January & February Wrap-Up

My reading year didn’t exactly get off to a great start (at least in terms of quantity); I only managed to finish two books in January, both of which I wrote full reviews for, which is why I decided to hold off for another month on posting this wrap-up. February was a lot more promising. 😊 In total, over the last two months, I got through four excellent novels, two graphic novels, and an audiobook! (I re-started my Audible subscription, and it’s amazing! 💕 Though I’m finding it very difficult to be patient while I wait for my next credit…)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. A novel about a young woman called Rosemary, who one day came home after staying with her grandparents to find that her sister Fern was gone. The book deals mainly with how what happened with Fern affected their family over the years… This was such a fascinating story! I really wanted to write a review of it, but wasn’t sure how to go about it without spoiling a plot twist that really makes this book what it is. But even beyond the twist, this is an excellent novel; I really enjoyed Rosemary’s perspective, and her relationships with her parents and siblings, and Fern’s part in the story was heartbreaking in places. 😥 The non-linear narrative greatly increased the effectiveness of the story as well, and I had a great time trying to puzzle out everything that had happened to Rosemary’s family, while she herself danced around the subject, leaving little breadcrumbs for us to follow.Grayson Volume 1: Agents of Spyral by Tim Seeley & Tom King. The first in a DCU-based comic series, wherein Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Nightwing, a.k.a. the first Robin) is undercover in the mysterious organisation Spyral, and reporting to Batman on their activities. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this more if I were up-to-date on the Nightwing series (which I believe this is supposed to follow on from), but as it was I found the plotline pretty incoherent, the characters (including Dick) boring, and the artwork not compelling enough to make up for the book’s flaws… I was initially quite excited by the appearance of Helena Bertinelli, but sadly in the New 52, she seems to have traded in her Huntress persona to become the bland Spyral agent known as Matron. 😑 It’s a shame, because my fondness for the Robins (all of them) makes me predisposed to like their solo titles, but doubt I’ll be continuing with this one.Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce. The second book in the Immortals quartet, which is part of Pierce’s Tortall universe – wherein Daine is called upon by her old wolf friends to negotiate with the local humans on their behalf, and discovers a sinister plot against the king and queen while she’s there. The Immortals is a familiar (and beloved) story to me, but this was my first time listening to the audiobook version of it – which was excellent! The voice acting really brought all the characters to life, and although the difference in speed between Pierce’s narration and the rest of the cast’s speech took was a little jarring at first, I got used to it quickly – and (on principle) I do like it when authors narrate their own books… 😊




Upcoming Releases: Spring 2018

Once again, I had a pretty hard time picking out just a few books to look forward to this spring, as there seem to be a tonne of exciting things coming out in the next few months – and in particular, lots of books from series or authors that I really love… Narrow it down I did, however, so these are a few of the books I’m most excited for in March, April & May. 😁

[All dates are taken from Goodreads unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 25/2/2018.]

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (13th March)

The final book in the Illuminae Files series, in which we will be returning to Kerenza (where the first book began) and joining new protagonists Asha and Rhys. I absolutely loved Illuminae when I first read it, and although I didn’t like Gemini quite as much, I still really enjoyed it… At this point I’m not sure how I’ll take to the new protagonists, but I’m willing to give Kaufman & Kristoff the benefit of the doubt, and the likelihood of me buying this as soon as it’s available is close to 100%. Excitement level: 9/10

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green (1st May)

The first in a new high fantasy series with four main characters: a princess, a thief, a hunter, and a traitor. I know very little else about it, but since I loved Green’s Half Bad trilogy so much, I’m interested to see what she’ll be doing with what looks like a more traditional fantasy setting. Excitement level: 8/10

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman (3rd May)

A standalone contemporary novel about the lead singer of a boyband called The Ark, and a teenage girl who owes a huge amount to her experiences as part of their fanbase. I only discovered Oseman’s writing recently, but I was super-impressed by it, so I’m really eager to see what she’s come up with next. This also sounds like its going to be more on the fluffier side of things than most of the other books on this list, but (although I wouldn’t be disappointed if that were the case) judging from Radio Silence – and, I hear, Solitaire, too – I expect that it’ll get heavier at some point. Excitement level: 6/10

Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski (22nd May)

A spin-off, standalone novel set in the Witcher universe, some time around the events of The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny (the two prequel short story collections), if I’m not mistaken. I remember being super-excited when I heard (sometime last year, I think) that Sapkowski was going to write another Witcher book, but, given that the main series has only just finished being released in English, I’m surprised that this one was translated so quickly! I’m definitely looking forward to reading it… as soon as I’m done with Lady of the Lake. 😋 Excitement level: 7/10

Library Scavenger Hunt: February

This month’s LSH challenge was to read a book with pictures in it, and since I’ve been craving Batman comics recently, I thought it’d be fun to try out some of the Gotham-based series that I’m not already collecting… There were two series in particular that I considered reading for this challenge, but although I borrowed them both (and I intend to read the second of them very soon, too), the one that I decided to review this month was…

Becky Cloonan & Brendan Fletcher
(Illustrated by Karl Kerschl)

Gotham Academy is home to the best and brightest students in Gotham… as well as a whole slew of strange secrets. Olive Silverlock just wants to get on with her life – and hopefully puzzle out what happened over the holidays that’s got her jumping at bat-shaped shadows – but unfortunately the world has other ideas, as she (along with Maps, the new student she’s supposed to be showing around) becomes drawn into investigating a series of school-wide ghost sightings.

This was a really fun read! The plotline (and the little mysteries that it presented) was both interesting and engaging, and surprisingly self-contained; though I am intrigued by the hints at a larger storyline in Gotham Academy, this first volume is quite satisfying to read as a standalone. It’s definitely lighter in tone than many of the other Gotham-based comics that I’ve read, but I found that that made for a really lovely change of pace…

The two main characters, Olive and Maps, played off one another wonderfully, with Maps’ innocent exuberance proving a nice counterpoint to Olive’s more serious character. (Maps was probably my favourite thing about this book, though – she’s just so cute! 😆) The cast of secondary characters wasn’t large, but those that we were introduced to seemed interesting, too, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them all better. And the tease at the very end of the book that Damian Wayne may be joining the Academy is another reason that I’m very likely to continue reading this series.

I also really enjoyed Kerschl’s artwork, which was incredibly expressive, super-cute, as well as consistently high-quality throughout the book.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]


Thematic Recs: The Batman Family

(One day, I will probably do a Thematic Recs post for superhero comics in general. This is not that day.) I love the Bat-family. My love for it knows (almost) no bounds, and this list compiles some of my favourite titles so far – though I’ve probably missed some great ones, as I certainly haven’t read the whole lot!

And for the record, I consider basically all the Gotham-centric heroes to be part of the Bat-family in some small way, so long as they are – or have at some point been – acknowledged by Bruce Wayne, the original Batman.

Scott Beatty & Chuck Dixon//Batgirl: Year One1) Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon. A mini-series chronicling the beginnings of the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. I only read this on a whim, but I ended up really loving it, much to my surprise – I’ve never been a huge Barbara Gordon fan.

Peter J. Tomasi//Batman & Robin vol. 12) Batman & Robin by Peter J. Tomasi. The only series on my list since the New 52 rebooted the DC universe (though I do still like some of the other New 52 titles…). This series shows Bruce Wayne teaming up with his son Damian (the fifth Robin), and having to find a balance between fatherhood and crime-fighting.

[This series is collected in seven volumes: Born to KillPearlDeath of the FamilyRequiem for DamianThe Big BurnThe Hunt for Robin and Robin Rises.]

Bryan Q. Miller//Batgirl vol. 13) Batgirl by Bryan Q. Miller. Probably my favourite comic series, this run of Batgirl follows Stephanie Brown, the third Batgirl, as she teams up with Barbara Gordon (now in the role of Oracle) in order to fight crime, and hopefully get some recognition from the Bat-family’s main players.

[This series is collected in three volumes: Batgirl RisingThe Flood and The Lesson.]

