Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Wrap-Up

It's been a long and eventful year for me. Being pregnant and having a kid will do that to you. I finished fewer books than in previous years -- only 24. However what this year lacked in quantity was made up in quality as I discovered several books I really loved. Here are my favorite reads of 2015.

1. Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie.
This science fiction trilogy was one of the better sets I've read in a long time. With a unique protagonist (she is a ship!) and unique treatment of genders (everyone's a she!) and tea drinking culture, Ann Leckie is a new favorite of mine.

2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami
As expected of Murakami, this book is full of weird unexpected twists, odd characters, and strange coincidences. I also learned a lot about the second Sino-Japanese war after reading this book since some of the events are mentioned and got me curious to learn more.

3. Defenders by Will McIntosh
Fast paced and well-plotted, Defenders takes a cliched premise of alien invasion and builds a unique and gripping story. Vivid and brutal, it explores the question of what it means to be human.

4. The Martian by Andy Weir
Since it was made into a movie this year, Martian probably requires no introduction. Still, if witty first person narration and mind-blowing problem solving is your thing, I would highly recommend this novel.

One of the things I am proud of this year is that out of 24 book I read, only 5 were by authors whom I have read prior to 2015, the rest were new to me. Discovering new authors is something I am very happy about and hoping to continue doing in the future.

Now I am off to read everyone else's best of 2015 lists and get excited for the year ahead. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Abundance of Katherines

Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2006
Rating: 7/10

Review: I would say that John Green is one of my indulgences. So far, all of his books have been easy, fun, enjoyable reads. So I picked up this novel on a whim at a local bookstore and had a fun few hours reading this novel.

Colin Singleton is a child prodigy who feels like he hasn't amounted to much. Together with his best (and only) friend Hassan he goes on a road trip without any particular destination in mind. Luck would have them meet Lindsey and her mother Hollis in the middle-of-nowhere town and they end up staying with the two women, having been offered a part-time job collecting stories from local residents.

It's probably also worth mentioning that the title refers to the fact that Colin will only date women named Katherine. At the start of the novel, 19th Katherine has just dumped him and he is still dealing with the break-up. Part of the story deals with Colin trying to create a dumper/dumpee formula that would explain all his relationships with Katherines over the years. It's a neat concept, but also quite silly at the same time.

Colin's friend Hassan is an unusual character. He's an overweight Muslim boy with a forthcoming personality and a wacky sense of humor. Colin's dorky seriousness contrasts well and makes them an interesting pairing. Either one of them would not have been as interesting a character by themselves. On the flip side, while they are quite colorful, I wouldn't want to be friends with either of them. Both of them have somewhat annoying personalities, which I think made the book slightly less enjoyable for me.

An Abundance of Katherines was a quick read. And while I didn't think this book was as good as other John Green books, at least it didn't make me cry uncontrollably. And it definitely fulfilled the function I bought it for, which is good writing, unique characters, and good story.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Little One

In November, there was an addition to my family. My son came a few weeks early and has made life pretty busy around here. It remains to be seen whether I'll have time for the blog going forward -- but for now I've actually caught up on writing reviews for the books I've read in November and December.

It's worth mentioning that I've read some pregnancy and parenting books this year that I didn't review on this blog. I don't think there would be much interest in that sort of thing, so I am not planning to post any reviews for them.

It's quite possible that my book reviews may stray into young children lit category soon-ish. But for now, I just read him whatever I am reading and he seems to like it just fine.

Happy holidays, everyone!


Title: Defenders
Author: Will McIntosh
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 9/10

Review: About a year and a half ago I read Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh and absolutely loved it. So when Defenders came out with some raving reviews I bought the book... and proceeded not to read it. I recently found it on my Kindle and enjoyed it a whole lot while wondering what took me so long to actually get to it.

Defenders is a science fiction set in the near future. An alien race of mind-readers called Luytens is attacking humanity and humanity is losing the war. After all, how do you fight the enemy who knows what you are going to do before you even do it yourself?

In a last ditch effort to defeat the Luytens, humans develop a genetic engineering program where they design a new race of beings called the Defenders. The Defenders are made to fight and their brains don't contain serotonin, which prevents the Luytens from reading their minds. Very soon after they are created, the Defenders gain an upper hand in the combat against Luytens and the aliens surrender. However, this is not quite the end of humanity's trouble...

I thought Defenders was brilliantly plotted. You can see the gears turning and one set of problems replacing another. I also enjoyed the characters, Oliver, Lila, and Kai are all quite interesting in their own way and best of all are transformed through the events of the book.

