2021 in Review: Highlights

Well, the world may still be crazy, but in terms of reading, 2021 ended up pretty great! I blew my Goodreads goal out of the water (though I had deliberately set it low so that I wouldn’t stress over it this year) with 98 books read, and so many of them were fantastic! 😆 I finally got around to starting a bookstagram account in April, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s going so far… and if I do say so myself, my 2021 My Year in Books page is looking pretty neat. 😋

As for some specific book stuff, I started some excellent new fantasy series last year. Notably, The Stormlight Archive (which has been a very long time coming); Black Sun (which has left me on tenterhooks for the sequel); and The Tiger’s Daughter (a sapphic, Mongolian-inspired fantasy with a heavy focus on its central love story – though I’m very much looking forward to more demon-fighting in the rest of the series).

I also did a lot of re-reading this year, and I’m pleased to say that a couple of the books I re-read, I liked even better than the first time around, those being Komarr, which I now rate among my all-time favourites, and The Edge of the Cloud, which was a burst of nostalgia that came at the perfect moment. And speaking of nostalgia, I managed to end the year on a real high point with Terciel & Elinor, a new prequel to a series that’s been one of my favourites since I was a teenager. ☺️

This was a great year for romance, too! It’s not a genre I’ve ever been super-into, but (like many people, I think), I’ve been appreciating it a lot in the last couple of years, and am definitely hoping to read more in 2022. Some of my favourites were Kulti (a slow-burn sports romance), Beach Read (a fun rivals-to-lovers story), as well as the political sci-fi romance Winter’s Orbit, and the Regency-inspired fantasy romance The Midnight Bargain.

… And my summer in general somehow ended up being very Regency-themed, with me (kind of accidentally) participating in #JaneAustenJuly. At long last, I read Persuasion, the last (completed) Austen novel I had left – and it was well worth the wait. 😁 I re-listened to Pride & Prejudice on my summer holiday not long after, inspired by a couple of spin-offs and continuations of that story that I’d been enjoying; namely Longbourn and The Other Bennet Sister.

And last but not least, an unexpected favourite (though also somewhat Austen-adjacent) was the Mean Girls inspired Regency rom-com Reputation. I was nervous to pick this one up, as I’ve historically had pretty bad luck with authors who I initially liked for other reasons (Lex Croucher, who wrote Reputation, is also a youtuber), but it was absolutely hilarious, and the perfect book for the moment in which I read it. 🎶 I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for their next release, Gwen & Art Are Not in Love, which should be out in early 2023. 🤞

(ROUGH) TOP 10:

  1. Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold* [REVIEW]
  2. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  3. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson [REVIEW]
  4. Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix
  5. The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
  6. The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
  7. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  8. The Edge of the Cloud by K.M. Peyton*
  9. Reputation by Lex Croucher
  10. Longbourn by Jo Baker [REVIEW]

(*Re-reads included only where I’ve changed my rating.)

October & November Wrap-Up

Some more really great reads in the last couple of months (including what  might be a new favourite)! 😁 I was a little bit slumpy at the end of October/beginning of November, so there’s not a huge number of books here, but quality-wise, it’s been a really great autumn! 🍁🍁🍁

BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater.

A sequel/companion novel to the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, following Isabel and Cole as they attempt to put their lives back together, and sustain a relationship. I don’t remember the original trilogy super-well at this point (it’s been literally years, and I could definitely do with a re-read), but despite (or maybe because of) her general antagonism towards the protagonists, Isabel was always my favourite character. And happily, I still loved her in Sinner! Which is a good thing, as it’s a pretty character-driven book.

The story mainly revolves around Cole moving to LA in order to be closer to Isabel, and the chaos that follows him wherever he goes getting between them, which I might have found annoying if it’d been written by a less skilled writer (or about characters that I cared less for)… but as it is, Sinner was a pretty enjoyable ride; the romance was great, the conflicts realistic, and the characters compelling… and it was really lovely to be back in this world. 😊

Kulti by Mariana Zapata.

