#ReadingRush 2019: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

A fervour of scientific curiosity leads Victor Frankenstein to try his hand at creating life, but when he succeeds, he is consumed by fear and regret, and rejects his creature – who, in anger and loneliness, seeks his vengeance.

Frankenstein is an interesting read; Frankenstein’s tale is gripping, his fear and torments startlingly portrayed, his monster makes an incredibly sympathetic figure, driven to malice rather than born to it, and I thought the ending was really well-executed. But while I enjoyed the parts of the story that were narrated by Frankenstein, I feel that the real heart of the book is in its middle section, where the monster tells his side of the story – which seriously set off my nit-picky side. 😓

This part of the tale is all about the isolation that Frankenstein’s monster feels, and is an important part of his character development, but I found myself frequently rolling my eyes over how extremely eloquent he is – especially given that he apparently learnt to speak (and, more unbelievably, to read) over the course of a year, just by spying on a nearby family. I realise that an 18-year-old in the early 1800s would not necessarily understand how learning works, but it bugged me nonetheless.

THE FILM:
The only adaptation of Frankenstein that I was able to find on short notice was the 1931 version starring Boris Karloff, so naturally that’s what I watched, and I found it quite charming for what it was – a campy, old-fashioned horror film – but sadly it lacks a lot of the heart of the original novel, exchanging the intense character drama for a lot of cheap thrills… and thereby missing (or deliberately ignoring) the point of the book. However, despite the divergence from the source material, I liked Karloff’s portrayal of the monster, and the altered version of Frankenstein’s father was a brilliant addition to the film’s narrative (though he would have felt very out of place in the book); it’s easy to see why this has become such an iconic film.

MY READING RUSH PAGE

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Happy to have finished my first physical book, & looking forward to reading the next – which will be The Song of Achilles. This book counted for three of the readathon challenges: a book with a non-human main characteran author’s first book, and a book-to-movie adaptation… Or at least it will count for that last one; my efforts to watch the film have been delayed slightly by my family’s desire to watch with me, just not today. 😓 So I’ll be updating this post with a note about the film when I’ve seen it.

Books Completed: 2.5
Pages Read: 191
Hours Listened: 16:08
Challenges Completed: 5/7

[EDIT [29/07/19]: Saw the film last night, & so added my impressions.]

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#ReadingRush 2019: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Tamora Pierce & the Full Cast Family]

[Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the previous books in this series, Wild Magic and Wolf-Speaker.]

Daine joins the Tortallan delegation as they head to Carthak for peace talks with Emperor Ozorne, but she’s not just there to take in the sights; Ozorne’s beloved birds have come down with a mysterious illness, and her new countrymen hope that, if she can heal them, it will help the talks to go a little smoother. Sick birds are far from the only problem in Carthak, however, and between politics, conspiracies, and angry gods, Daine will be lucky just to make it home alive.

This was a re-read, so I’m sure no-one will be shocked to hear that I love this book. When I first read it (maybe about 15 years ago) The Immortals was my least-favourite of Pierce’s series, but each re-read since has given me more to appreciate about it, and while it’s still not my absolute favourite of her works, I now consider it to be one of the very best parts of the Tortall universe. And as things currently stand with me memory-wise – I’m not super-clear on the plot of the final Immortals book – I think Emperor Mage may be the best book in this quartet. The plot is gripping, the new characters are multi-faceted and compelling, the returning characters have some great development (and face some shocking revelations), and this first foray into the Carthaki Empire paints a vivid picture of Pierce’s world beyond the borders of Tortall itself.

As regards the audiobook, which this was my first time experiencing, Pierce narrates her stories very slowly, which can be slightly jarring when compared to the speed of the actors who read for each of the characters, but after three books I’m used to it, and I do enjoy knowing that the pronunciation and emphasis is all exactly as the author intended it to be. The rest of the cast all gave fantastic performances (though I’m noticing that the badger god seems to get more and more gravelly in every book 😉).4 stars

MY READING RUSH PAGE

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: I’ve been mostly audiobook-ing things so far, as my hands have been busy with knitting, so I’m a little surprised to have already finished a book and a half – I usually take audiobooks much slower than this… Since I didn’t get around to posting my TBR for this readathon, I’ll let you know here that this book ticked off two challenges, read a book with purple on the cover, and read a book in the same spot the entire time (a nice comfy spot at the end of the sofa). The aforementioned extra half-book was Keeper of the Lost Cities, but I don’t think I’ll be officially counting it as one of my readathon books, as I was most of the way through it before the Reading Rush started. (I do have things to say about it, however, so you may be hearing more about it in the not-so-distant future.)

