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Three months’ reading June 16, 2009

Posted by thejinx in books.
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… has not equated to much, in my case.

Farthing, Jo Walton – Now over halfway through the ebooks offered in Tor.com‘s pre-launch promotion last year, I reached this alternate history novel taking place in a mid-20th century in which the second World War resolves in a truce with Germany, not victory for the Allies.  The story is a murder mystery surrounding a group of British politicians instrumental to the peace terms with the the Third Reich, along with the London detective who investigates the case.

This book very nearly lost me right after the first chapter, as it set up the main character and narrator for half the novel, an obnoxiously vain and self-centered upperclasswoman, despite her claims and – admittedly – desires not to be.  There was enough of interest to keep me reading, and the first chapter was the worst of it, but I didn’t really enjoy reading most of the novel.  I can appreciate the thought that went into the setting and such, but the story and particularly the characters failed to captivate.  Also, though I hesitate to fault the author this, the writing was almost painfully British, really shoving it down my throat in what seemed to me an equivalent to a flag-waving, gun-toting American saying “y’all” all the time.

It wasn’t a badly written novel, per se, but it certainly wasn’t to my taste and wasn’t what I was looking for in a story, and I wouldn’t recommend it as such.

The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson – Earlier this year, I read Mistborn by this same author, the free ebook of which I also received in the above-mentioned promotion from Tor.com, and I loved it so much that I had to pick up this sequel, and second in the Mistborn trilogy.  Continuing where the first book left off, this book concerns Vin and company’s struggles to continue in the aftermath of the Final Empire, something that is made particularly difficult in the face of the nightly mists turning deadly and multiple besieging armies coming down upon them.

I had high expectations for this book after reading Mistborn, and it did not disappoint.  The story was woven remarkably, the tension and action were amazing, I got to see new sides of characters I had already grown to know and love through the first book, and it was so exciting and unpredictable that at times, I really had a hard time putting it down.  As a writer myself, I can only imagine the amount of preparation it must have taken to weave together every aspect of this novel to make it what it is, and I could go on for pages about everything Sanderson did right here.  I honestly cannot praise this book enough and there is nothing about it that I think could be improved upon.  Like Mistborn, this book is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read, and I recommend it first and foremost to anyone who enjoys reading fiction.

That said, if you plan to read The Well of Ascension, read Mistborn first.  In fact, if you have any intention of reading Mistborn, don’t even read the blurb on the back of The Well of Ascension, as it gives away the entire ending to the first book.  Sanderson did an effective job of making this novel self-contained, as was his intention in an interview I read with him, but of course, all the surprises of Mistborn are given away in short order in the second book, and Mistborn was every bit as amazing as this one, perhaps more so when you have both books leading up to a singular conclusion.  Find an ebook, check the library, borrow from a friend, but seriously, read these books.

Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, William E. Deal – I don’t normally read nonfiction, but I came across this title when I was trying to find a good resource on the topic some few weeks ago and ordered it in to my local library.  As the title suggests, it’s a general guide to the various aspects of life in Japan from 1185-1868, commonly known as the Medieval and early modern periods.

I found this to be a very useful resource with great information on the subject.  It’s more or less an introduction to the topic, without going overly into detail regarding any particular matter, but it provides an excellent basic view of life in Japan and covers every aspect of life that I can think of, including history, warrior culture, demographics, religion, daily life, art and architecture, and more.  The information provided was easily palatable without being dumbed down and each topic was covered pretty evenly.  In addition to the information the book itself provided, each chapter ended with a list of recommended reading for more information on the subject, though some listings I found confusing – occasionally there would be nothing but a date – and along with a bibliography at the end of the book, there was a list of museums outside Japan with notable Japanese collections.

I found this book both very helpful for my own research and a very interesting read on its own merit, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about the subject or even those with a casual interest in it.  In fact, reading it has me interested in some other books listed on the back cover in the Handbook to Life series, such as those on ancient Rome, Aztec, and Renaissance.

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