Title: The Arrival
Author: Shaun Tan
Number of pages: 128
Genre: graphic novel
Book Number/Goal: 33/52
My Rating: 5/5

A story of an emigrant who left his troubled country to build a new home in a (hopefully) better place. Everything in the new country is weird: monster-like animals, alien machinery, exotic hieroglyphic language. The man meets other immigrants, every one with their own story.

The book contains no text - the plot must be "decoded" image by image, and somehow it works! The graphics is amazingly detailed and stylish, in sepia tones reminiscent of old photographs. It doesn't just tell a sequence of events but reflects the feelings of someone far away from home, struggling to cope with the new reality. It appears that the author meant the alien land as a metaphor for Australia, but every emigrant can relate to it.
Title: The Secret Portal (Volume 1)
Author: Reno Charlton
Number of pages: 179
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Book Number/Goal: 32/52
My Rating: 1/5

A "boarding school novel" about children who encounter a parallel magic world within their own school. They make friends with magical creatures, learn about each other's classes and daily lives, and fight together against the common enemy.

The story is straightforward and rather primitive. Maybe I shouldn't judge it so harshly because it's oriented at children and is supposed to be easy reading, but so is Harry Potter, and there's a world of difference. Not every novel automatically becomes exciting just because it has magic in it.
Title: Blood of Others
Author: Rick Mofina
Number of pages: 480
Genre: thriller
Book Number/Goal: 31/52
My Rating: 2/5

A serial killer preys on lonely women frequenting online chats, and murders them in elaborate grotesque ways. A detective, a cop and a journalist are trying to solve the case, working more-or-less independently.

The biggest flaw of the book is the lack of mystery: the identity of the killer is revealed early. Other promising mysteries, such as the strange illness of a character's son, are just distractions that do not add anything to the story. Another flaw is too many points of view, which doesn't enrich the story because most of the characters are similar to each other. (The murderer is the only halfway-interesting person.) The ending is entirely predictable. And there seems to be an implicit moral, "do not trust strangers on the Internet" - tired and old!
Title: Keys to the Coven: A Hellfire Universe Contemporary Urban Fantasy
Author: Vicky Loebel
Number of pages: 360
Genre: fantasy, romance
Book Number/Goal: 30/52
My Rating: 3/5

A demon's life is hard, even though he is already dead. A witch forces Max to accept a problematic promise. Now he is stuck with a task he's obliged to accomplish, but eventually he realizes that it comes into conflict not only with his code of honor, but also with his feelings.

The book's universe is detailed and amusing, with well-developed rules for magic, karma, demons and angels and witches, and other supernatural creatures. However, the core of the story is romance, including explicit erotic scenes of mostly traditional, consensual sex. Maybe it's a perfect story for a romance lover, but I had to skip pages and pages of pointless drag. There's a lot of enjoyable scenes, in particular, the bureaucracy of Hell, but not enough to counter-balance the overload of fluff.
Title: The Hangman's Replacement: Sprout of Disruption
Author: Taona Dumisani Chiveneko
Number of pages: 492
Genre: mystery, magical realism
Book Number/Goal: 29/52
My Rating: 5/5

Zimbabwe is looking for a new hangman. Such a job naturally attracts all kinds of weirdos, so a honest, brave and straightforward Abel Muranda, a farmer from a distant village, stands out as a candidate. But his chances are unclear, seeing that a huge conspiracy appears to reach all corners of the society, and it's somehow related to the carnivorous flame lilies which are threatening the peace of many citizens...

The story is epic and woven out of multiple threads, presenting many characters' points of view. It unfolds slowly, mostly through conversations. But even if some of the dialogs seem to drag forever, the overall great writing style compensates for the occasional boring parts. The language is witty, vivid, precise and elaborate without being pretentious. One of the characters' descriptions can apply to the author himself: "No word ever made it into his documents until it had been grotesquely tortured and failed to confess to the existence of a better synonym." The dry wit permeates the whole book, including the introduction, the acknowledgements and the best author's bio ever.

