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
[REVIEW]

FEBRUARY
[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

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.

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.]

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Review: Air Awakens by Elise Kova (Spoiler-Free)

Elise Kova//Air AwakensIn the city of Solarin, the capital of the great Solaris Empire, Vhalla Yarl works as an apprentice in the palace library, and is happy and satisfied with the way her life is unfolding; close friends, a job she loves, and plenty of time to read – what more could she ask for? Until one day she inadvertently saves the life of Crown Prince Aldrik, and her life becomes a lot more complicated. Drawn into a world of danger and sorcery, Vhalla must decide what is truly most important to her, and where her loyalties lie.

Comparisons to Avatar: The Last Airbender are inevitable with this book, and the influence of the series on the setting are certainly very evident, from the race-based elemental magic system (complete with special names for sorcerers who manipulate each element, e.g. Firebearers, Waterrunners, etc.), to the way the different elemental races have interacted through history. The Solaris Empire is Air Awakens‘ answer to the aggressive, militant Fire Nation of Avatar, and there’s even a character who’s known (informally) as the Fire Lord (though thankfully he bears little resemblance to Fire Lord Ozai). Part of me is even expecting that in future instalments in the series, Vhalla will miraculously discover the ability to control all the elements, and in doing so become the Avatar! (I’m only joking. It’d be quite a surprise if that actually happened.)

So, minus a few points for originality, but for the most part these similarities are really only surface-deep. The story itself (in this book, at least) doesn’t appear to have much in common with Avatar, and nor does it seem like the series is moving in that direction, either in terms of plot development or character development. But now onto my un-Avatar-related feelings about the book:

Elise Kova’s writing style is excellent, and had me hooked from page one. In terms of plot, Air Awakens seems to mainly be concerned with introducing the characters and building their relationships, and setting the stage for some serious plot action which will presumably kick off in Fire Falling. I really enjoyed this; I’m a huge fan of slow-burn stories, and everything that happened in Air Awakens felt like it was happening at a very natural pace. Towards the end of the book, we do get a taster of the action to come, and it was very promising.

And Kova has also managed to create some really wonderful characters! Vhalla was a great, sympathetic lead, and the two princes, Aldrik and Baldair, contrasted one another delightfully. I’m definitely more of an Aldrik fan, as he’s undoubtedly the prince we get to know best over the course of the book, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about Baldair – the so-called Heartbreaker Prince – as the series goes on; I have a hunch that there’s a lot that we haven’t been told about him, and while Vhalla still seems to be too dazzled to look deeper, I’m hopeful that that will not continue to be the case. The only characters I didn’t really like so much were Vhalla’s friends Roan and Sareem, though I did appreciate the way that her relationships with each of them influenced Vhalla throughout the book. (And, speaking of relationships… the romance in this book? Yes, please.)

In short: An excellently-written and exciting story, full of great characters and relationships, and set to an equally great backdrop, with the promise of even greater things to come. I hope to be picking up the sequel reasonably soon.
4 stars

February Wrap-Up

In a shocking turn of events, I managed to read seven whole books in February (as well as most of an eighth), despite it being a short month, and my being busy with work and friends – and the various podcasts I’ve managed to get myself hooked on… ^^’ A lot of these books are ones that I’ve been really eager to read, too, and I’m happy to say that they invariably lived up to (or surpassed) my expectations! XD Here’s what I read:

