Monday, January 17, 2011

Dark River

by John Twelve Hawks

This is Book 2 of the Fourth Realm Trilogy. I read the first book, the Traveler, when it first came out in 2005. Set in the present day, an evil organization is developing more and more sophisticated ways to track all movements and activities of the population. From credit card and banking transactions, to surveillance cameras on the streets, tickets purchased, web sites visited, and phone calls made, the Tabula is tracking your every movement. The first book was about a Traveler - a person with the ability to travel to "other realms" and a Harlequin, a sword carrying protector of travelers and their pursuit by the Tabula. I thought it was an interesting premise and it was written as an exciting thriller. While I didn't think it quite lived up to all the hype, I did enjoy it and was interested in reading more.

The second book, Dark River, picks up were the first one left off. The Tabula is working furiously to achieve total control of the population. Two brothers search for their legendary Traveler father, one brother working for the Tabula and one hiding from the Tabula, living off the grid and protected by the young Harlequin Maya. While this was clearly a middle novel and could not be read on its own, it did make me interested to continue following the adventure and read the next book The Golden City.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter's Tale

by Mark Helprin

I first read this in the 80s shortly after it first came out. I rarely re-read books but this one really stuck with me all these years and I am glad that I finally re-read it. On a second reading it certainly did not disappoint! And while I remembered some sections vividly, there was a lot that I did not remember which made for an interesting read.

Winter's Tale is very difficult to describe. Superficially the story is about a burglar who falls in love with a young dying heiress when he breaks into her mansion. But that is just what gets the story going. In my mind the main character is the mythical New York City that Helprin creates which seems to always be enfolded in winter and threatened by a cloud wall. We experience almost a century of the city from the days of sailing ships, horse drawn carriages and cobblestone streets to the modernization of electric lights, mighty bridges and printing presses. There is a small upstate town which is not on any map and usually cannot be found, a white horse that can seemingly fly, and an epic struggle to build bridges.

The writing is spectacular and I could vividly picture flying up the frozen Hudson river in a sleigh under piles of fur, hiding in the lighted constellation ceiling of Grand Central Station or skulking through the sewers with the Short Tails gang of Five Points. While this is definitely fantasy it is not elf and dragon sort of fantasy but rather a look at turn of the century New York as a wondrous and romanticized place that you wish it had been. And you don't have to have ever been to New York or even like New York to enjoy this book. One of my favorite books of all time. Read it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reading Deliberately 2011

Last January I decided to try and read more deliberately. I believe the quality of the books that I read in 2010 was much higher than in 2009. I think this is in part due to my leaving my real world book club (and therefore cutting out books I didn't really want to read) but also reading some great books that I have intended to read for a long time but never seemed to get to. I therefore am going to try it again this year.

Books I intended to read in 2010 and still intend to read in 2011:

Gold Bug Variation by Richard Powers
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Lost City of Z by David Grann (nonfiction)

There are also books that I have that would be perfect for challenges that I intend to participate in:

Finch by Jeff Vandermeer - Once Upon a Time
The City and the City by China Mieville - Once Upon a Time
Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - RIP

In addition I would like to read a book about Art, a book about Food, a book about Books or Reading, a nonfiction book as well as something from the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels List which I am extremely slowly working through (The Sound and the Fury is on it).

This is a shorter list than last year but perhaps I can complete it this year and I reserve the right to add to it as I am sure I am leaving something important out.

2010 Year in Review

I cannot believe that 2010 went by so quickly. At the beginning of 2010 I decided to read a little more deliberately. While I did not achieve all my goals I did make significant progress and had a good reading year over all, especially as it included some really great books.

My five favorite books from 2010:

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

It was very hard to narrow it down to only five, especially since I really loved all of my honorable mentions below. It didn't make any sense to me however to pick 11 favorites since I only read 26 books this year. I guess it goes to show that I had a very successful reading year at least in terms of quality!

Honorable Mention:
The Other City
New York Trilogy
A Wild Sheep Chase
Housekeeper and the Professor

Reading Achievements for 2010:
I read twenty six books, which does not compare to most book bloggers but I am quite happy with that number as it is one more than last year and I expected to have read less as it was an especially hectic year for work and life. Of the ten books that I intended to read in 2010 I managed to read half of them, which isn't bad. Of the seven that I had on my shelves that I intended to read for challenges I only read three of them. Indeed, I didn't do very well with Challenges in 2010. I completed the Sci Fi Experience (3 books read), Once Upon A Time (4 books read), RIP (1 book read) and Japanese Literature (1 book read) but dropped out of the Speculative Fiction Challenge and Mind Voyages. I did manage to read two books related to art (The Savage Garden and My Name is Red) and one book about books (The Man Who Loved Books Too Much). I am way behind in writing reviews and need to get better about that, especially since my main goal in having this blog is to replace my physical reading diary.