Keeping track of all the perspectives, names and events doesn't make it an "easy reading" but it's totally worth the effort!
Title: Creatures of Appetite
Author: Todd Travis
Number of pages: 238
Genre: thriller
Book Number/Goal: 28/52
My Rating: 4/5

An elusive serial killer is on the hunt for young girls. The victims get kidnapped from any place, no matter how secure, and some of their body parts show up a few days later, but no other clues. The police resorts to the last desperate measure: inviting a specialist from another state. Jacob Thorne is a brilliant detective who catches criminals using his methods of psychological profiling. He never fails, but he's extremely unpleasant to work with, being rude, egotistic and undisciplined, so he's assigned a partner: Emma Kane, a capable cop but severely traumatized after her last case.

The plot is genuinely suspenseful, and after an obligatory twist there's another, much less expected, twist! It's exciting to follow the process of unraveling the mystery step by step. The character of Thorne is strongly reminiscent of Dr. House, which, of course, is a bonus. There's a bit too much workplace intrigues and gossip, but otherwise, great and engaging story.
Title: The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures
Author: Kurt Kalata
Number of pages: 772
Genre: non-fiction, games
Book Number/Goal: 27/52
My Rating: 5/5

This book contains hundreds of adventure game reviews, covering most of the important games starting from 80s till 2010. It includes screenshots, brief description of the theme, the interface and gameplay, the author's opinion on the game, and anything else he considers important, such as characters, backstory or particularly memorable puzzles.

The book doesn't present any groundbreaking or new information, apart from several interviews with game developers; if you played these games, you know everything there's to know about them, and if you didn't, it might be better to skip these entries in case you will someday, to avoid the spoilers. But it is a HUGE NOSTALGIA RUSH. I frequently had to stop reading and took a break to cool down, because I couldn't handle such an overload of memories! Moreover, it rekindled my desire to create adventure games.

Wonderful reading and great emotional experience all the way! (I see that the Amazon reviews complain about monochrome screenshots, but my version, bought at storybundle.com, has gorgeous color screenshots :)
Title: Reality Transurfing 1: The Space of Variations
Author: Vadim Zeland
Number of pages: 182
Genre: non-fiction, psychology, esoterics
Book Number/Goal: 26/52
My Rating: 1/5

Make your wishes come true - not by changing yourself or the world, but by navigating to another version of reality where you are already successful. The book presents the model of reality composed of infinite number of possibilities existing simultaneously in the space-time continuum, where it's possible to change your fate only by the power of thought. However, it doesn't mean "wishing for success", because there is the law of balance which sabotages every intention as long as you consider it important. In particular, you attract everything you hate or despise, and repel everything you strongly desire. Besides, the world is populated with malicious energy-devouring entities called "pendulums", which arise from human activity but exist for their own sake (such as, every organization and every popular idea is a pendulum). These should be avoided, or at least not taken seriously.

This book is a hybrid of The Secret and Taoism. It claims that a certain way of thinking allows to achieve everything you wish for, but the approach is ripe with contradictions. What's the use of success anyway if you're not allowed to "really" want anything? The theory is supposed to be taken on faith, as there is no proof save for primitive analogies. It sounds kind of scientific and doesn't appeal to any higher force, but unlike religious and occult systems, it has no aesthetical or emotional benefits. The book doesn't include any practical techniques either, though maybe they're presented in the sequels (there's at least 5 books in the series).

There are some interesting concepts, such as love and hate being basically the same thing from the energy point of view. But as a whole, it's just another New Age nonsense.
Title: We
Author: Yevgeny Zamyatin
Genre: sci-fi
Book Number/Goal: 25/52
My Rating: 5/5
Notes: reread
Download: English | Russian

This classical dystopian story is a diary of D-503, the chief engineer of the spaceship "Integral" being built by the One State. He lives a happy life, with the state controlling every aspect of the citizens' behavior, up to hourly schedule, and enforcing everyone's fervent devotion to the leader, the Well-Doer. D-503 is a mathematician and he often reflects on the glorious order, so much more beautiful and reasonable than the barbaric customs of his ancestors. However, one day he meets a mysterious woman, I-330, who turns out to be a deviant and a rebel. Falling in love with her shatters his comfortable world and releases his dormant human instincts.

The writing style is unique - a little stilted like a scientific treatise and in the same time, poetic and full of vivid imagery. The writing becomes more and more disjointed, incoherent and intense, as D-503's mental stability deteriorates and the chaos breaks out.

