Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013...a year in books


So another year has come and go. I have to tell you...it was a good year for me and this blog.

If you are new visiting here you might not know this, but this year my brother did a whole new banner for the blog, a banner that I really like and that even changes with the seasons!. Also during this year I got a bit more followers, thank you, it makes me very happy that you like my site and my reviews :) 

This year also marked a personal record for me, I read 67 books this year! I am very happy because as you can see, every year I've managed to read a bit more. Now, something that I have to mention is that I didn't read that much pages than last year, but that is due to another change that took place and that is Audible. It was during spring that I first listen to an audio book on a transatlantic flight and I was hooked. I always thought they were not for me, and there you have it! 

So let's brake down this year in numbers, shall we? Out of the 67 books I read 60% were in paper format (either hardcover or paperback). 90% of the books were fiction! This is something that doesn't surprise me, but I would like to increase the amount of books of non-fiction that I read, and that is one of my goals for 2014. 

71% of the books I read were written by female authors; 91% of them were written in English and finally 54% of them came from the library. While I feel very proud of using my library I have a lot of books in my shelves that have been there for a while. Here we have my second goal for 2014: I want to reduce the amount of books that I haven't read that I already own. So I will...try not to buy books for a while...except when I will use a gift card I got for Christmas ;).

During 2013 I participated in 2 challenges: "Where in the world are you reading" hosted by Book Journey. I had a lot of fun with this challenge and it made set another goal for next year: I want to increase the diversity (geographically shall we say?) of my reading. I mean look at that map! There is no books in the southern hemisphere!

The second challenge was the "Sequel" challenge. It was originally hosted by Aunti Spinelli Reads, but she moved over Novel Heartbeat. This was also fun and next year she is organizing a Sequel/Prequel challenge with points...ladies and gentleman I love points, so you guessed it I will be joining this challenge to. There will be a separate post for joining the challenges and hopefully I will post them tomorrow.

I am planning to do the 2 Read-a-Thons this year and both Once upon a Time and the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril both hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

Well, this is it I think. I wish to everyone a wonderful new year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

On duty, the more I learn about it, the least I appreciate the notion
Why I read this book?

This was the December Alternative Pick for the Sword and Laser. I was lucky enough to find both picks in my library and taking advantage of the extra time that comes with holiday season I decided to read both of them.

What's the book about?

The book is set in an alternative time frame during the war against Napoleon. Besides their armies and navies countries also have Dragons. The story follows Captain Lawrence and his dragon Temeraire. It also presents the dynamics between dragons and their pilots.

What about the characters?

I really enjoyed the dragon's personalities, all of them, but off course you get more acquainted with Temeraire; he has a very sweet personality and every time I would read him it would feel like a very endearing huge puppy...with wings, sure, but adorable nonetheless. The human characters however, didn't hit the right cord for me, and I was not attached to any of them.

Final thoughts

It's been a long time since a book makes me cry, as in real tears streaming down my face cry, and this book did that towards the end. As always, I will not give away what happens, but I was very touch by a certain event towards the end of this installment.

I absolutely loved the interaction between dragons and how they are portrayed not only as very smart animals but also much attached and very loyal, no matter what. I liked how Temeraire would question this ways since he is a young dragon, much like a kid would question the way we do things. I think the author usage of this to explain to the reader how this world works is very clever.

I also enjoyed the historical side of the book; the twists applied to combats versus Napoleon to keep the uniqueness of the history were well executed, while keeping enough details to make feel like an historical novel indeed. One great point was the presence of not only female dragons, but female pilots that are perfectly capable and not portrayed as damsels in distress.

The reason why I didn't give a higher rating to the book and the reason why I doubt I will continue with this series is the fact that I mentioned earlier. I did not like any of the human characters and while I liked the dragons it wasn't enough to carry me to the next book.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

It is a condition of monsters that they do not see themselves as such.

Why I read this book?

I got a very nice gift from Audible...a 10$ credit. This book turned out to be under that price and I've heard a lot of nice things for this series, so I figure let's give it a try!

What's the book about?

Set in Prague the story begins with Karou, a 17 year old artist that has a particular family...a family of chimeras. She knows about the world beyond, she believes in magic and she has seen some dark things in her life. But things are going to get weirder when she starts noticing hand shaped burnt marks in the portals that she uses to do her errands. What or who is doing this she doesn't know but this will change the way she sees herself from now on.

What about the characters?

I LOVED Zuzana as a side character, her humor, her expressions and her art was something I would love to see in real life. As for Karou, she had "typical" rebellious teenager attitudes which can be annoying at sometimes but it was compensated by her interactions with Brimstone and Zuzana, in general with the people she loves.

I liked the sense of being lost, so constant in Karou's attitude, even when she tried to hide it from her friends. I realize it is a weird think to like, but this made her more relatable to me, being a teenager is very easy to not be sure where you are going and why you are doing what you are doing, and in her particular case, the fact that half of her life takes place in a supernatural world makes that feeling even deeper.

