What I Read in February 2018

I know, I know. It’s already mid-March, so this post is a little late. However, in my defense, I’ve been working on a farm for the past seven weeks and getting up at five o’clock to milk cows on time and coming home covered in poop every day can make you a little tired. Still, it’s been a really cool experience, and I definitely wouldn’t miss it! And in spite of everything, I’ve been reading plenty!


Ark (Flood #2) by Stephen Baxter (3/5 stars)

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This is actually the second book in the Flood series, but because my library only had this one, I decided to read it anyway, since I was craving some science fiction. I think that this was definitely possible (I didn’t ever feel confused), but there are hints at events that occurred previously and scenes that probably included character cameos that one might enjoy more having also read Flood. It took me a while to get into the book, but on the whole I really enjoyed it.

The novel spans several decades, starting out on a near-future Earth on which all landmasses are slowly being swallowed by water. Climate change has taken its toll and humanity is doing its best to survive. A team of people has decided that their best chance to do so is to build a spaceship, an ark, to find another habitable planet in space.

The book follows the construction of the ark, the training of its crew and the ark’s journey, while at the same time giving the reader a glimpse of deteriorating conditions on Earth. It follows the perspective of several different characters, thus giving a wide and vivid picture of the future Baxter imagines.

I really enjoyed the hard sci-fi aspect of the story: there was a lot of scientific terminology in the book and everything seemed well-grounded in actual scientific fact, which made the story seem very realistic and is always something I appreciate.

I also though that Ark was a fascinating depiction of humanity – it explored how people will act in crises, to what lengths people will go under pressure, and how personal struggles can make even the most well-planned mission go awry. It made me think about group dynamics and how our society works today, and how there are some problems we may never escape from, no matter how advanced our technology has become.

However, I did also think that the novel was written in a rather dry manner that made it hard for me to get attached to the characters. Even Holle Groundwater, the character I identified with the most and whom I genuinely liked, did not evoke that much emotion from me. It’s hard to describe exactly what it was, but the best way to describe it is to say that I didn’t feel as though the writing showed much personality – the voice was always rather bland, more like a textbook recounting things. Especially with passages from characters’ point of view whom I didn’t like as much, that sometimes led to me feeling a little bored…

Still, I enjoyed the story and would recommend it to someone looking for a hard sci-fi novel. Just be aware that the pace doesn’t really pick up until about half-way through the book and that the characters can seem a bit flat at times. Also: trigger warnings for rape, schizophrenia and suicide.


Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (3/5 stars)

Michael Crichton is one of my favorite sci-fi authors, so when I saw that a previously unpublished book of his had come out, I very sneakily gave it to my brother for Christmas so that I could read it myself. Smart, I know.

Basically, this book can be described as “dinosaur hunt meets western”. It follows an ivy league college student, William Johnson, who, instead of going on a trip to Europe as he had planned, decides to join a university professor on an expedition to the West to dig up dinosaur bones in order to win a bet instead. Set in the late 1800s, this book includes a college professor rivalry, Native American wars, gunslingers, dinosaur digging and, typical for Crichton, has a lot of science and history thrown in.

Nonetheless, I have to say that I didn’t really enjoy it as much as Crichton’s other books (the only one I like less is Timeline). It wasn’t a bad book – the writing was good and the plot engaging, but I just didn’t really like the characters that much and somehow, I generally don’t seem to enjoy Westerns (seriously – I haven’t read a single one that I really enjoyed – even the Western aspects in Brandon Sanderson’s Wax and Wayne series didn’t really hit it off with me). It was fun, but it didn’t blow me away like some of Crichton’s other books. Still, my brother loved this and it was by no means bad, so I’d recommend giving it a try. I also think that in this case, my expectations were a bit high – and I also read it while I had the flu, which might not put you in the happiest mood in the first place…


Layers by Ursula Poznanski (3/5 stars) (I read this in German, but the English title is also Layers)

Layers

I read most of Ursula Poznanski’s books that were out at the time as a teenager and enjoyed them, especially Erebos and Saeculum, so when I saw that she had a new book out, I was intrigued and  intended to pick it up at some point. Somehow, though, I kept putting it off because there were other books I wanted more and my money supply is, unfortunately, limited. However, the library now finally had a copy several years after it was released, so I finally got around to reading it after all.

The book follows Dorian, a homeless teenager who wakes up one morning next to the body of another homeless person he previously had a fight with, his knife covered in blood. Dorian is terrified, as he doesn’t remember what happened, but before he has time to figure out what to do next, he is invited to stay at a villa with other previously homeless children. However, Dorian is suspicious – this all seems too good to be true and he starts to wonder what Raoul Bornheim, his mysterious benefactor, really wants. Why do he and the other teenagers really have to distribute leaflets for aid organizations? What is in the packages Dorian has to deliver?

