T5W: Second = Best

Second books get a lot of criticism. If a series started out strong, then they have a lot to live up to, and sometimes they can seem like just a whole book’s worth of filler before a (hopefully) epic final novel… but I actually tend to really like them; with quite a few of my favourite series, I end up liking the second book best. 😊 So, naturally, I was thrilled to discover that this week’s Top 5 Wednesday theme was second books… Here’s my (heavily abridged) list:

5) A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This may be a bit of a cheat, since I haven’t finished the series yet, and so can’t know for sure whether A Court of Mist & Fury will be my favourite, but I couldn’t help including it here, simply because it was such a dramatic improvement over the first book… I liked A Court of Thorns & Roses, but the more I thought about it after I finished it, the more underwhelmed I felt; I was somewhat reluctant to even pick the sequel up, despite all the amazing things I’d been hearing about it… but, wow, was this book a huge step up. If you’re not sure about this series after book one, then rest assured that it’s worth it (so far🤞).

4) Lirael by Garth Nix

Nix’s Old Kingdom series is fantastic as a whole, but as much as I loved Sabriel and Touchstone in the first book, Lirael’s character arc in this book has always stuck with me. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the new storyline that Lirael began was fantastic, and she had a wonderful set of sidekicks in Sam, Nick, and the Disreputable Dog. 😋

3) Half Wild by Sally Green

Not a huge amount happens in Half Wild compared to the other two books in the trilogy, so this may be something of an odd choice, but what I really love about this book is how, with the action slowed down, there was so much character and relationship development. In particular, there was some really amazing exploration of Nathan’s relationship with his estranged father Marcus, as well as his two potential love interests, Gabriel and Annalise…

2) Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is the second book in the Graceling Realm trilogy, and seems to be a lot of people’s least favourite entry… It’s certainly very different from the other two books – it’s even set in a different world! Kind of. But although I found the transition between books quite jarring (I wasn’t even expecting the change in protagonists, and that’s the least of the changes from Graceling), I very quickly became attached to the new characters, their world, and I loved how much this book effected the other two, despite their apparent disconnect… 💕

1) The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is such an incredible series, and deserves all the praise it’s ever received and more; it’s exciting, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, beautifully written… Naturally, I love all three books in the trilogy, and the spin-off novellas, and I’m eagerly awaiting The Book of Dust. But Will’s introduction, and how our own world was pulled into this story with him, is what makes me love The Subtle Knife so much. (It also gave me what was probably my first ever OTP. Lyra & Will forever. 😭)

And an honourable mention for Street Magic by Tamora Pierce, which is one of my favourite books of all time, and also the second book in The Circle Opens quartet… which is itself a follow-up to the Circle of Magic series. I didn’t include it on the main list mostly because I tend to think of it as being a sixth book rather than a second, but this is also a series that people should definitely read! 🙏

(Also, in no particular order: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick,  Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson… and probably about a hundred more. But I’ll stop here, for the sake of all our sanity.)

[Top 5 Wednesday is run by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. To find out more or join in, check out the Goodreads group.]

May-July Haul

My book-buying ban has somewhat derailed, I’m afraid, but at the end of last month it was still going strong, and so I only have seven books to show you in this post, several of which were gifts, and all but one of which I have already read (incredibly. I’ve never known myself to read things so promptly after buying/receiving them!). In any case, here they are:

1) Geekerella by Ashley Poston. A super-cute love story between die-hard fans of Starfield, a fictional Star Trek-esque TV show, which jumped straight to the top of my to-buy list almost as soon as I discovered that it existed. 💕 I’ve already read this book, and you can find my review of it here.

2) We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. An essay about why feminism is (or should be) important to everyone. This book was a gift from my friend Grace, who just so happened to have a spare copy lying around, and kindly offered it to me when I off-handedly mentioned that I’d been meaning to read it for a while… 😁 I didn’t write a full review for this one, but you can find my thoughts on it in my June wrap-up.

3) Bee & Puppycat, Volume 1 by Natasha Allegri & Garrett Jackson. A cute comic book about a girl and her alien/cat/puppy flatmate, doing bizarre temp jobs. I bought this on a whim when it appeared at the second-hand bookshop where I work, entirely due to the cuteness of the art and Natasha Allegri’s name on the cover… And although I liked the book, it’s not a series that I think I’ll be continuing with. ☹️ Not pictured because I re-donated it a few days ago; my review is here.

