Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2013

Happy first of December everyone! This year’s Christmas frenzy marks the spot where I finally got back to normal reading speed. I finally found the time to read more again and discovered some great books on the way. In other geekiness, my boyfriend and I have been watching Doctor Who non-stop for the last week (“our” first doctor was Matt Smith and we wanted to see what the others were like) and we are loving it.
Starting today, I am participating in Carl’s 2014 Sci-Fi Experience, a two-month celebration of all things science fiction. My first book for the Experience is almost read (I’ll spoil: It’s Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao) and because it is so much fun, I can’t wait to read more science fiction during December and January.
But now, on to the books I’ve read in November and how I liked them. As always, click on the title will lead you to my full review.

Books read: 7
Pages read: 2398
Series started: Tao, Paradox, Patternist
Series continued: Discworld
Series finished:

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THE BEST

Octavia E. Butler – Wild Seed  8,5/10

wild seedAs a science fiction and fantasy lover, I’m surprised it took me this long to discover Octavia Butler. But the internet didn’t lie – she truly is amazing. This is the story of two immortals, Anyanwu and Doro. Doro is a tyrant who uses humans for his own breeding program, Anyanwu is the only other immortal he has ever met and has powers of her own.
Apart from the gripping story, I was deeply impressed and taken with how these two characters balance out and how they wage an emotional war against each other.  I can’t wait to continue reading the Patternist series and find out what becomes of Anyanwu.

Rachel Bach – Fortune’s Pawn  8/10

fortunes pawnThis was so much fun! Devi is a mercenary who is hired as security on a space ship cursed with bad luck. Not only does she have to deal with the sexy cook, she tumbles into a mystery much bigger than she ever expected. Space ships, aliens, fantastic action scenes and a bit of romance – you will find all of this here. Fortune’s Pawn is a light, fun, action-packed read with an endearing heroine who knows what she wants, who is clever but kind. I almost regret reading it so soon. The publication of the next volume (February 2014) seems very far away at this moment.

Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms  8/10

men at arms1I know, I know. My blog is beeing flooded by Terry Pratchett love but I can’t help it. I dare you to find your way into Discworld and stop reading after a book or two. Being a fan of the witches, I kept one last novel in their sub-series to look forward to and started reading the City Watch books instead. Commander Vimes is gruff but good-hearted, Carrot is too good to be true (but you just have to love him. All of Ankh-Morpork does, too!) and I particularly liked the new recruits, first and foremost Angua, the werewolf. I loved her right from the start and I think she makes a great addition to the Night Watch, not just because she is a woman, but because she adds a layer of complications to the entire sub-series.

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THE WORST

Yay! No bad books this month.

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THE REST

Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!  7/10

guards guardsThis was a re-read for me (or rather: re-listen) because I first read the book 10 years ago and didn’t remember much about it. Because the Night Watch books are next on my Discworld reading schedule, I thought I’d remind myself of who is who. Captain Vimes was never supposed to be the hero of these stories (Carrot was) but he steals the show wherever he goes. This drunk, depressed Captain of the Night Watch has low self-esteem and doesn’t really know why he’s doing his job anymore. But when a dragon shows up and devastates Ankh-Morpork, somebody has to step in. And believe me, it’s wonderful when Vimes and his guards do.
Not my favorite Discworld novel and, because it is one of the earlier ones, not as subtly clever as the later books, but still great fun and silliness. And it has Errol, the swamp dragon, which gives it a couple of brownie points.

Stephen King – The Shining  7/10

shiningI started reading this on Halloween because everybody needs a bit of creepiness around that time. As with so many Stephen King books, the monsters didn’t get to me that much. But the humans did! I will never understand how people dismiss King’s books. Few other authors do characterisation as well as he does. His characters come to life and, because they feel so real, the things they do seem all the more disturbing. I felt especially sorry for Danny, the child, and will try and read Doctor Sleep soon. Whatever happened to that kid after the events of The Shining, he must now be one messed-up man…

Jodi Lynn Anderson – Tiger Lily  7/10

tiger lilyI have an obsession with Peter Pan. Retellings, spin-offs, sequels and prequels are judged extremely harshly by me because how dare anyone ruin one of my favorite children’s stories ever? Anderson takes a look at one of the side characters who don’t get much attention. Tiger Lily had a life before Peter Pan and Wendy. It was the life of an outsider, in a village filled with prejudice and fear. Considering how quiet a book this was, there was a lot going on. We do get to see Peter (although he is nothing like the original) and the pirates, but we also get Englishmen trying to convert Tiger Lily’s tribe to Christianity and all that this ensues.
My favorite part was that Tinker Bell narrates the story. Her personality (again, very different from the original) is what kept me going, her emotions got to me and made me read on. This is not a riveting adventure story. It is a character study and a coming-of-age tale that, and while I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I enjoyed it.

Susan Cooper – Seaward  6/10

seawardHere’s a rare occasion. A book I read but didn’t review. At first I thought, I have nothing to say about this, how can I write a review that’s more than 20 words long? Now I feel that I do have some things to say about it. I didn’t love it. But I didn’t dislike it either. What bothered me the most was how fast things happened. There was no time for exploring the repercussions of the events, everything happened bam-bam-bam without room for emotional growth. But all things considered, it is a beautiful children’s story. Meh… maybe I’ll end up writing more about it during the holidays.
At this point, I think I should have read this as a child to fully appreciate it. As an adult, it didn’t quite convince me.

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WHAT I’M READING IN DECEMBER:

  • Wesley Chu – The Lives of Tao
  • Mark Helprin – Winter’s Tale
  • Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay
  • Space Opera (one of these:)
    • Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas
    • Timothy Zahn – Heir to the Empire
    • David Weber – A Beautiful Friendship

Monthly Wrap-Up: October 2013

This is strange… I had more time for reading in October yet I’ve read fewer books. Overall, I am very happy with my October books. They were all excellent reads and I didn’t get the feeling that I had in September, of not having time to read because work was so stressful. I did have time to read and I enjoyed every page.