Successful soccer player Sal Casillas is astonished to find that her former idol Reiner Kulti is about to become her team’s new coach… and seems determined to be a complete dick to her. I loved this book so much (and must now devour every other book Mariana Zapata has written)! It’s a very slow-burn enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance, with two great lead characters, and enough going on beyond the romance that I was never bored (which tends to be a problem for me with romances), even though it’s a pretty long book. 💕

Lusus Naturae by Alison Goodman. [SHORT STORY]

A quick story from the world of The Dark Days Club, which re-tells Lady Helen and Lord Carlston’s first meeting, but from Carlston’s perspective. I liked this; it was quick, and a little nostalgic, but Carlston’s thoughts and feelings upon meeting Helen weren’t anything unexpected, and I don’t feel like the story really added anything to the series.

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes.

The first book in the Falling Kingdoms series, which centres around three kingdoms on the brink of war, and the search for an ancient magic that will restore the continent’s dying land. Re-reading this wasn’t part of my reading plans for November, but I’m glad to have picked it up anyway; I kind of hate the storyline of this series, as well as the world and most of the characters, but somehow it’s weirdly addictive? Cleo and Magnus (who are two of the three primary characters), though not at their best in this book, are definite bright spots of the series, and it was fun to revisit their beginnings – even though my general opinion of this book hasn’t changed.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

The two Owens sisters grow up under suspicion of witchcraft, and desperate to escape their hometown – but life away from their childhood home comes with unexpected challenges, and the more that they try to stay apart, the more that they find that they need each other.

I liked the almost dream-like writing in this, and found both Sally and Gillian (as well as Sally’s younger daughter Kylie) to be compelling leads, but wasn’t hugely invested in either the plot or the romances, unfortunately… The book seemed to wander kind of aimlessly through the sisters’ lives without coming to any real point until near the end, and all the love interests were introduced really suddenly, and neither they nor their relationships were ever really fleshed out much. I found myself wondering if this book is only so famous because the film (which I’ve heard is very different from the book) was very popular? Because I liked it, but didn’t think it was really anything special… And I probably won’t be revisiting this world for the sequel/prequels.

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Grover Gardner; SHORT STORY COLLECTION]

A collection of three of Miles’ adventures, framed by an original story for this collection in which Miles recovers from bone-replacement surgery – an important episode in his life, even if the tale in itself isn’t the most gripping. The three short stories were all ones I’d read before, but I enjoyed revisiting them a lot, and bumped up my individual ratings for both The Borders of Infinity (which I was much more invested in this time around), and The Mountains of Mourning (which I honestly thought I’d given five stars already… but apparently not). Labyrinth is my least favourite of the bunch, but still an entertaining read (/listen).

Red at Night by Katie McGarry. [SHORT STORY]

A quick story from the Pushing the Limits universe, in which the popular Jonah begins to spend time at the graveyard after a traumatic accident, only to find that it’s “Trash Can Girl” Stella’s favourite spot. This was cute, and I liked both the main characters, but it was too short, and moved to quickly for me to really feel like I’d got to know either of them, or (consequently) for me to get invested in their future. My favourite scenes: their first graveyard-talk, and when Stella took Jonah to volunteer with her.

Eve of Man by Giovanna & Tom Fletcher.

In a dystopian near-future where the birth rate for girls has drastically declined, Eve – the last girl to be born – is humanity’s only hope for survival. No rating for this one; I DNFd it almost halfway through, because whoever came up with the plan to save humanity was clearly an idiot, and I was so frequently reminded of the fact that I was unable to enjoy any other part of the book. I’ve been informed (by a friend who did read the whole thing) that some of my issues with the plot are addressed in the second half, but regardless, I have no plans of picking this up again.

