Best of 2011 and plans for 2012

2006 - 103 books, 2007 - 99 books, 2008 - 77 books, 2009 - 79 books, 2010 - 82 books, 2011 - 85 books

(click chart made via to embiggen)

Every year, same goal of reading 100 books, but the only year I made it was 2006, before I started reviewing.

Newsflash: reviewing cuts into reading time!  But, that’s OK, I like to blog.

To break down the books I’ve read, you can check out goodreads. There you’ll see I read 86 “books”, but I didn’t count the one graphic novel. I did count a couple of novellas because I read some longer 500+ page books as well and figured they balanced each other out. So in 2011, I read 85 books.

Out of those books, I have my favorites, and my favorites have two categories. Those books that blew me out of the water, and those that came very close to doing that. Blew me out of the water always a difficult group to get into, because it’s based on sheer emotion. If I feel euphoric LOVE after I finish a book, it goes on the list. Not many books do that to me. So:

Blew me out of the water:

Close to perfection:

(each image links to my review, if I have reviewed the book).

There are so many books not on this list that I consider keepers. Another 20 books at least, so 2011 was not a bad reading year at all. Check out my goodreads to see all the 4 star books this year not on this list here. I was actually good about putting the books I read on there this year.

Goals for 2012:

  • Again keep trying to get to 100 books read
  • Since I can’t finish a challenge to save my life.. try not to join so many challenges (hah, we’ll see)
  • Buy whatever books I want to. 🙂 I have given up the fight against the TBR, but I know what’s reasonable.
  • Stay relaxed with the blogging thing.
  • And this year, the goal is to catch up on some series. I have a lot of series that I’m realizing I’m behind on and would like to get back into.

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings
Megan Whalen Turner

I’ve been reading one of these a week since I finished The Thief. This one I finished in one day during our cruise. I’m going to try to review this one without spoilers, but if you haven’t read this series before, here are my reviews for the first three books:

Book 1 – The Thief
Book 2 – The Queen of Attolia
Book 3 – The King of Attolia

This is a review of an ARC copy another blogger passed along, but I need to get the finished copy since I hear that there’s new (and possibly awesome) scenes in the finished copy that aren’t in the ARC.

The Premise: This time the focus shifts away from Eugenides and towards his friend Sophos (who was introduced in The Thief). Sophos is the heir of Sounis, but he’s not very keen on becoming king. He’d be happy if he uncle marries and produces another heir. In the meantime, he would rather spend his time with his books and poetry than on learning how to govern. Then one day his uncle’s barons change the game by attacking his family’s villa. Betrayed by those he trusted, Sophos finds himself getting exactly what he wanted: to be absolutely nobody.

Browse Inside The Conspiracy of Kings

My Thoughts: Megan Whalen Turner goes back to the first person point of view again with A Conspiracy of Kings, and yeah, I kind of missed this. I like a good first person POV, and while Sophos’ voice isn’t as sarcastic as Gen’s, he has his moments. He’s a very affable person. Sophos is that guy that almost everyone likes because he’s such a sweet soul. He even befriends Gen all the way back in The Thief, and Gen notes then that Sophos “was much too nice to be a duke”. Unfortunately for Sophos, he is a duke, and not just a duke; he is the heir of Sounis. While he’d love to bury himself in poetry and books, his father and uncle want him to toughen up. They send Sophos to the island of Letnos, far from the influence of Sophos’ favorite mentor, the magus, but Sophos just isn’t interested in war and how to wage it. He chafes under the revolving door of tutors and wants to be allowed to follow his own interests. He wishes that his uncle would marry and quickly produce another heir.

His wish is not granted. Instead, Sophos and his family are attacked at the villa and Sophos is spirited off. Now he’s nameless, helpless, and no one can find him, all while his country is weakened and vulnerable to it’s enemies. Sophos realizes with bitterness the cost of not being Heir to Sounis, but he has the choice to reverse his fortune. Sophos can fade into obscurity and be free from the responsibilities he said he never wanted, or stride towards the destiny he once shied from.

This is essentially a story about Sophos growing up and making a conscious decision about who he wants to be. Before this book, I’d always sympathized with Sophos as an heir to a warmongering king (and there is at least one other character in this series who doesn’t love being royalty), but here for the first time I saw the argument that his detractors had been trying to make. To avoid his responsibilities and education as heir is the act of a boy who cannot see beyond his own personal problems, not that of a man who has to lead a nation. I think that Sophos’ likability in The Thief obscured this flaw a little, but I love how it becomes center-stage in A Conspiracy of Kings, and how the story handles Sophos’ character development.

