Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Books Read in 2013

Each January for the past few years (20102011, and 2012) I have posted a complete listing of all the books I had read with a brief comment about each book including whether or not I recommend it. However for 2013 I am doing something different. Last year I participated in something through twitter called the 50 Book Pledge (#50bookpledge). It is a really cool online bookshelf where you can keep track of what you have read, rate each book, and provide a brief comment. You can then share your bookshelf via twitter (or facebook). I tweeted almost every time I posted a new book to my shelf. You can view my 2013 bookshelf here, where you can click on each book cover and my rating and brief review will pop up (note: I know there are other sites where you can do something similar but I like this one so much better!).

I really liked participating in #50bookpledge. It was a great way to connect with other readers, discuss books read, find new books to read that came highly recommended, enter contests, and even connect with authors. I loved chatting with the "host" of #50bookpledge The Savvy Reader (@SavvyReader). And I've already created my shelf for this year!

Last year I read 84 books. My goal for this year is 100 but I think hitting around 80 again is more realistic. I need to spend more time writing this year than reading but my book pile is already growing rapidly plus we have some excellent books slated for our 2014 book club.  If you'd like to follow my 2014 progress you can do so here. As always I'll continue to post reviews of our book club selections each month.

However, for those of you interested (and who don't want to go through the entire shelf), here are my top reads from 2013 in no particular order:
- Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. For those of you have read my previous lists, you won't be surprised that King is on this one. I loved this sequel to The Shining. All I can say is that this is classic King!
- Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Things Volume 1) AND When Did You See Her Last (All the Wrong Things Volume 2) by Lemony Snicket. This is a fantastic series and a great counterpart to his A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I adore. I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) this year as part of Edmonton Public Library's centennial celebrations, which only increased my love for his writing.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - enchanting, haunting, and bittersweet. A must read and contender for the best book I read in 2013.
- The Sandman by Neil Gaiman - an incredible comic series that I started just after Christmas (so I'm squeaking it in). I've read the first five volumes and just love the complex world that Gaiman has created. The artwork is fantastic. I read a ton of Gaiman in 2013 and he has quickly become one of my favourite authors and yes I know I am late to the game on this.
- Ru by Kim Thuy - a lovely and poetic book. Each "chapter" takes up only a single page but there is so much stated in such an elegantly "simple" way. Another must read and contender for the best book I read in 2013!
- In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. Just excellent. I cried my way through this book. It was just so heartbreakingly beautiful. I've told others when asked that it is the best book I read in 2013 and think I'll stick with that assessment.

So 2013 was a year filled with great reads and I'm looking forward to tackling the pile of books on my shelf and all those gems waiting to find their way there.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Biittner's Book Review: Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

Our 2014 book club is off to an excellent start! I really enjoyed our first book - an interesting science fiction piece with a historic/western/biographical feel. It is the account of the best friend of the President of the United States in the 22nd century outlining his perspective on the President's rise to power and position. North America has essentially reverted back to the days of the wild west/colonization and war is ongoing with a form of unified Europe. The government is essentially a monarchy, which lends to an interesting rebuilding scenario post-collapse or post-post-apocalypse. There is the expected commentary on social hierarchies and class structures with some neat digs at the separation (or lack there of) between church and state and approved religious practices. I think one could read much more into some of the political, social, and religious commentary that is dominant throughout the first half of the book but I just enjoyed reading it without analyzing it. The plot really isn't that complicated or innovative (that's not to say it isn't interesting because it does capture and hold attention) but rather it is how the story is told that makes it so engaging, that keeps you reading to see how everything will unfold. The main character is naive but that is why telling the story from his perspective works, and some of the best parts of the story are when his naivety is clearly pointed out by one of the other characters while he remains oblivious. I loved the nods to Darwin and Darwinian evolution (to say any more would not spoil anything other than some of the charm of the post-collapse setting). I'd highly recommend this book, especially to a sci-fi fan, as it was an enjoyable read.