Reviews

Top Five Wednesday: Best Suggested Books

I recently stumbled on this GoodReads group that proposes a weekly meme whose aim is to give a list of Top Five… anything, as long as they are book related. It sounds fun, and something I can manage even with my too-often-limited time.

This week the topic is: Best Suggested Books You Loved (books recommended to you):

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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

A friend whose tastes I trust implicitly mentioned reading this book, and since I loved Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale I decided to try it. The fact that it depicted a post-apocalyptic scenario was an added bonus, since I’m somewhat addicted to that trope: what I found in Oryx and Crake was much more than I expected, a tale both terrifying and sad about the end of the human race as we know it.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

A few years ago, a friend who was involved with a small publishing house asked me to read this book with the prospect of acquiring the rights for translation and publication: knowing my love of the genre, she wanted my opinion about it. I was instantly captivated both by the story of old people who are given a second chance in life by signing up with an off-world military organization, and by the author’s writing and voice. Since then I’ve become a staunch Scalzi fan, and every title he publishes goes directly on my “buy immediately” list.

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

I can’t recall where the recommendation for this book came from, except for the fact that someone urged me to try this author: nonetheless, whoever you are – thank you!  This story about a nanotech virus who has reduced an advanced city into a jungle of decaying buildings, where technology can be a danger, is fascinating on its own, but if you add the main character’s quest for revenge, you get a gripping tale that makes this author one of your favorites.

DreamSongs by GRR Martin

Much as I admire Martin’s writing, I had not thought about reading this collection of stories spanning his long writing career, because at the time I preferred to “sink my teeth” into full-fledged novels.  But I heard a few of this stories narrated with the special voice of actress Claudia Black, and I loved them for their depth and intensity, so I decided to read them all: as recommendations go, this was a rather indirect one, but I’m glad of it all the same!

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

I saw this book mentioned on a forum I was following and the title caught my attention: in the SF show Farscape there is a very special kind of ship – a bio-mechanoid creature labeled as a Leviathan, and my love of the show brought me to try out this book. Little did I know at the time that I would be fascinated by this new, fresh approach to space opera and that I would become a faithful fan of this series, that is now being translated on the screen with amazing success.

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Reviews

Top Five Wednesday: BIGGEST BADASSES

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I recently stumbled on this GoodReads group that proposes a weekly meme whose aim is to give a list of Top Five… anything, as long as they are book related. It sounds fun, and something I can manage even with my too-often-limited time.

This week the topic is: Biggest Badasses

For this week’s theme I had no doubts: I would list only lady badasses, because they are far more interesting and, let’s face it, far more fun  🙂

From Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World (the second volume of the Shattered Sea trilogy): Thorn Bathu  is a young woman who prefers to learn how to fight rather than sew and cook, and when she becomes an outcast after accidentally killing another trainee, she accepts to become part of a dangerous mission to seek allies against her people’s enemies. During that perilous voyage, Thorn (a name that suits her prickly temper perfectly) learns that fighting is not just a matter of brute force and that her innate aggression can be put to more proficient use.  Her bluntness, and a fiery temper that can flare at the slightest provocation, are however counterbalanced by a fragile soul that can be easily wounded, and this dichotomy makes her an interesting and relatable person.

Another character from Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold is Monza Murcatto: a successful mercenary soldier, known for her fighting prowess, she is left for dead after the assassination attempt perpetrated by her employer.  Surviving through sheer willpower and stubbornness, and a fierce desire for revenge, she gathers a band of misfits around her and proceeds through her bloody journey toward payback with little regard for the corpses she leaves on her trail or for the people she hurts – either physically or not.  Despite these unpalatable traits, Monza is an intriguing figure, one the reader ultimately ends up rooting for – and one that’s not so easy to forget.

M.L. Brennan has changed the rules about vampires with her V Generation series, but she has also created one of the best Urban Fantasy characters I ever encountered: Suzume Hollis, a kitsune shapeshifter – in other words, and according to her own description, a fox that can change into a woman.  Storming into the life of Fortitude Scott, a young vampire-in-transition, like the proverbial hurricane, she becomes his ally, his friend and the irresistible force that changes his world and his way to look at it.  Possessed of a wicked sense of humor, Suzume wreaks havoc in Fortitude’s daily existence – changing his computer’s passwords, for example, or leaving strange and embarrassing messages all over his apartment – but when push comes to shove she can be a formidable tracker and a deadly opponent. I believe the word “awesome” was created for Suzume…

The unforgettable protagonist of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series (a trilogy of books about the zombie apocalypse) is Georgia Mason, a freelance blogger who – together with her brother and a small group of enterprising people – braves the dangers of the open world where the undead roam.  This is not exactly a story about zombies attacking people, but rather a picture of a world in the throes of fear after the upheaval of the zombie infection. When governments tried to hide the truth of the situation, only bloggers like Georgia kept facing the changed world to report and share the news. Living – and dying – in the name of truth.

Georgia’s heroism comes from the daily courage to go out of a home’s protecting walls and show people that they need not live under constant terror because she understands that: “…we have embraced the cult of fear, and now we don’t seem to know how to put it back where it belongs” and she wants to change that.

Cordelia Vorkosigan, mother of the more famous Miles – the protagonist of Lois McMaster Bujold Vor Saga – does not exactly fit the mold of ‘badass’: she is a strong woman, granted, a former captain in the Betan Cartographic Survey service, and a bold, opinionated creature who goes through life with the help of her deep-seated sense of justice.  Yet she’s far from the somewhat swashbuckling companions I listed above: her strength does not come from physical power but from determination – the determination to change, day by day, the strictures of her adopted home-world’s customs, that are far too much male-oriented and dependent of brawn rather than brains; the determination to insure her son Miles’ survival, despite his physical shortcomings resulting from an assassination attempt she endured during pregnancy; the determination to show Miles that intelligence and willpower can carry you forward just as much as muscles, if not more.  But in my eyes, she does enjoy a ‘badass’ moment in the second novel of the series, Barrayar: after facing the pretender to Barrayar’s throne and vanquishing him, she brings his head to the loyalists’ outpost and rolls it over a table, to the speechless surprise of the hardened soldiers standing around it.  And this is the reason I’m celebrating her with the attached images that I found courtesy of Gemmiona on DeviantArt (where any Vor enthusiast will find a good number of portraits from the saga, by the way).

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