Sophos is the main character in A Conspiracy of Kings, and much of his story is of his own journey but we do see reappearances from characters from earlier books, and yes, that does include Gen. From Sophos’ perspective the brief glimpses of Gen show yet again a different facet of his character. I have mixed feelings about that, but I couldn’t really fault his behavior, since his character seems to be constantly evolving. I think that while you probably could read this series out of order, there is an evolution that is better when it’s followed in the correct sequence. The character growth is a large part of that, but I also think that the understanding of the overarching plot arc and the world building is worlds better when you read this series in order.

I’m looking over this review and wondering if I’m leaving out one essential point, which is that I really liked A Conspiracy of Kings! I like good guys like Sophos, and rooting for him was easy. I was turning these pages like crazy person to see if he would be alright. Megan Whalen Turner throws in a couple of twists and turns along the way, including a whopper which will likely impact as-of-yet untitled Book 5, but I was left feeling quite pleased with how things turned out.

Overall: Another good one (at this point, was there a doubt?), with the same great storytelling, character development, and surprise twists as the earlier books. I enjoyed the return to a first person point of view, even if Gen wasn’t the main character. Sophos is a nice guy that I could root for and I still got my Gen fix. Each installment adds a little more to the whole series, and while A Conspiracy of Kings ended satisfactorily, it has me very curious about what we’ll see in Book 5.

(Yes, I know the next book may not be out for a couple/few years, but I’m willing to wait).

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 9 (Damn near perfection)
See Michelle Read – positive
Fantasy Literature – 5 stars (out of 5)
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
The Book Bluff – positive
fully_immersed – 4 out of 5
Stella Matutina – 4 (out of 5)

book trailer:

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The King of Attolia
Megan Whalen Turner
Well I’m just going through this whole series for some reason. *cough*.
Book 1: The Thief
Book 2: The Queen of Attolia
**** This review does spoil earlier books so if you haven’t read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, here’s your chance to leave. I’m going to be circumspect in the premise and first paragraph, then I’m diving in. 🙂 ****
The Premise: Costis is a captain in the Attolian palace guard and he has very little respect for the new king of his country. Like most Attolians, he’s certain that his queen is not a willing wife to the new king, a weak and silly man, who is nothing like how a king should be. So when the king makes a disparaging remark about the Attolian guards, Costis sees red and hits his king in the face. This begins his own personal nightmare as he’s forced to redeem himself by becoming the king’s new whipping boy. It also gives Costis an up-close view of the new king of Attolia and the longer he serves him, the more he discovers.
My Thoughts: Heheh, things get good in this installment. Once again the story is in the third person, but the focus is now on a new-to-us character – Costis, a member of the Attolian palace guard and what his perspective is on his king and queen shortly after their wedding and the treaty between their two countries. Costis is a very straightforward kind of guy. He’s honest about how he feels and he prefers things to be simple and out in the open. Which makes him not only the complete opposite of his king, but an easy target.
I really hope that the people who haven’t read the first two books are gone now so that I can stop dancing around who is now king. If not, you did this to yourself.
Alright, so by the third book, I think readers have gotten to the point where they have certain expectations of Eugenides. Namely: you don’t underestimate Eugenides. He’s just good at thinking several steps ahead and at pretending to be more vulnerable and powerless than he actually is. While this is something that I love about his character, he can’t approach his current situation the way he is indefinitely. The problem here is that he is king, and as Costis tells him after hitting him, it is “because you didn’t look like a king”. I think that part of Eugenides reluctance to take up the reins of power and to really show his true strength is that he wants to be married to Attolia, but becoming king to be married to her wasn’t something he thought about. Now he’s far from his home and family in unfriendly territory.
This book is about Eugenides moving forward towards accepting his position. He already has it in him to be kingly, but these are the first days of his rule in a country that has its share of unrest. Its Barons test the Queen when they can, and no one likes the new King. It’s in Eugenides’ nature to poke fun at people even when they don’t know that they’re made fun of. He dances with the wrong girls, he falls asleep at important meetings, he looks bored and foolish.
The fun of this book was sitting back and seeing him through the eyes of a new character and in a new role and setting. It’s fun to watch the subtle progression in Costis’ feelings as the book goes along, because he becomes privy to things other Attolians do not see. For instance the relationship between the king and the queen, and Eugenides’ weak moments. There’s a certain amount of darkness there, much more than previous books.
I think this may be my favorite of the series, but I don’t think it was perfect. There were parts that felt over explained, and this is a series that explains though showing – so for instance the relationship between Eugenides and Attolia was sometimes theatrical. I also felt like part of this book had Eugenides exerting his powers to direct Attolia towards a different rule – one that has less fear and mistrust, and they way this was shown was problematic. I felt like some parts were heavy handed if you got what was going on, but on the other hand, if you didn’t understand the point of what Eugenides was doing, it may just look confusing.
Overall: I pretty much loved The King of Attolia. There were minor details that I felt could have been better, but otherwise I had a ton of fun reading it. I think it appealed to the thinker-aheader in me to see if Eugenides could surprise me.  I love books that do that.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Fantasy Cafe – 8/10
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes – 5/5
Angieville – positive
Stella Matutina – 4.5 stars
Book Harbinger – positive
fully-immersed – positive
All About Books – positive
jmc-bks – positive

