November & December Wrap-Up

It feels weird to still be talking about 2020 so far into January, but alas, I’ve been very slow to collect my thoughts on my November and December reads… which weren’t numerous, I’m afraid (I hit a bit of a reading slump at the beginning of December), but made up for the quantity with pure quality! For although I only read 13 things, 5 of them were 5-stars! Which is more than half my 5-star reads for the whole year (excepting re-reads)! 😅

BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

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OTHER BOOKS I READ

The Promise by Gene Luen Yang. [COMIC; Illustrated by Gurihiru]

A continuation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series, in which Aang and Zuko’s friendship is tested by their different hopes for the future of the former Fire Nation colonies – particularly in the case of Yu Dao, which has existed for so long that its Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom residents have come to consider themselves a single people.

To be honest I love this world and these characters so much that Yang could have written basically anything and it would’ve pleased me, but this story surpassed all my expectations! 😁 I loved seeing Zuko continued to develop as a character even after achieving his goals, and his friendship with Aang and the pressure it came under here were perfectly characterised. And the side-story with Toph’s earthbending school nicely offset the more serious themes of the complexities of decolonisation…

Ravensong by T.J. Klune.

The sequel to Wolfsong, but this time following Gordo, his history with the Bennet pack, and how it’s changed over the years, and how it’s changed him. Gordo was my favourite character in Wolfsong, so it’s no surprise that I was excited for this book, but sadly I didn’t think it was quite as good. I still love Gordo, of course, and I found his backstory really heart-wrenching; the plot was also very solid, and continued on where Wolfsong left off, but I didn’t think the romance was quite as well-developed, and I didn’t manage to form much of an attachment to Mark beyond what rolled over from the last book… The best parts of this for me were probably the flashbacks, but I’m also looking forward to seeing where the plot goes in Heartsong.

A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole.

Emma Troy’s search for the truth about her late parents is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a powerful, half-crazed Lykae, furious with her for no apparent reason; Lachlain, meanwhile, finds the strength to break free of his ancient prison when he catches the scent of his destined mate… but he doesn’t expect her to be a vampire.

This was a fun, and pretty addictive read, but I found myself growing a little bored towards the end, and looking back, I’m finding it kind of difficult to remember the details… The good: Emma I liked well enough; she and Lachlain had decent chemistry; the steamy scenes were a good level of steamy. The less good: I didn’t care about much of the Valkyrie or Lykae lore, which was what this book mostly focused on, worldbuilding-wise; I find phonetically-written Scottish accents more comical than sexy, and the old-fashioned slang didn’t help with that; and I found the side characters beyond the main couple all kind of boring. Also, trigger warnings for kidnapping and dubious (at least) consent, and probably other things that I can’t think of right now…

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare.

The final book in the Mortal Instruments series, in which Clary & friends face off against the seemingly-unbeatable Sebastian and his growing army of Endarkened for the last time. As always, Clare delivered a pretty epic conclusion here, but although I really enjoyed it, I still kind of agree with the people who say that this second trilogy didn’t need to exist… The first half of this book, in particular, was a real slog (as were the two preceding novels), but I do feel like the ending made up for most of it. I’m mainly still in the Shadowhunter universe for the Infernal Devices cameos, which were finally delivered in this book (that epilogue was perfect), and other good things were: 1) Sebastian is still a really great, thoroughly hate-able villain, and 2) I’m glad that all the romances ended out well (kind of).

The Toll  by Neal Shusterman. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Greg Tremblay]

Three years after the events of Thunderhead, Citra and Rowan wake to find themselves separated once again, each playing pieces for different sides of the Scythedom’s ideological split, and the world utterly changed. A great end to a great trilogy! I found the ending really satisfying, as well as the journey to get there – though, like in Thunderhead, I wish that there had been more interaction between Citra and Rowan. 😅 Some of the highlights for me were Citra’s search through the backbrain, the bits of worldbuilding we got via the chapter intros (especially all the Tonist analysis), and Grayson’s relationships with Jeri, Morrigan, and of course the Thunderhead itself… And while it wasn’t at any point as great as Thunderhead‘s most exciting moments, I found that it was much more consistently good the whole way through.

The Search by Gene Luen Yang. [COMIC; Illustrated by Gurihiru]

After the events of The Promise, Zuko finds a letter that may contain a new hint as to his mother’s location, and he sets out with the rest of Team Avatar to track her down – with a volatile Azula along for the ride! Of all the Avatar comics, this was definitely the one I was looking forward to the most, as the fate of Zuko’s mother is one of the biggest mysteries that the TV series left hanging… and it absolutely didn’t disappoint! I loved the tense interactions between Zuko and Azula, and the flashbacks to their childhood; the search itself takes a really interesting path; and the eventual reveal of Ursa’s fate was surprising and emotional… I’m really looking forward to reading more of these comics when my copy of The Rift, Volume 1 finally arrives! 😅

A Closed & Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.

Now stuck in an artifical body that she never asked for, Lovelace (now called Sidra) searches for a sense of purpose and self. Meanwhile, the young Jane 23 tries to make a life for herself outside the scrap-sorting facility that’s all she’s ever known.

I loved this so much. Becky Chambers’ books have always been great, but I this is my favourite thing she’s written by far; the characterisation is just so thoughtful (I’m not sure how else to describe it, but of course the security-AI would prefer to stand in the corner, it makes so much sense)! Naturally I loved Sidra (I’m a sucker for a good, multi-faceted AI character), but Pepper’s backstory was also incredibly touching. And the plot was basically perfect, too. There’s not much of it – the book is almost entirely character- (and relationship-) driven – but it blends the two timelines together wonderfully, and makes for a natural and gratifying conclusion to both Pepper and Sidra’s character arcs.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Emily Woo Zeller & Cynthia Farrell]

In a war that spans all of time, two rival agents send each other letters, and slowly fall in love. This is very poetically written, and I can see why it’s such a hit-or-miss book for a lot of people, but I really loved the vivid imagery, and I think this may have been my favourite book of last year. (If not, it definitely came close.) The romance was slow-building and it was wonderful to see it develop so gradually, and although there’s not much else of plot in this story, it was interesting to see the small, often arbitrary-seeming actions that Red and Blue took in order to shift the timeline.

A lot of the reviews I’ve seen for the audiobook in particular say that the two perspectives aren’t distinct enough, but I never found that a problem myself, and I think that the narrators both performed excellently.

The Novice by Taran Matharu.