Books read: 4
Pages read: 1324
Series started: Imperial Radch
Series continued:
Series finished:

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THE BEST

Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice   9/10

ancillary justiceThe internet has exploded with praise for Ann Leckie and it is all justified. This amazing debut does so many things that should not work and makes them awesome. Breq – the last remnant of a formerly great AI spaceship named Justice of Toren – is looking for answers and revenge. She is joined by Seivarden – a character I fell madly in love with over the course of the novel – and shows us cultures that feel original and somehow familiar at the same time.
And don’t even get me started on what Ann Leckie does with language. She uses almost exclusively female pronouns, regardles of a character’s gender. This book makes you think, it makes you question your prejudices, and it’s a gripping story with great characters. Just read it!

Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two   9/10

fairyland 3You’re not surprised about this, are you? Cat Valente is one of my current top two authors (the other one being Terry Pratchett) and I expected nothing less than perfection in  this third Fairyland volume. The beginning was a bit tough to read, mainly because it takes so long for September to reunite with her friends, Ell and Saturday. Once they are together again and have a plan to save Fairyland, everything comes together beautifully and Valente managed to rip my heart out again. Stopping a Moon Yeti from breaking the moon is not so easy, especially if time travelling friends are involved… A wonderful book, full of magic and love and beautiful language.

China Miéville – Railsea  8,5/10

railseaWhat a fun book. Miéville returns to YA fiction in this riff off Moby Dick. But it only starts that way. Sham travels the Railsea on the moler trail Medes, whose Captain obsessively hunts the great ivory mole that took her arm many years ago. But Sham stumbles into an adventure much bigger than a mere mole hunt.
Miéville plays with language in many ways. The omniscient narrator teases his readers, jumps between viewpoints, and generally adds to the pure fun of the story. I loved this book, particularly the ending. It could have gone terribly wrong but Miéville makes it work. Highly recommended, especially if you’re looking for a Miéville book to start with.

Nnedi Okorafor – Kabu Kabu 7/10

kabu kabuA short story collection by the author of the amazing Who Fears Death. I didn’t love all the stories, but I found enjoyment in most of them. My favorite was the science fiction story “Spider the Artist” about a Nigerian woman who makes friends with a robotic spider-creature that protects the pipelines from oil robbers.
Okorafor’s style has impressive range, her stories come in all shapes and sizes. There are those that read like folktales, fairytales, historical fiction, epic fantasy and science fiction. Her characters are equally diverse. Most protagonists are Nigerian (to some extent) women, and mos stories are set directly in Nigeria. It was just beautiful how the author showed the richness of a culture and a place that is rarely shown at all in speculative fiction. Recommended.

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No THE WORST and no THE REST this month. Like I said, all my books were pretty fantastic

Plans for November:

Jeff Vandermeer – Wonderbook
I’m almost done with this massive, beautiful, inspiring work of art. It is a guide on how to write speculative fiction but it is also so much more. Articles by many established authors and gorgeous (!) artwork on every page make it a book worth having, even if you just look at the pictures.

Stephen King – The Shining
Something creepy for Halloween. I only made it halfway through when November caught up with me but it reminds me again why I like Stephen King. He paints characters that feel so real you wouldn’t be surprised if they lived next door – although if I met Jack Torrance (or worse, Danny), I would probably run and hide. Can’t wait to finish this and then, finally, watch the movie. (Yes, I am one of those people who have never seen it. But I do know key scenes, including spoilers.)

Robin Hobb – Fool’s Fate
Now that a new Fitz and Fool trilogy is planned, I need to finish the existing books. At 800 pages, I feel a little daunted, but then again, I have yet to read a Hobb book  I don’t like.

Gail Carriger – Curtsies & Conspiracies
Sophronia strikes again. Gail Carriger returned to her quick-witted, funny self with the Finishing School series and I can’t wait to read this one.

Monthly Wrap-Up: September 2013

Oh well… as far as reading goes, this was my worst month in at least two years. Longer work-hours (and, with the promotion, a lot of new things to learn at work) have taken their toll on me. Most evenings, I was too tired to do anything other than plant myself on the couch and watch TV. The last week of September got a little better, though, and I think I’m getting used to the new job. Let’s hope I can catch up in October because there are so many great books here that I want to read.

Books read: 5
Pages read: 1199
Series started:
Series continued: Discworld
Series finished:

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THE BEST

Terry Pratchett – Lords and Ladies  8,5/10

lords and ladies1It is getting a bit ridiculous how at home I feel on Discworld. Lords and Ladies was one of my favorite Witches novels, not only because Magrat Garlick finally gets to kick some ass, but also because I loved Sir Terry’s take on fairies. It has great crossover-value as the wizards and the Librarian make an appearance as well. Plus, we get more Greebo! There can never be too much Greebo. I wouldn’t recommend it as a starter-novel because it continues certain events from the previous Witches novels, but honestly, with Discworld, there is no wrong book to start with.

divider1THE WORST

Not a single one. 🙂

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THE REST

Terry Pratchett & Paul Kidby – The Art of Discworld  8,5/10

art of discworldGranted, this is more for visual pleasure than reading, but each picture is accompanied by a little comment from either Terry, or Paul Kidby, or both of them. And as usual, Terry Pratchett’s way of talking about his creations is as amusing as the characters and places themselves. This was even more fun than Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook but I don’t feel I can write a proper review of it. Other than: “If you like Discworld, buy this”, there really isn’t much to say.

Terry Pratchett – Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook 7,5/10

Nanny Ogg's CookbookI have a soft spot in my heart for Nanny Ogg, the Discworld witch whose face resembles an old apple, and who likes quaffing beer and smoking cigars. Her cookbook is only half cookbook. The other half consists of her advice on etiquette. I wasn’t a huge fan of the recipes (some of them are hilarious, though) but the illustrations and the chapters on etiquette made it worthwhile.

Neil Gaiman – Fortunately, the Milk  7/10

fortunately the milkA fun little adventure for children, with a stegosaurus in a hot air balloon, time-travel, aliens, wumpires, and – of course – a bottle of milk. It’s not exactly Gaiman at his best, because I think his strength is dark, twisted fantasy, but I’m sure that it will amuse children all over the world. And because it is an ode to storytelling and Making Stuff Up, I can’t help but be happy to have read it.

