Title: Artemis Fowl
Author: Eoin Colfer
Number of pages: 304
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Book Number/Goal: 52/52
My Rating: 3/5

Artemis Fowl, a daring criminal mastermind who happens to be 12 years old, devises a cunning plan to kidnap a fairy and demand a huge sum of the legendary fairy gold as ransom. However, the magic folk are militarized, hi-tech-equipped and brutal, and Artemis' operation doesn't go as smoothly as intended.

An amusing urban fantasy blending magic and technology and a bit of military fiction. The story has its cool moments, but overall, it feels rather lifeless and artificially constructed. There are too many uninspiring dialogues, and none of the characters evoke any sympathy, even the main (anti-)hero, despite his intellectual brilliance and evilness. Also, his age fails to add controversy to his character, remaining just a nominal tag.
Title: The Golden Compass
Author: Philip Pullman
Number of pages: 368
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Book Number/Goal: 51/52
My Rating: 4/5

Adventures of Lyra, a young tomboy girl who wants to save her friends kidnapped by cruel Gobblers, and to join her uncle in his mysterious scientific research on far North. The world is very Earth-like, with several significant differences, such as witchcraft being real, and most importantly, every human has a "daemon": a sentient animal companion, which is an obvious metaphor for soul (inseparable from the person, disappears upon death, reflects the owner's personality, only humans have it), influenced also by Native American concept of spirit animals, and Jung's anima/animus (daemons are usually of the opposite gender).

The language is slightly old-fashioned and peculiar, nicely reflecting the way children talk, but without the slang abuse. Naturally, Lyra is "the chosen one", and moreover, several plot turns sound like a soap opera. The action is a bit slow but it involves some intriguing mysteries. The Golden Compass itself is a curious device strongly reminiscent on Tarot. But the most impressive and exciting part of the book (for me) is the humans/daemons relationship, described in much detail, and all the associated symbolism and allusions, which will probably keep me pondering the subject long after finishing the book.
Title: The Dragons of Babel
Author: Michael Swanwick
Number of pages: 320
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 46/52
My Rating: 5/5

The life of young fey Will changes when a war dragon crashes in his village and, out of all village-folk, claims him as a lieutenant. Eventually Will is exiled. He has many unbelievable adventures and goes through many hardships before he discovers the truth.

The universe is a unique blend of magic and technology, and even our contemporary culture. The inhabitants range from familiar fantasy creatures (feys, centaurs, elves) to rare and original (haints, stickfella, Year-Eater); only humans are missing. Babel is a classic "noir" city, swamped with crime and corruption. The whole world is dark and cruel, revealed through rich details offered "as-is" without lengthy explanations. (It's the same universe as in The Iron Dragon's Daughter, but the story is less depressing, and even optimistic.) The plot twists and turns so much that it feels more like a patchwork of unrelated vignettes than a novel, but this approach worked for me.

Overall, it's weird, crazy and intense.
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: 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: 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 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: 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 :)
Title: The Last Ringbearer
Author: Kirill Yeskov
Genre: fantasy, fanfiction
Book Number/Goal: 13/52
My Rating: 5/5
Download: original Russian text | official English translation

What if LOTR, as we know it, was the "history written by the victors"? This book presents Middle-earth with good and evil sides reversed. Mordor is a young, energetic country populated by 3 proud human races: humans, orks and trolls (none of them vicious monsters as portrayed in the other book), quickly developing science and technology. Wizards keep humans in ignorance and rule them through ancient magic, and technological progress threatens their power. Under the pretext that Mordor is disturbing the balance between humans and nature, Gandalf devises the final solution to the Mordorian problem, even though it involves an alliance with elves, a cruel race which despises humans and aspires to rule the world. Saruman, the only conscientious wizard in the White Council, is unable to stop the madness.

This book is a rich, complex portrayal of Middle-earth from many different angles. The story explores serious philosophical and ethical issues, and feels more "mature" and controversial than the original story. It can stand on its own merit, but its main allure is in mirroring Tolkien's universe and reversing the familiar patterns. For example, Aragorn is a ruthless schemer, while the Nazgul are wise, selfless leaders; and Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring is mirrored by another (non-canon) character's quest to destroy another magical object.

