November Wrap-Up

We’re drawing close to the end of the year now, which is a terrifying thought, and another terrifying thought (though I’ve pretty much come to terms with this one, now) is that I will almost certainly fail my Goodreads Reading Challenge and all my reading goals. 😦 I am, however, happy with the amount that I read in November (a grand total of 3 novels, 1 novella, a picture book, a graphic novel, and an audiobook) and I’ve definitely had a long streak of books that I’ve really enjoyed – one which I hope will continue through December and maybe even into next year! 😉 So, without further ado:

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthNorth & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. A Victorian novel about a young woman who’s forced to move from her idyllic childhood home in the South of England, to a Northern industrial town when her father unexpectedly leaves his position in the Church due to a crisis of conscience. This was a re-read – or a re-listen, rather, as this time I decided to listen to it as an audiobook – of what has become one of my favourite books. I’ve already written a full review of it, and since my feelings haven’t changed at all, I don’t see any need to talk about the plot itself further, but I will say that I was surprised by how good the narration was (the version I listened to was produced by LibriVox, which is a volunteer organisation, and therefore all the voice work was done by amateurs). There were several different narrators, and although a few of them weren’t very good, for the most part, they all performed admirably, and a couple were even fantastic. Naturally, the inconsistency of the narration meant that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the written version, but it was still a really good however-many-hours of listening, and North & South is still one of the best books I’ve ever read.5+ stars

Andrzej Sapkowski//Time of ContemptTime of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski. The fourth book in the Witcher series (but second book in the Saga of the Witcher, i.e. the novels as opposed to the novellas), which continues the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, monster hunter for hire, along with the sorceress Yennefer, and Ciri, their adoptive daughter. I’m really loving the way that the bonds between the three main characters are forming, which is quite surprising since they’ve spent most of the series separated from each other. In particular, there’s one wonderful moment in this book where they’re all together for about a heartbeat before they’re split up again, which was really enjoyable to read. The characters themselves continue to grow on me, and the story flowed a lot better in this book than in the last, which was brilliant (my only real complaint about Blood of Elves was that the pacing was quite choppy). This has definitely been my favourite instalment in the series so far.5 starsYuri Herrera//Signs Preceding the End of the WorldSigns Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. A short but excellent novel about a young Mexican woman who crosses the border to the US illegally in order to find her brother. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so I’ve already posted a review, but in short, it was a really enjoyable, thought-provoking read. 🙂4 starsJory John//Penguin ProblemsPenguin Problems by Jory John. A hilarious and completely relatable picture book about a grumpy penguin. Because, you know, penguins have a lot to deal with, too! The art (by Lane Smith) is super-cute, and the story is brilliant – recommend for anyone who needs a pick-me-up when it seems like the whole world sucks. ❤5 starsBryan Lee O'Malley//Lost at SeaLost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley. A meandering graphic novel about a girl who believes that her soul has been stolen by a cat, on a road trip with almost-strangers. I really enjoyed the slow-building friendship between the characters in this book, and Raleigh’s internal awkwardness really resonated with me. I definitely feel that there’s a lot in this book to relate to, for a lot of people, but the story itself was rather fragmented; the narrative in an almost stream-of-consciousness style that didn’t exactly bother me, but stopped me from getting too invested. Also, I would really, really have liked to find out what was in the letter that Raleigh never opened – otherwise, what was the point in even mentioning it?3 starsAndrzej Sapkowski//Baptism of FireBaptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski. The fifth Witcher book, and third of the novels, in which Geralt sets out on a mission to rescue Ciri from the Emperor of Nilfgaard, and somehow manages to acquire a mismatched group of companions along the way. I loved this book so much! The story was on point, and has been developing so well; all of Geralt’s companions were amazing, and their interactions were hilarious. In particular, I really loved Milva, who is clearly the common sense of this operation, and Cahir, the Nilfgaardian who insists that he’s not a Nilfgaardian (for reasons that took me completely by surprise). I’ll have to wait a while before I get to read the last two books in this series, but, to be honest, it’s hard to imagine them topping this one.5 stars

Rae Carson//Crown of EmbersCrown of Embers by Rae Carson. The second book in the Fire & Thorns trilogy, which I’m slowly making my way through for the second time. I’m not going to re-hash my initial opinion of this book (which you can find here), but my feelings haven’t changed in the slightest; this is a truly fantastic series, and it only gets better as it goes on.5 stars

