Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

As 2010 draws to a close it's a time to reflect.  I'm glad to say that I've had a great year with amazing reads along the way.  I just finished reading the last book of the year and with that the total number of books I read in 2010 comes to 112!  Not to shabby since there were times I wasn't sure I could make it to my goal of 100.

I'm already well into my next challenge.  In case you missed it, my goal for 2011 is going to be to read 50,000 pages before 22 December (I couldn't wait for 2010 to officially end so I started a wee bit early).  At the moment I'm 3.65% done with 1862 pages already in the bag.

Here's hoping that 2011 will be an even greater year filled with many inspiring and captivating stories waiting to be discovered...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

50,000 pages reading challenge

This year I managed to read over 100 books (108 and still going) for the 100 books in 2010 challenge.  Since completing a book now lacks that sense of achievement I've decided it's time to start on a new challenge.  This time around I'm going to focus on reading 50,000 pages within a year.

Since page sizes tend to vary from book to book this won't be an exact science, but where possible I'll be reading paperbacks and using the total pages from each paperback.  If I read an eBook I'll be using the stated page numbers for the paperback edition of the same book.

I'm so keen to get going so I've already started the challenge today, so for me it will be running from the 21/12/2010 till 21/12/2011.  In all likelihood I'll be referring to it as my 2011 reading challenge even though it started 10 days early.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Demon Seed

Author: Dean Koontz
Pages: 307
ISBN: 9780425228968
Buy it from The Book Depository

In the privacy of her own home, and against her will, Susan Harris will experience an inconceivable act of terror. She will become the object of the ultimate computer’s consuming obsession: to learn everything there is to know about human flesh.

The Verdict

I’ve had this book in my collection for ages and I just never got round to reading it.  While taking a break from reading lengthy sci-fi I finally picked it up.  I was very pleasantly surprised since this is the first real horror sci-fi I’ve read by Koontz and he does an admirable job.

The story revolves around Adam 2 (or Proteus as he calls himself), a sentient machine intelligence, and his fixation on the wife of his creator.  He traps Susan in her automated home and tries to create a genetically altered baby into which he can transfer his AI consciousness in order to gain a body of his own

The story is told from the viewpoint of Proteus and touches on quite a few problems/desires a sentient AI might have to cope with.  Even though he appears somewhat childlike in some aspects he makes HAL from 2001 look reasonably tame (and sane!) at times.

Since the original story was written in 1973 and later revised in 1997 it’s a story that really was quite a bit ahead of its time.  Even the author doesn't think the 1973 edition was up to scratch, so make sure that you get the revised edition.

Rating 6.5/10

Buy it from The Book Depository

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More new books!

I'm running out of creative titles for my blog posts concerning new arrivals.  It seems I've been overdoing the book buying thing a wee bit during the last month or so.  My orders are arriving almost daily now providing that warm fuzzy "new package" fix.  I wonder if you can get addicted to getting packages...

The books that arrived this time is a simply gorgeous hardcover copy of "The Evolutionary Void" by Peter F. Hamilton from my all-time favourite online booksellers - The Book Depository!  I picked this beauty up for less than half the price it sells for locally.

The other book is "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by JK Rowling.  Not my usual fare, but it was on an incredible sale during the Exclusive Books Flasmob Fire Sale.  Since my reading group are holding a Harry Potter challenge (any Harry Potter book read counts 20 points!)  I just couldn't resist.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New books!

My first package of books ordered from the Exclusive Books Flash Mob Fire Sale.  I'm still waiting for my previous order to arrive but Exclusive Books are apparently working on it.

It seems I'm not the only one experiencing some problems.  Exclusive Books have underestimated the popularity of their sales and have have put future Fire Sales on hold indefinitely.  Hopefully they will be able to sort things out quickly since the Fire Sales were an EXCELLENT idea and I'm sure they gained lots of customers due to the sale.  It would be really be terrible if they don't revive the sale in the future.