Books Completed: 1.5
Pages Read: 13
Hours Listened: 13:23
Challenges Completed: 2/7

[EDIT (31/7/19): Changed rating from 5 stars to 4, as I am in the process of re-assessing my ratings.]

Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

I’ve been seeing this tag floating around quite a lot recently, and – since I’m not really feeling the reviews at the moment – I thought it might make an interesting post. Also, it’s the middle of the year, and “freaking out” is a pretty accurate way to describe my attitude towards books right now, even though, unusually, I’m ahead on my Goodreads challenge! 🎉

lois mcmaster bujold a civil campaign1. What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2019?

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I just read a couple of weeks ago! I stumbled across the massive Vorkosigan Saga at the beginning of the year, and have been obsessed with it ever since… and the books just keep getting better and better! A Civil Campaign is my favourite so far, by a small margin.

2. What’s the best sequel you’ve read so far in 2019?

Well, as above (closely followed by Memory, from the same series), but in the interest of not spending the whole of this tag gushing over the same few books… I thought that The Wicked King by Holly Black was also a really great follow-up to The Cruel Prince, and improved on it in basically every way. I can’t wait to see how the trilogy is going to wrap up! 😊

3) What’s a new release that you haven’t read yet, but want to?

My book-buying ban combined with my new Vorkosigan Saga obsession has meant that there are quite a few of these, but the one that stings the most is probably The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie… I keep going into bookshops and staring longingly at it on the shelves, which really isn’t helping, but maybe I’ll get some book money for my birthday, or something. 🤞 I really loved Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, & am dying to see what she’ll do with the fantasy genre.

rainbow rowell wayward son4. What’s your most anticipated release for the second half of the year?

That would be Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell! Rowell seems very much to me to be in the business of wish-fulfilment; when I read Fangirl, I couldn’t help thinking how much I wanted to read a read Simon Snow book, and when Carry On (one of my all-time favourite books) came into existence, all I wanted was a sequel… and now we’re getting that, too! 24th September, wait for me! 😆 (I’m also very excited for The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, but my hype for it isn’t quite so extreme.)

5. What’s your biggest disappointment of the year?

Definitely Starfall by Melissa Landers. It’s not the worst book I’ve read this year, but it was such a let-down after the first book in the series, which at the time of reading was close to a favourite. Worst of Starfall‘s crimes, though, is that it’s kind of tainted Starflight by association… What if it was never as good as I thought it was?! 😣

6. And the biggest surprise?

Probably Before Adam by Jack London, which I wasn’t expecting to like at all, but actually turned out to be pretty gripping. I posted a review of this book recently that talks more about the whys-and-wherefores, but in short: I found the entire premise off-putting, but clearly should’ve had more faith in London’s ability to spin a good story.

7. Do you have a new favourite author?

I do! Lois McMaster Bujold, the author of the Vorkosigan Saga! My aunt mentioned her to me over Christmas as a reputedly really excellent fantasy writer, and upon looking her up I was vaguely interested in trying some of her works (though the sci-fi appealed to me more than the fantasy, surprisingly), and then I stumbled across one of her books (Young Miles) second-hand in January… Naturally, I picked it up, but I wasn’t expecting to love it nearly as much as I did. Bujold hasn’t just become a favourite author of 2019 for me, but an all-time favourite, for sure.

8. Or a new fictional crush?

This one not so much, I’m afraid. The Vorkosigan Saga is full of incredibly charming characters, but I don’t think I’d call any of them crushes, exactly…

9. Who’s your newest favourite character?

Miles Vorkosigan~! 💕 He pulls you in like he’s a planet; it’s inevitable. 😉 But really, this series has given me so many new favourite characters, Miles is only the most blindingly brilliant of them. Others include: Ivan and Gregor, Miles’ mother Cordelia, Mark and Kareen, and most recently the wonderful Ekaterin, who came as a(nother) huge surprise to me, and I might even have come to like even more than Miles himself…!? (Maybe. Don’t hold me to that; I haven’t made my mind up yet.)

Honorary mentions as well to Midoriya and Todoroki from the My Hero Academia series, the manga of which I started this year, although I was already familiar with their anime counterparts…

10. What book made you cry?

I think the last book that made me cry actual tears was The Book Thief, and I read that, what, five years ago now? I’m not holding my breath for another one any time soon… but of this year’s reads, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa has definitely come the closest.

