Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s challenge was to read a book with your favourite colour on the cover, which in my case is orange, and I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival at the library to be reminded that the paperback version of Release – a book which I hadn’t had specific plans on reading, but which I had a good reason to think I might like (that being its author) – is, in fact a glorious celebration of the colour! 🍊 There were a few other interesting-looking orange books that I spotted, too, but to be honest, it wasn’t much of a competition… thus:

RELEASE
Patrick Ness

Adam’s ex-boyfriend is moving away, and Adam’s not entirely okay with this, even though he’s trying to at least pretend that he’s moved on. But despite the many crises (including but not limited to: his ultra-religious family, his creepy manager, and his own conflicted feelings) that are threatening to tear his life apart, he’s determined to make it to the farewell party. Meanwhile, the ghost of a local murdered girl has emerged from the lake, and is hunting her killer.

If that last sentence seems random, it’s because it is. I really liked this book, but it was despite the supernatural sub-plot, not because of it, and had the ghost-story sections been longer, I probably would have rated the book lower. I get the feeling that Ness was aiming for a Pan’s Labyrinth-style atmosphere, but the two storylines were just too disconnected for it to work; apart from a brief scene at the very end, there was no character crossover, and neither plot had any impact on the other.

However, the main part of the book, Adam’s story, was amazing. His strained relationship with his parents was poignant, and provided a dramatic contrast to the heartwarming bond he had with his best friend Angela, who in my opinion was one of the highlights of the whole book. And although his failed romance with Enzo seemed like more of a focal point of the story than his new relationship with Linus, I found myself surprisingly invested in the success of the latter.

This is not a long book (the entire story takes place over the course of a single day), but it feels incredibly substantial; powerfully written, and dramatically plotted. The two wildly different storylines make it hard to rate, but on the whole I felt that the greatness of Adam’s tale outweighed the book’s more lacklustre parts.

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

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Review: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from previous books in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my reviews of The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy.]

Reunited with his demigod master Meg, Apollo finds his way to Southern California, where another of his Oracles is held captive inside a burning maze, and the third and most powerful member of the Triumvirate is waiting to perform a ritual that will make him the new god of the sun – at the cost of Apollo’s life.

In terms of plot, this series is only getting more exciting as it goes on, and the stakes are continuously getting higher as Apollo begins to care about more than just regaining his immortality… and is put in situation after situation that threatens those things – and people. I also liked The Burning Maze‘s Oracle, Herophile, a lot; her backstory made her symaptheic, and the puzzles that she used to make her prophecies created some interesting obstacles for the characters.

Where most of Riordan’s series have a set core cast, I appreciate the roulette of companions in Trials of Apollo, and in this book it was great to see what Piper, Jason and Grover have been getting up to post-their own series. Grover in particular was a pleasant addition, as he hasn’t been a major character in any of the books since becoming a Lord of the Wild, which one would imagine would cause some dramatic changes in his life. However, I didn’t think that any of these characters had quite as interesting a dynamic with Apollo as Leo and Calypso did in The Dark Prophecy, and although I’ve been trying to like Meg (the only more permanent supporting character in the series), I still find her a little grating.

Additionally, while the leader of the Triumvirate (whose identity I won’t be revealing) made for an intimidating villain, he was somewhat underwhelming compared to Commodus, whose history with Apollo made facing him in the last book feel really personal – which was my favourite thing about The Dark Prophecy

So, I didn’t enjoy The Burning Maze quite as much as its predecessor, but it was still an excellent entry in the series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one (The Tyrant’s Tomb, which is due to be released in September).

2019 Reading Challenges

As I mentioned in my last 2018 in review post, I found myself quite bored with my usual style of reading challenges by the end of last year (setting myself a goal of a certain number of books to read in a selection of categories), so I thought that for 2019 I’d do something a little different. As always, I have my Goodreads challenge ready to go (& set at 60 books for this year, which I think will be manageable), but recently I’ve seen a few of the Booktube people I follow trying to predict which of their unread books they’ll be giving five stars to, & I thought that sounded like an interesting (though also a little nerve-wracking; I don’t like to make myself expect to love a book before I’ve even started it) exercise, so I’ve picked out a few books on my TBR shelf that I have a really good feeling about, & am committing myself to reading them at some point this year…

I’ve made a little section for these in my bullet journal, where I’ll be keeping track of when I read each of these, and how I actually decided to rate them, but hopefully I won’t be too far off for any of them! 🤞

FIVE-STAR PREDICTIONS

The other challenge that I’ve set myself is a 5×5 book bingo square, which I thought would be fun, though perhaps 25 books will prove too much for me. 😅 Over Christmas, I asked my cousins to help me come up with some prompts, and I think they’re a good balance of difficult and less difficult ones. I’ve decided that none of the books I read will be allowed to count for more than one bingo square, but that’s my only real constraint with this challenge.

