Friday, December 30, 2011

UPDATE: New Looks & New Books

I spent a little time this afternoon rejigging the look of the blog and making it a little more personalised!

I've also discovered a really awesome site/blog/forum called The Ranting Dragon. Great reviews and articles, great layout/setup and I found the creator and I share the same taste in fantasy books.

I rationalised with myself this morning that I should be able to buy a few books with each pay I get ... and so I headed on over to Book Depository to order some more of my wishlist even though I only got some last week. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire was definitely on the top of the list followed by Passion by Lauren Kate (I haven't even started the series, but it needs to be complete anyway). I then got City of Dreams and Nightmare by Ian Whates after reading a review on The Ranting Dragon (TRD) for a later book in the series, and they're all $8.50, so why not? Finally, Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton because the TRD Forum runs a monthly book club and this is the book for Jan ... think I might join in!

In other boring administrative news ... I'm not sure whether to list my new purchases in the box to the right when I order them or when they arrive, but at the moment it's the latter.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 in Retrospect

Until tonight I didn't realise that I only created this blog one year ago ... it's strange that it feels both longer and shorter than that in some ways. I started this blog originally just to talk about my reads in my own way, rather than reviewing them in a way that was helpful to others, but I think I have started to move toward something that is geared towards being read (while still not totally a review per se). I think this is because I really enjoy sharing my reading with others and commenting and receiving comments (from my two followers - hey guys!) and while I would really love more followers, I don't want to achieve that by compromising the aim of my blog.

So in 2011 I read eighteen books, most of which strangely start with 'The'. It feels like such a small amount compared to how much I feel I read ... but then again I have a pretty full life with uni, work, and my own choreographic projects and related administration. I feel pretty overwhelmed knowing I will probably only read the same amount in 2012 and I HAVE SO MANY BOOKS TO READ! Here's the list ...
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
The Host by Stephanie Meyer
The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel
The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel
The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman
The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel
The Order of the Scales by Stephen Deas
The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
Across the Wall by Garth Nix
The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
The Sending by Isobelle Carmody
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

REVIEW: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I have previous decided that The Name of the Wind was the best book I read in 2011 ... scratch that, because that title now officially goes to Elantris.

Initially buying and reading this because of how much I enjoyed Mistborn and The Way of Kings, I was definitely not disappointed! The story involves what one can typically expect from Sanderson; an intriguing system of magic, a whole lot of politics, the impending collapse of the world, the best foreshadowing I have ever encountered and a climax that then climaxes some more. His novels seem to follow a kind of formula, in at least the way they are structured and in my opinion, it is a total winner.

We follow the perspectives of three main characters; Raoden who is taken by the Shaod in the first few pages and sent to Elantris; Princess Sarene who arrives to find Raoden 'dead' and subsequently takes the country into her own hands; and Hrathen, a gyorn (high priest) with a mission to convert the nation (and then a few others throughout). To begin with I was mostly interested in Raoden and his experience in Elantris and began resenting the other two. I wanted to hear more about his comparatively simple story of the life of an Elantrian and his plight to create a life within the city. Sarene and Hrathen's parts mostly fulfilled the unfolding political dramas and body of the story, yet they were too disconnected to Raoden for it to really interest me. For a time in the middle it became extremely frustrating when I as the reader knew so much more than the characters, but this suspense only made the following events so much sweeter. It wasn't long before the author's intentions were revealed and all three perspectives begin to work together to fulfill the story.

While it took me a little while to warm to the world and characters, I devoured the last two thirds of the book (within the last 24 hours mind you) which had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, as I spent the entire day in bed). There was never a dull moment and never was I able to guess what was to come next - there were literally times where I gasped out loud and had to take a moment!

Given that Elantris as a stand-alone novel is quite short when compared to Sanderson's other multi-book works, I found I came to know each character quite well, even the minor ones. There was a certain depth to them and their motivations which reminded me of characters from Ian Irvine's Three Worlds series, which is described as a Darwinian fantasy; the characters are not inherently good or evil, but merely trying to survive. This was especially the case for Hrathen, who becomes so much more interesting as the story progresses.

Interestingly in this book, the fantasy/magic element was not the presiding one. While this could arguably be the case for Mistborn for example (with political machinations featuring heavily throughout), Mistborn places great emphasis on its system of magic, magic-wielders and other supernatural figures. Elantris focuses around a similar political-fueled plot, but lacks a magic system that is equally complex and utilised. This is partly due to the story revolving around the downfall of the Elantrians and their magic of course, but also because of Sanderson's strength (in my opinion) to focus just as much, if not more, on elements of the story which deal essentially with a human experience. 