Miyuki Miyabe – ICO: Castle in the Mist  6/10

ico1I put this in my (rarely used) love it and hate it category because there were two opposing forces at work. On the one hand, I loved the parts that were clearly invented and added by the author, the parts that never become clear from the game. But I ended up loathing the parts that she took directly from the PlayStation game. Endless, tedious descriptions of Ico’s surroundings, his passive nature, and the black-and-white characters (quite literally) got on my nerves after a while. So I wasn’t as charmed as I expected to be, but I can’t wait to read something that sprang entirely from the author’s imagination, with no video game as its basis.

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My first resolution is, of course, to read more again. I believe I’ve finally found my rhythm and my way around the new tasks my job has set me. This was really my first month in a new position (for the first time in my life, I’m someone’s boss) and it took all of September to adjust to that.
I do have a few definite reading plans for October. Literaturschock, “my” German book forum, hosts monthly themes. October is called “More! More! MORE!” – meaning: read more by an author you admire and enjoy. I picked China Miéville, although I discovered a number of writers this year whose back catalogues I have yet to read.

  • China Miéville – Railsea
  • Mark Z. Danielewski – House of Leaves
    Yeah, I’m still working on that one. This mind-fuck of a book has now reached the point where I can turn the pages really quickly (because there is only one paragraph on each) but it requires enormous concentration. And good sight… some of the footnotes are miniscule.
  • Nnedi Okorafor – Kabu-Kabu
    A short-story collection I got via NetGalley. The first two stories were promising. I’ll make this my subway book.

The rest is up to chance and my mood. Although, if it arrives on time (preorders sometimes don’t work out the way I planned), I’ll be dropping everything for Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. But then, you already knew that, didn’t you…

Monthly Wrap-Up: August 2013

This month was full of witches. One of my reading resolutions for 2013 was “to read more Discworld”, a goal that was much more easily achieved than I thought. I am in love with Discworld and don’t intend to stop reading these books until I’ve finished all of them.
Two other major things this month were the Bout of Books read-a-thon and the theme of the month – Plants vs. Zombies – in the German book forum where I hang out pretty much every day. Witches, zombies, time-travelling serial killers, and the latest Gentleman Bastard adventure… what more can a book worm really want?

Books read: 7
Pages read: 3049
Series started: Gentleman Bastard
Series continued: Discworld
Series finished:

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THE BEST

Terry Pratchett – Witches Abroad  8/10

witches abroad1I have yet to read a bad Witches novel. But Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax travelling was a particularly joyful adventure. Throw some fairytales into that mix and you have a hilarious book. It is both think-y and funny and progresses the overall Witches storyline. I’m glad I still have a few novels with Granny Weatherwax ahead of me. Discworld just wouldn’t be the same without her.

Terry Pratchett – Maskerade  8/10

maskerade1Opera on Discworld. You look at the cover and know this is going to be a blast. Granny and Nanny travel to Ankh-Morpork to convince the young witch Agnes Nitt to join their mini-coven. But Agnes wants to be an opera singer – a career choice that seems to require beauty rather than talent. And what with the Opera Ghost killing people, there are bigger things to worry about than being a good soprano. Having never been a big fan of Magrat Garlick, I was delighted to get to know Agnes (Perdita) Nitt whose practicality and self-doubt make her incredibly endearing.

Lauren Beukes – The Shining Girls   8/10

shining girlsMy first Lauren Beukes really got me in the mood to read more by her. A time travelling serial killer, one of his victims survives and tries to hunt him down. There was not a single chapter out of place, not a word too much, and not a boring moment in sight. Beukes’ writing is strong and atmospheric, I loved the “visits” to different times of the 20th century and I now understand why the author is nominated for so many awards and gets so much (well-deserved) recognition.

Scott Lynch – The Republic of Thieves  8/10

republic of thievesLocke Lamora is back! It would have been very hard for Scott Lynch to disappoint me with this book. I was so eager to return to that universe that the plot was secondary. Until it happened, that is. My big, big disappointment lies with Sabetha, a character that we have been waiting for since book one. Other than her as a person and her alleged romance with Locke, this book was just as thrilling, funny, clever, and mind-blowing as its predecessors. Read it.

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THE WORST

Courtney Summers – This is Not a Test   5,5/10

this is not a testIt wasn’t a bad book at all but it was definitely my least favorite this month. After a very strong beginning and a solid middle part, the story becomes boring and drags to a disappointing ending. Sloane Price wanted to kill herself but then the zombie apocalypse got in the way. Hidden away at her old school with five other teenagers, she must try to do what she desereratley wanted to avoid: survive.
I was far more interested in the back stories than the plot in the present. Sloane was the only three-dimensional character and – like I said – the ending was very anticlimactic and felt like a cop-out.

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THE REST

Mira Grant – Feed  7/10

feedIt was the 48% mark that turned this book around for me. In the beginning, there were simply too many info-dumps for me. They slowed the plot almost to a standstill every few pages and it was hard for me to detect any kind of conflict or drive. However, at that almost-middle-point, things happen and the book becomes sooo good. From then on, I couldn’t put it down. There have been discussion about the ending but I found it perfect. Yep, this is a series I’ll continue reading. More news than zombies but, hey, Mira Grant does a great job of mixing the two and I’m in for the ride.

Terry Pratchett – Wyrd Sisters  6,5/10

wyrd sisters1The weakest Witches novel I have read so far (given that I remember almost nothing about Equal Rites, I might have liked it even less) but still a good read. My biggest problem was that I didn’t like many of the characters, so I was left with “only” Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax to root for. Magrat has grown on me a lot since this novel but in Wyrd Sisters, I found her more annoying than likable. I did love the spin on Macbeth however and as a true Discworld fan, you can’t miss any of the Witches books.

Following me into September:

  • Mark Z. Danielewski – House of Leaves
    This one is a handful. If you ever see a copy at the bookstore, pick it up and flick through it. Different font types, a massive amount of footnotes, crossed-out words in different colors, writing that goes diagonally across the page all sorts of other shenanigans… There is a story, though and at 100 pages, I really like it.
  • Terry Pratchett – Lords and Ladies
    To nobody’s surprise, I am reading the next Witches novel. The wizards also make an appearance here and even though I’ve never liked them very much, this is one of the best Witches books so far. My review can be expected very soon.

