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.