So, this time I've succeeded to complete the 52 books in 52 weeks reading challenge, even 2 months before the deadline! (started in August)

Books (and games) make life more bearable... I'll definitely keep reading (and most likely counting), but no more reviews (not in the same format anyway; it has become too tedious, and avoiding the spoilers is such a pain in the ass). Was trying to discover as many new/different authors as possible, but now I'll continue with the authors and series I've especially enjoyed. Known/popular authors seem to fare a bit better than the unknown/indie authors (with the exception of the boring classics I had to read for the sci-fi/fantasy course), but still, I made quite a few great discoveries in the discount bin :)

The genre and rating stats follow. (Some of the books have multiple tags, so the total sum of genre tags is more than 52. I've added some tags in my local copy of the reviews, but fixing them in all the posts is too much trouble.)

Total genres:
sci-fi: 15
fantasy: 13
dystopia: 10
thriller: 9
non-fiction: 8
games: 5
mystery: 5
horror: 5
young adult: 4
psychology: 4
historical: 2
cyberpunk: 2
romance: 2
magical realism: 1
humor: 1
esoterics: 1
graphic novel: 1
realism: 1
fanfiction: 1
drama: 1
memoir: 1

Total ratings:
1 stars: 5
2 stars: 7
3 stars: 10
4 stars: 16
5 stars: 14
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: Interfaced
Author: Emerson Doering
Number of pages: 293
Genre: thriller
Book Number/Goal: 50/52
My Rating: 3/5

A young college student Kristen Crede has become a triple amputee after an accident. She's about to get an experimental set of hi-tech prosthetics which is controlled via a wireless neural implant. But she's uneasy about the surgery because of a dangerous stranger who threatens her if she will refuse him a yet-unknown favor. And there's something weird going on with the implant.

The sci-fi tech ideas are sound, though predictable. There's some intense action, plus foreshadowing and a few mysterious details, explained as late as possible to maintain the suspense. Kristen is a likeable character, refreshingly cynical about her condition. Other characters are rather boring. Overall, it's kind of a fast-food novel: difficult to put down while you're reading it, but hardly leaves any impression after it's over.
Title: The Undomestic Goddess
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Number of pages: 432
Genre: humor, romance
Book Number/Goal: 49/52
My Rating: 4/5

Samantha, a young talented workaholic lawyer, makes a grave mistake which means the end of her career. She panics, runs away, and accidentally accepts a job of housekeeper, even though she was raised to be a businesswoman and has zero practical skills in housework.

Samantha is a sympathetic character for her optimism and ingenuity. Apart from her initial blunder, she never gives up even when the failure is imminent, and is rewarded by lucky coincidences that get her out of sticky situations. There's a bit of romance but it's largely going on the background and does not become the main focus of the story. Funny, easy, relaxing reading.
Title: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty
Author: Dan Ariely
Number of pages: 336
Genre: psychology, non-fiction
Book Number/Goal: 48/52
My Rating: 4/5

The author, a professor of psychology, explains why the majority of good & honest people lie and cheat under many different circumstances. (Apparently the social factors dramatically influence people's behavior, even when they're not consciously aware of it.) He shares results of his research, with detailed descriptions of the experiments, along with the ideas how to decrease cheating in various situations.

The book is written in easy but non-condescending language; the inevitable anecdotes from the author's biography are well placed and do not overshadow the main content. It's not only educational but amusing read.
Title: Ender's Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Number of pages: 352
Genre: sci-fi
Book Number/Goal: 47/52
My Rating: 5/5

Ender, a 6-year-old prodigy, is sent to the Battle School for military training with other children, the Earth's last hope to withstand the expected invasion of aliens. The teachers intentionally put him under a lot of pressure and alienate him from other kids because they feel it's the best way to mold him into a brilliant commander.

It's similar to classic boarding school novels but with a radically different atmosphere, much more stressful and dystopian. The training is rigorous and exhausting; Ender is constantly pushed beyond his limits, yet he successfully handles all the obstacles and keeps improving himself. Most of the characters are 6-12 years old but they think, talk and act like mature adults; I appreciate this very much. The only indication of their age is when they themselves say "we are just kids", which invariably feels out of place. (I wonder if childhood is a cultural phenomenon, and humans indeed can mature much faster under appropriate circumstances.) There's even a couple of unexpected plot twists, and an intriguing computer game.

Captivating and highly inspiring!
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: Hidden Doors, Secret Rooms
Author: Jamie Eubanks
Number of pages: 341
Genre: thriller, sci-fi
Book Number/Goal: 45/52
My Rating: 3/5

A woman and her little daughter are stranded in the blizzard. Luckily, they stumble upon a cabin of a retired musician. But he can't decide if he wants to help; the woman appears to be on the run from the FBI, and moreover, she possesses some mysterious and dangerous abilities.

