My Year in Reading

This year I simultaneously fell behind on this blog and started using GoodReads. I resolve to get caught up here this winter. Due to that I had a hard time this year counting exactly how many titles I read, but I believe it was 75–not bad!  That does not count all the audiobooks we listened to-this was the year we enjoyed listening to children’s stories in the car.  I loved the Beverly Clear books narrated by Stockard Channing and also by Neil Patrick Harris.  As for myself? Top reads were All Clear by Connie Willis, I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels, and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Finally! The conclusion to the awesome alternate history-World War I-steampunk trilogy is here! All summer long I was looking forward to this and it was indeed a very satisfying end to the trilogy.  I’m going to stick with my Star Wars comparison that I told a friend the other day.  Much like in the original Star Wars trilogy the middle episode is the strongest (Empire Strikes Back and in this case, Behemoth), if not the happiest.

This final book introduces Nikolai Tesla as a key player in warfare.  He’s a Clanker, not a Darwinist, which means his methods involve machinery.  His claims to have created a weapon that will be so fearsome it will promptly end the war through terrifying threat bring up the juxtaposition of war/peace.  Although this is a trilogy about a war in this volume issues like the greater good, threats, at what cost must the war end seem to be discussed and analyzed an awful lot.

As with the other volumes I loved the descriptions of the air beasts, fabricated beasties, and marvelous machines.  Anytime Deryn went topside I knew there would an interesting action sequence.  I loved the incorporation of real people (William Randolph Hearst, Pancho Villa) and the role propaganda and film making played.  And I was once again grateful for and interested by the breakdown at the end of what exactly was real and what was made up.

As for the long awaited moments of Alek discovering that Derek is really Deryn, a girl, it was very satisfyingly handled.  I definitely rooted for them.  The story in this volume was not as exciting or strong to me as it was in Behemoth, but it was a good conclusion to the trilogy.  And while it was a definitive end I would love it if Mr. Westerfeld wrote some more books in this amazing world he has imagined and built.

Behomoth by Scott Westerfeld

Gosh, it’s been like three weeks since I read this (yes, I’m in the terrible habit of reading madly, getting a pile up of five to seven books to write about and having lost my momentum for comments on the book and, in some cases, have trouble remembering details!)…So, sequel to Leviathan, cannot wait for the third book that will conclude the trilogy.  Am convinced he’s titling these Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath as a comment on the size of the books–it’s not that they are so long, but the shape of the book is a bit awkward (too narrow!) and I swear the pages are made of some kind of super heavy lead lined paper.
The story picks up shortly after Leviathan ended, with the great airship Leviathan headed to the Ottoman empire, carrying the Austrian Prince Alek, Deryn, the extraordinary midshipman who is actually a girl in disguise,  the mysterious eggs about to hatch, and the Darwinist lady who started this mission on Churchill’s request.  The country they land in is fascinating-a melting pot of cultures and religions, as well as a place that is not quite Clanker and not quite Darwinists.  However, the Germans are doing their best to take over.  Secret missions abound, Deryn’s leadership is tested, allies and enemies are made.
I thought this was a very exciting center of a trilogy. The danger the face is definitely real and the adventure is tempered with some funny bits (Deryn and Alek clearly have feelings for each other, but don’t quite know what to make of it since she is still in disguise.) Like in the first book there was a very helpful afterward explaining fact and fiction.  I can’t wait for the conclusion! (But will have to wait a long time-not out until September!!)

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The good thing about being slow about reading hot new books is that by the time you get around to them there is already a sequel waiting for you.  So I finished this last night and can start the sequel the minute Paul brings it home from work.  Westerfeld is a bit of a darling of ya lit (author of Pretties, Uglies) and this steampunk novel has been hugely popular.  Although I wouldn’t say I’m a steampunk fan, not having read much of it, I do think I like it very much.  I adored Airborne, with it’s blend of science, fantasy, Victorian type trappings, but modern day things too.

This is an alternate history of the start of World War I, set in a world where there are Darwinists and Clankers.  Darwinists (Britain) have taken Darwin’s findings (in this story he also discovers DNA) and used it to create fabricated beasties–creatures created from hundreds of different animal forms to make combination animal/machine type things.  Pretty difficult to explain, and I was delighted there were illustrations in this novel because I’m not sure I could fully envision a flying ship that is a living breathing whale, but people are inside it and there are some engines and things, too. It was super fascinating and really detailed and fully imagined.  Clankers (Austria-Hungary, Germany) abhor man’s messing with nature and revere machinery instead.  They’ve created Stormwalkers, which are totally the machines in Star Wars ( At-At.)

The two main characters in the book are the son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Alek, and Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy so that she can join the Air Service.  The story alternates between the two and their two very different worlds.  Alek is on the run as the hidden heir to an empire, Deryn is committed to being in the Air Service. Both are horrified by the countries coming to war and also by what they believe about the other side.  It’s no surprise that they end up meeting and then the story continues with them together as allies.

This was a fabulous adventure story (also, although the author takes liberties with facts it did actually help me understand the origins of WWI a bit-there is a good afterword where he explains what is fact and what is fiction in his story) and I cannot wait to read the next installment!