#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.]

#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.]

#TomeTopple Readathon: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Eragon by Christopher Paolini. [497 pages]

When a mysterious rock appears before Eragon in a blaze of magic, he has no idea that it’s about to hatch into one of the first dragons to be born in Alagaësia in close to a century, or that the almost-forgotten legacy of the Dragon Riders has just become his inheritance.

I’d realised before I decided to read this that it’d had pretty mixed reviews, but I had no idea it had reached such Marmite levels of polarising-ness… Have I become that rare person who has no strong opinions on Marmite? No, Marmite is gross, but my views on this book are very centrist; buried beneath the fanaticism and vitriol, I think both proponents and detractors of it have made some good points. But before I go into the book’s pros and cons, I want to address the thing that always, always seems to come up in every defence of Eragon: Paolini’s age when he wrote it.

So, people seem to love to excuse the poor writing in this book by citing the author’s age, but I really don’t think this defence has any merit; there is, after all, no junior league for writing. Eragon is competing for your attention with every other book that’s ever been published, and should therefore be judged by the same standards. Yes, it’s pretty impressive that a teenager managed to write a book good enough to be published, but while his age might make people more inclined to forgive the book’s flaws, it doesn’t change the fact that those flaws are there, and they still have an effect on the reading experience.

In actuality, while the writing isn’t super-great, it’s nowhere near as bad as all the criticism might lead you to believe, and in particular Paolini seems to really excel at describing things very vividly. I did have a problem with the dialogue, however, in that it was often very stilted and over-formal (for instance, when he meets the dwarven king in Tronjheim, he seems to be using almost ceremonial language, but it’s difficult to imagine where he might have learned to speak in such a way). I only found this occasionally distracting coming from most of the characters, but it was especially unconvincing coming from illiterate farm-boy Eragon.

One of the most common criticisms I’ve seen of Eragon is that it’s unoriginal, and I’m inclined to agree; it reads like Star Wars set in Middle Earth, with added dragons, and a liberal dose of fantasy tropes that render the plot predictable, though not unenjoyable… The influence of The Lord of the Rings on Eragon‘s setting is particularly noticeable throughout the book, but while this perhaps shows a lack of… world-building initiative (?), it doesn’t automatically make the book bad. After all, one of the reasons The Lord of the Rings is so popular is that it takes place in such a rich, compelling world, and Alagaësia has managed to retain a lot of that charm.

On the whole I found the world-building rather lazily done. The world itself is, as I mentioned, quite interesting, but it’s built up chiefly through massive info-dumps from Brom. Naturally this tapers off as the book goes on; after all, the more of the world we’re told about, the less of it we need to be told about, but it made the first half of the book a bit tedious – and it definitely didn’t make me care much about Brom. And speaking of Brom, what he was and wasn’t willing to reveal at any given time seemed extremely dramatically convenient in a very unrealistic manner.

Characters that I did really enjoy included Saphira and Murtagh, who were hands-down the most realistic and compelling members of the cast. Arya I also thought had potential, as she was interesting in the scenes that she was conscious for, even though there weren’t very many of them. I imagine that she’ll be getting a lot of development in the later books, however, as she seems to be a pretty important character to the series as a whole.

Eragon (the character), on the other hand, was really frustrating, and swung from eye-rollingly stupid to super-genius and back again on a regular basis. He was incredibly overpowered, as well (and gave off some definite teenage wish-fulfilment vibes). For example: Only a couple of chapters after he begins to learn to read, he is able to competently (if not confidently) read inscriptions in “the ancient tongue”; he’s able to match Murtagh with a sword only a few months after first handling one; and his dream visions are apparently an incredible, unprecedented feat. Saphira’s powers also seem very random and vaguely-defined, but were less annoying because she used them much less frequently. (And hopefully more will be explained about the strengths and limitations of dragons’ powers later in the series.)

Lastly, for a book that’s supposed to be all about dragons and dragon riders, it’s surprising how much this book focuses on Eragon exclusively; namely on how being a Rider effects him and his powers – Saphira isn’t even present for much of the book! In its defence, the characters are trying to keep her hidden for much of the story, but it’s notable that she doesn’t show up until the very end of the climactic fight between Eragon and Durza. When the narrative did focus on exploring their relationship, however, I found it one of the most compelling aspects of the book (and I was especially pleased that Saphira wasn’t shy about pointing out when Eragon was being an idiot 😉).

My main problems with Eragon were all the info-dumps, the distractingly unrealistic dialogue, and (less frequently) how overpowered Eragon was. Ultimately, however, I enjoyed myself with this book, and wouldn’t be adverse to picking up the next one (though realistically I doubt I’ll get to it, as there are myriad other books that are higher up my to-read list). For younger readers, I think this makes a pretty solid introduction to the fantasy genre; for everyone else, temper your expectations and you might have fun.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Super-satisfied with my progress so far; I might even be able to get through a third book before the readathon ends! 😁 I’m a little frustrated, however, that it turns out that if I’m being really nit-pickey (which I often am), none of the books I chose should count for the challenge; Cloud Atlas because I had already read the first 100 pages, Eragon because the last 20-ish pages turned out to be a sample chapter for the next book, and The Stranger from the Sea because, although the edition I was looking at on Goodreads was 512 pages, the copy I managed to find at the library was only 499… 😓 I’m still counting them, obviously, but it’s a mildly unhappy coincidence.

