Novels of the Quarter )

With 42 more books read, and 40 of them reviewed, I'm 4 over my hoped-for total of 36 reviews for the quarter for the challenge, and with an annual total of 161 (an average of over 13 per month), I'm well ahead - nearly a month and half - or my intended year-long total of 144 books. The most notable pattern is that there's a significant amount more reading in October than either of the other two months for whatever reason.
There are quite a lot of authors new to me, with a smaller number of names - such as Guy Kay and Terry Pratchett - recurring; there are also a reasonable number of female authors, albeit few female science fiction authors than I might want.  There's also a split between fantasy and science-fiction, although genre-busters such as Valentine's novel are a little on the rise; which means there does seem to be a wide variety of subgenres within the genre represented here, happily.  There is also a mix of quality in there, which is perhaps less happy; some fantastic novels, and some which, whilst I went in with high expectations, I came out very disappointed, and even a few which were just poor.  Finally, a few classics came out at the end of the quarter, aided by a Christmas Kobo, giving a wide chronological spread in the genre.

In alphabetical order by author's surname, then, my top five reads of the quarter!
1. Feed by Mira Grant.  Not only an intelligent zombie novel, which doesn't surprise me, and a post-apocalyptic one discussing the rebuilding of the world after the rise of the zombies, Grant's novel has a really strong heart with great characters.  It also has some fantastic political and technological ideas, which make this a zombie post-apocalyptic pseudo-horror thriller for the new generation.
2. The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan.  Kiernan's horror novel, a slow-building, character-driven, expectation-wrecking piece of work which combines ghost-story and natural horror in that very Blackwood-inspired way with a brilliant psychological study is an incredibly disturbing piece of work which has really stuck with me strongly, as a dark horror.
3. The Dervish House by Ian McDonald.  McDonald's near-future thriller is more of a cultural exploration of Turkey than it is an exploration of technology, although it does posit certain technologies that aren't quite here yet; but it's the portrayal of Turkey which really makes this novel, and drives it, along with a gloriously active writing style that keeps things moving effectively and quickly.
4. The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski. More futuristic than anything else on this list, The Highest Frontier is also the most clearly YA novel, with its university student protagonist.  A well-written and thoughtful novel, Slonczewski shows a lot of confidence in her audience by dropping the reader in head-first, and whilst it's not the perfect narrative it still has a strong pacing and some fantastic concepts.
5. Mechanique, A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine.  This well-paced and well-written novel is one of the most chronologically confusing things I have ever read, with its jumpy and disconnected narrative; however, the evocative style and rapid pacing combine with the broad brush-strokes Valentine allows the reader to create a brilliant, well-written and very readable narrative.
And because I found it so hard to pick a top 5 - the five runners-up, each of which almost-nearly made it onto the list and only not making it because of the quality of what did!  Those runners up being, again in alphabetical order by author's surname, Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, The Star Fraction by Ken MacLeod, The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, and Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan; each incredible novels, but just edged off the top - clearly a very good quarter, then!

Finally, this quarter brings us some new reading technology; The Red Tree, and every work following it, was read on a Kobo Touch.  I don't intend to write a sales pitch for the device, but I think it's pretty clear from my continued use of the gadget demonstrates that I am something of a fan.  The fact that it's not backlit is a great help, and the lack of buttons - as a reading device, it's very sleek, with nothing but the screen and home button there when a book's open - really does put it leagues ahead of the Kindle.  It's also light and portable, although reading it in the bath is perpetually risky.  I've always expected to dislike my first eReader, but the Kobo has far surpassed such expectations; indeed, it's a very intuitive, user-friendly device.
Novel List )

41 books, so we're back down to the approximate level of the first quarter of the year, although this quarter has possibly had the most disruption and disjointedness of any so far, with a 17-book month bracketed by two 12-book months.  With one of them a historical fiction, rather than genre, novel, that gives me a quarter-surplus of 4 on my intended total for the challenge, with a total surplus now of 13, so over a month's worth of reading, with a total of 121 genre novels.
There's a mix of reviews here, with some positive and some very negative, with one or two novels squandering great potential; and there's a nice spread across the genre, with a decent chunk of variably-hard science fiction (including the deeply dated Last and First Men, a genre classic) and some good fantasy.  There's also some nice up-to-the-moment reading in there, with the Corey, Stross, Cooper, Mann, Polansky and arguably Grossman recent releases and two eARCs.  Finally worth noting is the number of women in there - over half of these novels were written by women exclusively, with one co-authored by a male/female team, and 22 female authors (including two collaborations) read across 41 novels; putting in the effort to find female-author specfic really paid off, with some of the best novels of the quarter coming from women.

