The “Grand” Book List

Hello! I hope you all had a great Christmas. I had a very very stressful week of work followed by two days of festive rest, but I’m back for one of the final posts of 2012, in which I list the books I read this year, followed by a brief review. It’s only a short list, don’t worry!

So, I managed to read 21 books this year. Not that great, but, more than I read last year. And that list includes the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series, which we all know, is an absolute mammoth. Without further ado, here it is:

A quick note to say that I won’t be uploading any book covers due to copyright laws and the usual. Also, I’ll avoid spoilers at all costs!

1. The Infernal City – Greg Keyes 

Having been a fan of the Elder Scrolls video games since 2006, I was eager to read the first novel set in the world of Tamriel. Though the book was well-written and the setting was depicted decently from the visual written to the medium, I found the characters to be dull and uninspiring, and the plot, which included a flying city, to be rather unbelievable. The story was surprisingly dark, but failed to keep me interested and I admit to rushing through it just to get to the rather disappointing end. I think I’ll stick to the games.

2/5

2. The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde (And Other Tales of Terror) – Robert Louis Stevenson

I really wanted to read more of the classics this year, especially the Gothic ones; after reading Dracula and Frankenstein last year, I thought Stevenson’s tale of a split-personality would be the next logical step. I found the tale engaging and thought-provoking, though a little tenuous at times. I both sympathised and was horrified by the character of Hyde, whose experiments leave him barely a shell of the man he was. However, it was the other two short stories that really left me astounded. Olalla, a vampire-story far removed from the sickening Twilight, and The Body Snatcher, were interesting stories that I found inspiring despite their dark sensibilities, the latter especially. Oh, and the twist at the end of The Body Snatcher had me literally shivering!

3/5 for the main story. 4/5 for the extra short stories.

3. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne

Another classic, one that I wanted to read after viewing the portrayal of Captain Nemo in the 2003 movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I liked that Verne’s original character wasn’t much of a hero at all, yet admittedly, that’s one of the very few things I remember about this book. I found it a little dull, pouring through it in a single afternoon knowing that after any time away, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself back into it. One thing I did like, though, was the whole science-fiction element of the submarine. I can see how it’s become one of those timeless novels, but it just wasn’t for me.

2/5

4. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Surprisingly, this is the first Gaiman novel I’ve ever read. Despite the audience of the story being a little younger than myself, I found the whole thing rather entertaining. The story was beautifully written, and the protagonist, Bod, was both likeable and relatable. The plot-lines were sometimes less engaging than I’d hoped, but as the novel drew to a close, I felt as if I was experiencing the last few days with an old friend, all the while knowing that all our good times were soon to end.

4/5

5. The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing – Various Authors

This writing manual was lent to me by a tutor at college, and though the articles inside were dated (I don’t even think the book is available anymore), they were relevant and still informative for a young writer like myself.

4/5

6. Revelation – C.J. Sansom

I was instantly drawn to the beautiful cover art of this book, and hooked when the premise involved the Tudor era, one of my favourite sections of British History. I bought it, only to discover that it was the fourth in a series of murder mysteries. Fortunately, the genre meant  that I would be able to read it as a stand-alone work, which I did. The story had a very slow start, but Sansom’s portrayal of the distant era is so beautifully and disgustingly real that I had to carry on. I’m glad I did, the mystery was elegantly done, and the reveal as surprising and thought-provoking as any reveal should be. The setting, London bathed in snow as a number of gruesome murders occur, was brilliantly done.

5/5

7. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

After hearing so many good things about this series, I knew it would be a matter of time before I finally picked them up. Despite the criticisms that Martin often receives: too many characters, bad editing, too damn long… I thought the novel was akin to a severe drug addiction. I couldn’t put it down, and didn’t want to. Martin’s dialogue is as sharp as a sword-point, his characterisation just about perfect. I finished the book with high hopes for the rest of the series. The perfect fantasy novel in that, despite the dragons, magic and raven messengers, it is such a great reflection of human nature in terms of power, strength and above all, family.

5/5

8. Dissolution – C.J. Sansom

After Revelation, it was inevitable that I would turn to where the Shardlake Series begins, with Sansom’s first mystery. The story is set around the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537. Sansom once again manages to weave in all the historical intrigue and political machinations at the time, with a murder mystery executed so perfectly you’d wonder whether he was the killer himself.

4/5

9. A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin

Returning to Martin’s series, I was excited to read the next instalment. Though it had its slow moments, everything I loved about the previous book returned in the second – finely crafted battles, characters that jumped from the page, all the twists and turns of a roller-coaster. Though it didn’t reach the dazzling heights of A Game of Thrones, it was an exciting read, one that ensured I was firmly hooked on Martin’s world.