Michael Morpurgo//Kensuke's KingdomKensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo. A young boy – Michael – gets shipwrecked on an island, and meets an old man who was also wrecked there during the Second World War, and has been living alone ever since. A quick-paced and engaging read, with a great pair of lead characters. 🙂 Like most of Morpurgo’s books, there was a point in the story where it got very sad, and in this case it was the story of how Kensuke ended up on the island – not coincidentally, this was probably my favourite part of the book, along with the bits of Michael’s travel journal that we got to see before the shipwreck. I do wish, however, that Morpurgo wouldn’t include the author’s notes in his books that imply that they’re true stories; parts of Kensuke’s Kingdom may have been inspired by truth, but it’s definitely not the case that Morpurgo was shipwrecked as a child, and lived on an island with a group of orang-utang and an elderly Japanese man for a year… He did this in the introduction of War Horse, too (though to a lesser degree), and it’s beginning to feel a bit like a Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf situation… :/3 starsAlison Goodman//The Dark Days PactThe Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman. The second book in the Lady Helen series, which I’ve been obsessing over since reading The Dark Days Club last April – and this sequel really lived up to its predecessor, as well as my (ridiculously high) expectations! I’ve posted a review of The Dark Days Pact already, which you can find here, if you so desire, but in short, the only reason this book isn’t on my favourites list already is that I have an amazing feeling that the third book in the series will be even better! XD5 starsElise Kova//Air AwakensAir Awakens by Elise Kova. The first book in the Air Awakens series, which follows a young woman who works as an apprentice in the palace library, until one day she saves the life of the crown prince, and accidentally creates a magical bond between them in the process. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from this series, but I had a lot of fun reading this first book (which reminded me a lot in tone – and worldbuilding – of Avatar: the Last Airbender; a very favourable comparison, I promise 😉 ). The plot itself seemed rather simple, but it does seem to be laying a thorough groundwork for the rest of the series… I really loved all the characters, too, and fell completely in love with the world. I’m working on a review at the moment, which ought to be posted in the very near future.4 starsEmma Haughton//Cruel Heart BrokenCruel Heart Broken by Emma Haughton. A contemporary novel about a teenage girl called Laurie, who’s being torn apart by a big secret that she’s keeping from her family and friends. Her former best friend Charlie has done something he regrets, too, and it may already be too late for either of them to fix things. A hard-hitting, but also quite hopeful story, which I liked much more than I expected to… This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for February, so (once again), I have a more detailed review of it up already; you can find it here.4 starsWild Lily//K.M. PeytonWild Lily by K.M. Peyton. A wonderful, enchanting novel set in the 20s about a young man called Antony who demands an aeroplane for his birthday, and Lily, a spirited young girl who’s willing to do pretty much anything to get him to see her worth. Such nostalgia! (Even though this book is in no way related to the Flambards series.) I loved Lily and Antony both so much, and the aeroplane scenes were amazing! I’ve said a few times before that K.M. Peyton is the author who first made me love aeroplanes, and Wild Lily really spoke to (and re-invigourated) that love. The very matter-of-fact writing style took a little while to get back into, so I was initially a little worried that I wouldn’t like this book that much, but once I managed it, I was hooked. ❤ My brief description doesn’t really do the story or characters justice, but I do intend to post a proper review of this book, too – look out for it soon!4 starsJ.K. Rowling//Harry Potter & the Chamber of SecretsHarry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (illustrated edition). The second book in the Harry Potter series, which I’ve been re-reading along with the Harry Potter & the Sacred Text podcast. This is actually my least favourite book in the series, but I still loved it, and Jim Kay’s beautiful illustrations really enhanced my reading experience this time around. If I have one criticism, then it would just be that there seemed to be a lot less illustrations in Chamber of Secrets than in the illustrated edition of the Philosopher’s Stone… and also the sheer number of – very realistic! – pictures of spiders. 😥5 stars

Renée Ahdieh//The Wrath & the DawnThe Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh. Thie first book in a duology that retells the story of A Thousand and One Nights, where a young woman named Shahrzad volunteers to marry the murderous king of Khorasan in order to avenge her best friend – his previous wife, whom he killed the morning after their marriage. This book was being super hyped-up a short while ago, so I didn’t want to go into it with my expectations so high that they could never be met, but I have to say, The Wrath & the Dawn blew way past everything I expected. I loved all the characters, and the stories that Shahrzad told Khalim in order to delay her own death (though there weren’t as many of them as I expected), and the overarching plot of the series seems to be moving in a really gripping direction. If I had one complaint, it would be that at the beginning of the book I felt the need to rush through Tariq’s chapters in order to return to Shahrzad’s storyline (i.e. what I was actually interested in), but that’s more to do with how addictive the Shahrzad chapters were than anything to do with Tariq’s storyline itself – and I did get pretty invested in it eventually. ^^’5 stars