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Moira Quirk]

Beatrice plans to restore her family’s fortunes by summoning a greater spirit of luck and becoming an assistant to her father, while her family is banking on her making an advantageous marriage – which would mean sealing away her magic until widowhood. But when she meets Ianthe Lavan (handsome, charming, eligible, and – most astonishingly of all – understanding of her plight), her choice becomes that much more difficult.

This book was barely even on my radar this year, but I’m so glad that I decided to pick it up; if not an all-time favourite, it’s definitely one of my favourites of the year! 💕 I don’t want to say too much here, as I’m planning to write a full review soon, but my favourite thing about The Midnight Bargain was the gradual shift in so many of Beatrice’s relationships, from mercenary to respectful, then to genuinely affectionate. And there were so many wonderful characters (my favourite was Ysbeta, though)!

July Wrap-Up!

Another great reading month! Including three 5-star books, and a couple more that came close! 😆 I also managed to accidentally take part in Jane Austen July, which I didn’t realise was a thing until it was nearly over, even though I’d been reading (or else wanting to read) Jane Austen-related things  all month… 😅

BOOKS I READ

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Vorkosigan Saga story following Miles as he graduates from the Barrayar Military Academy, and is given a very undesirable first assignment as meteorological officer at a frozen base in the middle of nowhere… and promptly gets on the bad side of his new commanding officer. This was a somewhat spontaneous re-read, and I’m pleased to report that I loved the first half of the book (previously published as the novella Weatherman) just as much as I did the first time… but to my surprise, I also had a lot more appreciation for the second half this time around! I remember finding the change in tone, setting, and storyline very jarring (perhaps because I was finding the politics confusing?), and while it certainly still feels very different from Weatherman, I was able to follow along a lot more easily, and really enjoyed the insight we get into Gregor’s character here, as well as Miles’ reunion with Elena, and his battle of wits with Cavilo! 😊

Secret Weapon by Anthony Horowitz. [SHORT STORY COLLECTION]

A collection of seven short stories from the Alex Rider universe, of which my favourites were probably Alex in Afghanistan (in which Alex sneaks into a terrorist base to find evidence of a nuclear weapon) and Spy Trap (an unusually-formatted story about Alex waking up in hospital and trying to piece together the events that brought him there). I tend to prefer the longer stories in this series, as the set-up (plus gadget descriptions) and re-caps don’t take up so much of them (percentage-wise), leaving more room for character development and interactions, so it’s not surprising that I wasn’t blown away by this collection… It was certainly enjoyable (and definitely worth reading if you’re a big fan of the series), but nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary except for the somewhat experimental framework of Spy Trap.

Longbourn by Jo Baker.

A re-telling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the Longbourn servants, who see everything that’s going on in the Bennet family, but are decidedly more concerned by the everyday matters of getting the washing done and the fires lit, and impressing Mr. Collins so that he won’t dismiss them all when he inherits… This was pretty much the perfect complement to Pride and Prejudice (and I say that as someone who has very fixed ideas about P&P and is incredibly picky about spin-offs), but my more detailed thoughts on it were starting to get quite lengthy, so I’ll be saving them for a proper review soon. 😅 Keep your eyes peeled!

Reputation by Lex Croucher.

Abandoned in London with her incredibly dull aunt and uncle, Georgiana Ellers counts herself lucky to have caught the eye of the anything-but-dull Miss Frances Campbell – but as she gets sucked into Frances’ world of parties and boys and far too much drink, she begins to realise that her reputation isn’t the only thing at stake.

This book was so much fun! Hilarious, but with plenty of serious (and relevant to the present day) social commentary. The setting was closer to something like Netfilx’s Bridgerton (in terms of the characters’ behaviour and dialogue, and so on) than how I imagine the actual Regency would have been (not that I’m an expert), but not so much so that I found it distracting… and really, the story was so engaging that I didn’t much care anyway. The characters were all wonderful; they felt very real, and I was super-invested in all of them! And the romance was perhaps a little bit rushed, but so cute! (I loved the flirty letters! 💕)

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

An exploration of an alternative America which has been occupied by Japan after the victory of the Axis powers in World War II… which I found much less interesting than its premise would appear to promise. But there wasn’t much of a coherent plot here; it read more like a day-in-the-life, with too many characters for me to really get invested in any of them. I found myself unfavourably comparing this to 1984 a lot, and I didn’t even really like 1984 that much (though at least it was more interesting than this), so I can only conclude that maybe I just don’t mesh with classic dystopian stories? 😓

Persuasion by Jane Austen.

