Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Monthly report: January & February 2011

Because it often happens that I read a book but don't review it (or I take a long time writing a review), I've decided to start posting brief monthly reports on what I read, including a sentence or two about the book if it was not reviewed.
Since I didn't do a Monthly report for January yet, I'll bundle it together with the February report. :)

I've read a lot - considering that I had exams and everything - in both January and February. March has been slow going in comparison, but I still have a week left. I can read a lot in a week. :P

The Passage (Justin Cronin): Thrinidir found this one for me I didn't need a lot of convincing to buy it - a post-apocalyptic book that's being compared to The Stand? I'm sold.
The Passage didn't disappoint - it was more than decent, even though it's not terribly innovative or incredibly well written. It's a very enjoyable read despite that, and even though the last third of the book made me suspect that the ending will be corny as hell, I was proven wrong (and liked it).

Mr. Shivers
(Robert Jackson Bennett): I've expected much, much more from this book. This was yet another title from someone's best of 2010 list, so naturally, I expected the book to be at least decent, but it left me completely cold. Not that it was horrible, but it was incredibly predictable and gave me the feeling that the author wrote it in a hurry. (Review upcoming)

(William Gibson): Usually, my uni obligations do nothing to help me with my TBR pile, but this time around, they actually did ... I had to read Neuromancer for a paper I was writing, and I enjoyed it a lot. I can see why it is a classic, and I can also understand why so many people dislike it. As a read, it was a bit confusing at first, but I got hooked in the last third of the book and was glad that I didn't give up on it. (Review upcoming)

(Joe Hill): I actually don't have much to say about this one. I enjoyed it, but it was not as good as I'd expect (I saw it on numerous Best of 2010 lists). I also hoped that the author would focus on the whole 'horns that make you speak exactly what's on your mind' thing, but the book ended up being very similar to the wonderful Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrarri - only with Ig being more like Joby in reverse. (Review upcoming)

(Chine Miéville): Ah, Kraken. How can such a disappointing novel hide behind such a great cover art? I loved The City and The City, I loved Un Lun Dun and I really wanted to love Kraken, too. I mean, it's a book about a giant squid, what is there not to like? Sadly, I found plenty of things I didn't like about Kraken, and by the time I got near the end of it, I had long stopped caring about the characters. I can't help but think that I somehow got the wrong novel, that there must be another Kraken, the one that everyone loved. (Review upcoming)

The Half-Made World (Felix Gilman): This was one of the novels that actually lived up to its reputation. The Half-Made World is exactly what I was looking for - well-written steampunk with vivid imagery. The protagonists were a tad archetypal, but my journey through Gilman's half-made world was still enjoyable. (Review upcoming)

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins): This novel was a huge surprise for me - I really didn't expect much from it, but I ended up completely enamored with it. I read it in one sitting and enjoyed it immensely. (Review upcoming)

The Road
(Cormac McCarthy): A long overdue re-read, again for uni-related stuff. What can I say? I'm still convinced that The Road deserves to be called a post-apocalyptic literature classic.
(You can read Thrinidir's review of The Road here).

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin): Another re-read for the same paper I had to read Neuromancer for - what can I say, I've had some interesting papers to write this year. In Monthly report for December, I wrote that I found The Left Hand of Darkness somewhat odd when I first read it; I guess that was because I was still a more or less inexperienced reader at the time. I liked it much more this time around, but I can't possibly review it - not after reading so many different analyses of it.

The Reapers are the Angels (Alden Bell): I hate it when I buy a book despite my initial skepticism only to find that I was actually right about it. The Reapers are the Angels (or, as I much less eloquently dubbed it, 'The Crappy Title Book') is one of such cases - there are so many positive reviews on it that I ordered it despite my initial suspicions. While it was not terribly bad, it was still far from being good, and I was left wondering how the hell it managed to get all those positive reviews. (Review upcoming)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Pile - February '11

The TBR pile - we all have one and it grows faster than we can read. Mine is no exception. I thought it might be interesting to round up and present all of my recent acquisitions once a month, so ... here we go.

I'm happy to say that February was a month when I bought less books than I read. Yay me! I'm also sorry for posting this so late. I guess 'beter late than never' is becoming my new motto.

K. J. Parker: The Folding Knife

This one was on so many Best of 2010 lists that I absolutely had to buy it. I already own the first book of The Engineer trilogy, but I think I'll start with this one. Reading priority: high.

Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl

Bacigalupi's collection of short stories, Pump Six and Other Stories, has been on my wishlist for some time, but it took so long for it to get published in paperback edition that I got tired of waiting and bought The Windup Girl (which was also praised all over the Internet) instead. Of course, after I bought it, I read some negative reviews on it and found out that the Pump Six paperback has been out since October. Just my luck, I guess. Reading priority: medium.

Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island

I bought this one because I liked the movie and because I adore unreliable narrators. The only problem is that I still remember what the twist was all about, so I either have to wait until I forget it or try to enjoy the book despite knowing what it's all about. For now, I'll try waiting a bit; reading priority is therefore low.

I also bought The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, but since I've already read it, I'll describe it in the Monthly report for February.

The Pile Special

I bet you know the feeling when you have a book on your TBR pile that seemingly everyone has read and praised, but you still haven't gotten around to reading it. I have plenty of those, and I will select and present one every month. My goal? To read it ASAP, preferably during the next month. This month's special is:

Richard Morgan: Black Man

This one has been sitting on my shelf for at least two years now. I'd read Morgan's Steel Remains and loved it, but since he is primarily known as an SF author, I wanted to read one of his SF novels as well. I choose Black Man because of all the positive reviews it got ... and never touched it again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Adrian Tchaikovsky - Empire in Black and Gold (Book Review)


Reasons for reading
: I've had it for ages and it seemed to me that I really need to read it already

On a world populated by human-insect and human-arachnid creatures, each type of kinden has special powers and aptitudes. The otherwise average Stenwold Maker, a Beetle kinden, is caught up in times full of violence and impending war with the Wasps. He takes it upon himself to create a small cadre of resistance fighters before it is too late. Unfortunately, he keeps being ignored by the people in power - but he still tries to do his best to prepare for the onslaught he anticipates, even if it means sending his beloved apprentices into danger.

The beginning of The Empire in Black and Gold awoke a strong feeling of predictability that lingered throughout the book. I liked the idea of insect-like races and the variety of their attributes, but the plot that the reader follows in the opening chapters – a group of apprentices, one of whom is clumsy and seemingly untalented, are sent on a quest by their master – is hardly something new.

Unfortunately, it doesn't grow any less predictable. Che, the clumsy apprentice, seems to forget her clumsiness as soon as the adventure starts; despite being described as a bad fighter, she is never shown to be a burden to the others – even more, she takes a part, however small, in fighting scenes. Throughout the book, her abilities blossom without any real explanation or reason, and she becomes a full-fledged heroic protagonist …. but I found myself secretly hoping that, for once, her path will not be so very smooth.

Other characters are pretty archetypal as well. Stenwold is the wise mentor who regrets having to send his beloved apprentices into danger, Tynisia is an elegant swordsman of incredible beauty and cunning, Totho is a lowborn, but incredibly talented artificer … I would be hard-pressed to find a character that doesn't immediately fall under some category of clichés.

The curious thing is that despite everything I've just mentioned, I enjoyed reading The Empire in Black and Gold. The plot and the characters' behavior might be predictable, but they're far from boring; their adventures are gripping (if not fast-paced), made even more so by multiple POVs which exchange at the exactly right pace – not often enough to become annoying, not slow enough to get boring as it so often happens. The only thing that bothered me was that chapters frequently ended in cliffhangers; I'm not against those, but I don't like to see them overused as I prefer it when the tension is interwoven with the plot and not created artificially with cliffhangers, especially when the events transpiring are nothing much and cliffhangers are only there to give the reader the false impression that something exciting is going on.

Nevertheless, The Empire in Black and Gold was a nice enough book. Though archetypal (or maybe because of it?), the characters were likeable enough and the relations between them interesting. The images from Stenwold's past also added a a certain flavour that is so often missing in the more generic epic fantasy novels. Shadows of the Apt series is far from ASOIAF, but it's a more than adequate novel to read while we're waiting for A Dance With Dragons*, even more so because it seems that Tchaikovsky has no problem with productivity (7 of the 9 books in Shadows of the Apt series are already published, with Heirs of the Blade on the way). Recommended – just don't expect anything overly creative.


*not much longer now, I hope ... :)

Sory for the lack of reviews in the last month and a half. February (like June and September) means exams, but every time I find myself hoping that I'll still manage to update the blog regularly. Yeah, right.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Dance With Dragons

Is going to see the light of day on July 12. This is not a bullshit date (barring a tsunami or multiple tsunamis or so George says). Fans all over the world: you can but rejoice.

Until then, this should do the trick to keep your appetites whet.

And while you're at it, don't forget to order The Wise Man's Fear. The Name of the Winds is just that good.


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