Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best and Worst of 2014

In 2014 I read a hundred books. I read tons of science fiction, and not enough classics. I read more non-fiction than I usually do. I finished the Harry Potter series. I read three David Mitchell books, and loved them all. I had slumps and sprees. It was a good year ^^
Here are my favourites of 2014, described in one sentence (as usual, best if not be taken too seriously):
Best in Fiction

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
Quiet tension, sad fates, oriental setting, beautiful writing.
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
Epic family story, peels like an onion, beautiful writing.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
Humans are awful animals, beautiful writing.
Best in Science Fiction
Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons
Great sci-fi books Great books.
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
Every nerd's comfort read.
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
Gender is overrated.
Best in Fantasy

Among Others, Jo Walton
Less is more - very quiet, subtle, and thought-provoking book.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
Cleptomaniac & co, commotion & banter, cool sidekick.
Best in Non-Fiction
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, Chris Hadfield
Inspirational - that is all.
Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
The real lives of North-Koreans are shocking.
Packing for Mars, Mary Roach
Funny, daring, will possibly gross you out.
Best in Classics
Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
Life is a bleak piece of hell, and then we die.
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Melodramatic, atmospheric, dislikeable, unputdownable.
The Biggest Disappointment
Disclaimer: I am aware that these are highly popular books. I personally didn't like them. I maybe *got* them, but still didn't like them. Tastes are different. The fact that you enjoyed them and I didn't does not mean we still couldn't be friends. Happy new year.
The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Nothing special, a mega annoying female character.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Plain characters, uninspiring, relying too much on shock value.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Confusing, too long, I don't click with Gaiman's writing.
The Fault in our Stars, John Green
Teenagers don't talk like this; John Green does.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wine upon my lips* - most memorable quotes from 2014

If there is something I want to improve, it's keeping the track of beautiful quotes I come upon when reading. I am very inconsistent; some I mark down in some of my gazillion notebooks; some I type into the Goodreads as I'm reading. Therefore, in the end, I don't really have one place where they all exist, but in this case, I kind of remembered very vividly the books that were beautifully written. I am one of them people who enjoy the written word for its aesthetic value - willing to admit the language is more important for me than the plot or any other aspect of a story.
Out of curiosity, I went and checked my favourite quotes from 2013 - they were still beautiful :)
"How do you smuggle daydreams into reality?"

asks David Mitchell in number9dream. It is the question that still keeps haunting me.

In addition to the usual aspirin and endorphins, I saw stims, tranks, Flashback tubes, orgasm derms, shunt primers, cannabis inhalers, non-recom tobacco cigarettes, and a hundred less identifiable drugs.
This describes contents of a lady's medicine cabinet in Dan Simmons's The Fall of Hyperion. Not sure I would want to get intimately acquinted with the aforementioned medicine cabinet, but I have to admire the author's creativity. His books are full of such little pearls.

"Mum said I'd learn betrayals come in various shapes and sizes, but to betray someone's dream is the unforgiveable one."
Holly Sykes rings the truth in Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. Handling other people's dreams is a dangerous business indeed.
But the appetite for sophisticated ruin was already there.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, a highly quotable book. Moreso than the quote itself, I was stricken by the concept of "sophisticated ruin" - I think there is a certain group of people who are more prone for the sophisticated ruin, and I think I might be a member of this group.
There may be stranger reasons for being alive.
There are books. There's Auntie Teg and Grampar. There's Sam, and Gill. There's interlibrary loan. There are books you can fall into and pull up over your head. There's the distant hope of a karass** sometime in the future.
Among Others, Jo Walton - and what a beautiful thought it is to have. Though I'm still searching for my Real Life karass - I think I found a form of it via the book blogging ^^

"And so we constantly infer someone else's intentions, thoughts, knowledge, lack of knowledge, doubts, desires, beliefs, guesses, promises, preferences, purposes, and many, many more things in order to behave as social creatures in the world."