Paul Dini//Streets of Gotham vol. 14) Batman: Streets of Gotham by Paul Dini. A sadly short-lived series featuring Dick Grayson (the original Robin, now the new Batman) and Damian Wayne trying to deal with a Bruce Wayne-imposter in Bruce’s absence. The series ended up being cut short, but the storyline was wrapped up in the Batman Incorporated series.

[This series is collected in three volumes: Hush MoneyLeviathan and The House of Hush.]

Judd Winick//Under the Red Hood5) Batman: Under the Hood by Judd Winick. Bruce Wayne deals with a new, incredibly violent, vigilante in Gotham, who calls himself the Red Hood. This is one of my all-time favourite Batman storylines – the big mystery he has to figure out is the identity of the Red Hood (my favourite character in the DC universe, and an important figure from Bruce Wayne’s past). The animated film was also incredible (which was called Under the Red Hood, like the bind-up of the comics), though it presented a rather different backstory from the original comics.

Judd Winick//Red Hood: The Lost Days

+1) Red Hood: The Lost Days by Judd Winick. Just a little bonus recommendation, since this is a spin-off of the Under the Hood storyline, and serves as a prequel to it. It tells the story of the Red Hood’s time training, and his return to Gotham, and gives an interesting new perspective on the events in Under the Hood.


Review: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (Spoiler-Free)

Malcolm Polstead spends his days working at his parents’ inn, helping the nuns at the convent across the river, and tending to his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage. But strange things are afoot in Oxford: Mysterious disappearances; children joining the sinister League of Saint Alexander; a threatening man with a three-legged hyena daemon; talk of a flood the likes of which England hasn’t seen in decades… and the charming baby Lyra being brought to the convent for protection from the great number of people who would see her harmed.

first read His Dark Materials when I was about ten or eleven – back when I’d only just realised that reading could be fun – but despite the many great books I’ve read since then, it’s remained one of the most impactful stories I’ve ever come across, and this new entry into the series (a prequel) does a really great job of re-capturing what made the original trilogy so enticing. It’s not just the daemons, but the subtle hints of magic, too, and the constant sense of some dark, looming threat… revisiting this universe is always a delight for me. The plot is a slow-burning one, and some may find that the pacing is too slow, but it’s not really any more so than in many of Pullman’s other novels – and, to be honest, I found that it mattered very little, as the build-up to the action was just as enjoyable as the action itself.

Malcolm made for a wonderful protagonist; curious and bright and well-meaning, as protagonists are prone to being, but he really shone through his bonds with the people around him, from his daemon Asta, to baby Lyra, to his slowly-developing friendship with Alice, the surly girl who works in the kitchen at the inn… I found his interactions with Lyra and Sister Fenella particularly charming, and I loved the camaraderie between him and Asta (there was a scene near the end with the two of them that nearly reduced me to tears). The chapters from Dr. Relf’s perspective were also very interesting, and I really enjoyed the way her and Malcolm’s mutual love of learning was able to forge a genuine friendship between them despite their difference in age and situation, and the contrived nature of their first few meetings.

In regards to villains, there were a few different antagonists featured, or antagonistic organisations, but while most of them lingered ominously in the story’s background (the CCD, the League of St. Alexander, and so on) and will presumably come more to the forefront as the series goes on, the spotlight in La Belle Sauvage fell on Gerard Bonneville and his disfigured daemon. While Bonneville’s reputation seemed to precede him in Oxford, I found it interesting how the initial contrast between his own appearance of friendliness and his daemon’s aggressive behaviour was slowly inverted, until I almost found myself feeling sorry for the hyena, for being stuck with such a monstrous other half.

Since this is a prequel, it would be surprising if there weren’t a few callbacks to the original series beyond the presence of baby Lyra, but while not all of these cameos are essential to this new story (though some of them definitely are), none of them felt as though they’d just been shoe-horned in for the sake of fanservice… And they’re very enjoyable! I felt a definite thrill when I checked the end of The Amber Spyglass and realised that, yes, my hunch that Dr. Relf and Dame Hannah were one and the same was correct! 😁 And Lord Asriel’s tenderness towards Lyra in this book is a nice counterpoint to his severe countenance in much of His Dark Materials.

