December Wrap-Up

December ended up being a pretty great reading month – in terms of both quantity and quality – despite being crazily busy at work and at home in the build-up to Christmas. I read a grand total of 5 novels, 1 short story collection, and 10 manga volumes – including several books that I’d been really excited for for a long time! And they most definitely did not disappoint~ 😀

Leigh Bardugo//Crooked KingdomCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. The sequel to Six of Crows, which follows a group of criminals trying to make their fortunes in the underbelly of the Amsterdam-inspired city of Ketterdam, and bring ruin to everyone who’s ever crossed them. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Six of Crows (though I still enjoyed it a great deal); there was a plot development near the end that I really didn’t like, and, worse, felt was completely unnecessary, and it didn’t leave me with quite the giddy, excited feeling that I had after reading the first book. What it did do was tear out my heart and stomp on it. 😥 The writing was wonderfully emotional, the character development was superb, and the plot was brilliantly complex; a masterfully crafted roller-coaster of a story, full of dramatic twists and turns. Definitely a worthy ending to a great series.5 stars

Kate A. Boorman//WinterkillWinterkill by Kate A. Boorman. The first book in series which follows a young girl called Emmeline, who lives in a remote and isolated community that’s plagued by a strange monster called the malmaci. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so I’ve already posted a review of it here, but in short: it was well-written, with an engaging plotline, likeable characters and a great, spooky atmosphere, and I had a lot of fun reading it. 🙂3 starsAmie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//GeminaGemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. The second book in The Illuminae Files, which all document an attack on a mining planet called Kerenza, but from several different points of view. Gemina showed the incident from the perspective of two teenagers aboard the Heimdall space station, where the Kerenza survivors were fleeing during the first book – Hanna, the station commander’s daughter, and Nik, an unregistered civilian whose family is running a drugs operation – and like Illuminae, it’s fast-paced and action-packed, and surprisingly emotional for being written as a series of data files. So, naturally, I loved it. ❤ Hanna and Nik were both great characters, and the story’s twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through… Illuminae is a tough act to follow (one of my favourite books of all time), and I don’t think Gemina was quite so good, but it comes pretty close. Needless to say, I’m very excited for the next book in the series.5 starsCLAMP//Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle vol. 11Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volumes 11-20 by CLAMP. A fun and energetic series about a group of friends travelling between different worlds (and meeting lots of other-world versions of characters from CLAMP’s previous works) in search of Princess Sakura’s stolen memories, which take the form of magical feathers. It’s been a long time since I last rad any of this series (several years, in fact), but I was surprised by how easily I was able to pick up where I’d left off, even though I’d been in the middle of a story-arc when I last stopped – the story and characters are all incredibly memorable. In these 10 volumes, the plot took a very surprising turn, taking the series in a rather dark direction, and I’m really excited to see how this new dilemma is going to be resolved!4 stars

Francesca Simon//The Monstrous ChildThe Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon. The story of Hel, the Norse goddess of death, and Queen of the Underworld, imagined as a teenager who’s despised by her divine family. Understandably – since this book is about Hel’s whole life rather than just a certain event – the plot lacks direction somewhat, and I wasn’t a huge fan of Hel herself; she’s rather an abrasive character. This was, however, really interesting as a character study, in a way that was almost reminiscent of Fairest by Marissa Meyer, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it, along with the writing, which was fluid and engaging.3 starsMarie Rutkoski//The Winner's CurseRick Riordan//Percy Jackson & the Greek HeroesTo finish off the year, the Holiday Booktubeathon arrived, and I managed to read two books over the course of it: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, and Percy Jackson & the Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan. I’ve written mini-reviews for both of them, which you can find by clicking on their respective covers. 🙂

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Summer Haul

summer haulYou remember that book-buying ban I was on? Well, it’s failed utterly. I did fantastically in June, and in July I only bought three books (though my birthday was in July, so I also received a few as gifts 😀 ), and then in August I went completely crazy… resulting in the photo above. ^^’ On the plus side, several of these I’ve read already, so the stack of unread books on my bedroom floor hasn’t grown too much…

1) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. A birthday present from my friend Grace, who has (among others) been trying to get me to read it for a while now. And I loved it, just as everyone was sure that I would! 😀 I read this in July, so you can see what I thought of it in my wrap-up.

2) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Another birthday present, this time from my sister. A thought-provoking novel about a Dominican-American boy who has never quite managed to fit in anywhere… I read this during the Booktubeathon, so I’ve also posted a mini-review of it.

3) 1066 and All That by Walter Carruthers Sellar & Robert Julian Yeatman. A tongue-in-cheek history book that was given to me by my friend William. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m hoping to get to it soon.

4) The Spy’s Bedside Book by Graham & Hugh Greene. Also a present from William, this is a collection of short spy stories and tips, from what I’ve been able to gather. It looks like another super-fun book, so I’ll probably be picking it up reasonably soon.

5) Harry Potter & the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany. The follow-up to the Harry Potter series, in script form! I bought this the day it was released (of course), and read it almost straight away, and despite the misgivings of others, I really enjoyed it. I’m sure that the play itself will be better – and I really want to see it soon – but this was a nice traipse back into the Wizarding World. More detailed thoughts on this are in my August wrap-up.

On the Other Side - photo6) On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher. The new novel by youtuber ItsWayPastMyBedtime, which I couldn’t resist picking up after hearing the song she wrote for it. Unfortunately I wasn’t a huge fan of the story itself (again, reasons why are in my August wrap-up), but I do feel like I should take the time to point appreciate the fact that someone at Little, Brown must have put a huge amount of effort into making this book as beautiful as it is.

7) The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. The first book in Riordan’s new Percy Jackson-universe series, The Trials of Apollo. I’m not sure when I’ll actually read this, but I wanted to pick it up while it’s still available in hardback, so that it will match the rest of my Rick Riordan books…

8) The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. I bought this one solely because it showed up unexpectedly at the second-hand bookshop where I work, and I’ve been looking for a copy for ages. This is another one that I’m eager to read soon, though my eagerness is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that I have no easy access to either of the sequels. 😦

9) A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The sequel to A Court of Thorns & Roses, which I liked when I read it, but have had my reservations about since… I wasn’t initially sure whether I was going to continue this series, but so many people have told me that this book is way better than the last, so I’ve decided to give it a try. Also, it (along with the next three books I’m going to list) was buy-one-get-one-half-price at Waterstones, so I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. 😉

10) And I Darken by Kiersten White. An intriguing novelisation of the life of Vlad the Impaler, if he had been a she. This is another book that I read pretty promptly after buying, so my (long, rambling) thoughts on it are all in my August wrap-up.

11) Railhead by Philip Reeve. I’ve not actually read much of Philip Reeve’s work, but I remember really loving his Hungry City Chronicles when I was in school, so of course I couldn’t resist seeing what his most recent book was like. Spoiler: it was fantastic – and I’ve written a full review of it here!

12) Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. The first of a new duology set in the same universe as Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, which I binge-read a few years ago and loved. And much to my surprise, Six of Crows was even better – I’m really excited for the sequel! Once again, I’ve talked about this book in my August wrap-up.

13) Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle Volumes 11-20 by CLAMP. And lastly! Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle is a series I’ve been reading since it was first released in English, but I’ve always had trouble tracking down any volumes after the first 10 (except online, but I’ve never much liked buying manga online), so when the first 20 volumes all showed up at work, I took it as a sign. 😉 I’m looking forward to catching up (at least partially) on this series soon!

The Bookish Alphabet Tag

This tag was created by Mariana at fireheartbooks, and I was tagged by the wonderful Loreva from La Book Dreamer, whose blog you should all definitely check out! The goal is to pick out a book for every letter of the alphabet, and the only rule is that you need to own (or to have previously owned and read) every book on the list. You also don’t need to include articles, e.g. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess would count for “C” rather than “A”.