On a more positive note, however, Eragon is also my pick for the Library Scavenger Hunt this month! The challenge was to read a book with a name in the title, and this was the only one on my (e-)shelf that was also 500+ pages (or claimed to be!). And I suppose what I’ve learned from all this is that readathon-review-formatting trumps LSH-review-formatting… at least for now. I leave it to you guys to determine whether that’s a valuable lesson or not. 😋

Tomes Completed: 2
Pages Read: 918
Challenges Completed: 5/5

#TomeTopple Readathon: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. [529 pages]

From the 19th century Pacific to a distant, post-apocalyptic future, six people find themselves connected in an inexpressible way, as their stories ripple through time to impact the lives that they touch. Adam Ewing, an American lawyer, makes a perilous sea-voyage home; Robert Frobisher, a young composer, is hired as the assistant to an ageing genius; Luisa Rey, a journalist, uncovers a corporate conspiracy; Timothy Cavendish, a publisher, finds himself imprisoned in a retirement home against his will; Sonmi-451, a Fabricant, learns a horrifying truth about the society that engineered her; and Zachry, a goat-herd, is forced to share his home with a visitor from a technologically advanced tribe.

Reading this book has been the work of several years for me, so I doubt it’ll surprise anyone to learn that I really struggled with the beginning, partly because there were parts of Frobisher’s story that made me incredibly uncomfortable when I first started reading, and therefore have more to do with me than with the book, but also partly due to the way that the book is formatted – it starts with the first half of each of the first five stories, then the whole of the sixth, and then the ending to each of the first five, but in reverse order… For me, this meant that the first half of the book was rather a slog, as it felt like as soon as I was beginning to get invested in a storyline, it would abruptly cut off and move onto the next one.

And although even very early on we can see the stories begin to touch each other (i.e. Ewing’s journals are read by Frobisher, whose sextet is then heard by Luisa, and so on), it’s not until much later in the book that the true impact that these characters’ stories have had on each other’s lives becomes clear. Not to mention that, of course, I didn’t find all of the stories equally interesting; Sonmi’s was my favourite by a mile, but Zachry was difficult to connect with, and Timothy’s voice was outright annoying at times. However, while each of these stories would undoubtedly make decent standalone short stories, they are infinitely enhanced by the connections between them, and the way that the book as a whole was formatted made the revelation of those connections really impactful. By which I mean: it’s worth powering through. 😊

The theme of reincarnation, which is what initially sparked my interest in Cloud Atlas, is also threaded through the book, but is a much less important connection between characters than the physical form of their stories themselves (e.g. the journals).

In short, it’s a very clever book, and a very poignant one, and one that I suspect would probably improve further upon re-reading… which I may well do. If I start today, I might be finished by 2025! … Just kidding; six-year hiatuses aren’t my usual style, I promise. Though it definitely speaks to the power of Mitchell’s writing that I was able to jump back into the story without a hitch, even after all that time!

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Done for the day, but glad to have finished my first tome (or at least the final 421 pages of it), and looking forward to starting on Eragon tomorrow.

Tomes Completed: 1
Pages Read: 421
Challenges Completed: 3/5

#TomeTopple Readathon: TBR

Today (or perhaps tomorrow, depending on your time zone) begins round 8 of the Tome Topple Readathon, which is all about reading those dauntingly huge books on our TBR shelves. We all have them; I personally have more than a few that I’ve been putting off reading simply because I know I could read two or three smaller books in the same amount of time… But no longer!

This round of Tome Toppling will run from 13th to 26th April, and the only real rule is to read books that are 500 or more pages long. Like most readathons, however, there are a few challenges to help shape your TBR (if you so desire). 😊 Here’s what I’m hoping to read:

1) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (529 pages). I’m already about a hundred pages into this book, but have been so for so many years that it’s beginning to get rather silly (if it’s not there already 😓). I may re-start it, or I may not, but in any case it’s my highest priority for this readathon, as it fulfils three of the five readathon challenges – and is the only book that can fulfil one of them. Those are #2 (the tome that’s been on my shelf the longest), #4 (a genre I don’t usually read; in this case literary fiction), and #5 (an adult novel).

2) Eragon by Christopher Paolini (512 pages) or The Stranger from the Sea by Winston Graham (also 512 pages, according to Goodreads), either of which will work for challenge #3 (part of a series). I’m hesitating over which to prioritise because while Eragon would work quite conveniently with this month’s Library Scavenger Hunt challenge (which I probably should have thought about before deciding to join a readathon), I also promised my friend Grace that I would try to read The Stranger from the Sea this month (though that was before I realised that I didn’t actually own it). Clearly I’ve been over-committing somewhat, but when did that ever stop me!? 😁 (Probably all the time, actually, but let’s ignore that reality for the moment. 🤫) Hopefully I’ll manage to get to both, but who knows.