Monthly Wrap-Up: July 2013

Like everybody else, I’ve been suffering through the heat of July and actually caught myself looking forward to the excellent AC at the office (versus the electric fan at home). I have the feeling I didn’t read very much this month, but what I did read ranged from wonderful to terrible.

Books read: 6
Pages read: 2 232
Series started: The American Fairy Trilogy, The Bookman Histories
Series continued:
Series finished: Tiffany Aching

Other news: I supported the anthology Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism & Beyond via indiegogo. It sounds fantastic! N.K. Jemisin, Lauren Beukes, Tobias Buckell, Junot Díaz, and a ton of authors I’ve never heard of but would like to read… if you have a dollar or two to spare, head over there and donate. 🙂

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THE BEST:

Terry Pratchett – Nation  9/10

nation1A wonderfully think-y book about identity, belief, friendship, loss and rebuilding, science and religion, and tons of other deep themes. In Terry Pratchett’s voice, everything flows beautifully, the characters are lovable and memorable and I already miss spending time with them on the Nation island. A book that begs to be read and re-read and then re-read again, out loud.

Terry Pratchett – I Shall Wear Midnight  9/10

i shall wear midnight2Tiffany Aching is way up there with my favorite fictional heroines of all time. The practical young witch deals with growing up, doing dirty jobs that nobody else wants to do (or knows how to) and, of course, a horde of drunk and insane Nac Mac Feegles. The entire series comes highly recommended and made me love Terry Pratchett even more.

Todd McCaffrey – Dragonwriter: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern   8,5/10

dragonwriterA collection of articles, memories, and anectodes about the woman we know as the Dragonlady. Her Pern books have enchanted me as a teenager and this tribute made me cry on several occasions. The range of topics is astounding, every one of them is written with heart, and makes Anne McCaffrey come to life. A must-read for fans and a big recommendations for those who aren’t quite sure if McCaffrey is right for them.divider1

THE WORST:

Lavie Tidhar – The Bookman  3/10

bookmanA massive amount of ideas, all piled on top of each other. Sadly, the pale protagonist is joined by even paler side characters on an adventure that feels forced, badly constructed and, ultimately, boring. Add to this clumsy writing and you have my answer: No more Bookman Histories for me, thank you very much.

Bennett Madison – September Girls  3/10

newbirdA book that attempts to be feminist but ended up being incredibly sexist and misogynist, at least the way I read it. The story is bland, the characters are (at best) two-dimensional, the narrator whines his way through his rich white boy problems. The only redeeming part are the short chapters out of the Girls’ point of view which do show feminist ideas and good writing. They weren’t enough, though.

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THE REST:

Sarah Zettel – Dust Girl  6/10

dust girl 2A nice, quick read that offers some wonderfully creepy moments but loses the grip on its ideas around the middle. Good characters, good language for kids to read, too many ideas and an ending that leaves almost all of the mysteries unresolved. Only read if you don’t mind or want to commit to the entire series.

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FOLLOWING ME INTO AUGUST…
… are these lovely books, in various states of half-read-ness or anticipated only-read-chapter-one-ness. Some I’ve been dragging around since early June (poor Warchild, and it really doesn’t deserve it). The plan is to finish these before the Bout of Books read-a-thon, so I can start with a fresh set of books. But even I don’t know what books I’ll want to pick up randomly throughout the next weeks.

  • Lauren Beukes – The Shining Girls (35%)
  • Scott Lynch – The Republic of Thieves (50%)
  • Terry Pratchett – Maskerade (41%)
  • Anne McCaffrey – The Ship Who Sang (36%)
  • Karin Lowachee – Warchild (57%)
  • Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas (8%)
  • Mira Grant – Feed (1%)

Monthly Wrap-Up: June 2013

I think the reading slump is finally over because I’m juggling about 6 novels at the moment an I’m intrigued enough by every single one of them to want to continue reading. Terry Pratchett has been a major factor in getting me back on track, but he’s not the only one who impressed me in June. I’ve been reading all the good stuff!

THE BEST:

Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples – Saga Vol. 2  9,5/10

saga volume 2I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this via NetGalley (my paper copy just arrived today and it is shiny) and was swept up in that original whacky universe again. Alana and Marko grew on me even more than they did in book one. Seeing their backstory fleshed out the plot, the subplots aren’t neglected and have a few surprises waiting for the readers. Of course, this wouldn’t be Saga without monsters and sex and violence. Despite all of that, the series also has one thing many of these grimdark stories lack: it has heart. Full of humor and believable character, the essence of it is a young couple having no idea how to raise a child, and trying to do so literally at the center of an interspecies war…

Terry Pratchett – A Hat Full of Sky   9/10

hat full of sky 2We first met Tiffany Aching in The Wee Free Men and adorable as that story was, it lacked a certain something that made me want to go back to Discworld immediately. A Hat Full of Sky has everything I could possibly have wanted from a Discworld novel. Tiffany is becoming one of my favorite heroines ever, the humor on these pages ranges from deeply clever to downright silly, and the plot offers as much suspense as any thriller.
Thinking about Tiffany Aching makes me smile, because she is a great rolemodel, not because she’s perfect (gods, she isn’t!) but because she takes responsibility and doesn’t make excuses for her own mistakes.

Terry Pratchett – Wintersmith   9/10

wintersmith2Take everything I said above for A Hat Full of Sky and make Tiffany two years older and the story more melancholy and slightly more grown-up. I laughed tears with Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax in one chapter, only to be so touched by Tiffany’s actions (and those of the other witches) that I’d tear up again. The Witches, all of them, as different as they are, have become like dear friends to me over the course of these last three books. I sincerely hope that Terry Pratchett will give us many more Discworld novels before he stops writing.