4) The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts. A beautiful and amazing book of art from the Legend of Zelda series, which was a birthday present from my best friend Chloë (who also gave me Hyrule Historia – which Art & Artifacts accompanies – for Christmas last year!). As it’s an art book, it’s not really the kind of thing to be read cover-to-cover, but I have spent a significant amount of time staring at it, and can confirm that it is a thing of wonder. 😍

5) Now I Rise by Kiersten White. The sequel to And I Darken, which is about a young Vlad the Impaler, had he been born a woman. This is the only book on this list that I haven’t finished reading yet (I’m currently about a quarter of the way through it, but I keep getting distracted by life – and readathons), but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far, & I hope to get round to continuing it soon. I really can’t recommend this series enough. 😊

6) Once & for All by Sarah Dessen. The latest of Dessen’s teen romances, which I bought – along with Now I Rise, as they were both on buy-one-get-one-half-price at Waterstones – right before going on holiday to Skye. I was actually intending to finish this book before I left, but didn’t quite make it, and so it came with me on my trip, and was very much enjoyed. 😋 Not my favourite of Dessen’s books, but an amazing read nonetheless… you can find my review here.

7) Calum’s Road by Roger Hutchinson. The last book I acquired in July was a birthday present from my sister Helen, the biography of a man called Calum MacLeod, who build a two-mile road between Brochel Castle and South Arnish in Raasay, with only a wheelbarrow, shovel, pickaxe, and his own two hands. Biographies are not usually my thing, but this was an incredible story – which I’ve reviewed here. (Also not in the picture, because I lent it back to Heli to read almost as soon as I’d finished it myself, but this is definitely a book I’ll be keeping. 👍)

July Wrap-Up

Happy August, everyone! In a stunning turn of events, I wrote a full review for almost everything I read last month – which totals at six manga volumes, two graphic novels, one biography, and four novels – so instead of my usual summary-mini-review-link, I thought it might be time to try out a new format for my wrap-ups… Let me know what you think!😁

Ghost Hunt, Volumes 10-12 by Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada. The final three volumes in the Ghost Hunt series, which is based on the Akuryou series of novels by Fuyumi Ono… I decided to re-read these after re-watching the entire anime, as they were the only part of the storyline that sadly never got adapted… 😢 (And I will confess that as they’re also the only volumes I don’t own, I ended up reading fan-translations online – volume 12 never came out in English, and 10 & 11 were released around the time the publisher went out of business, and are therefore super-rare, so my hunt for decently-priced second-hand copies must go on). Of course, it was just as amazing as the first time I read it! Definitely one of my all-time favourite manga series!Ghost Hunt: The Nightmare Dwelling by Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada. The three-volume manga version of the sequel to the original Ghost HuntAkuryou series. I had no idea this even existed until I randomly decided to re-read the end of the original series, and accidentally clicked on Mangafox’s entry for this series instead. Naturally, I was overjoyed! The series is set a few months after Ghost Hunt‘s ending, and plot-wise, it wasn’t my favourite Ghost Hunt storyline (that prize goes to The Bloodstained Labyrinth), but it was still fantastic, and the art seems to be even better than in the old books… Plus, it was just really lovely to be spending more time with this wonderful set of characters… ☺️

  

  

Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H. Papadimitriou. A biography in graphic novel form, which is partly the story of its own making, partly the life of Bertrand Russell, and partly a debate over the philosophical nature of logic (or something). The way this book was structured was very interesting, the art (by Alecos Papadatos) was excellent and evocative, and I really enjoyed the early chapters about Russell’s childhood, but as the book went on, every aspect of it became more and more concerned with the question of logic, and philosophical arguments that I either found so obvious that they were hardly worth saying, or else completely incomprehensible. This book would probably be of more interest to somebody who is more thoroughly versed in either philosophy or mathematics (or both, ideally), but I found that its stronger points were just not strong enough to make me care about the rest…

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 3 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Nowhere People by Paulo Scott.

Driving home one evening from a Workers’ Party meeting, Brazilian law student Paulo meets a young girl on the side of the road, and decides to give her a lift. Maína is fourteen years old, Guarani Indian, and lives with her family in a roadside encampment; she’s not planning on going home.

If I could rate the two halves of this book separately, then I would. I didn’t exactly dislike the first half of the book, but I found it very difficult to get through… Scott’s words themselves (or at least Daniel Hahn’s translation of them) were really beautiful, but I found the way they were structured – each paragraph seeming to take up three or four pages, for no apparent reason – made it really tiring to read, and although (again), I didn’t precisely dislike the main character Paulo, I disapproved of nearly all his life decisions, and found it extremely uncomfortable being inside his head. The sections from Maína’s perspective I found easier to get through, but there weren’t very many of them, and they were all quite short.

