Saturday, 31 December 2016

Wrapping Up 2016 - Hello 2017

I'm glad we're wrapping up 2016. I'm ready to throw it onto a fire and burn it to a crisp. It wasn't good when it came to private matters, it wasn't good when it came to politics and it wasn't good when it came to people I look up to dying. I doubt 2017 will be much better, simply because nothing that made 2016 bad is resolved.

But. I love new beginnings. I love a clean slate. And I have quite a few goals for this year and I'm hoping to bring a better structure to my day and spend more time doing what I love doing.

These are the goals, that I hopefully will stick with for longer than 9 days.

  • Run or walk every day. My SO loves running. Not me. But we've got two dogs, and they love when they get to run along. I often choose the lazy version to tire out my dogs and throw a ball for hours while listening to podcasts. This year, I'd like to go for either a run or a walk every single day. Make a habit of it.
  • Write a 1000 words every day. Make a habit of it as well. I write a lot, but I also stare at blank pages a lot. Instead of staring, writing... that's the goal.
  • More Blogging. I need more ideas for things I can blog about. Hit me with ideas! Please!
  • 104 books. I managed to finish my goal this year. I'd like to try again in 2017.

I did actually finish my 104 books. I wasn't sure I'd managed and it's almost midnight. But I am done! My favorite books in 2016:




I hope everyone had happy holidays. We spent most of it in pajamas eating ham and cheese and drinking Sherry. Like an old British couple!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Book Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
My Rating: ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads Summary: When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
What did I think? Sadly, I feel rather meh about this one. It has a great premise. I was very excited to dive into the social media dystopia, especially now that we lose more and more of our privacy. Don't worry, it's not all bad. The Circle is a quick and entertaining read and I read it in almost one sitting. It definitely managed to keep my interest and attention.

Dave Eggers is a skilled writer. The pacing is good, the prose very readable and despite all the flaws, I enjoyed myself.

I like the idea of a social media company that links our real names, to everything else and just how far it could go. Definitely a great thought experiment and one that is very current.

But the main character... and not just the main one. They are all two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Almost caricatures. I couldn't get myself to care about any of them. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was so annoyed with most of them, that I was hoping they'd jump off a cliff somewhere in the middle of the book.

Mae is shallow, gullible and easily influenced. I'd even go as far as to call her stupid. The only thing she cares about is being liked. It made me want to bang my head against a wall. Grow a backbone. Stand up for yourself!

Besides the unlikable and boring characters, Dave Eggers doesn't really offer anything new to the conversation. This kind of book has been written before and will be written again. Hopefully better.



I hope everyone is having good week and looking forward to the Holidays. I'm busy putting together my list of books I want to read in 2017. While reading the last 8 books of 2016.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Book Title: Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns & Emperor of Thorns
Author: Mark Lawrence
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK
I've linked to the first book in the series, so no one accidentally stumbles into spoilers. 
I blogged about the first book, Prince of Thorns here. 
Goodreads summary of the first book: From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.
What did I think of the series? It's a wonderful debut. It's brutal. Yes, there's rape. Lots of blood. Violence. It's grim. It's dark. And maybe for some it goes a bit too far. But I loved it!

The main character, Jorg, is an anti-hero, a broken child. He was once privileged and a prince until the day his mother and brother were brutally murdered before his eyes. Now, he must confront the horrors of his childhood to become a man and build a better future for himself. He's a fascinating character. I usually prefer the villain to the protagonist. Often in books and also on television. I particularly enjoy when an author dares to show us the villain as the hero. Jorg grows over the course of the series. He starts out with no redeeming qualities, but he's complex, layered and develops in interesting ways.

The ending seems to have caused some controversy among reviewers and not everyone is happy with how Lawrence decided to finish the series. I, however, thought it was brilliant.

Mark Lawrence's world is rich and beautifully crafted. It's a futuristic version of our modern world that has been destroyed. His prose is vivid and sort of poetic.

If you like villains, don't mind dark fantasy and some science fiction thrown into it, then give this one a try, it's worth your time, I promise.

Monday, 12 December 2016

How fast do you give up on a series?

Me and Terry Pratchett's Discworld definitely don't get along. But hey, at least now I know!

I tried to start with the first book in the series a few years ago, but was told that it's not the best starting point. I decided to read Guards! Guards! next and whilst I didn't dislike it, I simply didn't find it all that funny or original. I blogged about it here.

Since then I read Mort and Equal Rites. And now I can drop this series without feeling bad about it. I gave it a proper try. I'd say reading 4 books of a series I don't enjoy is almost trying too hard?

I preferred Mort to the other books. Death is a funny guy. But whilst Pratchett is witty and clever, I miss an actual story. The humour is what matters in these books, but I'm not that interested in humour. I'd like to read an actual story.

Usually I give a book about a hundred pages before giving up on it. I sometimes check Goodreads and Amazon for reviews and decide whether or not I should stick with it. With Pratchett there are so many fans that adore him that I thought I have to stick with it.

But in the end I think life is too short for us to try and spend our free time with books or TV or movies that we don't enjoy.

How do you decide how many books to read before giving up on a series? Or how many pages to read before giving up on a book?

I hope everyone's December is going well. I'm approaching my goal of reading 104 books. I've got eleven to go. And I'm working on my 2017 list! 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Book Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads Summary: On 21 June 1922 Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.
But instead of being taken to his usual suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.

While Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.
I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What did I think? As I get older it seems like I fall in love with books less often than when I was a child. Maybe I've just seen it all. The twists, the turns, the reveals... but every once in a while I still stumble over a book that captures my heart.