I have to say, this book really knew how to keep the tension going and was hard to put down. However, while it certainly had an intriguing mystery and some cool sci-fi elements that definitely make you think about our society and the idea of right and wrong, I also thought it got pretty repetitive during the middle part, during which Dorian hunts for clues, runs away from the bad guys, almost gets caught, but narrowly escapes about five times in a row in the exact same way – the setting changes, but the plot was so similar that it started to annoy me. These passages just felt like they were stalling for page time, so that the end doesn’t hit the reader too quickly.

Plus, this book has one of the most annoying cases of instalove I have ever seen. Since this is the book trope I probably hate the most, I was very disappointed. Nonetheless, I absolutely flew through this and had to know what happened next. The plot was unique and well thought-out and apart from the instalove, I really enjoyed myself while reading it. However, I think this is one of those books that are really fun while reading them, but that you don’t think about that much afterwards or ever end up rereading once you know what actually happens. It was a good and fun book, but it wasn’t amazing, either.


Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles #1) by Tamora Pierce (5/5 stars)

Bildergebnis für tempest and slaughter tamora pierce

Soooo good! Tempests and Slaughter was one of my most anticipated books of the year, so of course I preordered it the minute I heard we were getting another Tortall book. I have reread all of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books several times by now (except Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen because somehow, I don’t like those as much)  and the Song of the Lioness Quartett is one of my absolute favorite fantasy series. So when I heard we were getting a series about Numair (or Arram Draper, the name he still goes by in this book), who is one of my favorite characters in all of Tamora Pierce’s books, I was pumped, but also nervous. Because what if I didn’t like it? Seriously, after the disaster of Cursed Child, I have been a bit more skeptical of additions made to my favorite series.

But I need not have worried, I absolutely loved this! Tempests and Slaughter is rich in detail and I absolutely adored the magic school setting of the Imperial University of Carthak. There was political intrigue and political debates woven in with magic lessons, friendship, and growing up, and I enjoyed every minute of it. This just made me love Numair/Arram more! I also really like Varice as a character, which pleasantly surprised me – she didn’t make much of an impression on me in Emperor Mage and I suppose I just always thought of her as some old girlfriend of Numair’s who isn’t Daine. But I really liked her, how she stood up for herself and how she took care of her friends.

Also – Ozorne! I loved seeing what he was like as a child and it is so interesting reading this and knowing who he is going to grow up to be. I think Tamora Pierce managed wonderfully to make us see the good side of Ozorne, the friend Arram loves, but show the dark side that is also lurking underneath. He is by far one of the most interesting characters in the book. And speaking of characters – I was not expecting that Musenda reveal at all and it made me so happy 🙂 Although now I have the problem of having imagined the same character differently because I didn’t realize who he was immediately…

Okay, I’ll stop the gushing about the characters now because I could go on forever. I still have to gush a little about the setting, though. We got so much more background on Carthak – every detail, from the food, the climate, the culture to debates on slavery, gladiator games and discrimination was woven seamlessly into the narrative and I really appreciated the additions.

This book was amazing, and I would definitely recommend it! However, I do think you have to read the other Tortall books first, or at the very least the Song of the Lioness and Immortals Quartets. The Song of the Lioness Quartet really lays down the basics for the magic system and the world, without which this book will probably seem very confusing, and there are a lot of characters from both series that reappear (or preappear?) in this story. Also, if you read this first, you will get spoiled for the Immortals Quartet – some of this background information is only revealed later in the books and is crucial to the plot.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (3/5 stars) and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (3/5 stars) by Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy #1 and #2)

Bildergebnis für hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy book cover

My parents, the elder of my younger brothers and one of my really good friends all adore this series and have been recommending it to me for forever. And I did try reading it before now, but put it down again because it just didn’t manage to hold my attention. Well, let’s just say I’ve gotten a lot further into it this time around (I have now been in the middle of Life, the Universe and Everything for over a month…).

I am very torn on how I feel about this series. The writing is fun and engaging and every once in a while, there are parts that really make me think or laugh out loud, such as the scene at the restaurant at the end of the universe, where the meat decides to advertise while still alive, or the irony of a galactic bypass being built in the same disregardful way as the bypass through Arthur Dent’s house is. I like now knowing why the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. And I love Marvin – or, at least, I love how loveable a depressed robot can be.

However, I also felt my attention wandering a lot while reading this and a lot of the time, I felt like the plot was just an attempt to throw in as much funny and ridiculous stuff  in the most bizarre manner possible. Some people might really enjoy that, but after having read two and a half books in the “trilogy of five”, it just started to lose its appeal. I found myself forcing myself to continue reading and I just didn’t really enjoy it that much. These are the types of books that some people will absolutely adore, but others, like me, will probably find them bizarre and boring after a while.


