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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Here Are The Top 4 Books I Read in 2017

Each year, I set a goal for the number of books I intend to read on Goodreads. I never read a book without recording it there, and I make a point of reviewing every book I read.

This year, I set myself the rather lofty, but still achievable, goal of 35 books. I've already exceeded this year's goal by a comfortable margin, but if you know anything about me, you'll know that I'm difficult to please.

Only four of those books managed to worm their way into my coveted "Five Star Club". So, without further ado (and in no particular order), here are my top four books for 2017. Click on the cover to find out where you can buy each one.

The End of The Trail by Louis Rakovich


A barren land of salt and snow; a castle where underground paths twist and turn in endless circles and a reclusive king has not shown his face in years; a forest where few things are what they seem. An unnamed hero must navigate through these places as he takes on the task of tracking down a supposed witch, in a story that blends dream and reality, rumor and truth, danger and hope.

My Review

There isn't much to say about this book, because it's so short that I don't want to give anything away. It's not too short, though: the length is just right. And not because it was bad. Quite the contrary, it's a fully composed story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was creepy, but not too creepy. It was beautifully written. It made me think. And the ending, while somewhat predictable, was utterly satisfying. You can't go wrong.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin


The last of the Targaryens, Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, has brought the young dragons in her care to their terrifying maturity. Now the war-torn landscape of the Seven Kingdoms is threatened by destruction as vast as in the violent past.

Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf with half a nose and a scar from eye to chin, has slain his father and escaped the Red Keep in King′s Landing to wage war from the Free Cities beyond the narrow sea.

Jon Snow is Commander of the Black Watch on the frozen Wall. Pledged to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the Others as winter approaches, his enemies want his head.

The last war fought with dragons was a cataclysm powerful enough to shatter the Valyrian peninsula into a smoking, demon-haunted ruin half drowned by the sea.

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS brings to life dark magic, complex political intrigue and horrific bloodshed as events at the Wall and beyond the sea threaten the ancient land of Westeros.

My Review

When I finished the previous book in this series, I said that not very much happened and that I hoped this one would have more meat. I wasn't disappointed.

Things are happening in Westeros and surrounds, and they're happening quickly. There are more deaths and more bombshells in this instalment than I've seen since The Red Wedding. And the fact that Tyrion and Daenerys are back, just makes it all the sweeter.

It's difficult to say more, for fear of spoilers. Suffice it to say that I still think this is the most well fleshed out fantasy world I've ever read, and the characters among the most real. There aren't any cookie-cutters here. At the end of each book, Martin includes a long section describing all the houses and character histories in the series, which he updates after each story. In this book, that section is now over a hundred pages long (I think after the first book, it was maybe twenty).

Editing-wise, not a single typo to be found, and no plot point that didn't make sense.

I might even go so far as to say that this is the best book in the series so far.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer


Sixteen-year-old Cinder is considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though: Cinder's brain interference has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it "a matter of national security," but Cinder suspects it's more serious than he's letting on.

Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder's intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that's been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter's illness, Cinder's stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an "honor" that no one has survived.

But it doesn't take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. Something others would kill for.

My Review

I really enjoyed this.

As science fiction goes, the world is truly compelling. On the one hand, it's post-apocalyptic, but on the other, it's a bit of a utopia. 

World War IV happened a long time ago, and almost destroyed the world. That's the apocalypse part. What came out of that war was a treaty that saw all the countries of the world consolidated into less than ten, mostly based around continents, so you have the African Union, Europe, the Americas, and something called The Commonwealth.

This story is set in New Beijing, a massive city-state that's part of The Commonwealth. Technology has progressed to the point where humans can be cybernetically enhanced, everyone flies around in hovers, and intelligent androids, able to show emotion, are commonplace.

Now for the bad news. There's this worldwide plague, you see, with no cure, and a 100% mortality rate. If you contract it, you die. Within days. Scientists all over the world are racing against time to find a cure, while every day thousands of people are dying. It's a losing battle.

Enter Cinder, a teenage cyborg who runs a small mechanic's shop, repairing androids, portscreens (pretty much tablet PCs), and other miscellaneous electronics. She has an evil stepmother and stepsister, and a prince invites her to a ball.

This story is VERY loosely based on the Cinderella fairy-tale, but if you didn't know that, and I hadn't pointed it out to you, you might miss it. The fairy tale served as inspiration for the author, but that's where it ends. It ends up going in an entirely different direction.

There's some romance here, but not very much (less than I expected, anyway), and you're sure to enjoy it even if you're not a fan of love stories.

The one thing that bugs me is that this book is billed as Young Adult. I think the only thing that technically makes it YA is the age of the protagonist. But it doesn't take place in a high school or anything, nor do any of the characters face typical teenager-type problems, nor do they behave like teenagers would be expected to behave.

No, this is quite clearly an adult book, and it deals with some pretty adult themes. Having said that, I should point out that it's a WHOLESOME adult book. There's not a single swear word to be found, nor even any blasphemy. Which is refreshing, because blasphemy is often what stops me from giving a book 5-stars.

Editing-wise, there's the odd typo here and there, but it's very well polished, and none of them detracted in any way from the story.

If you like science fiction, and you like a good family-friendly read, I don't doubt for one minute that you'll enjoy this book!

The Martian by Andy Weir


Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review

I watched the movie about a year ago, more or less around the same time everyone else did, I think, when it won the Oscar. At the time, I thought it was really good, and I'd probably have given it five stars too, if I were in the habit of reviewing movies.

Personally, I'd never heard of it until all the hype around the movie started, but once I'd watched it, the book went straight onto my to-read list. A friend once told me that, in her opinion, if you're going to watch a movie AND read the book, you should always start with the movie. That way, when you read the book, you're pleasantly surprised at all the extra bits that they invariably leave out of movie adaptations (as opposed to being frustrated, disappointed, and angry, when you watch the movie and realise all the things they left out).

The book is amazing! The movie was good, but the book is better. Don't get me wrong: the movie is pretty true to the book, in my opinion. The book just brings you so much more, is all. There are more problems for our intrepid astronaut to solve, and the science is more detailed as we're taken through his thought process in solving those problems.

There's a lot of maths, too, but it's really easy to understand - and if you REALLY don't like maths, you can safely skip it. I'm not a fan of maths, but I didn't skip it. I kept thinking that if Andy Weir had been my maths teacher in High School, I would have aced it on Higher Grade in Matric, instead of just barely scraping through on Standard Grade.

Generally, I don't much care for "hard" science fiction, because I find the maths and science tedious, but because this book is just so accessible, I cannot in all good conscience give it fewer than five stars.

And that's no small thing. If you follow my reviews, you'll know that it's incredibly rare for me to read a book and find absolutely no fault with it. Editing often lets a book down for me, so if I find a single typo, the author can kiss their five stars goodbye. This book, though, is polished to a sparkling sheen. 

Did you know, by the way, that The Martian was originally self-published back in 2011? It's not like I've never given such a high rating to an indie book, but it's been a long time, and it really renews one's faith in independent publishing.

What makes it even more special, is that The Martian is officially the first e-book I've ever borrowed from a library, and I can't think of a better way to start that journey.

Anyway, enough gushing. If you're even remotely into science fiction, or books about the human condition, drop everything and pick up a copy of this book. But if you DO intend to watch the movie, I agree with my friend - watch it first, then read the book. You'll be really glad you did.

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