This year it was Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes) and Tom Toner's The Promise of the Child. And this one...

Not at first though. It took me quite a while to get into the book. The first hundred pages, I wasn't convinced, but before I knew what was happening I fell in love... 

I don't usually like when there isn't a healthy amount of action in a story. In A Gentleman in Moscow not a lot happens. At least not inside the hotel where the entire novel takes place. History happens outside, but the Count doesn't get to participate. It's an uplifting tale, but one where the main character is stuck in the same location throughout.

Once I've adjusted my expectations and was willing to just follow the Count's journey through the hotel, having dinner and living his life to the best of his abilities, I discovered a wonderful novel. 

The writing is elegant, tender and so very warm. Towards the end I had goosebumps all over and tears streaming down my cheeks.

Amor Towles created a world with likeable characters, filled with Russian history (from 1922-1954) and despite the story taking place in one location only, the book kept my interest and is filled with little tidbits that made me smile. Whether it be the gourmet food, the accompanying wine or quotes from Russian literature. It's all exquisite.

I highly recommend this one to anyone interested in Russia, historical fiction or just a charming read.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Book Title: Kafka on the Shore
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Magic Realism, Literary Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.

As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shoredisplays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.
What did I think? Once I'd read the last word in this book, I grabbed my phone and immediately started researching the meaning behind the story, behind the ending and what others made of it all. Partly because I'm not sure I understood everything (if it's even possible to understand everything in a Murakami book) and partly because I'm sure the story can be interpreted in many different ways.

I found a lot of different interpretations and I much enjoyed reading other reader's opinions on the book.

Haruki Murakami definitely isn't for everyone. His work is surreal, filled with magic and 'what exactly am I reading?' moments. Murakami doesn't hold the reader's hand and at the end he doesn't deliver a neat package with an ending that ties together all the loose ends. Quite the opposite in fact, he leaves most of it up to the reader's imagination and interpretation.

His work is magical, his prose wonderful. Murakami's characters are interesting and always searching for something.

Kafka on the Shore is a page-turner, at least it was one for me and I highly recommend it. I couldn't stop reading and worked my way through it more or less in one sitting. It's engaging and filled with mythology and metaphors. Reading it felt like entering a dream.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Book Title: Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #1)
Author: Dan Simmons
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.  
What did I think? I absolutely loved it. I say, but only give it 4 ♥ instead of 5. And I'm sure you're wondering why. 
It doesn't stand on its own. I made a list of books I want to read until the end of this year and I put this one on it and if I'd had realised that it doesn't stand on its own, I'd have waited until next year. Maybe, once I've read the sequel, I'll bump this to 5 ♥ but for now it's not. Because it just stops. It's only a set-up. No resolution. In fact I feel like I've only read the beginning of something much bigger.

The prose is beautiful. And Hyperion is basically Canterbury Tales in space. The reader gets to discover this universe through several short stories. Simmons throws his readers into the middle of the action with little explanation, but the stories are vivid and it didn't take long for me to find my bearings.

It's an amazing and complex world Simmons has created here. He explores morality, religion, empathy and other themes in an intelligent way. The book is beautifully structured and a must read for any science fiction fan.

Dan Simmons has excellent writing advice on his website, available for aspiring authors. Definitely check it out if you like to write.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Wrapping up November

November has been a somewhat busy month but also somewhat of a failure for me. I wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo and write something longer but ended up writing 5 short stories, and also didn't hit the word count. But hey... I've been writing, so that's good.

We are facing some job troubles at the moment, so I'm on edge. I don't like uncertainty, it makes me anxious and I am a worrier and tend to over think things. Never good. Never results in me being productive. Hopefully December will be better.

I've been starting to set up my list of books I want to read for 2017. Some group challenges on Goodreads are hard to resist. You can find me on Goodreads here.

I've been participating in a daily photo challenge on Litsy (if you don't know Litsy, this is my post about this new social media network for books, basically Instagram meets Goodreads.) this month and I enjoyed it a lot. Only missed two days, I think. You can find me there @Vinjii

I have 15 books left to read in December, which is approximately 3 books a week, I hopefully should manage. However I did choose Sanderson's The Way of Kings as one of the books, so maybe that wasn't smart.

I've read 7 books in November.

Dune was my favourite. And the reviews for Emperor of Thorns, Kafka on the Shore and Hyperion will be coming soon.

 I'm still in love with this cover. It's just really beautiful, despite me at first thinking it's the weird opening of a cave. Thankfully some comments said they saw the same. So, I don't have to feel too embarrassed for not having seen the worm immediately.

The reviews to Paper Towns, A Darker Shade of Magic, and Seveneves can be found by clicking onto the title.


Hope everyone had a good November and I wish everyone a good start to December.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Paper Towns by John Green

Book Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary:
Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew...
What did I think? Whilst I'm not the biggest John Green fan, I do think his novels are good at conveying the emotions and turmoils we all face (or faced once upon a time) as teenagers. However, he often follows a basic formula and his characters are similar across all of his books. Basically it boils down to: if you like John Green, you will enjoy Paper Towns, but if you don't, don't bother with this one either, it is just more of the same.

While reading some of his other books I often had the impression the message and theme Green is trying to convey leads to characters that are entirely too clever and too deep to feel real. Not so in Paper Towns. These teenagers feel like they're living real lives and their dialogue flows nicely. Add to that good pacing and tight prose and you get a very enjoyable and light read.