Neil Gaiman, Maria Dahvana Headley – Unnatural Creatures  8/10

unnatural creaturesAn anthology whose diversity and range makes it hard to believe these stories are connected through a common bond. But they are. Every one of the stories introduces the reader to an Unnatural Creature, be it an invisible dragon, a griffin who wants to see his likeness, a tree with an agenda, or a talking giant snake. There were only two stories in here that I marked as “didn’t like”, all the others were at best amazing and at worst enjoyable. The most outstanding stories, for me, came from Diana Wynne Jones, E. Nesbit, and Nalo Hopkinson. Samuel Delany, E. Lily Yu, and Grahan Wilson equally left an impression on me. Of course, short stories (like all stories) are a matter of taste, but if you like the unnatural, mythological beasts, or even completely original creatures, this is a good volume to pick up.

dividerTHE WORST:

This was another good month because nothing I read was really bad. Some books didn’t work so well for me but were well written, regardless. This section is for the really bad ones with flat characters, predictable, boring plots, and language that looks like it’s never been edited. June was kind to me, so this part of the wrap-up is left (almost) blank.

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Angela Carter – The Bloody Chamber  7,5/10

bloody chamberMy very first taste of Angela Carter makes me understand fairly well what all the fans are talking about. These are all some kind of retold fairytale, most prominently the titular Bloody Chamber (a retelling of Bluebeard). You’ll find Beauty and the Beast in here, Red Riding Hood as you’ve never seen her, and – my favorite – Puss in Boots.
But it isn’t just the retelling that makes Carter’s fiction special. It is how she does it. She winds language around itself and drags you into this black hole of sinister, dark, sexy stories. She was also recommended to me as a feminist author and, at least in The Bloody Chamber, I can see why. I am still not a short story reader because the one thing I wanted while reading this collection, was for one story to last longer, to be an entire book. Next up: Nights at the Circus.

Terry Pratchett – The Last Hero (illustrated)  7,5/10

last hero illustratedThis is what started my current Discworld romp. The Illustrated Last Hero was lying around in our holiday apartment in Spain and because that apartment is owned by English people, the book itself was in English as well. You can imagine it took about 2 hours for me to discover it, pick it up, and read it on the terrace. The premise didn’t interest me at all, I’ll be honest. But this is Sir Terry and you can’t really go wrong with him. A few pages into this book, which comes alive as much through the artwork as it does through Pratchett’s words, I was giggling non-stop and reading random lines out loud for my boyfriend. In this very short book, Pratchett managed to create depth as well as a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments. If the illustrated editions (Eric, The Last Hero, The Wee Free Men) weren’t so hard to get by now, I’d buy them all.

Margo Lanagan – The Brides of Rollrock Island  6,5/10

brides of rollock islandThis was a huge disappointment. What I had hoped would be a tale about selkies and how their lives on Rollrock Island was more of a disjointed short story collection that put more weight on the men who bring the selkies out of the sea than on the creatures themselves. I loved Misskaella, the witch, as a character and the center of the story, but most of the others – boys living on the island, men buying their sea wife, or visiting the mainland – didn’t interest or touch me in the least. I didn’t like these things but you might. The book is well written, there are some beautiful scenes to be found here and characters who suffer great tragedy, sometimes at their own hands. It was not the kind of execution I had hoped for but then, Lanagan is, first and foremost a short story writer. And it shows.

Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane  6/10

ocean at the end of the laneI said in my review that my longterm love for Neil Gaiman’s work will always influence my opinion on what he does. But this was mostly a disappointment. Sure, Neil Gaiman has a knack for creating monsters that follow you into your dreams and turn them into nightmares, and I was particularly impressed with Ursula as a villain. Looking at it as a whole, the story was very simple, not nearly as original as some of Gaiman’s other work, and underwhelming language-wise. Having read a lot of Gaiman’s books before this obviously influences my opinion enormously and I think it may be an intriguing read for Gaiman-newbies.

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Books started in June…

Terry Pratchett – I Shall Wear Midnight
Bennett Madison – September Girls
Karin Lowachee – Warchild
Patrick Ness – Monsters of Men
Stephen King – Joyland

There is one book that has precedence over all the others, though. I just received an e-ARC of Scott Lynch – The Republic of Thieves and there is nothing that will keep me from eating it right up. Of course, my review will only be posted close to publication date but, come one. How could I stay away from Locke Lamora a single day more than I have to?

republic of thieves

Monthly Wrap-Up: May 2013

This is my first day back from a week-long holiday and I am drowning in unwritten reviews, half-finished books, and general catching up on Stuff That Happened On the Internet. It’s good to be back! May turned out to be a meager month when it comes to reading, mostly because I started watching Battlestar Galactica and – if you’ve seen the show you will understand this – there was no way I would spend a minute of my free time doing anything other than watching BSG. My Gods, I loved that show. Four season and a movie were over way too fast and I already kind of feel the urge to start over again.

But let’s talk books. Here is what little I managed to read in May 2013:

THE BEST

midnight robber1Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber   8,5/10

After hearing only good things about Nalo Hopkinson, I randomly picked one of her books and was pretty much blown away. Writing this now in June, the themes and language still reverberate and it’s hard to get the book out of my mind. Tan-Tan was a fantastic protagonist and I can’t wait to discover more of Hopkinson’s books. She is immensely gifted, her writing feels fresh and different and utterly fascinating. Please sir, can I have some more?

Catherynne M. Valente – Six-Gun Snow White   8,5/10six gun snow white

By now I know there is no going wrong with Cat Valente. I particularly love this book because it is signed (yay) and beautifully made. The story, while short, pushed all the right buttons and transported a well-known fairytale into a Wild West setting. The pictures she paints with her prose are nothing short of magical and if I weren’t extremely careful with my books, I would have underlined pretty much every other paragraph. Totally worth its 30 Euro price, and then some.

fly by nightFrances Hardinge – Fly By Night  7,5/10

Frances Hardinge has given me hope that YA and children’s fiction has not completely gone to shit. Everything about this book was original. The language, while easy enough to understand, was challenging at times (that’s how you teach people new things, after all, and not just children!), the setting and characters were fully fleshed-out and different from anything I have read in a children’s book before. Hardinge is another author that went right to my must-read-more-of-that list.