Now back to the books.  I think the photo speaks for itself, but for the photographically challenged amongst you the titles I got was:

  • Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
  • blueeyedboy - Joanne Harris
All those for the price of what a normal paperback normally goes for!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Review: Hominids


Author:  Robert J. Sawyer
Pages:  448
ISBN:  9780765345004
Buy it from the Book Depository 

I’ve had Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer on my bookshelf for about a year now and I just never got round to reading it until now.  The Sci-Fi reading challenge I’m participating in provided the ideal opportunity to dig into this ‘alternate history’ tale where two parallel Universes meet.

During a quantum-computing experiment Ponter Bonditt, a Neanderthal physicist, gets transported from a universe where Neanderthals instead of Homo Sapiens become the dominant species.  The story focuses largely on exploring and contrasting modern Neanderthal life with that of humanity.

The lifestyle Sawyer envisages for the Neanderthals is interesting and unique.  In most cases it seems to be a quite plausible imagining of what could have been.  In others instances it pushes your suspension of disbelief to the limits.

This is the first novel in the Neaderthal Parallax, but can be quite easily read as a standalone novel since it’s written in such a way that it contains a complete story in itself and is not just used for setting the stage for the rest of the trilogy.

The Verdict:
I quite enjoyed the novel.  It brings interesting concepts to the table which will provide some food for thought to the average reader.  For those involved in the disciplines discussed in the novel the science and conclusions drawn might show some flaws, but personally I didn’t find it much of a problem.

I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for the rest of the novels in the trilogy.

Rating – 6.5/10

Buy it from the Book Depository 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Even more new books!

After my last book purchase I resolved to stop buying books for the rest of the year.  I'm sad to say that I completely caved into my addiction due to some very tempting pre-Christmas sales and discounts on offer.

The Book Depository is the main culprit.  I've placed not one, but two orders with them after their 10% "Spread the Love" campaign.  The lovely collection of books you see in the pic is the first order which arrived today. 

There's nothing quite like getting some new books through the post, carefully unpacking them and enjoying that distinctive "new book" smell. The downside of course is that I'm now well on my way to having to revert back to horizontal stacking on my bookshelves.  Not to mention that my to-read list keeps piling up!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Getting creative...

Science fiction author Neal Asher asked fans to try their hand at designing some bookmarks using the new cover designs of his novels.  Having some idle time I decided to give it a go.  I'm not a graphic artist, but I think they turned out pretty well. 

Now if only I had a colour printer to see how they look in print...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

100 Books in 2010

At the start of the year I set myself the goal of reading 100 books in 2010.  At times it was tough going, but last Friday, with a WHOLE month to spare, I managed to complete my hundredth book.  What did it accomplish?  Not much aside from providing me with a warm fuzzy feeling of contentment.

So, without further ado - here's my list of titles completed in 2010.

