Saturday, January 11, 2014

2013 - Books Read in Review

Well, Christmas and New Years’s have come and gone.  Hopefully things as you hoped for, happiness and health in plenty, enjoying the season for all it can provide.  One of the first things I did at the turn of the New Year was to take stock of what I read and what I have immediately sitting on my ‘to read’ list.

1.       Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien (9 out of 10):  For any lovers of fantasy and authors of the genre, don’t throw anything, allow me to beg forgiveness and come out from hiding behind my rock for not giving this a 10.  I’ll grant this is the grand-daddy of the genre, heck the work that defined the genre.  Written back in a time where language had its distinct idioms from works we see published today, the language is particularly dense.  That said it is poetic and exceedingly influential in conveying the spirit of Middle Earth to the reader.  Tolkien may take a full page to describe a certain scene, yet there is no doubt that the reader is therein fully immersed into the scene.  Tom Bombadil scenes included, this was a rousing and endearing return to Middle Earth.

2.       Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien (9 out of 10):  In what could only be described as two finite story arcs, I found the division of the book into near exclusively Helm’s Deep and the battle of Isengard, followed by Frodo’s voyage, to be a bit distracting.  Understanding that today’s process would have seen the chapters intertwined differently, this is hardly a point of serious critique.  I found the Helm’s Deep battle particularly engaging, the relationship between Gimli and Legolas particularly well done.  Again, the language would be an impediment, but reading this straight after The Fellowship, I found the language as engrossing as the events within the plot.  Frodo’s trials suffered from a certain amount of denouement after Helm’s Deep and Isengard; this despite my fear of insects adding a slightly agonizing and personal effect to the Shelob scenes.

3.       Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff (8 out of 10):  The first in a samurai-steam punk trilogy, I found the idea intriguing.  To be honest, I also wanted to see how another writer was presenting a samurai culture.  After purchasing the book, I discovered some rumblings on the Internet about the author’s inappropriate use of the Japanese language.  No expert by far, there were a few instances I noted a detraction, but nothing that forced me to stop throwing the book against a wall.  The steam punk aspect of the plot is interesting, the cultural impacts on samurai and peasant alike convincingly portrayed.  Although suffering obvious symbolism, I like how Jay executed the concept that the chi that powers the technology is derived from a plant that is killing the land.  The heroine, Yukiko, through use of a secret power in which she can communicate with animals, links to an arishitora (a griffon by the name of Buruu) to combat the vile influence of the Shogun.

4.       Kinslayer, by Jay Kristoff (7 out of 10):  The follow-up to Stormdancer, I found the pacing fell way-off.  Yukiko gets dragged off by Buruu’s raging hormones.  By far the most interesting part of the book was the intrigues that occurred in the capital, as members of the rebellious Kagé attempt to undermine the process of recognizing a new Shogun.  The results sent the empire into absolute revolt.  This, his sophomore release in the trilogy didn’t quite meet my expectations; it established a great story arc for the Kagé, yet really only seemed to set things up for the third instalment, Yukiko playing a really minor role.

5.       Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card (7 out of 10):  In all honesty, this is more about reading the book after having written my manuscript, and largely because much of it seemed rather self-explanatory.  Some of the character development sections proved useful, yet the majority were rather unnecessary after the section heading.  The viewpoint section helped solidify some issues I had with my third-person perspective.  Overall, it’s a fine reference book, one I would highly recommend to any budding authors.  It will certainly be a source I refer to in the future, if nothing else than to review the viewpoints and perspective sections.

6.       The Perfect Nazi, by Martin Davidson (8 out of 10):  Taking a break from genre books, I read this gripping account of a Scottish historian’s efforts to delve into the history of one of his great uncles, whom he discovered was a card-carrying Nazi and member of the SS.  This quasi-history and social commentary in the context of researching his family’s history reviews the social influences on German youth and the post-Weirmach era; competing politics were literally at war in the streets and pubs of Berlin until a radical by the name of Hitler finally rose to power.  Following what documentation he could find, the author brings us through a Germany in flux, where the young boys who watched their fathers go off to war with a feeling of impunity, forcibly submitted to punishing post-war concessions, and then latch on to the ideals of Hitler.

7.       WWZ, by Max Brooks (9 out of 10):  I really liked the way this book was presented.  A series of small expose-style reports from a multitude of perspectives give an overview of the war with raging zombies.  Divided into several sections, each builds upon the preceding section, demonstrating how the virus was spread, the general ignorance the world placed on the threat until it was too late, as well as the stumbling steps taken to finally defeat it.  I found the military perspectives amusing and pretty much spot-on for how soldiers react to higher command’s orders, often mixing bewilderment with perceived errors in judgement with a sense of duty and perseverance; often the macro-picture doesn’t translate well into micro-level scenarios, something Max Brooks did well to show.  There were a few scenes I simply wandered through until the following scene:  the Chinese sub and the blind Japanese swordsman left me shaking my head.  Overall, a great read; I have yet to see the cinematic interpretation.

Books In My ‘To Read’ Pile (no particular order)

1.       Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien:  Having completed the first two, it would simply be criminal to not complete the trilogy.  Despite ‘knowing how it ends,’ the language and the depth of the characters and landscape are breathtakingly worth it.  Then I can pull out my DVDs and watch the cinematic versions again.

2.       Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson:  One of the New Year’s commitments my wife and I made was to a book club run by one of our friends.  It’s just the couples that went to New York City, as well as another very close high school friend of my wife’s and her boyfriend.  This, the first book chosen, is something of an enigma, though some quick research places it on a large number of Best Seller lists and Must Read Lists.

3.       Drift, by Rachel Maddow:  A controversial piece by an investigative journalist, it examines the American capacity, inclination and the evolution of how the country decides and makes war on others.

4.       1984, by George Orwell:  As part of my Christmas wish list, I started including hardcover versions of classic science fiction and fantasy novels.  Since nearly all my leisure reading is done on my Kobo, I thought to begin collecting the best of the best in hardcover for my personal library.  The first I received was 1984.

5.       Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card:  Regardless of the debate about the author’s politics, this book I believe is worth the investment and the read.  Like 1984, it is part of my project to collect some of the classics and better books I have read.  Previously read when I was sixteen, I think.

Overall, I can honestly say I'm rather surprised just how little I accomplished reading this year.  Typically I'd belt out about twice as many.  Work and an eight-week long illness likely the biggest culprits.  Now that both have dramatically improved, I should be able to get back and enjoy a few more.

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