Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Ten (Or So): Books Read in 2012

A lot of my rankings is related to how well I remember the books in question. Several books I remember really enjoying, but I hardly remember the actual content of the books themselves. I think this is indicative of overall less enjoyment on my part, and thus they rank lower.
But really--it kind of feels like I'm almost randomly putting this together. As soon as I decide upon the books and order, I remember another book that's just as fabulous. I switch it all around...and then back again...and I'm so HOPELESS at making up my mind.

So, without further ado, I give you in sort-of approximate ascending order some of my favourite books read in 2012:

--Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy. Great fun, awesome illustrations, and multiple princes to choose from.

--Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson. I love language, and always have. This book is not only filled with an amazing amount of fascinating information about the English language and language in general, but also Byrson's sense of humour.

--A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. One of the most original Middle Grade authors I know. The worldbuilding is rather incredible, but the characters and plot are not far behind.

--Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Reminiscent of Buffy and Supernatural; contains two romances I actually kind of liked, tons of humour, a gorgeous cover, and dried-blood coloured text.

--Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card. Psychological insights, genius children, more Ender Wiggin, and a tiny little strategist from Rotterdam.

--The Winter Prince by Elizabeth E. Wein. Dark, but really, really good. An introspective look into a very complex character. Also sort of a re-telling of King Arthur, which is pretty cool.

--Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Great art, gripping story, two central characters I'm going to remember for a long time. Decidedly my favourite manga I've ever read, and more interesting than most of the books I've read as well.

--A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith. Lovely and fun and full of unique characters. This is sort of the ultimate comfort read in some ways. But it's not only fluffy and fun; there's some actual growth in maturity for these characters.

Runners Up (In No Order Whatsoever and Possibly Missing Some Good Ones Because I'm Really, Really Bad at Making Up My Mind)
--Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This is a staple of SciFi for a reason.
--Code Name Verity. One of the best fictional female friendships ever.
--The Dragon's Tooth. Ancient society of explorers!
--Kat, Incorrigible. Family, magic, and shenanigans in the 19th century!
--I Hunt Killers. Serial killers!
--Flatland. Dimensions!
--The Pirates! In an Adventure With Whaling. Sooooo funny.
--How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Just look at the title. It explains everything.
--Loss. Anthropomorphic personifications of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top Ten (Or So): Covers of Books Read in 2012

Covers can have a stronger impact on me than I'd like sometimes. It is such a huge effort not to re-buy  several times books I already own, simply because the covers are SO. PRETTY. But I usually manage to resist. And those with bad covers can put me off for years, even though I know the book will probably be amazing.
Thus, here goes the list. In approximate descending order (because I'd never be able to decide an exact order):

Anna Dressed in Blood. This one is my favourite. I love it, love it, love it. Grey and red are two of my favourite colours, and her hair's so pretty, and and...sigh. I dunno. I just love it.

Girl of Nightmares is also pretty high on my list. I liked Anna Dressed in Blood better though, as this one is less grey and the red is a bit too orangey.

Splendors and Glooms. Aaah, just look at that. So creepy and atmospheric. I love the giant hand appearing from underneath that beautifully red curtain. And then there's the back cover... But I won't spoil it for you.

The Humming Room is illustrated by my favourite cover illustrator and written by one of my favourite authors. What an awesome combination. I ended up not liking the book quite as much as Ellen Potter's other books (The Kneebone Boy and Pish Posh were really awesome), but Jason Chan's artwork was as lovely as always.

And speaking of atmospheric, look at The Drowned Vault. It's better when you can see the big version, but even in the small version some of the beautiful colour scheme and suitable strangeness shows up.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. I love covers where the characters are illustrated (as opposed to using a photo shoot, or a simple design), and this one just makes the book look so FUN (which it is, by the way).

Code Name Verity. Simple but arresting. Also black (which is probably my favourite colour for book covers, despite the grey and red of Anna Dressed in Blood) and very suitable for the tone and themes of the book itself.

I'm not sure if I find the cover for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children attractive exactly, but it's certainly mesmerizing and unique. I always noticed it in every bookstore I walked into.

I just think the cover of Loss is pretty. Hunger and Rage are awesome too (Rage is my favourite, being red), but I read them last year so they can't go on this list.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


by Julie Cross

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Jackson can travel through time! 'Nough said.
Ok, I suppose that isn't enough said. Jackson can travel very short distances into the past, until one day he gets stuck in 2007 and can't get back to his normal time of 2009. Which is unfortunate because his girlfriend was just shot by mysterious men, and he wants to get back and make sure she doesn't die and all that.

Thoughts: Basically all the stars come from the time travel. I love time travel. A lot. The time travel in this book is different than any I've seen before as well, so that was exciting. It was lacking in some details, but that I'm presuming will come with the sequel, which is out in 2013. The first half of the book was especially exciting in this area; you have no real clue what's going on, and all sorts of strange things are happening

The Romance, on the other hand, was nothing spectacular. Or at least, for my tastes. Though I was thankful at least that it wasn't about Jackson falling in love with a girl; Holly was his girlfriend from the beginning and stayed that way. Also, it seemed like it was an actual serious love, serious enough for him to [spoilers, visit to decode] nfx ure gb zneel uvz, naq gb znxr gung ubeevoyr fnpevsvpr ng gur raq.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Splendors and Glooms

by Laura Amy Schlitz

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Strange puppets, creepy puppet masters, old witches dying slowly, lost children, a fair amount of thievery, etc. etc.