The book is really brutal in many parts. There's blood, gore, and atrocity aplenty. There are also more subtle psychological horrors forced upon the characters. I thought it was very effectively done. There's also love, kindness, humor, which make the book not as grim as it could have been.

There are some small issues with the plotting of the book. For example, the fact that everyone speaks a different language is ignored -- the world is magically united against Luytens with perfect understanding of one another. I also found the Defenders program rather short-sighted. It seems so obvious to think of what would happen next, but no one seems to.

All in all, Defenders is fast-paced, thought-provoking and visceral. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I am looking forward to reading more Will McIntosh.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ancillary Mercy

Title: Ancillary Mercy
Author: Ann Leckie
Series: Ancillary Justice, book 3
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2015
Rating: 8/10

Review:  I've been looking forward to the last book in the Ancillary Justice series since the previous two books were just excellent.

The book continues with the events on Athoek Station following the second book in the series. A new Presger translator arrives to take place of the killed translator Dlique and her behaviour is both curious and odd. The conflict between different races on Athoek station continues as the underground floors are evacuated following the events in book 2. And to add to it all Anaander Mianaai arrives to the system and it's not the one that favors Breq.

Overall, there's a lot of strategy and maneuvering in this book that make it not my favorite in the series, but still enjoyable. I liked the relationship bits between Breq, Seivarden, and the ship. Some of the things that were new and interesting in Ancillary Justice just sort of blended in the background in this novel (e.g. the non-gendered pronouns). I did find that the emphasis of the tea culture in the books was starting to get a little too overstated. One needs to hear only so many times that a particular character is regaining their composure by drinking tea from a particular tea set.

I did like how Leckie chose to close off the series. I didn't see Breq's request to Presger coming, though perhaps I should have. Leckie definitely brought Breq's motivations together quite well in this book -- Breq is no longer just trying to die while killing Anaander Mianaai, but it takes some time to see that. I thought it was a solid conclusion with a good twist. Overall, it's an excellent series and one I would definitely recommend to anyone.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Miss Buncle's Book

Title: Miss Buncle's Book
Author: D.E. Stevenson
Series: Miss Buncle, book 1
Genre: Fiction
Published: 1934
Rating: 7/10

Review: I picked this up at random on Amazon based on automatic recommendations and rather enjoyed this book. It was recommended because I like Flavia de Luce series and there are some parallels here. The story is basically a character study set in the middle-of-nowhere English town during the great depression.

Barbara Buncle is a middle-aged spinster whose stipend all but disappears with the hard times. So she decided to write a book about the town she lives in with all the characters based on real persons. To her surprise the book is a bestseller. However, the people of the town are not so excited to find their flaws and follies published for the world to see.

There really isn't much in terms of plot to this book -- it mostly describes life in a small English town. But it does so entertainingly and the characters are quite vivid and enjoyable. Definitely my cup of tea.

My biggest problem with this book is Barbara Buncle herself. She is so grey and nondescript that no one believes she could write that book -- and no one believes her even when she admits to writing it. And I agree with the other characters' assessment, it doesn't seem possible that in her naivete and conservatism she would be able to write something quite so spot on and edge cutting. Just because she is in a good position to observe doesn't mean she would be able to put it together and that's the part I didn't find very believable. It's kind of odd to have this somewhat unlikable person as a main character.

My other issue is Miss Buncle's romance with her publisher. Perhaps it's just the times have changed, but I thought the proposal was really out of nowhere and the fact that she just decides to accept without harboring any particular feelings is odd to me as well. There are more books in the series and I am a little curious to see how Miss Buncle's marriage fares in those, but I am not actually sure that I liked this enough to read more of the series. It's an entertaining little book, but considering only the main character carries on to the next novel, I am not sure I am excited about continuing. Perhaps if I am in the right mood...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

Title: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
Author: Alan Bradley
Series: Flavia De Luce, book 7
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2015
Rating: 6.5/10

Review: I picked up the latest installment in Flavia series when I wanted to spend a bit of time with easy reading. As usual it's fairly entertaining, but this particular book had some trouble keeping my attention.

Flavia is sent to a boarding school in Toronto. There she learns more about her mother who has attended this school as well. And as usual there is murder, mystery, and mayhem afoot.

There were some pretty interesting things about the book. We get a whole slew of new characters: girls and teachers at the school. We also learn more about Flavia's mother. On the other hand, I missed the usual characters from Bishop Lacey.

The mystery part of the plot was pretty well set-up, but for some reason the book didn't engage me as much as I hoped. Perhaps, it was the new characters, for whom I didn't care as much or maybe Flavia being overly dramatic just wore a little on me. Regardless, I didn't find as much enjoyment in this book as I did in previous ones and I am rather glad that it looks like the next book will be set back in England.