The atmosphere is genuinely tense, and the mystery is nicely developed and explained, including an eerie, unexpected twist. Two biggest annoyances: the prominent romantic angle, and too much focus on the little girl, promoting the message (unintended by the author) that children are a burden and always mess up good plans.
Title: The Cuckoo's Calling
Author: Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)
Number of pages: 561
Genre: mystery
Book Number/Goal: 44/52
My Rating: 3/5

Strike, a private detective suffering from financial and personal problems, gets a job of investigating a suicide of a popular model, whose brother believes that she was murdered. With the help of a temporary assistant Robin, Strike delves into the world of rich and fashionable.

The writing style is pleasant, featuring long, elaborate sentences with impeccable punctuation and subtle humor. Another strong point of the book is the evolving non-sexual but complicated friendship between Strike and Robin. But as a detective story, it's a disaster. The plot slowly crawls through the tangled web of relationships and connections between zillions of unsympathetic characters. Most of the investigation is carried out through talking and googling - no lab work, chasing or fighting. Rowling may be a master of details, but as long as they describe an inherently boring world, they're pointless.
Title: How to Do Things with Videogames
Author: Ian Bogost
Number of pages: 192
Genre: non-fiction, games
Book Number/Goal: 43/52
My Rating: 4/5

The book analyses and categorises various facets of videogame usage and features, such as being an art expression, inducing and teaching empathy, enabling player's creativity, serving for advertizement, providing a meditation/relaxation experience, encouraging exercise, and many more. Every feature is illustrated with several examples, ranging from obscure and exotic games to famous and mainstream games. The book is written in a mostly academic style, but is easy to follow nevertheless. It's an informative and inspiring reference which proves once again that games are a serious matter, not just mindless toys, and there's a lot of application for games in every possible area of human culture.
Title: Dying for a Living (A Jesse Sullivan Novel)
Author: Kory M. Shrum
Number of pages: 401
Genre: sci-fi, thriller
Book Number/Goal: 42/52
My Rating: 2/5

Jesse has a rare neurological condition that enables her to resurrect after her death - such people are called Necronites (or in a derogatory way, zombies). Also, she can forge a special connection with a dying person so she dies instead of them. So she works as a death replacement agent (the prediction of one's exact death day is possible through a psychic-like ability of other agents). Death replacement is a popular and highly requested service, but the job is not only unpleasant but dangerous, as repeated deaths and resurrections overload the brain and eventually result in insanity. And if it were not enough, Jesse's latest job appears to involve a real killer, and she starts her own investigation.

The book has a great, unusual premise, and a good explanation of Necronites' techniques and job responsibilities. The story, however, falls short. There's too much focus on romantic and other relationships; the supernatural angle, introduced later, clashes with the sci-fi angle; and the characters are not particularly interesting to care for their well-being, no matter the threats.
Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Number of pages: 311
Genre: sci-fi
Book Number/Goal: 41/52
My Rating: 5/5

American government has been overthrown by religious extremists who establish the new order. In particular, women are stripped of all civil rights, even banned from reading and writing. Women are men's property, and their status/role in the society (e.g. wife, housemaid, warden) is strictly regulated. The main character, called Offred by the name of her owner, is a Handmaid who belongs to a high-ranking commander, and her purpose is to bear him a baby. As the aftermath of the war, births are rare, and healthy babies even rarer, so child-bearing women are a valuable possession, but they are regarded only as "wombs on legs".

The story is Offred's "mental diary". In a dry, matter-of-fact style, she describes her daily existence, interspersed with memories of her past, normal life with her husband and daughter, now lost forever. The picture of the society in all its shocking details emerges bit by bit, keeping the reader constantly engaged.

This creepy fantasy is entirely realistic, drawing from the cultures where de-personalization of women is a norm. Several characters, including women, argue that the new establishment is for their own good: there's no more street violence, porn, struggle to keep with fashions, and other trappings of the immoral and decadent society of the past; now women are protected, cared for, and provided with the necessities required to survive (that is, unless they try to rebel - infidels are punished without mercy). Foreign tourists gawk at American women clothed from head to toe in "modest" garments, and talk among themselves that these women are happy because it's their culture and they're used to it. Everything so familiar... so depressing.

The epilogue, written as a scientific lecture, is out of place and doesn't fit the tone of the story, but creates the impression that the writer couldn't resist dumping all her background notes onto the readers. But otherwise, fantastic reading - highly recommended!
Title: Ghosts in the Machine: A Short Story Anthology
Author: Edited by Lana Polansky and Brendan Keogh
Genre: sci-fi, games
Book Number/Goal: 40/52
My Rating: 5/5

A collection of short stories about gamers and characters from various game genres: adventure/RPG, action, arcade, sims. In some stories, the characters are unaware of the artificial world they live in, and are wondering what's happening to them; others know exactly what's going on, and bitterly resent being under control of clueless users and incompetent programmers.

There's a lot of details and dialogues that reflect the gaming environment and terminology, and as such, are exciting even when the characters are discussing mundane matters. Every story ends on a depressing note, because the conflict between the inner and outer realities never ends well...