Books read in 2010

  1. The Neutronium Alchemist (Night's Dawn, #2) -    Peter F. Hamilton
  2. The Naked God (Night's Dawn, #3) -   Peter F. Hamilton
  3. 4th of July (Women's Murder Club, #4) -   James Patterson
  4. The 6th Target (Women's Murder Club #6) -   James Patterson
  5. When the Wind Blows -   James Patterson
  6. Thief of Time (Discworld, #26) -   Terry Pratchett
  7. The Lake House -   James Patterson
  8. Pyramids (Discworld, #7) -   Terry Pratchett
  9. The Last Continent (Discworld, #22) -   Terry Pratchett
  10. A is for Alibi (Kinsey Millhone, #1)  -  Sue Grafton
  11. Act Of War (Jason Richter, #1)  -  Dale Brown
  12. The 5th Horseman (Women's Murder Club, #5)  -  James Patterson
  13. Cat & Mouse (Alex Cross, #4) -   James Patterson
  14. Night Watch (Discworld, #29)   - Terry Pratchett
  15. Pop Goes the Weasel (Alex Cross,#5)  -   James Patterson
  16. Roses Are Red (Alex Cross, #6)  -  James Patterson
  17. The Infinite Sea (The Chaos Chronicles, #3)  -  Jeffrey A. Carver
  18. 7th Heaven (Women's Murder Club, #7) -   James Patterson
  19. The 8th Confession (Women's Murder Club, #8) -   James Patterson
  20. Without Fail (Jack Reacher Series, #6) -   Lee Child
  21. Bad Luck and Trouble (Jack Reacher Series, #11) -   Lee Child
  22. Against a Dark Background -   Iain M. Banks
  23. Shadows  -  Shaun Hutson
  24. Step on a Crack (Michael Bennett, #1)  -  James Patterson
  25. Sail  -  James Patterson
  26. Persuader (Jack Reacher Series, #7) -   Lee Child
  27. The Enemy (Jack Reacher Series, #8) -   Lee Child
  28. Don't Kiss Them Good-bye  -  Allison DuBois
  29. The Blue Nowhere  -  Jeffery Deaver
  30. Chosen Prey (Lucas Davenport, #12) -   John Sandford
  31. Ghosts of Onyx (Halo) -   Eric S. Nylund
  32. Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1) -   Kim Stanley Robinson
  33. The Wasp Factory -   Iain M. Banks
  34. Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker's Guide, #5)  -  Douglas Adams
  35. Thirteen Steps Down  -  Ruth Rendell
  36. Dead Men  -  Stephen Leather
  37. Cry for Help  -  Steve Mosby
  38. The Cutting Crew -   Steve Mosby
  39. Circle of the Dead  -  Ingrid Black
  40. Echo Park (Harry Bosch, #12) -  Michael Connelly
  41. Compulsion (Alex Delaware Series, #22) -   Jonathan Kellerman
  42. The Red Dahlia (Anna Travis Mystery, #2)  -  Lynda La Plante
  43. The Woods -   Harlan Coben
  44. The Narrows (Harry Bosch, #10) -   Michael Connelly
  45. Dead Run -   P.J. Tracy
  46. The Way of Shadows (Night Angel, #1) -   Brent Weeks
  47. The Last Coyote (Harry Bosch, #4) -   Michael Connelly
  48. Above Suspicion (Anna Travis Mystery, #1)  -  Lynda La Plante
  49. Shadow's Edge (Night Angel, #2) -   Brent Weeks
  50. Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel, #3) -   Brent Weeks
  51. London Bridges (Alex Cross, #10) -    James Patterson
  52. Live Fire (Dan Shepherd Mystery)  -  Stephen Leather
  53. Unseen Academicals  -  Terry Pratchett
  54. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)  -  Stieg Larsson
  55. The Girl Who Played with Fire -   Stieg Larsson
  56. Spider Light -   Sarah Rayne
  57. Along Came a Spider  -  James Patterson
  58. You've Been Warned  -  James Patterson
  59. Book of the Dead (Angel)  -  Ashley McConnell
  60. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void  -  Mary Roach
  61. The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)  -  Brent Weeks
  62. Flashforward  -  Robert J. Sawyer
  63. The Portable Door  -  Tom Holt
  64. The Algebraist -   Iain M. Banks
  65. Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow -   David Gemmell
  66. Haunted (Angel)  -  Jeff Mariotte
  67. Troy: Shield of Thunder (Troy, #2)  -  David Gemmell
  68. The Final Warning (Maximum Ride, #4) -   James Patterson
  69. Conspiracy in Death (In Death, #8)  -  J.D. Robb
  70. Zoo City -   Lauren Beukes
  71. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Millennium, #3)  -  Stieg Larsson
  72. Retribution  -  Jilliane Hoffman
  73. Good Guy, The -  Dean Koontz
  74. Shadow Command  -  Dale Brown
  75. Flesh and Bone -   Jefferson Bass
  76. The Elves of Cintra (Genesis of Shannara, #2)   - Terry Brooks
  77. The Gypsy Morph (Genesis of Shannara, #3)  -  Terry Brooks
  78. Jack and Jill   - James Patterson
  79. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Five Star Paperback) -   Lionel Shriver
  80. 2061: Odyssey Three   -  Arthur C. Clarke
  81. Nemesis  -  Isaac Asimov
  82. Dark Matter  -  Greg Iles
  83. Encounters  -  Isaac Asimov
  84. Rollback -   Robert J. Sawyer
  85. Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) -   Orson Scott Card
  86. 1984 -   George Orwell
  87. I, Robot  -  Isaac Asimov
  88. Extinction -   Ray Hammond
  89. The Cloud  -  Ray Hammond
  90. Frankenstein -   Mary Shelley
  91. The Mirrored Heavens -   David J. Williams
  92. Fahrenheit 451 -   Ray Bradbury
  93. Old Man's War -    John Scalzi
  94. Oryx and Crake  -  Margaret Atwood
  95. Perdido Street Station   -  China Mieville
  96. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy  -   Douglas Adams
  97. Men at Arms   -      Terry Pratchett
  98. The Windup Girl   -     Paolo Bacigalupi
  99. Solitary Man    -     Jeff Mariotte
  100. The Time Machine  -  H.G. Wells

