Annihilation

AnnihilationAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Summary

Area X was once a place of human civilization, but nature has since taken over. Four female scientists embark on an expedition (the twelfth such expedition) to learn more about the strange place that has been cut off from the rest of the world.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Review

Ugh, this book was really weird. I thought for sure I’d like it, so I bought the whole trilogy before I read the first book. Now I’m not sure if I should continue reading it (I heard the second book was very different from the first) or if I should just leave it alone and move onto something else.

The book didn’t explain any of the bizarre things happened, any of the history of Area X, or any of the rules about the expeditions. I get that it’s a mystery and only the first book of a trilogy, but I found it really hard to enjoy the book when I had no idea what I was reading.

At least it was short.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Weird science-fiction
  • Female scientists
  • Arguing about whether to call a building a “tower” or a “tunnel”
  • Apocalypses
  • Creepy mysterious environments
  • Dolphins with human-like eyes

The Buried Giant

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)

Summary

King Arthur helped put an end to the war between the Britons and the Saxons, but his reign has come to an end and a mysterious mist has swept the land, clouding the memories of its inhabitants.

The Buried Giant tells the story of an elderly couple who journey across the land to find a son they can barely remember. When they find what may be a way to remove the mist, they must decide whether it’s worth it to risk bringing back painful memories and disrupting the peace in order to remember the past.

Review

Kazuo Ishiguro has written other books like Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, but The Buried Giant was the first book I’ve read by him.

As I was reading, I felt pretty ambivalent about The Buried Giant. It was slow-paced and lackluster, but I still kind of wanted to keep reading to see if it would get interesting. And that was how my whole experience reading the book went: not sure where Ishiguro was going with the story, but hoping there would be some fascinating revelation on the next page or chapter. It never came.

I didn’t care about any of the characters and the dialogue was frustrating and excessively repetitive. The story lacked focus and drive. This is one book I’d like to forget about.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Memory loss
  • Saxons vs. Britons
  • Charon from Greek mythology
  • Allegory
  • Widows who taunt boatmen by repeatedly slitting rabbits’ throats
  • Fantasy settings (dragons, ogres, giants, pixies, etc.)
  • Arthurian legend

The Thief

The ThiefThe Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1996)

Summary

Gen is the self-proclaimed world’s best thief — he even succeeded in stealing from the King himself — but his bragging has landed him in prison. Now the King’s Magus wants Gen’s help with the nearly impossible task of stealing a lost artifact.

Review

I felt so-so about The Thief. It has a decent story (though it was slow in the beginning) with an interesting protagonist, but it’s definitely intended for a younger reader. I’ve heard that the sequel, The Queen of Attolia, is better, so I’ll give it a try to see how it compares.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Anti-heroes
  • Fantasy worlds
  • Middle grade to young adult books
  • Plot twists
  • Newbery Honor books

The Princess and The Queen

Dangerous WomenThe Princess and the Queen is novella by George R. R. Martin that is set in Westeros about 200 years before the events in A Game of Thrones. It was published in the Dangerous Women anthology.

Summary

Back when there were still dragons in Westeros and Targaryens sat on the Iron Throne, there was a civil war between two Targaryens over who should rule. King Viserys I Targaryen had declared his eldest child, Princess Rhaenyra, as his heir, but Queen Alicent (Rhaenyra’s stepmother) wanted to see her own children on the throne when the king died.

The war, known as the Dance of Dragons, completely devastated both sides of the Targaryen family and their dragons.

Review

It has been months since I read The Princess and the Queen, but I forgot to review it (whoops!). I’m a HUGE fan of A Song of Ice and Fire and the Dunk and Egg novellas, but I didn’t really enjoy The Princess and the Queen. :/

The idea of a Targaryen civil war fought with dragons was extremely enticing. Unfortunately, it read like a historical account rather than a story. There was little character development, just a lots and lots of names and places. Meh.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading this if you haven’t already read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I don’t think it does well as a standalone.

You might like this book if you like…

  • A Song of Ice and Fire
  • The Targaryen family
  • Dragons
  • History books

A Wrinkle in Time

If I read A Wrinkle in Time in my childhood, I forgot about it, so I thought I ought to read this beloved sci-fi/fantasy classic.