Awesome reading, especially for gamers.
Title: The Final Hours of Portal 2
Author: Geoff Keighley
Genre: non-fiction, games
Book Number/Goal: 39/52
My Rating: 3/5

The book provides a peek into the Portal 2 development - in particular, what was the original concept, why it didn't work, and how the game evolved into its current stage. The story comes together with a cute interactive presentation (on Steam), containing video clips, slideshows, 3D models and other clickable stuff, inspiring nostalgia.

However, it also includes loads of useless boring gossip, such as anecdotes from the developers' personal life (as for me, I'm interested in technology and ideas, not in people!) and hype about Valve being the best workplace ever (which only makes me depressed and bitterly envious).
Title: Deadly Intruder
Author: Anne Kelsey
Number of pages: 292
Genre: thriller
Book Number/Goal: 38/52
My Rating: 1/5

Brent is generally satisfied with his life, due to a successful job, a beautiful wife and a good friend, until he signs up for a weird Internet game and becomes a target for a dangerous hacker.

The idea of the game (betting on celebrities' death) is cute, and it even has a promo web site to go with it: Unfortunately, there's nothing thrilling about the story itself. There's a lot of trivial, boring conversations between Brent and his friends/coworkers, and bickering with his nagging bitch of a wife, with whom we're apparently supposed to empathise. The hacker's threats sound monotonous and annoying, not to mention that I couldn't care less about what happens to Brent and his family. The "computer security for dummies" infodumps also fail to add any excitement.
Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Number of pages: 240
Genre: sci-fi, young adult
Book Number/Goal: 37/52
My Rating: 5/5

The perfect world of the future consists of small communities where everything is regulated by strict rules to ensure the well-being and happiness of the citizens. Young Jonas is anxiously waiting for the annual celebration when the children of his age are assigned their jobs for life, carefully chosen to match their psychological profiles. He's surprised to get the unique and honorable job: the Receiver of Memories. But learning the truth about his world pretty much destroys his life as he knows it.

Despite the lack of violence, it's one of the darkest dystopias ever. Somehow it's easier to cope with the straight evil than with the sugar-coated one; everything is done for the higher purpose and for the global good, but look how it turns out... Just when you think you've heard it all, more and more horrifying details come up, introduced in a casual way as they appear normal to the citizens. The ending is unimpressive, but it's a small flaw, compared to the rest of the story. A must-read for all dystopia fans, no matter young adults or not.
Title: My Name is Martha Brown
Author: Nicola Thorne
Number of pages: 416
Genre: drama, historical
Book Number/Goal: 36/52
My Rating: 4/5

Martha Brown was a real person, hanged in 1856 for the murder of her husband. The book is her biography, starting from childhood. As she was an ordinary woman from a poor family, not much is known about her, so the biography is mostly fictional, describing the life in a typical English rural community - hardships and pleasures, but mostly hardships.

It reads like a classic novel (in fact, Martha Brown was an inspiration for Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy), but unlike genuine classics, it doesn't feel heavy and old-fashioned, and is easy to read. The tragic ending is known in advance, causing the sensation of fatality and impending doom as the reader helplessly watches Martha making one unfortunate choice after another, even though each choice seems like a good idea at the time.
Title: The Bells of Subsidence
Author: Michael John Grist
Number of pages: 121
Genre: sci-fi
Book Number/Goal: 35/52
My Rating: 5/5

This is a collection of short stories, every one a window into a strange, fascinating world. Alien terms and concepts are introduced without any explanations, so the reader has to work out what's going on, and some details still remain unclear, which is fine. The first story, which names the whole book, is the weirdest and the best. It merges mathematical concepts with the idea of undying love and hope, and it turns out meaningful and touching. But the best bit is the language. Here's an insight into the main character's job:

"As the torrent comes, I cannot help but seek order from the chaos; raveling and inverting Klein bottles, stacking and nestling them within each other like Matroska dolls, folding tesseracts upon themselves, helixing Mobius strips into Riemann planes. Around me the 100 do the same. Together, by the combined resonance of our efforts, we will planck the branes for the first time. We will build our own Brilliance. Through our efforts, the Bell will toll."
Title: The Legend of Devil's Creek
Author: D.C. Alexander
Number of pages: 372
Genre: thriller, mystery
Book Number/Goal: 34/52
My Rating: 4/5

The police is searching for a serial killer who appears to recreate the style of another, legendary serial killer operating in the same town many years ago. Meanwhile, a group of friends are busy with regular student activities: drinking, sports, dating, exchanging memories of family abuse, and studying philosophy.

Most of the book portrays mundane college life, interspersed with the occasional gruesome murder scenes and police investigation. The main character is shy, insecure, and spends a lot of time moping and worrying what people think of him. Somehow, it's not as annoying to read as it sounds. The philosophy lessons are as straightforward as popular science articles, split into "he said" and "she said" to appear fiction-like, but they discuss a fascinating problem: what is the cause of evil in the world, so they are interesting to follow. The police scenes are the weakest part. It's essentially a book about college, unexciting but surprisingly comfy, pleasant to read in bed on a rainy day.


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