Rounding Up My Spring and Summer Reading of 2021

Due to an unfortunate break, I pulled the spring and summer round up into one post. As such these seasons boost the numbers of 10 read books. 7 of those were in English while the other three were in German. The same number (3) applies to the books I have been given in exchange of an honest review. As always, those are marked with *. 

Overview


On The Way To Birdland*

by Frank Morelli 

Cordy lives in a small southern town and has never left it before. However, when bad news hits home, he decides to leave his turtle shell and embark on a risky journey through the States. The goal? To find his runaway brother, and bring him back home so that the family is reunited before it is too late. 

The book shows each of Cordy's steps of his journey, and how he learns about new things, new people and their views on life. Those companions fall into certain tropes - i.e. the gentle giant - but stray away from being stereotypical.

One of the most important aspects in this book is never forgotten: Cordy's love for Jazz music. It lingers in every page, and the fact that it stems from the author's interest does not come as a surprise. You can feel it while reading. I enjoy this aspect a lot, even though, I do not know anything about Jazz music. 

Sadly, there is a drawback: Despite the well-written characters and their stories, the book never sucked me in. It lacked that little catch that would usually get me hooked. As a result, it took me a long time to finish "On The Way To Birdland". 

Nevertheless, the overall experience was a pleasant and enjoyable one. The result of Morelli's work is a great story that shines a light on family bonds, and coping with trauma. 

A full review in which I discuss these topics as well as the characters in further detail is available here.




Roadside Picnic 

(orig.: Пикник на обочине) 

by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky


The only thing an alien visit left behind are four deadly zones, littered with new technology but more deadly dangers. Going into them and coming back out alive is nearly impossible. Yet, Stalkers venture out for all kinds of goods on a regular basis. More often than not illegally ... 

"Roadside Picnic" follows such a stalker: Red. It follows him for three of the four chapters, showing how his life and he himself changes. He goes from a reformed Stalker, who stalks legally, to one who turns back to a life to get the goods out for the highest bidder because life has dealt him those cards. The further the story continues, the more disillusioned he becomes. Yet ... maybe a little bit of almost childlike hope remains. 

Furthermore, the story telling is fantastic. It is written in short and crude sentences, never putting a name to any of the emotions. Still you know perfectly what Red feels. The same method is used to describe any visits to The Zone, so your nerves are always on the edge when reading.

I talk further about characters, writing style and the story in my full review, which is available here.  




Russland und Wir 

(transl.: Russia and Us) 

by Hugo Portisch 

"Russland und Wir" is a non-fiction book that gives an overview of the history of Russia, how it intersects and connects until this very day. 

Portisch was a well-acclaimed historian journalist, and has taken a look at various difficult topics and treated them with respect and without hiding the ugly aspects either. He does this with "Russland und Wir" again. 

He corporate personal stories about his travels to the Soviet Union with historical facts and sociological aspects. While it may sound like one at first glance, this book is not one Pro Russia Now, it does nothing to beautify what Putin has been doing for the last few years. In fact, it highlights what has gotten the country into this state. As well as showing the uglier political sides while not forgetting that the every day Russian is not ex equo to the state. 

Overall, it was an interesting and informative read - which showed, as it is with every country, that it is not, and never will be, perfectly black and white to judge. Your history knowledge can be next to minimal when reading as well. 




Atomvulkan Golkonda

(transl. The Land of Crimson Clouds | orig. Страна багровых туч) 

by Arkadi Strugatzki and Boris Strugatzki 


Bykov, a desert specialist, is recruited to join a vital mission to Venus. The way seems easy at first, there are only a few minor mishaps but what does one expect when trying to conquer one of the deadliest planets in the solar system?

As soon as the new rocket touches ground, things start to become more difficult and strange. As it turns out Venus refuses to be conquered. Even so, our heroes continue on their mission, light-hearted and doubting that anything could go wrong ... 

The story takes a while until it starts to pick up pace. The first part is used to introduce the characters, the mission and their tools. We meet the crew, and hear about the glorious goals. As soon as they start on their journey things become much more difficult. It does not stop there ... 

This is when the pace picks up while at the same time, building an almost domestic atmosphere between them. One moment, they are joking and teasing each other during lunch, the next you are going to get your heart ripped out

Given that this book was first published in 1959 in the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that there is a whiff of commie propaganda. However, not the whole book reeks of it, so you can happily read it while ignoring the few mentions of the communistic party and merely enjoy the drama. 

A full review which discusses all those topics, plus character motives in further detail is going to be available later this year. 