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Science Fiction Reading Challenge

It's been quite some time since my last post.  Some of you might have thought that I fell victim to an alien abduction or some other type of dastardly deed.  No need to worry.  I'm perfectly fine. The reason for my absence is due to my participation in the South African Book Lover's Science Fiction Reading challenge.

The aim of the challenge is to complete the following tasks within a year (starting from 1 November 2010):

1. Sci fi based on mythology
2. Biopunk
3. Read a book classified as Steampunk
4. Read a Sci-Fi Thriller
5. Read some Space Opera
6. Read something by Isaac Asimov
7. Read a book that has a Alien or Aliens
8. Cyberpunk
9. Short stories. SF is a big short story genre, with some of the most exciting, inventive tales out there, so read a collection of sf short stories.
10. Read a Sci-Fi dystopia
11. Read hard sci-fi: Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both
12. Read military sci-fi
13. Read a sci-fi that a prominent movie was based on
14. Read Romance and Sexuality in sci-fi
15. Read a sci-fi published between 2000-2010
16. Read a sci-fi that has Robots/Companion bots etc. in them
17. Read a Sci-fi that has a authoritarian state/government
18. Read a Sci-Fi set on both Earth and another planet
19. Read a YA Sci-Fi
20. Sci fi about an ecological disaster (on Earth or any other planet)
21. Read sci fi that's won either the Hugo or the Nebula award
22. Read a sci-fi book which involves or includes elements of nature (i.e. plants or animals)
23. Read a sci-fi book which involves or includes time travel
24. Read an alternate history novel
25. Read any Golden Age Sci-fi author (excluding Asimov)

Since I'm also attempting to finish reading 100 novels for the year I'm spending all my free time reading like crazy.  I've still got 11 novels to go to meet the 100 novel deadline and I'm trying to see how far I can get on the Sci-Fi challenge by the end of December.

That leaves very little time to actually sit down and compose blog entries.  Hopefully once everything settles down I'll be able to put up some reviews of books I've finished for the various challenges.  If not I'll have to resort to posting some brief ratings as a last resort.

Now I need to get back to some reading...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: The Elves of Cintra

Author:  Terry Brooks
Pages:  374pp
ISBN 9780345484130
Buy it from The Book Depository

Fifty years from now, our world looks very different.  Governments have fallen.  Thousands live in fortified strongholds; others roam the landscape as either predator or prey.  Standing against the forces that have tipped the balance from good to evil are a very few heroes:  men and women imbued with powerful magic and sworn to a high destiny.

Logan Tom is one of those heroes.  He's on a desperate quest to deliver the street kids he rescued in Seattle to safety.  So, too, is Angel Perez, who is leading a second group in the Oregon wilderness where she encounters the long-hidden Elves of Cintra.  And Hawk - just learning his magic - has an encounter with the mystical King of the Silver River, who promises safety for both humans and elves - if only they can reach him...

It’s been a little over a year since I read “Armageddon’s Children” the first novel in the “Genesis of Shannara” trilogy by Terry Brooks.  I normally enjoy reading all the novels in a trilogy in one go, but at that time the library only had the first novel available.  I was pleasantly surprised when, during my latest library excursion, I noticed “The Elves of Cintra” and “The Gypsy Morph” on the shelves and immediately grabbed them so I could finish the trilogy.

They say time heals all wounds, but something else it’s very good at is making you forget what happened in the novels you have read previously.  Unlike most novels in a series, “The Elves of Cintra” doesn’t include a handy summary of the events in the preceding book, so I struggled to pick up the storyline and I had only a vague recollection of the characters and events in the first novel.