The cynic in me rejoiced, writing down this piece of truth from Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. A human can be such an ugly herd animal.
Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike-topped walls, and triple-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas, and dung-ripe stables; circle over towers and cavernous bells and over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells, watched by mule drivers, mules, and wolf-snouted dogs, ignored by hunchbacked makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nakashima River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed from kitchen doors, watched by farmers walking high, stony ridges. Gulls fly through clouds of steam from laundries' vats; over kites unthreading corpses of cats; over scholars glimpsing truth in fragile patterns; over bathhouse adulterers; heartbroken slatterns; fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs; their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs; woodcutters' sons sharpening axes; candlemakers rolling waxes; flint-eyed officials milking taxes; etiolated lacquerers; mottled-skinned dyers; imprecise soothsayers; unblinking liars; beavers of muds; gutters of rushes; ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes; booksellers ruined by unsold books; ladies-in-waiting; tasters; dressers; filching page boys; runny-nosed cooks; sunless attick nooks where seamstresses prick calloused fingers; limping malingerers; swineherds; swindlers; lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses; heard-it-all creditors tightening nooses; prisoners haunted by happier lives; and aging rakes by other men's wives; skeletal tutors goaded to fits; firemen-turned-looters when occasion permits; tongue-tied witnesses; purchased judges; mothers-in-law nurturing briars and grudges; apothecaries grinding powders with mortars; palanquins carrying not-yet-wed daughters; silent nuns; nine-year-old whores; the once-were-beautiful gnawed by sores; statues of Jizo anointed with posies; syphilitics sneezing through rotted-off noses; potters; barbers; hawkers of oil; tanners; cutlers; carters of night soil; gatekeepers; beekeepers; blacksmiths and drapers; torturers; wet nurses; perjurers; cutpurses; the newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant; the ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant; over roof of a painter withdrawn first from the world, then his family, and down into a masterpiece that has, in the end, withdrawn from its creator; and around again, where their fight began, over the balcony of the Room of the Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle from last night's rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observers the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell. Congratulations to those who actually got through this last quote - you guys are troopers. This is my favourite quote of the year. This one page holds the reasons why I read. I am not the cryer when it comes to art, but I can say with all honesty, I almost wept when I got to the end of this paragraph after the first read, out of sheer happiness that there is a person in the world who is able to write like that. And that is why I love Mitchell - not because of his clever plot structures or relatable characters. I love him because he is the virtuoso of text, the master with words, the lord of the language.

* From a Virginia Woolf quote - "Language is wine upon the lips"
** Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Crème de la crème of 2014 - the best characters and villains

Are you tired of all the Best Ofs already? I'm not, so from hereon to the end of the year I'll publish a few "cream of the cream" lists of my own. This first one features my favourite fictional boys, girls and villains of the year 2014 - a wonderful year of reading it was.
The best female character

Jessica Atreides courtesy of SanC-Art.

Holly Sykes from The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)
Holly, Holly... At first you were this and then that, and also a little hidden in between. Thank you for showing that an awesome character does not need to be in the spotlight throughout.

Jessica Atreides from Dune (Frank Herbert)
I admit being slightly allergic to the phrase "kick-ass female character" (I much prefer my girls to be normal human beings, thank you very much), but it kind of fits the bill in your case. It was all kinds of wonderful to follow your inner monologue. If Bene Gesserit training was available in our world, I would not need to be taking anti-depressants.

Morwenna (Mori) Phelps from Among Others (Jo Walton)
Dear Mori, let me give you a hug. I know how it feels. I was you once, long ago. Your mind is a wonderful thing - don't ever let it become narrow and let people tell you "SF? What are you - a kid/nerd/trekkie?" I love you.

The best male character

Locke Lamora & Jean Tannen courtesy of BotanicaXu.

Jacob de Zoet from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell)

Ah... how tragic be you, life. Jacob is a beautifully written character, thus the title should go to Mitchell instead. He is charming in his naivety and courage (always the winning combination).

Jean Tannen from The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies (Scott Lynch)

Jean is the character I would have dated in high school. Must be the glasses and the bookishness. Though it's pretty okay, in my book, how he constantly saves Locke's skinny ass. (Who's the main character of these books, again...?)
Homer Wells from The Cider House Rules  (John Irving)

I don't have an easy reasoning to love Homer Wells. He is a bit of a broken soul, and no hero. Most people would consider him a coward I suppose (right on, Melony), but I prefer to think some people simply struggle with more complicated inner conflicts. He does the right thing, in the end. Truth is, I just love Irving's male characters (OWEN MEANY). Right? Right.

The best villain

William Hamleigh.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen courtesy of SimonDubuc.