4/5

10/11.  A Storm of Swords – George R.R Martin

Though I read the book in the two parts that they are published here in the UK, I’ll review them together. The first part of Martin’s third offering was one of the dullest reads of the year – the plot was incredibly slow-going, the characters lacklustre in comparison to the previous books. I held tight, though, in hope that the second half would dazzle me again. And it did. Blood and Gold, as the second part is known, is full of gruesome twists and turns as the political madness turns even more violent. There was a point in this book when I doubted whether I had the emotional breadth to carry on – if you’ve read it, you’ll know – but I had to. If anything, this book showed me that no character, no matter how loved, is safe from Martin’s noose.

3/5 for Steel and Snow. 5/5 for Blood and Gold.

12. A Feast for Crows – George R.R. Martin

-sigh. What happened, Martin? In the wake of A Storm of Sword’s devastating conclusions, the fourth should have been amazing. But the plot loses momentum as the once-raging war calms, opening up for even more plotting and corruption amongst the ruling families of Westeros. One of the characters had a brilliant arc, showing a subtle descent into madness so perfectly executed by Martin, but it was clear that the series had reached that infamous middle. A true test for all readers.

3/5

13 – Weirdo. Mosher. Freak. – Catherine Smyth

Taking a much needed break from Martin’s series, I came across this book in a friend’s bookcase. The case of Sophie Lancaster, murdered by a thugs in park attracted attention across the world for the needless violence it brought about. Living not five minutes from the scene of the murder, and having met the author many times, I thought, why not? The murder, and the events leading up to and after it, were well-documented by Smyth. She succeeds in painting a harrowing picture of today’s reality, one made scarier by the fact that I live exactly where she is talking about.

4/5

14 – A Street Cat Named Bob – James Bowen

The story of a cat who turns an ex-drug addict’s life around. It sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? Well, I read the book with an opened mind, and ended it with opened eyes. The story, though it isn’t a story at all, it’s all real, was a great view into how hard other people’s lives can be, especially when drugs are involved. Though James’ redemption through the cat, Bob, was perhaps a little overblown at times, it truly was a heart-warming tale. And something I desperately needed after reading dark and sometimes violent stories for much of the year!

4/5

15. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer

Medieval Britain is easily my favourite period of any history. When I came across this book, I had to buy it. It is, in essence, a history book. But Mortimer writes it as if you were a traveller, arriving in the country at the time. Medieval Britain literally jumps off the page; it is both informative and entertaining, and something totally different than anything I’d ever encountered before. Definitely worth reading for anything interested in how people lived in the times gone by, but also for Fantasy writers researching one of the genre’s biggest inspirations.

5/5

16/17. A Dance With Dragons – George R.R. Martin

I was happy to return to Westeros after my short break, and returned with an open mind as to what to expect. I was pleased to find that the many of the characters who were absent from the previous book had returned in the forefront, but it was the less-important characters who stole the show. The story was as brilliantly written as ever, and though it slammed book #4 into the ground, it never picked up enough pace to earn a place amongst the earlier books. I thought it was perfect in setting the story for Martin’s next story, in which I expect most of the big developments will take place.

4/5

18. The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole

Since this book is considered to be the first ever Gothic novel by many, I felt I had to read it. But the less said about it, the better. Otranto is a book that I will certainly never return to. The plot was silly and often, not imaginative, just plain unbelievable. It wasn’t an easy read, despite its short length.. Nonetheless, I’m glad it exists for its impact on literature. I’m just more glad I finished it.

1/5

19. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

A book that I’ve read many times over – I can easily label it my favourite book ever. Rothfuss’ debut novel is an astounding fantasy, revolving around the life of a travelling trouper kid known as Kvothe. The tale is inspiring, and heart-warming, the character of Kvothe so brilliantly written, so commanding yet worthy of your sympathy, that he almost shimmered off the page. New and ground-breaking novels are a rare thing in Fantasy these days, but Rothfuss did it.

5/5

20. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

I had to read this again in preparation for the film. Though the story is somewhat rushed, and the majority of characters not at all fleshed out, Tolkien’s ever-present knack for description continues to amaze me. It’s not my favourite Fantasy story, but one that has rightfully earned its place amongst, not just the Fantasy greats, but the all-time greats.

4/5 

21. Dark Fire – C.J. Sansom

The second of Sansom’s Shardlake series, this instalment is set just before Thomas Cromwell’s fall in 1540. Dark Fire a lot more action-packed than the two Sansom novels I’d previously read, the twists as Shardlake and his new companion investigate the mystery of Greek Fire, fantastic in gripping the reader. The reveal wasn’t as startling or surprising as I’d hoped, but the events leading up to it more than made up for that. I knew too well than to lose momentum upon the book’s inevitable slow start knowing that I would be gripped in no time at all. Which I was.

4/5

And there we have it. A short review on the 21 books I read this year. If you’ve read any of these books, leave your own comments in the box below. And if you have any recommended reading for 2013, PLEASE let me know. 

‘Till next time!

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