Books of the Month - December 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 Books And Trips

This year is quickly coming to an end, and so is my reading list for December. My self imposed challenge on Shelfari was to read 40 books in 2015, and I came a little short of that goal, as life, filled with work, school and social obligations came in the way. I promised myself to make amends in 2016, when I plan on hitting the mark of 50 books per year. Fingers crossed!

Until then, here is what kept me busy during the month of December, 2015:

1. Erika Johansen - The Invasion of the Tearling is the second book in the Queen of the Tearling series, which I truly enjoyed from the get go. I honestly could not put it down. For those who love a good dystopia, this deserves some prime shelf space, next to The Brave New World, The Hunger Games or Divergent.

The story unfolds under the threat of the invasion by the evil kingdom of Mortmesne, with the worst consequences imaginable for young Kelsea Glynn and her poorly defensed kingdom. By putting an end to the slave runs, she crossed the Red Queen, a powerful ruler, skilled in dark magic, who cannot wait to destroy the Tearling and put an end to Kelsea's reign. As the Mort forces approach, Kelsea's magic sapphires seem to be dead, but strange things keep happening: the Queen of the Tearling develops healing powers, she teaches herself magic and she grows from the plain girl into a beautiful woman, while she develops a mysterious connection to Lily, a woman from before the Crossing, fighting for her life in the late 21st century America, which is unimaginably corrupt and filled with harsh social inequalities.

The Verdict: I loved it. It is much more graphic that the first book, which is mostly a coming of age young adult story, and it is deeply filled with political intrigue, violence and the complexities of war. It also introduces new characters, while shedding some light on the mysteries only hinted at in the first book regarding the brutal origins of the Tearling. I cannot wait for the third books in this series - The Fate of the Tearling, too bad it comes out in June, 2016...

2. David Lagercrantz - The Girl In The Spider's Web is the fourth book in the Millennium series, started by Stieg Larsson. Unfortunately, this brilliant author passed away before being able to complete his masterpiece, but luckily David Lagercrantz took over and did a pretty good job at unraveling Lisbeth Salander's latest adventures.

The autistic hacker girl gets entangled into yet another mystery, when she hacks into the NSA database to uncover a plot, featuring high ranking American officials, a well known tech company, Russian oligarchs and a ruthless criminal organization lead by an important figure of her past. Besides the regulars - Salander, Blomkvist, Erika Berger - dead genius scientists, an autistic child with savant skills, Russian hit men, American security specialists, a mysterious stranger - all these characters and their unexpected interactions make The Girl In The Spider's Web a thrilling read. 

Lisbeth Salander is her old self again, still angry, still goth, still keen on fighting against social injustice and rooting for the underdog. The book raises the issue of privacy and the various ways technology can be used and abused, as well as the condition of autistic children and of the way society views them.

The Verdict: Even though I have approached it rather skeptically at first, thinking that it will probably be disappointing, I couldn't have been more wrong. David Lagercrantz manages to capture the essence of Lisbeth, one of the most iconic characters created in contemporary fiction. While he digs deeper into her life and we seem to understand more of how she got to be who she is, he still manages to keep us wanting for more. And the good news is that by the ending, I could tell that the series will go on!   

3. Edith Hahn Beer - The Nazi Officer's Wife was a one of those touching books about the suffering of Jews during Hitler's ascension to power and during the horrors of the Second World War. This is actually an autobiography of Edith Hahn, a Jewish law student from Vienna, who managed to survive the war by changing her identity and mixing with the enemy, so she could stay safe, hidden in plain sight. 

I felt inspired by her, as she suffered through months of hardship, hunger and cold in an agricultural labor camp, though pain and exhaustion in a paper factory, when she went underground in Vienna and was roaming the streets hungry as her then boyfriend was too afraid to help her and when she boarded the train for Munich, terrified not to be discovered traveling without the Star of David. 

