Tuesday, 12 January 2016

2015 in Books

I would never call myself a voracious reader... but I do like to read and last year was the first time I ever managed to reach the goal I set myself on Goodreads. Which I did mainly thanks to acquiring a Kindle. It became a whole lot easier to read wherever I was.

I also started keeping a sort of reading diary. I got the idea from a group on LibraryThing where people would post what books they finished reading through the year. I thought it was a good enough idea to try it myself... and I present to you the reading journey I went through in 2015.

10th January
Parasyte Volume 1 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

My friend Piotrek was telling me about this new anime, Kiseijuu, that came out somewhere in the last few months of 2014. He showed me a trailer and I thought it looked interesting enough that I would watch it. At the time I had a very long break from anime and I prefer to watch them in one go so I decided to wait until the series finishes... but when I stayed over at his place to play games as a New Year Celebration. He showed me the first episode and I was hooked. I ended up watching all the available episodes over the next few days and then there was a break between seasons. I went to see my parents for Christmas. I've never read manga of a series I was watching so I thought I'll do something different for this year.

I started off reading a chapter a day, in the morning, whilst having my morning tea. Since the manga was published way before the anime, there are some clear differences, mainly in the clear lack of all these cool devices we surround ourselves with in our daily lives. It all starts one day when strange creatures mysteriously appear on Earth and begin to take over human brains. Shinji, a high school student, wakes up to find one such creature in his bedroom, it burrows into his hand but he manages to tie up his arm so it doesn't reach any further. The next day he discovers that his right arm is now a sentient and emotionless being with shapeshifting powers... and that he has to fight for his own survival because all other Parasites, the ones that took over a human brain, eat humans.

It is a gruesome story...

14th January
Dzienny Patrol - Siergiej Łukjanienko

I suppose it would come as no surprise that when I travel, I have a book with me. It's easier to get through the delays and standing in line while lost in a few pages more. When I visited my parents for Christmas, my sister finally had the opportunity to give me my birthday present. Naturally, I started to read it and unlike other books, I finished it within a week. Mostly because I have absolutely nothing to do when I'm at my parents' place.

Unlike the previous novel in the series, Day Watch is composed of three stories that give us a different look at The Others inhabiting Moscow. This time we're reading more about The Dark Others and their ways. Well, I'd rather not say too much... other than that I liked the way the first two stories were concluded in the third one.

I like the way I managed to finish the book in the first hour of the New Year.

17th January
Parasyte Volume 2 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

I continue with my mornings reading manga. A tragedy hits Shinichi's family that nearly results in his death but he is saved thanks to his symbiotic friend. I suppose the biggest changes to the protagonist is his drive for revenge and going away from being a timid student to someone harboring murderous intent deep within his eyes, definitely becoming less human.

23rd January
Parasyte Volume 3 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

The source of Shinichi's abilities is revealed, his mother is avenged and we witness his unemotional nature, which creates a rift between him and his love interest. There are things set in motion behind the scenes of which the reader gets a few glimpses at this point. Parasytes' existence is known to some and another parasyte, Mamada Hideo, enter's Shinichi's school.

29th January
Parasyte Volume 4 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

Yet another massacre hits the school after one clever student tries to unmask Mamada Hideo. It seems only Shinichi is able to save his girlfriend and put a stop to the rampaging monster... but getting through all the police unnoticed is no easy task.

1st February
Collins Easy Learning French Grammar

Here's something I've been reading now and then between studying. I don't have much to say other than if you're learning French, this is a very good grammar book to have. I enjoyed how clear it was, the sections were well organised and there was a lot of references to other sections so it was hard to get lost in all that information. The verb tables at the end are incredibly helpful when learning new verbs. It is rather helpful to have a dictionary whilst reading as it is purely a grammar book.

