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Week 8, Book 6: Age of Fire Book One: DRAGON CHAMPION by E. E. Knight

Age of Fire Book One: Dragon Champion by E. E. Knight
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 – “it was amazing”

Where I Got This Book: I bought this book at the local Chapters-Indigo store up in the mall. I had a couple of gift cards for the chain (which is headed by Indigo but out here we only get Chapters stores and the smaller Coles stores), so I went on a book buying spree a few weeks ago, to load up on books for coming weeks. It was hard to finally limit myself down to what I could buy with the gift cards! But one of the books that made the cut was this one, by E. E. Knight with some gorgeous covert art of a dragon (I suggest following the link above to see it).

The Book and Me: Aaah, dragons! I have a more than minor obsession with them. I adore any incarnation, from classic maiden-eating knight-fighting unintelligent (or at least, not sentient) beasts to the talking, immortal magical beings of High Fantasy. But there is always a special place in my heart for versions of dragons that are different from the normal tropes. And the promise of not just intelligent, sentient being-dragons in this series, but the fact that it is from their own point of view had me hooked the moment I read the back-cover blurb. I have never, as far as I know, read anything by E. E. Knight before though I know I have heard the name somewhere.

My Rating: My first 5 out of 5 on Goodreads for the year! I would have loved it anyway, being dragons and all, but like all the best books it was addictive and nigh impossible to put down. The writing is excellent, the characters are well-written and interesting, and I was completely absorbed by the depths of the Drakine culture, indeed, the presence of background to all the various cultures the reader comes across. And it proved to be a version of dragons as novel as I was expecting – in other words, a very refreshing take on old tropes with wonderful new aspects thrown in, such as the importance of song to dragons.

Why You Should Read It: Because dragons! No, seriously, if you’re a dragon aficionado like me, this is a series you must read. I certainly plan on buying the rest of the books in the series, in lovely paperback matching this one so they can sit on my shelf in place of honour with my beloved Naomi Novik and Tolkien and Tamora Pierce, their spines creased with love and appreciation. But it is not a gimmicky book, it is solidly plotted, fascinating, engaging, and features interesting, likable characters set in a well-developed fantasy world.

Potential Spoilers Beneath Cut
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Week 7, Book 5: The Hero and The Crown

The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 – “really liked it”

Where I Got This Book: If you remember last week’s post, I got this book the same place as I purchased the first book in the Damar series: the used bookstore in my hometown. It’s in a bit better condition than TBS, though – no tape on the spine! I am such a sucker for the very 80’s paperback book cover art. Raised gold lettering and all.

The Book and Me: So, remember how I kept saying “never read this one before, really looking forward to it!”? Well, I was wrong! I had read this before. When or where, I have no clue, but I definitely have. It was less familiar and less well-remembered in my mind though, and I’m assuming it was around the same time as reading TBS.

My Rating: Again, a 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. I almost put it as a 5/5, because I really, really love this book. But not quite! It is engrossing and fascinating and thoroughly delightful. TBS was still fresh, of course, which made it doubly interesting to spot bits that are of importance in that book… and at moments the knowledge I had from TBS made it so that I could predict something coming up (such as meeting Luthe), which was particularly interesting! It wasn’t spoiler-y, really, but with this book as a prequel, not a first book, it is quite elegantly done, I think.

Potential Spoilers Beneath Cut
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Week 6, Book 4: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 – “really liked it”

Where I Got This Book: I picked up The Blue Sword at the used bookstore back in my hometown when I was there over winter holidays. I hadn’t gone looking for it, but was just browsing the shop for anything that looked interesting – and I spotted this. A delightfully well-used paperback copy of TBS with some gorgeous cover art in classic fantasy paperback style. The front cover is held on, low down on the spine, by strategically layered Scotch tape, the edges of the pages have gone slightly yellow and creases mar the spine and covers, white showing through where the colour has peeled off. I’m something of a sucker for used books… particularly the scent of them. And this copy of TBS is a prime example of that. I love taking in used books and giving them, at least for a time, a new home.