The language is modern and doesn't suffer from Tolkien's verbosity. It's difficult to read at times due to detailed descriptions of battles, strategy and political intrigues, but historical and scientific background is fascinating; and of course, there's a lot of action and emotionally charged scenes. Overall, I've enjoyed this book much more than the original LOTR! A must-read for any LOTR fans who are not offended by revisionism ;)
Title: Household Stories
Author: the Brothers Grimm
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 12/52
My Rating: 4/5
Notes: for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course (mostly re-read)
Download: project Gutenberg

It's a collection of classic fairy tales. The stories are very diverse - some of them involve magic and adventure, some are about anthropomorphized animals, some are simply episodes of daily life, depicting either cunning or stupid people. All the stories are short and written in easy, almost primitive, language, focusing on action and dialogies, rather than description. They're not gory in the modern sense, but most involve some degree of cruelty and violence. (My essay for the course draws a connection between these tales and medieval torture and the Inquisition :)

The stories are too simple and too well-known to be impressive, but I enjoyed rereading them, and even discovered some unfamiliar ones. My favorite story, The Robber Bridegroom, was reminiscent on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series.
Title: The Wizard, the Farmer, and the Very Petty Princess
Author: Daniel Fox
Number of pages: 214
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 11/52
My Rating: 5/5

A young farmer is happy to be perfectly ordinary, and he wants nothing more than a stable, ordinary life. But through an encounter with a mysterious old woman, he's forced into a full-fledged adventure, with kings and princesses and witches and wizards. And the world, as he knows it, is about to be destroyed...

This is a modern-style fairy tale, with several allusions to classic fairy tales. The writing is easy-flowing and delightfully humorous, sometimes a bit on the naughty side. But even though fun, some passages are genuinely touching and thought-provoking. The characters are portrayed in an exaggerated "cartoonish" way, but they're not two-dimensional models, they change and grow and learn, and one can empathize with them.

A wonderful and pleasant reading for fans of modern fairy tales! (No blood & gore, honestly ;)
Title: Mosses from an Old Manse and other stories
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Genre: fantasy, realism
Book Number/Goal: 3/52
My Rating: 2/5
Notes: for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course
Download: at Gutenberg project

This is a collection of unrelated short stories, ranging from fantasy/science to supernatural to "slice of life". They were written in the first half of 19th century, which accounts for the old-fashioned verbosity, simplistic plots and heavy-handed morals. Still, several stories are quite enjoyable. My favorite was "The Celestial Railroad", which describes an allegoric trip to Heaven. It's a parody/sequel to John Bunyan's book "The Pilgrim's Progress", written in 17th century and apparently popular at the author's time; it's difficult to appreciate all the wicked snark without the knowledge of the original story, but many references are easily inferable, and of course it's possible to google up the details.

Other notable titles: "Feathertop: A Moralized Legend" - a charming tale about a witch and a scarecrow she brought to life; "The Birthmark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" - stories about "mad scientists" who had tried to improve the Nature; "The New Adam and Eve" - two humans discover the empty city on a post-apocalyptic Earth; "Monsieur du Miroir" - an amusing anthropomorphism; "Mrs. Bullfrog" - a tongue-in-cheek story of a man whose marriage didn't turn out quite as intended.

I'd rate the collection as 3.5-4 if it consisted only of the stories I liked, but unfortunately, about half of them are dead boring for my crude tastes.
Title: Herland
Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Number of pages: 128
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 2/52
My Rating: 1/5
Notes: for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course
Download: at Project Gutenberg

Three male explorers discover an uncharted country populated entirely by women. After a catastrophe that had killed all the men many generations ago, women evolved to reproduce by parthenogenesis, and built a perfectly utopian society - peaceful, happy, prosperous, lacking not only criminals but even "bad thoughts". Everything is under control, everyone is hardworking and honest, children are educated through play, not by force. After the initial conflict, the explorers are quickly subdued and start learning about the society, as well as the women, who are extremely curious about the external world, are learning about them.

The book was written a century ago (1915) and it shows. It reads more like a feminist political pamphlet than like fiction. The plot lacks any twists and intrigue, the characters are flat and boring, with non-existent personalities, except for the two male characters (the main character's companions) who are portrayed in a crude stereotypical way. As far as the "show-don't-tell" goes, it's 99% telling. I understand that the author's intention was to criticize female discrimination and traditional gender roles, and to express her vision of a better and fairer world, which, no doubt, was an important achievement back then. But IMHO, the book has no literary qualities, and can be only perceived as a historical curiosity.

Also, while many of the ideas (e.g. pain-free education, pressure-free religion, simple and practical clothing) are still superior to what exists in the real world, actually I don't find the peaceful, passion-free and conflict-free society all that alluring. I think that by using a different point of view and adding more details and drama, it could make a fine dystopian novel... ;)
Title: Snuff
Author: Terry Pratchett
Number of Pages: 416 pages
Book Number/Goal: 3/10 for 2012
My Rating: 3/5

Summary: When Vimes takes a holiday to his wife's family manor in the country, he's expecting to be bored out of his skull, but when a goblin girl is killed, he finds himself with an investigation on his hands.