Persuaded as a young woman to break off her engagement to a man whom she loved, but with very uncertain prospects, Anne Elliot is alarmed to hear that Captain Wentworth – now having made his fortune in the war – will be entering her small circle of society once again. But although Anne’s feelings haven’t changed, it’s impossible that Captain Wentworth might still love her…

My last unread Jane Austen novel! This certainly had some lofty expectations to live up to, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint! 😊 It’s a lot sadder than Austen’s other novels; it still had its fair share of witty dialogue and ridiculous characters, but it is much less about the comedy of life than about hope and regret, and even depression (depending on your interpretation of Anne, I suppose). As a heroine, I liked Anne a great deal, and very much felt for her. Captain Wentworth I was a little less impressed with, but his actions are understandable though often ungallant… and his letter-writing skills are second to none!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

When a local man is found dead, suspicion immediately falls on Kya the “Marsh Girl”, who lives alone with the marsh and its creatures, and is misunderstood and mistrusted by the entire town. Part murder mystery, and part coming-of-age story, Where the Crawdads Sing was both beautifully written and incredibly frustrating in the best possible way. I loved Kya’s character, and it was really hard to follow the investigation knowing how severely public opinion was against her… and in the parts of the story that were set in the years before the murder, I enjoyed learning about Kya’s childhood and her relationships, and how she learnt to survive by herself. I also really appreciated Owens’ descriptions of the marsh, and of Kya’s studies of it, which were written with a lot of care and attention; it’s easy to see that Owens is a naturalist herself!

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.

A retelling and continuation of Pride and Prejudice, following Mary Bennet as she grows up as the least thought-of of her sisters, and tries to find herself and her place in the world. I thought that this was an enjoyable enough story in its own right, but much too long; I found the first (of five) section interesting, and really enjoyed the final two, but the middle of the book dragged quite a bit… Additionally, I found that Hadlow had a very different interpretation of many of the characters to my own, so many of them felt off to me. In particular, her reading of Charlotte was very harsh, but I also felt like a lot of Lizzy and Darcy’s character development in Pride and Prejudice was ignored here, and even Mary – though I can certainly imagine her growing into the woman she’s portrayed as here – is very different from how Jane Austen wrote her…

Thin Air by Michelle Paver.

Stephen Pearce is brought in as a last-minute replacement medic on his brother’s expedition to climb Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. But Kangchenjunga is a merciless killer, and as Stephen and Kits follow their hero’s route up the mountain, Stephen begins to wonder if their team will suffer the same fate. This was a little slow, and less spooky than I was hoping, but it was wonderfully atmospheric, and I liked the main character and was intrigued by the mystery of the Lyell expedition. Cedric was very cute, too, and I always appreciate a Good Dog! 🐶

 

March Wrap-Up

Happy Easter!!! 🐇🥚🐣 I wish you all as much chocolate as you can eat! 😁 March, as it turns out, was the best reading month I’ve had in years; I read fourteen books! Fourteen!! 😱 And, for the most part, they were all really good ones! The highlight of the month was, of course, my re-read of Komarr, but in general I was really motivated to read this month, and really enjoying everything I picked up. 😊

BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

The Rift by Gene Luen Yang. [COMIC; Illustrated by Gurihiru]

The third of the Avatar: The Last Airbender continuations, in which the Aang takes the Air Acolytes to celebrate an old Air Nomad festival, only to find that a refinery has been built on top of his people’s sacred land. This story didn’t click with me quite so well as The Promise or The Search, but I still enjoyed it a lot. The main highlight for me was Toph’s role; her friendship with the refinery’s manager, and reconnecting with her father… and although I wouldn’t exactly say I liked reading about her fight with Aang, I liked how it was resolved.