11. What book made you happy?

A fair few. 😊 A Civil Campaign probably made me the happiest, but I also really loved the ridiculously fluffy Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.

satoru noda golden kamuy vol 212. What’s the most beautiful book you’ve bought (or been given) this year?

This may be a slightly weird answer, but I think it’s probably Golden Kamuy, Volume 2 by Satoru Noda. None of the (admittedly few) books I’ve obtained this year have been fancy special editions, or anything, but I really like Noda’s art style, and the picture of Asirpa on the second volume is particularly pretty. Click on the cover for a (much) closer look! ☞ ☞ ☞

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

So many books! All of the books! More specifically, though: I’ve only read two of the eight books on my 5-star predictions list, which I promised myself I’d read this year (those being Uprooted and Lies We Tell Ourselves), but of the remaining six, the ones I’m most anxious to get to are Eon by Alison Goodman and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Otherwise, I’d really like to finish Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series soon, if only so that I can finally move on to the other Shadowhunters books…

eon alison goodman madeleine miller the song of achilles cassandra clare city of lost souls cassandra clare city of heavenly fire

[Tag’s original creators: Earl Grey Books & ReadLikeWildfire.]

Library Scavenger Hunt: June

This month’s challenge was to read a book that’s thinner than your little finger, and I decided to take the opportunity to pick up a book which I’d been dithering over whether to just get rid of or not (yes, I’m cheating again this month 😓), Jack London’s Before Adam, which at 125 pages in paperback is just a smidge smaller than my (not particularly little) little finger… 😊 (And, having read it, I think I will be passing it on after all, but at least I’m making an informed choice!)

BEFORE ADAM
Jack London

A modern (at the time of writing, i.e. 1906) American man experiences the life of his prehistoric ancestor through a series of vivid and terrifying dreams, and as “Big Tooth”, he makes friends – and enemies – and learns about the beauty and danger of the younger world.

I was dubious about this book for a number of reasons… while I find prehistory interesting in a historical sense, as the setting of a novel it intrigues me not at all, and added to that, the basic premise of past lives/ancestral memory is one that I find distinctly off-putting*. So why, you may ask, did I not just dismiss this unread? There were a number of reasons (with varying levels of compelling-ness): 1) I really liked both of the other Jack London books I’ve read (The Call of the Wild and White Fang, naturally); 2) It was a gift, and I really dislike having to admit to people that I didn’t even bother to read the books they gave me 😓; and 3) It’s super-short, so if I did end up hating it, at least I wouldn’t have wasted too many hours of my life.

It would seem that this particular risk payed off, however! I’m far from in love with Before Adam (and it’s definitely my least-favourite of the three Jack London books I’ve read), but I found myself pleasantly surprised by it. It starts slow, and ends abruptly, but I found the bulk of Big Tooth’s life to be quite gripping, and while I found myself predictably frustrated whenever the narrator broke up the story with his (then-)present-day observations, this happened a lot less than I was expecting, once I’d got through the first couple of chapters.

*An aside: I don’t know why I dislike past-life stories so much, since I’m completely down for reincarnation ones – though I’m guessing it has something to do with the recollectory nature of the former, or because most of the reincarnation books I’ve come across have more of a mystical feel to them, and don’t try to bring science into it…

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

Upcoming Releases: Summer 2019

As far as I’m concerned, most of 2019’s most exciting releases were stacked near the beginning of the year (not that I’ve had a chance to read many of them yet), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still things to look forward to! Most of these aren’t things I’ll be rushing to buy as soon as they come out, but here’s what I’ll be looking out for in June, July & August this year:

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 31/5/2019.]

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen (4th June)

A contemporary about a teenager called Emma who’s spending the summer reconnecting with her mother’s estranged family. I’m expecting self-discovery, a cute romance with childhood-friend Roo, and a heartwarming (or heartbreaking, or maybe even both) storyline… Contemporaries (and YA contemporaries in particular) have become less and less my thing over the last couple of years, but Sarah Dessen (almost) always manages to get to me, so I’m looking forward to reading this sometime this summer. 💕 Excitement level: 7/10

Blastaway by Melissa Landers (11th July)

A sci-fi adventure featuring an accidental runaway, a girl who blows up asteroids for a living, and trouble with space pirates! I was burned by Landers’ last sci-fi novel (Starfall, sequel to the amazing Starflight), so I’m feeling a little cautious about this one, but it sounds like a lot of fun regardless. Excitement level: 5/10

To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers (8th August)