Alwyn Hamilton//Rebel of the SandsRebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton. The first in a new series featuring a gunslinging young heroine called Amani who’s desperate to escape the small desert town she lives in and the dismal prospects it offers, and finds her chance for something more when she crosses paths with a mysterious foreigner on the run from the law. I started out a little unsure about this book, as I’m really not a fan of the Wild West genre, and the idea of fusing it with a Middle Eastern-style setting seemed interesting, but not all that appealing – so I was really taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed it! The story starts out a little slow, but it picks up quickly, and I enjoyed that initial time getting to know Amani (who I found hilarious, if a little foolish). There was also a nice balance of romance and plot; there was a good amount of romantic tension, but Hamilton never tried to make it the story’s sole focus. Most of all, this book was just incredibly fun, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel! 🙂5 stars

Book Playlists: North & South

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthFor the last few weeks, my brain has been utterly consumed by North & South, a fantastic classic romance novel by Elizabeth Gaskell (which I reviewed here. Hint, hint). The book came up in conversation with my friend Grace, and all of a sudden it was all I could think about. Since then, I’ve re-watched the 2004 adaptation, braved some clips from the hilarious 1975 adaptation, and have gorged myself on fan-written sequels, but I’m still not sated. I anticipate a re-read in the very near future. In the meantime, however, I present you with…

NORTH & SOUTH:
a bookish playlist

1) Say Something (I’m Giving Up on You) by A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera

North & South is so full of misunderstandings that it’s kind of ridiculous (though it does make things wonderfully tense); so much would have been solved if Margaret and Mr. Thornton were just willing to talk to each other. The very first time I heard this song, I immediately thought of these two, and I’ve never been able to hear it without thinking of them since.

2) Every Little Thing She Does is Magic by Sleeping at Last

This song reminds me of the early parts of the book, where Mr. Thornton is falling slowly in love with Margaret. In particular, it makes me think of the scene where he’s utterly enchanted by the way she offers her hand to her father to use as sugar tongs, and by the way her bracelet keeps slipping down her wrist.

3) Please Speak Well of Me by The Weepies

This song represents their parting, from Margaret’s perspective. She knows (or believes that she knows) that she has lost Mr. Thornton’s good opinion along with his love, but she still hopes that he will not always judge her so harshly – as she has begun to realise too late that she loves him.

4) Stay by Rihanna & Mikky Ekko

Mr. Thornton’s take on the same scene: Desperately hoping for a sign that Margaret does not want to be parted from him, and grieved by the thought that he may never see her again.

5) Calls Me Home by Shannon LaBrie

I imagine this last song as Margaret’s realisation at the end of the book that Milton – the town she once resented so much – has become a home to her, and her gladness to return to it, and to Mr. Thornton.


[Book Playlists is a series I’ve been thinking of starting for a while now; I don’t tend to make a huge number of them (so I wouldn’t be posting things like this very often), but the ones that I have compiled, I’m quite proud of, and would like to share. Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing more of this kind of thing! 🙂 ]

T5W: Books I wish had sequels

Apparently once every three months or so is my limit for how often I can do Top 5 Wednesday posts – which is a shame, because I really enjoy putting them together… And this month in particular there were several interesting themes that I would’ve liked to have done a post for, if only my blogging schedule hadn’t been packed already. 😦 But anyway! Today’s theme is books you wish had sequels, or series that you wish weren’t over, which is a very common wish on my part! 😛

Victoria Hanley//The Seer & the Sword5) The Seer & the Sword by Victoria Hanley

This book is one of my oldest favourites, but somehow I’ve never mentioned it on this blog before. It follows a young princess called Torina who – when her father returns from the war with the neighbouring country of Bellandra – is given two gifts: A crystal ball that shows her visions, and Bellandra’s prince, Landen, as a slave. The former of these she keeps, the latter she frees, and what follows is a beautiful and heart-breaking love story, with a compelling plot and plenty of interesting fantasy-world-politics. There are actually two more books in this series (which I haven’t read yet) but unfortunately they’re companions rather than true sequels… 😦

Philip Pullman//Northern Lights4) The His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is a beautiful series, and in truth I wouldn’t want to change a single word of it; not even then ending, which broke my heart, and which I’ve been griping about endlessly to all my friends for the last fifteen years or so… ^^’ The ending in question was incredibly bittersweet, with Will and Lyra struggling to come up with solution after solution, only to realise that there’s no magical fix-it to be found. So, yeah, it’d be nice to have a sequel, even if it’s just in short story-form, to provide some kind of closure beyond a garden bench. 😥

Rainbow Rowell//Eleanor & Park3) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This is an interesting one, because I did really like the way Rowell decided to wrap-up the story, but at the same time, I really wanted something more. Like, maybe a reunion? “Will there be a sequel?” seems to be a question that Rowell gets asked a lot (it’s even in the FAQ section on her website), so I know I’m not alone in wanting one, but the answer still seems rather up-in-the-air. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. 🙂