I really liked reading about Quentin. I wasn't a fan of Margo Roth Spielgelman. I've known people like her and I'd rather not have them in my life. However, her character is very believable and I loved how Quentin tries his best to find her.

If you're looking for a fun YA read with authentic characters definitely give this one a try.

Monday, 21 November 2016

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Book Title: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. 
Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London - but no one speaks of that now. 
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason.
What did I think? Just how amazing does the premise sound, right? When I first saw the plot summary for this book, I was immediately intrigued and I must say A Darker Shade of Magic delivered... somewhat.

It took me a while to get into the book. In fact I started it a few weeks ago and the book just didn't keep my interest. I forced myself to continue. One chapter at a time. About a third in, I thought, great premise, but I'm not sure I like the execution.

Then, finally, the tone changed, the plot advanced, and everything started to come together. I was excited. In fact I read the second half of the novel in one sitting. Sadly, towards the end, I felt a bit disappointed again. The resolution was too easy. Too neat.

V. E. Schwab is an excellent writer. I highly enjoy her prose. Her world-building is intricate, meticulous and clever. The premise is original and unlike anything I've read in the last few years. I just wish we could have seen more of the world.

In the end it was all a bit superficial, with great potential. I'm excited for the sequels, but for now... it didn't quite grab me the way I was hoping it would.

Nonetheless I recommend it highly, because Kell and Lila are great characters and the world Schwab created deserves every reader it can get. I'd like more books like this, please.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Dune by Frank Herbert

Book Title: Dune (Dune #1)
Author: Frank Herbert
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: My own copy
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads Summary: Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the 'spice' melange, the most important and valuable substance in the cosmos. The story explores the complex, multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion as the forces of the empire confront each other for control of Arrakis.
What did I think? I seem to be keen to read science fiction lately. Dune is a classic and cornerstone of that genre, and I'd never read it before. Obviously I had to change that and this weekend I finally did.

It took me a while to get into the book. I'd tried a few times before, in fact the book has been on my shelf for well over a year now. I always failed. Page 2 is filled with a bunch of unknown names, places and other things that can't be pronounced, and I remember thinking, uh-hoh, this is too confusing. This time I decided to stick with it no matter what.

For anyone like me who is struggling with the beginning: it gets easier.

In fact, I fell in love with this universe. There are however a few bad things. This book is dated. It's over 50 years old and you can tell. The dialogue is painful in places. Herbert loves to have characters think the obvious, marked with italics, to make sure the reader doesn't miss anything important. That results in a lot of 'telling' and I have the impression 'showing' wasn't Herbert's strength.

But apart from that? Amazing world-building. The planet, the dunes, the sand, the worms... those worms. (Fun fact: the first time I looked at the cover - which is the edition I own - I thought we were looking at the desert from inside a cave which just happens to have an interesting opening. I didn't see the worm.) Paul's journey. His mother's journey. The mythology. The book is filled with politics and intrigues. A wonderful world and I'm actually excited to read the sequels (at least the ones written by Frank Herbert himself.)

Friday, 11 November 2016

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Book Title: Seveneves
Author: Neal Stephenson
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: What would happen if the world were ending? A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
What did I think? I really like the premise of this book. I mean the moon blows up pretty much in the first sentence and now humanity has to find shelter in space, using the ISS as a starting point. Sounds amazing, right? I was especially excited to read more about the apocalypse and also to find out what happens once the descendants of the survivors come back to Earth.

This is my first Neal Stephenson, and I've picked this one because I really like the possibilities within this premise.

The first third of the book is amazing. Clever characters, an apocalypse, people working together trying to avoid said apocalypse from wiping out humanity. Then Stephenson kind of trails off and in the end he presents a vision of the future that I find entirely too unbelievable for a science fiction book.

Apart from that I was really struggling with the execution. It's basically science porn. The world-building is fantastic. The science is well researched. And detailed. And fills page upon page. Mostly they're info-dumps and if I was a die-hard astronomy fan I possibly would have loved it. Stephenson describes in detail every technological difficulty humanity will face. I feel like I barely got to know the characters because he describes the ISS in such detail that there are no words left to add depth to the main characters.

If you're into space, astronomy, the ISS and want to know as much as possible about them, while at the same time reading about the end of humanity as we know it, then this is definitely the book for you.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Book Title: Guards! Guards! (Discworld #8)
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads Summary: Here there be dragons . . . and the denizens of Ankh-Morpork wish one huge firebreather would return from whence it came. Long believed extinct, a superb specimen of draco nobilis ("noble dragon" for those who don't understand italics) has appeared in Discworld's greatest city. Not only does this unwelcome visitor have a nasty habit of charbroiling everything in its path, in rather short order it is crowned King (it is a noble dragon, after all.)
Meanwhile, back at Unseen University, an ancient and long-forgotten volume--The Summoning of Dragons--is missing from the Library's shelves. To the rescue come Captain Vimes, Constable Carrot, and the rest of the Night Watch who, along with other brave citizens, risk everything, including a good roasting, to dethrone the flying monarch and restore order to Ankh-Morpork (before it's burned to a crisp).
What did I think? When Terry Pratchett died last year, I was, just like the rest of Britain, very sad. Because he's a legend and because Neil Gaiman loved him and I love Neil Gaiman. But at the back of my mind I knew, I'm not a Discworld fan. I enjoyed 'The Colour of Magic' but I didn't love it. Many people told me to start with 'Equal Rites' or maybe 'Mort'. Or 'Guards! Guards!' You'll love that one, they said.

