Book haul! I picked up these books recently with the last of my birthday money and book tokens. In no particular order:
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson because I love his books that I’ve read so far and want to have another one ready for when I’m in the mood for some brilliant fantasy.
The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is another fantasy novel for which I’ve read great reviews. I’m looking forward to reading it, and especially for the rarity of reading a fantasy novel with a non-white, non-European setting.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood because having finished the marvellous MaddAddam trilogy, I wanted to read more of her books, and this one is generally regarded as her best, classic novel.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is a bit of a gamble. It doesn’t look like the sort of thing I’d usually read on the face of it, but it seems to be well reviewed and it was recommended to me as similar to a few other books I’ve read and enjoyed recently, so I thought I’d take a chance on it.
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan is a science fiction novel which was recommended by someone in my book group as being similar to Ancillary Justice which we all recently read. Since I loved that book, this one seemed like a good one to pick up on the SF side of things.
Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre is for book group next month. I don’t know too much about it, but various people at book group are fans of his other books and seemed to be looking forward to reading this one.
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor is one that I’ve been meaning to read for ages but I decided to hold out until the final book in the series was published. It came out recently and I splashed out on the hardback, a bit of a gamble given I hadn’t read the previous two books. I am reading this now and enjoying it so far.
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway is a sort of time travel novel. I don’t know too much about it, but someone recommended it after I read and really liked Life After Life. I always like a time travel story, so again I thought I’d take a risk on the hardback, especially as this one is a very good looking edition.
So just as I was finally making progress on my to-read pile, I’ve now added another big stack of books on to the list of things to read. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, I am looking forward to reading all of these soon.
Just finished reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Well actually I finished it yesterday evening as I stayed up too late to finish it all in one sitting. I really enjoyed the book, but I was also a bit disappointed as it didn’t quite live up to all the hype it has received from reviews I’ve read. Nonetheless it was a good read, and I am already halfway through the second book just from reading on the bus and at lunch today, so I expect I’ll finish it this evening too. I’ll post a fuller review when I have finished the whole trilogy.
The Crow Road by Iain Banks is the latest book I’ve read as part of my ongoing project to reread a selection of Banks’ novels, both SF and otherwise. This is one of his mainstream, non-SF novels, and one of my favourites. I’m going to quote my previous review of the book:
I’ve just finished reading The Crow Road by Iain Banks and already I can say it’s one of my favourite books. It’s the kind of book that you finish and just want to hug and then read it all over again. I’ve mentioned it a few times (so I’m starting to sound like a broken record, I know) but Banks is one of my favourite writers, both in his SF and his mainstream work, and this has got to be one of the best of his books that I’ve read. I’ve heard Banks speak at various events, and one thing that he has mentioned about his writing that struck me as being very true is that the main difference between his SF and his other novels is a matter of scale. He said that a likes to explore the same themes but that it’s done in a much broader sense in his SF books, which I see as being more about ideas, and in a much smaller, refined sense in his mainstream novels, which I see as being more about the emotions; but otherwise he uses the same tools as a writer. That is brilliantly clear when reading The Crow Road and comparing it to the best of his SF novels, books such as Consider Phlebas or Use of Weapons. Banks’ trademark style involves the use of multiple perspectives, unreliable narrators, non-linear plots, and lots of revelations as it all comes together. I think that that style is most evident and best put to use here in The Crow Road. The protagonist of the book is Prentice, a young university student who comes from a large and eccentric family in the rural north west of Scotland (well, a slightly fictionalised version in geographical terms). The book is told largely through his first person narrative, with other sections in the third person as flashbacks to his childhood or events involving other family members, particularly his father. The book also jumps around in time a bit, but largely covers the years 1989 and 1990, starting with a funeral, ending with a christening, and featuring a wedding and a few more funerals along the way. The heart of the book is the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Prentice’s uncle several years previously, and Prentice’s attempts to figure out what happened to his uncle leads to a series of revelations about his family history. But beyond that the book also touches on religion, politics, unrequited love, family relations (particularly between Prentice and his father) and death. It’s a wonderful book, brilliantly written, and equally hilarious (in a very dark way) and sad, with plenty of bittersweet moments, packing a real emotional punch. By the end it took my breath away, and days after finishing it, I’m still thinking about it. Ha!
Having reread it, I can safely say that it’s still one of my favourite books. It’s certainly I think Banks’ best non-SF novel, but it is also just a fantastic book overall, and one which has stuck with me since I first read it. I’ve enjoyed rereading all of Banks’ books that I’ve gone through so far for this project, and I am looking forward to the rest of them too. However this is definitely the one I’d recommend most, and I would say it is the best starting place for his mainstream fiction.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was another book that I read from outside my usual comfort zone, one of my forays outside of SF and fantasy. I’ve actually read one of Atkinson’s novels before, Case Histories, which I liked a great deal. I decided to read one of her other novels and this one caught my eye as it has a sort of time travel/alternative history aspect to it which is the sort of thing that definitely appeals to me.