Summary

A Wrinkle in TimeMeg is an awkward teenager whose father mysteriously disappeared years ago while on a top secret mission for the government. Together with her five-year-old telepathic savant brother, Charles Wallace, and their new friend, Calvin, she gets caught up in an adventure to save her father, who has been lost in time and space.

Review

Keeping in mind that A Wrinkle in Time is a children’s book, I felt like it was a let down.

The book was very black and white, good vs. evil. The Christian influence was too heavy-handed and I didn’t like how the book ended with a quick, love-conquers-all conclusion.

Another part of the problem was with the characters. Meg was whiny and self-loathing. Charles Wallace’s abilities and use of language were weird and unbelievable. Calvin was largely forgettable except for his strange, over-the-top praising of the Murray house.

That said, there were some good things about the book. Having a young, female, math-loving protagonist in a sci-fi/fantasy book in 1962 is pretty awesome. Unlike your typical hero, she’s also full of faults, which makes her feel more relatable. I also like how Meg’s view of her father changed from an omnipotent idol who can fix any problem to a flawed, uncertain person like her. That’s a fairly deep thing to have in a children’s book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The battle of good (light, love, guardian angels, individuality) vs. evil (dark, black, cold, conformity)
  • Christian themes
  • Space and time travel
  • Narcoleptic fortune tellers
  • Illusions of delicious turkey dinners
  • Faceless tentacle creatures

And if you like A Wrinkle in Time, there are four other books in the series.

The Color of Magic

The Colour of MagicThe Color of Magic is the first book in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

Summary

Rincewind is a cynical wizard (although he failed as a student at the Unseen University) who unintentionally gets caught up in adventures. When an odd and naive tourist named Twoflower shows up in Ankh-Morpork, he hires Rincewind as his guide. The rest of the book tells of their adventures with sentient homicidal luggage, a great fire, tree nymphs, magical swords, dragons, sea trolls, and a city on the very edge of Discworld.

Discworld itself is a disc-shaped world that is carried on the backs of four elephants, who are all standing on the shell of an enormous turtle as it swims through space.

Review

The Color of Magic felt shallow to me; the characters lacked depth and the book was more like four short stories than one cohesive novel. That being said, I liked the absurdist humor and I enjoyed the book well enough that I’m going to continue on with the series.

It helped that I knew going into it not to have my expectations too high. From what I’ve found, most people think the first few published books in the series are relatively weak and they generally recommend that people start with a later book like Guards! Guards! or Mort instead.

Ready Player One

Given the growing popularity of audiobooks, I thought it was time to give them a try. I read an article, I Regret Reading These 5 Books (Because I Should Have Listened to Them Instead), last month that helped me select Ready Player One for my first audiobook experience.

Summary

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline is set in 2044, when most people spend their time in the OASIS, a massively multiplayer online virtual reality simulation. When the creator of OASIS dies, it is revealed that he left the key to his vast fortune hidden in the OASIS, protected by a series of riddles and puzzles inspired by 1980’s pop culture (an obsession of the creator’s).

Review

Okay, so Ready Player One isn’t a great piece of literature, but it’s entertaining and has an interesting concept. It’s written for young adults, which is odd because it’s meant to appeal to people who experienced the 1980’s. I was born too late to really experience the 80’s, but I was still familiar with some of the movies, video games, and music mentioned in the book.

The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He did an awesome job narrating and it was funny to listen to him refer to himself as a “geezer” in the book. 😛

If you’re a fan of 1980’s pop culture (particularly, science-fiction and video games), I’d recommend giving the book a try — especially in audiobook form. As for audiobooks in general, they definitely seem like a convenient way to read (especially while commuting or doing housework), but I enjoy the experience of reading myself better, so I think I’ll stick to eBooks and print books for now.

The Alchemist

The AlchemistLast week, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which is an international bestseller about a journey of self-discovery. It’s also pretty short (~200 pages), so I blew through it.

Summary

The Alchemist is about the journey of a young shepherd as he travels from Spain to Egypt to fulfill his “Personal Legend.”