And we go from an incredibly unique book to an incredibly boring one. The Novice follows a young orphan called Fletcher who accidentally summons himself a demon familiar, and must then attend a fancy magical school, where he’s out of place because of his common background, and the unorthodox way that he bonded with his demon. I liked the concept of a demon-summoning school, at least, and the three-way war between humans, orcs and elves made for a potentially intriguing storyline, especially as the series goes on… But! The characters were so awful. 😑

The villains were all comically evil, actual-enemy-of-the-nation and petty bullies alike – and Fletcher! Fletcher was the most annoying protagonist I’ve had the displeasure of reading about in a while. He’s the most open-minded person in the book, uniqely capable of accepting people for who they are; he’s the most un-racist human you’ll ever meet, able to convert the most stubborn or bigots with one encounter; he’s not naturally talented at all and has to work really hard for his skill, we’re told, even as we’re shown the exact opposite; and he’s so eloquent that he must have his own personal speech-writer following him around, scripting everything he says. Seriously, it’s not even as though he doesn’t talk like a teenager – it’s that he doesn’t talk like a person.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff.

Thankfully, though, I was able to end the year on a high note with Nevernight, which tells the story of another orphan – Mia Corvere – who swears revenge on the men who ruined her family, and heads off to join the Red Church – an organisation of deadly assassins – in order to learn the skills she needs. Dark, witty, frequently edgy and over-the-top (which I love… sometimes), with well-developed and surprisingly likeable (for murderers) characters, and a plotline that kept me on the edge of my seat – with some truly shocking twists (though admittedly, some of them I was probably more shocked by than I should’ve been). I was given the sequel to this for Christmas, and I can’t wait to get to it as soon as my new TBR game allows… 😅🤞

 

September & October Wrap-Up

What a great two reading months! I hit a bit of a slump towards the end of October (due to a certain book that shall not be named – though you can probably figure out which one from the ratings), but am still ridiculously satisfied with how many books I managed to read, and how great they all were (on average)! 😁 I decided to combine the two months for my wrap-up simply because I had already reviewed everything I read in September, and so didn’t have anything more to say about them; in contrast, I have new things to say about pretty much everything I read in October… so here it is:

BOOKS I ALREADY REVIEWED

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OTHER BOOKS I READ

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce.

The first book in the Song of the Lioness series, in which Alanna, unwilling to accept a future where all she can expect is to find a rich husband and raise his children, disguises herself as her twin brother Thom in order to begin training to become a knight.

This book was a re-read (and not even for the first time), and so was pretty much exactly what I expected, and exactly as good as I remember it being – though I’ll admit that one of those stars is probably primarily a nostalgia star. A great story, which introduces (what will eventually become) some great characters, but incredibly rushed-feeling.

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce.

The second book in the Song of the Lioness series, which follows Alanna as she becomes a squire and begins to prepare for her Ordeal of Knighthood. This entry in the series also felt quite rushed (though not to the same extent as Alanna: The First Adventure), but improved on its predecessor with a more elaborate plot, and some great character development.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce.

The third Song of the Lioness book, in which Alanna, now Tortall’s first lady knight in centuries, spends some time among the Bazhir tribes and accidentally becomes shaman to one of them. This is probably my favourite entry in this series, and has the least pacing problems; it also tells a much more character-driven story than any of the other books, focusing on developing the Bazhir as a people, and on Alanna’s personal growth, which I loved (predictably).

Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce.

The fourth and final Song of the Lioness book, in which an old enemy rears his ugly head again, and Alanna goes on a quest for the legendary Dominion Jewel. This made for a pretty great finale, though once again, its pacing was not the greatest. Highlights of the book included: The journey through war-torn Sarain and the addition of Thayet and Buri to the cast; the alternate-perspective chapters that let us know what was going on back in Tortall; Thom finally becoming a major player; and the whole of the climax at the end of the book. Lowlights were: Liam being judgemental; Alanna being self-conscious about her love life (moreso than before); and I wish that the motivations of some of the minor villains in the series had been expanded upon.

Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The final (hopefully not forever, though! 🤞) installment in the Vorkosigan Saga, where we get ourselves a new protagonist in the form of Oliver Jole (who may have been in previous books in the series, but if so I didn’t remember him), whose life has been intertwined with Cordelia and Aral’s for some time. I had a harder time getting into this book than some of the previous ones, probably because of the new protagonist, but I grew to like Jole a lot as the story went on, and I also loved seeing how Cordelia was dealing with her upcoming retirement, as well as with the ongoing (and often alarming) Sergyar colonisation efforts.

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley.

Recalled to duty despite his leg injury, Merrick Tremayne, former East India Company smuggler, is sent off to the heavily-guarded mountains of Peru to retrieve cuttings of cinchona trees to make quinine. But once there, he finds himself holed up in a tiny colony surrounded by salt lines its people are forbidden to cross, with a priest who’s determined to keep him out of the forest – and who seems to have some connection to Merrick’s long-dead grandfather.

If this was a three-star book, then it was definitely a high three-stars. Pulley’s writing was beautiful, Merrick was a really compelling main character, and I found his struggles over how to smuggle the quinine trees out of Peru and his history with the East India Company very interesting. I could have done without the magical realism aspects of the story, which I was less interested in, and which I didn’t feel added much to the story, but they didn’t take away from it either… The real highlight of the book, however, was the relationship between Merrick and Raphael, Bedlam’s young priest, which was quiet and intense and really beautiful, and may be one of my favourite fictional relationships of the year; I’ve seen a few people tag this book as LGTB, and I can see why, though there’s nothing explicitly romantic about their feelings. But romantic or platonic, I still loved it.

Very slow-paced, and almost entirely character-driven, I wasn’t blown away by this book while I was reading it, but it’s definitely stuck with me, and every time I think about it I find myself appreciating it more. So don’t be surprised if this rating goes up at some point. 😊

The Doll that Took a Detour by Honobu Yonezawa. [SHORT STORY COLLECTION; Translated by Ex.wife]

A collection of stories from the Kotenbu universe, in which Houtarou is coerced into solving a number of small mysteries, and learns a little more about himself along the way. These were all very memorable stories, and I enjoyed them a lot despite already knowing most of the story beats (from the anime adaptation, Hyouka, which I watched a long time ago). My favourites were probably The Case of the Handmade ChocolateSappy New Year, and of course the titular story, The Doll That Took a Detour, but To Commit a Deadly Sin also contains one of my favourite moments from the whole series, ever… so all in all, I’d say this is a pretty strong collection.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

A classic novel of pettiness and unnecessary suffering, which I hated. I’ll be posting a review of this at the weekend, though, so that’s all I’m going to say here.

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black.

The third and final book in the Folk of the Air trilogy, which began with The Cruel Prince, wherein Jude returns to Faerie as a favour to her sister, and is forced to confront her foster father’s rebellion against the crown, as well as her own feelings for the High King.