Rainbow Rowell//Carry On2) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Another Rainbow Rowell book, I know! ^^’ I usually prefer not to put authors on these lists more than once, but I couldn’t help it; Carry On and Eleanor & Park were the first things that popped into my head when I saw this theme, and I want them both to have sequels so badly. With Carry On, my wishes are a little more outrageous, however: Yes, I want a sequel (Simon & Baz after Watford!), but I also want prequels (Lucy & the Mage, anyone? And, of course, Simon’s first seven years at Watford), and maybe even a next-generation spin-off stage show? 😉 In short, I want it to be the Harry Potter-like phenomenon that was described in Fangirl – even though it’s never going to happen. 😦

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & South1) North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell

And lastly, a classic! I love this book so much (and you should read my review if you haven’t already *hinthint*), but the ending was so abrupt! Some interesting trivia regarding that, however: North & South was initially published as a serial, and due to lagging sales (partially because the book was in direct competition with Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, which had a similar subject matter and was being serialised at the same time), Gaskell was “compelled” to finish the story in 20 chapters instead of the 22 that she’d planned. Maybe those two extra chapters would’ve contained the ending I – and so many North & South fans – so desperately want! (Curse you, Charles Dickens! 😡 )

[Top 5 Wednesday was created by gingerreadslainey, and is run by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. To find out more or join in, check out the Goodreads group.]

The New Year’s Resolution Tag

It’s getting a little late in the month for Resolutions, but it’s still January, so what the heck. 😛 And it’s a tag; I like tags, as you’ve all probably figured out by now. 😉 This tag was co-created by Emily at Embuhlee liest and Shivii at Brown Eyed Musings, and I was tagged to do it by Chloë at SSJTimeLord and Her Books – thanks, Chloë! 😀

And now, on with the questions!

bookshelves1) Get in shape: Name a book that doesn’t quite fit on your shelf correctly.

The illustrated edition of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. It’s too tall to fit on any of my shelves except my comics shelf (which is already full), so it’s been propped up against my TBR bookcase since I bought it, which doesn’t feel like an appropriate place for it at all! 😦

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & South2) Eat healthily: Name a book you feel was good for you to read.

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Not only did I really love this book, but it also reminded me that reading classics didn’t have to be a chore – and I do sometimes need to be reminded of that, since they can be quite difficult to get into, even when they’re really good.

3) Read more: Name a book you keep telling yourself to read but haven’t yet.

Maggie Stiefvater//SinnerThere are hundreds of them, but the one that sticks out the most to me is probably Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater. I spent ages waiting for the paperback release, so that it would match the rest of the series, and that whole time, I was really, really eager to finally read it. Then I got it, and it’s been sitting on my TBR shelf, unread, ever since. Why? Not a clue. ❓

Tamora Pierce//Street Magic4) Quit smoking: Name a book you kept going back to even though you had finished it.

Street Magic by Tamora Pierce. I’ve read this several times, but it’s the audiobook that I keep going back to over and over again. It’s masterfully done, and I tend to switch it on whenever I feel like listening to something that isn’t music; it never gets old! 😀 Street Magic is also my #1 comfort read.

Patrick Ness//The Rest of Us Just Live Here5) Save more money: Name a book you got for a really good price.

Hmm… Recently, I got the hardback edition of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness for just £5; The Book People has some really great deals… 🙂

6) Be more organised: How do you organize your bookshelf?

By genre, nowadays. I used to organise it alphabetically, but it just wasn’t practical in terms of space (which I kept running out of)… 😦 One day, when I have more bookcases, I hope to arrange them alphabetically again.

Kate Beaton//The Princess & the Pony7) Be punctual: What’s the shortest time and longest time it took you to read a book?

George R.R. Martin//A Dance with DragonsWell, it depends on the book. Books like The Princess & the Pony by Kate Beaton, or The Fox & the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith I can read in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, it took me several months to get through A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

8) Go out more: What book made you isolate yourself from the outside world?

George R.R. Martin//A Game of ThronesThe A Song of Ice & Fire series by George R.R. Martin! (Well, most of them.) I read the first four books in this series in rapid succession while I was on holiday in Skye a couple of years ago, and thoroughly (and vocally) resented every moment I was forced to spend away from them. 😳

Rainbow Rowell//Carry On9) Be unique: What was your favourite book of 2015?

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//IlluminaeEither Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, or Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff! I talked a lot about why in my 2015 favourites post. 🙂

10) Be more personal: What book are you waiting for most this year?