Review

I have family and friends who loved The Alchemist and encouraged me to read it, but I was left underwhelmed and uninspired.

The Alchemist reads like a fable. The writing is very simple, the characters lack depth, and Coelho beats you over the head by repeating the same themes and phrases over and over and over again. While the simplicity might make the book accessible to a broader spectrum of readers, it really turned me off.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Its initial message was essentially “follow your dream,” which is admirable. However, Coelho writes that one’s dream (“Personal Legend”) is some unchangeable, unquestionable thing which we can only see clearly in childhood. I didn’t buy that at all. Furthermore,  he says that if you want your dream to happen hard enough, the entire universe will conspire to fulfill your individual desire and it will help you along the way with things like beginner’s luck and omens. Then, he started throwing out concepts like “The Soul of the World” and “The Language of the World” and other nonsense. Uff da.

There’s also a ridiculous subplot involving Fatima, a young woman whom “the boy” (the main character is always referred to this way) meets while travelling in the desert. The two fall in love immediately upon meeting and when the boy leaves shortly thereafter to pursue his Personal Legend, she accepts that it is her role as a woman to wait behind while her man goes out to fulfill his dream. Oi.

Maybe The Alchemist is just very polarizing. I know a lot of people have found it inspiring and life-changing, but it really did nothing for me.

A Dance with Dragons

Whoa, I’m all caught up with A Song of Ice and Fire now. :O I finished A Dance with Dragons yesterday, two years after I first started the series with A Game of Thrones. It’s definitely my favorite book series and I’ve spent countless hours discussing it in length with friends. Now I have to wait for The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring like everybody else. 😛

A Dance with DragonsA Dance with Dragons takes place at the same time as the previous novel, A Feast for Crows, except that it focuses on different characters. While AFFC primarily dealt with events taking place in southern Westeros, ADWD explores what’s going on in the North/at the Wall and across the seas in Essos.

There were 18 POV characters in ADWD (compared to 9 in AGOT), so there was a lot going on. I was sad to see a few interesting storylines get abandoned halfway through the book, but I expect those will be continued in TWOW. Instead, the book concentrated on Daenerys, Tyrion, and Jon Snow.

Like AFFCADWD is slower moving than the first 3 books. There were some weddings and a few deaths, but there weren’t any major catastrophes. A few main characters are/were assumed dead, but I have/had a hard time believing those characters really died, especially since GRRM has brought people “back from the dead” countless times already. A lot of the chapters are probably unnecessary, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it… and I was really happy to see a brief appearance by one of my favorite characters at the end. ^^

Now that I’ve read all of the A Song of Ice and Fire books, if I had to rank them from favorite to least, it would probably be:

  1. A Storm of Swords (Book #3)
  2. A Game of Thrones (Book #1)
  3. A Dance with Dragons (Book #5)
  4. A Clash of Kings (Book #2)
  5. A Feast for Crows (Book #4)

Tales of Dunk and Egg

Last month, I read The Tales of Dunk and Egg, an ongoing series of novellas written by George R. R. Martin that take place roughly 100 years before the events in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. There are currently 3 such novellas, with more planned for the future.

Dunk and Egg

Dunk is a young hedge knight who encounters a boy named Egg (if you’ve read A Feast for Crows, you know who this is) who insists on being Dunk’s squire. The stories chronicle their adventures throughout Westeros.

  1. The Hedge Knight – Dunk enters a tourney at Ashford and encounters the Targaryens.
  2. The Sworn Sword – Dunk and Egg travel to Dorne and enter into the service of Ser Eustace Osgrey of Standfast, during a feud with Lady Webber “The Red Widow” of Coldmoat.
  3. The Mystery Knight – Dunk and Egg attend Lord Butterwell’s wedding and enter the tourney in hopes of winning a dragon egg.

One thing I really liked about the series is the insight you get about the Targaryens. In ASOIAF, their reign was largely defined by Mad King Aerys. In Dunk and Egg, you get to see that there is a lot more to the Targaryens than just the Mad King.

It can be a little tricky to find copies of the Dunk and Egg stories, but GRRM is planning on publishing them together with the 4th novella sometime soon.