However, about halfway through the book we’re introduced to a new main character, Donato, from whose perspective almost the entire remainder of the book is shown, and I loved this part (despite the continuing problem with the paragraph structure). His outlook on the world, his circumstances, his relationships with his friends and parents… they were all really interesting, and only seemed to be becoming more so as the book went on. In particular, I really loved his performance activism towards the end, and the contrast it provided with Paulo’s much less fruitful efforts at activism at the beginning of the book… I only regret that the story ended where it did, as the final scene (a return to Paulo’s perspective) marked a dramatic change for both Paulo and Donato, which I feel could have been explored further.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: So glad that I finished this book (& the review is slightly late, I know, but I promise that I finished it before midnight)! For a while I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I pulled through! 😆 This was still my least successful booktubeathon ever, but with this third book, I’m actually pretty happy with how it went, as I spent much of the week either  at work, or super-tired, or super-distracted (by Final Fantasy XII 😓)…

And I’ve decided to count this book as completing the cover-buy challenge, as well as the one it was originally intended for, as, well, the whole set of & other strories books that I own I bought at least 80% because they were so pretty. (The other two were By Night the Mountain Burns, and The Alphabet of Birds.)

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 914
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.

A terrifying illness sweeps over the US, killing almost every child who catches it – which is all of them. The lucky survivors, however, might not be so lucky after all, as they’ve all been corralled into massive, dehumanising rehabilitation camps that are supposedly going to help cure them of the frightening, uncontrollable new abilities the the disease has left them with… Ruby is in one of the worst camps, and has been hiding one of the most dangerous kinds of power; a power which may now have come to light.

It’s been a long enough time now since the end of the dystopian craze that I’m no longer put off by the very idea of reading a dystopian novel, but oddly, I think that I would probably have enjoyed The Darkest Minds even if I’d read it back then… Like most good dystopians, there are a lot of truly horrific things going on in this book, but it’s also strangely fun. The characters are all wonderfully quirky, and I loved the way they interacted with each other – and a decent chunk of the book is spent on exploring that dynamic. 😊

Ruby made for a sympathetic and likeable lead, and her fear of her abilities, and her hesitance to use them – even when they would undoubtedly have been helpful – made a lot of sense; I personally found her a lot more relatable than many of the dystopian heroes and heroines that I’ve come across before. As for the side characters: Liam was a sweetheart the whole way through. I’d like to see his character developed a bit more as the series goes on, but as things are now, I like him a lot. Likewise with Zu, who was a very interesting character, but a little under-developed. Chubs was wonderful, too, and the way that he and Ruby slowly warmed up to one another was one of my favourite things about the book… I also really enjoyed reading about Clancy, who was endearing and suspicious in equal measure until pretty close to the end of the book; I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Braken has done with his character in the next two books.

Plot-wise, the beginning of the book shaped out the world really well, and the final part was exciting and action-packed. There was something of a lull in the middle of the book, but – as I said earlier – I appreciated the space that that left for character- and relationship-building. I’m also a fan of the Ruby-and-Liam romance that is in the works, though I also wouldn’t object to (and may have spotted some hints at) some further exploration of Ruby’s relationship with Clancy, provided that Bracken doesn’t shy away from how messed up it is (and I feel that she wouldn’t).

So, yeah, I really liked this book, and am glad that I finally got round to reading it… Now to hunt down the sequels! 😉

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Finding it difficult to pull my mind away from Final Fantasy XII, so I’m not sure how much more I’ll be reading today, but I hope to pick up either Nowhere People or Darkbeast next…

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 608
Challenges Completed: 4

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman.

Tom’s wife isn’t ignoring him, she just can’t see him any more… leaving Tom with only the scant hours of her flight to Vancouver in which to convince her that he’s still by her side.

This book is incredibly short, and very anecdotal, which combine to make the overarching plot quite weak; it’s interesting conceptually, but I found that I wasn’t given enough time with either Tom or his wife (whose superhero name is the Perfectionist) to become fully invested in them, or in their plight – both due to the length of the book itself, and to the amount of time that was spent meandering through Tom’s musings over the various different superheroes he’s known.

Kaufman’s writing, however, was wonderful, and the descriptions he included of all Tom’s superhero friends and their powers were incredibly imaginative. In particular, I was struck by the Projectionist and Mistress Cleanasyougo, but to be honest, if Kaufman was to write a directory of superheroes, I’d read it happily. I also spent much of the book (and still remain, to a certain degree) unsure of whether many of the superheroes were actually personifications different kinds of mental illness, but I may have been reading too much into it… and in any case, I doubt that knowing for sure would have made me like the book any more or less.