Final thoughts

The first half of the book is romance free, which I actually liked; it lets you get to know the main character. You want to learn about her back story and about the world her family comes from.

The second part is set in the chimaera world, Eretz. This part was beautiful to imagine!. The creatures described and the whole world were incredible in my imagination. I cannot talk much about it without giving away spoilers, but I will tell you that I enjoyed the descriptions and settings a lot.

The end caught me a bit by surprise; I was so concentrated into the wrld building I honestly didn't see that turn of events coming. But luckily for me, I already downloaded the second book, ready to start on 2014! 

Khristine Hvam is an amazing narrator. The pace and tones were just perfect to each moment of the story, and I found her voices ideal for each character. Every time she talked as Razgut I got chill down my spine, that's how good she was. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

If everything that happens is the will of Amat; if nothing can happen that isn't already designed by God, why bother to do anything.

Why I read this book?

This was the November pick for the Sword and Laser Book club. It sounded like a very good book, so much that my boyfriend wanted to read it too, so we decided to get it with Audible and listen to it while driving to the lab.

What the book is about?

The book is told from the point of view of the Ancillary Justice of Toren a AI whose main "body" was a Radch spaceship and that also used to have hundreds of ancillary bodies, all connected to one same mind. Through the book we learn what happened to all of her bodies and to her as one episode describes us the present and the next the past until the story merges. This new single body, called Breq, is dealing with being a single identity, learning how to be human and getting all the way to get revenge.

Final thoughts

Both my boyfriend and I really enjoyed the book!. At first it was hard to get used to the absence of genre distinction amongst the Radch, but before you realize it you stop thinking about the characters as a he or a she and just concentrate on the story alone; it was a nice twist on language and it accentuates the fact that genre doesn't really matter for the story.

Another good point is the struggle of the AI being one or several and how this unity could be fractured. I think it was an interesting take on how we are also one and several at the same time. Even more, the fact that most of people would consider the Ancillaries as just machines incapable of feelings or moral clashes.

The whole political situation of the Radch was very well written too, a nice critique I think to the belief that people are just civilized if they are doing stuff the way we do them. A continuous thought during colonization centuries ago and actually still around, sadly.
Also the position on religion, I found it very interesting how the author created the whole Radch mythology that would also absorb the basics of religions all over the planets they "civilized"

Celeste Ciulla, the narrator was amazing, not only doing the different voices but giving a "mechanic" voice to Breq while filling her sentences with full intentions.

If you are going to do something that crazy, save it for when it will make a difference.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Notions too mad for another to take seriously are the very notions I seize upon and enact, often in the most organized and sensible fashion

Why I read this book?

This was the main pick for the Sword and Laser bookclub for the month of December. It seemed to be a nice mix of women in science and dragon fantasy and boy did it deliver!

What is the book about?

The book is told in the voice of Isabella Hendemore, a naturalist at heart who discovers very early in her life that 1. She loves science and 2. She loves dragons. These two things are not the ideal pastimes of a proper lady from Scirland. Is through her love of dragons that she will meet her husband and afterwards they will go on an expedition to study her beloved creatures.

What about the main character?

Isabella is a very strong willed woman, a scientist who grew up in a time and a society that this was not "normal" for a young lady. There is sweetness in her that sometimes reads like naïveté about the world. I don't know if she is supposed to know this about herself, but the character for sure uses it to her advantage. What I love the most about this character is that, since she is writing after retirement, you will find comments such as "oh, my editor won't like this, but I will put it anyway" and that for me makes a character that is been round and about and no longer cares about preconceptions.

Final Thoughts

I've read a lot of reviews saying that the book didn't have enough action. I will have to agree with them, and I guess that the first assumption with a dragon book is that there will be action and flying and fire blazing. If that's what you are looking for, this is not a book for you. However, with a title as "Natural History" I was not expecting that so I did enjoy the book quite a bit. I loved the drawings! The turn of events (that I will not discuss you guys, no spoilers!) really caught me off guard and I was honestly sad with it. This is a series I would like to continue for sure; I think is a new way of visiting a world full of dragons and I think Brennan did a great job giving a voice to Isabella.

I am- and was, even then- a scientist. When I find myself with an uncertain theory, my impulse is to gather evidence that will prove it or disprove it.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Everything under the Sky (Todo bajo el cielo) by Matilde Asensi

Fast as the wind, slow as the forest, swift and devastating as fire, still as the mountain

Why I read this book?

This book was recommended to me by my aunt. She loved it so much that it inspired her to visit China.

What's the book about?