Den Patrick//The Girl on the Liar's ThroneAt the moment, most of my excitement is for The Girl on the Liar’s Throne by Den Patrick (which is, thankfully, coming out in just a few days). The last book in the series left off on such a tense note that I’ve been dying to know what happens next since the moment I finished it!

David Mitchell//Cloud Atlas11) Really, resolutions?: What book do you promise to read next this year?

Haha. I’ve written a whole list of them – which you can read here – but of the books on it, the one I most want to read soon is probably Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

2015 in Review: Favourites

Since we’re getting super, super-close to the end of the year, I thought it was about time that I shared some of my 2015 favourites with you! (That is, books I read in 2015, rather than books that were released in 2015… Though, as it turns out, a surprising number of these are actually new releases.) It takes a lot for me to pick a new book as an “official” favourite – by adding it to my favourites shelf on Goodreads – but there were five books that made the cut this year, and they are (in the order in which I read them):

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthAll the way back in February, I read North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, since I’d been watching (and loving) the 2004 mini-series with my cousin, but was too impatient to wait for her so we could finish the series together. Reading the book was, for me, a nice compromise that let me find out what was going to happen, without actually going ahead and watching the TV series on my own. This was also one of the 12 books that I wrote a full review for this year – you can read it here.

Jenn Bennett//Night OwlsE. Lockhart//The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksIn the summer, I – like many people, I think – got really into contemporary fiction, and I ended up reading several very good ones. The two that really stood out to me, however, were The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, which was a simultaneously really fun and really, really interesting boarding school story, full of pranks and social commentary; and Night Owls by Jenn Bennett, which was more of a pure romance novel, but with an unusual, arty premise.

Rainbow Rowell//Carry OnThe next book that really blew me away didn’t come along until October, but was, of course, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell! 😀 I’d been looking forward to this book for so long, and grabbed it as soon as I had the chance – and it didn’t disappoint, even a tiny bit. XD Everything about this book just made me ridiculously happy; I spent several weeks after (and during) reading it in a Carry On-induced happy daze, probably walking around with a ridiculous grin on my face the whole time. ^^’ (I also wrote a mini-review of this one, since I finished it during the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon.)

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//IlluminaeSo, if I had to pick an absolute favourite for the year, then that would probably be it… Or this book would be: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff came as a huge surprise to me. I’d heard a whole load of rave reviews, and I eventually picked it up because I was curious, but – since I am, emphatically, not a sci-fi fan – I wasn’t expecting to be hugely impressed. Needless to say, I was wrong. Illuminae was powerful, and ridiculously emotional; I even cried a bit, towards the end, which is something that hasn’t happened since I read The Book Thief last summer (and never before that, so far as I can remember). I’ll definitely be picking up the second book in this series as soon as it comes out next year!

The Classics Book Tag!

This tag was created by Vienna at It’s a Book World, and you can find the original post here. I wasn’t tagged by anyone (I just wanted to do this for fun~ 🙂 ), but I first came across it on the youtube channel perpetualpages. Now onto the tag!

1) What’s an over-hyped classic that you didn’t like?

George Orwell//1984Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. I wouldn’t say that it was over-hyped, exactly, so much as just not really to my taste. It made its point very well, and it was certainly interesting, I just didn’t enjoy it all that much.

2) What’s your favourite time period to read about?

Probably Regency England, as that was the time period Jane Austen wrote about, but to be honest I don’t really have a favourite time period. With me, it’s always more about the story than the setting.

3) What’s your favourite fairytale?

Growing up, I was particularly attached to the The Swan Princess (a cartoon adaptation of Swan Lake, which was itself adapted from a Russian folk-tale, though it seems uncertain which one or ones), as well as the Disney version of Robin Hood (I didn’t read all that much when I was little). These days, I’m probably most fond of The Goose Girl and Beauty and the Beast

4) What classic are you most embarrassed not to have read yet?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, without a doubt. I’ve been meaning to read it for such a long time, and so many people have told me that it’s their favourite classic…

5) What are the top five classics that you would like to read soon?

Jane Austen//Persuasion Thomas Hardy//Tess of the D'Urbervilles Charlotte Brontë//Jane Eyre Bram Stoker//Dracula Sarah Grand//The Heavenly Twins

6) What’s your favourite modern book (or series) that’s based on a classic?

Marissa Meyer//Cinder(Having not read very many of these, I’ll be going back to fairytales for this question!) Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles are the first thing to come to mind, since they’re fantastic. The first three books in the series are based on, respectively, CinderellaLittle Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.