I tried 'Good Omens' last year, the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, thinking that should work for me, but it didn't either. I just didn't find it funny. Is something wrong with me?

This year I promised myself to read 'Mort', 'Equal Rites' and 'Guards! Guards!' before I make up my mind on whether or not to dive further into the Discworld novels. 

I'm sorry to say I didn't like 'Guards! Guards!'. Don't get me wrong. I can appreciate what Pratchett did here, which is why I'm giving it three stars. But it did not make me chuckle once, it did not entice me and I'm not interested in discovering more about the City Watch or Discworld.

I enjoyed the parodies of fantasy tropes, but at the same time I thought they were over the top. I didn't dislike the characters but I wasn't invested in them and to be honest the story more or less bored me. At least it was a quick and easy read.

I feel like I'm committing a crime... maybe this is the moment to admit, I don't like Monty Python either? I'll be over there in that corner. Sorry.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Two Books for November (and NaNoWriMo)

I've just borrowed two new books from the library, one in e-book form. (Sadly our library doesn't have a big selection when it comes to e-books and I rarely find what I'm looking for.) And one physical book, because despite all the love I have for e-readers, I still love a physical book.

First of all I'm looking forward to reading A Darker Shade of Magic. I absolutely love the concept: Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London - but no one speaks of that now. How cool does that sound? It almost makes me jealous that I've not come up with this concept. I think there's just so much you can do with this setting and I'm curious to see what V. E. Schwab has done with it.

Besides reading November is always a bit hectic for me because I love to participate in NaNoWriMo and this month I've decided to tackle two projects. A few short stories. 10-20 in total. And on top of that a novella, which I hope will be between 40-50K words once I'm done. My Goodreads challenge is telling me I need to read 24 books until the end of the year and I'm starting to feel the pressure.

This is the other book I picked up from the library. Science Fiction. I'm not usually a fan of space. I can't bring myself to care when I read about species A having a war with species B, fighting on planet Z that is covered in ice. I like my science fiction to be near future and based on technology. More Black Mirror (how good is the new season?) and less Star Trek. However I thought this summary sounds pretty cool: On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

I made a list of 24 books I plan to read in the coming 8 weeks and I hope I can stick to it. Basically a bit more than 3 books a week. That's doable, right? Then why did I decide to put books onto that list that are a 1'000 pages long? Why couldn't I just choose 24 novellas?

Have you all finished the GR challenge? Successfully? Or are at least on your way?

Friday, 28 October 2016

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Book Title: Prince of Thorns (Broken Empire #1)
Author: Mark Lawrence
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads summary: From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.
Mark Lawrence's debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, and sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.
What did I think? I loved Prince of Thorns just like I thought I would.

However I will start with a warning. A warning that I think is necessary: this book isn't for everyone. There's rape. And it's possibly unnecessary rape, maybe just there to show how dark the protagonist really is. Right at the beginning. Right in your face.

Then again... maybe rape is just what happens in a male dominated group that is ransacking and pillaging. And not talking about it would be looking at the world with rose tinted glasses. In which case, maybe it's necessary and leaving it out just wouldn't be believable.

But it's still there. In your face. And I know many people don't appreciate reading about it. And I think that's fair.

The main character, Jorg, is an anti-hero, a broken child and I appreciate a protagonist that isn't all white knight in shining armor. In fact I'm a sucker for a good villain. One I can emphasize with. One I can root for. Jorg is definitely far away from being likable, but he is compelling. The story is told from his point of view and it's fascinating to follow the thoughts of such a dark, intelligent but also insane character, who has given up all hope and humanity.

It's a violent book. Disturbing. Gritty. But at the same time it's beautiful. At its heart it is a tale of revenge. 

Prince of Thorns is a quick read and Mark Lawrence's writing is enticing, almost poetic in places. He's excellent at bringing the story to life and does not waste time with pointless descriptions. The world he created is interesting and complex, though not much about it has been revealed yet, but I'm intrigued and hope we'll find out more about in the sequel.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Book Title: Shatter Me (#1 Trilogy)
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Science Fiction, YA
My Rating: ♥ ♥
Source: Own it.
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: The last time she touched someone, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
What did I think? I was looking for some light entertainment and that's exactly what Shatter Me offers. It's also a quick and easy read. So far so good.

The writing is too flowery (and filled with unnecessary similes and metaphors) but I didn't mind the stream of consciousness throughout the book.

Sadly, there's not much of a story to be found in this one though, and most of it is dull. It's the same old dystopia, and so far there's almost no world building and whatever we get to see isn't very believable. It's the same old romance, with the same old triangle.

The main character has unexplained powers, that (again unexplained) don't affect her love interest. She's just as flat and annoying as other YA heroines, though I did not dislike her.

The ending is wide open and the book doesn't stand on its own. I am however curious enough to pick up the other books in the series, because I've heard they get better.

Shatter Me isn't a disaster, but it's far from being good.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Red Winter by Annette Marie

Book Title: Red Winter
Author: Annette Marie
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Goodreads, Amazon UK 

The publisher's summary: Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess—and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.
Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command—whether she wants him or not.
On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate—but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.
What did I think?

Every now and then the YA genre offers a surprise. This is one of those surprises.

I chose this book because of the beautiful cover and because Annette Marie, the author, has based her new novel on Japanese mythology. She did her research thoroughly and explains each term she uses without boring the reader. In fact it was a great pleasure to dive into this world. Annette Marie is careful and provides a lot of details and depth, and at first that slows the plot a little, but I got used to it and lost myself in the fantastic world building, eager to discover more of this vibrant world.

