Book recommendations: January 2013

Before I get to my book recommendations this month, I wanted to show off my new haircut:
New hair

I had 6 inches cut, and ended up with a nice layered bob.  I’m pretty happy with it – it looks good curled or straight.  I grew my hair out because I hadn’t had it long in a decade, but as it turns out I prefer shorter hair – it suits my personality, and I don’t have to spend nearly as long fixing it in the morning, which was becoming quite daunting.

Cutting my hair also set me off on revamping my wardrobe.  I have a new job and new goals, so it was time.  I will post about that later this week, so look for that.

I didn’t have a lot of time to read this month, but I did finish four books, three of which I would recommend.  This month I delved into young adult fantasy and Swedish crime novels.  As always, you can friend or follow me on Goodreads!

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The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I technically finished it early in the morning on February 1st, but I say it counts for January.  This was my favorite book this month!  I’ve previously read all of Jasper Fforde’s Tuesday Next novels.  I loved the first, but became a little less enamored of them as they went along.  I got a bit of quirkiness overload, and quite frankly the ideas got a stretched a little thin.  So I wasn’t certain I even wanted to give this a try – YA novels from established authors often overdo the simplification of their style.  But to my surprise I loved it!

Jennifer, the narrator, is a teenage foundling.  She has been apprenticed to Kazam, where she spends most of her days watching over and taking care of wizards.  Yes, I said wizards.  In the universe of the book (an alternate United Kingdom) magic is very real.  It is not, unfortunately, very fashionable at the current time.  Indeed, it appears that for years the source of magic has been dying off, with most wizards unable to perform the feats they could have in their youths.  This, naturally, makes them rather cranky.  The wizards are easily the most amusing part of the book, with their self-proclaimed titles and childish jealousies.   They earn their keep by taking on mundane duties – delivering takeaway by flying carpet, predicting odds at the races etc.  One of the precogs has a very vivid vision – that the last dragon is about to die – and that’s where the book really takes off.

I won’t spoil things for you.  If you enjoy humorous fantasy a la Terry Pratchett then it’s a safe bet you will like this book.  It’s worth the price of admission for the Quarkbeast!  What is that, you ask?  Well… I will let the book explain:

“Quarkbeasts, for all their fearsome looks, are obedient to a fault. They are nine-tenths velociraptor and kitchen blender and one-tenth Labrador. It was the Labrador tenth that I valued most.”

There you go.  The book is the beginning of a series, but unlike some it has a real conclusion.  My only quibble is that it is very short – under 300 pages.  I wanted more, but there is another in the series out, with the final book to follow this year!

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

That’s a great cover, right?  I’ll admit I wasn’t excited about this book, but a book club I am sometimes part of was reading it, so I picked up a copy.    I cringed starting it, remembering the time I had to read Wicked for a similar club.  I know, I know everyone loves Wicked, but it tops the list of my most disliked books.  Blah.  So I fear retellings, which often try too hard to be different from the source material.

I’ve been reading more Young Adult novels, mostly because they are what’s being published right now.  Although I initially dismissed them all, I found that there is plenty of good in the genre.  Of course, because there are so many being published, there is also a lot of dreck.  And since there are plenty of women willing to give 5 stars to anything involving a love triangle, it can be hard to find the good ones.  This, let me tell you, is one of the good ones.

Cinder is a loose (very loose) retelling of Cinderella.  Cinder is, as you can tell from the cover, a cyborg.  She has no memory of her early life, but she’s spent the last decade living with her stepmother and two stepsisters.  She supports them by repairing electronics at a stall in the market.  One day Prince Kai, the soon-to-be Emperor of New Beijing, stops at her stall, asking her to repair his childhood tutor android.  This sets Cinder on a path to unwind the secrets of her own path.

There is plenty here that was not in Cinderella, from a deadly plague sweeping the country to a race of beautiful aliens who live on the moon (The Lunars).  Cinder herself is a great character – independent, outspoken, and not the sort of heroine who makes moon eyes at the prince.  The Prince himself was a really decent character – he’s funny and resourceful, and I understood why she would like him.  It was a little more of a mystery why he was so drawn to Cinder, but that’s the fairy tale aspect for you.

If I have a complaint it’s that the central mystery of the book was laughably easy to guess – it’s basically thrust in front of you within the first 50 pages.  So by the time Cinder gets the big reveal at the end, it was a little anti-climactic.  I would have also liked a little more resolution – I know Cinder’s story will continue (the second book is out soon!) but I do like real endings.  Highly recommended!

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Let the Right One In by Jogn Ajvide Lingqvish

Let me start with the summary from the back of the book:

It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last—revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.

But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door—a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night….