Lothaire by Kresley Cole.

An entry in the Immortals After Dark series (which I am absolutely not reading in order), following the Enemy-of-Old Lothaire, who finds his soulmate possessing a human girl, and endeavours to find a way to give her permanent control over Ellie’s body… but although the goddess of death seems like a perfect match for Lothaire on paper, it’s squishy-human Ellie that he finds himself drawn to.

This romance has a lot of problematic elements, but I appreciate that the narrative didn’t try to gloss over them; Cole did a great job of fleshing out Lothaire’s character in a way that made him a sympathetic romantic lead without making excuses for his (extreme and unrepentant) villainy. And Ellie was such a great match for him; I loved her determination to be a thorn in his side, and the way her feelings for him gradually changed as the book went on… And I also really appreciated that (disregarding the epilogue, which was set years later) their story didn’t leave off with all loose ends tied up and everything forgiven, as this book wasn’t nearly long enough for them to believably work through all their problems.

I still have no desire to read this series in its entirety, but I’d definitely be interested in picking up more of the Dacians books (a subset of Immortals After Dark that follow Lothaire’s Dacian cousins).

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The first book in the Vorkosigan Saga, in which Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Survey Corps is taken prisoner by Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar, whose fearsome reputation is belied by his behaviour towards her. This was a re-read for me, and I think I liked it even more the second time than I did the first! It’s a short book, but the world and characters are fleshed out brilliantly, and the romance develops slowly and believably. My favourite part is the final (maybe-)third of the story, where Cordelia returns to Beta Colony, only to find herself changed by her experiences, along with her family and friends’ reactions to her new self… it’s honestly quite chilling at times…

The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Lauren Fortgang & James Patrick Cronin]

Lara is sent to the Bridge Kingdom by her father to become its queen, and its downfall, but finds that King Aren is far from the brute she’s been told to expect, and his apparent stranglehold over trade to her impoverished homeland may not be quite what it seems. This was such a fun book! The worldbuilding was a little incomprehensible and the story a little, but I really enjoyed the characters, their hate-to-love romance, and the melodramatic storytelling – I’ll definitely be continuing as soon as my reading schedule allows! (In no small part thanks to that huge cliffhanger! It’s looking like The Traitor Queen might be a lot less predictable than this one.) 😁

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

The diary of a Japanese teenager washes up on a beach on the remote island where Ruth and her husband live, and Ruth finds herself consumed by the mystery of what’s happed to Nao. I found this more interesting than enjoyable, as the story was a very heavy one, dealing with suicide and really severe bullying… I thought the ending was a little unsatisfactory, though, and I also didn’t much appreciate the magical realism-y aspects in the last few chapters, nor the theoretical physics explanations, which made my eyes glaze over and were a huge departure in tone from the rest of the novel. However! As I said, it was very interesting, and I was invested in both Nao and Ruth’s storylines the vast majority of the time. No regrets for finally having read this. 👍

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson.

Joel is fascinated by Rithmatics, and with an unusual talent for maths, he seems like he’d make the perfect candidate – but he missed his chance to become a Rithmatist a long time ago, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to try again… But when students at his school start disappearing, leaving behind nothing but strange chalk marks, Joel’s theoretical knowledge may be just what’s needed to help solve the case!

I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed this, as I thought the concept was one of Sanderson’s less interesting ones, but I’m very pleased to have been mistaken! 😁 The chalk-based magic system actually ended up being my favourite thing about this book, and I loved the technical illustrations that were added in between chapters. The two main characters – Joel and his friend Melody – were also really great; I found Melody a little irritating at first, but she really grew on me as the book went on, and I liked how their friendship developed, given their very different personalities and priorities… The plot, too was pretty solid, though I thought that the identity of the villain was kind of out of nowhere, and there was a little twist right at the end of the book that I didn’t appreciate… but I’ll reserve final judgement on the plot for when (/if) the sequel is released.

