Book Reviews: November – December 2015

November was such a crazy month that I completely forgot the book reviews until it was too late. Anyway, to make up for it, here are the reviews of the six books I read these past two months (I actually read a couple more, of those are re-reads so they don’t count.)

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First are these three random ones:

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice:

This is another book I had to read because I was editing the Vietnamese translation. I’ve watched the movie a while ago and quite enjoyed it, yet I didn’t like the book at all. I don’t know if it’s because the translation sucks, or if I’m so over the whole “angsty vampire” trend. I fully recognize and acknowledge the book as a classic of the genre, but I find it boring and Louis, the main character, awfully whiny. I guess I prefer my vampires like the ones in What We Do in the Shadow. 2.5/5

Looking for Jake and Other Stories by China Miéville:

I’ve never read China Miéville before but I’ve seen his name around the sci-fi and fantasy sphere, so I figured a short story collection would be a good introduction. My conclusion? I enjoy some of the stories (“The Ball Room”, “Different Skies”, and “‘Tis the Season” are my favorite, in that order), but they’re not amazing. Most of them have strong ideas (always a must when you’re writing sci-fi/fantasy in short form) but they don’t leave much emotional resonance with me, not as much as, say, Neil Gaiman’s short stories do. So I might check out one of Miéville’s novels one of these days, but he’s not on the top of my To Read list. 3.5/5

May Contain Trace of Magic by Tom Holt:

When I read the blurb in the back, I thought this would be a comedy version of the movie Her – a salesman’s GPS gains sentience and starts talking to him. The story itself is a bit more complicated. It is set in a world where magic is part of everyday life but still has to be kept secret (?) And then the salesman is targeted by demons from another dimension who are looking for a rebel. And his GPS turns out to be a fairy princess who wants to help him except she doesn’t really (?) And then she or someone takes him back through time a bunch of times (?) As you can see, I have very little idea what actually happened in this book, and by the end, I no longer give a shit. Apparently it’s part of a series set in the same magical world, but I don’t care enough to find out. 1/5

Speaking of series… the rest are all Discworld books. I’ve been working my way through the series for a while now and it’s one of my favorites, so these reviews are not going to mean much to those who haven’t read it, but just in case any of you are interested:

A Hat Full of Sky: the second Tiffany Aching book in the Discworld series geared at Young Adults, it follows Tiffany as she begins her apprenticeship with a witch, while her friends, the Nac Mac Feegle (a race of blue fairies, often drunk and extremely belligerent), try to save her from being taken over by a body-less hive mind. This one is much better than the first one (it’s often the case with Discworld, the introductory novels are good but not great, and then they get better.) It’s a perfect coming-of-age story – in the first book, Tiffany decides to become a witch, and in this one she has to decide what kind of witch she wants to be. It’s hilarious; it’s sad; it’s scary; it’s uplifting; it’s everything I love about Discworld. 5/5

(Faust) Eric: I still have a couple of the Rincewind novels left to read, so I picked an easy one: the hapless wizard Rincewind is summoned by a 14-year-old demonologist who mistakes Rincewind for a demon, and now Rincewind has to grant the boy’s wishes while trying to stop the forces of Hell from getting their hands on him. It’s less complex than the other Discworld novels, but it’s still super funny and a very quick read. 3.5/5

Thief of Time: the last of the Death/Susan novels (*sniffs*), it is about Death yet again enlisting the help of his granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit, to prevent the building of a clock that can stop time. That’s the simplest summary I can do, but the book is a lot more than that – there’s a group of monks whose job it is to make sure time flows, a group of beings called Auditors who wants to stop time to catch up on paperwork, there’s the personification of Time, etc. I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought, mainly because I find the History Monks stuff a bit confusing and not as clever as other Discworld tropes. But, like the other Death novels, it still manages to ask some profound questions about humanity while making you laugh, so I still like it. 3/5

What books did you guys read? Share in the comments!

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3 Comments on “Book Reviews: November – December 2015”

  1. Mike says:

    Hey all! I’m back with another book review for you. I actually started this book way back in October, but due to time (and a VERY busy schedule), I couldn’t finish it in time to talk about it. The book that I want to talk about this time is called “The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness” by Kyung-Sook Shin. This book is a very slow read, as I think I may have mentioned in the last discussion. But that doesn’t mean that it is dull or boring either. It’s interesting in that it is written more as a diary or a memoir rather than as a novel. There are no chapters, but is divided up into four main sections, that sort of serve as chapters, if you will, with each one beginning with either a quote or a piece of poetry written by either a poet or writer, such as Francis Jammes or Hwang In-suk.