I went into this book with pretty low expectations, as I’d heard less-than-stellar things about how the series wrapped up, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised! Granted, a lot of the plot developments seemed a little too convenient, and the resolution to the dramatic cliff-hanger ending of The Wicked King was rather underwhelming (and felt a little retcon-y, to be honest), but it was still such a fun book to read! Jude and Cardan’s relationship was also a lot less fraught, which made the story less tense, but pleased my shipper’s heart. 😅 So while I definitely think that this was the least good of the three books, I still enjoyed it almost as much as the other two…

 

August Wrap-Up

Another great reading month! I hit a bit of a slump towards the end, as I’d just finished catching up on the Attack on Titan anime, and consequently only wanted to read fanfiction… but I pulled through – and a lot of the things I ended up reading this month I loved! 💕 Here’s what thought of them all:

BOOKS I ALREADY REVIEWED

 

[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I READ

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer.

The second book in the Twilight series, which I’ve been re-reading along with Hot & Bothered’s hilarious Twilight in Quarantine podcast (which I highly recommend). This is still by far my least favourite in the series, but my experience with it this time around was much more fun than I remember my first read-through being… perhaps because I knew what I was getting this time, or perhaps because of the podcast, but probably a combination of both.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.

An essay on the freedoms of the individual, and when and how far governments should be permitted to limit those freedoms – coming down hard in favour of individuals. Mill made a lot of points that I agreed with, and a good number that I didn’t, but all were great food for thought. The parts of this essay that I personally found most interesting were those that involved religious tolerance and religious indifference; the benefits and disadvantages of a standardised curriculum in schools; and the discussion of the sale of poisons (as an example of limitations on trade), which reminded me of more modern attitudes towards the sale of firearms… And although Mill’s paragraphs do tend to go on for pages, I found this surprisingly readable – and his points are clearly put if not succinctly.

The Magic in the Weaving by Tamora Pierce. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Tamora Pierce & Full Cast Audio]

The first book in the Circle of Magic series, which is part of Pierce’s Emelan universe, in which Sandry, Tris, Daja and Briar are brought to Winding Circle, meet each other for the first time, and discover their unusual magics. This is one of my favourite series of all time, and it still holds up on re-reading (or listening, in this case); in fact, I found myself liking this first book even more than I did before! The narration was a little less expert than I was anticipating after listening to The Healing in the Vine in July, but I don’t think it would’ve been so noticeable if I’d been listening to the series in order… 😅

Heartstopper, Volume 1 by Alice Oseman. [COMIC; Illustrated by the author]

The first in a cute comic series that serves as a prequel-of-sorts to Solitaire, and follows Charlie (Tori’s brother) and Nick (his new classmate) as they become friends, and begin to develop romantic feelings for one another. I generally prefer my romances to be a bit more angsty than this, but there’s also something to be said for a story so unrelentingly fluffy. 💕

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.

A middle-grade story about a girl who’s found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck, and her search for the mother whom everybody keeps telling her must have died. I found both the writing and the characters a little too self-consciously quirky for my taste, but I enjoyed the story, and the bonds that Sophie formed with her guardian Charles and her rooftopper friends.

Heartstopper, Volume 2 by Alice Oseman. [COMIC; Illustrated by the author]

The second volume in the Heartstopper series, in which Nick questions his sexuality, and Charlie struggles with his assumption that he’s falling in love with a straight guy… My feelings on this were much the same as for volume one: still very cute; still very fluffy; & overall a quick, enjoyable read. Aled (from Radio Silence) also made a brief appearance in this volume, which simultaneously gave me hope for more cameos, and made me want to cry a little (because Aled… 😭).

Heartstopper, Volume 3 by Alice Oseman. [COMIC; Illustrated by the author]

… and the last of the currently-released volumes of Heartstopper, wherein Charlie and Nick finally get together, but are faced with the new challenge of having to tell their friends. This is definitely my favourite of the series so far! There’s a lot more conflict – not so much between Nick and Charlie, but between them and their friends – and the way that the shifting dynamics of the whole cast was written is both compelling and believable. The side-characters are also much more prominent in this book than the last two, and I enjoyed spending time with them a lot – in particular, Charlie’s friend Tao is rapidly becoming one of my favourites, and I also found myself bizarrely invested in the two teachers who are supervising their school trip, even though they’ve barely had any page time… 😅

The Power in the Storm by Tamora Pierce. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Tamora Pierce & Full Cast Audio]

The second book in the Circle of Magic series, in which pirates prepare to attack Winding Circle, Tris is reunited with her long-lost cousin, and the four mages begin testing the limits of their combined powers. This was one of my favourite books in this series on my first read-through, and my feelings on it haven’t changed much; the continuing development of the characters, relationships and world are all excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Tris and Briar. 😊

Attack on Titan: No Regrets by Gun Snark (complete edition). [MANGA; Illustrated by Hikaru Suruga; Series created by Hajime Isayama]

A prequel manga to the Attack on Titan series, following my (and basically everyone else’s) favourite character Levi when he first joins the Survey Corps – for less than savoury reasons. I loved the anime version of the No Regrets storyline, but the anime goes into even more detail, and in consequence is even better! Also, the art is amazing… & I may be a little bit in love with the way that Hikaru Suruga draws Levi. 💕

The Miller’s Dance by Winston Graham.

The ninth book in the Poldark series, and my least favourite so far, not because the writing was worse, or the story any less gripping, but because most of my favourite characters didn’t make much of an appearance, and almost everyone who did, I either hate with a passion (i.e. Stephen), or am extremely annoyed at/disappointed with. 😑 As is always the case with this series, I found it emotional and exhausting, and I definitely need a bit of a break before I start the next one – in which hopefully there will be less Stephen. (All I want is for Stephen to go away forever; is that too much to ask?! 😭)

The Fire in the Forging by Tamora Pierce. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Tamora Pierce & Full Cast Audio]

The third book in the Circle of Magic series, and the last in my out-of-order re-read (though there are four books in total), in which the four young mages travel with their teachers to the drought-stricken Gold Ridge, get involved with a visiting Trader caravan, and try to untangle their out-of-control magics… I’ve found myself appreciating Daja a lot more in this read-though of the series than in previous ones, and this was very much her story, with the encounter with her former people being its emotional heart. And a very emotional one it was indeed! I don’t actually cry at much, but there were a few moments in this that made me a little weepy (for both happy and sad reasons).

 

July Wrap-Up

July was such a great reading month! Helped along in no small part by the Reading Rush… but even if six of the eight books I finished were in a single week, I’m still very satisfied with how much I got read over the month as a whole, in terms of both quality and quantity 😊 – and I’m especially happy to have finally got around to a few books that’ve been sitting on my TBR forever. Since I was readathoning last month, most of the books I read I’ve already written reviews for, but here’s a refresher, along with everything else!

BOOKS I ALREADY REVIEWED

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OTHER BOOKS I READ

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Greg Tremblay]

The second book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, which takes place in a society where humans have learnt how to cure death, and the population is controlled by a group of state-sanctioned killers called Scythes, who are the only people that are allowed to kill people for good. The story follows two young apprentice Scythes, and the very different paths that they take as they enter and learn to navigate the Scythedom, with all its politics and in-fighting.

