Looking Back at July 2014

I’m still playing a little bit of catch-up with the blog as I wind down my time at my current job (today is my last day) and prepare for my new job (Monday is my first day), but at least this time the monthly recap is only about a week late instead of an entire month late. Progress is progress I suppose.

July as an interesting month of reading for me. I read an entire trilogy from start to finish without anything in between, read the final two books of another trilogy, read what I believe to be a standalone novel (but I’m not entirely sure), and started a new series by an author I’ve heard lots of great things about over the past few months. On top of all that, I got to enjoy the latest installment of The Expanse, which I had been waiting a long time to pick up.

In no particular order, here are the books I read in July:

My interest in the books by Alex J. Cavanaugh came from a conversation with an editor friend of mine who said he had read the first one and wanted to know what I thought. CassaStar is not particularly long, so I gave it a shot over a Saturday afternoon and it grabbed me enough I went ahead and read the other two over the remainder of the weekend. I liked what the author was doing with the books, although they are still a little rough around the edges. I could see his improvement though, so I’d give another endeavor of his a fair shot in the future.

Born of Hatred and With Silent Screams are the second and third books of The Hellequin Chronicles, and I had read the first book a few months ago. I found that first book to be rather engaging and there was something about the main character that just kept eating at the back of my mind, so I read these two books to try to find the answer I was looking for. It took a while, but about three-quarters of the way through Born of Hatred I got the answer, and then continued on with my enjoyment of the trilogy. I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if Steve McHugh has any new material forthcoming.

The books by Myke Cole and Michael R. Underwood came from following my favorite authors on Twitter and seeing them talk about those two authors an awful lot, so I went out and got a couple of books to try. Shadow Ops: Control Point was much different from I was expecting and had me hooked from the first page. Shield and Crocus can best be described as “The Avengers you never knew you wanted to read about.”

And, of course, I absolutely loved Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey. It was recently announced that The Expanse has been extended into at least three more books in the coming years, one per summer (which is perfect), and I’m hoping it doesn’t start there. I hope I’m still reading new books in The Expanse series when I’m 50 years old.

As for August, I’m blatantly focusing on books closer to 300 pages more than anything else. I’m starting a new job, moving into a new home, and in general still making a lot of adjustments to my everyday life, so reading time is going to be at a premium. I think if I focus on the shorter books I have available to myself I can still finish eight or nine before the end of the month and keep my pace for the 100 books read this year goal.

Book Review: “The Waking Engine” by David Edison

The Waking EngineThe Waking Engine is certainly an interesting book. I received my copy by chance as part of a random giveaway from the publisher, but I had already seen advertisements for it and had already added it to my potential “to-read” list. When the chance came to maybe get a copy of my own I figured it was worth a shot.

As soon as I made it about fifty pages into the book I realized I was in for a pretty wild ride. Most of the books I read use a pretty mainstream writing style. Things like word choice, pacing, and general style all fall into a pretty consistent pattern. With this book I was looking at something way outside of my wheelhouse. There is a lot of exposition filled with exotic word choices and a lot of metaphors. The closest thing I can relate to it that I’ve read before is Kraken by China Mieville, but even that wasn’t quite as intense as what I found in The Waking Engine.

I readily admit to being a little bit out of my depth while reading this book and even a little bit overwhelmed by the author’s style. However, despite that I was able to recognize that the author has some incredible skill when it comes to imagery and setting a scene. I might not have understood every single descriptive phrase he was using, or made a good connection with every metaphor, but I could see what the author was trying to do and I had to respect it for what it was, pretty good writing on the whole.

As far as the story is concerned, I think The Waking Engine features a pretty good one, but it isn’t anything particularly unique. For his debut novel, David Edison seems to have taken a common theme and then beefed it up by getting fancy with his exposition and his imagery. The thing is, I can’t say whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing because my comprehension about what was going on wasn’t perfect.

That’s okay though. While this book might not have been the perfect one for me to read I do know some people who would likely enjoy it much beyond anything that I can appreciate. It’s an excellent example of how style and taste can make one book a perfect fit for one person but is a complete miss for another. I encourage anyone who likes a more elevated type of prose full of imagery and metaphor to give this book a try, but if you are someone who likes your stories a little more straightforward and to the point this might be one to take a pass on.

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Update to the Reading List: China Miéville and Kim Stanley Robinson

My reading list is a perpetual work in progress because there are so many books I’ve read in the past that I think others should know about and there are so many books I’ve always wanted to read but never have. Over time this list will continue to grow bit by bit in order to provide the widest range of options for someone looking to find something worth taking the time to read.

Today I’ve added the following to the Reading List:

CHINA MIEVILLE
The City & the City
Kraken •
Embassytown
Railsea

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON – MARS TRILOGY
Red Mars
Green Mars
Blue Mars

I recently finished China Miéville’s Kraken a few weeks ago and while it took some getting used to it also convinced me that I definitely want to read a couple of his other books that seem like they might be enjoyable.