2nd February
Dexter's Final Cut - Jeff Lindsay

My supervisor from work lent me this book... which was a Christmas present from me. He bought a few of the first books in the series and since we were both watching the TV show at the time, he started lending me them. Unfortunately, he isn't a big reader and although neither am I, I tend to read a bit more than him... so I ended up finishing this book before him.

This book feels a lot different than the previous ones. I didn't like all of them, especially not the one that took on a more supernatural turn, but I kept on reading. There's no overarching enemy presence in this story, unlike in the previous ones. It's actually quite idyllic... even though it takes on a very dark and unpleasant turn at one point... still, I felt that turning point was too sudden.

So what went on in this book? A TV show is being shot in Miami. The police department which Dexter and Debra work for assigned the main stars to them so they can get insight into their daily work lives. Neither of them is happy about it, especially when someone killed a woman who looked a lot like one of the stars... and neither of them can look into the crime... Dexter gets a taste of Hollywood Stardom, he also kills someone at some point.

8th February
Parasyte Volume 5 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

Personal tragedies are following Shinichi wherever he goes. Faced with another death in his personal life, he takes on the offensive in an encounter and brutally disposes of a parasyte. Even so, he still finds his uemotional demeanour discomforting as he can't shed a single tear.

15th February
Parasyte Volume 6 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

Shinichi has another problem on his hands. Someone discovered that he's not entirely human which leads to a bit of a fight between him and Migi, as the latter has a very casual view of killing anything that poses a threat. How they deal with this issue and discovering how other Parasytes have organised themselves is a focal point of this volume.

22nd February
Parasyte Volume 7 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

Seeing Shinichi (and Migi) as a threat, the Parasytes send an assassin to kill him. They both fight an uneven fight but manage to somehow escape with their lives. The witness from the previous volume has problems of his own when the Parasytes decide he outlived his usefulness. Although he escapes the massacre by sheer chance, he can hardly deal with the loss of his family. Seeking revenge, he kidnaps a baby... Tamura Reiko's child. Speaking of which, Tamura Reiko shows just why she is so deadly and not to be underestimated.

28th February
Parasyte Volume 8 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

I must admit that at this point, having been reading a chapter a day, I'm getting a little bit tired of it. I originally thought I'll jump onto another series after this one but I think I'll be taking a break soon.

There's a confrontation between Tamura Reiko and the detective, with dire consequences for both. The group investigating the Parasytes makes their move. Shinichi goes through something that helps him regain the emotions he seemed to have lost since his heart got pierced through. Lastly, a new character with the uncanny ability to sense Parasytes is introduced and he has an odd feeling about the protagonist.

7th March
Parasyte Volume 9 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

and so the inevitable happens. The fight between the human and Parasyte groups is in progress throughout the volume. Ending in a confrontation between Shinichi (with Migi) and Gotou. Not much else to say other than there being an interesting revelation about one of the key figures. Other than that there's a lot of shooting...

14th March
Parasyte Volume 10 - Hitoshi Iwaaki

Last few chapters show Shinichi struggle being left by himself. Up to the point when he decides to confront the inhuman monster that Gotou has become despite losing an arm and being only human. The book ends with the status quo returning to normal, even though Parasytes still exist, they are no longer a threat and become indistinguishable from humans... which in turn, informs the last face-off between Shinichi and a serial killer.

20th March
Let The Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist

This was one of a few books I bought as part of a reading list for a philosophy module I had at uni. I have seen the film before a long time ago and loved it. Unsurprisingly enough, I enjoyed reading through it. The vampire condition was interesting and presented with appropriate amounts of grotesque. Although having one character be a pedophile, you suddenly find yourself wondering who's the bigger monster.

16th June
Sezon Burz - Andrzej Sapkowski

I was really proud of finishing all the Witcher Saga books. Even though I got into them way past the point in time when they were on everyone's lips. I was slightly pre-ocupied with Harry Potter at the time, I'd say... but I got through them in the end... and then a prequel came out.