The most impressive part of this book is the incredibly fast-paced yet sure-footed events leading up to a spectacular climax and ending. It actually reminded a lot of the action-filled conclusion of Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy. Just as I thought I had reached the climax and had the ending picked, everything was turned on its head as Sanderson ruthlessly begins to tear everything down, calling in multiple favours from foreshadowing earlier in the story so subtle you would never pick it. In an almost contradiction to my last paragraph, Sanderson shines here, demonstrating a masterful grasp of his original system of magic, never once relying on a suspension of disbelief to get through.

The resolution was quite swift yet surprisingly fulfilling. I find when I am usually this enraptured by a story that the end leaves me feeling empty and wanting more, yet as I reached the final page I was quite content. Of course there were things not wholly answered or explored to their fullest, but not irritatingly so.

I would recommend Elantris to any fantasy lover, especially since it is such a rewarding read without having to commit to a lengthy series.

In other news ... I cancelled my online order of The Land of Painted Caves because I was worried I had ordered the wrong version and I actually found one in a bookstore, which I intend to buy tomorrow and begin reading. I also got the autobiography of Jane Lynch for Christmas and while not fantasy, I think I will enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

NEW BOOKS: And My Bookshelf!

Yesterday was a very fruitful day in terms of new purchases. I was a little naughty and ordered three books from Book Depository, but then I also happened across a Books4Less store at Chadstone last night ... now I have made a deal with myself that I will only buy books that are on my list and lo and behold I found three, all $5 each!
  • The Life Lottery by Ian Irvine - The final book in this trilogy ... I gave up on the first one half way through because the sci-fi-ness of it didn't appeal to me, but I had to complete the set anyway.
  • Deadhouse Gates and Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson - I'm slowly buying my way through this series so I can read them in one hit. I really, really wanted to buy The Crippled God which is still out in the large size because its SO PRETTY, but then it will not match the size of the previous books.
  • The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel - FINALLY this was released in paperback so I could buy it and complete the series (I have a thing against hardbacks). I'm a little worried now though that the copy I ordered is actually a lot smaller than the rest of my collection.
  • The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin - the final book in the Inheritance trilogy, not to be confused with Paolini's Inheritance Cycle.
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson - Apparently just been released, woohoo!
So six books yesterday, gotta be happy with that! I will leave you with a pic of my new bookshelf in the new house. I plan to get some fish for the cute little tank too! Please note there are some randoms, which mostly belong to my partner (like the Anthony Horowitz ones) some of which I have resourcefully used as dust covers to my books.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

REVIEW: The Sending by Isobelle Carmody

The Sending is book six (or seven in the US) of the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody. The first book was released in 1987 and I have been reading them since I was twelve, hanging out for each new release. This is why I often to refer to Isobelle as 'that bitch who is taking her sweet fucking time and needs to hurry the fuck up.' I say this out of love, let me assure you.

It took me a while to decide whether or not to reread the first five books but in the end I decided not to, as it would take too much time and a friend assured me that this book did a lot of recapping. That it did. I understand that the previous book The Stone Key came out in 2008 and the one before in 1999 and therefore it might be wise to recap for those readers who have forgotten all but the crucial details. I did find this handy being in that category but it went too far. I felt the entire first third of the book was absolute faff and consisted of padding and recapping previous books, turning into a bit of a yawn fest. I would hate to think what this would be like if I had read The Stone Key immediately before.

The second let down for me was that previous books had focused equally if not more so on the plight of the Misfits in their fight against the Council and Herder Faction as well as Elspeth's quests to disable to weaponmachines. In The Stone Key especially, there is a lot of action as Elspeth discovers much about her quest, new lands are introduced and the Council is overthrown in a chaotic rebellion. In The Sending however, because Misfits now live in relative freedom this part of the story has died off and even though Elspeth's journey has always meant to be the focal point, it now seems rather dismal in comparison. 

Originally this was meant to be the final novel in the series but the editor suggested that it be divided into two books as there was a section that was left underdeveloped and the edited version was then too long. I think this is quite obvious when reading The Sending and I get the impression that the underdeveloped part was the 'faff' at the beginning.

About half way through the story changes direction rather violently and an extremely tedious few 'traveling' chapters ensue. At this point I am about to cry and it seems like Isobelle (we're totally on a first name basis) has lost the plot and is now on the bullet train to ruining-the-fantasy-series-of-my-childhood-land, stopping all stations. But never fear - it only get better from here! Action, action, action, plot twists, discoveries, action!