A standalone novella from the author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet set in a future where humans have developed the technology to adjust their bodies to survive in deep space, and main character Ariadne is on a mission to investigate distant planets for signs of life… From the sounds of it, this is going to be a pretty introspective story, exploring the isolation of space travel, and, of course, space itself – all of which were things I loved about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. So I’m feeling pretty hopeful! 😊 Excitement level: 7/10

Honourable Mentions:

Library Scavenger Hunt: May

This month’s challenge, in honour of Japan’s new Reiwa era (the name of which is drawn from the words for “fair” and “gentle”), was to read a book with one of those two words in the title, and it proved to be more of a struggle than I was expecting! I wasn’t able to find anything that I’d specifically been meaning to read, but while browsing my library’s ebook collection, I came across an M.C. Beaton book that fit the challenge, and since I’d been interested in reading one of her (many, many) books for a while, I decided to give it a go…

(It was a bad decision. 😑)

DEATH OF A GENTLE LADY
M.C. Beaton

Everybody in the small Highland town of Lochdubh thinks that Mrs. Gentle is wonderful, but local policeman Hamish Macbeth has seen a more malicious side to her – so he’s the only one unsurprised when she’s murdered, and her own family are the prime suspects.

I made a few mistakes in choosing this book; I’ve been curious about Beaton’s writing for a while, but Death of a Gentle Lady was probably not a great one to start with, firstly because it’s the twenty-third book in a series, and secondly – and most importantly – because it’s a murder mystery, and I’ve never read a murder mystery that didn’t bore me to tears (except Fatherland, but I liked that for other reasons).

So you won’t be surprised to hear that I hated it. The characters (both new and recurring) were flat, the writing plodding, the mystery contrived – all its major developments coming completely out of the blue – and the investigation dull, and despite the extremely short length of the book (the edition I found was 177 pages, of which the last 15 or so were actually a preview for the next book), I really struggled to get through it. In the book’s defence, I expect that many of the recurring characters would have felt less one-dimensional if I had read at least a few of the other books in the series, but that’s not an excuse that holds up for any of the other problems I had.

On a more specific note, there were two small but persistent annoyances in this book: One of the new characters introduced was a Russian detective whom Beaton kept calling “Putin-like”, which I thought was a lazy description at best, and xenophobic at worst; and it was also rather tedious how the female characters seemed to throw themselves at Hamish, and continued to do so despite his very wishy-washy attitude towards even the ones that he’s supposed to have a history with.

Anyway, the tl;dr is that this was definitely not the right book for me, but at least I’ve learnt that there’s no point in my picking up any more of Beaton’s books.

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

Review: Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (Spoiler-Free)

Alan Turing’s life-instead-of-death in 1954 sparks great advancements in artificial intelligence, and thirty years on, serial idler Charlie Friend purchases Adam, one of the world’s first synthetic humans. Together, Charlie and his beautiful neighbour Miranda design Adam’s personality, but the maybe-person that comes of their joint venture is something far more than either of their expectations.

The main thing that held this book back for me was its setting. Alternative history seems like such a specific and deliberate choice for an author to make, that it feels very strange for the setting to have no real bearing on the story. The political drama of the era only effected the characters insofar as giving them something to argue about, and while the portrayal of Alan Turing as playing a(n even more) key role in the development of artificial intelligence obviously necessitates a world in which he didn’t commit suicide, his direct role in the book was actually very small, and could have been taken on by any scientific genius, real or imagined.

I can’t say that the setting detracted from the story, exactly, but it was distracting, and for no apparent reason; I frequently found myself in the middle of lengthy passages of alternative-history-backstory, wondering if this particular (often not all that interesting) bit of information was going to matter at all, and spoiler: the answer was always no.

But disregarding this – admittedly small – issue, there’s a lot to like about Machines Like Me: I didn’t always like Charlie and Miranda, and was never entirely convinced that they were as in love with each other as they believed, but their relationship was very interesting regardless; the way that it changed throughout the book felt very organic, and Adam’s integration into (and interruption of) their relationship was also well-done – though to call it a love triangle would, I think, be somewhat misleading.

I found Miranda’s backstory incredibly powerful, too; we find out early on that she’s keeping a big secret from Charlie, and both the secret itself and the way in which it’s eventually revealed provide a huge amount of dramatic tension, as well as doing a lot to flesh out her character.

Finally, the idea of sentient AI, and the ethical dilemma it presents, is something that’s always fascinated me, and McEwan’s exploration of Adam’s personhood-or-lack-thereof portrays that dilemma perfectly; do Adam’s words and actions indicate feelings or programming? And how much does it matter, if we can’t even tell the difference? Naturally, you won’t find any answers here, but you will find a compelling human drama, and plenty of food for thought.