BOOK BINGO

Good luck, me – and good luck with your own challenges as well, if you’ve decided to set yourself any! I hope that 2019 proves to be an excellent reading year for us all. 🍀

December Wrap-Up

Happy New Year! In the final month of 2018, I am pleased that my intense desire to read all the time remained strong (despite the shocking realisation that the single-player mode in the new Smash Bros. game is actually fun 😱), and so I managed to get through 7 manga volumes, 6 novels, 2 audiobooks, 1 novella, 1 picture book, and 1 data book! 😁 Here’s what I thought of them all:

FAVOURITE OF THE MONTH

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICK

[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, volume 1 by Hideyuki Furuhashi. [MANGA; Illustrator: Betten Court]

A spin-off series from the My Hero Academia manga, which focuses on a young man who wasn’t able to become a licensed hero due to the unsuitability of his quirk, so joins up with a group of vigilantes instead. I obviously haven’t managed to read much of this series yet, but I really like all the characters so far, and appreciate the alternative take on hero society that it offers.

Crimson Dagger by Morgan Rhodes. [NOVELLA; Available here: Part 1 / Part 2]

A prequel novella to the Falling Kingdoms series, featuring a pre-series Magnus regretting a cruelty he committed as a small child. This comes across more as fanservice than as something that’s meant to add to the series as a whole, but Kara seems like a cool character, and it would be interesting if she were to show up in one of the last two books. The other benefit of this snippet? 7-year-old Magnus, who is adorable. 💕

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith. [PICTURE BOOK; Illustrator: A.P. Quach]

A cute picture book that portrays Father Christmas as a gay black man, and talks about his life with his husband. I am of course not the target audience for this book, but I appreciated it as a challenge to the typical image of Father Christmas, and liked its underlying message that there is no wrong way to think of him – or other folk figures like him.

Crystal Storm by Morgan Rhodes.

The fifth book in the Falling Kingdoms series, about a group of characters who are in contention over the magical Kindred, which will decide the fate of the world. Super melodramatic, and oftentimes frustrating, but great fun overall. This book and the next (which I’ll talk about in a moment) are definitely the series’ high point.

My Hero Academia, volumes 1-6 by Kohei Horikoshi. [MANGA]

A series about a boy with no superpowers, in a world where almost everyone has superpowers, and his journey to become a hero. I’ve been loving the anime version of this series, and decided to pick up the manga while I’m waiting for the next season to be released. Needless to say, the story and characters are all just as charming as their anime counterparts, and I’m looking forward to reading more as soon as my book-buying ban will allow. 😅

Immortal Reign by Morgan Rhodes.

The sixth and final book in the Falling Kingdoms series. As I’ve said before, these books aren’t without their (significant) faults, but I’ve really enjoyed my time with them (and am actually kind of tempted to re-read some of the earlier books soon…). The characters have all grown so much, and I’m a little sad to be saying goodbye to them all; even Jonas, who I hated for the majority of the series, has been quite likeable in the last couple of books! 😱 And the plot, too, wrapped up in a satisfying way, though I was definitely less invested in it than in the characters.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Kathleen Gati]

The sequel to The Bear & the Nightingale, wherein Vasya, disguised as a boy, leaves home for Moscow, and becomes caught up in a hunt for a group of bandits that are raiding villages and stealing girls, but seem to leave no tracks behind. This book was just as hauntingly atmospheric as the last one, and it’s plot was engaging and suspenseful in a way that made it very difficult to stop listening. Some of the first book’s minor characters were more prominent here, and it was wonderful to be able to get to know them a bit better, along with some really interesting new characters… I’m looking forward to seeing where Vasya’s story will take her next.