The book starts with the birth of the main character Ursula, but she dies with the cord wrapped around her neck. In the next chapter she is born but this time survives. The book follows her life, as each time she dies she is reborn and the story unfolds slightly differently. It’s also a historical novel, with large sections based around World War 2. The different time lines show the changes to Ursula’s life, her relationship with her family, and her impact on the events taking place around her.
I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was excellent, and the repeated time lines were done brilliantly. I thought that the characters in the book were well written, and it was interesting to see the changing dynamics across the different time lines and iterations. I also really liked the WW2 aspects of the book. Overall I thought it was a really interesting premise, very well executed, and a very compelling read. I very much liked the book and I am planning to read more of Atkinson’s novels in the future as well.
I have just finished reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. This is one of several books that I picked up for reading outside my comfort zone - books that are not necessary the sort of thing that I usually read, but which sound interesting and come recommended. This book is about a young man living with schizophrenia. I thought it was a very interesting book, with a great insight into mental health issues and grief. It wasn’t all dark however, it was very well written, full of very well drawn characters, and very funny at times too. I liked it a lot, more than I was expecting to perhaps, and I would certainly recommend it.
Last year I read and utterly loved the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve been meaning to read more of his books since then, and so I decided to go back to one of his first novels, Elantris. This is a standalone fantasy novel about a city where magic has failed. Again I am having trouble writing a cohesive review but it is one of those books that I liked so much I just want to gush about it, which doesn’t make for a very good review. Let’s just say that I loved the setting, loved the magic, loved the plot, loved the characters, loved the way the story way told from the three different points of view of those characters. Basically, I loved everything about it. It wasn’t as good as Mistborn, I must say, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven’t read many of his books yet, but I already consider Brandon Sanderson to be one of my new favourite authors, and I am looking forward to reading more from him in the near future.
Valour by John Gwynne is the newly-released sequel to the wonderful Malice which I read earlier in the year. I adored that book, and it is a testament to that fact that I bought this massive hardback almost as soon as it was published.
As I said in my previous review:
It’s a fantasy novel featuring a gripping plot, a range of wonderful characters, and some interesting magic and fantastical creatures. I really enjoyed the book, I was very caught up in the story, and all the various characters and plot lines. It’s a big book and I felt totally immersed in it whilst I was reading.
Continuing the story started in Malice, the sequel is every bit as good. It’s an excellent book, fantasy which is dark and grim but also hopeful, and with brilliant characters on both sides of the good and evil split. This was another one that I couldn’t put down, and I will be looking forward to the next instalment in the series.
My SF book group has chosen to read Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It’s a debut novel which has won or been nominated for an impressive list of genre awards. I wasn’t just sure what to expect from the book and I was a bit skeptical. To be honest I’ve drifted away from SF slightly in the past year, I’ve been reading a lot more fantasy and mainstream fiction. Well this book reminded me of exactly why I love space opera and SF, it was the best book of that type that I’ve read in ages.
It’s a difficult book to summarise. The main character is an AI with multiple bodies. In one strand of the story she is on a mission of revenge, but in another strand of the story we get flashbacks to the military events that led her to her current position. The twisting, tricky structure reminded me of Iain M. Banks at this best, which is high praise coming from me!
The book is just incredibly inventive and brilliant. I thought the way the book handled AI was fascinating and unique. The world building in the book was superb, it is really such a good setting. The interesting take on gender and language in the book was also excellently done. As well as all that clever stuff, the book also has the key basics of good plot and good characters.
Overall I just loved the book, I really couldn’t put it down, and I think it is the best SF novel that I’ve read for a long time. I would highly recommend it to science fiction fans.
I recently finished reading MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, the final instalment in her trilogy of the same name. I really loved the previous two books, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, both of which I read over the past few months. This is a continuation of the story started in those books, bringing together the two groups of characters, and continuing the story of what happens after the plague, while also adding more back story of life beforehand and the activities of MaddAddam and the God’s Gardeners. As with the previous two books, I really liked this one. The setting and the characters are all excellent, and as I have said before, I think Margaret Atwood is such an incredibly clever and interesting writer. This book as the conclusion to the trilogy left a few loose ends, which was somewhat disappointing, however that by no means detracted from my enjoyment of the book or the series overall. I’d highly recommend this trilogy, and I plan on reading more books by Atwood in the future as she is a brilliant writer.
If you follow me here on Tumblr then it may not have escaped your notice that recently I have been posting less frequently than I have done in the past. I’m going through a spell where things are busy and stressful at work, and in my free time I am mostly just reading and trying to relax. So my time for Tumblr has decreased a bit lately, but I am still here and I still plan to post new things, especially keeping up my book reviews.