The story picks up where “Armageddon’s Children” ended and follows the Ghosts, a group of children, and Logan Tom , a knight of the Word, as they try to survive in a decimated world where demons and other horrible creatures roam.  Like the title would indicate it also adds another group of characters to the mix – the elves of Cintra.  These include Erisha, Kirisin, Simralin and Angel Perez, a human and also a knight of the Word, who joins the elves in their task to find the lost Elf stones in order to protect the Ellcrys, a magical tree that acts as a barrier against the Forbidding where the demons are locked away.

The focus is largely on the Elves and their search for the Elf stones, but jumps between the two groups on their separate journeys that will ultimately lead them to the same destination.  One interesting aspect is the flashbacks that most of the characters have of their past.  This fleshes out the characters more and helps the reader understand their background a bit more.

The Verdict:

“The Elves of Cintra” is a dark fantasy novel.  It depicts a cruel world where every day is a struggle for survival and even the heroes of the tale can’t magically snap their fingers to make everything right.  They also have to struggle through each day and make some very difficult decisions.

The characters are endearing and you quickly find yourself growing very attached to the members of the Ghosts.  The Elves are somewhat less likeable, but I think that’s mainly due to them playing a much smaller role in the first novel so you don’t have that much history with them.

The novel features some gripping battles that keep you wanting more.  The ending is not a huge cliff-hanger like in the first novel, but it will still keep you wanting to find out what happens next.

My major caveat is the names of some of the characters.  Some of the names feel as if they were an afterthought cobbled together by finding interesting names in a telephone book.  A brief recap of the events in the previous novel would also have gone a long way in refreshing my memory and I’m sure lots of other readers would have appreciated a recap too.

In the end this is a captivating fantasy novel.  It could almost pass as a YA novel with the major characters being teenagers.  Some of the storyline seems clichéd, but in the end it’s the details and vivid picture of a devestated world that Terry Brooks paints that makes it a good read.

Rating:  6.5/10

Buy it from The Book Depository

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Review: Flesh and Bone

Since I live in a small town our local library is also appropriately proportioned having a limited selection.  Now if you are a voracious reader like I am it's very easy to exhaust their collection.  I'm finding it more and more difficult to find something to read which I haven't already read  and which falls somewhat within the genres I like.

During my most recent visit to the library I had to resort to "random grabbing" after spending more than thirty minutes fruitlessly browsing (in a small library!) for something new.  The cover of "Flesh and Bone" caught my eye and I took it home.

Flesh and Bone

Author:  Jefferson Bass
Pages:  400pp
ISBN 9781847242808
Buy it from the Book Depository

Dr. Bill Brockton, the founder of the world-famous Body Farm, is hard at work on a troubling new case. A young man's battered body has been found in nearby Chattanooga, and it's up to the talented Dr. Brockton to assemble the pieces of the forensic puzzle. Brockton is brought into the case by the rising star of the state's mechanical examiners, Jess Carter. 

Just as they're on the verge of breaking the case open, events take a terrifying turn. Brockton has re-created the Chattanooga death scene at the Body Farm, but a killer tampers with it in a shocking way: placing another corpse at the setting, confusing authorities and putting Brockton's career and life in jeopardy. Soon Brockton himself is accused of the horrific new crime, and the once-beloved professor becomes an outcast. As the net around him tightens, Brockton must use all of his forensic skills to prove his own innocence . . . before he ends up behind bars with some of the very killers he's helped to convict. 

The Verdict:

I must say I was very pleasantly surprised and learned quite a few things too.  The author, Jefferson Bass, is actually a pseudonym for the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, founded the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility, the Body Farm, where human decomposition is studied by letting donated cadavers decompose naturally under various conditions.

Ever wondered how the folks on CSI (and for that matter the real police force) can get such accurate estimates of the time of death of victims?  Well, it's all thanks to the extensive work done in the real world Body Farm where the various stages of human decomposition and the related insect infestations are carefully cataloged for comparison purposes.

The intricate forensic knowledge of the author shines through in "Flesh and Bone" and makes for an interesting and compelling read.  At times it can become somewhat gruesome but the realism just adds to the story.  The characters are believable and later in the story you really feel empathy for the loss Dr Brockton suffers.