So, without further ado:

MY BOOKISH ALPHABET

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Daughter of Storms by Louise Cooper

Emma by Jane Austen

Fire by Kristin Cashore

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

Half Wild by Sally Green

The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Let It Snow by John Green, Lauren Myracle & Maureen Johnson

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

River Daughter by Jane Hardstaff

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

xxxHolic by CLAMP

Young Blood by Meg Cabot

Zombie-Loan by Peach-Pit

Phew. That was a lot of books! ^^’ But I’m pleased to say that I have read all of these books, and I still own them all except for Unravel Me, which I gave to one of my cousins, and River Daughter, which I donated (it was a good book, I just couldn’t imagine myself reading it again). And I did have to break out my manga collection for “X” and “Z” – something I’d been hoping I wouldn’t have to do – but I regret nothing. 😎

I tag:

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Manga

PART 2: SHOUJO

Next we have shoujo, which is manga targeted at a young female audience. The most common characteristic of this genre is romance, and in the West, quite a few romantic manga are mislabelled as shoujo because of this – for example, Love Hina by Ken Akamatsu is actually a shounen. Most shoujo will also feature a young female protagonist, though I believe it is still more common for shoujo to have a male protagonist than it is for shounen to have a female one.

Some titles from this genre that you might recognise are Sailor MoonVampire Knight, and Shugo Chara!, as well as a few of the recommendations that I’ve selected below. In terms of magazines, some of the top-selling ones in Japan are CiaoRibon, and Nakayoshi, but the one that Western audiences will probably be most familiar with is Shoujo Beat – which is actually a North American magazine, and published a selection of popular shoujo manga from various different Japanese magazines.

RECOMMENDATIONS

[Please note that the following recommendations are not necessarily my favourite shoujo manga – but they are series that I think will make good starting-points for people unfamiliar with the genre.]

Bisco Hatori//Ouran High School Host Club vol. 1Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori (LaLa). A reverse-harem romantic comedy about a girl called Haruhi, who’s attending an elite school for the super-rich on a scholarship. One day, while searching for a quiet place to study, she stumbles upon the Host Club – group of attractive male students dedicated to making girls happy (basically with over-the-top flirting) – and is forced to join them in order to pay off a debt after accidentally breaking an expensive vase. This series is surprisingly not as heavy on the romance as you’d think – instead, the main draw of it is the comedy, which plays off Haruhi’s reactions to the boys’ excessive lifestyles and often ridiculous mannerisms, and their reactions to her “commoner” life. I don’t usually go in for Japanese-style comedy, but this series is hilarious.

Natsuki Takaya//Fruits Basket vol. 1Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya (Hana to Yume). This series follows a high school girl called Tohru, who, after being discovered living in a tent on one of her classmates’ property, is taken in by his family and becomes their housekeeper. Once she’s there, however, she soon discovers that the Sohma family is cursed. Whenever they’re hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into animals! This premise could easily have made the series incredibly weird, but it’s actually done really well. Tohru is a great protagonist (though a little dense), and each of the Sohmas has an interesting, and often very sad backstory, which ties into the Chinese Zodiac tales. There’s a reverse-harem aspect to this series, as well, but it’s not nearly so prominent as in Ouran High School Host Club, and the main relationship dynamic is really much more like a love-triangle – between Tohru, her classmate Yuki, and his estranged cousin Kyo.

CLAMP//Cardcaptor Sakura vol. 1Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP (Nakayoshi). A magical-girl series featuring Sakura, an elementary school girl who opens a magical book, and accidentally releases a whole load of spirits that were sealed inside a pack of cards hidden in the book. These spirits are called “Clow Cards”, and the story follows Sakura as she attempts to track them all down and re-seal them. Major themes in this series are friendship, teamwork, and finding one’s place in the world. There’s quite a bit of romance, too, though it’s understated (usually remaining at the “crush” stage), as most of the characters are very young, and the art is lovely. Cardcaptor Sakura is my personal favourite of CLAMP’s numerous series.

Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada//Ghost Hunt vol. 1Ghost Hunt by Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada (Nakayoshi). For those who like their stories a bit spookier, this series follows Mai, who becomes involved with an organisation called Shibuya Psychic Research when they come to investigate a supposed haunting at her school. After, she joins the company as an assistant, and throughout the series, they go on a great many ghost-hunting adventures. This manga was adapted from a popular series of light novels, so it’s incredibly well-written. The art is great as well, and there’s a whole cast of wonderful, interesting characters. I personally didn’t find most of the story arcs too scary, but they were definitely very creepy, and some of SPR’s later cases are truly chilling. There’s also a slight romantic element to the series, but it’s not too in-your-face.