    The main character of the story is an unnamed young Korean girl from the 1970s who wants to be a writer and spends most of the book sharing her troubled and difficult past life (in the present tense) of having to work tirelessly in an electronics factory, go to school, and take care of her many siblings, both younger and older. Her constant companion is her cousin, who is always referred to as “Cousin”. And while their relationship felt more like a sister bond rather than a cousin bond, they do have their moments of disputes, as real siblings sometimes have. The conflict that I found to be the most heart wrenching was with her older brother, referred to as “Oldest Brother”. They have a small argument about her not wanting to return to work due to conflicting issues happening there. One thing that I like about our protagonist here is that she has a tendency to not speak if someone says something to upset her or if she doesn’t want to answer a question that someone asks her. And this is just what she does to “Oldest Brother” when he asks her why she’s not wanting to return to work. Her silence is depicted using an ellipse (what is used in writing to show an omission of a word or phrase with three or more periods). It looks like this: “…”.
    So anyway, she clams up when he asks her why and “Oldest Brother” loses his cool and yells at her to say something. When she still keeps quiet, he yells at her to just go back home to the country where they once lived and then storms out of the room. Our protagonist takes this to heart and actually makes her way back to their home in the country. And while you can tell that she is angry and upset with her brother for yelling at her, you can see that she is also struggling to decide whether or not she really wants to return. Her heart wins her over and she decides to return back to her brother, despite their feud, and when she gets back to him, he is seen crying as he was really worried about what happened to her. They both embrace each other, tears flowing from both of their eyes and “Oldest Brother” threatens to kill her if she does anything like that again, showing that he really did miss her. I found this part to be quite endearing as you can see the love between the two siblings.

    What I found to be the most interesting aspect in this book was the protagonist’s interest in the composer, Bach. Near the end of the book, she is playing Bach Suite No. 2, performed by Mstislav Rostropovich, on her CD player. By the way, if you haven’t done so, I suggest to you to listen to this piece by Rostropovich. It is excellent. I’m an avid classical music listener, so of course I will like it. But even if you are not a classical music listener, listen to it anyway. It’s worth hearing and Rostropovich does an excellent job with his interpretation of the piece. Our protagonist wonders whether she is in awe of Rostropovich’s cello playing or with his interpretation of Bach. I’d say that it is probably both, based on how highly she speaks of both of these men, who are centuries apart but can bring the beauty of music to the surface.

    What I thought was the most haunting and mysterious part of the book was the “pitchfork angle” that she continuously references, sort of serving as a recurring “antagonist” of sorts. At the beginning of the book, our protagonist accidentally pierces her foot with the pitchfork that she takes out of her family’s shed and doesn’t pull it out for fear of the pain. Her mother finds her and pulls it out for her and amazingly enough, her foot does not even bleed from where the fork was jabbed into her foot. Later, our protagonist sees the pitchfork in the shed again, and feeling threatened by it (feeling that it is glaring at her), she takes it and throws it into the well, where it stays until she decides to finally remove it at the end of the book, thus “defeating” the “antagonist” and her memory of her accident with the fork can finally be put to rest.

    As I was reading this book, I often wondered if the protagonist in the story was in fact the author herself, as many of the sources that I have read on her say that she did indeed work in a factory in her youth and had the desire to write, as did the main character in her book. But there is no clear indication that the girl in the story is the author, although it’s pretty safe to say that she is based off of the author’s life. The book itself, is, in a way, written in the form of a journal, as I stated above, so the plot lines sort of jump back and forth and there is no real linear form to the story, as is typical in most fiction. In my opinion, Ms. Shin, wanted the readers of the story to focus primarily on the girl’s melancholic and lonely state of being, hence the title of the book. And this is clearly seen towards the end of the book when the girl’s relatives virtually disappear from the story and is mainly focused on her activities that she does by herself, such as riding the subway train from her home into the city and going to the beach; there is very little mention of any of her siblings or the rest of her family the last few pages of the book, which for me, is sort of the crux of what it is about: loneliness.

    Overall, I thought that it was good book. It reads very slowly, not usually typical for my taste, but I could still appreciate it for what it was and I enjoyed it. I felt that while the main character was very meek and demure, she was a strong character, sort of harboring a type of strength not typically seen in many main characters in books where they are bold, boisterous, and extroverted. I think too often we forget that having a strong sense of who one is and not losing focus of one’s goals is another kind of strength. And it is that strength that can carry one farther than strong words or attitude. It is the strength that we must all look for inside of ourselves; the courage to face our greatest demon, ghost, monster, whatever you want to call it; fear.

    Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5.

    See you at next month’s discussion! Until then, keep on reading!
     
     

  2. Mike says:

    I forgot to mention earlier that I had also recently finished the second series of “The 39 Clues” saga, “Cahills Vs. Vespers” that I talked about back in October and I have to say that it was awesome! Book 6, the final book of this series, really brought about a great deal of suspense and plot twists, which isn’t bad at all for a children’s series. I highly recommend either reading or listening to the entire saga series, starting with the first 11 books. You won’t be disappointed. It’s entertaining enough to keep adults wanting to read more, which for me is saying something because if I’m bored with reading or listening to a book, I won’t want to finish it.

    The next mini series of books is called “Unstoppable” and I just finished the first book out of four in the series. I’m not sure if I will like it as well as I did its predecessors but perhaps it will pick up as I progress through them. More to come later!

  3. […] read all Discworld book, but I did read all Terry Pratchett books (by a strange coincidence, in November/December last year I also read three Discworld book. There is just something about November that makes me […]


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