Dustborn*

by Erin Bowman 

Delta lives in a barren world in which survival is tough. The water becomes scare by the day, the crops are harder to plant and there are bandits waiting for their chances. After a journey through the wastes, Delta finds that her whole pack has been attacked and taken to the General for slave labour. So she sets out to find them. During this journey she gets captured and sold to the General who learns of her secret: 

Delta carries scars on her back, a map passed down through generations that is meant to lead to salvation and an ever green place with plenty of water. Nobody can read it. When the General learns of it, he threatens to kill one of Delta's pack each third day until she shares the route with him. But Delta cannot give him something she does not have. 

"Dustborn" managed to create a fantastic atmosphere with which I fell in love. There are mentions of old world relics and that the ancient language had gotten lost. Those are the touches of familiar, but it is clear how much time has passed and that these people struggle. The post-apocalyptic atmosphere is anything but easy and kind. Delta mentions it time and again that the wastes are harsh and unforgiving. Yet, there are still moments of kindness. So overall, it is incredibly immersive and I loved the world from the very first moment on. 

The only nitpick I have with the story is that at times, Delta seems emotionless. After all, it is told from her point of view. Yet, the emotional struggles and conflicts are often skipped or cut short in favour of the story. She watches a horrible thing happening and hardly has any emotional reaction. There is only one memorable time when she screams, truly struggles and breaks down and this does not last either. 

While I would have wished for more exploration of these aspects, the overall story still remains a good, if not great one. There are morally grey aspects as one would expect from such a world. The characters are likable and the story, including plot-twists, kept me hooked. Furthermore, this book is one of the best paced books I've ever read - there are no slumps - it remains a constant and steady pace. 

A full review of  Dustborn is available here. 



Der Weg zur Amalthea 

(transl. The Way to Amalthea  | orig. Путь на Амальтею)

by Arkadi Strugatzki and Boris Strugatzki 

This is the second story in the "The Lands of Crimson Clouds" trilogy. German publishers chose to publish it in one book alongside "The Apprentices". However, I am going to treat it as two separate works because that's what they are in the original context. 

On the way to the space station Amalthea, their spaceship gets into trouble as an unexpected meteoroid shower catches them and pushes them towards the atmosphere of Jupiter. Jupiter has little to no mercy for such unfortunate souls. The ship does not carry enough fuel, and parts of the engine were destroyed. Added to this is the amount of gravity, meaning the lower they get, the further it increases until the ship will be crushed. 

"The Way to Amalthea" is a much shorter and tenser story than the first.  This time the focus is not on discovery and being a fine gentleman. This time it is about survival. Thus, the main characters are even allowed to curse. 

The already familiar characters are led through this mission by Bykov, who carries the rank of Captain now. Once again, he has to use his unbelievable stubbornness to fix an unfixable situation, pushing the crew even further than possible. Even in this tense atmosphere there are lighthearted and softer moments. Especially between Dauge and Yurkovsky. 

Overall, the book is fast paced and a great read for in-between. Especially given that it only has 100 pages. Even when the ending is almost predictable, the tension is not. 



Aspho Fields

... is the first part of the Gears of War book series that incorporates with the the games. As such, a knowing player will meet the familiar characters of Baird, Cole, Dom, and Marcus. 

The book is split into two plots: one takes place in the present - following an evacuation of supplies right after the events of the first game - as well as meeting an old Gear named Bernie who fought her way through half of Sera to get back to the COG. Bernie also served alongside Marcus and Dom's brother Carlos in Aspho Fields. Now, Dom wants to learn of the full story of how his brother had died. Even when Bernie and Marcus swore to never to this. 

This makes up the second plot: the past. There we see Marcus' first day in school and as he cautiously starts to befriend a boy named Carlos Santiago and his little brother Dom. As time passes, they become brothers. This story climaxes at Aspho Fields where Carlos and Marcus are in the infantry, while Dom is in a commando unit. The very mission Carlos died in.  

While Carlos is not a character to ever appear in the games, the story is set up perfectly. You automatically start to feel the bond between him and Marcus. The sense of brothers and family is natural. This makes the truth even more painful ... 

As to be expected the book focuses more on the "past" than it does on the present mission. Since Carlos is the key to the story, the relationship between Marcus and him is moved towards the spotlight. Which, sadly, means that Dom and Marcus get little kid and teen bonding. 

However, their deep friendship is a given anyway, and not to be questioned. This does show perfectly in the present because all Marcus had tried to do was protect Dom from the brutal truth. As well as Dom being the only person to correctly read Marcus. 

Furthermore, the writing is lovely. The pacing is good and comfortable to read when on a train ride. There are fighting scenes - obviously - but instead of going for full on gore, Traviss focuses more on suspense and tight places to get out of. This gives you a novel with proper pacing, emotional aspects as well as slice and dice: the typical Gears of War recipe. 

I had to write a full review, and it is available here.