A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe.

With her parents determined to marry her off to the rich but odious Mr. Van Peet, Christina flees to her neighbour Oliver, a reclusive inventor whom she accidentally befriended on a walk through his garden. Feeling for her plight, Oliver agrees to marry her with the stipulation that they will divorce a year later, so she’ll be able to make a better life for herself… but as they grow closer, both Oliver and Christina begin to realise that what they really want is each other. This was a pretty cheesy story, but very cute. Both the main characters were very endearing, and I loved their interactions the whole way through – but in particular, Oliver’s surprise at Christina’s interest in his inventions, and in learning sign language (Oliver is deaf) were really touching. My main criticism is that most of the conflict in this story seems very contrived; there are a lot of villains, and they all come across as comically evil, and then go away very quickly.

The River Whale by Sita Brahmachari. [NOVELLA; Illustrated by Poonam Mistry]

Immy loves to dive, and dreams of being a marine biologist, but her big diving test has to be cancelled when a whale gets lost in the Thames, and Immy’s instructor is called on to set it free. I don’t have much to say about this one, except that it was a sweet but simple story, written in a dream-like combination of poetry and prose, and beautifully illustrated. A very atmospheric read.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal.

Zafira has a unique ability to find her way, and so has been hunting alone in the dangerous magical forest of the Arz since her father’s death, and has gained a good deal of notoriety as the Hunter. Nasir is a prince, but has been trained as an assassin his whole life, and now serves his cruel father without question. Both are sent on a quest to recover an artefact that could restore magic to their dying homeland, but although they need each other’s help to complete this quest, their goals are very different.

I liked the main characters and the story well enough, but there was a lot of wasted potential. I feel like the story would’ve been much more interesting (and character and relationship development much more compelling) if Zafira and Nasir (and perhaps Altair) hadn’t had so many random companions along for the ride. Deen’s presence in particular seemed incredibly pointless, but more characters are introduced later in the book with little purpose beyond exposition – if that, even. There were also a few dramatic reveals towards the end that were rather predictable, and I also thought it was a shame that, although the Arz kept being spoken of as this incredibly dangerous and mysterious place, we barely saw it… I was under the impression early on that Zafira was going to have to find her way all the way to the far side of the forest, but when we got to that part of the story, it was just skipped over… 😑 I’m interested enough in these characters (and to a lesser extent the story) to continue, however; I just hope that Zafira and Nasir’s relationship is fleshed out more in the sequel.

Alex Rider Undercover by Anthony Horowitz. [SHORT STORY COLLECTION]

A collection of four short stories in the Alex Rider universe, mostly featuring Yassen Gregorovich, the series’ recurring villain. In The Man with the Wrong Shoes, Alex foils an assassination attempt at his school; in Double Agent, Ash’s loyalties are tested; in Metal Head, Yassen comes sniper-scope-to-face with the man who made his childhood a misery; and in The White Carnation, a client comes to Yassen with an unusual request. Overall, this was a pretty solid batch of stories; Metal Head was the strongest (and, unsurprisingly, the longest) of the bunch, and The White Carnation was probably the weakest, but I enjoyed them all, and my desire to catch up on this series has definitely been re-kindled. 😊

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks.

Street-rat Azoth is determined to escape from his life of drudgery, and his method of choice is to convince Durzo Blint – the city’s most dangerous assassin – to take him on as an apprentice. But becoming an assassin will mean turning his back on everything in his old life, even the friends who helped him get here. I really liked the beginning of this story, and the end of it, but the middle was very confusing, with the storyline jumping all over the place, and a lot of sudden character- and relationship-developments for no apparent reason… It kind of came together in the end (and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel), but I feel like everything would’ve been a lot smoother if Weeks had either spent more time on the Azoth-growing-up chapters, or else just had one clean time-skip in the middle rather than a hundred tiny ones…
3 stars

[EDIT (13/4/2021): Changed rating of The Way of Shadows from 4 stars to 3, after further consideration.]