Thoughts: Schlitz is good at a mix of creepy, sad, adventurous, and heartfelt. A Drowned Maiden's Hair was similarly excellent in this regard.

The characters were unique while still being familiar. Parsefall was a typical poor, thieving scamp in some ways. A bit of an Artful Dodger type, except more serious. Lizzie Rose was a "good girl", but with the few interesting things she convinced herself were acceptable. Grisini was quite Fagin-ish in many ways, but had interesting complexity in his history with Cassandra and the fact that he's in the puppet business because it's actually his passion. Clara and Cassandra were my definite favourites. They both had rather tragic pasts which psychologically screwed them up royally.

If I had a criticism, I would say that although the multiple view points decidedly create more complexity for each character, they also distract slightly. I didn't feel like the book was quite as cohesive as it might have been.

P.S. Just look at that awesome cover.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True

by Gerald Morris

Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Story: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. You know the story. And if you don't, you should, and it's not my job to enlighten you.

Thoughts: Good. Funny. For kids. I'm rather too old to properly judge this (despite the fact that Sir Gawain is my all time favourite knight ever), as it is for a much younger audience than me. So...yeah. That's all for today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy

by Orson Scott Card

Grade: 4 stars

Thoughts: Even better than Characters & Viewpoint. While Characters & Viewpoints made me feel like less of a writer--like getting my ideas and characters in words might be more of a challenge than I was up to, this seemed like something I could do. Perhaps it's because I "belong" in SFF. In fact, there's a description on page 33, that sounds much more like my style of writing than many other descriptions I've read. I'm not going to quote it because it's longish, but the basic idea is that for Orson Scott Card (and me!) the initial story thoughts begin years before hand, slowly mature and change, as little bits and pieces are added or completely re-imagined, and by the time it's done, it bears almost no resemblance to the original. Makes me feel a bit better, because I was starting to feel a bit worried about the fact that my stories keep changing so drastically.

The first bunch of the book was actually more defining what science fiction and fantasy, or "speculative fiction", actually is. This would be a fantastic resource to be able to argue against those people who snobbily look down on speculative fiction as somehow lower than literary fiction. It also included TONS of references to excellent SFF authors, most of whom sound awesome. It'll take years and years before I'll get as far into that list as I'd like to be.

Then it went on into more actual writing suggestions and tips (with specific emphasis on world creation), which was also really interesting, but I'm not going to go into much detail about it. Read it yourself if you want to know more.

The last bit (which he admitted in the preface might be outdated by the time you read it) is more about getting published: various magazines to try out, tips about handling agents and finances, all sorts of stuff. I actually found this part really fascinating, even if it is outdated. There were all sorts of things about getting published I had no clue about.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Characters & Viewpoint

by Orson Scott Card

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Thoughts: Really good book about writing and characters, by the author who wrote Ender's Game and a million other SciFi/Fantasy books. From the good and bad parts of stereotypes to the importance of characters suffering to writing in 1st person vs. writing in 3rd person, he looks up close at the actual craft of writing.

This is one I'd like to buy and use as a reference. I don't write all that often, but I love thinking about characters and why exactly I find them fascinating/boring/whatever adjective suits them.

A while back, Orson Scott Card made some sort of remarks that many people took as homophobic. I don't actually remember what those remarks were, so I'm not going to comment on that. However what I would like to comment on is the fact that so many people on the internet are now saying, "I really want to read this book, but OSC's a total jerk, and I never want to read his books again". This really annoys me. Are they going to stop reading all books that have authors they disagree with? Part of the POINT of reading is to become familiar with someone else's mind, sometimes because they have good things to say, and sometimes because they have bad things to say, and you need to be able to recognize the bad when you see it. Why do you think "Mein Kampf" is still widely read and available when it's author was one of the worst people in history?

Maybe it annoys me so much because I, as an orthodox Catholic, end up reading TONS of books whose authors I disagree with. All the time. Always. Sometimes it shows up in their books, sometimes not. Sometimes I really strongly disagree with them, sometimes only a bit. But it doesn't stop me from reading them, unless it figures so strongly that it makes the actual reading of their books unpleasant. OSC's views don't show up in his books at all, as far as I know--and people STILL go on and on about this.

Anyhow. This rant is sidestepping the point somewhat (which is why it's in the P.S. and has that huge warning at the top), but I have read some reviews of this book that have mentioned this point, and it annoyed me so much that I had to write about it somewhere. A book like this doesn't talk about an author's views on anything like that ANYWAY; it's purely about the art of writing. WHAT you write about, or what your ideas on life are, isn't discussed.