2018 Reading Resolutions

I’ve decided to cut back on my resolutions quite a bit this year, both because I’m not reading at the pace I have been in past years (my Goodreads goal is also a little lower than in 2017), and to allow myself more freedom to just read what I feel like reading; the end of last year was something of a frenzy of books that would fulfil challenge requirements, and consequently I ended up having to put off several books that I was really eager to read (like The Book of Dust, which has been taunting me from my bookshelf since I bought it the day after it was released!)… I definitely don’t want to do that again. 😓

This year’s challenges will be:

  • Take part in the Library Scavenger Hunt every month – This hasn’t changed at all from last year, though I have decided that I’m not going to be too upset if I miss a month or two…
  • Read a book set on every continent – This is an adaptation of my “books that showcase different cultures” challenge, which has been serving its purpose, but I do find that I end up just reading a lot of books set in one or two cultures, so it doesn’t actually diversify my reading all that much (for instance, I read quite a lot of books that are set in Japan). The seven continents are Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Oceania & Antarctica, and I already have a few ideas for what I could read for a couple of these. 👍
  • Read five books that were given to me – This is almost the same as in previous years, but I’ve dropped the “or lent” part of the challenge in addition to the “or recommended” part that I left out last year. I was given quite a few books this Christmas, so even if nobody else gives me a single book this year, I have enough exciting books to fuel me through this challenge. 🎄
  • Finish or catch up on five series – The only change I’ve made to this challenge is that the series don’t have to be ones that I started before the beginning of the year; while this was a helpful challenge, I found that it discouraged me from finishing newly discovered series more than it encouraged me to finish off older ones.
  • Read three classics or modern classics – No change from last year; three seems to be the perfect number for this challenge.
  • Read two non-fiction books – I’ve increased the number for this challenge by one, as last year I fulfilled it much more easily than I was anticipating, and then went on to read a couple more non-fiction books, as well!
  • Read two DNF books – In contrast, I’ve decreased the amount here, simply because I don’t have all that many DNF books left on my shelves (except for anthologies, which I don’t tend to count).

If you’ve been following my resolutions for the last couple of years, you may notice that most of these are quite familiar, but I’m happy with the changes that I’ve made, & I think they strike a nice balance between challenge, flexibility and achievability.

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2017 in Review

Last year (and it’ll be strange for a while yet to be using that phrase to refer to 2017) ended up being a pretty great reading year for me, despite several not-quite-slumps, and a few very time-consuming video game obsessions. 😅 I’m still not reading at the pace that I was when I was in China (just before I decided to start this blog), but considering that I now have a considerably more active social life, and a job with far less downtime, I’m happy with both the quantity and the quality of the books that I read. I managed to complete my Goodreads Challenge, as well as all of my Reading Resolutions, which makes a huge change from 2016, where I only managed two out of ten. 😰 The My Year in Books page on Goodreads also looks as cool as ever, but I especially like that they’ve added reviews into the layout this time.

Of course, I’ve picked out a few favourites, which I’d like to say a little about (in order of reading, not preference), starting with The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, which was not at all what I was expecting it to be, but completely blew me away. It’s a story about a woman and the robot who helped to raise her, and all the ways that their relationship shifts and changes as they grow older. I only initially gave this four stars, but I took the fact that I’m still thinking about it, and remember it so favourably as a sign that I ought to bump it up to a five-star rating.

The next book was definitely the best book I read in 2017: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie! This book not only defied my expectations, but completely blew them out of the water. It tells the story of a soldier called Breq who used to be part of the consciousness of a sentient starship, and is now on a mission to avenge the destruction of herself (kind of). It’s very strange conceptually, but I found the characters, the plot, and the intergalactic society that Leckie created completely enchanting, and I can’t wait to finish the series (after which I will be deciding whether this book specifically, or the series as a whole, will make it onto my all-time favourites list)!