Conclusion: Interesting, imaginative, enjoyable, and splendidly written, but weak in terms of story and character development.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Happy to see some sunshine, which allowed me to get that tricky “read a book outside” challenge finished early on. I’m already halfway through book #2 (The Darkest Minds, which I started yesterday), so hopefully I’ll be able to finish that soon, too. 😊

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 373
Challenges Completed: 3

#BookTubeAThon 2017! | TBR

Guys, it’s Booktubeathon time again! 😆 Which means… a whole week of reading, and reviews, and challenges! (If I can drag myself away from my PS4…) If you’re new to the Booktubeathon, it’s an annual week-long readathon hosted by Ariel Bissett on Youtube, and always includes reading challenges to guide your TBR, daily video challenges and giveaways, a discount code over at The Book Depository, and this year there will also be a readalong, so that people can (if they so desire) all pick up the same book and read together for a day. I don’t tend to take part in much beyond the actual reading, but it’s still probably my favourite of all the readathons I’ve taken part in.. 💕

As always, I’ve tried to tailor my TBR to tick off as many of the challenges as I possibly can (and I hope to be posting reviews of each one as I go along), though, interestingly, it looks like that might be a bit more difficult this year than usual, as quite a few of the challenges are more situational than book-specific. If that makes any sense at all (it probably doesn’t, but you’ll see what I mean)… 😓 But in any case, here’s what I’ve decided on so far:

1) Read a book with a person on the cover.

For this challenge I’ve decided (after much agonising, because there are so many books I want to read that could qualify for this challenge) to go with Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes, which is a fantasy novel about a girl who lives in a society where everyone has an animal companion that represents their inner darkness – or something of the kind – which is sacrificed when they come of age.

2) Read a hyped book.

In contrast, I knew what I was going to read for this challenge almost as soon as it was announced: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, which I picked up ages ago after hearing so many people heaping praise on the series… and then never looking at it again. I don’t even know what it’s about, really (kids with superpowers, I believe, and something to do with a road trip?), but I’m looking forward to finding out! 😁

3) Finish a book in one day.

This is the first of the two “situational challenges” that I mentioned earlier (meaning, ones that are to do with how you read, rather than what you read), so I haven’t really picked out anything specific for it; it may well end up being Darkbeast, as it’s quite short, but more certain is that if I get this challenge done, it will be on either Wednesday or Thursday, as those are my two days off next week…

4) Read about a character who’s very different from you.

I was tempted to choose Now I Rise by Kiersten White (the sequel to And I Darken) for this challenge, as Lada – a murderous Transylvanian princess – is about as different from me as a person can get, but I thought it would be a bit of a cheat to pick a book that I’d already started reading, even though I’m only about 60 pages in… So instead I decided to go with Nowhere People by Paulo Scott, which is about a Brazilian law student (also called Paulo), who one day decides to give a lift to a young indigenous girl who he spots on the side of the road as he drives home.

5) Read a book only while outdoors.

This is the challenge that I’m dreading the most, as it looks like it’s going to rain for most of next week… Understandably, I’d like to pick something short for the challenge, but picking Darkbeast again seems like a bit much (especially since it’s going to be ticking off the next challenge as well 😓). All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman might work, as it’s both very short, and on my kindle (which has a waterproof cover), but I’m not feeling particularly enthused about it right now, so who knows.

6) Read a book you bought because of the cover.

Like most people, I’m drawn to pretty covers, but I was surprised by how difficult I found it to pick a book out for this challenge, as the only book I own that I bought solely because of the cover is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, which I’ve finally decided to get rid of, after accepting the fact that I’m never going to read it… So I’ve decided that this is going to be another challenge that will be fulfilled by Darkbeast; I didn’t just buy it for its cover (it also has complimentary comments from my favourite author on the back, and the synopsis sounds pretty interesting, too), but it was definitely a significant contributing factor… 😅

7) Read seven books.

And all this leaves me with three more books to pick out if I want to meet the ultimate Booktubeathon goal of seven books in seven days (which I do)! But I figure I should give myself some flexibility here – and I don’t want to just end up re-hashing the TBR I did for my holiday in Skye last week! A couple of (very shaky) possibilities are A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. Or maybe a graphic novel? 🤔 I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there. 😊

[EDIT (22/7/17): The Booktubeathon starts on Monday, and will end the following Sunday… which is probably something I should’ve mentioned earlier… 😓]