15 January 2013

The 52 Books I Read In 2012: Part 2: 27-52





As I have been doing since 2009, I kept track of my reading during 2012 on LibraryThing. This post is a compendium of those notes. The quality & depth of comments on the books I read varies widely - this is much more likely to be a relfection of how busy I was at the time, rather than the quality of the books!

My previous post covered the first 26 books I read in 2012. This post covers the remaining 26, and a third post will discuss my thoughts on the reading year past and the one ahead.

Note: the links from the book title and author, where available, are to the relevant LibraryThing pages.

27. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson - novel/SF (4/5)

I enjoyed this return to the inhabited Solar System of KSR's magnificent Mars Trilogy - in many ways, this book is a sequel to the final volume in that trilogy, Blue Mars.

This book doesn't have any characters who are as memorable as the half-dozen or so leading characters of the Mars trilogy - but all the same, if you want a single-volume tour of KSR's future system, this is a fine place to start.

28. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - memoir/graphic memoir (4.5/5)

I thought the first part, covering her childhood in Iran, was outstanding, but although the second part, covering her adolescence outside Iran and eventual return to the country is also good, it didn't grip me quite as much as the first part. All the same, this was well worth reading - and everyone in my book group liked it very much, which is rare indeed for our group!

29. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel - memoir/graphic memoir (5/5)

Another wonderful combination of graphic novel and memoir from Alison Bechdel. After Fun Home, which centred on her father, the focus of Are You My Mother? isn't a surprise: this time, the parent is seen through the prism of psychoanalysis rather than literature, but the result is just as thought-provoking, involving and moving. Highly recommended.

30. Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers - novel/historical fantasy (3.5/5)

This was pitched somewhere between Powers' alternate-history fantasies involving the lives of the poets with added Nephilim, and his ghost-catching mythology. I like the former but dislike the latter, so it's no surprise that I found this book very good in some parts and frustrating in others. The literary clan in peril here is the Rossetti family, but compared to the portrayal of Shelley and Byron in previous novels of this stripe, they never really came alive for me as characters.

So ... good, but not great, Tim Powers.

31. Graft by Helen Heath - poetry/collection (4/5)

A fine collection by Helen Heath - the highlight for me being some excellent poems about science and scientists, such as this award-winning one:


32. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick - novel/science fiction (4.5/5)

When I went through my "Philip K. DicK phase" in my late teens/early twenties I read many of his novels, but never this one. That's a pity, because it's very good, bringing back that distinctively Dickian sense of living in a Universe whose arbitrary, provisional nature can almost be sensed.

33. Blood in the Water by Jane Haddam - novel/mystery (3.5/5)

Entertaining and well-plotted police procedural, although the ending didn't work all that well for me.

34. Just Then by Harry Ricketts - poetry collection (3.5/5)

Harry Ricketts is best known for The Unforgiving Minute, his biography of Rudyard Kipling, but he's also a fine poet. There's an element of miscellany about this book, but the best poems are very good indeed. This is my favourite: http://theredroom.org/2012/06/12/tuesday-poem-phoenix-foundation-by-harry-ricketts/

35. The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe - novel/heroic fantasy (4.5/5)

Very well-written and well-constructed first volume in a heroic fantasy tetratology - although there may be science-fictional elements to this world as well. Helen Lowe is an excellent writer and brings a richness of detail to this novel that makes it well worth reading.

For news on the progress of this tetralogy, and plenty more besides, check out Helen's excellent blog.

36. Mansfield With Monsters by Matt Cowens and Debbie Cowens - short story collection/mash-ups (3.5/5)

This (to my knowledge) is the first New Zealand example of the mash-up genre - it's superficially in the tradition of such books as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but in fact the spirit of this book is much more respectful towards the original stories by Katherine Mansfield, the great New Zealand short story writer of the early 20th century.