The final challenge for the readathon is #1 (read more than 1 tome), so if I read even two of these I’ll have fulfilled it automatically, but in the very unlikely event that I finish them all with time to spare, I will be trying to pick up one of the Sarah J. Maas books that I’ve been putting off for what feels like a lifetime: Empire of Storms (693 pages) or A Court of Wings and Ruin (699 pages). I’m also currently listening to the audiobook of Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin (706 pages in physical form), and intend to continue to do so throughout the next couple of weeks, whenever physical reading is impossible, but it will probably last me longer than the readathon does. 😋

Wish me luck! 🤞 And good luck to you guys, as well, if any of you are taking part; I’d love to know what you’re planning on reading, too! 😁

#FallIntoFantasy: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan.

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

Betrayed by his demigod master, and still shockingly mortal (even after all the uncomfortable questing he’s already been subjected to), Apollo sets out with the demigod Leo Valdez and the (also newly mortal) sorceress Calypso in search of one of the most dangerous Oracles of all, the Cave of Trophonius. But their journey is a tricky one, and Commodus – former Emperor of Rome, and Triumvirate member – will stop at nothing to keep them from reaching their destination.

After reading The Hidden Oracle, I remember thinking that Apollo was probably my least favourite of Riordan’s protagonists so far. He grew a lot, however, over the course of the book (and I definitely liked him a lot more by the end of it), and I’m pleased that this continued in The Dark Prophecy. He is still incredibly arrogant, but I found that the relationships he formed in this book and the last humanised him a lot. That includes his friendship with Meg, of course, but we are also introduced to several characters in The Dark Prophecy who were important to him before he became mortal, which made his backstory a lot more sympathetic.

I also thought that Leo and Calypso made excellent companions for Apollo. He and Calypso, in particular, provided an interesting contrast to one another; both of them former immortals, but reacting to their new mortality in very different ways. Additionally, it was just nice to be spending time with Leo and Calypso again. Theirs is one of my favourite romances in any of Riordan’s books, but it’s also one of the least-showcased, so it was wonderful to see them develop as a couple.

It took me a long time to finally pick up this book, as I was really worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this series as much as I usually do with Riordan’s work, but I’m happy to have been mistaken. I didn’t quite mesh with The Hidden Oracle, but my enthusiasm for The Trials of Apollo has definitely been re-invigorated by this book – and hopefully it won’t take me nearly so long to get to The Burning Maze!

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Well, this is up later than it should’ve been! 😅 But no matter! Next up is The Smoke Thieves, which looks pretty promising from the first thirty pages, so I will be spending (what’s left of) today immersed in that. 😊

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 772
Challenges Completed: 7/8

#FallIntoFantasy: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.

Zacharias Wythe hasn’t been Britain’s Sorcerer Royal for long, but he’s already close to buried in problems: The dangerously dwindling supply of magic in the country, the government pushing for him to involve himself in foreign affairs, and the Society of Unnatural Philosophers itself ready to revolt over having a black man as their leader. And the sudden entry of Miss Prunella Gentleman – prodigiously talented, despite her lack of training – into his life brings a whole new set of problems… but perhaps a few solutions, too.

Zacharias and Prunella are incredible protagonists; both charismatic and compelling, both talented magicians, both somewhat tenuous in their positions, and with completely distinct voices. I was drawn first to Zacharias’ dogged desire to do the right thing – whether he’s considering the good of British magic, or how to best honour his predecessor’s memory – but Prunella was quick to win me over with her ambition and nerve. She’s quick to see how to get her way, and won’t hesitate to manipulate good-natured sorcerers like Zacharias, if that’s what it takes. 😋 The relationship that builds between the two of them is lively and unpredictable, and frequently hilarious.

I also really enjoyed Zacharias’ heartwarming relationships with his guardians (particularly the wonderful Lady Wythe, who is his greatest supporter), as well as Prunella’s conflicted feelings for Mrs. Daubeney, to whom she was something in between a daughter and a servant. And their London friends – and enemies – were a brilliantly colourful lot (but the practical Damerell and the charming Rollo were my favourites).

The plot, too, is a delightful whirl of intrigue and backstabbing, social reform, magical experimentation and learning, and near-death experiences, all while somehow managing to retain its coherency. And with so many different threads of storyline going at once, I thought a few of them might get lost or be neglected, but instead they all came together, not neatly, but in a wonderfully chaotic manner.

I picked this up hoping that it would be somewhat like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, only more readable, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Conceptually, the two books are similar – as is obvious just from the synopses – but Cho’s novel is considerably shorter, much more immediately engaging (in terms of both story and characters), and has no less rich a world. And I say this as someone who enjoyed Clarke’s novel immensely (eventually), despite my struggles with it. Certainly, more time could have been spent exploring Fairyland, or the vampire-infested Janda Baik, but it seems likely that these will be expanded upon in the sequel, The True Queen, and for now I am content to wait for its 2019 release.4 stars

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Done for today, but excited to spend the whole of tomorrow reading The Dark Prophecy, since I have the day off work. 😊

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 371
Challenges Completed: 4/8

[EDIT (23/12/18): Changed rating from 5 to 4 stars after further consideration.]