Much of the story is devoted to romance, but the best part is the world-building and especially the brilliant descriptions that give the reader a glimpse into the insider's mind. The premise of the diary being written for aliens unfamiliar with the One State's way of life allows the author to provide some amount of the background info without distracting from the plot. This world is both horrifying and fascinating. I can't even help feeling a little envious.
Title: Keri: the shocking true story of a child abused
Author: Kat Ward
Number of pages: 745
Genre: memoir, non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 24/52
My Rating: 3/5

Young Keri was considered a problem child and a pathological liar, but in fact, she was systematically abused by her psychotic, hateful mother and violent step-father, by bullies and even by social workers. No one believed her (at least no one who could make any difference). This is the first book in the series, it covers Keri's life from birth to the age of 15.

The book delivers exactly what is advertised - it's shocking and realistic. Obviously the author can't be blamed for not having exciting magical adventures, never encountering any celebrities, or lacking the gift of turning pain into poetry. If many pages of depressing details of an ordinary child's life in a disfunctional family is your thing, you might enjoy it.

The weird part is that the author provides extensive descriptions of many events, scenes and long conversations no normal person would be able to remember so precisely, being so little. Most likely she is embellishing the memories to make them more vivid and real for the readers; but then the question is, how much of it is indeed true?

The story has no obvious "moral". Perhaps it's calling for a change in the structure of child-caring institutions, as many more children may be suffering under similar circumstances. For me, it reinforces the idea that children are a burden, and no one should be allowed to breed unless they want a child more than anything else in their life; and forcing a person to keep a child they do not want can ruin many lives.
Title: Cobbogoth
Author: Hannah Clark
Number of pages: 336
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 23/52
My Rating: 3/5
Notes: YouTube trailer

17-year-old Norah Lukens becomes involved in her uncle's archaeological research after he gets murdered. She discovers that her weird and scary visions are more than just imagination, and the ancient, mythical land Cobbogoth is actually real... but there's a sinister plot going on, and it falls upon her to discover the truth.

The fantasy world is solid, including its own myths and legends, rituals and a distinct kind of magic. However, nothing is really extraordinary or exciting about the story. It contains humongous infodumps every now and then, and even though most of them are in the form of a dialogue, listening to another character's endless explanations gets boring after a while. The main character is too much of a Mary-Sue. Also, big parts of the text are in italic, which is a reading annoyance.
Title: The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success
Author: Kevin Dutton
Number of pages: 288
Genre: non-fiction, psychology
Book Number/Goal: 22/52
My Rating: 4/5

The author analyses character traits commonly found in psychopathic criminals, and shows that these traits are favorable for succeeding in other, non-criminal, activities, and in fact, are found in many successful people (in which case, the term "psychopath" is probably misleading). He doesn't glorify crime or mental disorder but rather, argues that "psychopaths" have certain talents that everyone would benefit from learning. He calls them "seven deadly wins": ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, action.

The book includes interviews with psychopathic patients in a mental hospital/research center, results of psychological experiments, and examples from the lives of famous killers. Sometimes the style is too technical and sometimes too informal, but overall it's amusing and insightful, although not really helpful, because the author just conveys the information but doesn't teach the reader how to become a psychopath - and after reading the book, it starts to feel like a really good idea!

In the words of one of the patients, "The problem with a lot of people is that what they think is a virtue is actually a vice in disguise. It's much easier to convince yourself that you're reasonable and civilised, than soft and weak, isn't it?"
Title: The End Of Ever
Author: Troy Barnes
Number of pages: 370
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 21/52
My Rating: 4/5

A storm mysteriously transports four young people into another world - surreal, dark and deadly. They undertake a long, dangerous journey trying to return home, and encounter a lot of weird creatures and monsters on the way; some of them become friends, other - foes, but it's not always possible to understand who is who.

Frankly, this novel feels like a badly edited NaNoWriMo draft by a pantser. Writing is simplistic and repetitive, grammar is questionable, the world is patchworky, and a lot of plot turns seem to come out of the blue. However, the story is genuinely intriguing. The mystery is revealed bit by bit, with many false turns and reversals. Creatures are either completely original, or inspired by conventional fantasy races but significantly changed.