Thankfully Elspeth's quest suddenly becomes interesting with the introduction of the wolves, the reappearance of Dragon, some deaths, some mysterious prophecies and some really interesting new terrains. The last third of the book was really un-put-downable material and thankfully my job as a receptionist allows me to ignore all my duties and read (seriously, the amount of people that I ignored when they came in who then remarked on how good my book must be ...). The book ends with a big cliff-hanger which has never happened before in the series, again making the two-book split clear.

In the end I think a good read, although nowhere near the quality of The Stone Key. I think Isobelle has fallen into the trap of becoming complacent with character development, relying on that from previous books. Having not read the prequels for several years, I found that I knew nothing about characters such as Swallow and The Sending did nothing to rectify or expand on this; he, like some others, ended up just being a name that said some things. The choice to write in first person also has something to do with this I think.

Another slightly annoying trend that kept reappearing was the fact that whatever Elspeth assumed/guessed/thought was going to happen, never happened. In an attempt to create twists and a little unpredictability, Elspeth would continually voice her thoughts on the future and then every time she would be somehow shocked to find out that this was not the case. Every time. "Oh I can't wait to go for a walk in the park today because that totally what I planned ... OMG IT'S A DRAGON AND IT HAS BREATHED FIRE ON THE PARK AND NOW I CAN'T GO WALKING!" Very unsubtle Isobelle, tsk tsk.

In saying all of this, I feel like I now have to be defensive of the series ... it really is quite incredible and the premise of a post-apocalyptic world has been explored and presented exquisitely. For me, it is the perfect blend of fantasy and sci-fi and I would recommend it to any reader. Thankfully the final book, The Red Queen has already been written and is being released next year, because if I had to wait any longer I would hunt the bitch down and lock her in a cellar until she finished it.

In other news, I just moved house and the new one has a big built-in bookshelf which has saved me from having to buy one - photo coming soon!

Ten Must Reads for 2012

Considering that I only read seventeen (if lengthy) books this year, picking a top ten to read will likely take up most of the year, considering I will be traveling Europe among other things. Nevertheless, here is my list which includes some that are yet to be released, some that are and some that I even already own but haven't read yet.

1. The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody
Release: August/September/October 2012
My most hotly anticipated read, this is the final book of the Obernewtyn Chronicles, started in 1987. I've been reading these since I was twelve and in fact just finished book six, The Sending, last night. I've included the cover from the back of my copy of The Sending - I'm confused why there are two versions for each book, given that they're in the exact same style.

2. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel
Release: Out Now
I spent the better part of this year reading the Earth's Children saga and have yet to read the final book. This is actually because I refuse to buy the hardback copy as I don't do hardbacks - it has to match with the rest of the series! -- I just now found out it was released in November with a new cover to match the previous books, yay!


3. The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin
Release: Out Now
The final book in the Inheritance trilogy (not to be confused with Paolini's Inheritance Cycle) these books were very strange yet fresh and surprisingly good. I especially enjoyed book two, The Broken Kingdoms, when I thought I wouldn't, so I'm looking forward to this!

4. The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima
Release: 2 February 2012
The final book in The Seven Realms Trilogy, the previous two books were fast-paced and extremely easy to read - nothing groundbreaking but still quite captivating.

5. Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore
Release: 1 May 2012
I really enjoyed Graceling and Fire which are 'companion' novels to Bitterblue, and so I have been hanging out for it's release. I believe Bitterblue is a kind of sequel to Graceling.

6. The Black Mausoleum by Stephen Deas
Release: 17 May 2012
This is a sequel to the Memory of Flames trilogy, which was a truly ruthless read both in terms of the pace and the plot. The Order of the Scales left a lot of questions unanswered (I gather Deas is a big fan of this) which I am hoping to find answers for. I think/hope they will release a different cover to match more with the Australian Memory of Flames covers.

7. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Release: 29 December 2011 (8 Days!)
I will pretty much buy and read anything by Sanderson immediately upon its release. After Mistborn and The Way of Kings I have come to the belief that we are in fact the same person in two different bodies - his books appeal to me that much. I'm currently reading Elantris right now.

8. Vengeance by Ian Irvine
Release: Out Now
One of my most favourite authors, this will be the first book of his I have read outside the Three Worlds Cycle so I am really wondering what is in store!