Yuki Midorikawa//Natsume's Book of Friends vol. 1Natsume’s Book of Friends by Yuki Midorikawa (LaLa DX). Finally, I bring you something a little different. Natsume’s Book of Friends (also sometimes called Natsume Yuujinchou) follows Natsume, a largely isolated high school boy, who’s spent most of his life moving from relative to relative, none of whom really want him, because his ability to see spirits – and their tendency to be drawn to his power – make him behave strangely. Now living with a new family, and attending a new school, Natsume finds himself in possession of his grandmother’s old “Book of Friends”, in which she kept the names of spirits that she had defeated, so that she could call on them when she needed their help. This series is probably a bit harder to get into than the others that I’ve mentioned, but it’s absolutely worth it. The art (and colours, where they have them) is beautiful, and the story – which focuses on Natusme’s struggle to make human friends, his growing understanding of the spirits around him, and learning to accept kindness – is incredibly touching.

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | SHOUNEN | SHOUJO | SEINEN & JOSEI ]

A Beginner’s Guide to Manga

PART 1: SHOUNEN

First up is shounen, which is the most popular type of manga both in Japan and in the West. Almost all of the titles that are familiar to Western audiences come from this genre, including what’s come to be known as the “Big Three”: NarutoBleach, and One Piece – all of which are/were published in Japan’s most popular manga magazine, Weekly Shounen Jump. Other titles in this genre that you’ll probably recognise are Dragon BallYu-Gi-Oh, Death Note, and the super-popular Attack on Titan.

As I said in the introduction, shounen manga is mainly targeted towards a young male audience, and the word “shounen” itself can be literally translated as “boy”. Common characteristics of the genre are intense action, friendship and teamwork, and comedy – and romance is often included as well, but it usually takes a backseat to the action. Most shounen manga have young male protagonists, and the series tend to be quite long-running.

RECOMMENDATIONS

[Please note that the following recommendations are not necessarily my favourite shounen manga – but they are series that I think will make good starting-points for people unfamiliar with the genre.]

Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata//Hikaru no Go vol. 11Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata (Weekly Shounen Jump). This story follows a young boy called Hikaru, who one day discovers an old Go board while searching his grandfather’s attic, and it turns out to be haunted by the thousand-year-old ghost of a former emperor’s Go-tutor. Luckily for Hikaru, Sai is not a malicious spirit – he just wants to play Go. Constantly. Masterfully-written and distinctively-drawn, with characters who’ll really stick with you, and an incredibly touching storyline. No actual knowledge of Go (a Japanese strategic board game) necessary.

Hiromu Arakawa//Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 27Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (Monthly Shounen Gangan). The tale of two brothers, both talented alchemists, on a search for the legendary philosopher’s stone, that will enable them to recover the bodies that they lost in an unfortunate attempt to resurrect their dead mother. The elder brother, Edward, lost an arm and a leg, while the younger brother, Alphonse, lost his entire body, and now exists only as a soul, bound to a suit of armour. Once again, fantastic art and storytelling. There’s a little more humour in this series, as well, as well as a complex, politically-driven plot.

Haruichi Furudate//Haikyuu!! vol. 1Haikyuu!! by Haruichi Furudate (Weekly Shounen Jump). A sports manga that follows a high-schooler called Hinata, who dreams of being an ace volleyball player despite his small stature and lack of experience. The art in this series lovely (some of the best I’ve come across in a sports manga) and the matches are super-exciting, but the real strength of Haikyuu!! is in its characters – there’s not a single one that you won’t fall in love with, and even the ones who would just be extras in most series are surprisingly well fleshed-out.

CLAMP//Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle vol. 1Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE by CLAMP (Weekly Shounen Magazine). Lastly, I bring you a fantasy adventure manga, which follows a teenage boy named Syaoran and his companions on a quest through the dimensions, in order to recover the scattered memories of Princess Sakura, the girl he’s in love with – but with a catch! Syaoran had to sacrifice something in exchange for the ability to travel through dimensions, and the price that the Dimension Witch demanded was Sakura’s memories of him, so she will never remember what he meant to her. This story is more romance-heavy than the others on the list (which makes sense, since CLAMP are a group of mangaka who’re best-known for their shoujo manga), but it’s also a really fun adventure story, set to a backdrop of basically every series CLAMP have ever written (though you don’t need to be familiar with the rest of their work before reading this).

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | SHOUNEN | SHOUJO | SEINEN & JOSEI ]