Tuesday 13 December 2016

My Favourite Books of 2016

According to Goodreads, I read thirty-five books this year - and I may squeeze another one or two in before the end of December.

I review every single book I read, but one thing you'll realise about me is that I am very ruthless when it comes to my reviews. Because of this, of all the books I've read this year, only five managed to earn a coveted five stars from me.

I started the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (on which the HBO series Game of Thrones is based), and was quite shocked to find that, looking back, three of those five were from that series!

My five favourite books of 2016 are therefore:

  • Write Your Way Out Of Depression: Practical Self-Therapy For Creative Writers by Rayne Hall
  • A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) by George R.R. Martin
  • Mold by Lindsey Goddard
  • A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2) by George R.R. Martin
  • A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) by George R.R. Martin

I hope you enjoy my reviews, and that this list will introduce you to some new books and authors you've maybe never heard of before.

For each book, click on the title to see a list of all stores where you can buy it online.

Write Your Way Out Of Depression: Practical Self-Therapy For Creative Writers by Rayne Hall

About the Book

Use your writing talent and your skill with words heal yourself. Author Rayne Hall and psychologist Alexander Draghici show fourteen practical strategies for self-therapy.

Do you feel like you’re trapped in a dark hole of morass, sinking deeper and deeper, the mud rising to your hips, your chest, your throat? Is despair smothering you like a heavy blanket? Is your own life moving past you like a train, and you are forced to watch and cannot board? Has crippling lethargy wrapped its tentacles around you so tightly that you cannot move, sucking from you all energy and the will to live?

If you want to get better, to feel alive again, if you want to step out of this darkness and take control of your recovery, this book can help.

My Review

This was a difficult book to read, and is proving to be a difficult book to review as well. Mostly, because it's so intense, and sometimes reading it can be depressing in itself.

Let me explain: I do believe most artists suffer from some or other form of depression or anxiety, and writers are no different. I definitely think I do, although I've never been officially diagnosed. I can identify with many of the issues described in this book - which is good, because it assures me that I'm not alone. On the other hand, I obviously don't have depression nearly as bad as some of my writer colleagues from around the world, because many of the issues described in this book were so over-the-top that I had trouble believing some people have it as bad.

I do believe it, though, and that's where the depression came in.

In Write Your Way Out of Depression, Rayne Hall confesses her own struggle with the disorder, and how she found healing by writing. And that's what this book is actually about. It's full of practical, no-nonsense advice, and tricks that you can try at home to help ease your pain... and become a better writer in the process.

The writing advice in this book is presented in a way typical of the rest of the Writer's Craft series, which I'm no stranger to, and I've always found extremely helpful. For this particular instalment, Ms Hall decided to recruit clinical psychologist Alexander Draghici. He gives credence to her words, but also, after each tip, he gives a bit of an explanation about what aspect of the disorder the advice is actually trying to address, and how and why it works. I thought that was a nice touch!

I'd recommend this book to any creative types (not just writers) who suffer, or think they might suffer from depression. You can pick and choose which advice you want to follow, based on what you have the energy for on any given day, and what you think might help for you. If you've tried everything else, try this - it might help!

Mold by Lindsey Goddard

About the Book

When a new mother is forced to move into an old boarding home, she discovers the dark secret behind the phantom mold that keeps appearing on her walls.

My Review

I really enjoyed this little story. Not so much scary as creepy, it's very psychological.

The writing is brilliant, and the pacing is just right. It definitely made me think... and I liked the open ending, too!

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) by George R.R. Martin

About the Book

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must ...and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark's family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

My Review

That was epic.

I first heard about Game of Thrones from the TV series. I watched Season One, and a little bit of Season Two. To be honest, I really really wanted to like it. But hard as I tried, I couldn't get into it; everything was just so confusing, and there were way too many characters and plot lines to follow. I gave up after the third or fourth episode of Season Two.

Then, people started talking about how much better the book is. I still really really wanted to like it, so I decided to give it a read.

Those people were right. As is typically the case, the book is about a thousand times better than the TV series. There are still lots of characters, and many different plot lines. In fact, there are more sub-plots than there are on TV, but the book goes into so much more detail, that everything just started falling into place. That, and the fact that I'm reading the book at my own pace, and can always page back if I forget who a certain character is, or where he fits into the story.