9. The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
Release: Out Now/On My Shelf
I really loved the Nightangel trilogy, so I asked for this book for Christmas last year - and now a year has passed and I still haven't gotten around to it! At this point I might as well wait for any sequels to be released first.

10. The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
Release: 26 March 2012
Yet another final book being released in 2012, this one to the Demon Cycle. The premise of these books really made them, as well as the strong character development. The struggling and desperate plight of the protagonists reminded me of Ian Irvine's books, one of my favourites! Unfortunately no cover yet!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

REVIEW: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this one. I should preface my thoughts with a few things ... Firstly, other than Ian Irvine's Three World series, the Mistborn trilogy are at the top of my list of favourite books ever. The Alloy of Law is (obviously) not only by the same author, but is set in the same world - a sequel of sorts - and so I had very high expectations. Secondly, I began reading this while on holiday on a tropical island and honestly only got through about ten pages. For other reasons since then it has been a very slow and gradual read. Being quite a short novel to begin with, I think this ruined the flow and fast-paced nature of the story for me.

In terms of writing I think this one sits on par with Sanderson's other works - brilliant. He quickly yet thoroughly introduces a remade Scadrial in the heart of the industrial era as well as a small cast of endearing characters. As with most successful novellas, no time is wasted on unnecessary details, but neither are the crucial ones left out. 

However, this is were I was left a little disappointed. Since the events in Mistborn the physical world has dramatically changed, yet the metallic arts including Allomance and Feruchemy are still present in much the same way. Characters from Mistborn who had the most influence on events have also now become divine to some extent and several religions have sprung up following their teachings (as humans are wont to do). There are mentions of Vindication, the Lord Mistborn, Ironeyes and Harmony and while references were fleeting in the beginning I was sincerely hoping that more would be revealed as the story progressed. Alas I was left crushed.

To be honest I have no real interest in crime and investigation or anything resembling the real world. While Mistborn was a true epic fantasy, I felt The Alloy of Law was a far cry from it and was instead focused on a crime-solving, gun-toting, train-riding shoot up. Sure there was still elements of 'magic', the most obvious being Allomancy, but other than that, it reeked of science-fiction.

I found myself having little to no interest in the primary (well, only) story and instead wanted to know more about Harmony (presumably Sazed), the Originators and all of the religions. Texts and laws set by Harmony are also mentioned but never explored. I wanted more of the history, of the world, of the magic, but instead I was reading about guns. It seems to me that setting this story in a Mistborn setting had little more to do than being able to use the same system of magic.

I also had a lot of unanswered questions which I feel may have been answered at the end of The Hero of Ages (anyone?) such as a mention about creating a whole new set of alloys when combining them with the two 'mythical' God metals, one being atium. What was the other one? And what did the new set do?

All of that aside, I still think it was a good read, but just not wholly what I expected or wanted. What I did find interesting was the ending and how much it smacked of a sequel; while the battle was won, the war seemed far from over.

Not quit sure what I'll read next ... I think I will give The Sending a go and discern whether or not I need to reread the Obernewtyn series before any of it will make sense. If that is the case I think I may wait until The Red Queen is released and do it all in one hit. If that is the case I'll read Elantris.

No new purchases recently, far too poor!

EDIT: Ok I did some researching and found this great site/page: which explains a lot, some of which I now remember from Mistborn and some that I didn't even get, such as the other God metal was the one that Vin gave Elend at the Well of Ascension and it creates powerful Mistborns. I also never knew that all of Sanderson's world were connected and in such an interesting way!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

REVIEW: HBO's Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series has been on my To Buy/Read list for a while now, so I couldn't resist watching the TV series Game of Thrones.

I don't want to say much other than I freaking loved it! I'm not sure how it would have fared in my opinion had I read the books first and I haven't asked anyone who has, but as a stand alone series, I thought it was highly successful. I think this is mostly due to the brilliance of the novels and their characters and plot, but I also held the actors and direction in high regard. Using a mostly unknown cast was a good move and each held their character superbly, notably Daenerys, Arya and Lady Stark for me.

As a fan of reading fantasy I did struggle a bit with the lack of detail which is inherent in films and TV series. I had to look up a map of Westeros to place all of the events and even some of the characters as it was hard to remember everyone's names without seeing them written.

I definitely mean to get on to reading the series as soon as I can, although I had originally planned to wait until the final two books were released. Upon finding out how long that could drag on for however, I could be waiting a while. I think I might order them for Christmas.

Reading wise, I am only halfway through The Alloy of Law due my graduation, holiday, work and now TV series but I'm enjoying it thus far.