It's not a bad book but I may have started reading it expecting too much. It is written with the same feel and I enjoyed it for the same kind of athmosphere that the series had as a whole. Sadly, other than a few memorable moments, it doesn't add anything of import into the series.

I finished reading it on the train, heading for a job interview.

28th July
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

Here's another book I had for my philosophy module at uni. It's a good book but very hard to describe without giving away what it's about. Suffice to say that it's a coming of age story, centered on three friends. It starts off very idyllic but slowly moves into glimpses of a hidden dystopia.

It's a sad story.
Our tutor used it as an exploration of the idea of a soul. I found it to illustrate more how humanity is willing to excuse an atrocity as long as it serves a purpose it deems beneficial to itself.

6th August
Part Time Gods - Third Eye Games

I haven't read any game books in ages. I don't even remember when the last time was as I had a few years break from running any games.

I have very little experience with the d20 system but the idea behind the game sounded too good to pass up. The setting chapter details how humanity was given divine sparks and how said sparks waned in power to its current state when gods are both divine and human.

I had this game in pdf for a while but could never find the time to read it. Until, that is, I decided to have a longer tattoo session and borrowed a work-mate's Kindle. I suddenly started to find time to read. I used to always have a book on me but carrying any book with you damages it quite extensively... and larger books are unwieldy... and to think I was so adamantly opposed to getting a Kindle. How foolish of me!

23rd August
Domination and Submission: The BDSM Relationship Guide - Michael Makai

There's a great wellspring of books available in digital format. I was greatly surprised to find one on BDSM and relationships. I've struggled with this aspect of myself for a number of years. It's not a how-to guide but an exploration of the culture. I got a lot out of reading it. It helped me make peace with myself and feel less like there's something wrong with me or that I shouldn't even try exploring this part of me.

2nd September
What Color is Your Parachute? - Richard N. Bolles

This book has been suggested to me by an old friend. I've been putting off reading it for a year or two but since I decided to put more effort into job hunting in 2015, I dived right into it.

It's clear that this book has been written for the US market but it's hardly useless outside of the states. As a job-seeker, reading about various experiences and how CV reactions vary between recruiters was inspirational. The book doesn't muddle your eyes claiming the one true way to CV building and presenting yourself. No, what I got from reading it is that job-hunting is awfully hard. More importantly, I started to understand how recruiters think, what's the point of the common job interview questions and what I should be asking of them. It's not just about finding a job but finding a job that works for you.

6th September
Kłamca - Jakub Ćwiek

So... when I heard the premise of the book and saw that the bookstore was selling the series in a neat bundle, I simply bought it. All in all, the premise is very interesting. God's angels are incapable of lying so in order to engage in any sort of subterfuge, they employ Loki, the Norse God of Lies... whom they freed after killing the Æsir.

Sadly, the book falls short. It feels more like a collection of short stories than a novel. They're all connected by having the same characters appear here and there but there's no over-arching plot nor any world-building going on other than the rudimentary explanation of what's going on in any given chapter. It certainly did not make me look forward to the next book in the series.

27th September
The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Project Gutenberg has a ton of classics freely available. Sure enough, I couldn't say no to further delving into the world of Sherlockian mystery.

I must admit I'm not overly fond of Sherlock Holmes novels. I prefer the short stories by far but having said that, I still enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I think it's because it doesn't divide itself into two narratives like his previous ones. There's an epilogue at the end with some further information that Holmes has gathered but it's not presented as a narrative in and of itself.

Even so, I'm looking forward to getting back to the short stories.

11th October
Storm Front - Jim Butcher

Another one of those books that I've heard a lot about but never sat down to actually read it. It's been recommended to me by a Dane! Not the first time I heard about it. The Dresden Files have been doing rounds within gaming circles for a while, yet I've avoided it in a way. Probably because The Cthulhu Mythos is also extremely popular... of which I'm not a hug fan of.