This second instalment in the series fleshed out Shusterman’s world quite a bit, which I appreciated, and I also enjoyed seeing the world from the Thunderhead’s (the world’s benevolent AI ruler) perspective, but on the whole I didn’t find that I enjoyed it quite as much as I did Scythe… the action certainly ramps up a lot, and I’m excited to see where the story will go next, but there were also a few plot developments that I didn’t care for. For instance, I found the reveal of this book’s main antagonist kind of… cheap? And although I liked our new POV character Grayson, I found it hard to maintain my interest in the parts of his arc that involved the Unsavouries. I will say, however, that the ending of this book was absolutely phenomenal.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.

The story of a group of teenagers just trying to make it to graduation without the school blowing up, despite the inevitable supernatural weirdness that constantly follows around their Indie kid classmates… I really loved the concept of this; your usual superhero or paranormal story, but told from the perspective of a group of characters who are completely uninvolved, and would really like to stay that way. And in execution, it was a pretty solid read. Nothing about it really blew me away, but I liked all the characters, and was invested in their struggles, and enjoyed Patrick Ness’ witty writing. Ironically, I kind of wish I’d learnt more about the weird stuff that was going on with the Indie kids, but I suppose that that would kind of defeat the point of the book. 😅

Also, Jared was my favourite. He’s such a sweetheart. 💕

 

Winter Wrap-Up

Guys. Guys. I read so many good books in the last couple of months! 😱 I know there aren’t many five-stars here, but pretty much everything I’ve read recently has come super-close, so don’t be surprised if I end up changing these ratings later (especially for some of the Vorkosigan Saga books, which I’ve been loving). I am in the opposite of a reading slump. A reverse reading slump? A reading boom? Who knows. But in any case, I’m on a roll! 💕 Here are all the amazing books:

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

JANUARY
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FEBRUARY
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OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

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BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Jay Snyder, Brandon Rubin, Fred Berman, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans & Tristan Morris]

The first book in the Six of Crows duology, which takes place in the Grisha-verse, and follows a motley crew of thieves as they try to pull off a seemingly-impossible heist; snatching a heavily-guarded Shu scientist from inside the supposedly impenetrable Ice Court. A re-read (or re-listen, I guess), and every inch as amazing the second time around as it was the first. This is definitely still my favourite Grisha-verse story (though I have high hopes for King of Scars). A note on the narration, since that’s the only part of the book that was new to me: I found some of the voices a little startling at first (especially Matthias, who absolutely does not sound like a teenager), but all the voice actors did an amazing job (though Inej’s – Lauren Fortgang – was probably my favourite).

Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin. [Illustrator: Charles Vess]

The fourth book in the Earthsea Cycle, which follows a now middle aged and widowed Tenar, who finds herself caring for a young, brutalised girl called Therru, as well as a frail and lost Ged, newly returned from the land of the dead. A really interesting read! I didn’t like it quite as much as I have some of the other Earthsea books, but I really enjoyed getting to know this new version of Tenar, and seeing where life had taken her – which wasn’t where I was expecting at all. Her relationship with Therru was also really touching (as was the relationship with Ged, though it was less of a focus), and the novel’s discourse on the power of women was very thought-provoking.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

The tale of a girl called Agnieszka, who is chosen to become the servant of the ominous, aloof Dragon who rules her village, a sacrifice that her people must make to him every ten years, if he is to continue keep the malevolent Wood at bay. I absolutely loved this book! My favourite parts were the relationship that grew between Agnieszka and the Dragon, which was simultaneously adorable and hilarious, and the creepy atmosphere of evil-just-off-stage that the Wood provided for much of the story. The only part of the book that I had any complaints with was the brief Capital-arc, which I felt was a little rushed and over-convenient in terms of plot development, but even there I found plenty to entertain me. In short: Not a perfect book, but so, so charming. 💕

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. [COMIC]

A collection of spooky stories that I was inspired to re-read after finishing Uprooted, for a little more of that dark-fairytale atmosphere – though this book plays into that a lot more than Uprooted did. Beautifully illustrated, and incredibly chilling.

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The second book in the Vorkosigan Saga, but fourth chronologically (the chronology of this series is confusing, but here is the author’s suggested reading order, which I will roughly be following). After failing the entrance exams for the Barrayaran Imperial Service Academy, Miles Vorkosigan heads off to visit his grandmother on Beta Colony, but his holiday doesn’t go quite as planned, as he soon finds himself accidentally in command of a mercenary fleet, and embroiled in an inter-planetary war. I am absolutely loving this series, and The Warrior’s Apprentice started it off for me with a bang! Miles is an excellent protagonist, and all the aspects of the plot (action-driven and character-driven) were incredibly gripping. Also, Bujold is a really great writer. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series (and maybe even jump into her fantasy novels, too!).

The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold. [SHORT STORY]

A short story set between The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game, in which Miles is sent by his father to investigate the death of a child in a remote village on their family’s lands. Plot-wise, I wasn’t hugely surprised by the eventual reveal of what happened to the child, though the details of it were rather chilling. The real strength of this story was in its characters and world-building, however; the similarities between the dead child and Miles himself, both considered less than human by most of Barrayar due to their birth defects; the reaction of the villagers to Miles’ presence, particularly in a position of authority… I’m not often a big fan of short stories, or of crime novels, but I’m pleased that this one bucked the trend. A definite highlight of the series so far.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The sixth-published and fifth chronological novel in the Vorkosigan Saga, in which Miles gets his first military posting as Lazkowski Base’s new weather officer, which is absolutely not the one he was hoping for, or what he’s been trained for. After, he finds himself unexpectedly reunited with the Dendarii Mercenaries – now dealing with in-fighting – and charged with the safety of Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, who has somehow managed to escape his ImpSec entourage, and has no easy way home. This was an odd story, and seemed like it ought really to have been two, as the tone of the novel shifted drastically halfway through, when Miles left Lazkowski Base. The first half (previously published on its own as the novella Weatherman) – where Miles was dealing with a dangerous commanding officer, and enlisted soldiers who refused to take him seriously due to his physical disabilities – was probably my favourite thing that I’ve read from this series so far, but I also enjoyed the later part, which was more action-driven, and which gave a proper introduction to Gregor (who I loved).

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa.

Told from the perspective of a former-stray cat Nana, this short novel takes us on a trip across Japan, as Satoru tries to find a new home for his beloved cat. Along the way, we’re introduced to several of Satoru’s old friends, whose lives are improved by Nana in various subtle ways, before Nana makes it clear that he’s not yet ready to leave Satoru behind – until we finally come to understand the reason why Satoru and Nana have to be parted. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but I was really surprised by how much I liked it. Nana made for an entertaining narrator, the bond between him and Satoru felt almost tangible, and I really liked learning about Satoru’s history with each of the people they visited. It was also incredibly sad in places, but beautifully written.