The characters are exceptionally well written and compelling, the plot is fast paced and gripping, and the author has a way of making her scenes come to life that I really enjoyed. Especially the battle scenes are stunning. I was pleased to discover that this book has some art in it, especially since I enjoy both anime and manga.

There was only one thing I struggled with: the unfamiliar names. I have no knowledge of Japanese mythology and it took me quite a while to wrap my head around all the terms. But that didn't hinder my enjoyment!

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys mythology and fantasy and doesn't mind young protagonists.

I received an ARC copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the author: Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, which includes the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night. Her first love is fantasy, a limitless realm of creativity where she can break all the boring rules of real life, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every book. Annette lives in the frozen winter wasteland of northern Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad). She shares her life with her remarkably patient, comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness—sorry, cat—Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities. To find out more about Annette and her books, visit her website at www.authorannettemarie.com

Monday, 17 October 2016

Gardens of the Moon by Steven

Book Title: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan #1)
Author: Steven Erikson
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: My own copy
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads Summary: The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting, and bloody confrontations. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen's rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze. But it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand...
What did I think? This is a favorite among fantasy readers. Almost worshiped by many. However as a new reader you also get warned: it's complicated. It's dense. You get thrown into the middle of a story without any explanation whatsoever. Be prepared.

I was prepared. But (sadly) it still didn't work for me. This is hard for me to write, because I definitely see the depth of the world building and I can tell there's a lot to discover. It's a detailed world. And it's waiting for me to dive in and have fun.

But instead I felt...lost? I felt lost despite notes, despite chapter summaries, despite character portraits and maps, and towards the end I had the impression the book just turned into a bunch of chaotic events and none of it really mattered...

For me it almost came across as if I was punishing myself with this book. Back to school, and back to homework. I made notes and it felt like a chore. But most of all: Erikson did not manage to make me care. A lot of what happened just happened and I wondered, why? And why does it matter? And why should I care?

Maybe I should give up on the note taking and just read the second installment, see where it takes me and once I'm done (and if I liked it) revisit Gardens of the Moon. Or, maybe I should just give up on Malazan altogether, I haven't made up my mind just yet.

Gardens of the Moon is a complicated story. The writing is solid but not memorable (the first book was written years before the others, and apparently Erikson's writing improves a lot in later books). If you like epic and complicated fantasy, please do give this a try, I can see why so many readers absolutely love this series and if I read it again I'll make sure to review it again. Who knows.

If anyone is interested in some of the helpful websites that exist out there to help a first time reader:
  • The new Readers Zone of the Malazan Wikia (there are no spoilers on this page as long as you don't click on any links.) 
  • Tor.com did a re-read with chapter summaries and discussions (careful there are spoilers) 
  • Chapter summaries (spoiler-free)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Machine Society by Mike Brooks

Book Title: The Machine Society
Author: Mike Brooks
Genre: Sci-Fi
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
I received this copy from Netgalley in return for an honest review. I chose it because I thought the blurb sounds very interesting. 
From the publisher: Mike Brooks’ debut novel is an adventure story set in a dystopian future in which our taste for branding, consumerism and artificial reality is boundless. In The Machine Society, he weaves together psychological insight, philosophical reflection and spiritual inquiry to give us a novel that is both a deep satire on modern life and a rich metaphor for our longing to find inner peace. Dean Rogers lives in the Perimeter of New London, holding down a soul-destroying job, surrounded by people who have lost the will to communicate. He is afraid his debts will spiral out of control, resulting in him being cast out of the city, outside of the Security Wall. Meanwhile, in the Better Life Complex, New London’s rich elite live in plastic luxury, unaware of the sinister secrets that underpin their world.
What did I think? The idea is quite clever and the premise is interesting. However I wasn't enamored with the execution. The writing is a bit clunky and the ending too abrupt.

It's a quick read though and a lot happens in those pages. I particularly enjoyed the vivid description of futuristic (and very realistic) video games. The book is filled with thoughtful philosophical concepts and a dose of healthy satire. Despite that it never comes across as pretentious and I can definitely see parts of the future Mike Brooks paints already happening.

I thought the ending is too abrupt and leaves too many questions unanswered, so hopefully there will be a second installment with a satisfactory resolution.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Book Title: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
Author: Meg Elison
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Goodreads, Amazon UK

The publisher's description on Netgalley: When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead. In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it. A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even fewer are safe from the clans of men, who, driven by fear, seek to control those remaining. To preserve her freedom, she dons men’s clothing, goes by false names, and avoids as many people as possible. But as the world continues to grapple with its terrible circumstances, she’ll discover a role greater than chasing a pale imitation of independence. After all, if humanity is to be reborn, someone must be its guide.

I got an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why did I request it? I thought the cover looks gorgeous. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2014 and the story sounded intriguing.

What did I think? It's definitely a gritty post-apocalyptic tale, filled with unsettling realism and quite a few triggering topics. Word of advice, if you can't cope with rape, don't pick this one up.

Imagine the flu kills 98% of humanity. Imagine it kills almost all women and we are now rare as... well, something that is very rare and everyone is basically willing to kill for it. Women become something men can own, trade, rape and possess. There's only a handful left and men are not happy about that. Pregnancy is a death sentence for the child, and usually for the mother as well.
The unnamed midwife keeps a diary so that others will remember and know what happened to the world. It's brutal. It's about survival. Birth control is essential.

