24 June 2013

A Dance With Dragons

Author: George R.R. Martin
Series:  A Song Of Ice and Fire, book 5
Year published: 2011
Pages: 1300, over two volumes
Time It Took To Read: Three days
Alas that I have finished the published books for now. Alas. I'll be dreaming of flying round on the backs of dragons for ages now.  This book picks up pretty much exactly where Feast for Crows left off, following the different paths of the multiple main characters. The first half concentrates on the action around King's Landing and the second half concentrates on the South and the wall. The two join up towards the end of the second part. 
People you think are going for the long haul die, others reappear when they shouldn't, and someone finally gets a little comeuppance. But the reason I love these books is because there is no linear action-judgement-consequence. Someone does something vile and gets off scot free. Someone else leads an apparently good life and suffers all manner of hell. Nobody is wholly good or bad (though some are wholly stupid) but it doesn't matter if what they are - if they're in the way of the story, they die.GRRM is a twisted puppet master.
Hopefully, Winds of Winter will be released next year and I won't have to writhe in expectation waiting for it for six years.
If you haven't read these books, and you like fantasy or sagas, and you think you'll enjoy them, try and read them all consecutively. It gives you a much better idea of who's who, family trees (the appendices help, but they're not very well written) and WHY things happen. I read the series with long gaps between books 1 and 2, and 3 and 4 and it made somewhat disjointed reading, while I tried to remember who was who. I will re-read the lot when the next one comes out.

Book count: 29/50

17 June 2013

A Feast For Crows

Author: George R.R. Martin
Series:  A Song Of Ice and Fire, book 4
Year published: 2005
Pages: 778 + appendices
Time It Took To Read: Three days
Oh, Game of Thrones! Oh, George R.R. Martin! Oh, misery! Oh, death! Oh, despair!
I read the first three SoIaF  books last year, on recommendation from multiple sources. The first one took ages to get into, the second was a bit slow going, the third was a neverending, heart wrenching tale of WOE. This is similar to the third. GRRM does not pull his punches. He's not writing a fairy story. It is difficult to fathom whether anyone will get a happy ending, at this point, especially considering he's writing another two volumes of the series, and writes them on a slow timescale.
It's difficult to know where to start when describing this series. It is set in a massive, realistic world. The scope of it is enormous. The amount of central characters is huge - nobody's story is really secondary. Instead of there being one protagonist, there are loads, and they are regularly killed off. Considering most fantasy work is based around one or two characters, who you know are almost certain to survive, it can be quite jarring. GRRM will not be second guessed, as anyone who saw the recent Red Wedding episode of the show can tell you. Imagine Lord of the Rings, but with more sex, and with Frodo brutally murdered halfway to Rivendell, and you may have a bit of an idea of what kind of epic you're dealing with. I don't actually watch the TV series, because of plot differences and the fact the TV show might give away things I haven't read yet.

This book concentrates on half the characters, with a note at the end explaining that there was just too much to fit in one book, so the other half of characters are in the next volume. I don't want to tell you WHO it concentrates on because I can't remember if there's a question mark over their deaths in the first few books, but I don't think I'm giving much away when I say this book is mostly concerned with the Lannisters, the Starks and the Ironborn. There are brutal murders, plots that seem straight out of the court of Henry VIII, religion, and lots of misery. Nobody is happy, nobody is safe and there seems no end to the endless suffering in the realm. And I love it. I saved the last three books to read after my exam, partly to stop myself becoming wholly entrenched, partly to give myself a goal. I started reading this literally as soon as I got home after the exam. It can be quite difficult to follow the myriad plot threads, especially when they cross over, but there are full character lists in the appendix of each book.
I prefer A Storm of Swords to this one, but I think that's because all the characters are involved (and it was SLIGHTLY less relentlessly grim). I would've been quite pissed off had I bought A Feast for Crows when it was released and had to wait six years to find out what happens to everyone else in A Dance With Dragons. As it is, A Dance With Dragons is sitting next to me, and I'm about to start reading. SQUEE for these books. SQUEE for them, and their refusal to comply with the usual fiction tropes of a happy ending, or hope, or even a little bit of happiness. SQUEE for complicated characters! SQUEE for female characters with actual plot! SQUEE for fantasy treating its readership as intelligent adults, not teenagers, with no knowing wink!
Squee indeed.

Book Count: 28/50

7 June 2013

Procrastinating? Moi?

So, I decided my fifty books should all be books I hadn't read before. Otherwise, there's no challenge for me. I'd just re-read the top two shelves of my bookcases and be done.
Now, thus far, this hasn't been a problem. However, with my exam looming in less than a week, I shouldn't be reading anything other than endless coursebooks about health. Health, health, health. Where everything you'd think is a good thing is actually bad, and they use big words like salutogenesis and iatrogenesis and expect you to understand and recite their  meaning verbatim (a paradigm of wellness in spite of disease, and medicine making you worse, in case you were wondering). Reading for pleasure at this point in time comes with a whopping great side order of GUILT and PROCRASTINATION. So, I've not really been doing much of it.
I've been reading magazines. Mainly the Radio Times, because I prefer reading about telly to watching it, but also cardmaking, Private Eye and food magazines, because I am crafty, snarky and greedy.
I've also been re-reading a few old favourite books. First, The Lord of The Rings because reading The Hobbit made me yearn for all that hobbity action, and elvish bollocks. Then The Pillars Of Hercules by Paul Theroux, which is a travel book about a man who meanders around the edge of the Mediterranean, carping furiously at everything. I love him. I also read French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David. She really started the food revolution in this country after rationing ended, introducing garlic as a non-terrifying foodstuff, and increasing interest in things like pasta. Her books are poetry, and her recipes all seem pretty legit. I admit, I read them for the food porn rather than as a manual.
Currently, I am reading...slyly and guiltily... Sunrise With Seamonsters by Paul Theroux, which is a collection of his journalism. It's mostly based around travel and other writers, and covers the first twenty years of his career. I'm also reading, less guiltily, The Art of Eating by M.F.K Fisher. If you have never heard of Mary Kennedy Frances Fisher, you are MISSING OUT. She was basically the US's version of Elizabeth David, waxing lyrical about French food and inspiring two post-war generations (she started writing between the World Wards) to eat better. The Art of Eating is an anthology of her first five books, and her autobiographical The Gastronomical Me is one of the best examples of food writing I've ever read. It is delicious. I am evangelising. Go read.

So, in a week, I start on the enormous pile of fantasy books waiting for me. After seeing the reaction of TV viewers to The Game Of Thrones Red Wedding, I can't wait.  And I really can't wait to get this hateful exam done... Where was I? Prevention...is it better than cure? Probably not... *sigh*