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THE WORST

Seeing as I only read four books, the chances were pretty low to come across a terrible one. And I didn’t. Nothing bad in May, other than not reading enough in general.

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THE REST

re Visions: AliceSullivan, Kate (ed.) – (re) Visions: Alice  5/10

A small short story collection set around the original Alice in Wonderland. As with any collection, I didn’t like every story. There was a broad range of  styles and quality. If you want to read about a noir version of Wonderland, meet old friends from Wonderland in real-life London, or see how one person can flee into her own Wonderland because real life deals her nothing but trouble, you may well find something to like in here. The collection also includes Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was by far the most fun of the stories represented. All in all, the collection left me with a feeling of “meh” but the first short story still sticks in my mind as a lot of fun and very close to Carroll’s nonsensical writingn style.

dividerBooks that followed me to June

Margo Lanagan – The Brides of Rollrock Island (Sea Hearts)
I expected something as breathtaking as Tender Morsels but even a week of holiday and unlimited reading time didn’t make me finish this book. The narrative switches too much between characters and reads more like a short story collection than a novel. I am also missing some of the magic that, in my mind, should be present whenever selkies are involved. That said, the writing is beautiful and some characters’ arcs are truly touching. Maybe the ending will sweep me off my feet (though I doubt it).

Monthly Wrap-Up: April 2013

April is the cruellest month… this year, that is a little bit true. Mid-month, I found myself in a reading slump where I picked up book after book, read a few pages, but couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm to continue any of them. Then I realised I still have a bunch of Cat Valente books on my TBR. And the month was saved!

Books read: 9
Thereof comics:
4
Pages read: 1493
Series started: The Orphan’s Tales
Series continued: The Codex Alera
Series finished:

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Tina Fey – Bossypants  8/10

bossypantsThis was a very pleasant surprise. Having watched All The Seasons of 30 Rock with my boyfriend, I wanted to find out more about Tina Fey. This audiobook was a lot of fun and gave a little insight into the comedienne’s life. Since she reads it herself, there is the extra bonus of hearing her voice tell embarrassing stories, doing her Sarah Palin impersonation, and generally being funny. Recommended for fans of Tina Fey’s or people who enjoy a few hours of hilarious memoir.

Karen Lord – Redemption in Indigo  7,5/10

redemption in indigoA charming and witty retelling of the Senegalese folktale “Ansige Karamba, the Glutton”. I enjoyed the actual retelling (the first few chapters) a lot more than the rest of the book, and I honestly don’t think I will remember the story for very long. But it was wonderfully refreshing to read a fantasy story with a non-medieval-Europe setting, with a protagonist who is a woman of color, and to recognise gods from African folklore. When I found out this book featured Anansi, I was already sold.

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THE WORST

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone 2,5/10

daughter of smoke and boneWhat utter and complete trash. Bad writing paired with a terrible, terrible romance between an old man and a teenage girl. And of course the girl is oh-so-special but never has to work for anything in her life. Having blue hair and being pretty is enough. Oh yes, everybody in this book is so beautiful, the author spends pages upon pages telling us. The only good thing about this was the world-building in the beginning. It could have been something. But apparently, publishers don’t care very much about quality anymore. Just give the hordes of Twilight fans more of the same. Let them eat cake shit.

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THE REST

Léo – Bételgeuse (1-5)  7/10

betelgeuse integraleComic writer and artist Léo continues his Worlds of Aldebaran saga in this second cycle of comic books. We join old characters – first and foremost Kim, my personal favorite – and meet a ton of new ones. The art and world-building done through it were wonderful, the planet Betelgeuse offering a rich flora and fauna to lose yourself in. Plotwise, there were flaws, but nothing bad enough to stop reading. What almost did stop me was the characters and the representation of women. Now, I have no problems with comics showing naked people, in fact I think it is only natural that when somebody takes a shower (even in a comic book) they take off their clothes. But it seemed a bit forced in these books. There was endless talk about boob size and fake woman angst. Every man falls in love with Kim, for no reason that I could see (other than her being awesome) after having known her for a day or two. Sex in fiction is great, when done well. Here it just felt like the writer got carried away and wanted to draw more breasts and have men whisper into Kim’s ears how they can barely contain themselves… [insert eye rolling here]

John Crowley – Engine Summer  6,5/10

engine summerI am still not sure I understood this book. Complex in its language, it takes you on a trip through a post-apocalyptic world with its own mythology and cultures. Personally, the “poetic” language got on my nerves a little and felt forced and overdone. Since the characters were kept (deliberatley?) distant from the reader, I had a hard time working up enough empathy to care about the things happening to them. This is a very strange little book that wasn’t much improved even by its twist-ending. On the other hand, it let me explore another type of science fiction that has little to do with space ships or badly portrayed dystopias.

Jim Butcher – Princep’s Fury  6/10

princeps furyThe worst in the Codex Alera series so far. Butcher still writes riveting action sequences and keeps me on the edge of my seat, but he got lazy with his characters, relying on their personalities being established already. Some of them act completely out of characters, others are reduced to caricatures of their former selves (Kitai!). I also had problems with the pacing and plotting. The jumps between viewpoint characters seemed erratic and killed the suspense of certain plotlines. Princep’s Fury left me with an overwhelming feeling of meh.

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BOOKS I’M DRAGGING INTO MAY:

Frances Hardinge – Fly by Night
fly by nightSo far, incredibly charming and original. Mosca is a clever and lovable heroine, the world she lives in is unlike anything I’ve read before, and the tone reminds me a bit of the Flora Segunda books, which I have shown a lot of love here on the blog. Frances Hardinge is definitely worth a read and I am once again happy that there are still good books for you people being published.

Catherynne M. Valente – The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden
night gardenOh Cat Valente, I can always rely on you. If I start describing how enchanted I am by this book, I will surely get carried away. Just this much then: I love the complicated, incricate structure. It shows that the author trust us readers to be smart enough to keep up and draw their own conclusions. The cast of characters is vast and diverse and I don’t think I have ever read a book that shows so much love for each of them. Be they monsters or men, three-breasted women or enchanted geese, firebirds or a tree who is also a girl, they each have a story to tell and they are each incredibly well-drawn. Yeah… expect another gushing fangirl review soon.

