Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

I’ve been seeing this tag floating around quite a lot recently, and – since I’m not really feeling the reviews at the moment – I thought it might make an interesting post. Also, it’s the middle of the year, and “freaking out” is a pretty accurate way to describe my attitude towards books right now, even though, unusually, I’m ahead on my Goodreads challenge! 🎉

lois mcmaster bujold a civil campaign1. What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2019?

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I just read a couple of weeks ago! I stumbled across the massive Vorkosigan Saga at the beginning of the year, and have been obsessed with it ever since… and the books just keep getting better and better! A Civil Campaign is my favourite so far, by a small margin.

2. What’s the best sequel you’ve read so far in 2019?

Well, as above (closely followed by Memory, from the same series), but in the interest of not spending the whole of this tag gushing over the same few books… I thought that The Wicked King by Holly Black was also a really great follow-up to The Cruel Prince, and improved on it in basically every way. I can’t wait to see how the trilogy is going to wrap up! 😊

3) What’s a new release that you haven’t read yet, but want to?

My book-buying ban combined with my new Vorkosigan Saga obsession has meant that there are quite a few of these, but the one that stings the most is probably The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie… I keep going into bookshops and staring longingly at it on the shelves, which really isn’t helping, but maybe I’ll get some book money for my birthday, or something. 🤞 I really loved Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, & am dying to see what she’ll do with the fantasy genre.

rainbow rowell wayward son4. What’s your most anticipated release for the second half of the year?

That would be Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell! Rowell seems very much to me to be in the business of wish-fulfilment; when I read Fangirl, I couldn’t help thinking how much I wanted to read a read Simon Snow book, and when Carry On (one of my all-time favourite books) came into existence, all I wanted was a sequel… and now we’re getting that, too! 24th September, wait for me! 😆 (I’m also very excited for The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, but my hype for it isn’t quite so extreme.)

5. What’s your biggest disappointment of the year?

Definitely Starfall by Melissa Landers. It’s not the worst book I’ve read this year, but it was such a let-down after the first book in the series, which at the time of reading was close to a favourite. Worst of Starfall‘s crimes, though, is that it’s kind of tainted Starflight by association… What if it was never as good as I thought it was?! 😣

6. And the biggest surprise?

Probably Before Adam by Jack London, which I wasn’t expecting to like at all, but actually turned out to be pretty gripping. I posted a review of this book recently that talks more about the whys-and-wherefores, but in short: I found the entire premise off-putting, but clearly should’ve had more faith in London’s ability to spin a good story.

7. Do you have a new favourite author?

I do! Lois McMaster Bujold, the author of the Vorkosigan Saga! My aunt mentioned her to me over Christmas as a reputedly really excellent fantasy writer, and upon looking her up I was vaguely interested in trying some of her works (though the sci-fi appealed to me more than the fantasy, surprisingly), and then I stumbled across one of her books (Young Miles) second-hand in January… Naturally, I picked it up, but I wasn’t expecting to love it nearly as much as I did. Bujold hasn’t just become a favourite author of 2019 for me, but an all-time favourite, for sure.

8. Or a new fictional crush?

This one not so much, I’m afraid. The Vorkosigan Saga is full of incredibly charming characters, but I don’t think I’d call any of them crushes, exactly…

9. Who’s your newest favourite character?

Miles Vorkosigan~! 💕 He pulls you in like he’s a planet; it’s inevitable. 😉 But really, this series has given me so many new favourite characters, Miles is only the most blindingly brilliant of them. Others include: Ivan and Gregor, Miles’ mother Cordelia, Mark and Kareen, and most recently the wonderful Ekaterin, who came as a(nother) huge surprise to me, and I might even have come to like even more than Miles himself…!? (Maybe. Don’t hold me to that; I haven’t made my mind up yet.)

Honorary mentions as well to Midoriya and Todoroki from the My Hero Academia series, the manga of which I started this year, although I was already familiar with their anime counterparts…

10. What book made you cry?

I think the last book that made me cry actual tears was The Book Thief, and I read that, what, five years ago now? I’m not holding my breath for another one any time soon… but of this year’s reads, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa has definitely come the closest.

11. What book made you happy?

A fair few. 😊 A Civil Campaign probably made me the happiest, but I also really loved the ridiculously fluffy Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.

satoru noda golden kamuy vol 212. What’s the most beautiful book you’ve bought (or been given) this year?