The creationist subtext is excellently handled and gives voice to a real world debate without becoming preachy.

I finished this novel in one go.  You are kept guessing about the identity of the killer until the last moment and what an interesting (if somewhat predictable) twist it is!

Highly recommended for any crime/forensic anthropology fans who are interested in how things really work.  I will definitely be on the lookout for more of the Body Farm novels.

Rating: 7/10

Buy it from the Book Depository

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New arrival: Surface Detail

I pre-ordered Surface Detail from The Book Depository at the end of August.  Since it was a pre-order I had to wait till the release date of the book, but since The Book Depository discounts pre-orders it was well worth the wait.

The book was dispatched on the 4th of October and I picked it up today from the Post Office.  That's a turnaround time of just 7 working days!  Excellent service as usual.

The hardback version is simply gorgeous!  It has an amazing fractal pattern affect on the front cover and inside pages which the photo simply can't do justice to.  At $9.74 it was also an absolute steal. 

The only downside is that it will take me ages to round to reading it.  At least until then I can keep staring at the stunning cover!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: Zoo City

Author:  Lauren Beukes
Pages:  384pp
ISBN 978 0 85766 054 1
Buy it from the Book Depository

Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things.
To save herself, she’s got to find the hardest thing of all: the truth.

Lauren Beukes has an astonishing talent with words.  She uses words like a painter uses paint and does it exceedingly well.  In “Zoo City” she creates a vivid version of contempary Johannesburg.  A Johannesburg where magic and muti is real and where Hillbrow (the Zoo City in the title) is a haven for ‘animalled’ people.  The ‘animalled’ are people  who due to their sinful deeds are magically tethered to an animal companion.

It is believed that the animal is a physical manifestation of their sins – their cross to bear for all the world to see.   Separation from their animal companion causes extreme pain so they are forced to take the animal with them wherever they go.  The animal companion also acts as protection against the Undertow, a physical manifestation of darkness (hell?) that comes to claim the person when their animal dies.

The main character, Zinzi December, in one of the ‘animalled’ (a zoo in slang).  She has a sloth on her back – literally!  It isn’t all bad though, each ‘animalled’ has a special talent.  In Zinzi’s case it’s the ability to find missing things.  She uses this talent to make a living by finding lost items, charging a reasonable fee for their return.  That’s of course when she isn’t busy running a 419 scam in order to pay off her drug debts.

Events conspire against her and she is roped in to finding a missing singer for Huron, an eccentric music producer with a shady past.  While on the case she stumbles across something far more sinister, something that could cost her her life… 

The Verdict:

This was the first time I read something by Lauren Beukes.  I’ve been meaning to get Moxyland when it was first released, but never got round to it. 

Zoo City is very well written and populated with vibrant characters and situations.  It depicts real world problems that are still prevalent in South Africa – the homeless, drug abuse and discrimination.  The dialogue is witty, full of pop-culture references.  Best of all it contains quite a few uniquely South African terms and sayings which was refreshing to see.

The story and concept is captivating.  While it does seem to be heavily inspired by Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” it is given a unique enough twist to keep things interesting.  Some elements, like the Undertow, could have been better explored.  At the start you are left with no clue why people have animals following them around, but gradually things start to make sense.  Some sort of explanation closer to the start of the novel might have been less confusing.  The ending is also somewhat of a letdown, but leaves enough room for a possible sequel. 

Zoo City is definitely recommended for fans of Urban fantasy.  It is a riveting read that kept me turning the pages and forced me to finish it in a single day.

Rating: 7/10

Buy it from the Book Depository

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jupiter and the Great Red Spot

The last couple of weeks I've been in a reading slump.  I just can't seem to concentrate on reading.  I'll start reading a book and then after the first 30 or so pages loose interest.  It's not the book's fault, it's just that I'm not in a reading mood.

So in an attempt to get my mind on something else and perhaps reawaken my reading appetite I've been focusing a bit more on my astronomy hobby.  In particular getting some more imaging done.

So, without any further needless verbosity I'm proud to present an image of Jupiter and three of its moons.  These were taken under less than ideal conditions, but turned out reasonably well.