The Angry Tide by Winston Graham.

The seventh book in the Poldark series, which follows the inhabitants of a Cornish mining community, mainly focusing on the titular Poldark family. Naturally, as a sequel, I don’t want to say much about the plot, but there were some developments in this one that made me very happy, as well as a few that made me very sad. The writing was as engaging as ever, and I remain incredibly emotionally invested in all the characters – even the ones I despise. As always, the emotional rollercoaster made the book somewhat draining to read, however, so I will probably be taking a(nother) break before reading the eighth one… but hopefully it won’t be too long!

Tortall: A Spy’s Guide by Tamora Pierce. [DATA BOOK; Co-authors: Julie Holderman, Timothy Liebe & Megan Messinger; Illustrator: Eva Widermann]

A companion to Pierce’s Tortall-universe novels, primarily made up of letters, journals, pamphlets, and intelligence reports (hence the title, though one of the larger sections of the book is also a more blatant guide for spies). My favourite parts were probably an interesting set of letters that led up to Lord Wyldon’s appointment as training master, Daine’s gorgeously-illustrated notes on Immortals, and an amusing homework assignment near the end, in which Thom (of Pirate’s Swoop, not Trebond) is tasked with compiling a timeline of the kings and queens of Tortall, which he does with much sass.

As regards spoilers: I’d say that the book contains fairly minor spoilers for basically all the Tortall series except for the Beka Cooper trilogy, and more significant spoilers for the Trickster’s books, The Immortals, and Protector of the Small. The very last section of the book (entitled “An Official Chronology of Tortallan Events”), is spoiler-heavy for basically the whole series.

The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Jennifer Saunders]

A short story about an elderly man who’s persuaded to hire some children in order to liven up his home for Christmas. The early part of the story that talked about Sir John’s time with his two daughters I found quite interesting, but on the whole this book was rather tedious; it’s primarily character-driven, but all the characters were either bland or annoying, and Moppet – the most prominent of the hirelings – in particular was incredibly grating, not only for her own actions, but also for how all the other characters acted around her. I wasn’t particularly taken by Jennifer Saunders’ performance, either, but it was very expressive, and I probably would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been attached to such a dull book.

 

2018 in Review: Challenges & Resolutions

I was in a pretty huge reading slump near the beginning of the year, so I made a point of setting myself fewer challenges than I have in previous years – but although I didn’t quite manage to complete all of them, I find myself pleased with the progress that I did make. I actually surpassed my Goodreads goal, which I set at 50, and a good number of those I also managed to review – which is another thing that I’ve been trying to focus on. And although it’s not as packed as it has been in previous years, my My Year in Books page looks as satisfyingly stylish as ever. 😊

My reading resolutions are the challenges that I did slightly less well on in 2018, and to be honest, I’ve found myself getting rather bored with them in the last few months, so I haven’t made completing them a huge priority. (I’ll be changing things up quite a bit for my 2019 challenges, so keep your eyes peeled for that post in the next few days, if you’re interested.) Nevertheless, here’s my final results:

1) Take part in the Library Scavenger Hunt every month: [completed 10/12]

2) Read a book set on every continent: [completed 6/7]

  • Asia: The Life & Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr [review linked above]
  • Africa:
  • Europe: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond [review]
  • North America: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • South America: The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera [review linked above]
  • Oceania: The Life & Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr [review linked above]
  • Antarctica: Mawson Lives by Douglas Mawson [review linked above]

3) Read 5 books that were given to me:

4) Finish or catch up on 5 series:

5) Read 3 classics:

6) Read 2 non-fiction books:

7) Read 2 DNF books:

  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff [series review linked above]

And with that, happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to a great many more books to read in 2019! 🥂🍾

2018 in Review: Highlights

🎊🎊🎊 Happy New Year’s Eve Eve, everyone! 🎊🎊🎊 It’s the time of year again for everyone to talk about their favourite books! 📚 … And usually I’d be joining in with the numbered-list-o-mania, but I’ve read so many great books this year, so instead I thought I’d talk about some of my bookish highlights for the year! 😊 Not all of these are necessarily my absolute favourites, but these are the books I found particularly memorable in 2018:

If you’ve been following my monthly/seasonal wrap-ups, you’ll probably have noticed that I finally got myself an Audible subscription, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. I find it hard sometimes to tell whether my feelings about the book being read are affected by the narrator’s performance, or vice versa, but quite a few of my favourites this year turned out to be ones that I’d listened to rather than read. In terms of pure performance, though, nothing comes close to Garth Nix’s Frogkisser!, which was wonderfully read by Marisa Calin; you can find my review of it here.