How well these Mansfield-with-added-horror stories work depends for me on the tone of the original stories (some but not all of which I'm familiar with). There is a good dose of New Zealand gothic in Mansfield stories such as "The Woman at the Store", and the extra elements of horror work very well here. In some of the other stories, they didn't work quite so well for me - but overall, the concept pays off and Matt and Debbie Cowens have done a very good job with this book.

Here is my interview with Matt and Debbie Cowens: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.co.nz/2012/08/mansfield-with-monsters-interview-with.html

37. The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe - novel/heroic fantasy (4.5/5)

Impressive continuation of the tetralogy begin in The Heir of Night (#35 above). The protagonist, Malian, has aged from 13 to 18 between the two novels, allowing this one to have a darker tone and more adult material - The Heir of Night felt like a YA novel, but this one much less so. In addition to the quality writing and characterisation, the hints being given out about the background of the world make me want to keep reading. Looking forward to the next volume!

38. How It All Began by Penelope Lively - novel/realist fiction (4/5)

Well-written novel about the chain of consequences set in motion when an elderly woman is mugged, and how this affects a range of characters. The main storyline is beautifully written and well-resolved - some of the other storylines are less appealing, or dealt with too abruptly. Very enjoyable, though.

39. Triptych poets: issue three - by P.S. Cottier, Joan Kerr and J.C.Inman - poetry/collection (3.5/5)

I enjoyed 2/3 of this three-poet collection very much - the final third wasn't as good, but still interesting. My full review is here: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/book-review-triptych-poets-issue-three.html

40. Warm auditorium by James Brown - poetry/collection (4/5)

Seventh collection by New Zealand poet James Brown. I have reviewed this collection for Landfall Review Online and the review should appear in their February 2013 issue: http://landfallreviewonline.blogspot.co.nz/

41. Rock Bottom by Sarah Andrews - fiction/mystery (3/5)

I have read several mysteries by Sarah Andrews. She is excellent at writing about landscapes, geology, and the science v creationism debate - and here she has the canvas of the Grand Canyon to work with. But the mystery is perfunctory and even a doofus such as I was instantly able to see whodunnit. This would have been better as a nonfiction book about rafting the Grand Canyon - I would really have enjoyed that.

42. Firewall by Henning Mankell - novel/thriller (3.5/5)

The first Henning Mankell novel I've read was the last Wallander novel he had published, and although I didn't know that when I read it, I had the sense of an author who had grown tired of his character. Not bad at all, but not as good or as gripping as all the praise for the Wallander novels had led me to expect.

43. Dwarf Stars 2012, edited by Geoffrey A. Landis and Joshua Gage - poetry/anthology (4/5)

The Science Fiction Poetry Society's annual Dwarf Stars anthology collects up the best short-short speculative poetry of the past year. I have read several of these anthologies (and nominated one of the poems included herein, Rod Usher's "Before Science Stepped In"), and I think this is the best that I've read. In addition to Rod Usher's poem, I especially liked "The Robot Scientist's Daughter" by Jeannine Hall Gailey and "Containers" by F. J. Bergmann.

More information about "Dwarf Stars" and the SFPA's other publications is available at http://www.sfpoetry.com/

44. The View From Up There by Gerry Te Kapa Coates - poetry and fiction/collection (3.5/5)

A first collection - mainly poetry, but also a few stories - from Gerry Te Kapa Coates, who is now showcasing his skills as a writer to go with those he has already demonstrated in engineering, iwi leadership, sustainability and a whole range of other areas.

I discuss with Gerry his writing and how it relates to other areas of his life in this interview: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/an-interview-with-gerry-te-kapa-coates.html

45. The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning - novel/war novel (3/5)

I read this for my book group. The first novel in the author's "Balkan Trilogy", it came well recommended, and several other people in the book group liked it - but I found the characters uninteresting and the story, although potentially engaging, told in too roundabout a manner to hold my attention.

On the other hand, the novel is well written at a sentence-by-sentence level, and I was trying to read it at a particularly busy time when anything more complicated than Janet and John might have been too much for me, so I am giving it a cautious three stars.

46. Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years 1969-1979 by Michael Palin - nonfiction/diaries (4/5)

These diaries cover Michael Palin's Monty Python years, though their coverage of "The Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian" is better than that of making the TV series, and Ripping Yarns, and towards the end begin to look ahead to the second half of his career - the travel programmes and non-Python films.

For a Python fan such as myself, these are well worth reading. Non-Python fans might find the minutiae of the Python years less interesting, but these diaries also give a good picture of what Britain was like in the 1970s - very different, in many respects, from today.

47. The God Species by Mark Lynas - nonfiction/environment - (3.5/5)

I have only skim-read this book so far and want to reconsider it in more depth. Lynas argues that the environmental movement needs to reconsider many of its most cherished attitudes, notably its opposition to nuclear power, because the alternative to nuclear, i.e. coal, is far worse for the climate.

I'm with him on the fact that we must stop new coal-fired power stations being built, and ultimately phase out coal, if we are to maintain a liveable climate - but I also got annoyed by his lone-prophet-in-the-wilderness tone. Despite that, I think this book is well worth reading - and I may reconsider the rating above when I have read it in more depth.

48. Invaders (What They Don't Tell You About) by Bob Fowke - nonfiction/children's/history (3.5/5)

As an appetiser to the next book on the list, I read this MG-ish nonfiction history of the Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking invaders of Britain. My main interest was in the latter, but I enjoyed the first two sections too. These books are in the tradition of "Horrible Histories" - that is, history as nasty, brutish and short.

49. Blood Of The Vikings by Julian C. Richards - nonfiction/history (4/5)

I was looking for a book about Viking Britain - in particular, the area of Viking-occupied Britain known as "the Danelaw". This book was too general a history of the Vikings in Britain and Ireland to give me the details I was looking for, but it is a good introduction for a non-specialist such as myself.

It's the book of a TV series, which means that some sections appear to be written to facilitate shots of a rugged presenter addressing the camera while walking along a windswept beach - but, if this is a fault at all, it's a minor and understandable one. Worth reading if you're interested in this under-emphasised period of British and Irish history.

50. My Family and Other Strangers by Laurice Gilbert - poetry/collection (4.5/5)

I enjoyed this first collection by Wellington poet (and New Zealand Poetry Society president) Laurice Gilbert tremendously, and I say a few things about that and share one of Laurice's poems here:

http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.co.nz/2012/12/tuesday-poem-i-would-rather-by-laurice.html

51. Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith - novel/mystery (4/5)

I have the first three of Martin Cruz's Smith Arkady Renko detective novels, and didn't realise that this was the sixth. The first three are excellent - this is till good, but feels a bit like a retread of the first in the series, Gorky Park. Still worth reading if you like mysteries and/or Russia, though.

52. The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller - novel/mystery (3.5/5)

A mystery set in 1920 and focusing on the consequence of the execution of a British officer for cowardice during World War 1. I found the description of the era fascinating, and the mystery is interesting too, but rather let down by an ending in which the villain of the piece explains his motivations and actions in considerable detail.

4 comments:

pscottier said...

Tim, do you set out to read a book a week, or did it just turn that you finished 52 last year? The scope of what you read is wide: Vikings to China. To Mars, of course.

Interesting that you just read Do Androids...for many that is their first PKD.

Hopefully this goes through, I've been having a few problems with blogger sites.

Tim Jones said...

In the four years I've kept track, I haven't read less than 52 - so I felt a certain self-imposed pressure not to drop below that mark, which probably inspired me to pick a couple of shorter books during December - then again, they are books I wanted to read.

I don't know which PKD I read first - "the Man in the High Castle?" Read quite a few during my teens & twenties.

Penal-Colony said...

Hi Tim,

Just checking in on an old friend. I hope this finds you well.

John A. Griffin

Tim Jones said...

Lovely to hear from you, John! Yes, I am well - currently in the South Island, enjoying a few days with my Dad, before I return to the particularly burly hurly of my life in Wellington. If you have any news you fell like sharing, I'd love to hear it!