As for the Mars Trilogy, I’ve been eyeballing those books on bookstore shelves for at least 12 years. I think I’ve picked them up over a hundred times and thought long and hard about taking them home but there was always a new SWEU book or some other more mainstream novel I was more concerned with at the time. In writing this blog I’ve discovered that the Mars Trilogy is apparently a pretty significant work as far as hard science fiction is concerned, so it definitely needs to be on my list to read someday, hopefully soon.

Book Review: “Kraken” by China Miéville

In the Darwin Centre at London’s Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist, is conducting a tour whose climax is meant to be the Centre’s prize specimen of a rare Architeuthis duxbetter known as the Giant Squid. But Billy’s tour takes an unexpected turn when the squid suddenly and impossibly vanishes into thin air.

As Billy soon discovers, this is the precipitating act in a struggle to the death between mysterious but powerful forces in a London whose existence he has been blissfully ignorant of until now, a city whose denizens—human and otherwise—are adept in magic and murder.

There is the Congregation of God Kraken, a sect of squid worshippers whose roots go back to the dawn of humanity—and beyond. There is the criminal mastermind known as the Tattoo, a merciless maniac inked onto the flesh of a hapless victim. There is the FSRC—the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit—a branch of London’s finest that fights sorcery 

with sorcery. There is Wati, a spirit from ancient Egypt who leads a ragtag union of magical familiars. There are the Londonmancers, who read the future in the city’s entrails. There is Grisamentum, London’s greatest wizard, whose shadow lingers long after his death. And then there is Goss and Subby, an ageless old man and a cretinous boy who, together, constitute a terrifying—yet darkly charismatic—demonic duo.

All of them—and others—are in pursuit of Billy, who inadvertently holds the key to the missing squid, an embryonic god whose powers, properly harnessed, can destroy all that is, was, and ever shall be.

I picked up Kraken for a couple of reasons. First, I was looking for something a little different than my usual reading fare. Second, I wanted to try a new author that I’d never heard of before. Third, I wanted to read a book from one of the various science fiction or fantasy award lists. Enter Kraken, a book that I knew I had to read when I realized you could partially sum up the story with two words: God Squids.

Now, I have to admit that it took me a little bit of time to really get into Kraken because the writing style and tone are so incredibly different from what I’m used to that I had a bit of a hard time understanding what was going on for the first third of the book. But, I stuck with it and after I got into the groove with Miéville’s style things went much better for me.

There is an awful lot going on in this book what with statue inhabiting spirits, cults galore, sentient tattoos, supposedly dead wizards, and everything in between. This is fantasy of a different type and I’m glad I took an upper level course in The Fantastic and what it means in college. While Kraken isn’t really the same thing since it’s part of the New Weird movement, at least the understanding I had made things a bit easier to grasp.

The characters in Kraken take a little getting used to and to be honest I really wasn’t all that connected with any of them until the final 25% of the book when things start to move and actually happen. Despite that there were interesting in some fashion throughout the text. If immediate connections are something you require in your reading this book isn’t for you, but if you can be patient with character development you’ll end up liking where Miéville takes you in my opinion.

Overall the book had me in its grip for pretty much the entire way through, but the ending is still taking some getting used to. It makes sense when reading the book, but after finishing I find myself wondering if that particular ending was used because the text was already getting too long, or if it really was intended to be the way it comes across.

If you are looking for something to take you out of your comfort zone and give you some things to think about, Kraken might just be the book for you. It won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel 2011, and deservedly so in my humble opinion. Miéville takes all of the usual expectations for what an angel, wizard, or cult is and turns it all upside down in a way that shouldn’t make sense, but ultimately does.

Grade: B
Length: 514 pages

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50/2012 May Update

May was another solid month for me in regards to the 50/2012 goal. I got in a couple of rereads that I’d been wanting to do, tried out a new author and read a trilogy that left me incredibly irritated. I really wanted to get a couple more squeezed in, but changes at work ate up a significant amount of my reading time between projects. That’s alright, I’m still on track to meet the goal which is the most important thing.

The books I finished in May:

Let me tell you something, unless someone has specifically outlined for you why you should read the Chaos Walking books in a manner that you are positive you are going to like them then don’t ever pick them up. I got those books on sale for dirt cheap and figured I would give them a try since it was a new author for me. Boy, was I disappointed. I had to go read a book from my favorite author just to get the bad taste and irritation out of my system when I was done.

On the flip side, Kraken as absolutely marvelous. I read it because it recently won a Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and while it took me a little bit to adjust to the style and tone, I am glad I picked it up.

As is now the norm, you can find reviews for the books I finished in May in the book reviews listing here on 20four12. The review for Kraken isn’t quite up yet but will be within a day or so.

I’m now at 46% of my goal, so I don’t think I’ll have any trouble reaching and passing the halfway point before the end of June. In June my plans are to reread my favorite book of all time, Icarus Hunt, and delve into a whole bunch of new material I’ve never read before as well. And, as always, I want to try and get a SWEU book or two out of the way, but that doesn’t always happen.