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.