However I have recently unfollowed a lot of people, to streamline my dashboard. No offence is intended if you’ve noticed that I’ve unfollowed you, it’s not personal, I just need fewer posts appearing on my dashboard, and I chose to unfollow people who post a lot, or who post things that stress me out.
Despite that, I am also looking to start following more blogs which post book reviews, as that is mainly what I’m interested in at the moment, so please feel free to make recommendations if you know any good book review blogs.
I’ve just finished rereading Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, one of my favourite of his Culture novels and the latest title in my project to reread Banks’ books.
It’s a really tricky book to write a synopsis for, so I am just going to quote from the Wikipedia page:
The narrative takes the form of a fractured biography of a man called Cheradenine Zakalwe, who was born outside of the Culture but was recruited into it by Special Circumstances agent Diziet Sma to work as an operative intervening in less advanced civilizations. The novel recounts several of these interventions and Zakalwe’s attempts to come to terms with his own past.
The book is made up of two narrative streams, interwoven in alternating chapters. The numbers of the chapters indicate which stream they belong to: one stream is numbered forward in words (One, Two …), while the other is numbered in reverse with Roman numerals (XIII, XII …). The story told by the former moves forward chronologically (as the numbers suggest) and tells a self-contained story, while in the latter is written in reverse chronology with each chapter successively earlier in Zakalwe’s life. Further complicating this structure is a prologue and epilogue set shortly after the events of the main narrative, and many flashbacks within the chapters.
The forward-moving stream of the novel deals with the attempts of Diziet Sma and a drone named Skaffen-Amtiskaw to re-enlist Zakalwe for another job, the task itself and the payment that Zakalwe wishes for it. The backward-moving stream describes earlier jobs that Zakalwe has performed for the Culture, ultimately returning to his pre-Culture career as a general on his homeworld. It transpires that the payment he requires from Sma relates to an incident from his earlier life.
You see what I mean when I said it was complicated? But the reason I love it is because it’s also brilliant. I love its complexity, both the narrative structure and the characters within. I love its unreliable narrator and plot twists and deceptions. I love that it’s another take on the Culture, distinct from the previous two books, adding more to such an incredibly rich setting. I love the wit and the writing, and how there is humour mixed with the grimmest of acts. Basically it’s Banks at his best.
Books Read in March 2014
- The Martian - Andy Weir
- The Explorer - James Smythe
- Black Swan Green - David Mitchell
- Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson
- Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
- The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
- The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
- Hyperion - Dan Simmons
- The Fall of Hyperion - Dan Simmons
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
- The Giver - Lois Lowry
- Adam Robots - Adam Roberts
My monthly book summary for March - a pretty mixed month really, but I got through twelve books. Highlights include The Martian by Andy Weir, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I have a lot of books lined up for next month, starting with some SF titles for my book group, then moving on to some big fantasy novels that I’ve been looking forward to. I’m hoping it will be a good month.
For my SF and fantasy book group this fortnight we read Adam Robots, a short story collection from author Adam Roberts. We don’t usually read short stories, but we picked this one because we’d all read and enjoyed two previous novels by Roberts, Jack Glass and Yellow Blue Tibia. I admit we were also influenced by the amusing title and brilliant cover art! In his introduction to the book, the author explains that his aim was to write stories which cover the various sub-genres of science fiction, and so there is a robot story, a time travel story, a military SF story, a genetics story, a first contact story and so on. Part parody, part homage, part exploration of genre, part just plain excellent story telling, the book covers a great deal of ground for SF fans. As with all short story collections, some stories are bigger hits than others - it will be interesting to discuss this with my book group and see if we agree on which stories are the better ones, somehow I suspect we won’t! But overall it was a really enjoyable collection and really showed off Roberts’ versatility as a writer, although that was already clear from his earlier novels. I am looking forward to reading more of his books in the future.
I read these two YA novels as a bit of a palate cleanser between a couple of big, heavy SF novels. That being said, they weren’t too much of a palate cleanser as they are both quite grim in their own ways.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is the story of a Indian teenager living on a reservation, who leaves to attend high school in the nearby all-white town. He has to deal with bullying and racism, grief and loss, and figuring out his identity between his two worlds. It’s a great coming of age story, full of humour and hope alongside the darker subjects it covers.
The Giver by Lois Lowry at first glance seems to be the story of a boy, on the verge of adulthood, living in a future utopian society. However slowly the truth is revealed and the harsh realities of his world become apparent to the reader and the main character. It’s a great dystopian YA novel, from back before the genre was so popular. I really liked the story, at first it seemed a bit short but actually it’s nice to read a self-contained story rather than a sprawling trilogy at times.
Both books I picked up because I’d heard great things about them here on Tumblr, from various book blogs I follow. They seem to be modern classics of the YA genre and I can understand why. I’ve said before that I’m obviously not the target demographic for these sorts of books, but I still enjoy reading YA fiction on occasion and I think these two are both great examples of why it is worthwhile for adults to read YA fiction and discover some great books.