This may be a slightly weird answer, but I think it’s probably Golden Kamuy, Volume 2 by Satoru Noda. None of the (admittedly few) books I’ve obtained this year have been fancy special editions, or anything, but I really like Noda’s art style, and the picture of Asirpa on the second volume is particularly pretty. Click on the cover for a (much) closer look! ☞ ☞ ☞

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

So many books! All of the books! More specifically, though: I’ve only read two of the eight books on my 5-star predictions list, which I promised myself I’d read this year (those being Uprooted and Lies We Tell Ourselves), but of the remaining six, the ones I’m most anxious to get to are Eon by Alison Goodman and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Otherwise, I’d really like to finish Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series soon, if only so that I can finally move on to the other Shadowhunters books…

eon alison goodman madeleine miller the song of achilles cassandra clare city of lost souls cassandra clare city of heavenly fire

[Tag’s original creators: Earl Grey Books & ReadLikeWildfire.]

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Library Scavenger Hunt: June

This month’s challenge was to read a book that’s thinner than your little finger, and I decided to take the opportunity to pick up a book which I’d been dithering over whether to just get rid of or not (yes, I’m cheating again this month 😓), Jack London’s Before Adam, which at 125 pages in paperback is just a smidge smaller than my (not particularly little) little finger… 😊 (And, having read it, I think I will be passing it on after all, but at least I’m making an informed choice!)

BEFORE ADAM
Jack London

A modern (at the time of writing, i.e. 1906) American man experiences the life of his prehistoric ancestor through a series of vivid and terrifying dreams, and as “Big Tooth”, he makes friends – and enemies – and learns about the beauty and danger of the younger world.

I was dubious about this book for a number of reasons… while I find prehistory interesting in a historical sense, as the setting of a novel it intrigues me not at all, and added to that, the basic premise of past lives/ancestral memory is one that I find distinctly off-putting*. So why, you may ask, did I not just dismiss this unread? There were a number of reasons (with varying levels of compelling-ness): 1) I really liked both of the other Jack London books I’ve read (The Call of the Wild and White Fang, naturally); 2) It was a gift, and I really dislike having to admit to people that I didn’t even bother to read the books they gave me 😓; and 3) It’s super-short, so if I did end up hating it, at least I wouldn’t have wasted too many hours of my life.

It would seem that this particular risk payed off, however! I’m far from in love with Before Adam (and it’s definitely my least-favourite of the three Jack London books I’ve read), but I found myself pleasantly surprised by it. It starts slow, and ends abruptly, but I found the bulk of Big Tooth’s life to be quite gripping, and while I found myself predictably frustrated whenever the narrator broke up the story with his (then-)present-day observations, this happened a lot less than I was expecting, once I’d got through the first couple of chapters.

*An aside: I don’t know why I dislike past-life stories so much, since I’m completely down for reincarnation ones – though I’m guessing it has something to do with the recollectory nature of the former, or because most of the reincarnation books I’ve come across have more of a mystical feel to them, and don’t try to bring science into it…

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

Summer Catch-Up

Seeing such a long list of books makes me much more satisfied with my reading than I have been for my last few wrap-ups (/catch-ups), though I know it’s a slightly artificial satisfaction (but not entirely! Booktubeathon meant that I read a lot more this summer than I would ordinarily have); three months naturally results in more books read than one, after all… 😅

Also, I find myself liking this new format. It’s kind of labour-intensive (I had to completely re-code it last night, which was a chore), but I expect that it will become less so as I get more used to it. And it looks very tidy, which I appreciate. 😊

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

29748925 Ann Leckie//Ancillary Mercy

JUNE

[REVIEW]

mary beard//women and power

JULY

[REVIEW]

robert harris//fatherland

AUGUST

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

Adam Silvera//History Is All You Left Me

[REVIEW]

Catherynne M. Valente//The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

[REVIEW]

sarah prineas//ash and bramble

[REVIEW]

jack london//White Fang

[REVIEW]

Kiersten White//Bright We Burn

[REVIEW]

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//Obsidio

[SERIES REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

29748925Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The first book in a new series of the same name, which follows the orphaned Lazlo Strange, who has always been fascinated by the lost city of Weep, which was one day erased from the world, as if by magic, leaving few who even remembered that it was ever more than a myth. I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone a lot, but this may be my favourite thing that Laini Taylor has written so far. I really loved both Lazlo and Sarai (the book’s second protagonist), and the supporting characters were all incredibly memorable, despite there being quite a few of them. The conflict at the centre of the book was fascinating, too, and the world-building amazing. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Weep, and am glad that I only have a month more to wait for Muse of Nightmares, which is unsurprisingly my most anticipated autumn release – and which I will definitely also be listening to, rather than reading in print, as Steve West’s performance of Strange the Dreamer was fantastic.5 stars