Fire Falling by Elise Kova.

The second book in the Air Awakens series, in which Vhalla – now property of the Empire – slowly makes her way north to war, struggling with her powers, her conscience, and her feelings for the Crown Prince. I didn’t like this book quite as much as Air Awakens, as its plot felt a little filler-y, but I really enjoyed the relationship development between Vhalla and Aldrik, and as usual, Kova’s writing was incredibly absorbing. A new character called Elecia was also introduced in this book, and even though I didn’t like her that much here, I’m hoping that we’ll get to know her a little better in the next few books, as, to be honest, there aren’t very many memorable female characters in this series (barring Vhalla herself, of course). In any case, I’m looking forward to (finishing) Earth’s End.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Kathleen Gati]

The third and final book in the Winternight trilogy, which begun in The Bear and the Nightingale. With the Bear loosed on the world, and Russia on the brink of war, Vasya must find a way to unite humans and chyerti before both are destroyed. This was such a great series, and such a great ending! 💕 I loved Vasya, I loved all the supporting characters (human and chyerti), I loved the romance, and the story was amazing. My favourite part of the book was Vasya’s journey through Midnight, where I could have happily stayed forever, if it wouldn’t have meant missing out on the rest of the novel. 😅 Definitely my favourite book in the series.

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. [Illustrator: Charles Vess]

The fifth book in the Earthsea Cycle, which is a collection of short stories following various different people at various points in Earthsea’s timeline. The Finder is the story of the founding of the school of magic on Roke Island; Darkrose and Diamond is a love story; The Bones of the Earth tells the tale of Ogion’s former teacher; On the High Marsh follows a woman who meets and takes in a mysterious wandering wizard; and Dragonfly is about a magically-gifted young woman, who wishes to enter the school on Roke. As I said earlier, I’m not usually a fan of short stories, but like Bujold, Ursula Le Guin is somehow able to write ones that I really love. 💕 My favourites from this collection were The Finder and On the High Marsh, but they’re all beautiful and thought-provoking, and do a great job of fleshing out the world of Earthsea. Also, for anyone who’s interested in the music of Earthsea, this lovely piece is an arrangement of the song at the end of Darkrose and Diamond.
5 stars

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The ninth-published book in the Vorkosigan Saga and sixth chronologically, in which Miles and his cousin Ivan are sent on a mission to the home planet of Barrayar’s former enemies, the Cetagandans, in order to represent Barrayar at the funeral of the dowager Empress, and find themselves implicated in the theft of a piece of the Empress’ regalia. Another great entry in the series! The storyline was really interesting, as was the Cetagandan society that we were introduced to here, and I also really loved the relationship dynamics between Miles and Ivan, and Miles and Rian (this book’s most prominent new character).

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The third Vorkosigan Saga book in publication order, and seventh chronologically, in which a new protagonist, Ethan, is forced to leave his all-male, gynophobic home planet of Athos in order to seek out new uterine samples before his people become unable to reproduce, only to find himself immediately in trouble with a group of deadly Cetagandans, and under the dubious protection of Elli Quinn. Miles is not in this book (it seems to take place at around the same time as Cetaganda), and I missed him, but it was nice to have the opportunity to get to know Elli a little better, and Ethan’s reactions to the universe beyond Athos were hilarious. In terms of world-building, I found Athos really interesting, and plot-wise the book was cohesive, and pretty action-packed; Ethan seems to have Miles’ knack for trouble, if not for escaping it. 😅

Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold. [SHORT STORY]

A short story set after Cetaganda, in which Miles finds himself in the lawless Jackson’s Whole – nominally to purchase weapons for the Dendarii Mercenaries, but actually to collect a scientist for the Barrayaran government – only for his plans to go very drastically awry. Probably my least favourite Vorkosigan story so far (not that that’s saying much), but still a fun adventure. I enjoyed the interaction between Miles and Bel, as well as my first encounter with quaddies (who I remember hearing will play an important part in some of the other novels)… But Taura was the real highlight of this story, so I’m pleased that it seems like she’ll be sticking around.

[EDIT (25/3/2019): Added link to Lies We Tell Ourselves review.]
[EDIT (22/12/2020): Changed rating of Tales from Earthsea from 4 to 5 stars after further consideration.]

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.

 

Autumn Catch-Up

Almost immediately after implementing this new format, I am forced to re-think it again, as, with my reading slump now completely over, this post will be a mammoth one! 😅 (Perhaps flexibility is the key…) In any case, I read a great deal over the autumn months, and was mostly in the mood for fantasy, but with bits and pieces of quite a few other things mixed in, too! All in all, I managed to get through: 18 novels, 1 short story, 1 comic, 7 manga volumes, 2 pieces of non-fiction, and 5 audiobooks…

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

ursula le guin//the tombs of atuan

SEPTEMBER

[REVIEW]

OCTOBER

[REVIEW]

NOVEMBER

[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[SERIES REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

The Girl in the Mirror by Lev Grossman. [SHORT STORY; Anthology: Dangerous Women]

A quick tale from the world of The Magicians, that makes me almost tempted to read the main series… Undergraduate Plum and her friends in the League play an elaborate prank on the college’s student wine steward – who has been short-pouring the wine at dinner – only for it to take a rather unsettling turn just before its completion. What I’d heard about this series makes me think I probably won’t like it, but I enjoyed this short story a surprising amount. I didn’t like Plum all that much, and even felt a little sorry for her chosen victim, Wharton, but the way that the prank played out was great fun (for the reader, though not the participants 😉).

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Jenna Lamia]

The story of a white girl called Lily who runs away from her abusive father, and sets out – dragging along her nanny and best friend Rosaleen, in trouble with a dangerous group of racists after spitting on a white man’s shoes – in search of information about her mother, who died when she was a toddler. I had a hard time getting into this story, but once I got through the first section of the book I was hooked. Lily was probably the weakest of the main cast (though I still liked her a lot by the time the book ended), but the relationships she formed with the people who helped her on her search were incredibly compelling. She and Rosaleen had their ups and downs, but their love for one another was always very obvious, and the bond that grew between Lily and the Calendar Sisters (and August in particular) was wonderful. Lamia’s narration was also beautifully done; I don’t know if I would’ve liked this book half so much if not for her excellent performance.

I Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton. [COMIC]

A collection of short comics about a very silly, very cute cat (with whom I’m sure we are all familiar). I actually bought this to give to a friend who really loves Pusheen, and hadn’t intended to do more than flip through it myself, but as is often the case with episodic cartoons like this, a quick flip-through turned into an entire read-through without much input from me. (It was still pretty quick, though. 😋)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin.