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The Queen of Attolia
Megan Whalen Turner
This book may be one of the oldest books on Mt. TBR in the Janicu Household (if not the oldest), but before you admonish me for this, I stopped reading it because it was a sequel. And I didn’t buy The Thiefuntil 5 years later. This is what happens when you are easily distracted.

I think you should read the The Thief before Queen of Attolia because this book’s world and characters don’t make as much sense without the first book. There’s also one thing that the second book would probably spoil for you in The Thief.  I’m going to try to avoid spoilers in my review, but for those who haven’t read The Thief, here is my review of it:

The Premise: The story begins with Eugenides in Attolia again, using his skills as a thief to spy on the Queen of Attolia.  Attolia seems to be getting friendly with the ambassador of the Medes Empire, a nation held in check from invading the three countries of Attolia, Eddis and Sounis by treaties with greater nations, but never-the-less, they are a threat. Unfortunately for Gen, he can’t help leaving messages for the Queen to let her know that he was there, which infuriates her and makes her very determined to catch him. This time  – she does. It is not long before Eugenides and his homeland are paying for this mistake.

Excerpt from Queen of Attolia

My Thoughts: I had mixed feelings about stepping back from Eugenides in this installment of the series. He’s no longer the narrator, and I miss getting a shot of his wit from his own mouth. On the other hand, with the point of view being in third person, I can see what other characters are up to, especially the Queen of Attolia, and it makes sense to change the point of view when the story is not so much about Eugenides, as it is about the political turmoil ignited by his capture by the Attolians. And don’t get me wrong – Eugenides still feels like the main character. It is just that this time the focus is not always on him.

Luckily, the switch to third person wasn’t a hardship. As long as I had a dose of Eugenides I am happy. And I think part of me was also pretty forewarned. It turns out that I read far more of The Queen of Attolia than I thought I did before I realized it was the second book in a series. I thought I didn’t get past the first chapter, but when I was reading Queen, everything was familiar for the first 175 pages. There were elements of this story that ended up not surprising me, but which I think would be surprising to others – particularly what happens at the start of this book.

It all begins with a shocker, and a good chunk of the first half of this story is characters adjusting to what happened. Things are hard for a little while for certain characters, but there are bigger things going on. Attolia, Eddis and Sounis are embroiled in war, with the Medes Empire looking on with decided interest in the outcome. With such mechanisms going on, there’s quite a bit of plot that deals with the skirmishes between armies. The strategums employed by Eddis and Attolia are particularly fascinating, and I was rooting for one country in particular, but I have to admit that war games aren’t my favorite thing in fiction. Thankfully, while the story does cover the fighting, there’s plenty of focus on individuals to stop me from becoming bored.

Of course the individual I found myself caring most about was Eugenides, and again, he does not disappoint. I loved his role in this story, and how he manages to steal Peace, a man, and a Queen. There also a nice dash of romance in this one, although one character involved in it kept things closer to the vest than I’d fully like, it is a very, very good beginning, and I can’t wait to read the next book.

Overall: A great second installment. The focus is widened beyond Eugenides so that the changes to Sounis, Eddis and Attolia are displayed, but he still stays a central character. He may not be the same carefree boy he was in The Thief, but once you’ve fallen under the spell of Eugenides’ mix of wit and vulnerability, you’re in his corner forever, eager to see what mess he’ll put himself into next, and how he will get out of it. This book is a bit more serious than the last one, but I love where the story went and the romance we glimpse. Here is where I say I can’t wait to read the next one, but I’m already reading it.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville – positive
The Book Harbinger – positive
Fantasy Cafe – 9/10
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes – 5/5
Presenting Lenore – positive
Monkey Bear Reviews (spoilery) – B+
jmc_books – B+
stella matutina – 4 stars (out of 5)
It’s All About Books – positive
Dear Author – B+
calico_reaction (spoilery) – “Worth the read” with caution

