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...


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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