In the early 1920s Elvira receives a letter informing her that her husband has died in Shanghai. Accompanied by her niece, Fernanda, she travels to China only to discover that he didn't died out of sickness but most likely he was killed and left behind nothing but debt. At the same time she will find herself with her hands on a mysterious box that will take her on a journey across China trying to find a long lost hidden treasure and maybe, find her own peace of mind.

What about the characters?

Elvira is meant to be a strong willed character, particularly when you consider the time where the story is settled. However sometimes it will feel more like stubbornness than strong character. Granted, it would be easy to feel mad often surrounded by the condescendence that she sees towards women once in China, but sometimes her dismissive attitude towards Chinese medicine or culture in general was a bit much for me to swallow. It was gratifying to see her adopting some ideas towards the end, at least.

We got married out of interest [...] once our objectives fullfield, our marriage was a lovely story of friendship.

Fernanda was insufferable. Since she has had a shielded life this 16 year old thinks that she is better than anyone and will not let others forget it. Writing this lines I realize that the 3 main characters (Lao Jiang being the third one) are stubborn and consider they view of the world as the only right one...for most of the book. Is probably this dynamic, everyone pulling from each side that allows the author to give so much information about tradition and how it is looked upon by a foreign.

Final thoughts

For a book in which I didn't particularly like any of the characters I was surprised as to how much I liked the book as a whole. It is the story and the history that take the protagonist role in this novel. Asensi describes the surroundings in a beautiful way, yet is not overwhelming; it gives you a picture to set the story without taking importance from it. I found the dialogues a bit stiff, but I couldn't point out if it was because it was meant to be that way as people didn't like each other most of the time, or if I am out of practice reading in Spanish.

An excited mind by out of control emotions, in a tired body and with agitated senses is an invitation to misery and sickness.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

You think that holding someone hard will bring them closer. You think that you can hold them so hard that you'll still feel them, embossed on you, when you pull away.

Why I read this book?

I've been hearing marvelous things about this book, both on BookRiot.com and on the Bookrageous podcast.

What's the book about?

The book is told by two voices Eleanor and Park, two teenagers that happen to fall into each other's life without looking for it. They met at the school bus and they relationship starts growing from friendship to attraction being born thanks to comic books and music.

What about the main character?

Obviously we have two main characters. Park comes from a happy Korean/American family. He is consider a misfit just because he like music nobody else does and partially because of his origins (he is the only Asian kid at school...well, there is his brother but only Park looks half Asian). A father with high expectation has made him doubtful of himself but he is aware that he is lucky to have the family he does. On the other hand we have Eleanor; the poor thing has no luck in the family department; her mom is dating an abusive younger man and her father is almost 100% absent. Add to that the fact that Eleanor considers herself fat and that she is the new girl at school.

Final thoughts

What a beautiful and heartbreaking love story. Even though from the beginning you know that they will be together eventually it was very endearing to see their relationship grow. It was horrible to see Eleanor being bullied and by the end I almost cried reading what was going on. I have to say that it wasn't easy to read but made this book that much better, to see the characters have such dark moments. I was very happy with the turn of characters of Park's parents.

The message that even in such horrible situations we can find someone who loves us for exactly who we are is a very powerful one. Their love is sweet and sometimes naïve but oh so perfect as a first love. The story is set in 1986 (great year I've heard ;)) but without some music references is a story that is valid for any first love.

I was devouring the end of the book, wanting everything to be fine for both of them since they deserved it, and I was left with a tiny whole in the chest when I finished the last sentence. Rowell got herself a fan with this book and I can't wait to get my hands on Fangirl.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Don't Panic
Why I read this book?

I've watched the movie 2005 before, but I've never gotten around to the book or the show itself. My boyfriend had it and we decided to listen to it while driving to work. I should probably clarify that we listened to the radio play version.

What's the book about?

The Earth has been destroyed! It was on the way a intergalactic overpass, and no one complained so they went ahead and destroyed it. Luckily for Arthur Trent, his friend Ford Perfect turns out to be a writer for the Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy and saves him just in time. With him they will meet the Galactic president, dine at the end of the universe and learn the ultimate answer for life and everything else: 42.

What about the main character?

The main character, Arthur Dent, is quite amusing. Half of the story is spend by him in denial, as in, how can this be happening to me? This is just not possible. But in general, he is a bit clumsy and since until very recently he was unaware of the existence of other communities in the universe, outside Earth he sometimes makes situations even worse out of ignorance.

Final thoughts

I had a great time listening to this book. Not only the characters were entertaining, but also the situations. The whole story is so whimsical that you don't feel time passing by, so I think it was a perfect match for listening while driving. A lot of sarcastic jokes (my type) a lot of smart writing and character building. My favorite character is Marvin the Paranoid Android. He is delightful even though he is supposed to be ways depressed. I'm not sure how different this version is compared to the actual book, but I would highly recommend it. There is off course the fact that this version finishes in a cliff-hanger to invite you to continue with the play, something that we will probably do soon enough.