35037401Dragon Age: Knight Errant by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir. [COMIC; Illustrators: Fernando Heinz Furukawa & Michael Atiyeh]

A brief (and self-contained) story set in the Dragon Age world, about Vaea, the elven squire to drunken knight Ser Aaron Hawthorne – and, unbeknownst to her master, a thief. I’ll admit that I’m inclined to enjoy every foray into this world, regardless of length (or even story or writing quality), but Knight Errant surpassed all my expectations. It’s very short, but did a great job of making me care about Vaea and Ser Aaron, the two main characters (who are original to this comic), and although the plot is simple, it’s also solid, and a lot of fun. Varric and Sebastian from the games also had fairly significant roles, and it was great to see them both again (as well as Charter, who made a brief appearance). 😊 In terms of timeline, this takes place after Inquisition, but is not directly connected to the events of that game.4 stars

8146139The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

The tale of a domestic dog called Buck, who’s stolen from his owners in California and taken all the way to the Yukon, where he lives a much less comfortable life as a sled-dog, but is drawn to the wild places that exist just beyond the borders of his new life. This was a really interesting read! I picked it up a few days before Booktubeathon, because I was hoping to read White Fang for one of the challenges, and mistakenly thought that the two were directly connected, but I actually ended up liking this one a bit more, as the pacing was much more consistent, and the story a little gratuitously violent… Buck’s life in the North is a harsh one, but London doesn’t dwell on the brutality of it quite so much as in White Fang. Still, for such a short book, it packs a huge emotional punch.4 stars

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Aysha Kala & Jack Farrar]

An excellent, Roman Empire-inspired fantasy following two leads: Laia, a teenage girl who becomes a slave in order to spy for the Scholar resistance, and Elias, a Martial soldier who wants only to be free of the Empire. I first read (and reviewed) this book a couple of years ago, and my feelings on it haven’t changed in the slightest. 💕 The audiobook was a new experience for me, but also a good one; both narrators did an excellent job, though I feel like the communication between them might not have been particularly great, as there were several words that they each pronounced differently. It wasn’t usually too jarring, and the most significant pronunciation disagreement was corrected after a few chapters, but it’s something that really should have been addressed by an editor or director (or whoever is in charge of voice work) before recording… especially when it’s the name of one of the main characters!5 stars

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//ObsidioObsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

The final book in The Illuminae Files, which introduces two new protagonists: Asha, Kady’s cousin who was left behind on Kerenza IV when the majority of the population fled, and her ex-boyfriend-from-before-Kerenza, Rhys, who is now a technician for the invading BeiTech forces. As the conclusion to the trilogy, the plot of this book was much less self-contained than the other two, and it wrapped up the plot really nicely, and made for an incredibly powerful ending – though at the expense of some development for Asha and Rhys, who had to share their screen time with the series’ previous four protagonists (or five if you include AIDAN). However, I do think that they were both very well-fleshed out characters regardless, and the Kerenza-based perspective that they both provided to the story was essential. The pacing of the story was fast and tense, and only became more so as the stakes got higher and higher towards the end… and although I didn’t like this book quite as much as Illuminae, it was a near thing. A truly great ending to this fantastic series!5 stars

Jane Austen//Pride and PrejudicePride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Lindsay Duncan]

The classic tale of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who meet at a ball and absolutely do not hit it off. 😉 This is one of my favourite books, and always a joy to re-read, but I decided to buy the audiobook to listen to with some friends on our recent pilgrimage-of-sorts to Pemberley! (Or rather, Lyme Park, which played the part of Pemberley’s exterior in the 1995 BBC adaptation, i.e. the best adaptation.) There are several different audio versions of this book, so much deliberation went into the choice of this one in particular, and I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed! Lindsay Duncan’s performance was incredible, and I especially liked her take on Mrs. Bennet. 🎶5+ stars

*Not including re-reads.

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 3 & Review

JUST FINISHED: White Fang by Jack London.

White Fang tells the story of a wild wolf-dog, who is taken in by three human masters in turn, each of them with very different motivations. He is first a sled-dog, and then a fighter, then a sled-dog again, before finally getting a chance at an easier life, with a master who loves him.

This is an excellent story, as gut-wrenching as it is heart-warming, but it has a very slow start. It’s divided into five parts – the first following a two men being pursued across the snowy wastes by a hungry wolf pack; the second showing us White Fang’s puppyhood; and then a section with each of the wolf’s three owners (Grey Beaver, then Beauty Smith, and finally Weedon Scott) – the first of which is vaguely interesting, but entirely superfluous, and the second of which is even duller, but at least does the service of introducing the main character.