The characters are all instantly memorable, but fair warning: what you've heard about Mr Martin's propensity to kill your favourites off without warning is absolutely true. It makes the world feel more real, though, and it's very period-appropriate. One moment you believe that a character's going to be the saviour of the world, and live on throughout the series, and the next there's a jousting accident and he's dead. Gone. Never to be mentioned again.

My favourite character, like I think most people's favourite is (whether you're reading the book or watching it on TV), is Tyrion Lannister, the Imp. He was cast perfectly in the TV show, but he's portrayed in even more detail in the book. If you'll indulge me, I'll share a quick quote:

"How would you like to die, Tyrion Lannister?"

"Peacefully in bed, with a young whore's mouth around my cock, at the age of eighty."

Something like that. I may have paraphrased.

Other things I noticed, that made the world seem more real, and more appropriate to the period, were the ages of the characters. I think they're mentioned on TV, but it's little more than a gloss-over, if I remember correctly. Jon Snow, for example, is fourteen years old when he goes to spend the rest of his life on The Wall. Dany is thirteen on her wedding night, and her husband is something like twenty-five. I understand that stuff like that would be difficult to portray on screen, because of modern sensitivities to things like the age of consent and statutory rape.

If you've watched Season One of the TV series, you're sure to enjoy the book, because it contains things that I don't remember seeing on TV. If you haven't, you're even surer to enjoy the book.

Oh, one more thing: the book actually ends a little way (probably the third or fourth episode) into Season Two of the TV series. Which happens to be about when I gave up watching, so from here on in, everything's going to be new for me!

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2) by George R.R. Martin

About the Book

Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead...victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.

As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky—a comet the color of blood and flame—six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard's son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King's Landing. Robert's two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers.

A Clash of Kings transports us into a magnificent, forgotten land of revelry and revenge, wizardry and wartime. It is a tale in which maidens cavort with madmen, brother plots against brother, and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside.

Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, the price of glory may be measured in blood. And the spoils of victory may just go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when rulers clash, all of the land feels the tremors.

Audacious, inventive, brilliantly imagined, A Clash of Kings is a novel of dazzling beauty and boundless enchantment;a tale of pure excitement you will never forget.

My Review

I think that one of the things that makes this serious utterly engrossing, is the attention to detail.

The universe is so well fleshed out, and the characters who live in it do so in a completely believable way. For example, with the notable exception of Joffrey, I don't think there are any "bad" guys in this story. There aren't any "good" guys, either. There are just people, with deep and complex motivations and goals, and everything they do or say fits in with those motivations, and their circumstances in the world. If I put myself into any one of their shoes, I cannot say that I'd do anything different.

This book is actually better than A Game of Thrones, in my opinion. There's a lot more action... and a lot of stuff happens. Unfortunately, I can't tell you very much of it for fear of spoilers, but I will say that many of our favourite characters return, and quite a few very important characters die. Oh, and there be dragons.

Something else that I thought was pretty cool: I read A Game of Thrones three months ago, and there were a few minor details I'd forgotten. George R.R. Martin does such a wonderful job of explaining each character's place in the world as we first meet them, that it was a pleasurable experience when the memories of each came flooding back. I'd almost (almost) say that it's not necessary to have read the first book in the series to enjoy the second. But I think you'd miss quite a bit.

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) by George R.R. Martin

About the Book

Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin's magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces manoeuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords...

My Review

I'm thoroughly enjoying this series, but I can't think of anything else to say about it at this point without spoiling anything.

The depth of characters, the complicated and well thought out plots and motivations, the rich detail of the setting... what's not to like?

I will say that a lot happens in this instalment; more than in either volume before it. And the trend looks set to continue, because according to Wikipedia, each book is longer than the last. I hope this isn't too big of a spoiler, but lots of people die in this one. It's almost as though the author is clearing away some older characters to make way for new ones.

As I intimated earlier, this book IS long, and I'm not the kind of person who can read a whole book series back-to-back. That's particularly true for this one because it's also very intense. I'll be taking a bit of a break before diving into the next book.

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