The first book of the Earthsea Cycle, which tells the story of the early years of the wizard Ged, who, as a boy, and out of pride, summons a terrible shadow that stalks him throughout the rest of his childhood – and which he must hunt in turn once he is a fully fledged wizard. I stalled halfway through reading this book about ten years ago, and have been meaning to get back to it ever since, but somehow it was never a priority. But I’m really glad to have finally been able to experience the beginning of this amazing series! 😁 It’s a very character-driven story, with slow pacing and an often a somewhat lonely tone, and a vast world, saturated with magic.

Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras (a.k.a. Mary Kirby). [Illustrators: Stefano Martino, Álvaro Sarraseca, Andrés Ponce & German Ponce]

A short tale from the world of the Dragon Age video games, as told by Varric – a companion character from both Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition – who is one of Thedas’ most popular authors. The majority of this book exists in-game in the form of unlockable codex entries (of which I had already read a few), but it was really lovely to read them all together, with some wonderful accompanying illustrations. The story itself – a murder mystery – is nothing particularly special, but the real charm of Hard in Hightown is all the familiar locations and characters that are scattered throughout the book, as Varric’s penchant for modelling his characters after his friends is greatly in evidence. 😊

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin.

The second Earthsea book, which is told from the perspective of Tenar, the young priestess of the Nameless Ones, who wield a dark power in the sacred tombs beneath her island home of Atuan. I think I may have enjoyed this book even more than A Wizard of Earthsea! The new perspective was unexpected (and I was surprised by how long it took for Ged to appear in the story), but I liked Tenar a lot, and her small world above and below the island were fascinating.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The sequel (and conclusion) to Strange the Dreamer, in which Lazlo Strange and his companions come face to face with the horrors of Weep’s past, and begin to uncover the reasons behind them. Since this is a sequel, I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but I had somewhat mixed feelings about it; while I loved all the backstory and worldbuilding in this book, and felt that the story wrapped up in an interesting way, I wasn’t as blown away by it as I hoped to be… Given that my expectations were sky-high, perhaps that isn’t saying much, but I found the book a bit too romance-driven (even though the romances were all ones I liked), and thought that the consequences of the dramatic – and potentially game-changing – twist at the end of Strange the Dreamer were avoided more than addressed… But regardless, I still think this was a fantastic series, and my interest in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy (which I think this one is peripherally connected to?! Though I could be mistaken about that!) has definitely been re-invigorated.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.

A love story between two ghosts who are only able to meet by possessing the bodies of two teenagers. I didn’t have high expectations for this book, but was pleasantly surprised by it! It wasn’t particularly scary, but the spooky atmosphere was excellent, and I loved how the characters were caught between their desire to be together, and the dubious morality of their actions. I believe that the sequel is about the two teenagers whose bodies they were inhabiting, which sounds interesting, and I hope to read that at some point, too.

The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin. [Illustrator: Charles Vess]

The third book in the Earthsea Cycle, where Ged – now Archmage – is called away from Roke by a young prince who visits the island, bringing news that magic is fading from the world. As the majority of this story was spent travelling, it covered a lot of places in Earthsea that I hadn’t seen before, and which it was very interesting to visit, and I also really liked Ged’s new companion in this book, Prince Arren, and the bond that grew between them… Of the three books I’ve read so far, I found this the least-compelling, but that’s not much of a criticism! 😅 Having just begun reading from my new illustrated edition, I wish that there had been more pictures, but that only speaks to the quality of Vess’ artwork.

Secret Vampire by L.J. Smith.

The first book in the Night World series follows a human girl called Poppy who is secretly in love with her best friend – who is, unbeknownst to her, a vampire, and possibly also her soulmate. This is probably one of the weakest stories from this series, as it’s almost entirely romance-driven, and neither of the two lead characters are particularly compelling, but it’s quite short, and I some of the secondary characters are interesting (meaning Ash, and Poppy’s brother Phil).

Daughters of Darkness by L.J. Smith.

The second Night World book, in which the three Redfern sisters run away from their vampire family in search of a little freedom, and find themselves living next door to an inconveniently observant human girl, who suspects they may be killers. In contrast to Secret Vampire, this is one of the best entries in the series. I really liked all three of the Redferns, and Mary-Lynnette, their neighbour, was a great protagonist, although the length of these books doesn’t really lend itself to a great deal of character development. I appreciated, too, that the focus of this story was on the murder mystery, rather than pure romance – though the romantic aspects of the book were also very well done.

Spellbinder by L.J. Smith.

The third in the same series, which is about two teenage witches who find themselves in competition over a mortal boy, and throwing around spells that are quickly growing beyond their control. This was another promising entry in the series, and I enjoyed the focus on Blaise and Thea’s friendship, despite their wildly different values. I liked Eric a lot, too, and his growing romance with Thea was very sweet.

Dogs, volumes 0-6 by Shirow Miwa. [MANGA]

A dystopian series about a group of characters who are all searching for a way into the Below, their home city’s sinister underground. I had previously read the first three volumes of (and prequel to) this series, but decided to give them a (much needed) re-read before continuing on, as it’d been such a long time. And I find myself (for a second time) intrigued by the story and characters, and wowed by the beautiful art, but wishing the series was a bit less violent, as much of it seems unnecessary, and the action scenes are sometimes quite hard to follow. I’m also a little worried that, with Heine’s backstory now explained, the most interesting part of the plot may be over – despite the tease at the end of volume 6 of a new, powerful enemy for the team…

Frozen Tides by Morgan Rhodes.

The fourth book in the Falling Kingdoms series, which follows a group of young protagonists, each of whom is trying to get their hands on the four Kindred – a set of stones with powerful magical abilities – for reasons of their own. The plot is definitely escalating dramatically in this new entry in the series, and I like where a lot of the relationships are going. Princess Amara of Kraeshia also joins the main cast in this book, and I’m not sure how I feel about her as a character yet, but she certainly adds an interesting new perspective on this world… And I still hate Jonas – I will probably always hate Jonas – but he does seem to be getting at least a little less insufferable as the series goes on. I tend to talk quite negatively about this series, but I do kind of love it. It’s not great literature by any definition, but it’s super-fun, and I’m really looking forward to reading the last two books. 😁

The Rights of Man by H.G. Wells.

A new edition of Wells’ manifesto on human rights, introduced with an essay by Ali Smith. The beginning of the book is primarily made up of a proposed bill of rights, which is rather dry when read in its entirety (despite the importance of its contents), but I found Wells’ discussion of each clause interesting, and considerably more engaging. This is definitely not the most extensive thing ever written on human rights, but it provides a good introduction for those interested in the topic.