Harry Dresden is a professional wizard in Chicago. His first case is to find a missing husband but the plot thickens quickly and gets more dangerous as the book goes on. Although I feel I'm getting tired of first-person narratives, I enjoyed this book tremendously. It's urban fantasy where wizards are extremely powerful provided they prepare themselves properly and Dresden proves to be an interesting character, living on the fringes of both mundane and supernatural societies.

I suddenly understand why it gathered such a huge following.

24th October
The Return of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is what I like to read.
A collection of short and to the point stories.
Sherlock is not dead, what a suprise!

It's a fun read, perfect for an afternoon with some tea.
One story at a time.

I was trying to think which story I liked best but as it turns out, I can't really pick any one in particular.

29th October
Fool Moon - Jim Butcher

Next up is the second book in the Dresden Files. As the previous presented Harry with a sorcerous adversary, this time he's up against what appears to be a werewolf. You'd think it's easy enough but no, let the title not fool you, it's not as easy as it sounds.

Not only does Harry have to figure out who the werewolf is but also what kind of werewolf he's dealing with before more people die. Fortunately, not all things are going badly for Harry as he's meeting new allies and love blossoms in unsuspecting places.

30th October
The Valley of Fear - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I did mention that I don't like it when Watson's narrative changes into a novel depicting past events that explain the crime in the previous half of the book. When I was reading a Study in Scarlet, I felt somewhat confused but here it was far more enjoyable. I'm not sure if it's my lack of surprise or if it was actually an interesting story with a dramatic reveal that got me but The Valley of Fear is certainly worth a read.

I might even wager I liked the second part more than the first.

8th November
Grave Peril - Jim Butcher

We had sorcerers and werewolves, what next? Ghosts? Vampires? Why not both?!

A new character is introduced in the form of Michael Carpenter, wielder of a holy sword. Together with Harry, they're attempting to defeat a ghost sucking life out of babies! That's not the worst as all hell is about to break when Harry is pulled into the political machinations of the Vampire Red Court.

I might say that I've been well sucked into this series.
There's a lot going on here...

I'm impressed with the worldbuilding. Harry made a passing comment in previous books that he had a faerie godmother. This is elaborated upon here and with each book, there's more to the world and the characters inhabiting it.

2nd December
Summer Knight - Jim Butcher

Seems like I can't get enough of this series. Here the focus is on a political struggle between faeries into which Harry is inadvertedly pulled into through political machinations between the faeries and wizards following the declaration of war made by vampires in the previous book.

Just writing that out I'm in awe at the skill with which Butcher creates and presents his world. Of course, there's a murder that needs to be solved and as it's revealed later on, Harry has little choice but to solve it as the consequences are dire both to him and the world at large.

23rd December
The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game - Volume 1: Your Story - Evil Hat Productions

I don't remember when I started reading this book. It was a few years ago, when I didn't know anything about The Dresden Files. It was a pdf gifted to me by a friend who has since passed away. I drifted away in the middle of reading it after hearing the news. Every now and again I felt bad for never finishing it until I got a Kindle and loaded it up.

I had some initial problems as my Kindle couldn't handle the file after a few chapters and I had to manouver away from any picture heavy pages. In the end, I had to finish reading it on my PC.

I'm still not certain I understand the Fate system well enough to either run or play the game but I'm glad I got to go through it all.

Thank you Graham, may you rest in peace.

26th December
Death Masks - Jim Butcher

Still in the world of the Dresden Files.
I guess it's time to bring out fallen angels, holy warriors and the Shroud of Turin.
Yeah... we're getting biblical here. Not only that, some Red Court vampire noble came down to Chicago just to challenge Harry to a duel so the two sides, vampires and wizards, can call a truce. Not only that, but Harry's girlfriend who has been tainted by the Red Court is back. Sadly, they still can't be together because if she ever lost control in the throes of passion, she'd surely kill Harry without thinking about it.

See, this is what I like about these books. There's never just one thing going on... and as the books progress, Harry's problems become deadlier... and they hit him all at once.

The universe (or, the author) has no mercy.

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