Lying with Lions* 

... is a historical fiction novel with a LGBT+ element. The story revolves around Agnes, who is an archivist in the noble Bryant household. Slowly, she starts to uncover more secrets and is pulled into the family business. Especially those of Lady Bryant. 

Agnes and Lady Bryant stand out not because they are extremely strong characters in their own ways. Agnes is the quiet one who is smart and knows exactly how to play people. While Lady Bryant was born into power, and carries the strength to keep it. Criticisms does not matter to her. Her motives are indomitable according to her, even as a new age starts to dawn. 

While the blurb promises one big secret to uncover, it is hard to discover which one exactly that is supposed to be. During the the whole plot there are plenty of scandals. So it was hard to focus on either of them because up until halfway through the book, I realised that there is not going to be a single big one that the story was building up to. In 233 pages there appear to be five family dramas, which is a lot to ask of so few pages. Added to that, that the pace is rather slow. So you end up with a book you can put aside almost any time.

However, the ending is *chef kiss*. It is raw, and powerful. In the end, it remains a tragedy and I loved it. Then there is the difference between the outside view and what really happened. 

In the end, a good ending could not save "Lying with Lions" from its rating. Unfortunately, it is let down by various mistakes as well as a plot that appears to be all over the place. 

A full review is available here.




Jacinto's Remnants 

... is the second book in the Gears of War book series. It takes place right after the events of the second game and sinking Jacinto. As such the focus lies on the COG trying to find a new home with the remaining remnants of humanity. The storyline of the "past" deals with the opposite: the few days before and after the COG ruined their own world with the Hammer Strikes. 

We follow this story, "Jacinto's Remnants" focuses more on emotional aspects. Especially in regards of Dom, who has to cope with personal tragedy on an unimaginable scale. Various chapters are written from Dom's perspective and some of those are not easy to stomach. He has good and bad days, breakdowns, and uncontrollable anger. Traviss is not shy about the messy business known as grieving. 

In fact, "Jacinto's Remnants" deals with traumas of all sorts. From rape to guilt, regret and even generation wide trauma. All of them deal with it differently. Denial, and trying to reason with their own choices - making them right. Bernie straight up refuses to be victimised. All of these different reactions, are not over-written or trope-y. They fell normal. These characters still feel like people who follow a life despite all this shit. 

"Jacinto's Remnants" contains fewer action scenes than the previous book but it makes up with this by dealing with complex emotional themes in an appropriate way.  

A full review is going to be available in later November


No Child of Mine 

by Olga Gibbs

... is a dystopian thriller that is set in a Britain of the future and ruled by a totalitarian party. The people are already brainwashed, believing this is the best life they could possibly lead. No other opinion is accepted because the State Security would make sure of it. 

The story follows Tom: a happily married man with one child. At first, he is the typical citizen, following his routines and believing heavily into the party's ideals. Life is good. However, things start to change after the Parade. At first the state security burst into their flat in the middle of the night. From then on, things go from bad to worse. 

Gibbs managed to create the right atmosphere by using inspiration from past leaderships, countries, as well as books that deal with a totalitarian government. The story plays in a country that is being branded as being the most free in the world, while it is obvious to the reader that it is no. 

Throughout the book, Tom's motivation shifts from being a loyal citizen to just making sure his family is save. This, of course, leads to being forced to re-examing his ideals and the propaganda he had been raised with. A propaganda that is deeply rooted inside of him, and even his past choices come to haunt him as he becomes an enemy of the state. 

This created a gripping story, which's degree of separation is almost a little too close to reality.

An in-depth review is going to be available by the end of October. 



For the next season, I look forwards to reading more of the Gears of War book series (Captain Obvious speaking) as well as keeping my eye on the new release: Ephyra Rising by Michael A. Stackpole. Furthermore, I found a copy of 1984 at my mother's place, and I think it is time for a re-read. 

What are you looking forward to reading? 

8 comments :

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the books you have read, a couple of them will be added to my reading list. I like your honesty and clear writing style.

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    1. Thank you very much! Happy that you found some new TBRs :)

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  2. I haven’t heard of any of these books before but I always appreciate book recommendations. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Ruth| Ruthiee loves Glamour23 September 2021 at 17:38

    I haven't read or heard of any of these books before! I would love to read On the way to birdland. The plot summary is interesting and it sounds like something I would love! Thank you for sharing x

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  4. Looks like you had some great reading months! I hadn't heard of any of these before but I've added Aspho Fields to my tbr, it sounds amazing! I love the dual timelines and the family bond. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. same, I am always a sucker for family bonds <3

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  5. You have read quite a few books. I need to start reading more. Thank you for sharing your reads!

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    1. Thank you! And good luck with reading more books :)

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