Arabella Donn from Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)
Arabella, you are in the top of the list of despicable human beings I have ever met in fictional world. That is all.

Dolores "hem, hem" Umbridge from youknowwhatbooks (too lazy to check which numbers they were) (J.K. Rowling)

The favourite "love to hate" villain in the world, most likely. Despite my pacifistic views, I would have liked to punch her in the face.

William Hamleigh from The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)

William, though I hate you from the bottom of my heart, I also pity you. What a miserable life it must have been, filled with hate and stupidity from being a little boy to being an old man. Also, you are a perv.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from Dune (Frank Herbert)

Dear Baron, you are a member of my favourite category of villains - The Fat Wiseass. Maybe you don't even belong here because I do admire your intelligence and cunning mind.


The next crème de la crème edition - Best Quotes of 2014.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - 15.12.2014

Hello! Happy new week! I didn't post last Monday, because I was reading pretty much the same stuff (gotta love 'em big books...) and I figured maybe the Monday posts will work better for me twice a month instead of every week. I'll see how that goes.

I've finished off some good stuff meanwhile, and also some excellent stuff. Station Eleven and The Cider House Rules (yes, the 900+ page John Irving tome) were good, and Among Others was bloody brilliant. I also finished a young adult fantasy book The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which was meh. Okay. Nothing special. I really should quit reading YA books altogether...

I would like to finish all these off before the end of the year, but we'll see how this goes. Ideally I would start the new year with the new reads.

Endymion, Dan Simmons - about half-way through, taking it slow. Simmons writes good, but I kind of miss the intricacy of the previous two books - this one is way too linear.

Deadhouse Gates, Steven Erikson - half-way through as well. Just like the first book in the series, it is a challenging read. The plot has picked up though and I am drawn to the bleakness of the world.

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls - I have to admit I am having difficulties with this one. Mainly because I can't seem to decide what it is that I am reading. I have hard time taking it as non-fiction; however, the narrator is still in the age of a child and I am rather curious to see what changes in her attitude will occur once she gets older.

Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens - I have read three chapters, Dickens is wordy as usual and requries some effort from a modern time reader. There have been some chuckles, though, and illustrations are nice.

Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey - 'cos space opera is my chick lit.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Journey, check out the blog to see other fantastic Monday reads.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Remember, Remember, the Month of November...

November was a great reading month. I am pretty close to a 100 books on my Goodreads reading challenge, even though my initial goal was to read 75. Given how many big books I read, and how my graphic novel count is (still!) zero, I am very impressed with myself! /modesty mode *ON*
There were two clear highlights in November for me. Since I am a self-proclaimed cynic with heart of cold, who is not moved easily by anything, I was pretty astonished by the chaos that the book "We Are Completely Beside Ourselves" and the movie "Interstellar" managed to cause on my mental landscapes.
(Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if movies ain't your thing - if there are people like that out there...)
Photo source.
I don't think I've ever gone to see a movie twice in the movie theater (some of them legendary The Lord of the Rings films might have been an exception - I don't remember), but I'm planning to see Interstellar again. I have been a fan of Christopher Nolan's works for a long while, but his films always were intelligent, clever, thoughtful, unexpected, challenging - not necessarily emotionally touching. Well, that has changed now. Interstellar is a very emotional film and I can't get it out of my head. A few films have moved me this way - Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003) probably comes the closest so far, but while Lost in Translation is quite confined in its scope and setting, Interstellar is hugely epic, covering time, space and matter, all less in three hours of time. It is a clear proof that science fiction does not equal trash or sub par. It is not a great sci-fi movie; it is a great movie, period.
As a side thought - if there are any other weirdos out there who can't stand the pointless-mindless snogging and making out in their movies, space films are a great choice - space suits make for a challenging situation when it comes to the compulsory kissing scenes.
Right, let's get to the books.
Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet (historical fiction) - 4/5
Yes - who would have thought the 1000-page about building a church could be so addictive. It is a long and tasty book, and I want to read the sequel too. The only problem I had was somewhat two dimensional characters, but otherwise a great read.

Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (science fiction) - 3/5
I don't know about this book, maybe I wasn't in the right state of mind, but it was a tad hard to connect. It's short and not exactly character driven, but it is very intriguing in its setting - if there was the term "magical science fiction", this one would fit nicely. I'll still be checking out the next two because - short reads.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino (fiction) - 3/5
Very interesting concept and beautiful language, but I found it a bit difficult to follow at times. I am not that fond of fully descriptive prose.