And third is Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, which I finished reading on Boxing Day evening, so it’s a very recent addition to the list. It’s a British contemporary novel about a girl who’s always been super-focused on her academic performance, but secretly loves a strange podcast called Universe City, whose creator is a complete mystery – until one day an acquaintance of hers drunkenly reveals himself to be the mysterious “Radio Silence”. Plot-wise, this book was probably quite weak, but I loved it for its characters, who I identified with very strongly, as well as its homage to fan-culture (of the podcasts and fan-art variety), which read very much like a love letter. 💕

Lastly, here’s a round-up of my resolutions, which (as I previously mentioned) went  really well:

1) Take part in the Library Scavenger Hunt every month:

2) Read 1 non-fiction book:

  • Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks [review linked above]

3) Read 10 adult/literary novels:

4) Read 3 classics or modern classics:

  • Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen [review linked above]
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne [review linked above]
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [review linked above]

5) Read 5 books that showcase cultures different to my own:

6) Read 5 comics, manga or graphic novels (each series can only count once):

7) Read 10 short stories (not including spin-off novellas):

  • Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (from the Dangerous Women anthology)
  • Odd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  • The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass (DW)
  • Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughan (DW)
  • Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale (DW)
  • Neighbors by Megan Lindholm (DW)
  • I Know How to Pick ‘Em by Lawrence Block (DW)
  • Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson (DW)
  • A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman (DW)
  • Midnights by Rainbow Rowell (from the My True Love Gave to Me anthology)

8) Read 5 books that were given or lent to me:

  • Odd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  • The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman [review]
  • Wild Lily by K.M. Peyton [review]
  • The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke [review linked above]
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [review linked above]

9) Finish reading 3 DNF books:

  • Now I Rise by Kiersten White
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld [review linked above]
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [review linked above]

10) Finish or catch up on 5 series that I started before the beginning of the year:

December Wrap-Up

Happy New Year, everyone! The last month of 2017 was, for me, full of shopping and baking, an awful lot of eating, and – of course – lots and lots of books. Most of what I read was actually short stories, as I was trying to tick off the last of my reading challenges for the year, but still, I did a lot more reading in the last month than I have in a while. 😊 In total, I managed to read three novels, and eight short stories (and, yes, I did manage to complete that challenge 🎊).

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally. The first book in the Hundred Oaks series, a collection of contemporary books that share a setting, but have largely disconnected stories and lead characters… I had high hopes for this series as another set of cute contemporaries – this time with a sports focus, which I seem to be susceptible to 😅 – but I probably would have been better off just re-reading Now & Then (by Emma Mills), which is just a better book all around. It was quite cute, but the characters were all pretty bland, and the story and romance were both completely predictable. I doubt I’ll be reading any more from this series.Bombshells by Jim Butcher.Dresden Files novella that I found in the Dangerous Women anthology, which follows Harry Dresden’s apprentice Molly on what she thinks is a mission to rescue a vampire who’s being held hostage – but she quickly realises that she’s only been told a small fraction of the true story. I found the plot of this quite interesting, but, as someone who’s only read the tiniest bit of The Dresden Files (volume 1 of one of the graphic novel adaptations) and barely remembers it, most of the finer details were lost on me… I definitely think that this is a story that is aimed at people who already know the series, though it does still make an enjoyable standalone.Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn. A short story from the Dangerous Women anthology about a Soviet fighter pilot during the second world war, who’s aiming for the five kills she needs in order to be recognised as an ace fighter, but is held back by worry for her brother, who’s recently been declared missing in action. As is the case with many short stories, I enjoyed this, but found that there wasn’t really enough of it for me to find something to get really invested in. Raisa was an interesting character, and seeing the air force from the perspective of a female pilot was also interesting… Given everything that she was going through, however, I was surprised that the narrative was so fast-paced and action-oriented…Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale. Another short story from Dangerous Women, though in this case the titular dangerous woman didn’t have much of an active role in the story; the main character is a teenager called Marvin who’s having problems with bullies, and ends up being taken under the wing of a surprisingly tough old man, who turns out to be a former wrestler. These days, he only fights once every five years though, against a rival who’s in love with the same woman… Despite my dislike for wrestling, I really liked this story; it’s definitely one of my favourites so far from this anthology. Marvin was a great, relatable lead, and the old man (usually called by his stage name X-Man) offered both wisdom and comedy… I was more interested in Marvin’s situation with the bullies than with X-Man & Jesus’ rivalry, but both parts were very entertaining. 👍 (Also, major Karate Kid vibes, especially in the first half.)Neighbors by Megan Lindholm. A short story (also from Dangerous Women) about an old woman called Sarah whose neighbour disappears one foggy night. Sarah witnesses Linda’s departure, but when she later sees strangers in the streets wearing Linda’s distinctive backpack, nobody believes her. Meanwhile, believing her to be unable to care for herself any longer, Sarah’s two children try to persuade her to sell her house and move into an assisted living home… A powerful and moving (and also quite sad) take on growing old, with a touch of magical realism, and an incredibly unreliable narrator. Lindholm’s writing was beautiful, and made me feel really connected to Sarah, which is an impressive feat in a story that’s less than fifty pages long. Definitely a hit!