Shannon Hale//The Goose GirlPhilip Pullman’s I was a Rat! is another great take on Cinderella, as is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levigne, and Shannon Hale has also written a great series called The Books of Bayern, the first of which is based on the Brothers Grimm tale, The Goose Girl.

7) What’s your favourite film or TV adaptation of a classic?

Pride & Prejudice

Ehle & Firth as Elizabeth & Mr. Darcy.

There a several that I really love, but the one I always come back to is the 1995 BBC mini-series of Pride & Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

A couple of honourable mentions: The 2004 adaptation of North & South, with Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage, and the 1979 take on the Flambards series, with Christine McKenna.

8) What’s your least favourite film or TV adaptation?

Usually if I don’t like an adaptation, then I’ll stop watching it, so there aren’t really any that I can really say I hated, but what I saw of the 1975 version of North & South  (with Patrick Stewart) was so bad it was funny, and I also wasn’t a huge fan of the 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice (with Keira Knightly & Matthew Macfadyen) – the imagery was beautiful, but the story was far too rushed…

9) What editions do you/would you like to collect?

The Folio Society publishes beautiful editions of most classics, but they tend to be rather pricey, so...

The Folio Society publishes beautiful editions of most classics, but they tend to be rather pricey, so…

... I will often pick the Vintage Classics editions instead.

… I usually buy the (also very lovely) Vintage Classics editions instead.

10) What’s an under-hyped classic that you’d recommend to everyone?

Alison Uttley//A Traveller in TimeMost of my all-time favourites are very well-known (Pride & PrejudiceEmmaNorth & South, etc.), but one that I don’t often hear people talking about is Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, which tells the story of a girl called Penelope who finds herself slipping back and forth between 1934 and the 16th century, where Mary, Queen of Scots is imprisoned in Chartley Castle. It’s a really wonderful book, and its a shame that not that many people seem to have read it…

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day!

I haven’t been posting much recently, & I have no real excuse for that, except that I have been too busy reading! And I also managed to miss Mother’s Day (which was yesterday), but, since my own mother is too far away for hugs today, I thought I’d share some love with some of my favourite fictional mothers. 🙂 That said, there’s not that many of them. YA literature in general (which is what I mostly seem to read) is full of absent/horrible/not-even-mentioned parents, which is a shame. But here are some of the more memorable ones:

Emily Watson as Rosa Hubermann.

Emily Watson as Rosa Hubermann.

Rosa Hubermann (from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak) may not be Liesel’s birth mother, but there’s a lot of love between them anyway, and although Hans gets most of the parenting credit in this book, Rosa is a steady supporting presence, and very much in charge of discipline in the Hubermann household.

Molly Weasley, played by Julie Walters.

Molly Weasley, played by Julie Walters.

And, of course, I could never leave out Molly Weasley (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling), who has basically dedicated her entire adulthood to raising her seven (seven!) children.

Sally Jackson as portrayed by Catherine Keener in the film adaptation.

Sally Jackson as portrayed by Catherine Keener in the film adaptation.

Sally Jackson (from the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan) is another mum who gave up a lot for her son – she even went so far as to marry one of the most awful husbands I’ve ever read about, just because his incredibly potent “mortal stench” would hide Percy from monsters!

Kyoko in the Fruits Basket anime.

Kyoko in the Fruits Basket anime.

As far as manga-mothers go, again, there aren’t too many great ones, but Kyoko Honda (from Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya) definitely stands out, even though she died before the series even started. Her influence and memory is a huge part of what drives Tohru to keep doing her best, even when things are hard.

Sinéad Cusack as Mrs. Thornton (& Richard Armitage as her son Mr. Thornton) in the 2004 BBC adaptation of North & South.

Sinéad Cusack as Mrs. Thornton (& Richard Armitage as her son Mr. Thornton) in the 2004 BBC adaptation of North & South.

And last, but by no means least, I give you Mrs. Thornton (from Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South). She may not be the kindest or gentlest of mothers, and she sometimes seems a little obsessive in her love for her son, but, as Mr. Thornton tells Margaret, “I had such a mother as few are blest with; a woman of strong power, and firm resolve.”

February Wrap Up

February (particularly the latter half of it) turned out to be the month of the graphic novel. And I certainly read some excellent ones: the Saga series, Pride of Baghdad, and so on… In total, I ended up reading ten novels, one novella, and nine comic books, which is pretty good going for the shortest month of the year!