If you look very closely at Jupiter you'll be able to spot the Great Red Spot.  Something else to take notice of is that Jupiter only has one belt at the moment (the dark brownish colored band to the lower right of the image).  The Southern equatorial belt has disappeared, but it will make an eventual return.  The cause of this phenomenon isn't known and it is interesting to keep an eye on Jupiter to see when the SEB will appear again.

Jupiter was also at opposition on the 21st of September, which means that it is on the opposite side of the Sun and that the Earth is between the two.  It is also the closest distance to the Earth since 1963, at a mere 592 million kilometers!

So fellow bookworms, don't miss out on this chance to see Jupiter at its brightest.  Go outside and look to the East.  Jupiter will be the brightest "star" you can see rising from 20:00 onwards.  If you have binoculars give spotting the Galilean moons a go.  If you are lucky you should see four bright dots surrounding the planet's disc. These are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, the four largest and brightest moons surrounding Jupiter.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Review: The Final Warning

I grabbed this book on impulse at the local library.  Since it’s a pretty small library I always struggle to find books I haven’t already read.  I generally like James Patterson’s work (or more correctly the work by him and his collaborators) so I didn’t pay much attention to the book description.

When I got home I home I discovered that it was actually a YA novel, and the fourth novel in the Maximum Ride series.  Having read When the Wind Blows and The Lake House, I thought it might still be interesting to see what happens to Max since the character and concept of genetically modified children was originally used in those two novels.

Great was my disappointment when I opened the first page and found a note to the reader that states that the Max in this novel is not the Max in the original novels, even though some characters even have the same traits, similar names and, seemingly, a very similar background.  Uhm, ok…

Since I haven’t read any of the earlier Maximum Ride novels I got dumped into the deep end.  The novel follows the adventures of a Flock of genetically modified kids who all have the ability to fly (the exact same concept as in When the Wind Blows!).  The Final Warning is largely told from the viewpoint of Max (a 14 year old girl, and the flock leader) and is interspersed with blog entries by Fang, also 14 and seemingly Max’s awkward love interest.  The other characters are Iggy (a blind boy, the same as the Icarus character in When the Wind Blows), Nudge, Gasman, Angel and Total (a talking dog!).

The Flock joins a scientific expedition in order to help save the world from global warming.  They travel to Antarctica where they will help the scientists to gather data.  While there they are captured by the ever present villains - the Uber-Director, his Frankenstein-like henchman, Gozen and their robot minions.

The paper thin plot revolves around the subject of global warming albeit in an extremely contrived manner with characters voicing clichés or spouting facts related to how bad the situation is.  Even the final conflict between the Flock and the Uber-Director is magically resolved by ‘forces of nature’ attributed to global warming.  This almost seems like a flimsily disguised “Inconvenient Truth” aimed at fooling teens into learning about global warming by following the adventures of their favorite book characters.

Very young readers might find this a satisfying read, but if you aren’t in your tweens you will quickly get tired of the preachy tone and a storyline where, ultimately, nothing much happens.  The ending leaves you completely unfulfilled, almost like eating candy floss when you are starving.

Rating: 4/10 
Read it if you have a few hours to kill, but don’t expect much.

Buy it from the Book Depository

Monday, September 13, 2010

Even more new books!

The second half of my Book Depository order arrived today, so I'm over the moon. There are quite a few new authors in there that I want to try out, but it's going to be a while before I actually get around to reading them.  I guess that goes with having an ever increasing to-read list!

 But wait!  That's not all.  Another package was also waiting for me at the Post Office.  I wonder what it could be?

Another collection of books!  These are some secondhand copies I picked up from an online auction site.  They are in great condition and the price was low enough to convince me to overspend on my book budget (yet again!).

So now I have eleven new arrivals to find some space for.  I really should get a MUCH larger bookshelf sometime soon!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Venus Occultation

This is not book related, but it's still very cool.  One of my other hobbies is amateur astronomy.  On Saturday, 11 September 2010, South Africa was in an ideal location to view a rare occultation of Venus by the Moon.