Kaye Chazan, Amanda Ching, Hilary Thomas, C.A. Young – (re)Visions: Alice
re Visions: AliceThis is a short anthology of stories about Alice in Wonderland. I have read the first story and liked it, and am now halfway through the second one. These are wonderful when I have little time to sink into a book – on the subway, waiting for the bus, etc. – and can only snatch up a few pages at a time. So far, it is a recommendation, but I don’t know what the last two stories have in store for me.

Monthly Wrap-Up: March 2013

Another month has gone by, we are well into springtime and the streets are covered in snow. The fluffy, white kind that you kind of want to see around Christmas. Oh well, nothing to be done about it. If I have to wrap myself in scarves, woolly hats and mittens to get my books, that’s okay. I just wish the time for a slightly more healthy tan were already here… seriously, I look like a zombie.
On the other hand, I read a few seriously chunky books in March – because (other than to procure more books) who would want to go out in this weather? Staying home, lying on the couch wrapped in a cozy blanket with my Kobo in my hands, that’s how I spent March. And with great results, too!

Books read: 9
Thereof comics:
1
Pages read: 3611
Series started: Mistborn
Series continued: The Codex Alera
Series finished:

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Jim Butcher – Captain’s Fury  8,5/10

captains furyThis is the volume that cements my love for the Codex Alera series. With lots of military action to go around and seriously heart-stopping moments of “oh fuck!” in every other chapter, this was enjoyment through and through. The series has been growing better and better and so far, this is my favorite part. Tavi as Captain of the First Aleran Legion, dealing with a war that neither side really wants to fight, politics going haywire, wild rescues having to be done, and all sorts of other mischief… I loved it!

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale  8,5/10

handmaids taleFinally I read this masterpiece of science fiction (I don’t care what the author says she writes, this is science fiction). In previews I read before picking up the book, I found complaints about many things, most of all the protagonist’s passivity. I thought it was spot on – in a society this oppressive that keeps its population in check with fear and control, I wouldn’t be very active either. Fear is the mind-killer, as we all know, and I felt for Offred on every single page. If you’re tired of bad YA “dystopias”, pick this one up. It’s considered a classic for a reason.

Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn: The Final Empire  8/10

mistbornSo I did. I finally read a Brandon Sanderson novel. Mind you, my expectations were extremely and it wouldn’t have surprised me had I disliked the book merely on the basis that it didn’t reach said expectations. But it did. Sanderson is a gripping writer who manages to keep you going “just one more chapter” all night long (does that sound kind of dirty in your minds, as well?). It’s not a perfect novel – I would have liked more descriptive language and deeper characters – but the enjoyment and thrill I got out of it totally redeems it. I jumped immediately into the second volume because There is always another secret and I intend to learn them all.

China Miéville – Un Lun Dun  8/10

Iun lun dun knew it wouldn’t take me long to pick up another Miéville after the brilliant Perdido Street Station. For fun, I thought I would tackle one of the author’s YA novels. It was fascinating to see how a man as wordy and educated actually managed to write for a younger audience. Short chapters, cute and terrifying illustrations, a heroine to root for and language that was not dumbed down. What more can you want, really? Oh yes, I loved the characters and the plot. Miéville has his heroine go against the fantasy trope grain on purpose and gives us something magical and unique. I didn’t like it as much as Perdido Street Station but I still liked it pretty damn much.

Terry Pratchett – The Wee Free Men 7,5/10

wee free men¹My latest foray into Discworld was another success. Tiffany Aching is a heroine I can root for, with a head of her own, and a talent for swinging the frying pan to knock out monsters. Among the humor and general insanity that is Discworld, the book explores themes that speak to me. Finding confidence, knowing who you are and that you are okay. Finding your place in the world, finding friends in the most unlikely places. Even if they are six inches tall, blue, kilt-wearing men who have a slight drinking problem…

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THE WORST:

Martha Wells – Emilie and the Hollow World 4,5/10

emilie and the hollow worldThis little novel started out so well. A young girl running away from her Uncle and Aunt’s house because she is treated badly, wanting to live her own life. She ends up as a stowaway on the steam ship Sovereign. That ship is on its way to the Hollow World, a world hidden under our own, filled with its own creatures and political conflicts.
Several things irked me with this novel, the heroines age being one of them (she felt MUCH younger than she was supposed to be). Most of all, it lacked drive of any kind. I didn’t have enough time to engage with the characters or get to know them enough. So I didn’t care when they got into danger – that happens on every other page, and they usually get out of it just as quickly. It felt like the stakes were never really high. Emilie’s character arc is practically non-existant which made this for a tedious read with only some potential for more.

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THE REST:

Juliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest  7/10

daughter of the forest1For the first time since I’ve known of its existence, I’ve participated in Fairy Tale Fortnight over at Misty the Book Rat’s blog, which was the perfect excuse to finally read this retelling of The Six Swans. It is a quiet story It may have been the ridiculous amounts of hyping reviews I had read prior to picking up the book but in the end, it was merely good instead of mind-blowing. Perfect for a rainy (or snowy) weekend to cuddle up with a nice blanket and some tea.

Saladin Ahmed – Throne of the Crescent Moon  7/10

throne of the crescent moonThere is a lot of potential in Saladin Ahmed’s Arabian Nights flavored adventure tale. I felt that in the middle of the book, we focused too much on the less interesting characters, instead of staying with the initial trio of brillant protagonists. The plot itself meandered a bit but the quick writing and my love for the characters kept me going. A good book that I hope will be surpassed by its sequel. I liked it, but I wouldn’t give it the Nebula Award.

LEO – Bételgeuse vol. 1 – La planète 7/10

betelgeuse la planeteA review is forthcoming once I’ve finished the entire Betelgeuse cycle (5 volumes). But let me say, Leo did a fantastic job of picking up where the first cycle – Aldebaran – left off, incorporating some old characters in a completely new story. There is already a link between the two cycles that lets the mystery continue. At the same time, we are on a completely different planet with its own rules, culture, and – of course – awesome creatures. I can’t wait to discover all of Betelgeuse, this series is so addictive.