Although some of the books could fall into more than one category for the purposes of this list I only assigned one category for each book.
Nonfiction - 2
Science Fiction - 3
Horror - 0
Fantasy - 4
Mystery - 3
Literary - 9
Thriller - 3
Other - 1
Female authors - 5
Male authors - 21
New to me authors - 15
Audiobooks - 10
Ebooks - 4

I was surprised that I listened to more audio books than ebooks but since my husband has returned my Kindle to me I bet that ebooks will increase in 2011.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sci Fi Experience 2011

It is time once again for Carl V's Sci Fi Experience. If you want to join in go here and if you want to check out people's reviews go here. I have been waiting for this to begin! I have Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan on my ipod ready to listen to (I enjoyed his Altered Carbon) and the Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi on my coffee table in hard cover. I also have Daemon by Daniel Suarez, Light by M. John Harrison and Old Man's War by John Scalzi on my Kindle. I don't think I will get to all of these but if I do there are many more on my list. And as always I am looking forward to reading all the other reviews and adding to my wish list. Thanks Carl for hosting again!

Sunday, January 02, 2011


What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller

I am not a surfer, never aspired to be a surfer, don't live in a location where there is much surfing and don't know any surfers. I was spending way to much time in an airport and looking for something lighter than what I had with me for reading and picked this up in a bookshop. I cannot say it is a great work of art or well written for that matter but it was entertaining and introduced me to a world that I knew nothing about. In fact, I immediately went out and rented three surf movies: Endless Summer, Step Into Liquid and Blue Horizon. I had no idea that people are surfing one hundred foot waves. I also picked up the new book, The Wave by Susan Casey, that looks really interesting.

But back to this book. Peter Heller seems to have made a career for himself going on adventures and then writing about them: extreme kayaking Tibet's Tsangpo gorge, the "deepest river gorge in the world"; a radical and dangerous campaign on an "eco-pirate ship" against Japanese whale hunting in Antarctica - and that is just his published books. His adventures are also chronicled in his articles in Outside Magazine, National Geographic Adventure as well as others. His web site has quite a few of his articles. But back to this book - Kook about surfing.

In Kook, Peter Heller sets himself the task of trying to learn how to surf in one year. He starts out in California and works his way through Baja and into Mexico. In the process he meets all sorts of surfers, from guys nobody has ever heard of to the famous. Oh yeah, and his girl friend comes along and learns to surf too. A surfer certainly wouldn't read this book the same way I did but for a non surfer it was a very accessible and entertaining introduction to the surfing world. I don't know if this is the best introduction to surfing (you cannot beat the visuals of a video for really understanding the waves) but I found it very interesting and was glad I read it. I will probably pick up some of his other books as well.

People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

This book was a surprise to me. I read great reviews of it when it first came out in 2008 added it to my wish list and forgot about. Years later I needed to put something on my ipod for a trip, came across it, remembered it was supposed to be good and got it without really knowing what it was about except vaguely a book. While it was far more serious then I expected, I really enjoyed it. The framework is that our narrator is a young rare book restorer who is tasked with restoring the Sarajevo Haggadah and when she comes across a clue in the book to its history such as a wine stain, salt or an insect wing, we get to hear the story of how that wine stain etc. got there and gradually the entire history of the Haggadah unfolds.

And quite a history it is, from its creation in Spain and travels to Venice, Vienna and Sarajevo barely escaping the inquisition, the Nazi's and the Bosnian War. The author has an interesting map on her web site of its travels. While not a "thriller" I thought the story was just fascinating, especially since it is in most part true. And I am always fascinated by illuminated manuscripts.

I was not familiar with the Sarajevo Haggadah or its history but I don't think that took away from my enjoyment of the work. Obviously this is a work of fiction and I understand that experts knowledgeable of the actual book and its history may take issue with some literary license taken but as a literary work I thought it was great. Each of the story lines was fascinating as well as the many characters and I also learned a lot of interesting history that I was unfamiliar with. I highly recommend it.