 Occultation is just a fancy way of saying that one celestial objects seems to disappear behind another.  In this case it was Venus that disappeared behind the Moon.  One added benefit was that it made it extremely easy to see Venus during the daytime as a bright dot of light.

I managed to capture a few images, but since this happened very close to the Sun conditions weren't ideal resulting in images that seems a bit washed out.

Using some carefully selected still images and compiling them into a video gives a good idea of what it looked liked.  So if you missed it here's your chance to see it for yourself!

Friday, September 10, 2010

New books!

Look what the postman delivered today (ok, to be truthful I had to go collect them at the Post Office after getting a notification) - more books to add to my already huge "To Read" pile.

The Book Depository delivers yet again.  I know I'm starting to sound like a walking advertisement for them, but they are really awesome.  Can't wait for the rest of my order to arrive.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: The Black Prism

Buy it now
I stumbled upon the The Night Angel Trilogy while browsing for something to read at my local library.  I've never heard about Brent Weeks so I decided to give a new author a try.

I wasn't expecting much, but after finishing the first book in the series I was completely hooked.  There's something about Brent's writing style that is just completely captivating and the worlds and characters he creates are amazing.

I finished the first book in a single day and rushed back to the library for more, only to be told that the rest of the books had been destroyed in a recent fire.  I just had to know what happens next, so I immediately went home and bought the ebooks and the rest of the series was absolutely amazing.  If you haven't read The Night Angel Trilogy you definitely should.  It's one of the best fantasy series I've read in a long time, and comes highly recommended.

As soon as  The Black Prism was released, I just had to have it.  I went the ebook route since I didn't even want to wait for the physical book to be delivered.  Once again Brent Weeks delivered the goods.

If you enjoyed the Night Angel Trilogy you will love The Black Prism. Brent Weeks brings a completely new world to life with one of the most innovative magic systems I’ve seen to date. All magic sprouts from the manipulation of light. Each color has different properties and can be used to different effect or even combined in interesting ways. Some mages (drafters) are able to use more than one color, but only one, The Prism, has access to all the colors.

The characters are endearing and the banter between them is quite funny at times. Once the groundwork for the world, magic system and politics are established the book really starts to get interesting. I almost finished it in one sitting and as the end got closer I started wishing for more pages!

It's difficult to discuss the book and the characters without giving anything away, so I won't go into any detail at all.  Read it for yourself to see what happens, just be warned that there are some unexpected twists and turns, and there is no black and white separation between good and evil.

The only downside is that, unlike the Night Angel Trilogy, the rest of the books in the series still need to be written, so it’s a much longer wait to find out what happens next. (Brent, if you stumble across this, please hurry and finish the rest!)


I can't recommended this highly enough.  Brent Weeks is one of the best fantasy authors in a long time.  Each of his novels brings something new to the table and The Black Prism is no exception.

Buy it from The Book Depository

Rating: 9/10 

Zoo City Trailer

Check out the amazing trailer for Zoo City the newest novel from fellow South African, Lauren Beukes (author of Moxyland).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Review: The Algebraist

I normally love reading Iain M. Banks' novels and I'm currently busy with The Algebraist.  Unfortunately this seems to be an extremely slow read.  I'm a third into the book and it really hasn't captured my attention yet.

The complexity of the alien cultures and hierarchy of the different organizations at play (accompanied by the obligatory explanations and history lessons) seem to bog down the story considerably.

Hopefully it can only get better from here on out...

3 Days Later...
Somewhere in the middle I almost gave up, but persevered. Normally I love Bank's work, but this one was just a bit too slow, with nothing much happening except for dialogue/descriptions of history/political/religion lessons.

The last 120 pages or so did redeem it and was much more enjoyable. In the end the concepts presented where interesting, but some story-lines could easily have been left out.

The villain, seems to pop in for two or three brief and gruesome appearances and then disappears without any trace or a gratifying well-deserved demise at the end.

Overall this is one of the novels that didn't impress me much.  There are interesting concepts locked away within the volumes of text but are largely left unexplored.  The true downfall is that the pace of the book is just too slow to make it a gripping read.  At times you are left wishing that something interesting would happen already.

Buy it from The Book Depository

Rating - 6/10