It may be a trashy novel, but it's imaginative and entertaining. Also, it demonstrates that the content is more important than writing style and grammar :) I'd hate to give it a 3, because it should be distinguished from elaborately written but inherently boring books.
Title: The Devil's Apprentice
Author: M.J. Moeller
Number of pages: 302
Genre: horror, mystery
Book Number/Goal: 20/52
My Rating: 3/5

A businesswoman is preparing to sell her family estate, a medieval church in a small English village, to a client who wants to convert it into a personal residence. When she arrives to the village to finalize the contract, all the hell breaks loose. She's plagued by nightmares and visions, and she's not the only one. A mysterious apparition may be a warning against selling the church, and a serial killer seems to be on the loose.

It's basically a modern gothic novel. The premise is promising, but the story falls short of excitement. There's mystery and suspense all right, but somehow, it all feels a little artificial, and the characters aren't all that interesting. It's also funny how the MC forgets important clues or postpones important investigations for later.
Title: Zombie, Inc.
Author: Christine Dogerty
Number of pages: 302
Genre: sci-fi, horror
Book Number/Goal: 19/52
My Rating: 4/5

The Zombie Apocalypse has irrevocably changed the human way of life, but on the plus side, it created a great business opportunity for the company which specializes in all things zombie: not only hunting & killing zombies, but researching them to use in daily life, such as security guards against burglars. Zombie, Inc. is the biggest company in United Five-States and it provides employment on such generous terms, it's practically a public service! It says right here in the Employee Handbook, excerpts from which start every chapter:

"The world has become a dangerous place, and the least dangerous place for you to be is at Zombie, Inc., so for the benefit of our employees, we've increased the work week from six days to seven! Remember: work happens EVERY DAY! You are required to fulfill your duties EVERY DAY. ... Benefits do not start until after the 180-day probationary period. Time off (including mandatory in-service days) and leave (except maternity) during the 180-day probationary period will count as Unpaid Working Days. ZI is a work-at-will company, and you can be discharged any time, for any reason, regardless of having satisfied the 180-day probationary period.

For your convenience, the Employee Handbook cost will be deducted from your first pay period. A yearly fee will be deducted for lost, missing or used-looking Employee Handbooks (at HR discretion). When revisions occur, a new Handbook will be distributed to all ZI employees and the cost deducted from the next applicable pay period."

The story follows two ZI employees, a professional and a novice; the interaction between them gives the author an opportunity to fill the reader in on the world details. The world building is amazing! I'd give it a 5 for the atmosphere, irony and bitterness, if not for the last part of the book, which is full of uninspiring Hollywood-style action. Still, it's an essential read for zombie dystopia fans.
Title: The Rules of Dreaming
Author: Bruce Hartman
Number of pages: 298
Genre: mystery
Book Number/Goal: 18/52
My Rating: 3/5

A beautiful opera singer, obsessed with the opera she’s rehearsing, Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, commits suicide. A few years later, mysterious deaths continue, and everything seems to follow the patterns outlined in the opera, with real people inadvertently playing the roles of their fictional analogs. Is it madness, coincidence or someone’s devious plan? The singer's schizophrenic children, institutionalized in a psych hospital, might hold some clues, but it's difficult to communicate with them. Their doctor, by some fluke of chance also called Hoffmann, gets more and more confused about what's going on...

The book is very intellectual. It extensively discusses the Tales of Hoffmann, and presents some exciting ideas, such as: "To Hoffmann the spirit world wasn't just a metaphor - it was the real thing, more real than anything else we ordinarily experience - and he believed that the creative artist had to do everything possible to go there. Through music, dreams, alcohol, drugs - and if all else filed, madness." One of the patients is writing a thesis "Authors as characters, Characters as Authors" about "authors becoming characters in what somebody else writes, and then meeting up with the characters they created themselves in their own works." Confusion between fiction and reality is a big theme in this book. Yet another musing: "But somewhere there's an intelligence at work - probably not God or the Devil, just some indifferent cosmic scribe writing and rewriting the book of the world in a thousand different plots and a thousand different styles. And I'm one of the very, very minor characters."

However, the story feels too much like an artificial device for illustrating the ideas, a bit like a puppet theater (another character's hobby). Somehow, it's neither atmospheric nor touching, and the characters are rather boring, even the ones who are in various stages of insanity. There's a cool twist in the end, though.