Review: This was enjoyable, but I just didn't love it. The theme of a species previously looked down upon and treated badly by humans and everyone else becoming more accepted has been used in many Discworld novels and it's really geting old. If the surrounding story is good enough, then I'm happy to go with it, but I just really found the story lacking in this. I kept putting it down and not reading for days or weeks because it just wasn't keeping me interested. I really like Vimes (I used to say he was my favorite character, but that's now Moist), but Vimes on his own is much less fun than Vimes with Vetinari and/or the rest of the Watch. I like Sybill all right, but I really dislike how anything with Vimes and Sybill together turns into all this stuff about gender stereotypes and "oh those women, how can we ever understand their ways!?" I guess that's part of Vimes' characterisation, since Pratchett doesn't do that with other female characters, but it's not something I enjoy and it makes me dislike any time Vimes is with Sybill (which was a lot of this novel). I do like Young Sam, but he wasn't in this very much. And I love Willikins. He was probably the best part.
Last year I set a goal of 50, based on what I had read in 2010, and then only managed 25 (though if you count manga, I read 177 books total). Here it is the end of January and I've only finished one book (which I think I had actually read quite a bit of in 2011), but I'm still going to try for 25 this year. After all, not every book will be 1000+ pages like this one was!

Title: The Dark Tower
Author: Stephen King
Number of Pages: 1072 pages
Book Number/Goal: 1/25 for 2012
My Rating: 5/5

Summary: Roland’s ka-tet is reunited, but not without cost. The last episode of the story takes them on the final stretch of their journey to The Dark Tower. Though they have rescued Susannah, there are still enemies who must be dealt with along the way and who could be their ultimate destruction. The journey is long and ka is but a wheel.

Review: This book was dense, and had so much going on it felt like several books (like, in the future, I'm sure I'll forget which stuff happened in this book because it felt like it spanned so much time that surely stuff at the beginning must have been in a previous book). Overall I felt pretty happy with how things wrapped up. I was sad about Eddie, but especially about Jake, who I'd really hoped would make it to the end, so I was really happy that Susannah was reunited with an alternate version of them. The ending felt right to me, though I do wonder if Roland is redoing things over and over so that they're different (like maybe next time he will have different companions, etc.) and if so are the Beams really breaking over and over? Or is he just going back in time to relive the same events the same way? Oh! And I especially loved the stuff about John, Aaron, and Moses and would totally read a whole book about them and the Tet Corporation and everything going on in the keystone world.

Anyway, it feels weird to be done with the series. I first read The Gunslinger in 9th grade, so over twenty years ago. O_o That's kind of a long time to be reading a series.
Title: Witch Eyes
Author: Scott Tracey
Number of Pages: 336 pages
Book Number/Goal: 25/50 for 2011
My Rating: 3.5/5

Amazon Summary (edited for spoileriness): Braden's witch eyes give him an enormous power. A mere look causes a kaleidoscopic explosion of emotions, memories, darkness, and magic. But this rare gift is also his biggest curse.

Compelled to learn about his shadowed past and the family he never knew, Braden is drawn to the city of Belle Dam, where he is soon caught between two feuding witch dynasties. Sworn rivals Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe will use anything--lies, manipulation, illusion, and even murder--to seize control of Braden's powers. To stop an ancient evil from destroying the town, Braden must master his gift despite a series of shocking revelations.

Review: This isn't a book I would have picked up on my own, but it was the first book for [personal profile] rachelmanija's Permanent Floating YA Diversity Book Club, so I decided to give it a go. Aside from the fact that the romance is between two boys, there isn't a single original thing about it. I felt like I was reading an amalgam of a bunch of current supernatural-themed things, including Supernatural, but also Lost Girl and Twilight, which are not terribly original things to begin with. But despite kind of rolling my eyes at everything, I found myself getting drawn in, and as it is unsurprisingly the first book in a series (no one has any love for stand-alone books but me, or at least no writers/publishers), I will definitely be checking out the next one when it's released. If nothing else, it's nice to see a book with gay characters that's not about being gay (as much as I do enjoy those stories, too).
Title: Song of Susannah
Author: Stephen King
Number of Pages: 560 pages
Book Number/Goal: 24/50 for 2011
My Rating: 5/5

Amazon Summary: Susannah Dean is possessed, her body a living vessel for the demon-mother Mia. Something is growing inside Susannah's belly, something terrible, and soon she will give birth to Mia's "chap." But three unlikely allies are following them from New York City to the border of End World, hoping to prevent the unthinkable. Meanwhile, Eddie and Roland have tumbled into the state of Maine -- where the author of a novel called 'Salem's Lot is about to meet his destiny...