It gets better as it goes on, however, and the second half of the book is incredibly engaging. The heart of the story is in White Fang’s relationships with his three owners, and how he is shaped by each of them, whether through affection or through violence (of which there is a great deal). The very end of the book felt somewhat tacked-on, with a sudden flurry of action just as everything seemed to be winding down, and this part of the book could probably have been removed without really effecting the story at all – but the episode was only a few pages long, and the ending was otherwise appropriately sentimental.

Unsure of how closely they were connected, I made sure to read The Call of the Wild in preparation for this book, and although I would recommend reading them as a pair, it is certainly not necessary. The two books are thematically similar, and make a great accompaniment to one another (White Fang following a wild wolf who finds himself keeping company with humans, while The Call of the Wild is about a domestic dog who is, well, called to the wild), so it is clear why they are so often published in one volume, but there is no direct connection between them.

The film:
The adaptation I chose to watch (due to its easy availability more than anything else) was the Netflix animated film that was released earlier this year. I really liked the art style of this film, and appreciated that the filmmakers chose to leave out part one of the novel in its entirety, but felt that on the whole it was over-sanitised in a way that robbed the story of most of its emotional impact. The strength of White Fang is in the contrast between White Fang’s awful treatment at the hands of Beauty Smith (and, to a lesser extent, Gray Beaver) and his rehabilitation (so to speak) with Weedon Scott, and reducing the severity of the former also reduces the appreciation for the latter. I can see why this was done, as the gratuitous violence of the original story isn’t really appropriate for a children’s film, but it’s to the film’s detriment. This adaptation also changes the story a lot; it adds some structure, but most of these changes only seem to serve to make the book more politically correct… and the new ending tries its hand at heartwarming, but is significantly less so than in the original.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Now onto my most anticipated book of the readathon, Bright We Burn! 💕🎶 Which was not included in my TBR, but would have been had I remembered that I was going to be going on a book shopping spree the day after writing it. 😅

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 1011
(+ Hours Listened: 4:12)
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon2018 TBR~ 💕

This year’s Booktubeathon comes at a fortuitous time, since I will be on holiday for the entire duration, and hopefully in the mood for a great deal of reading. 😁 The readathon is going to be from Monday 30th July to Sunday 5th August, and you can find more details about it in this announcement video – but what I want to focus on for this post is the challenges, which as always will be shaping the majority of my TBR ~🎶 So here goes:

1) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. This book has popped up on a lot of my TBRs in the last couple of years, but for some reason I never seem to get around to it – but maybe this summer will be the summer of Fairyland! This is my pick for challenges two (read a book about something you want to do; in this case, sailing, which I expect, though don’t know for sure is involved in this book) and three (read a book with green on the cover; it’s there, if only barely), and it also won the coin toss against The Princess & the Captain (which I subsequently removed from my TBR altogether), so if I do actually manage to start the readathon with it, then it will count for the first challenge (let a coin toss decide your first read) as well! Not bad for a less-than-300-page book! 😋

2) White Fang by Jack London. Another book that has the benefit of being extremely short, and has also been sitting unread on my kindle since I got it (maybe five years ago?). There’s a recent Netflix adaption of this, so I’ll be using it for challenge three (read and watch a book to movie adaptation), and due to its length it will probably also be my hat book (for challenge five: read a book while wearing the same hat the whole time), as it’s much too hot to be wearing a hat for any significant amount of time at the moment… 😓

3) Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas.Cinderella retelling (I think) that I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years now at least, and which will easily tick off challenge six (read a book with a beautiful spine; it’s red, with the same thorn design & ornate font as the cover). At 449 pages, this is the longest book on my TBR, but I find that most Young Adult books are quite quick reads, so I’m not too worried. And even if I only read these three books, I still will have ticked off all the challenges except the last…

4) So, the final challenge is to read seven books, and I’m planning on leaving it fairly open. I’ll be taking my kindle on holiday with me, with its hundred-or-so unread books, and since I’ll be spending the last day of the readathon in transit, I also have a couple of audiobooks loaded onto my phone. The only two physical books that are possibilities are Women & Power by Mary Beard, which I’m hoping to read before Booktubeathon starts, but will otherwise be my first book of the readathon, as I need to finish it by the end of the month anyway (potentially thwarting the coin toss challenge, I know, but needs must ☹️); and Fatherland by Robert Harris, which was a birthday present from my aunt.