This book is definitely not a wasted time (it even made me google up Tales of Hoffmann), but it takes a fair amount of efforts to get through.
Title: The Martian Chronicles
Author: Ray Bradbury
Number of pages: 298
Genre: sci-fi
Book Number/Goal: 17/52
My Rating: 5/5
Notes: for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course (reread)

It's a collection of loosely connected short stories tracking the progress of human colonization of Mars. There are almost no recurring characters, and every story can stand on its own, but they enrich each other and create a multi-faceted picture from many points of view. After every couple of stories there's a "surprise" story based on some completely different concept.

Writing flows more like poetry than prose, but without the shortcomings of poetry (such as pretentious vocabulary and artificial padding). It's emotional and atmospheric; the sophisticated, fragile beauty of Martian cities is permeated with the sense of sadness and imminent doom. (Thinking of it, every one of these stories is sad, even those that carry an optimistic message; but it's not heavy depression but kind of a nostalgic, bittersweet sadness.)

There's a couple of "moralistic lectures" which are too long and distracting, but this is the only (minor) flaw of this fantastic book.
Title: The Invisible Man
Author: H. G. Wells
Genre: sci-fi
Book Number/Goal: 16/52
My Rating: 4/5
Notes: for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course (reread)
Download: project Gutenberg

A scientist discovers a way to make living creatures invisible. So he makes himself invisible - just because he can, and because he envisions invisibility as a huge advantage over the rest of mankind, not unlike being a sighted person in the country of the blind. But his plans go terribly awry...

I've read this novel a long time ago, at school, but I don't remember it being so funny! The writing oozes with irony, and even though it's a bit too slow and verbose, it feels more atmospheric than dated. There are some silly jokes ("This, this Invisible Man, then?" asked the man with the black beard, with one hand behind him. "I guess it's about time we saw him.") and some jokes that sound surprisingly modern ("One might think we were in the thirteenth century.").

The characters, as comedy goes, are simple and stereotypical; in particular, Griffin the Invisible Man is a selfish asshole with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and his main antagonist Dr. Kemp is a bland "righteous citizen". Griffin's story is considerably less funny than the rest of the novel (oh that poor kitty!) but more dramatic and tense, inducing a constant feeling of a disaster waiting to happen - which doesn't disappoint.

Classics is often a pain in the ass to wade through, but not this one... seriously, it's a great reading.
Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Genre: horror
Book Number/Goal: 15/52
My Rating: 2/5
Notes: for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course (reread)
Download: Project Gutenberg

A young scientist assembles an artificial human from dead people's organs, just to see if it can be done. He succeeds, but the result falls short of his aesthetic standards, so he immediately abandons the "monster", who escapes from the lab and haunts the scientist till his untimely death.

The main character is extremely unlikable. He's obsessed with appearances to such a degree that "ugly" is equivalent to "evil", and vice versa, for no reasons and without any explanations. Even worse, he's a wimp; his preferred method of dealing with problems is noble suffering. The monster is a somewhat better person; he knows what he wants and he acts upon it, and the part about his self-education, from his own POV, is quite touching.

The writing style is old-fashioned and long-winded, as expected from a novel published in 1818. There's not much sense in reading this novel, besides getting acquainted with the history of literature.
Title: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 14/52
My Rating: 2/5
Notes: for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course (reread)
Download: Project Gutenberg

An old-school vampire novel from when vampires were irredeemably evil and did not sparkle.

Technically, it has everything - a gothic castle, bats & wolves, horror & suspense, seduction & mind control, a psycho and a geek, and even a bit of comic relief, though rare. "Whereupon the captain tell him that he had better be quick, with blood, for that his ship will leave the place, of blood, before the turn of the tide, with blood. ... The captain swore polyglot, very polyglot, polyglot with bloom and blood, but he could do nothing." Van Helsing is hilarious when he tries to make sense of English slang :)

Unfortunately, the writing style is too old-fashioned to appreciate it properly. It's not excessively verbose, but the action is slow and repetitive, and the tension quickly dissipates. Good characters are too perfect, and evil characters are too evil.

Here is a much more exciting version of the story: Shadow of the Vampuss, by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov :)


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