So, what were the best five reads of the quarter?
1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  Russell's powerful characterisation and skilful prose combine into an incredibly moving story, and her sympathetic treatment of the characters works very effectively with the inevitability of the tragedy only lends it more force.  Given Russell's sympathetic treatment of religion, too, which is yet not uncritical, this is an intellectually engaging novel as well, since nothing is simple or as it first seems; and Russell has a real ability to give us a kick in the pathos.  All of which made the follow-up, Children of God, that much more disappointing.
2. Silver-Metal Lover by Tanith Lee.  This romantic story is simply and effectively told, with a writing style that matches Lee's characters very well; the ability to develop a narrative and age a character at the same time, and the refusal to rely on crisis-sequence as a method of writing (not that there aren't crises), give Lee's tale a certain power and pathos that much contemporary genre fiction seems to lack.  A sweet tale of love.
3. Pennterra by Judith Moffett.  A very different, but equally religiously-infused, take on the first contact narrative from The Sparrow, Moffett's novel is writ through with Quaker ideas; taking the idea of crisis-driven, violence-reliant SF and overturning it, we barely see any violence, and at most it is incredibly low-key, but there remains an existential threat, and Moffett handles what is essentially a story built around discovery of the way of life of an alien species - and of Quakerism - incredibly well, with good characterisation and interesting (if unbelievable) worldbuilding feeding in very well to this.
4. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.  The team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck is one that sounds formidable, but fantastical; Leviathan Wakes is, however, pure space opera, and a well-written one at that.  Without letting the big ideas out of sight, and without forgetting the necessity of strong characters, the writing team also create a plot that is enjoyable, a world that is believable, and apply a writing style that is one of the most readable I have seen all quarter; a really good piece of work, if perhaps lighter than much of my other reading (in an intellectual sense).
5. Black and White by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge. This is the only pure-froth novel of the five, a superheroic science fiction novel that plays with the conventions of the Big Boys and the team-up dynamic to create an enjoyable and at times quite silly novel that is deeply readable and fun.  A light, enjoyable volume that has good characterisation and some dark moments but leaves you with a good feeling at the end and few serious thoughts about the world, Black and White is a great beach read, in the best sense of the term.
This month's books )

44 books, a slight rise on last quarter, impressively; but only 10 this last month, because I have been working full-time at a special needs school and thus have been quite exhausted and with reduced time to read (this will continue for the next three weeks).  A real mix, with a heavy reliance on rereads whilst in the state of work-induced exhaustion (lots of Pratchett!) and some specific authors heavily bitten in to - Elizabeth Bear and Guy Gavriel Kay mostly.  No genre gets much more time than any other, for once, and some highly critical reviews (this isn't just a love-in!).  We're also 8 books up on the 36-per-quarter target - a total of 86 books, 14 ahead of the target for this first half of the year; but what with five of those going unreviewed (contrasted with none last quarter) that takes us down to 81, still 9 ahead.

But what about my five favourite reads?
1. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.  This is a complete no-brainer.  A brilliant, deep, interesting, well-written, moving, thoughtful, characterful, stylish novel which asks some interesting questions and raises some interesting issues. Kay's work here isn't flawless, but its flaws are like those of a diamond: they highlight its qualities and beauty.  A subtle work that gets under the reader's skin and deserves, sometime this summer (depending on the TBR pile) a reread.
2. The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham. The first in a new fantasy series, the various plotlines and characters, the use and abuse of cliché and the generic epic fantasy of this novel are rebuked by some elements; the less than antiheroic veteran, the role of economics so powerfully foregrounded and brilliantly understood, and the set of cards that Abraham lays down all add up to what looks to be an intriguing, brilliant series.
3. Embassytown by China Miéville. Anyone not predicting this featuring on my top-five list hasn't been paying attention; the creative imagination, the brilliant linguistics, the thought-provoking ideas, and the characterisation and narrative style are all so brilliant that this is another book on the to-be-reread pile without compunction. That it doesn't neatly tie up the story whilst also not leaving an obvious in for a sequel is another strength I rather enjoy.
4. Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown. Brown's scientific romance, and meditation on human nature amongst other things, is beautiful and pastoral, recalling the spirit of the early pioneers of the genre; the characters are sympathetic, well-written and interesting, with a very human nature, and a powerful sense of familiarity; and Brown's evocative language really does bring the world and concepts involved in the novel together very effectively.
5. Eclipse 4 ed. Jonathan Strahan. A consistently well-chosen set of stories from all sorts of corners of the genre, Strahan's fourth instalment in the Eclipse series has a wide view of what it means to be genre and has chosen some absolutely wonderful gems with not a single bad story (albeit one or two which didn't work for me) amongst them, marking it out as different from almost every other anthology I have ever read.
Review List )