The other stand-out audiobook I listened to was Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, though in this case I think my enjoyment was based mostly on the story itself (though Steve West’s narration was also excellent), and I’ve no doubt that I would have liked it just as much in print form. I was a little behind the bandwagon in starting this series, but this first book definitely lives up to the incredible amount of hype surrounding it, and the sequel (Muse of Nightmares, which was released a few months ago) was almost as good.

And on the topic of more recent releases: The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff and The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White both ended this year, and are by far some of the best series I’ve read in the last few years. Neither Obsidio nor Bright We Burn were my favourites from their respective series, but they both made for incredibly satisfying endings.

After a slightly disappointing start to the series, I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, which I finally – and reluctantly – picked up for the Fall into Fantasy readathon in November. I was never entirely sure why The Hidden Oracle didn’t resonate with me, but The Dark Prophecy has definitely saved the series for me; I’m currently reading book three (The Burning Maze), and enjoying it just as much, and no doubt it would be included in this post, too, if not for the fact that I’m unlikely to finish it before New Year. (I also have a review up for this book, which you can find here, if you’re interested.)

On the whole, my 2018 seems to have been a really great (and intense) year for fantasy books, and it’s been really wonderful to delve so deeply back into my favourite genre, including my first (kind-of) go at one of the classics: Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle! I’ve been meaning to read this series for such a long time, and now that I’ve started, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long! So far, I’ve only read the first three books, but I’ve loved them all, and the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, is probably my favourite book of the year; it was such a wonderful read. 💕 Needless to say, Tehanu (the fourth in the series) will be one of the first things that I read in 2019.

Finally, I’d like to also give a quick mention to We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which is probably the most thought-provoking book I read this year, and was an incredible roller-coaster of emotions. I feel like I read it so long ago that it’s heard to believe that it was really still 2018, but it’s stuck with me, and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Review: Enma the Immortal by Fumi Nakamura (Spoiler-Free)

1866, Kyoto, and a young assassin named Amane Ichinose finds himself at the door of the legendary tattooist Baikou Houshou, clinging desperately to life – a life which, unbeknownst to him, Baikou can save, but not without consequences. Afterwards, burdened with immortality, the newly-named Enma Houshou remains unchanged, running from his mortal companions as they age and die, and caught in a seemingly endless struggle with the one person who shares his curse, the murderous Yasha.

Enma the Immortal is told in an episodic fashion, but although the chapters don’t naturally follow on from one another, they share a lot of themes; I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of them as standalone short stories, but each one does still add to the experience of reading the others. I tend to be somewhat put off by very episodic stories, and true to form, I was not always that invested in each chapter’s self-contained plot (though the overarching storyline did hold my interest), but I enjoyed the characters and relationships a lot, and their emotional arcs flowed very well between chapters.

Enma himself was an excellent lead character, and his immortality made his relationships with those around him wonderfully complex. I particularly liked his interactions with the book’s two most prominent supporting characters, Natsu – a woman who he raised as his younger sister – and Nobumasa, a client-turned-patron of his tattoo business, whose friendship Enma is reluctant to accept. Yasha, though incredibly important to the plot, feels less present for much of the book, but he appears more as the book goes on, and the occasional parts of the book that are told from his perspective provide an interesting contrast to Enma’s worldview.

Nakamura writes in a matter-of-fact style that is present (though perhaps coincidentally) in many books I’ve read that have been translated from Japanese, and can be a little tough to get used to, but which I usually find quite refreshing. The English translation is by Neil Nadelman, and naturally I can’t speak for its accuracy, but I never got lost, despite the book’s foreign concepts, which speaks to its clarity.

Even given how intrigued I was by the concept of this novel, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It’s a shame that the sequel that is mentioned on the back of the book (Vertical, 2012 edition) does not appear to have been translated, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the comic book adaptation that was published by Dark Horse under the title The Immortal: Demon in the Blood.