There's a few things that made it hard for me to connect with the book.

I did not like any of the characters which made it difficult to care about the outcome. I especially disliked the midwife herself. It's a realistic character, flawed, with strengths and weaknesses. Well written actually. But I did not like her.

The diary entries are disjointed, written in choppy sentences and very casual English. I'm aware that I keep my diaries the same way, but I'm not aiming to ever publish them. For the sake of fiction, they could have been written better? But I seem to be in the minority, most reviews I've read so far aren't bothered by that aspect.

We also learn the fate of several characters that did not keep a diary. The author clearly thought the reader should know what happens to those characters, even though the book starts with a bunch of boys transcribing the diaries of the midwife and there's no way they'd ever learn what happened to the others. So why should the reader?

However, I guess now I'm nitpicking.

If you like post-apocalyptic stories and don't shy away from realistic stories that have no sugarcoating whatsoever, please go ahead, you will like this one.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Book Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magic Realism, 1001 Books
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK
Goodreads Summary: A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
What did I think? This is one of the 1001 books a bunch of people think I (and others) should read before the inevitable dying part of life. And it's one I've been meaning to read for quite a while.

Before 1Q84 I've only ever read one other Murakami novel and I clearly remember falling in love with the way he writes. It was a revelation. Compared to that experience 1Q84 is a disappointment and I can't quite explain why.

Possibly because I was only 18 years old and back then easily impressed by books? Or maybe because I read it in German and this one in English? Maybe it's the translation.

1Q84 is an intriguing book, but I neither enjoyed the way it all comes together, nor the length of it. In fact I almost gave up on it about halfway through. It's easy to be sucked into the story at first.

Each chapter alternates between the points of view of the two main characters and it takes a long time before the connection becomes clear. Aomame is full of surprises throughout the first half, whilst Tengo doesn't seem to have that many layers.

Murakami paints interesting characters, talks a lot about food and the sex scenes are incredibly awkward (but he sure knows how to describe breasts.) He also doesn't fully explain a lot of magical things that are happening throughout the plot, to the point where 1Q84 left me with too many questions and not enough answers.

Maybe this wasn't the right book to pick up for me at the moment. Maybe I need to go back and read his other works to find that feeling I had, when I read him for the first time.

I definitely wouldn't recommend this to someone who hasn't read Murakami before.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Two Books for October (and why it's important to read a series the moment the books are published)

I just acquired copies of Six of Crows and The Prince of Thorns. Both are the first book in a series and I really don't need to read more series, but I keep seeing people talk about both books and I'm intrigued. Once I'm intrigued I can't wait.

I often think of waiting until an author has finished a series, so I don't encounter another ASOIAF moment where I've forgotten everything that happened (not that it matters, that book is never coming, is it?) or a series like Outlander, which by now has so many books and words that I got lost somewhere along the journey and would have to restart.

I know a lot of people think like that. Wait until the series is done. Binge it. Read them all. At once. No waiting. Sounds like paradise, right?

But publishers watch sales. And if the first book doesn't take off, the second book might never be published. This is how sometimes authors have to announce to fans, that sadly the next installment will not be available... they have options these days, authors can self-publish. But it must suck quite a bit, when you're in the middle of telling your story and not enough people are listening.

Sometimes I'm late to the party. No, that's wrong... I'm mostly late to the party. There are so many books out there, I have no idea where to start, what to pick next and I just kind of stumble through Goodreads, sipping my coffee, and click on random books until I get excited about a particular cover or review and immediately have to buy the book and everything else can wait. Too many books. Not enough time.

What I know about Prince of Thorns: Jorg is the narrator, he endured tremendous trauma during his childhood and is now deeply damaged. He's willing to hurt and kill and possibly not a nice guy. It's fantasy and it's Grimdark. I love conflicting characters, I love anti-heroes, so I'm quite looking forward to this one.

What I know about Six of Crows: Young Adult. Fantasy. And a deadly heist. I honestly don't know much more, so I'm looking forward to it. I like being surprised by books.

What are you planning to read in October? Anything new? Or older books? Anything I'm missing out on and should read right this second?

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Book Title: The Raven King
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Urban Fantasy, YA
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Amazon UK: Book #1, Book #2, Book #3, Book #4
Goodreads Summary of the first book: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them--until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can't entirely explain. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn't believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.
What did I think? The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater is probably the best Urban Fantasy YA series I've ever read.

I will not talk about the plot much because I don't want anyone to accidentally stumble over spoilers. Let me just say, the plot is unusual, surprisingly creative and refreshing. The books follow four boys and one girl as they embark upon a journey to find a Welsh King in a small town in Virginia.

The characters are fully developed with depth, flaws and the complete shebang to make them feel (sometimes painfully) real. The friendships are so well described, that I couldn't help but fall head over heels in love with all of them.

Blue is a great protagonist, a strong female character, surrounded by a rather crazy but delightful family.
Gansey is driven, brilliant and on a quest to find the King. He's gentle and sometimes aloof, but you can tell he's meticulous and means well. He ties the group together.
Then there's Adam, a lovable character, who is painted as hard working and intelligent. His overall sweetness and integrity, made me think of a precious puppy. We follow his journey to overcome an abusive father and the never ending struggle to have enough money to pay for a private school and escape poverty.
Noah is always a bit in the background, but over the four books we learn so much about him and he's such an important part of the group.
And finally there's Ronan. A mystery in the beginning. Hurt, angry and full of regret. His story is amazing and well developed by Maggie Stiefvater.