So, patterns... 22 books read in January, which is over half of all the books I read.  That made up for the low book-count of February and March (10 each), and leaves me with a surplus of 6 on my aimed-for total of 36 books over the three months.
Other patterns? Less steampunk - just 5 novels this time - and I'm starting in on some more of the classics, both authors and novels, of the genre, including Pohl and Priest, but also some of the new releases (Way of Kings, Wise Man's Fear, Steampunk'd, inter alia); it seems I've gotten better at buying and picking up the new releases at Waterstones and on Amazon, as well as using the eARCs provided by Angry Robot Books.

So, what're my top five choices?  Some are obvious and expected if you know me; others, less so, perhaps...
  1. Wise Man's Fear - Yeahh. Not much to say on this one, really; just that Name of the Wind  has actually, impossibly been surpassed and improved upon by a fantastic, lyrical, undeniably EXCELLENT novel that I just could not put down, and finished - despite work, lectures, &c - in less than half a week.
  2. Among Others - Despite my inability to type the name of the novel (Among, not Amongst, brain!) I think Walton's semi-autobiographical novel is absolutely stunning; the deep infusion of fantasy and science fiction infuses the novel so deeply and the understanding of the genre, the appreciation of it and of the power of reading, is absolutely wonderful, and I can't help adoring Mori either, as she's a fantastic character.
  3. Fallen Blade - Grimwood's historical urban fantasy (type thing) is fantastic, very different than Wise Man's Fear but also in some ways similar, in that both have great writing styles, with vivid, powerful, beautiful worlds; they also have strong, wonderful characters and lyrical styles, with amazing ideas.
  4. Kethani - The parable of this novel is great, and the amazing stylistic abilities, the wonderful characters, the deep connections and underlying realities, the intellectual challenges of Brown's novel, all add up to make fantastic, stunning SF exploring the infinite, amazing implications of one single change in the world... and a brilliantly creative change at that.
  5. Way of Kings - Sanderson's epic fantasy (about as big as Rothfuss'!) is a fantastic blockbuster (aka brick), but it doesn't quite have the same focus, power or lyrical style.  However, that's like saying "This cathedral is only beautiful, not as beautiful as York Minster!" - it doesn't have to be as good as the best (Wise Man's Fear has competition, in terms of year's best novel, from Embassytown alone, to my mind, or possibly The Dragon's Path, both April releases I'm pre-ordering...); Way of Kings is a complex, well-built, brilliant novel on its own term, setting in motion a huge series of events which open a ten-book series...
And in the end, by the way - I retained the paid account.  It has it's benefits, in the end...
Because of a severe curtailment of internet for much of September and early October, there was no 3rd quarter round-up; this post will have to suffice in that capacity, and as such, it'll be somewhat... long.  As normal, however... cut for not-killing-your-reading-screen!
Ooo, numbers. Crunchy! )

There's also some trends of reading material to be picked out.  The Mistborn Trilogy and Long Price Quartet, among others, demonstrate that epic fantasy's having a resurgence in my reading material (that I've ordered Warbreaker and will be buying The Way of Kings soon mean this trend - and the Sanderson deluge - will be continuing); the various steampunk novels and anthologies show that that interest isn't going to be going away any time soon; and there's also a bit of a rise in the urban fantasy, albeit little of the stereotypical urban fantasy (that is, the Laurell K. Hamilton model) aside from the Butcher and Hanover novels.

Now, what were my favourite reads?  In no particular order, and with brief reasons given...6 choices, albeit 11 books )I also just want to thank everyone who read this blog, even those who only read it for one entry because Cherie Priest tweeted it (seriously, the jump in page-views after that was intense. Like, seriously); I probably won't renew the paid account, because it's just induced so much "why isn't anyone reading any more???", whilst I can already see LJ users who read the journal (and then look at who they are. Nice way to find authors and new friends, I reckon).