Patrick Ness//The Crane WifeThe Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. The story of a man called George, who saves the life of a crane, and then meets and falls in love with a mysterious woman called Kumiko. Also featuring prominently are George’s daughter Amanda, her co-worker Rachel, and a Japanese folk-tale about a crane and a volcano. A very emotional story, all about love and loss and forgiveness. As always, Patrick Ness’ writing is beautiful, and his characters very real, and the way that he spun the folk-tale into their lives was masterful.5 starsElizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthNorth & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. A classic romance set during the Victorian era, between the daughter of a parson fallen on hard times, and the master of a cotton mill. I absolutely loved this book – it kept me awake for a couple of nights, just wanting to keep on reading – and I’ve written a full review of it here.5+ starsGeorge Orwell//Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell. The story of a group of farm animals that overthrow their human masters and decide to run the farm themselves. As with 1984, which I read last year, I had mixed feelings over this novel. On the one hand, it is very interesting, and provides an excellent commentary on socialism and corruption; but on the other had, hardly any of the characters are developed in such a way as to encourage any kind of emotional attachment to the author – in fact, many of the prominent characters in the book are utterly unlikeable (the only notable exception is Boxer). That said, I enjoyed Animal Farm more than I did 19843 stars

20488847Master of the Mill by Cate Toward. A re-imagining of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, where Margaret’s mother passed away before the family moved to Milton. I thought that it had an interesting (and for the most part, quite well-executed) premise, but unfortunately none of the characters really rang true, and I was particularly frustrated by the characterisation of Mr. Lennox, who I feel was unjustly portrayed as the book’s villain, when (even though he was my least favourite character) his only real crime in North & South was loving a girl who did not love him back.2 starsTrudy Brasure//In ConsequenceIn Consequence by Trudy Brasure. Another retelling of North & South, this time speculating on how the story might have progressed had it been Thornton who was injured during the riot, rather than Margaret. I found this one much more realistic than Master of the Mill, and also more in keeping with the characters as they were portrayed in the original novel. It was also very nice to see how Margaret and Thornton might interact in a happy relationship, since in North & South we only got a glimpse towards the very end. The story did seem to be mostly fluff, however, and while that made me smile a lot, at times it became a little too cheesy…3 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (& illustrated by Fiona Staples). A sci-fi adventure following a married couple who belong to warring species, and are being hunted across the galaxy (and maybe beyond?) for their crime of loving one another. The story is narrated by their infant daughter (or rather by her older self), which gives an interesting perspective. But overall (though this is obviously just the beginning of the story), the characters are awesome, the story is fast-paced and exciting, and the art is gorgeous. I’m definitely excited to read more. 😀5 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 2Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan. The second volume, which is also amazing. I’m a little worried about how quickly I’m getting through this series, since I know there’ll be a long wait before volume 5 is released… Also, I am becoming unexpectedly fond of both Prince Robot IV and The Will, despite the fact that they’re both hunting Alana and Marko.5 starsTrudy Brasure//A Heart for MiltonA Heart for Milton by Trudy Brasure. This is not a retelling, but a sequel to North & South (which I am still obsessed with), and has much the same tone as Brasure’s other book, In Consequence. I think that perhaps I would’ve liked this better if I’d read it before I read In Consequence, because, to be honest, the story felt incredibly samey. I actually ended up liking this a little less (though there’s not much in it, really), partly because of that similarity, but mostly because there was no real conflict in the story, to break up the fluff… :/ 2 starsChrissie Elmore//Unmapped CountryUnmapped Country by Chrissie Elmore. Probably the last fan-written North & South book I’ll be reading for a while, since I’m starting to feel ready to move on… This one is an almost-sequel, set after the events of North & South, but dismissing Gaskell’s ending to the book, where Margaret and Mr. Thornton finally resolve their differences. I found it a bit of a struggle to get through at first, since much of the story seemed to be focused on new characters, when all I really wanted to read about was Margaret and Thornton, but once I got into it, I found it very enjoyable. Of all the North & South spin-off works I’ve read, this is probably the closest to Gaskell’s novel in tone and content – my only real problem with it was that (much like North & South itself) we saw very little of Margaret and Thornton as a couple, having moved on from all the misunderstandings of the original book, which kind of defeats the purpose of looking for a continuation in the first place…4 starsBenjamin Alire Sáenz//Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. An introspective novel about two very different boys who form an unexpected friendship. I’d been meaning to pick this up for a while, but it seems that the last little push I needed was the Little Book Club – this was the January & February pick for the LGBTQ+ theme – and I am so glad that I have finally read it, because it was amazing! I loved Ari, and I loved Dante, and their parents were really fantastic (which is incredibly rare in YA fiction). I would definitely recommend this book to basically anyone. 😀4 stars