I’ve come rather late to Swedish novels.  My grandparents were from Sweden, so it would seem I should be interested in them, but I don’t read many crime novels these days.  I decided to explore the genre this month.  I started with The Ice Princesswhich I found disappointing – there was too much love story, not enough crime.  This book was recommended to me as a really great vampire novel for adults.  And you know what?  I think it is.

It’s also quite disturbing.  I feel the need to point that out, as it is so very different from the sort of thing that I usually recommend.  I didn’t find it scary in the traditional, Stephen King sense.  It was more that it gave me a creeping feeling of being unclean.  Eli is the little girl mentioned in the summary above.  And yes, clearly she is a vampire, but she’s not the monster of this book.  There are many, many humans who manage to be far more monstrous through the course of the book.  Perhaps this is the point – that we are scarier ourselves than any monster we might make up?  Every character in the book feels real.  They have motivations and back stories outside of their purpose in the novel.  This makes the setting and characters feel absolutely real, something that I cannot say I have experienced before in a novel about vampires.

I’m not even sure I would read it again, because it is rather not my thing, but I still feel as though I want to recommend it.  If you like thrillers and dark fiction, I highly recommend this book.  I understand there is a movie, which I may see now – it appears to focus more on the relationship between Oskar and Eli than the book.

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23 thoughts on “Book recommendations: January 2013

  1. Cute haircut! I wish my hair was that compliant. Also, how happy am I that I have that first book sitting in my library pile waiting for me to read? I’d been putting it off due to the last few books I’d read of the Eyre series and now I’m ready to dive in!

  2. Tapetum says:

    I have been wanting to read Let the Right One In for quite a while now. Must wander over to the library and see if they have it.

    I read quite a bit of YA – a lot of good SF/F gets classified as YA – all it seems to take is a protagonist over 20, and a lack of explicit sex. Of course Sturgeon’s Law applies, as it does, by definition everywhere. (Sturgeon’s Law – 95% of everything is crap.)

    I’ve been enjoying looking at what you’ve been posting on Goodreads. I’m still trying to find and add books I’ve read in the past, largely out of curiosity to see approximately how many books I’ve read in my lifetime.

  3. charlotte says:

    Another lurker coming out here… Your hair is gorgeous this way!

    Thanks for the book recommendations, I will check out that Jasper Fforde book.
    Did you know that “Let the right one in” has been made into movies? There is both a Swedish and an American version – the Swedish being far the superior one. Also, if you are interrested in Swedish crime lit, check out the books by Arne Dahl. It is about a group of policemen solving crime with international ties from their base in Stockholm.

  4. I tried to read Let the Right One In a couple years ago and just was not into it- it felt too dark and blah for me, which is weird because I love vampire things. It just didn’t work.
    Those other two look great though, and I read Seraphina after seeing it on your blog last month and really enjoyed it!

  5. Love the haircut! You look more lively with this look. The longer hair, for some reason, made you look somewhat nostalgic and melancholic, in my opinion. You’re a pretty girl, and almost everything looks good on you, but some looks are better than the others :)

  6. I love your hair! Did you use hot rollers? I’m very curious about your wardrobe makeover! I very much need to do one for myself, but budgeting, shopping time, and lack of energy (and ideas) are holding me back. I’m excited to see what changes you made!

  7. I do love Jasper Fforde. The Song of the Quarkbeast is a great second book in the Dragonslayer series. I agree that the Thursday Next series have run their course, but have you read Shades of Grey ? That is fantastic and will hopefully have a sequel too. The Nursery Crimes are also great, but have the same feel as the Thursday Next book (considering that Jack Sprat had a cameo!).

  8. I strongly agree! I still am stunned this keeps happening time after time in todays day and age. I am so glad I was sitting down for this. We help answer what will happen to this. Lets keep track of this new development in the future.

  9. These all look interesting, especially that first one. I had to read Wicked for a theatre class, and even though I work in theatre I HATED it. So you’re not the only one!

  10. RB says:

    Oo, I really liked Let The Right One In, plus I watched both of the movies. I was thoroughly prepared to dislike the American remake of the Swedish version (because everyone knows remakes are terrible! ;-), but I actually thought it was pretty good. Very cute haircut, btw!

  11. Gobsmacked! I’m really startled that this really went on these days. I am happy in the fact I am not running. I would love to wonder what will happen now?! I need to keep an eye on this situation .

  12. I saw the movie of the last book and loved it (the swedish version). Very disturbing and well made, and it plays a lot on the eerie quality of a freezing winter in sweden. I recommed it (but I never read the book…so that might change things).
    Lovely hair cut!

  13. Hi there Jessica, I saw your post over on Bobbins and Whimsey’s blog, so thought I’d drop by! Your blog looks quite lovely and interesting so I am excited to begin following it. I am also an avid reader and sewer, and also play the piano! Too many things in common to ignore, lol. (oh, and I really like your hair! although never saw it before, so have nothing to compare it to, but looks like it was made for you!

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