So folks, goodbye to 2010, welcome to 2011: a whole new reading year, and let it roll on!

Well, dear readers, I must apologise for the two-month hiatus just now ended by the review of Witpunk.  This has been caused by going back to university for a second year and finding my flat without internet, thus being limited in my time online; it has also been caused by spending a lot of time with my girlfriend, and indeed with university work.  Fear not, however - I have 12 individual book review, and one series round-up review, to write and post in the next few days.  This assumes that I don't finish any more books in that time, and the glut will start this evening (GMT).  So... you might want to unfriend me for a time, since I'm going to, as before, deal with each one in a separate post.  I'm looking forward to this; are you?

Oh, and bear this in mind - I now have internet at my flat, so book reviews should be more frequent and on a more ad-hoc, as-the-book-is-finished basis.  And if you have any important post or issue that's come up or you've written over the last 2 months you'd like me to see, hear about, read, whatever... let me know in comments! its cover and, indeed, otherwise.  I was asked to say the five things that make me pick up a book and read it, so here they are; this'll probably give you some idea of why I read the books that I do, I guess.

Because I shop online as much as via offline bookshops ( and Waterstones store do incredibly well out of me...), the factors that motivate me can be somewhat different to those that motivate most; equally, because of my online reading habits, my choices are affected by the blogs I read.

So, first and foremost, I look for books by authors I enjoy - thus, I read novels by Terry Pratchett, Jay Lake, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Daniel Abraham &c.; Seasons of War and Trial of Flowers are in my (large) pile of to-be-read novels, for instance.  That's because authors I like are, indeed, authors I like; if they've written a book I enjoyed, it's worth finding other novels they've written to see if it's an exception or the rule. Quite useful, really.

Similarly, novels of a specific genre - steampunk and new weird - are sought out; various online articles assemble books from the movements, and running down those lists gives a set of novels that I should look out for (thus the current glut of steampunk, in part motivated by the foundation of BRASS).  So if Amazon, Waterstones, or a blog calls it steampunk; if the title sounds steampunk; if the cover looks steampunk... then I might well buy it.

I also look at reviews; especially those on Graeme's Fantasy Book Review; thus, if he recommends a novel I (with reservations) will probably pick it up at some point in the future - Graeme's tastes and mine, whilst overlapping, aren't the same, and thus I take his reviews with a pinch of salt.  So I tend to think about those reviews, amongst other review blogs, before buying; but they form a large part of it.

Next, things that catch my eye online; John Scalzi's Big Idea feature on Whatever is probably the biggest influence on this, but other authors recommend books, and has its own set of recommendations for me based on buying history as well as its own set of books-bought-by-viewers-of-this-item; those give me ideas of books to read, let me find them, and give me a decent amount of information about them and their kind - which means I might well buy them.

Finally, I have to say, I do judge books by their covers. When I'm in Waterstones - more often than I should be, I accept! - I'll look through the Science Fiction & Fantasy section (ever shrinking, and ever being replaced by "Dark Fantasy" and "Dark Romance". Depressing, but true) and browse the covers to see what catches my eye.  If a title or author interests me, I'll pull it off the shelves, read the blurb, look at the cover, and see who's blurbed it; if it's authors I enjoy and respect, then it tends to move me towards buying, as does the publisher (Angry Robot Books have a habit of publishing interesting novels worth reading, for instance).  So the cover's a large factor if I'm browsing around in Waterstones.

So, there's the five main factors in the books I pick up and read.  Any questions?
The entry's behind a trio of cuts, but that's because of length - and the first part does contain a 28-item list. However, don't let that put you off; there's also significant substance and crunch to get your teeth into, so please read - and give me your thoughts!

Quarterly Matters )

Hugo 2010 )

Housekeeping )
Books & Statistics ) 
Some Thoughts (More personal musings) )

So what can you expect in the future?

Well, these are the books I’ve got lined up to read over the next few weeks…
1. Palimpsest, by Cathrynne M. Valente
2. The New Weird anthology, by Jeff and Anne VanderMeer
3. Dwarves, by Markus Heitz
4. Melusine, by Sarah Monette
5. Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks
And other than that, you’re really looking at more of the same old eclectic and personal reading choices and reviews, hopefully with the quality of later improving and getting better at being a decent critic!  So if there's anything you'd like me to read and review, let me know (and preferably send me an voucher so I can afford it!) and if there's anything you'd like to see change about the style of the review or layout of the blog, comment here!

Thanks for reading, and see you next year.


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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