My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl (4/5 stars)

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I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed this, as it’s basically a short story collection about bizarre sexcapades. And this is coming from the person who is too embarrassed to even check out Fifty Shades of Grey from the library, even though she’s actually curious why it’s a bestseller and if the writing is really as bad as everyone says it is.

Anyway, this book follows Uncle Oswald’s get-rich scheme, which basically involves discovering that a certain beetle venom turns those stung into ravaging sex-beasts. And Oswald decides to use this to his advantage – he enlists the help of Yasmin, a girl he met at college in Oxford, and they set off across the world to try and get the sperm of as many famous people as possible so that women can pay huge sums of money to get knocked up by geniuses, royalty and more.

This book is probably horrifying and inexcusable. I don’t care. I thought it was hilarious and it had the same macabre humor that I love in all of Roald Dahl’s children’s books. Also, I think it is quite clear that the reader is not meant to think of Oswald as a hero – he is a clearly selfish, chauvinistic and self-absorbed character and in a way, he does get punished for it at the end of this book (or he gets punished even more, eventually, if you’ve read Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch). In no way do I think that this book is promoting rape, as several reviewers seem to think, although I won’t deny that rape is certainly a theme. It is meant to hold a mirror to society and make fun of several famous people and it does so hilariously, although I do have to admit that it gets a bit repetitive towards the end. I very guiltily enjoyed this, but I don’t think its for everyone. I think you will either be laughing out loud reading this or find it ridiculously offensive. Take your pick.


Die Wilden Hühner (Die Wilden Hühner #1) by Cornelia Funke (4/5 stars) (The English translation of this is Wild Chicks, which I find absolutely awful. “Chickens” would be a much better translation than “Chicks”, I think…)

Die Wilden Hühner (Die Wilden Hühner, #1)

Towards the end of the month, I really felt like reading a children’s book, and I randomly remembered that this is the one Cornelia Funke series I never read as a child. I don’t really remember why – before I discovered my favorite series of all time (cough ** Harry Potter ** cough), Cornelia Funke’s Dragonrider was my favorite book (although today, I prefer The Thief Lord, Inkheart and Emma and the Blue Genie) and we’ve had this first book at home for a long time. I think I vaguely remember knowing that the final book was called Die Wilden Hühner und die Liebe (Wild Chicks in Love) and four-year-old me thought it would be a disgusting and cheesy love story. Plus, I remember thinking that the girls on the cover didn’t look like characters I would like, and the cover was yellow. Trust me, this seemed like perfectly sound logic at the time.

Anyway, here I am years later, finally picking this book up. I think I actually would have adored this as a kid – it has kids founding gangs and going on treasure hunts, a mysteriously mean grandmother, and friends who are there to support each other, even when their home life is difficult. Also, at the moment I can really identify with the main character Sprotte, who has to take care of her grandmother’s chickens and vegetable garden (- I’m at a farm right now, remember?). It was a cute children’s story and I think I’m going to have to make up for not reading this series in my childhood and pick up the rest soon. I enjoyed reading it, even though I think I would have enjoyed it even more as a child.


The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy #1) by Sherry Thomas (4/5 stars)

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This is a pretty cliché YA fantasy story, but I still wound up really enjoying it. In this case, for me, the tropes worked, and I was immersed.

The story follows Iolanthe Seaborn, who was born destined to be the greatest elemental mage of all time. However, this fact has been kept from her, as Iolanthe’s world is under the domination of the cruel empire Atlantis, ruled by the Bane, and can only be freed by an elemental mage. However, Titus, the crown prince of the Domain, knows of the prophecies surrounding Iolanthe and when she unwittingly gives herself away, he sets out to find her and hides her away by whisking her away to a non-magical realm: our own world, namely Eton College when Britain was at the height of its empire. To hide from Atlantis, Iolanthe is disguised as Archer Fairfax, a boy who everyone at Eton is convinced has always attended the school…

I thought the world-building and magic system was very intriguing – I thoroughly enjoyed that the action took place in different realms and that we got to see the traditional fantasy setting in conjunction with a posh British school in our own world was pretty cool. I do have some questions left regarding the world and the magic system, but I hope they’ll be cleared up as the series progresses. Also, while the romance was pretty cliché and the characters pretty stereotypical, I fell for it hook and sinker and absolutely raced through the book. Somehow, the old stereotypes worked with the unique set-up of the world and interesting twists that I hadn’t seen before. Plus, I’m an absolute sucker for the “girl disguises as boy” trope (Remember I said that the Song of the Lioness Quartet is one of my favorite series? And Mulan is one of my favorite Disney movies…). So, while this might have a few familiar tropes here and there, I’d still recommend it if you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced fantasy adventure with some romance thrown in!

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