Review: Wow, I can't believe I finally finished the second to last book. I'm reading the final book now and don't know what to do once I've actually finished. I first read The Gunslinger over twenty years ago!

Anyway, while I am not thrilled with either the meta level of having Stephen King as a character in the series or with the done-to-death alien/possessed/whatever pregnancy plot, I enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the journal at the end (and the ending of it!) and I came to actually like Mia. This definitely felt more like a connector book than any other book in the series, though, and thus I don't really have a lot to say about it.
Title: Wolves of the Calla
Author: Stephen King
Number of Pages: 960 pages
Book Number/Goal: 22/50 for 2011
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing southeast through the forests of Mid-World, the almost timeless landscape that seems to stretch from the wreckage of civility that defined Roland's youth to the crimson chaos that seems the future's only promise. Readers of Stephen King's epic series know Roland well, or as well as this enigmatic hero can be known. They also know the companions who have been drawn to his quest for the DarkTower: Eddie Dean and his wife, Susannah; Jake Chambers, the boy who has come twice through the doorway of death into Roland's world; and Oy, the Billy-Bumbler. In this long-awaited fifth novel in the saga, their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis, a tranquil valley community of farmers and ranchers on Mid-World's borderlands. Beyond the town, the rocky ground rises toward the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is slowly stealing the community's soul. For Calla Bryn Sturgis, danger gathers in the east like a storm cloud. The Wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to, and they can give the Calla-folken both courage and cunning. Their guns, however, will not be enough.

Review: I was unspoiled for this book, not even reading the jacket summary beforehand (because why bother when I already know I'm going to want to read it?), so I was totally surprised by Father Callahan's appearance. So I even cut that mention out of the summary above just in case anyone else is similarly unspoiled. XD (Not sure how likely that is at this late date, but who knows.)

I read Salem's Lot in high school, so it's been aaaaaages, but Wikipedia plus the story given in Wolves of the Calla itself were more than enough to get me up to speed. I know the Dark Tower books link to other King works all the time, but I never suspected a crossover as big as this, with Callahan becoming a major character.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this. I'm not thrilled with the Susannah plotline, and there are a ton of things I could talk about if I had any interest in doing anything other than going awhrjewhqjkerhejqwhekqw DARK TOWER, but I really don't. :p I love this series SO MUCH and this installment was definitely not disappointing at all.

Oh! And I loved that the sneetches turned out to be SNITCHES!

Now to read Song of Susannah. :D
Title: Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Number of pages: 544
Genre: romance, fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 24/50
My Rating: 1.5/5

Review: I admit that romance is not my cup of tea, so I may be biased. I had picked this book to see what's all the hype is about, and I found the experience unfulfilling. The setting is boring, the action is slow, there are no adventures, catastrophes or torture - nothing happens besides the school stuff and relationships. Bella Swan is the most unsympathetic protagonist ever, plain and shallow and self-absorbed, she's either moping, whining or admiring her "perfect" boyfriend. Edward Cullen, being a control freak and borderline creepy, is somewhat more likeable, but he's neither violent nor suffering enough to be truly interesting.

The basic premises sound artificially constructed and implausible (Bella's irresistible attractiveness to vampires, weird ethics of Cullen family, and the incomprehensible refusal to solve all the problems by turning Bella into a vampire, seeing that there are no apparent downsides of being one). There's no sense of tension and drama because I didn't care what happens to the characters, and it's a chore to get through all the high school gossip. The only redeeming scenes are the ones with the vampire-hunter at the end, that guy comes off as genuinely dangerous and brutal - unfortunately, they're spoiled by knowing that everyone who matters will survive for the sequels.

For some reason, this book is extremely popular, so maybe it's great in its own way - but it's not for me.

To be fair, Midnight Sun: Edward's Version of Twilight is much better, at least the beginning, before the family stuff starts. An insight into a mind of a killer contemplating the best way to kill his prey is much closer to my idea of entertainment!
Title: Thief of Time
Author: Terry Pratchett
Number of pages: 384
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 23/50
My Rating: 4/5

This is a Discworld novel where the main characters have to save the world from a devious plan to stop the time. The best part of the book is language - it's witty, elegant and very quotable. Also, the subject matter leads to wonderful philosophical insights into the nature of time, history and what does it mean to be a human. Unfortunately all the characters are either boring or annoying (though the Auditors are kind of amusing), and the mysteries are not really intriguing - it didn't keep me on the edge wanting to know what comes next, the plot seems to be only a framework for humor and interesting sci-fi concepts. Anyway, the fun and thoughtful parts make up for the boring parts, so overall it's still worth reading.


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