The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi (science fiction -> space opera) - 4/5
John Scalzi is a very fun author, I'd recommend him to people who kinda sorta want to try out sci-fi but are concerned about the science-y parts. Especially the first one in this series, Old Man's War, was so funny. The Ghost Brigades is funny too, but also focuses on deeper aspects of humanity.

Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank (science fiction -> post apocalyptic) - 3/5
Post-apocalyptic America after nuclear explosion. The fact that it was written back in 1959 kind of shone through for me. Definitely an interesting take, but overall nothing that special.

Coming Clean, Kimberly Rae Miller (non-fiction -> memoir) - 2/5
Hoarding as a condition has always intrigued and terrified me. One of my biggest fears is the compulsion to have too much stuff in my life. I wanted to understand the minds of hoarders better through this book, but I didn't find what I was searching for. Miller focuses on herself and when it comes to her parents (the hoarders), this is more descriptive than analytical work. Writing was mediocre, the book could have benefitted from some skillful editing, and some things I just didn't get - like if someone in your family has a condition that is clearly not normal and completely destroys most of your life, howcome getting professional, psychiatric help is not the first thing that comes to everyone's mind?

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (fiction) - 5/5
The human is the savagest animal, no? What a wonderful, wonderful piece of fiction. Heart warming, emotional, but not in a manipulative manner (*cough* Jodi Picoult *cough*). The best way to approach this book is to not know anything about it.

Gulp, Mary Roach (non-fiction) - 4/5
Mary Roach makes me laugh. Laughing while learning about how food goes through human body, how pythons eat their breakfast or the perks of human saliva, is the best.

The Round House, Louise Erdrich (fiction) - 3/5
Interesting book with unique setting and prose, but I didn't connect with Erdrich's text. I wanted to like it more than I did.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz (young adult) - 3/5
I feel it's unfair to even say anything because clearly, I am unable to take young adult for what it is. This is probably one of the better examples of the specimen, but still I can't get over the simpleness of the genre (is it a genre? I don't think it actually is, but for the lack of a better universally agreed term...) The very short and abrupt dialogue style annoyed me to no end.

Kindred, Octavia E. Butler (fiction [with time travel elements]) - 4/5
What a surprise! Kindred is a rough ride, and I am hesitant to call it SFF because really the only SFF element it has is the time travel. Otherwise it's more of (historical) fiction. But very interesting book that explores deep racial issues. Definitely will read more Butler in future.

Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick (non-fiction -> North Korea) - 5/5
Nothing to Envy is the best piece of non-fiction on North Korea I've read so far. My reads have all been very different - Escape from Camp 14 focuses on life in concentration camps; Somewhere Inside is a very journalistic/American take on North Korean bureaucracy machine. I very much missed a glimpse on the life of simple North Koreans, and I got it. There were answers to some of the questions I've had for a while - like, do they really live in total lack of knowledge about the rest of the world (some don't); how deep does the whole brain-washing thing go; how do North Korean defectors act once they settle somewhere else (usually China or South Korea); why do they agree to live like this? Highly recommended.

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - 01.12.2014

I'm here again, with the Monday reads. I managed to finish both Nothing to Envy and Kindred last week, great reads and highly recommended both.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel - I'm about half way through and so far, hooray to hype monster for not ruining the reading experience. I'm especially smitten with Miranda.
Endymion, Dan Simmons - did I say I think Dan Simmons is a genius? I'm about 1/5 through and feel like I've arrived home. These books will be one of the highlights of this year for sure.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson - a little while ago I bought a bunch of dollar-smt YA books for e-reader to be able to make my occasional YA-pick. The beginning of this was very promising, but now I've gotten a bit bored. Still I'm curious to see what will happen.

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls - I decided to start this as my next non-fiction read, I haven't read a memoir in a while. I only checked first few pages and I suppose this lady's life is going to be VERY eventful.
Aside from that, I'm still reading the chunksters from last week, The Cider House Rules and Deadhouse Gates. Both are good, I just prefer not to make huge books my focus reads.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Journey, check out the blog to see other fantastic Monday reads.