I Know How to Pick ‘Em by Lawrence Block. A man and a woman meet in a bar, and the woman takes the man home with her, hoping that she can entice him to help her sort out a little problem, but unfortunately he’s already guessed at her plan, and has one of his own. This short story (from Dangerous Women) was an interesting look into the minds of two terrible people (neither named); one incredibly selfish, and the second – from whose perspective the story is told – deeply disturbed. And Block’s narrative cleverly makes it so that it takes a while to realise exactly how awful each of the characters (but particularly the second one) truly is… I don’t know if I’d say that I enjoyed this, but it definitely got me thinking.Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson. A short story from Dangerous Women which is set in the world of Cosmere, and tells the tale of an innkeeper and her daughter, who live in the middle of a dangerous forest filled with spirits, and secretly hunt down criminals who cross their path. Sanderson’s worldbuilding is always top-notch, and this story was no exception to that rule; he was really able to bring the forest and all its dangers to life. The plot was really intriguing, too, and I really liked both the main characters, Silence and William Ann… I believe there are more Cosmere books, but I definitely feel that this story can stand alone.Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot. The final book in the Princess Diaries series, set several years after the conclusion of the main series, and documenting Mia’s adult life, where her main thoughts have shifted from Michael, her domineering grandmother, Michael, and the difficulty of being a teenage princess, to Michael, her still domineering grandmother, Michael, and the difficulty of being a no-longer-teenage princess… So, Mia is still the same person she’s always been, and I kind of love her for it. And also find her hilarious. 😂 This book was very much a blast from the past, and I enjoyed it immensely; I hadn’t realised quite how much I’d missed Mia and all her crazy worries. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so you can find a full review of it here.A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman. A historical short story (from Dangerous Women) about Queen Constance of Sicily, with a focus on her husband’s invasion of her homeland, and the birth of her son (Frederick II, who would go on to become the Holy Roman Emperor). This was an interesting story, but I’m not sure how much I actually liked Constance’s voice, and Penman’s writing style was rather matter-of-fact… I am, however, somewhat curious to read some of her other books, so clearly it wasn’t actually all that off-putting. 😉

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell. Snapshots of a pair of friends during the countdown to every New Year they’ve experienced together. This was a really cute little story (from the anthology My True Love Gave to Me, for a change! 😋); not as good as Kindred Spirits, Rowell’s other short story, but that one sets the bar pretty high. The characters were well fleshed-out, however, and the snapshots of them year after year showed the progression of their relationship brilliantly.Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. My final book of the year follows a sixth-former called Frances, who is focused on doing well at school to the exclusion of almost everything else – until one evening a boy she knows accidentally reveals himself to her as the creator of her favourite podcast, Universe City, which tells the tale of a person stuck in a strange, monster-ridden university campus. I heard briefly about this book a while ago, but wasn’t really all that interested in reading it until I found it on a list of books with confirmed asexual characters, something that there isn’t nearly enough of in the literary world as a whole, let alone YA… But I’m really glad that I decided to pick this up, as it connected with me on so many levels, even disregarding the asexuality issues that it brings up (briefly; that’s not the focus of the book by a long shot). I’ll be posting a review soon (once I’ve got all my New Year posts out of the way), so keep an eye out for that, but in short: An amazing book, and definitely one of my favourites of 2017.

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

For this month’s LSH – to read the last book in a series – I have to admit that I cheated a little… I did make a trip to the library in hopes of finding something, but the only series that I was near to finishing ended with books that I either already owned, or planned to buy before reading, so I went home empty handed, deciding instead to read a book that was waiting for me at home, and that I was extremely excited for. I feel a little bit bad about it, but not so bad that I won’t still count this towards the challenge…

ROYAL WEDDING
Meg Cabot

Seven years after the conclusion of the original Princess Diaries series, Mia Thermopolis is now twenty-five years old, a published author, the founder of a community youth programme, a powerful public figure… and still subject to the dramatic mood swings of the media, who love her and hate her in unpredictable turns.