The Book and Me: I’ve actually read TBS once before, many years ago. Enough years ago that it meets my rules for “must not have read in past 5 years”. I remember loving it, but not a lot more. I did remember the title, however, for a very long time, which is unusual. I’m usually quite crap at remembering titles of books I own, let alone ones I just borrow from libraries (which is how I read this, the first time). As you may notice, its taken me longer than usual to get around to finishing this book. I suspect part of that is because it is, for all that more than 5 years are past, a reread and so there is less urgency in me to finish it. But mostly I’ve been delayed by busyness in school and life.

My Rating: I have yet to rate a book 5/5 on Goodreads this year, if I recall correctly. TBS comes quite close to deserving the “it was amazing”. Really, if I could give half-points this would be a 4.5, because I more than “really liked it” – I love this book. Loved it the first time and still in love with it now. It is a sheer delight to read and not at all for nostalgic reasons – although I do suspect this is one of those books which has had significant influence on me in my tastes, beliefs, and writing.

Potential Spoilers Beneath Cut
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Week 3, Book 3: Gather Together In My Name

Gather Together In My Name by Maya Angelou
4 stars out of 5 on Goodreads

Posting a day late, but I had very lazy Saturday followed by a night out!

Unlike the previous two books I have read this year, this one is not a work of fiction. It’s the second book in Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series. The first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is probably much more well-known. I read Caged Bird in high school, so the memory of that book is a few years distant now. (It still seems so odd to think of high school as something that happened two+ years ago. Hell, I turn twenty this year which is just baffling! But I digress.)

Over the winter holidays I was back in my hometown staying with my parents for a few weeks and just before I left in early January I decided to pay the local used bookstore a visit. My original purpose was to find a used copy of The Silmarillion, but as I mention in last week’s post I was unsuccessful in that. I did manage to acquire, however, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and The Crown, along with this book, Gather.

Now, I’ll freely admit it: until I had to read Caged Bird in high school, I had never heard of Maya Angelou before in my life. Even now, I really don’t know all that much about her – although I did finally take the initiative to go read her Wikipedia page. Her fame and importance seems to stem from her series of autobiographical books, with Angelou being one of the first African-American women to tell her story in such a way. She also has had what seems to be a certain prominence and importance in the civil rights movement and so forth.

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Week 2, Book 2: The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, is the edition I read. It was my father’s book, which he purchased in 2000 along with the matching editions of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Unfinished Tales. As those editions of The Hobbit and LotR were the ones I had first read, before purchasing my own, I decided I wanted to read that edition of The Silm as well.

Just yesterday I went and bought my own copy of The Silm which is this beautiful edition. It is illustrated by Ted Nasmith, with 4 sets of colour plates through the book. It’s the same printing, I think, as the previous edition, just slightly larger in measurements and with the artwork. Alongside my 50th anniversary trade paperback copy of The Hobbit and a very slightly mismatched set of Lord of the Rings in three volumes (all the same editions/cover art, but RotK was printed larger), it looks comfortably unique. I had hoped to buy a used copy of Silm, but this was too beautiful to pass up.

I had previously attempted to read The Silmarillion some years ago, after reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. But I was only about 8 or 9 years old at the time, and so it is no wonder that I never got very far in, despite being a fairly precocious reader. (I did also attempt The Unfinished Tales which I had more success with, but I’m not sure if I did read all that.) I am a great lover of LotR and Tolkien, and consider both the books and the movies done by Peter Jackson & Co. highly influential as stories that shaped me as a person, a reader, and a (hopefully some day published) writer. This is quite relevant, as The Silm is most definitely a book that will only appeal to specific audiences. For avid Tolkien fans who wish to know, understand, and appreciate the great man’s work as much as possible, it is a must-read. I imagine anyone who is a fan of classic mythology a la the Iliad or Beowulf or such things would also appreciate it.