I rooted for her when she managed to become invisible in Munich, when she married Werner, lying about her ancestry, when she became a Red Cross nurse and had her baby. I was afraid for her during the bombing of Brandenburg and finally felt relieved when she and her daughter were safe and she managed to get hired as a judge at a local courthouse after the war. And I felt heartbroken when her mother was not to be found among the survivors of the concentration camps. Edith did whatever she had to do in order to survive and protect her loved ones and that makes her a hero in my eyes.

The Verdict: You need to read one of these books from time to time. It gave me the same feeling as The Diary of Anne Frank or The Book Thief - anger that something like this was possible in the recent history and hope that the human spirit is eventually triumphant. I would definitely recommend it as a mandatory non-fiction read.  

4. George R.R. Martin - The Hedge Knight is the first book of Tales of Dunk and Egg, a prequel to Song of Ice and Fire. I am a huge GoT nerd, so of course I jumped at the chance to read this series. The action takes places about 100 years before the start of Game of Thrones, in the aftermath of the Blackfyre Rebellion. The Seven Kingdoms are at peace now, with the Targaryen dynasty at its height and Dorne part of the Seven Kingdoms, not through conquest, but through marriage, during the reign of Good King Daereon the Second. 

The Hedge Knight is Ser Dunk, self called Duncan the Tall, who after the death of his mentor, picks up his armor and horses and goes to prove his worth in a tourney held at Ashford Meadows. On the way he stops at an inn to dine and stumbles upon drunkard and a peculiar boy, who offers to be his squire. Ser Dunk does not agree at first, thinking there was no way he could support the little one, but the boy follows him to the tourney and convinces the hedge knight to take him in his service. After having a hard time getting recognized in order to join the contest, Ser Dunk is allowed to participate by Prince Baelor, son of the king and Lord Hand. True to his vow of defending the innocent, he gets into a fight with Prince Aerion, who was abusing a puppeteer and finds himself accused of raising a hand against a royal family member. He proves his innocence by means of a trial by combat and moves along, followed by his new squire, Egg.

The Verdict: It got me interested. It is a pretty short book, good enough for a 4 hours plane or train ride. I was curious to find out who Egg was, I wanted to know how Dunk would fare in the tourney and I enjoyed being immersed in the world of Westeros once again. I am curious to see how this story continues and if it can offer even more insight into what happens in the Song of Ice and Fire

5. George R.R. Martin - The Sworn Sword is the second book of Tales of Dunk and Egg, and it follows our two heroes in the service of Lord Eustace Osgrey, of the Reach, getting caught up in petty feuds and casual injustices, giving a fair account of what it meant to be a paid knight in the Seven Kingdoms. 

In the midst of a terrible drought in the Reach, following the Great Spring Sickness that took its toll on Westeros, Dunk has sworn his sword to an old faded out lord, who longs for his lost family and his old honors. Ser Eustace draws Dunk and Egg into a potentially fatal conflict with his neighbor, Lady Rohanne Webber, the Red Widow. After trying to mediate between Ser Eustace and Lady Webber, Dunk finds out the truth has many facets and things are far from what has been told. We find out more about the Blackfyre Rebellion and we start to understand how deeply this had divided the Seven Kingdoms. 

The Verdict: I liked it, though I felt it was much too compact. This novella could easily be unfolded into a full fledged novel, as it could go deeper into the Blackfyre Rebellion and its consequences across the Seven Kingdoms. 

6. George R.R. Martin - The Mystery Knight is the third and final book of Tales of Dunk and Egg and finds our two heroes journeying towards the North, to take service at Winterfell to join the Starks in their fight against the Iron People. 

On the way they meet a group of knight who tell them about a tourney organized in order to celebrate a noble wedding. Seeing this tourney as a chance to earn some money, Dunk and Egg make their way there and get embroiled in a rebellion plot, where the defeated lords of the Redgrass Field, try to put another pretender on the throne.

The Verdict: This book is my favorite of the series so far - the story is more complex and involves a lot more intrigue and unpredictable twists and turns. It is full of spies, politics, mysterious murders, jousting, feasting, having all the ingredients of a true page turner. I am looking forward to a new installment of this prequel, I really hope George RR Martin will continue to work on it.

That's all, folks! What did you read this month?