6250211Fire by Kristin Cashore. This is the second book in the Graceling Realm trilogy, and is my first re-read of the year! The story is set in what appears to be some kind of pocket-universe that can be accessed through a series of tunnels within the Graceling universe, so it’s only really peripherally connected to the other two books in the series, but it’s probably my favourite of the three. It follows a girl named Fire, who is a “human monster”, a creature that looks (and for the most part, acts) like a human, but is incredibly beautiful, with unnaturally brightly coloured hair and the power to sense and control people’s minds. Fire is a very passive heroine (though she’s definitely not a weak lead), which I appreciate, so instead of charging off into important battles, much of the book is spent exploring the Dells, and dealing with her emotional issues. Major themes in this book are guilt, love (romantic and platonic), forgiveness, and so on, and the whole series would definitely be a great read for any fantasy lover.5 stars

Philip Pullman//Once Upon a Time in the NorthOnce Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman. A prequel-of-sorts to the His Dark Materials trilogy, detailing the first meeting of two of my favourite characters from the series: Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and Iorek Byrnison the armoured bear. It’s a short story, but very enjoyable, and it was a lot of fun to read about these characters again, and to be back in the His Dark Materials universe, which I seem to have missed more than I’d realised.4 starsDavid Almond//The True Tale of the Monster Billy DeanThe True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond. The story of a young boy who was raised in a locked room and not let out until he was a teenager, at which point he was perceived as some kind of saint because of his naïvety… It’s an odd story, and there are a lot of religious themes, which is unusual in YA literature. I found myself enjoying it quite a bit once I got into it, but it was very difficult to get into, mostly because it’s written phonetically. The almost post-apocalyptic setting was interesting, as were most of the characters, and the whole book had quite a creepy vibe to it.3 starsJudd Winick//Batwing vol. 2Batwing Vol. 2: In the Shadow of the Ancients by Judd Winick. Rather more episodic than I remember the first volume being, which I thought was not entirely to the book’s benefit. That said, I enjoyed the end of the Massacre storyline, the Night of the Owls and Zero Month tie-in issues were both good, and Dustin Nguyen and Marcus To’s artwork was striking (though not quite so striking as Ben Oliver’s in Volume 1).3 starsFabian Nicieza//Batwing vol. 3Batwing Vol. 3: Enemy of the State by Fabian Nicieza & Judd Winick. Batwing investigates a cult led by a brainwasher called Father Lost, then faces a billionaire industrialist who’s been bribing the police. Again, not quite so good as Volume 1, but a definite improvement on Volume 2. I enjoyed the backstory between David and Rachel, and the building tensions within the police department in the second story arc were interesting, too. With Batwing, at least, I think I tend to prefer the comics where there’s not too much involvement with of the rest of the DC Universe, so this book was right up my alley. 🙂4 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 3Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan. And the third volume, which was also awesome! So far I’m definitely impressed by how Vaughan has managed to show the sympathetic sides of all the characters in the story, even the ones who are technically the series’ villains… Also in this volume: Marko’s beard, which was kind of hilarious. 🙂5 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Pride of BaghdadPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A standalone graphic novel about a pride of lions that escaped from Baghdad Zoo during a bomb raid. I don’t have all that many coherent thoughts about the story – it was so good that it seems to have short-circuited my brain – but all the characters were well rounded without seeming too human, and the story was incredibly moving. Niko Henrichon’s art was beautiful, as well.5 starsNatasha Allegri//Adventure Time with Fionna & CakeAdventure Time with Fionna & Cake by Natasha Allegri. Fionna and Cake save the Fire Prince from the Ice Queen! I haven’t actually seen much of the Adventure Time cartoon,  but I’m a huge fan of the Fionna & Cake episodes, so I thought I might enjoy this – and I did! The story is both fun and oddly touching in places, and the artwork is very cute. There are three short stories in the back, too (by Noelle Stevenson, Kate Leth and Lucy Knisley), which were all very funny.5 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 4Saga, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan. The adventure continues! Now featuring Hazel as a toddler, and marital trouble for Marko and Alana (amongst other things). Alana’s new job is kind of hilarious, and I have high hopes for Marko and Prince Robot IV’s team-up. The only real flaw of this volume is that I’ve now finished it, and it’ll be another year or so before I can get my hands on volume 5… 😥5 starsMarkus Sedgwick//Dark Satanic MillsDark Satanic Mills by Marcus Sedgwick. A dystopian comic inspired by William Blake’s poem Jerusalem, set in a future where a fanatical religious cult called the True Church is on the verge of taking control of England after manufacturing a “miracle” in order to convert huge numbers of people. The book had an interesting premise, as a religious-dystopian, but in execution I thought it was too simplistic. I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork, either, though I think it might’ve been improved if it had been done in colour.2 stars