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief
Megan Whalen Turner

This is one of those series that is beloved by many which I just haven’t read. Actually. Strike that. I heard about it and tried to read it something like 8 years ago, but I didn’t know it was a series or what order the books were in. I tried to read The Queen of Attolia, and felt like it wasn’t making much sense. I don’t recall getting past the first chapter. (This is why publishers should put series information on book covers). Anyway, I figured out much later that the first book is really The Thief, and got myself a copy through a giveaway from  Dreams and Speculation.  I’ve been nudged to read it from a veritable mob of book bloggers: Ana from The Book Smugglers, Chachic, Angie, and Kristen – and that’s just the people who piped in on twitter last month when I said I still had it on the TBR.
Being the self-preserving girl that I am and realizing that BEA is coming up, I decided I better read it.
Alright you guys. I liked it.
The Premise: I don’t think I can do better than the back blurb: “‘I can steal anything.’ After After Gen’s bragging lands him in the king’s prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king’s scholar, the magus, needs the thief’s skill for a seemingly impossible task-to steal a hidden treasure from another land. To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.
Browse inside The Thief
My Thoughts: Despite the build up for this book, I wasn’t worried that the book wouldn’t live up to it’s promise. Based on the number of people recommending this whose tastes are similar to my own, it was a fair bet I’d like it too,  so it’s unsurprising by how easily I was drawn into the story of a young man languishing in a prison because of his big mouth. I think that the Gen-love in the blogosphere made me expect a clever and quick witted character, which I think led me to have certain expectations of him, but I really liked how subtly this was conveyed. Gen is the narrator of The Thief, and his voice is rather young for someone in prison (somewhere in his late teens I want to say), and he’s a bit of an underdog with his small size and lack of choices, but his attitude about it all made me smile. When he’s taken out of prison to meet with the magus (the king’s most learned advisor), Gen sits on the nicest chair in the room, despite being filthy and a little terrified. I loved both his chutzpah and the showing, not telling, of Gen’s character through these little interactions with Gen’s captors.
Gen learns that the magus wants him to steal something. What or where it is, the magus does not say, but it’s not like Gen can turn down the job. This begins a journey out of the kingdom of Sounis into its neighboring countries for a special treasure. The magus, and his two students, Ambiades and Sophos, a soldier, Pol, accompany Gen, their tool in this special mission of thievery. Along the way the political climate, history, religion and trade of the area are described, both in the story and through some storytelling within the story. I wasn’t sure at first what to make of the world – on one hand Gen and the others travel by horse, stay at inns and eat bread an cheese – the typical fantasy world that’s pseudo-medieval, but there are also guns and watches. This is combined with a religion that seems loosely based on a Greek pantheon, but not quite, as well as Greek names. It’s sort of a unique hodgepodge, but it’s very carefully constructed and feels real.
You know, I think this book covers my list of basic reader-wants in a story. I liked Gen’s character. I found the world building intriguing. I enjoyed its tight plot which slowly drew me in with it’s treasure stealing and the implications on the kingdoms of Sounis, Eddis and Attolia. There’s a simple storytelling style which ties it all together, and the cherry on the top is that if you attention to the story, you are rewarded. The combination of all these things are what I want in my stories, and I could tell from the very moment I started reading The Thief that it belonged in the same category as those books I fell in love with when I was a teen – books by Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, and Margaret Mahy.  This book has that same indefinable quality. Maybe it’s a sense that the writer assumes the reader will meet her expectations so she doesn’t need to lower them, and maybe that makes this book and those by the authors I mentioned just not just good young adult books, but just plain good.
Overall: Yep, I liked this one. It’s got a light, straightforward style with sly undercurrent that I liked. I felt quite satisfied when the book was over. If you still haven’t read this series and you are a fan of those character-driven fantasy books by Robin McKinley and writers of that ilk, I think you should try this. I’ve been promised that The Queen of Attolia will really light my fire for this series, and this makes me want to read it very soon.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews (whoo, there are a lot):
Angieville – positive
jmc-bks – positive
My favourite books – positive
Chachic’s Book Nook – (review for the series) – positive
Good Books and Good Wine – positive
Emily’s Little Pink Notes – 4.5 out of 5
Monkey Bear Reviews – A
Bogormen – 3.5 out of 5
Presenting Lenore – positive
Stella Matutina – 3 out of 5 (found the opening slow)
The Book Smugglers – (review for the series) – positive
Fantasy Book Cafe – 7.5 out of 10
calico_reaction – Worth the Cash (link has spoilers)