The Secret Crusade by Oliver Bowden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Gunnar Cauthery]

A novelisation of the first Assassin’s Creed video game (with some elements from later games which explain why it’s the third in the novel series, and not the first), which tells the tale of Altaïr Ibn La-Ahad, the youngest ever Master Assassin, who’s stripped of his rank after a series of horrific misjudgements on an assignment put the whole of the Order of Assassins in danger. I was hoping that this book would fill in some of the gaps that were left in the game’s storyline (which jumps around a lot in terms of times and locations), particularly in regards to Altaïr’s relationship with Malik. But while it did offer a lot of extra content – including extra backstory for Altaïr, an explanation of his enmity with Abbas, and a continuation of the main story which really fleshes out his relationship with Maria – Bowden didn’t elaborate much on the retelling of the game itself, which is a shame.

The Bear & the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Kathleen Gati]

The enchanting first book in a fantasy trilogy inspired by Russian folklore, which follows a young girl with a hint of magic, who becomes caught in an unending battle between the gods of life and death. Vasya was a really wonderful lead character, and the haunting, wintery wilderness of northern Russia – full of magic and spirits – was as much a character as a backdrop to the story. The slow pacing may be a little off-putting for some people, and the start of the book is a little confusing (since a lot of the characters are introduced all at once), but needless to say, I loved it! I’m already nearly done with the second book in this series, and can’t wait for the third! ❄️4 stars

*Not including re-reads.

[EDIT (23/12/18): Decreased rating for The Bear & the Nightingale from 5 to 4 stars after further consideration, and replaced it with The Tombs of Atuan in my “favourite of the season” slot. My feelings on the book haven’t changed, just my assessment of those feelings… if that makes any sense. 🤔]

Summer Catch-Up

Seeing such a long list of books makes me much more satisfied with my reading than I have been for my last few wrap-ups (/catch-ups), though I know it’s a slightly artificial satisfaction (but not entirely! Booktubeathon meant that I read a lot more this summer than I would ordinarily have); three months naturally results in more books read than one, after all… 😅

Also, I find myself liking this new format. It’s kind of labour-intensive (I had to completely re-code it last night, which was a chore), but I expect that it will become less so as I get more used to it. And it looks very tidy, which I appreciate. 😊

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

29748925 Ann Leckie//Ancillary Mercy

JUNE

[REVIEW]

mary beard//women and power

JULY

[REVIEW]

robert harris//fatherland

AUGUST

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

Adam Silvera//History Is All You Left Me

[REVIEW]

Catherynne M. Valente//The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

[REVIEW]

sarah prineas//ash and bramble

[REVIEW]

jack london//White Fang

[REVIEW]

Kiersten White//Bright We Burn

[REVIEW]

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//Obsidio

[SERIES REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

29748925Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The first book in a new series of the same name, which follows the orphaned Lazlo Strange, who has always been fascinated by the lost city of Weep, which was one day erased from the world, as if by magic, leaving few who even remembered that it was ever more than a myth. I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone a lot, but this may be my favourite thing that Laini Taylor has written so far. I really loved both Lazlo and Sarai (the book’s second protagonist), and the supporting characters were all incredibly memorable, despite there being quite a few of them. The conflict at the centre of the book was fascinating, too, and the world-building amazing. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Weep, and am glad that I only have a month more to wait for Muse of Nightmares, which is unsurprisingly my most anticipated autumn release – and which I will definitely also be listening to, rather than reading in print, as Steve West’s performance of Strange the Dreamer was fantastic.5 stars

35037401Dragon Age: Knight Errant by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir. [COMIC; Illustrators: Fernando Heinz Furukawa & Michael Atiyeh]

A brief (and self-contained) story set in the Dragon Age world, about Vaea, the elven squire to drunken knight Ser Aaron Hawthorne – and, unbeknownst to her master, a thief. I’ll admit that I’m inclined to enjoy every foray into this world, regardless of length (or even story or writing quality), but Knight Errant surpassed all my expectations. It’s very short, but did a great job of making me care about Vaea and Ser Aaron, the two main characters (who are original to this comic), and although the plot is simple, it’s also solid, and a lot of fun. Varric and Sebastian from the games also had fairly significant roles, and it was great to see them both again (as well as Charter, who made a brief appearance). 😊 In terms of timeline, this takes place after Inquisition, but is not directly connected to the events of that game.4 stars

8146139The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

The tale of a domestic dog called Buck, who’s stolen from his owners in California and taken all the way to the Yukon, where he lives a much less comfortable life as a sled-dog, but is drawn to the wild places that exist just beyond the borders of his new life. This was a really interesting read! I picked it up a few days before Booktubeathon, because I was hoping to read White Fang for one of the challenges, and mistakenly thought that the two were directly connected, but I actually ended up liking this one a bit more, as the pacing was much more consistent, and the story a little gratuitously violent… Buck’s life in the North is a harsh one, but London doesn’t dwell on the brutality of it quite so much as in White Fang. Still, for such a short book, it packs a huge emotional punch.4 stars

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Aysha Kala & Jack Farrar]

An excellent, Roman Empire-inspired fantasy following two leads: Laia, a teenage girl who becomes a slave in order to spy for the Scholar resistance, and Elias, a Martial soldier who wants only to be free of the Empire. I first read (and reviewed) this book a couple of years ago, and my feelings on it haven’t changed in the slightest. 💕 The audiobook was a new experience for me, but also a good one; both narrators did an excellent job, though I feel like the communication between them might not have been particularly great, as there were several words that they each pronounced differently. It wasn’t usually too jarring, and the most significant pronunciation disagreement was corrected after a few chapters, but it’s something that really should have been addressed by an editor or director (or whoever is in charge of voice work) before recording… especially when it’s the name of one of the main characters!5 stars

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//ObsidioObsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

The final book in The Illuminae Files, which introduces two new protagonists: Asha, Kady’s cousin who was left behind on Kerenza IV when the majority of the population fled, and her ex-boyfriend-from-before-Kerenza, Rhys, who is now a technician for the invading BeiTech forces. As the conclusion to the trilogy, the plot of this book was much less self-contained than the other two, and it wrapped up the plot really nicely, and made for an incredibly powerful ending – though at the expense of some development for Asha and Rhys, who had to share their screen time with the series’ previous four protagonists (or five if you include AIDAN). However, I do think that they were both very well-fleshed out characters regardless, and the Kerenza-based perspective that they both provided to the story was essential. The pacing of the story was fast and tense, and only became more so as the stakes got higher and higher towards the end… and although I didn’t like this book quite as much as Illuminae, it was a near thing. A truly great ending to this fantastic series!5 stars

Jane Austen//Pride and PrejudicePride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Lindsay Duncan]

The classic tale of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who meet at a ball and absolutely do not hit it off. 😉 This is one of my favourite books, and always a joy to re-read, but I decided to buy the audiobook to listen to with some friends on our recent pilgrimage-of-sorts to Pemberley! (Or rather, Lyme Park, which played the part of Pemberley’s exterior in the 1995 BBC adaptation, i.e. the best adaptation.) There are several different audio versions of this book, so much deliberation went into the choice of this one in particular, and I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed! Lindsay Duncan’s performance was incredible, and I especially liked her take on Mrs. Bennet. 🎶5+ stars

*Not including re-reads.

