Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Happy New Year!

This was my least favourite of the novels so far.

While this novel was still fine to read and not as boring as some other books I’ve read this year, it was not as interesting as the others in the series. Most of the book was spent in the wilds of Australia. Frankly, it was boring reading about the excursion. I do not enjoy reading about going thirsty in deserts. Usually, the action in these novels picks up at the half way mark, but I felt the actual plot did not begin into at least three quarters of the way through. Even then, it felt more like political filler than actual plot and character development.

Speaking of characters, there were are lot of annoying ones. These books do have some amusing and interesting cast of characters. I have liked a lot of the supporting characters when Laurence has irked me. Since the last novel, I’ve grown more use to Laurence, so he and my other favourites (Temeraire, Granby, Roland) helped me through the long passages. However, there were many annoying characters including the new dragons and various random British characters. I know this is not a romance series and in war, there are lots of jerks, but goodness, even the dragons were annoying in this novel. That’s not a good sign.

Of course, all this makes me want to read the next book more in the hopes things actually pick up.

This was my 42nd read of 2015 which means that I achieved my modest reading goal this year in some part thanks to this series. Wonderful!

Read December 29-31, 2015 mostly on Kindle and a bit on hardcover.

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

My friend told me that this book dragged a bit for her. This book departed from the usual pattern of the first four books.

There was less widespread international travel, and after the half way mark, the book continued to become more grim. Before, the novels would work closer to their climax. While that happened here, the buildup was a decidedly grim one.

This novel was quite bleak and dark times. This novel’s war reached a critical point in the book’s alternate universe. I liked that Novik did not hold back to the horror of the situation even though I found it depressing at times too.

It was not all bad. This is the novel with the most perspective from Temeraire and I hope that continues. I think Laurence’s character developed as well; he is definitely more hard. I did feel for him. I continue to like the supporting characters as well. I still wish for both Will and Temeraire to get more regular, romantic pairings. Ah, well. It’s probably not meant to be in this series.

Onwards to the next novel. It’s been a ripping good time to read this during the holidays.

Read December 26-27, 2015 on Kindle.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

An interesting and engaging graphic novel about an artist and art. It started with a depressing and self-pitifying protagonist. There lots of lows, but as it reached the end, there were some wonderfully rendered and expressive moments in this novel.

I particularly enjoyed David’s relationship with Harry. I liked those moments the most. While I liked Meg, I found that the author – as did David – treat her more as a muse rather than a fully, fleshed out character. She had too many shades of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I wanted to know more about her truly.

Overall, a good graphic novel and I enjoyed the themes of art and life.

Read December 26, 2015.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

I am halfway through this series now. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a series this long. Even with taking breaks with other books and taking my time, this has been a long experience.

My usual issues with the series and Novik’s writings continues: Laurence is still stuffy, plot picks up much faster after half way point, and not enough female characters. However, this novel made up for it by being much more suspenseful and interesting because of the African plot. The book was much darker as a result since it dealt with the slave trade and the ending is a true cliff hanger. On a lighter note, there was a small romance plot, but it only made wish this story had a stronger romance. Of course, none could eclipse the central relationship between Temeraire and Laurence.

I would have immediately started Book 5 if my Kindle’s battery didn’t need recharging at home.

Read December 25, 2015 on Kindle.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Happy Holidays!

In brief, I liked Joyce’s prose right away. There is something so simple yet good in how he puts words together.

However, the plot, the dialogue, and the character left me a bit wanting. I did like it in the beginning, but not much actually happens in terms of plot. You really have to relate to Stephen to enjoy it. I am not male or religious enough to have done so.

This book reminded me of Catcher in the Rye, but I like this book much better. I prefer Stephen much more than Holden Caulfield. It’s a similar angsty and reflective coming of age story but this one with a much more Catholic bent.

This was my first Joyce, and I do not think it will be my last. However, for a book less than 300 pages, this took me much longer than I would have liked. I hope Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake is better, but I won’t try those out for awhile.

Read December 9-25, 2015.

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Book #3 in this series, and I’m still not in love with Will Laurence.

The pacing in this novel is better than the last one’s long sea journey. I found the overland trip interesting and the novel covered Central Asia, Turkey, Austria, and Prussia. However, reading the Napoleonic Wars for three books is making me tired. It feels longer than War & Peace at this point.

I do enjoy this series, but I am finding myself dissatisfied with Laurence’s continued stuffiness. He is a good Captain, but sometimes, his incessant conservatism is annoying. With the last book and this one, they have introduced an enemy. It’s a female albino dragon whom I find myself more sympathetic with than anything. I find the characterization of the enemy lacking because I don’t really see their motivations and hatred for the protagonists. I wish there more and better written female characters in this novel.

The novels are still addictive adventures. Onwards to the next book.

Read December 19-20, 2015.

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

This series is distracting because I want to read it all in one go. I even stayed up past my bed time and lost sleep reading the ending.

As hinted by the end of the last book and this title, Termeraire and Laurence go to China in this novel. The first half of this book dragged for me as they spent all of on the long sea voyage. When they finally got to China, it was a lot more interesting to me. The world building and alternate history of China was well done and I though Novik even wore the Chinese politics almost as well as the many historic fiction Chinese dramas I’ve written. Fights for the throne were common and more so with dragons no doubt.