I also found myself surprised – and a little unsettled – while reading this book by the realisation of just how much His Dark Materials has influenced my views on organised religion… but although both La Belle Sauvage and Pullman’s original trilogy contain a lot of examples of organised religion gone wrong, it was nice that in this book we were also given a look at its more positive side, in the form of the nuns who were caring for Lyra.


Teaser Tuesday #12


  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

At the moment I’m reading La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, the first in his new Book of Dust trilogy, which is a prequel to His Dark Materials… I’ve been taking my time with it, not because it’s at all a struggle (it’s not), but because I want to savour the experience – and I’m also doing a month-long readalong of it with one of my friends. 😊 The story is about a young innkeeper’s son, who meets Lyra as a baby, and then gets caught up in all the intrigue surrounding her, from the shadowy and threatening CCD (Consistorial Court of Discipline) to the also mysterious (but more benign, at least to Malcolm) organisation of Oakley Street…

Teaser #1:

‘Not really,’ Malcolm said, beginning to feel awkward. He didn’t want to keep things from his parents, but they didn’t usually have the time to ask anything more than once. A non-comittal answer normally satisfied them. But with nothing else to do this evening, the matter of Malcolm’s talking to Alice became of great interest.

Teaser #2:

Pan was a sparrow chick now, so Asta became a bird too, a greenfinch this time.

[Teaser Tuesday was created by MizB over at A Daily Rhythm.]


Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond (Spoiler-Free)

Claire and Ella are the best of friends, and always will be, and not even Ella’s disapproving parents are going to stand between them. But when Claire introduces Ella to Orpheus – a wanderer with an unworldly talent for music – she begins to fear that their romance may be taking Ella down a path which will separate them forever.

A Song for Ella Grey is a retelling of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in the modern-day North of England, and focusing on the tale from the perspective of Ella’s (who takes the role of Eurydice) best friend Claire. I’m familiar with the original myth, but I don’t know it inside out, so I can’t comment on any specific changes Almond may have made to the narrative. From what I do know of the story, however, this seems to be a very faithful retelling (barring the modern setting, of course). I also found the choice of Claire as a narrator interesting because it gave us a somewhat sinister view of Orpheus; while Claire is not immune to the draw Orpheus seems to have over all living things (and many non-living ones, too), her admiration of him is tempered by her feeling that he poses some sort of threat to Ella…

The relationship between Claire and Ella, and how it contrasts with Orpheus and Ella’s relationship, is probably my favourite thing about this book. While the Orpheus/Ella dynamic is very clearly defined, (although it’s never outright stated) there are also strong indications that Claire’s feelings for Ella are not strictly platonic, which makes the objectivity of her narration somewhat doubtful. It’s difficult to tell how much of her suspicion of Orpheus is due to her seeing something in him that the rest of the characters aren’t able to see, and how much is just her fear that she is losing Ella. And despite the original myth being entirely about the love between Orpheus and Eurydice, Almond’s portrayal makes it clear that Claire’s love for Ella is no less powerful than Orpheus’.

I also really loved the magical atmosphere in this book; it’s nothing particularly unusual in a David Almond book, but that’s more of a compliment to all his other books than a criticism of this one. The characters talk early on about trying to bring Greece to Northumberland, and although they’re mainly talking about warmth and sunshine, I believe that they did succeed in bringing the otherworldly feeling of the ancient Greek myths there  – as is evidenced by Orpheus’ presence in the first place. Almond’s use of dialect was occasionally a little overdone, but I was mostly able to ignore it, since I was so invested in the story and the characters.

I doubt that any David Almond book will ever make me feel the same wonder that I felt when I first read Skellig and Heaven Eyes (two of my favourite books), but I will always love the beautiful way that he crafts his stories, and – flaws and all – A Song for Ella Grey is no exception to that. I’d recommend this for mythology lovers and magical realism fans, or to anyone who really enjoys Neil Gaiman’s writing, as his books are often quite similar in tone to David Almond’s (though Almond’s books tend to skew a little bit younger).