Spring Catch-Up

Once again, I’m trying a new layout for my wrap-ups, and I’m thinking of also switching them to being seasonal rather than monthly, at least at times (like now) when I’m not reading all that much… Let me know what you think! 😊 I did post a wrap-up of my March reads, so this post has everything that I read/listened to in April and May – a total of six novels, two audiobooks, and one (very short) comic:

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

When Anxiety Attacks by Terian Koscik. A short, autobiographical comic about Koscik’s experience with anxiety, and her decision to see a therapist, along with a call for others not to feel ashamed or embarrassed to do the same, if they feel that it would help them. This was super-short, but it conveyed its message very well, and the cute artwork made it really fun to read, too. 😊
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce. One of the later books in Pierce’s Emelan series, as well as my audiobook purchase for March. This is one of my favourite books of all time; I love the story and the characters, and how the four main characters have all changed after their years of separation make for a lot of tense, emotional re-thinking of their relationship. One thing that struck me this time through was how childish Sandry was at times in comparison to the others… Of course, she is a child, so it’s not entirely surprising, but I don’t remember ever really noticing it before… The performance was also excellent: Pierce took the narrator’s role, while the characters were each played by different voice actors. I did find that the actors who played Tris and Daja had quite similar voices (for a while I even thought that they were the same person), but they differ so much in personality that it was only occasionally difficult to tell which of them was speaking.
The Four Swans by Winston Graham. The sixth book in the Poldark series, which takes place in a small Cornish mining community, and follows the titular Poldark family – though the number of protagonists has been steadily increasing as the series goes on, and characters whose names are not Poldark have been becoming much more significant to the story. Obviously since this is a sequel, I can’t say too much about the plot, but it remains very exciting. I’m very glad that Morwenna’s plight has not been forgotten, and her younger sister Rowella is also an interesting addition to the cast; while I’m definitely rooting for her, and am frequently concerned for her, I’m still not entirely sure how much I like her… 😓 Ossie continues to be super-disgusting (as I talked about in another recent post), and the feud between Ross and George takes some unexpected turns in this book, too. I can’t say I found it quite as good as The Black Moon, but it was a little less anxiety-inducing to read… the Poldark series as a whole has a tendency towards drama that is probably not good for my heart, but definitely keeps me invested! 😋
Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell. A fantasy novel set in a society where magic-users, known as Jan’Tep, rule absolutely, while the magic-less Sha’Tep live lives of subservience, regardless of their own preference. Our protagonist Kellen is the son of a prominent Jan’Tep family, but with his sixteenth birthday rapidly approaching, and his magical abilities having been growing steadily weaker all his life, he has to come up with an incredible con in order to avoid the fate of becoming a Sha’Tep. I found the premise of this book really, really interesting; the tension between the different social classes, and the very real possibility of Kellen failing his trials both lent themselves to a potentially epic storyline – but while I did think that Kellen’s personal journey was very compelling, I found that the world-building wasn’t strong enough for me to feel any investment in the story beyond its immediate effects on Kellen… Ferius (probably the most important of the supporting cast) also felt quite convieniently-forced-in-for-the-convenience-of-the-plot at times, which was disappointing, although I did like her as a character. I did enjoy the book enough to continue with the series, though it’s a shame that (in my opinion) it didn’t quite live up to its potential.
Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell. The sequel to Spellslinger, in which Kellen leaves home with Ferius, and the squirrel-cat Reichis in hopes of learning the Argosi way, but is soon caught up by a mysterious girl called Seneira, who seems to have contracted Shadowblack as a disease, despite having no magic to speak of. The beginning of this book was quite slow, but I found myself really enjoying it once the plot got going (around the time they reach the University). The new characters that were introduced were all a lot of fun, and although I’m disappointed that the new setting meant that my world-building issues from Spellslinger haven’t been fixed yet, I remain hopeful that they may be eventually, as apparently this is going to be a six-book series. Book 3, Charmcaster, is out already, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to read it sometime soon. 😊
Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce. The first book in the Circle Opens quartet, which is set in Pierce’s Emelan universe, and follows Sandry a few years after the Circle of Magic books, now with her magical qualifications, and a student of her own to teach – whether she feels ready for it or not. I’ve read this book several times before, and still love the story and characters just as much as ever. I decided to listen to it as an audiobook this time (I’m slowly making my way through the whole of Audible’s collection of Tamora Pierce books), and it definitely wasn’t a mistake; the whole cast did an excellent job. 🎶

*Not including re-reads.

March Wrap-Up

Once again, March was not a heavy-hitter in terms of the number of books I read, though it was strong on quality, with two of the three books getting five-star ratings – and one of which was a behemoth of an (audio)book that I’ve been slowly making my way through for a couple of years now. 😁 I almost finished a fourth book, too, which is quite astonishing considering how preoccupied I’ve been with Zelda for the last couple of weeks… 😅 But anyway, here’s what I thought of my March reads:

Dune by Frank Herbert. The epic tale of a boy whose family is embroiled in a bitter power struggle involving the planet Arrakis and the strange – and expensive – drug that’s produced there, known as spice. That’s a massive oversimplification, by the way, but the plot and the characters and the world that Herbert creates in Dune is far too complex to explain properly in just a sentence or two… It’s taken me about two years to finish this book, not because I wasn’t enjoying it (I was), but because until the last couple of months I just didn’t listen to audiobooks that often – but I’m so glad that I finally decided to buckle down and finish it; it’s such a great book! I loved all the characters, the story was wonderfully intriguing, and the book as a whole made such a strong impression on me that it was really easy to pick back up where I’d left off, again and again! 😊

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. The first book in a prequel series to The Immortals quartet, which tells the story of Numair’s years at the Imperial University in Carthak. Returning to this world was such a joy, and Numair’s backstory is something I’ve always been curious about, so it was really nice to learn some more about that, too. 💕 I wouldn’t say that this is one of Pierce’s strongest books, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless, and am looking forward to the rest of the series. You can find my full review here.4 stars
The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout. A contemporary novel about two teenagers, Mallory and Rider, who lived in the same abusive foster home as small children, but were separated later on… and then reunited by chance in high school, when Mallory decided to attend a public high school in an attempt to overcome her severe social anxiety. I picked this up mainly because of Armentrout’s name on the cover (her Lux series was great fun), but although I enjoyed The Problem with Forever, and it definitely had its poignant moments, I didn’t find it all that memorable. It’s solidly-written, the romance was sweet, and I feel like Armentrout did a good job of portraying the crippling severity of Mallory’s anxiety… but it’s not up to the standard of the other books of hers that I’ve read.

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