January Wrap-Up

The first month of the year is over, and I feel like I got off to quite a good start with all my reading goals! 🙂 And to make things even better, I really enjoyed everything I read – 5 novels, 1 graphic novel, and 2 short stories – with the exception of one short story (which only took up about half an hour of my life in any case 😉 ). Here’s what I thought of them all:

Laure Eve//The GracesThe Graces by Laure Eve. The first in a new series about a teenage girl called River who moves to a new town and becomes fascinated by a glamourous local family, whom the entire community believes are witches. This is ringing some Twilight-shaped bells, right? But it’s also seriously messed up, and (unlike Twilight) aware of how messed up it is, and fully embracing the sheer messed-up-ness. I posted a mini-review of this book a few weeks ago – you can find it here.4 starsIsabel Greenberg//The One Hundred Nights of HeroThe One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg. A new collection of folk-tales in comic form, told in the style of One Thousand and One Nights, with a woman called Hero telling stories night after night, in order to stave off a man who’s hoping to seduce her lover, Cherry. My particular favourite of Hero’s stories was A Very Honest Harp, which was about two sisters who were courted by the same man, to a disastrous end, but, as with Greenberg’s previous work, the whole book is made up of beautiful, haunting tales, charmingly illustrated.5 starsAmy Alward//The Potion DiariesThe Potion Diaries by Amy Alward. The first book in a series about a talented (but not “Talented”, which means something quite different) young potion-maker called Sam, who is called to join in a nation-wide race to create a cure when the kingdom’s princess accidentally doses herself with a love potion… and falls in love with her own reflection. A fun, lighthearted read, though not without its flaws. I read this book for the January Library Scavenger Hunt challenge, so my review’s already posted – you can find it here!3 stars

Rae Carson//The Bitter KingdomThe Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. The third and final book in the Fire & Thorns series, which I’ve been re-reading for the last few months. Like with Crown of Embers, my opinion of this book hasn’t changed at all upon re-reading it; it’s still a fantastic story, with wonderful characters, and really impressive character growth. In the final part of the book, I did feel a bit disorientated to be back in Brisadulce after such a long time (Elisa leaves around the mid-point of Crown of Embers and doesn’t return until close to the end of The Bitter Kingdom), but I figure that’s mostly because I really took my time with this book the second time around. Overall, definitely a series that’s worth coming back to a few times. 🙂5 starsNora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (from the Dangerous Women anthology). Holland is apparently a historical fiction author of some prolificacy and renown, but I found this short story – about Eleanor, the second daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, as a young girl – rather lackluster. The writing was engaging, and the period of history in which the story is set is an interesting one, but the story itself suffered seriously from a lack of… anything, really; a few confusing events are all presented in a great rush, and then it ends. I do think that this might have made a good prologue for a longer story, but on its own it doesn’t leave much of an impression.2 starsSarah J. Maas//A Court of Mist & FuryA Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The sequel to A Court of Thorns & Roses, which was an imaginative retelling of Beauty & the Beast involving fairy courts and a fantasy realm held hostage by a madwoman. I enjoyed this book a lot, but still had quite a few problems with it, which I won’t go into here lest this paragraph become an essay. ^^’ I’ve written a spoiler-free review, however, which you can find here.4 stars

Neil Gaiman//Odd & the Frost GiantsOdd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman. A short story written for World Book Day in 2008, in which Odin, Thor and Loki find themselves in something of a pickle, and need to rely on Odd – an improbably optimistic young boy, who’s just run away from home – to help them resolve it. An incredibly cute story, with a surprising amount of character development and depth, given its length. Definitely the best Norse mythology novel(la) I’ve read in a long time, and the perfect thing to get me out of the reading slump that I was beginning to feel coming on. 😀4 starsHonobu Yonezawa//The Kudryavka SequenceThe Kudryavka Sequence by Honobu Yonezawa. The third book in the Kotenbu series of light novels, which inspired the anime Hyouka (one of my favourites!); a mix of mystery and slice-of-life, focusing on a group of characters who are all members of their school’s Classics Club. In this book, the school’s cultural festival is disrupted by a phantom thief, who’s been taking random items from various different clubs, and leaving notes to replace them. It’s difficult to explain the appeal of this series, but I really love it, and The Kudryavka Sequence definitely lives up to the books that came before it (Hyouka and The Credit Roll of the Fool, respectively). ❤ It’s not available in English at this time, so the version I read is a fan translation from Baka-Tsuki.4 stars

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Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s LSH challenge was to read a book with a drink on the cover, which turned out to be so much more difficult than I was expecting! After about an hour at the library, the only books I could find that fit the theme were all vampire books with blood on them – and I could hardly pick one of those after the joke I made about it on the challenge thread! ^^’ Luckily I chanced upon something else, just before the library closed, and I think it kind of fits… potions are drinkable, after all. 😉

THE POTION DIARIES
Amy Alward

Amy Alward//The Potion DiariesIn an attempt to gain some kind of control over her own future, Princess Evelyn of Nova decides to create a very illegal love potion, and use it to dose her best friend, Zain. Unfortunately for her, a mix-up of cups means that Evelyn is the one who actually drinks the potion, and she falls madly in love with her own reflection… prompting a contest between all Nova’s potion-makers to find a cure. Sam – our main character – is one of those potion-makers, along with Zain Aster, and the King of Nova’s exiled sister Emilia, who hopes to take advantage of the princess’ condition and seize the throne for herself.

I went into The Potion Diaries assuming that it would be a lighthearted, fluffy story, with an interesting modern-day-but-magical backdrop, and it definitely lived up to that expectation… which was not a bad thing in and of itself; it was a fun book, and I enjoyed reading it. On the other hand, I did find myself disappointed that it never seemed to make an effort to be anything more than that. The story was remarkably linear, and I spent a great deal of the book waiting for a dramatic twist that never came. Sam did, of course, suffer a lot of set-backs in the contest (called a Wilde Hunt), but all of them were overcome fairly quickly and easily, usually with the power of a spontaneous eureka moment on Sam’s part, which didn’t always make the most sense…

But my main gripe with this book was actually the potion-making itself. It makes sense to me that you’d need to recreate the love potion first, before being able to start working on a cure (my expectations of magical medicine were shaped primarily by The Healing in the Vine by Tamora Pierce – a great book, by the way), so I didn’t notice this problem straight away, but… how on earth is dosing Evelyn with another love potion supposed to help?! Wouldn’t it just make her fall obsessively in love with someone else? I was able to suspend my disbelief for a lot of the book, but the clearer it became that there wasn’t going to be a secondary, trying-to-create-an-atidote phase to the Wilde Hunt, the less immersed in the story I felt.

In terms of characters, I liked Sam, but never felt particularly connected to her, Zain made for an unobjectionable but ultimately bland love interest, and Emilia was clichéd and unthreatening as the book’s main villain. The most interesting character was probably actually Evelyn, whose perspective we saw from time to time as she fell deeper and deeper into the haze that the love potion created, but since the only version of Evelyn we were shown was this besotted one, it’s not really an indication that she’ll remain interesting as the series goes on.

Overall – as I’ve already said – this was a fun book with an interesting setting and premise that it didn’t really use to its full potential, and from what I’ve seen, the sequel looks like it’ll be telling a very similar story… I enjoyed reading this, but I doubt I’ll be continuing on with the series.
3 stars

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