I really liked Termeraire interacting with the Chinese dragons and how he very much is a “young man” in this book when he was more of an impulsive yet keen child in the last book.

While I find Laurence a good character overall, I did have a few moments where I felt like rolling my eyes at him. He really can be very stuffy. He’s given to less formality than he was before, but there was not enough direct and straight forward characters in this book to complement him. It was also more of a male dominated novel than the first time; I yearned to read more about the female dragons and female companions.

Still good stuff and I went to bed thinking about having a dragon like Termeraire as my companion. I will however read other books because I’ll blitz through this series if I’m not careful.

Read December 6-7, 2015 on Kindle.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

This was fun. I actually had to stop myself from starting the next book in the series right away. I knew if I started, I would have trouble with the other seven books in the series.

My friend Kathrin recommended this series to me after I lamented the Song of Fire & Ice series did not have enough dragons. This series definitely has dragons.

This book is like the Master & Commander, Horatio Hornblower books except instead of ships, there are dragons. It’s set in the Napoleonic war and offers an alternate history. Again, with dragons! They talk and are faithful to their one handler or human. The relationship between Temeraire and Laurence resembles something like lovers or child/parent. It is unique.

There are not a lot female characters in this book which makes me a bit sad, but I hope there are more interactions with those that remain. I do like how noble Laurence the protagonist is. He’s very much like Horatio Hornblower. However, he needs characters to shake him loose and a well developed romantic interest.

All in all, I’m really glad to have been recommended this series. It will help with the reading rut I’ve had this year and give me good holiday reading.

Definitely recommended for “light” fantasy lovers and those who enjoy alternate history.

Read December 5-6, 2015.

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

This is a collection of stories from the same town of characters. I had hoped it would be like Gaskell’s Cranford, but it was a bit more like Faulkner and Stoner by John Williams.

Faulkner and Hemingway were allegedly inspired by Anderson. He is definitely a good writer and there definite moments of powerful prose and characterizations.

“Like a thousand other strong men who have come into the world here in America in these later times, James was but half strong. He could master others but he could not master himself.”

Anderson really seems to be able to get into a lot of characters in a quick succession of time. However, I found most of the stories too glum for me to enjoy fully. It’s one of the reasons I have no tried to read Faulkner again.

I yearn to read more books that are slightly less depressing. The ending is hopeful though I did feel I spent 250 pages with highly repressed characters. That’s a bit much. I did like it for the most part, but I do not think I will search out Anderson anytime soon.

Read November 30-December 2, 2015.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This took me way too long to read. In fact, two months! I read other things in the meantime. I am the type of reader who prefers reading books in a couple of sittings because spreading it out will result in me being distracted by other things.

The book’s narrative did not help. The narratives switch between three characters and certain sections of the story are non-linear. None of the characters meet until the end of the novel which was frustrating, but it made me keep reading.

I have to say that I liked two of the characters. I adored one of them a lot and the writing in the book is good. I was frustrated at times with the narrative style, but I knew the ending would be well worth it.

I had an emotional reaction to the ending. This is a novel about the second world war and it reminded me The Book Thief which I also had a deep reaction too. However, I feel the ending frustrated me too because it took me so long to get to that point. The climax and ending shocked me in a way, and I felt sad by it.

The book is good and I’ll definitely remember my fondness for one of the characters. I do wonder if the timing of the book affected how I felt about it. All in all, I have mixed feelings on it. I felt there was one or two high points about the book, but I’m not sure if the book also worked as well as it could have.

Read September 19-November 28, 2015 on Kindle.

Home by Marilynne Robinson

I wish I could write like Marilynne Robinson.

Robinson’s works are internal. Not just in terms of the character’s inner lives and thoughts, but the setting. Gilead is the internal, spiritual workings of one man. Housekeeping has this surreal setting of home life and Home continues that setting. All of them have this focus on home life, house life, and the mind of the characters. She somehow captures what it is to be like an introvert so deftly.

I would even say it can almost be a bit clausterphobic how good she is with that isolation people often experience. In this novel, the moments between the family remembers felt almost too real as if I was watching real people talking together. It was very raw and incredibly candid that oddly, during one scene at the end, I wanted to look away.

Very few writers capture the rawness of emotions she does and in a way, the humanity of it especially with respect to the family dynamics. As usual, not much in way of plot happens, but I appreciate the amazing character writing.

Read October 18-20, 2015.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

This was my first time reading Kinsella’s young adult work. I did not know that when I requested this book from the library. It took me awhile to get use to because I kept expecting Kinsella’s adult chicklit and romantic comedy style. However, I gradually began to warm to the characters and the writing.

There is definitely a cuteness to the dialogue and the romance that is typical of Kinsella’s style. I think she also captures the often unique and crazy antics of a family. The title and the young adult nature reminded me of the books by John Green, but less maudlin.

It’s a cute one sitting novel. I think I’ll stick more to Kinsella’s adult novels though.

Read October 17, 2015.