Personally, I thought the fourth book, The Raven King, might have been the weakest, but it was still so much better than I ever thought was possible when I picked up the first book.

If you enjoy YA and enjoy Urban Fantasy, do yourself the favor and give this one a chance.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

Book Title: On the Edge of Gone
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Goodreads, Amazon UK
Goodreads Summary: January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.
Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister? When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?
What did I think? There's many good things to say about this book and I gave it a high rating, so let me start with the one thing that bothered me. Just so I don't send anyone off with the wrong expectations.

Nothing much happens in this book. Don't expect space, or much of the apocalypse, or much of the aftermath of an apocalypse. Yes, a comet is about to hit the Earth and Denise, the protagonist, and her mother find themselves on board of a generation ship which has not yet taken off. The book tells the story of a girl desperately trying to make herself useful to convince the captain to let her family stay on board.

Not much else happens.

Don't expect action.

Instead expect a character study. Expect a story about well written characters, their relationships and the important question who gets to survive and why.

It's exceptionally well written. The main character is an autistic, mixed race, Dutch girl and the author writes her well. Corinne Duyvis' narrative in general is very engaging and her voice feels real throughout.

It's sad that we live in a world where a book with a diverse portrayal of gay, trans and mixed race characters deserves extra stars just because of said portrayal. It's also sad that said portrayal needs pointing out and isn't just the standard by now. It's 2016, come on! But it does need pointing out and this book is fantastic when it comes to being inclusive.

I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a slow paced plot where the people matter and not the plot itself.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

5 Books I Love

I've been wondering the other day which five books I'd choose if I'd absolutely have to... for example if there's a fire and I only have time to grab five. (And... there's no more bookstores in the entire world. The horror!)

The thought was a stressful one and I would like to point out that I'd rather not choose, at all. But, I had a long think and these are the five books I came up with:

Flowers for Algernon. I only read it the other day but I'm already certain this is one of the books I'd save in case of fire. It had such a huge impact on me and I can't stop thinking about it.
I've reviewed it here.
The book looks at various aspects of humanity that are very important: disability, mental illness, what it means to be human, intelligence, what makes a person a person.
I think the author handles these subjects with great care and I'd like to be able to re-read this gem frequently.
5/5 - I'd walk over hot coals to get to this one.

The Count of Monte Cristo. Possibly one of my favourite books ever written. Ever since I first read it when I was about 12 years old I was madly in love with this book. I think the plot is flawless. I admire how Dumas managed to intertwine all the subplots and to tie them together into a masterful act of revenge.
If you don't know the story: Edmond is doing well in life, he has the girl and the job, sadly he also has envious friends. An intrigue sends him to prison and after losing far too many years of his life he finally manages to flee. Thanks to an inmate he befriended he finds an almost endless treasure and can go back to Paris as the Count, serving revenge to those that ruined his life. And as they say, it's best served cold.
Pride and Prejudice. This book will always be in my list of five books. It's possibly no longer my favourite book and objectively it might no longer belong onto this list. But... I've read this book 25 times. I'm not even kidding. From the age of 13 to today, I've re-read this book at least once a year. I fell head over heels in love with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. I think Austen's writing is refreshing and hilarious at the same time.
You know how my love story with Austen started? My parents watched BBC's 1995 adaptation with Colin Firth without me... because it was late at night and I was only 12. Then they bought all of Jane Austen and declared it's brilliant. So, I picked the books up as soon as they were done... no regrets!
Foucault's Pendulum. Wow. This book... It's filled with words and concepts I didn't understand when I was 15 but I persevered and it's actually possible to enjoy the story without following all of his intellectual orgasms and Umberto Eco has a lot of intellectual orgasms while writing. If you ever decide to start this book and think you need a PhD to understand it, well maybe you do for certain concepts, but the story remains brilliant and readable without being able to follow everything the man decided to bring up.
So in this book... Eco rewrites history, starting way back in the Middle Ages up until today, based on a conspiracy theory and the best part? It's all believable. Suddenly almost every historical event is presented in a new light. Read it, you won't regret it!
IT. I've been going back and forth on my decision to include IT in this list. But the way I got to meet this book will always be special to me. I was eight. Yes, eight. And I read a fairy-tale about a man who wanted to learn fear. And I then decided, I too wanted to learn fear. I asked my father to bring me a scary book. He brought me scary tales for children. They were not scary one bit. I told him those were for babies, I wanted to find out what it means to be really scared. The next day IT was waiting on the dinner table.
That night I slept with the light on.
I love Stephen King's writing. I think he paints characters in a beautiful way and he's really great at giving them depth with just a few paragraphs. Most of his stories had a huge impact on me. IT will always be special to me.

What are the five books you'd pick? Let me know.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Reading Classics with the Serial Reader App

Have you ever wished you could maybe read Les Misérables? Or Bleak House? Then decided you don't have the time or energy?

Or it's too daunting?

Along comes the Serial Reader App

You can find it here for iOS.

What does it do, you ask? There's a huge database of classic literature that is available at no cost because the copyright expired. The Serial Reader App divides each book into manageable chunks that take between 10 and 20 minutes to read. The snippets get delivered to your phone once a day. You can choose the delivery time and you can set the app to notify you when the next installment arrived.

I decided to try reading Les Misérables. Possibly one of the longest. It'll apparently take me 233 days to get through. Maybe start with Mary Shelly's Frankenstein? Only 28 days.