The book, for those not familiar with it, does not just contain the Quenta Silmarillion, the title epic, but also holds the Ainulindalë, the Valaquenta, the Akallabêth, and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, along with some genealogical tables and appendices. The edition I read (and the one I own) also includes an excerpt from a letter written by Tolkien to Milton Waldman in 1951 which forms a “brilliant exposition of his conception of the earlier Ages” (the letter ends with a summary of the events of LotR and that part is not included). The letter alone is brilliant and provides great insight into Tolkien’s purposes and intentions in creating his world of Middle-earth. I will treat each section separately, as they are all different stories, and due to the format of the book, even the Quenta Silmarillion is rather more like a compilation of tales of varying historicity and from various sources than a single cohesive tale. Which is something I find rather wonderful, but won’t dwell on overmuch – Christopher Tolkien’s forward covers it quite well though.

Some spoilers for the chapter Of Beren and Luthien, but other than that, spoiler free. Also a bit on the long side.

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Week 1, Book 1: Leviathans of Jupiter

Leviathans of Jupiter by Ben Bova

I picked this book up at Coles bookstore in my hometown, the second day of this year, simply because I’d entered a bookstore with money in my pocket and thought I’d get something new to read. I have something of a weakness – though it isn’t often indulged – for science fiction of this sort. ‘This sort’ being, of course, sci-fi that uses the premise that Earth is not the only place of intelligent life on the solar system. I find it particularly enjoyable when it features what we know as gas giant planets. As soon as I spotted the title of this book, I thought of Missing Men of Saturn – an old book which I read some years ago and enjoyed greatly, despite its science being rather out of date nowadays.

So I picked this book up with the expectation of indulging in some fun, adventurous sci-fi of a rather classic twist, and the blurb did nothing to disabuse me of this notion. The fact that Leviathans was written in 2011 by a notable sci-fi writer just made me more eager, as I hoped for a more modern – and thus more aware of the problematic writing that has afflicted science fiction through the years – perspective. It is still, I believe, the only book by Ben Bova I have read, and it wasn’t until just now that I was aware that Leviathans was a sequel to Jupiter, a previously published book featuring some characters that also appear in this one.

SPOILER WARNING: Character spoilers and hints of plot spoilers

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52 Books, 52 Weeks… Go, go, go!

Some time in the middle of last year I acquired a Goodreads account. Noticing the option to set a goal for how many books to read in 2011, I set a nice, round 50 and then tried my best to remember which books I had, in fact, already read. Between a summer of mind numbing dullness (so dull, in fact, that at points I had trouble concentrating on anything, even reading which has long been my one solace) and a busy first semester of second year of university, I didn’t meet my goal.

Though I still think that if I had been able to include all the novel-length fanfics I’d read, I would have exceeded it, easily.

But, such concerns aside, I decided at the start of this year, when presented with the option to set a reading goal for 2012, that I’d give 52-in-52 a shot. 52 books in 52 weeks. Combined with the fact that I have yet to properly use this blog for any of the uses which I intended I have come up with the following set of rules for myself:

  1. Re-reads don’t count. I’m not a big rereader, if I’m honest, but there are some books I will read over and over again. I will make exception if I haven’t read the book in over 5 years, but I want to expand my reading of published material and ensure that I’m reading 52 books that are brand new to me (or as good as – 5 years ago I was 14, and my memory is shit.)
  2. All books shall be tracked on Goodreads. Whether they are part of the 52-in-52 or not.
  3. Books read for school don’t count. As I’m not an English major, this shouldn’t be a huge problem, but since I’ll allow 52 fiction OR non-fiction books… it’s still relevant.
  4. Any type of book allowed, including anthologies. With a 100-page minimum when in paperback printing. Anthologies of short stories, which I do read on occasion, will be treated as one book for purposes of counting.
  5. All books read for 52-in-52 will be reviewed on this blog by midnight Saturday of the week relevant. This is so that I don’t just splurge through and never consider the book again. As I do intend to be a published writer at some point, having an awareness of what I read will be good. It’s the one thing I did appreciate about IB Higher Level English in high school!

So there you have it, dear readers. My 5 rules for my 52-in-52. I have already finished my first book (as those who follow my Twitter will be aware) which was Ben Bova’s Leviathans of Jupiter. So expect a review post of that before midnight this Saturday! (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate the convenience of this year beginning on a Sunday?)

Happy 2012,