Seven years passed between the releases of Ten Out of Ten (/Forever Princess) and Royal Wedding in real-time, as well as in the books, and I was a little nervous to be stepping back into Mia’s life after such a long break; these were books that I couldn’t get enough of as a teenager, but haven’t really looked at since, so I was worried that Mia would seem either altered beyond recognition, or else petty and immature. But it appears that my fears were unfounded! 😁 Mia definitely seems different enough that the years show, but still retains all the character traits (and flaws) that made her so loveable in the original books. I think that Cabot has done a great job in this book of making her relatable to an audience that’s also grown older.

Plot-wise, there weren’t very many surprises in this book, but my primary enjoyment wasn’t in being surprised, but in watching Mia be surprised – and I don’t think that surprising the readers was Cabot’s objective, either. Mia’s narrative was as hilarious as always, and it was lovely to revisit all her old friends as well, and see what they were up to. I was pleased to find that Mia was still close to both Tina (now in medical school) and Lilly (in law school), and the references to Rocky’s obsession with farting reminded me of a few real-world pre-teen boys that I know. 😓 And I loved the way that Boris was worked into the story, although he never showed up in person. Many of my favourite moments, however, came at the hands of Grandmère, who – in classic Grandmère style – caused as much trouble as she could to as many people as she could, wherever possible.

And, of course, there will always be a place in my heart for Michael and Mia. 💕

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

Autumn Haul

Well, this post has been a long time coming! I think the last book haul I posted must’ve been in July? Or maybe even earlier… In any case, I’ve been adding things to this list since August, when I broke my book-buying ban on a trip to Topping in Ely… But I’ve managed to be pretty good since then. 👍 (The library has been my friend.) These are the books I bought from August to October:

1) The Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening. A book that’s pretty self-explanatory… Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of my favourite games, and I really loved all the art in it, so I was very happy to find this at Topping, despite the pain I felt in the general vicinity of my wallet (at the total price of everything I bought there, rather than just the price of this book, which wasn’t unreasonable for an art book of this size)…

2) The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Another treat to myself from Topping. I was actually debating between getting this or History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, but I came down on the side of The Dark Prophecy because they had signed copies. The second book in the Trials of Apollo series, set in the Percy Jackson universe but focusing on the god Apollo who’s been turned into a mortal teenager. This isn’t my favourite of the Percy Jackson-verse series’, but I had a lot of fun with The Hidden Oracle, and I’m sure that I’ll enjoy this one, too.

3) On the Pleasure of Hating by William HazlittOn Liberty by John Stuart MillThe Rights of Man by H.G. Wells. The last three books from my splurge in Ely, all of which are indulgences of my (kind of) recent obsession with civil rights… The first two books are part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, which I’m tempted to start collecting (they’re really nice editions), despite the fact that not all of them appeal to me content-wise. 😓 I read On the Pleasure of Hating back in October, but have yet to start on the other two.

4) The Claiming of Sleeping BeautyBeauty’s PunishmentBeauty’s Release by Anne Rice. The entire original Sleeping Beauty trilogy (though I believe another sequel was written not long ago). Not pictured, because I couldn’t bring myself to remove them from my “get-rid-of-ASAP” pile. I read (and had way too many thoughts about) the first book in September, and it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever come across. Which is saying a lot… I was hesitantly considering reading the other two out of morbid curiosity, but decided on further refection that sticking needles in my eyes would be a better use of my time. 😑

5) La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. The first volume of The Book of Dust, which is a companion series to His Dark Materials, one of my favourite trilogies of all time. I haven’t managed to start this book yet due to way too many other time commitments, but I’m hoping it’ll be one of the first things I read in 2018. 😆

6) Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot. The follow-up to the Princess Diaries series, which follows a grown-up Mia dealing with the stress of her royal duties and all the personal drama that always seems to follow her around. I started reading this the night before last, and it’s been great fun so far, getting back into Mia’s head, but with a slightly (only very slightly) more mature spin on things. I had a grin on my face the whole time I was reading. 😁 Review to come soon.

7) A History of Magic. The catalogue for the exhibition that’s currently on at the British Library, which is about Harry Potter and occult history. I wrote a whole post about the exhibition just the other day, but in short, it was really fascinating, and this catalogue is basically the exhibition in book form -though, of course, it’s different seeing the exhibits in the flesh (as it were) than in pictures. A wonderful book that I will be perusing often now that I’ve recovered it from my mother. 😋

A History of Magic | Harry Potter at the British Library!