The app is free, however if you'd like to read ahead you'll have to purchase the full version, which is actually quite tempting. But, I haven't yet taken that step.
Also I'm eyeing Ulysses. Just because at one point I have to at least give that one a try. That book scares me, even in small chunks.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Book Title: Flowers for Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes
Genres: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Goodreads Summary: With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance--until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?
What did I think? You know when a book is so good you just can't express your feelings? Or any thoughts whatsoever? This was such a book for me.

After I've finished reading it I gave it to my girlfriend and told her to read it. She finished it in a day. She loved it as much as me. But, we couldn't talk about it. We didn't know what to say.

Charlie Gordon, who has an IQ of 68, volunteers to participate in an experiment previously only tested on mice. He undergoes an operation that will gradually make him smarter, something he's been longing for all his life. The story is told in the first person through a series of progress reports that he has to write.

At first his grammar is so bad it makes the first few chapters a little difficult to read, but don't let that deter you, the writing improves quickly.

This book has become a favourite of mine over night. I can't stop thinking about it. It's thought-provoking, devastating and heartbreaking but also beautiful. It discusses how we treat disabilities, how we treat fellow human beings and what it means to be human.

Flowers for Algernon paints in vivid images how lonely being on both end of the IQ spectrum can be and my heart hurt for Charlie throughout the story.

The last two chapters however, they made me tear up, twisting my stomach with heartbreak. I could barely speak when I was done.

Everyone should read this book. It's simply brilliant.

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Friday, 2 September 2016

The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

Book Title: The Promise of the Child
Author: Tom Toner
Genres: Science Fiction
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: Lycaste is a lovesick recluse living in a forgotten Mediterranean cove who is renowned throughout the distorted people of the Old World for his beauty. Sotiris Gianakos is a 12,000-year-old Cypriote grieving the loss of his sister, a principled man who will change Lycaste's life forever. Their stories, and others, become darkly entwined when Aaron the Longlife—the Usurper, a man who is not quite a man—makes a claim to the Amaranthine throne that threatens to throw the delicate political balance of the known galaxy into ruin.

What did I think? Tom Toner may be the new Steven Erikson of Science Fiction, because he drops the reader straight into an unfamiliar world without any explanation. I'm a fast reader and sometimes tempted to skim more than I should, which works with books set on our world where not every third word is strange and unfamiliar. After reading a third of this novel, almost putting it away for good because I had no idea what was going on, I decided to start from the beginning and take my time.

Whew, what a ride. I've hardly ever been this immersed in another world. Tom Toner presents a world so rich and so fleshed out, I was blown away. It's a creative mix between Science Fiction and Fantasy presenting an innovative future filled with diverse, unique cultures and breathtaking ideas.

Now, let me mention a few negative things, there aren't many, but I think they're important. The first thing that bothered me is that this is the first book in a trilogy and it does not stand on its own. It's more a chess board and now all the pieces are set, ready to attack.
The second thing is the complexity of the book. While I personally do not mind not knowing what's going on for a good portion of a book, I think Toner expects a lot of attention from the reader, introducing many characters and a dozen different species and places. I was actually taking notes in the beginning. It's not a fast read either, the prose is beautiful but dense.
The third thing is a small one: one character in particular I had trouble to emphasize with. Lycaste is the typical 'nice guy' who does not understand that a woman can say no and not change her mind. His mind is very childlike though, so maybe he's supposed to just not be mature enough yet. I'm curious to see where Tom Toner is going with him.

Everything else is fantastic. Toner has definitely created something ambitious and memorable. I can't wait to read the other two books and find out more about this universe.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Gender Game by Bella Forrest

Book Title: The Gender Game
Author: Bella Forrest
Genres: Romance
My Rating: ♥ ♥
Goodreads, Amazon UK, Cinematic Book Trailer

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What did I think?

I must admit I requested it because I thought the premise sounded interesting.

A toxic river splits the genders. On one side we have the country of Matrus and on the other side the country of Patrus. In Patrus women have no rights and basically belong to their husbands, however in Matrus women are the ruling class. They loathe violence and aim to be peaceful, but then they go as far as testing young boys for traits such as aggression and send them off to work in mines as slaves? Very peaceful and advanced? I have a lot of questions and not many are answered in this book. How did this split between genders happen? Do these women really think keeping boys as slaves makes them better than the men on the other side of the river who own their women? Are any of these people okay? Where do trans people stand?

Back to the premise. Relations between the two societies aren't all that great. Violet, the protagonist, gets herself into trouble... I'm not sure how one person manages to kill two people by perforating their throats purely by accident? These sorts of accidents never happen to me (thankfully). Violet is offered a pardon from her crimes on the condition that she serves as an undercover agent to retrieve something Patrus has stolen from Matrus.

And Violet has no choice if she ever wants to see her brother again...

The title has clearly been chosen to remind readers of other books, because so far I haven't really seen a 'game'.

Sadly, the plot is thin. The ending is rushed. There are a lot of loose ends and no real resolution to any of the questions the reader and Violet have. There's not enough romance to consider it a romance and not enough dystopia to consider it dystopian either. A love triangle is set up, sort of (why must there always be a triangle?) and overall it feels much more like the first part of a book than the first book in a trilogy (why must there always be a trilogy?)

But there was also a lot I liked. Violet is an interesting character who can kick ass. Her love interest is thoughtful, attractive and well written. I picked this up because I thought it would be a short and entertaining read, which it was. I was looking for suspense and action, which I got. And I must say I couldn't put it down and just had to find out how it ends.