find entirely believable. It's an interesting handicap for a kick-ass female heroine, but the way it gets handled in the book rubbed me the wrong way a bit.

Otherwise, it's a pretty fun book with some interesting perspectives presented by Isaac on how the magic can and should be used. I love the sciency aspect of using magic to do practical things and the Porters being more researchers than sorcerers. I'll definitely consider picking up the next book in the series.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Title: Allegiant
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent, book 3
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2013
Rating: 7/10

Review: I was reading Little, Big by John Crowley and making absolutely no progress, so I decided to set the above aside in favor of something light and easy to read. I had no trouble finishing Allegiant pretty quickly, but at the same time, it's probably the weakest book of the series.

The book continues where Insurgent left off. In this final book, Tris and Tobias finally leave the city and find out what's behind the fence and why they couldn't leave before. The explanation given left me somewhat unimpressed, though I am thankful this didn't turn into zombie apocalypse. Tris and Tobias try to make a life for themselves outside and of course they immediately run into trouble.

There is just so much unnecessary angst and general immature behaviour in this novel, that I felt all characters managed to regress in their emotional state at least a few years. Well, Tris always did crazy stuff in every book, but Tobias used to be on the sensible side... but not anymore. With that state of affairs, I really didn't manage to connect emotionally with the events and ending left me feeling... equanimous. I really hoped for a better ending to the series, but I guess at least it was interesting enough to keep me reading, which is more than I can say for Little, Big. That book has amazing reviews, but I am on page 40 and NOTHING happened yet.