A few weeks ago I attended an event at the British Library called Late at the Library: A History of Magic, a mixture of special talks and shows, and – most importantly – after-hours access to the Library’s new exhibition on occult history, through the medium of Harry Potter. The exhibition itself is something I’ve been looking forward to for about a year now, ever since I first heard that it might be happening, but going on this particular evening was definitely a stroke of genius on the part of my mother, who suggested it (and some good ticket-buying timing for my part). Sadly, she wasn’t able to come with me and be educated on all things Harry Potter, but my friend Grace and I had a great time anyway. 😊

Of all the events that were going on (aside from the exhibition itself), we spent the most time at the amulet-crafting workshop, where I made a little clay bead with a rune for healing on one side, and (at Grace’s suggestion) the kanji for foot on the other (as I’ve been having foot problems for a while now). At the other end of the table, a few people were also writing spells, but not being sure what kind of spells to make, we gave this a miss… I had also hoped to listen to a couple of speakers (Gary Lachman on Magic and Music, and a storytelling session with TUUP), but when the time came, Grace & I both agreed that we’d rather see more of the exhibition… Speaking of which, the programme advised setting aside an hour to make sure we saw everything in the exhibition, but it actually took a lot longer to get through it all; there’s a lot to see, and the crowds (which I imagine will be pretty constant for as long as the exhibition is open) made it very slow going.

Sadly photography wasn’t allowed inside the exhibition, but they had themed ceiling decorations like these (which I took in the queue outside) in every room.

Some highlights of the exhibition:

  • The hall was beautifully decorated, and each section’s decorations matched the theme of the exhibits that were on display. There was a Charms room, a Defence Against the Dark Arts room, a Care of Magical Creatures room, and so on. I particularly enjoyed the way that the Divination room was set up with teacups hanging from the ceiling.
  • Some of the rooms had interactive exhibits, too. There was a fun game in the Potions room which let you try your hand at mixing ingredients (digitally) to make potions, and in the Astronomy room there was a program that let you examine the stars and constellations that some of the Harry Potter characters were named for. I also spotted what looked like a digital tarot reader, but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to have a closer look…
  • J.K. Rowling herself contributed a lot of her original drafts and concept art to the exhibition, and it was scattered all over. With the drafts especially, it was fascinating to see all the notes and corrections she made to the books as she wrote them.
  • Also on display were a lot of the paintings and drawings that Jim Kay has done for the new illustrated editions. A lot of these I had seen before, but some were new to me (I still haven’t read the illustrated Prisoner of Azkaban), and those that I was already familiar with were somehow even more impressive in their original state. Many of the character portraits he were actually painted on wood panels, which is something that seems obvious now when I look back at the texture of the prints they used for the books, but it took me by surprise when I first saw them. I guess I’m just so used to everything being painted on canvas…
  • An amusing conversation I overheard between two friends (paraphrased, of course):
    GIRL (disbelieving): You haven’t read Harry Potter?!
    HER FRIEND: Shh! If anyone hears you, I might get stoned!
  • To be honest, though, the whole thing was one long highlight in itself…

The exhibition will be open until Wednesday 28th February, and although tickets are sold out for December, it seems that there are plenty left in January and February. You can find all the details, and booking links at the British Library’s exhibition page. If you’d like to see everything on offer, then I’d definitely advise setting aside 2-3 hours to spend there (plan in advance for crowds), and perhaps more if you want to browse the gift shop as well!

Swag from the gift shop! Some of the things there were a little pricey, but I couldn’t resist picking up this wonderfully snuggly jumper (with a beautiful phoenix illustration on the front), and a toy Hedwig that looks adorably disapproving (probably at the amount of money I spent 😋). The catalogue I actually picked up at Waterstones a couple of days later, just to save myself the trouble of lugging it all the way home (it’s pretty heavy), but it’s something that I was planning on getting right from the start, so I have no regrets. 😁

Discussion: The 100 series by Kass Morgan

[Regarding spoilers: I will be trying to avoid spoilers for both the books and the TV series, but any that I do mention will be minor, and from early on in the series. I’m currently five episodes into season four of the TV series, and have finished reading all the books.]

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