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BOOKS I’M DRAGGING INTO APRIL:

John Crowley – Engine Summer
A deeply strange little book whose first half I devoured in a day. However, it is so weird that when I pick it up now, I feel like I need some time to assimilate again. Maybe I’ll have to wait for the right mood before continuing. So far, confusing as it is, I like it a lot.

Brandon Sanderson – The Well of Ascension
I’ve read about three chapters when other books got in the way. This is a book I am looking forward to a lot though. If Sanderson manages to make it as thrilling as the first one and deliver as much pay-off in the end, then I am in capable hands. It is a large book with an even larger sequel, and I look forward to every page.

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NEW PROCUREMENTS:

  • Catherynne M. Valente – Myths of Origin
  • Karin Lowachee – Warchild
  • Andrew Miller – Pure
  • Nalo Hopkinson – Sister Mine
  • Robin Hobb – Blood of Dragons
  • Deborah Coates – Wide Open
  • Robert Jackson Bennett – American Elsewhere

Wrap-Up: February 2013

February was a hell of a month. In a good way. I even had to come up with a new category. Whereas there used to be only The Best, The Worst, and The Rest, I read so many fantastic books this month that I needed a way to distinguish between the brilliant and the absolutely-stunning-me-into-loving-the-author-forever ones. So that’s what you get in The Very Best. Both the books in that category were read because of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, where you read 12 books by 12 women authors that you’ve never read before. So far, it has been more than a hit.

Books read: 15
Thereof comics:
5
Pages read: 3837
Series started: Finishing School, Metal Dragons
Series continued: The Codex Alera
Series finished: Aldebaran Cycle 1

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THE VERY BEST:

Margo Lanagan – Tender Morsels 9/10

tender morselsI expected a darkish fairytale retelling and that’s pretty much what I got. But I wasn’t in any way prepared for the depth of that darkness or the layers of the characters. Having read too many superficial retellings (mostly bad YA) my hopes weren’t all too high. I was all the more surprised by the terrifying opening chapter, the beautifully written yet dark prose, and the incorporation of certain scenes and characters from the original fairytale into a completely original story. I feel I should send a warning to those of you who simply won’t read a book that deals with certain issues – there is a lot of rape and violence toward women. It is subtly told, though, and therefore all the more terrifying (because your imagination fills in all the horrible blanks).

Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Drowning Girl  9/10

drowning girlThis was a less expected hit.I had never read Caitlín R. Kiernan and judging by the covers, I wouldn’t ever have picked her books up. But the WoGF challenge kind of nudged her my way (the Nebula nomination helped a litte, too) and I had heard nothing but great things about this book. It was dark, and magical, and deeply strange but Imp’s voice captured me and wouldn’t let go. Even after finishing, she is still spooking around in my head. One might say, she’s haunting me…

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THE BEST:

Leo – Aldebaran (volumes 1-5)  8,5/10

aldebaranThis is what science fiction comic books should be like. A great setting with characters that we care for and a killer plot. I can’t pick which was my favorites. The characters and their relationships were intriguing, the world we discover through plot and pictures is amazing and there is quite a bit of mystery involved. Highly recommended.

Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett – Havemercy 8/10

havemercyVery different from what I expected (no steampunk, nothing very epic), this book managed to hook me nonetheless. It is an intricate character study, set in a fantasy world, it involves a beautiful gay romance and, of course, clockwork dragons – even if they stay on the sidelines.

Barry Hughart – Bridge of Birds 8/10

bridge of birdsAgain, a book that I expected to be something else but that charmed the pants right off me. Hughart puts a humorous spin on the classic Chinese myths and sagas. Following Master Li and Number Ten Ox is a huge pleasure, even if the humorous tone kept me a little distant from the characters.

Jim Butcher – Cursor’s Fury 8/10

Jim Butcher - Cursor's FuryThis series just keeps getting better. Follwing Tavi and his friends around Alera has become a much beloved before-bed-tradition with me. I am already dreading the end of the series (and have bought the entire Dresden Files, just to be safe).

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THE WORST:

Beth Revis – Across the Universe 3/10

across the universeAnother case of bad YA dystopian romance. I am going to take that “dystopian romantic YA” as a sign for bad writing from now on. A lot of good books will probably be left untouched (by me) for that reason, but I just cannot stomach another dumb female character who falls in love witht he first guy she sees and seems to have no other interest. Plus, bad writing. Plus, lame plot. I’m just fed up with it.

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THE REST:

Catherynne M. Valente – Silently and Very Fast 7,5/10

silently and very fastI only rated this novella this “badly” because it took me quite long to get into it. Once I did, I was sucked into Valente’s wonderful, poetic world of ideas and mythology again. Highly recommended but not my favorite Valente.

Gail Carriger – Etiquette & Espionage 7/10

etiquette and espionageAfter very much disliking the direction the Parasol Protectorate went after book 2 (repetitive, unoriginal, rehashing old ideas, etc.), I was happy to see that Gail Carriger came up with a whole new set of characters. Her charming, funny voice is back and it’s like coming home to tea and treacle tart.

Andrea Jones – Hook & Jill 6,5/10

hook and jillA dark, alternate version of Peter Pan, where Wendy desperately wants to grow up and fall in love and Hook slowly seduces her. I loved the sinister, sexual undertones, but I had some trouble with the writing. It was trying very hard to sound poetic and it would have worked if it hadn’t been quite so much. I will read the second part, but not necessarily right now.

Mary Robinette Kowal – Glamour in Glass 6/10

glamour in glassWhen I read book one in the Glamourist Histories series, I felt it was too much like Jane Austen, with the characters basically being copies of Austen’s leading ladies. This problem has been solved in Glamour in Glass, but I really disliked Jane for most of the book. The plot is really, really slow and, honestly, for the most part, I was simply bored. Historical accuracy does not make a gripping story.

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BOOKS I STARTED IN FEBRUARY:

  • China Miéville – Un Lun Dun
  • Martha Wells – Emilie and the Hollow World
  • Meljean Brook – The Iron Duke
  • Saladin Ahmed – Throne of the Crescent Moon