♡ BOOKS: Some bookish quotes for Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day, for those of you who celebrate it! I thought it was a bit soon to do another Thematic Recs post, but I still wanted to do something to mark the occasion, so I’ve decided to put together some of my favourite romantic book quotes~ (& for those of you who aren’t celebrating, don’t worry – there are a few heartbreak quotes, too!)

historyoflove

“Love is stupid. It has nothing to do with reason. You love whomever you love.”
~Fire by Kristin Cashore

“I think sometimes when we find love we pretend it away, or ignore it, or tell ourselves we’re imagining it. Because it is the most painful kind of hope there is.”
~The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

“Do you stop loving someone just because they betray you? I don’t think so. That’s what makes the betrayal hurt so much – pain, frustration, anger… and I still loved her. I still do.”
~The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

clockworkangel

“Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.”
~Delirium by Lauren Oliver

“He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this miserable bodily pain.”
~North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell

“I love you breathlessly, my amazing man.”
~The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

crownofembers

Review: North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Spoiler-Free)

NORTH & SOUTH5+ stars

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthSUMMARY

Gaskell’s classic novel is set in a northern mill town (aptly named Milton) during the industrial revolution. It follows a young woman called Margaret, the daughter of a vicar who gives up his position in the Church of England due to a crisis of conscience, and moves his family to Milton from a small country village south of London in order to find new work as a teacher.

In Milton, Margaret befriends some of the mill workers at a difficult period in time when they are on the verge of striking for higher wages, and she therefore clashes with the mill owners – including Mr. Thornton, who finds himself quite in love with her.

STORY [4/5]

Though it is essentially a romance novel, much of the story’s plot is concerned with class struggle – Margaret, as a gentleman’s daughter, is (despite her relative poverty) considered to be part of Milton’s social elite, who are mainly made up of wealthy mill-owners. The majority of her friends, however, are poor, working-class “hands” (the term that Thornton and his ilk use to describe their employees), and so she regularly finds herself defending their cause among those whom society considers her equals. Gaskell does a wonderful job, however, of helping the reader to understand both sides of the struggle.

My only real problem with the story was with the “Frederick-arc”. Margaret’s brother is alluded to frequently throughout the book, as having been in some kind of mysterious trouble. But when he eventually came into the story properly, I found myself underwhelmed: there was a great deal of build-up to his arrival, and then… nothing, basically. The only real consequence of Frederick’s existence in the story was another (frustrating) misunderstanding between Margaret and Thornton.

CHARACTERS [5/5]

Margaret is a devout Christian, and therefore religion colours many of her actions. She can seem a little preachy at times, and in the book, she is often described as “haughty”, which some people may find slightly irritating, but I found that it suited her. She is certainly a very well-rounded and complex character, and (despite the fact that times have changed drastically since the industrial revolution) it is easy to sympathise with her situation.

Mr. Thornton is rather more mysterious, as we read mostly from Margaret’s perspective, and she and Thornton do not often see eye to eye. He is a self-made man, and often appears to be more concerned with money and success than with people, but getting to know Thornton properly is one of the great joys of this book, so I won’t say anything more here.

As for the supporting characters, almost all of them were very likeable, and even the less pleasant ones were at least somewhat relatable. Some of my favourites to read about were: Dixon, Higgins, Mrs. Thornton, and (later on in the book) Mr. Bell.

ROMANCE [5/5]

The romance in North & South is very slow-paced, and filled with miscommunication and misunderstandings. Margaret and Thornton’s relationship was certainly frustrating at times, but I found that I really enjoyed watching them come to know each other, and learn to be more open-minded because of it. Despite the disparity in wealth, and their contrary ideologies, their relationship is truly one of equals.

WRITING [4/5]

The writing was excellent, and in a similar style to other 19th-century authors. I’ve knocked off a point (though it’s really more like half a point) because some of the locals’ dialogue was a little difficult to understand at times (from the way the accents transcribed), and because I felt that the story ended too abruptly.

OVERALL IMPRESSION [5/5]

A classic romance that deals with the struggles of the working class! I really, really loved this book, and after a few days of thinking it over (read: obsessing), I even decided that it deserved to be added to my all-time favourites. I have re-read parts of it several times without getting tired of it, and fans of the 2004 BBC mini-series (which I know is hugely popular) should note that (at least in my opinion) the book is even better.

I will leave you with my favourite quote from the book, which, I think, sums up the spirit of it quite nicely:

Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm.

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Anyone who likes period romances, but particularly Jane Austen fans. Of course, those who have seen and enjoyed the 2004 BBC mini-series should definitely also read the book – it’s different enough to still feel fresh, but similar enough to be like reuniting with an old friend.