Review: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

The planet of Komarr has had it’s artificial sun damaged in a bizarre maybe-accident of unknown causes, and Miles Vorkosigan’s first official mission as Imperial Auditor is to find out what happened and why. But his hosts, the Vorsoisson family, have concerns of their own, and it’s not long before Miles’ irrepressible curiosity entangles him in those, as well.

I’ve read Komarr twice now, and although I really enjoyed it the first time, I definitely underrated the impression it would leave on me – and which it absolutely lived up to on re-reading. Miles’ investigation here is a fascinating one, full of twists and seeming-dead ends, and (although this isn’t a constant issue throughout the novel) Miles himself is an interesting choice of investigator; the bloody history between Komarr and Barrayar (Miles’ home planet) provides a tense backdrop to this adventure by itself, but it’s made even more so by Miles’ father’s role in suppressing the Komarran revolt…

To me, however, the best thing about this book was its characters: Miles is as magnetic as always, but the motley mix of Professor Vorthys, Nikki, Tien, and Tien’s co-workers at the Terraforming Project make for interesting interactions all around… and that’s without even mentioning Ekaterin, the most important new character in Komarr, and (in my opinion) one of the best, most in-depth characters in the whole series. Historically, I haven’t been a huge fan of Miles’ love interests (I liked Taura, but his crush on Elena was very one-sided, and Elli only ever seemed to love parts of him…), but Ekaterin became a firm favourite of mine almost as soon as she was introduced; she’s a great match for Miles, as well as an incredible character in her own right. There’s no actual romance between them in this book, but the beginnings of romantic feelings are definitely in evidence.

I also really appreciated how much of the book was told from Ekaterin’s perspective, which I felt let me get to know her a lot better (and quicker) than I have some of the other supporting characters in Miles’ stories. Her part of the storyline – focusing on her failing marriage and her concerns over her son’s health – is incredibly compelling, as emotionally complex as Miles’ investigation is technically. And I loved seeing Miles though Ekaterin’s eyes; her confusion over him, and over her reactions to him, and the gradual way she comes to understand him as their friendship grows…

The Vorkosigan Saga can technically be read in any order, but I would recommend reading at least Memory and the short story The Borders of Infinity (not to be confused with the short story collection of the same name) before checking out Komarr, just for background information on some of the things Miles talks about here.

September & October Wrap-Up

What a great two reading months! I hit a bit of a slump towards the end of October (due to a certain book that shall not be named – though you can probably figure out which one from the ratings), but am still ridiculously satisfied with how many books I managed to read, and how great they all were (on average)! 😁 I decided to combine the two months for my wrap-up simply because I had already reviewed everything I read in September, and so didn’t have anything more to say about them; in contrast, I have new things to say about pretty much everything I read in October… so here it is:

BOOKS I ALREADY REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce.

The first book in the Song of the Lioness series, in which Alanna, unwilling to accept a future where all she can expect is to find a rich husband and raise his children, disguises herself as her twin brother Thom in order to begin training to become a knight.

This book was a re-read (and not even for the first time), and so was pretty much exactly what I expected, and exactly as good as I remember it being – though I’ll admit that one of those stars is probably primarily a nostalgia star. A great story, which introduces (what will eventually become) some great characters, but incredibly rushed-feeling.

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce.

The second book in the Song of the Lioness series, which follows Alanna as she becomes a squire and begins to prepare for her Ordeal of Knighthood. This entry in the series also felt quite rushed (though not to the same extent as Alanna: The First Adventure), but improved on its predecessor with a more elaborate plot, and some great character development.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce.

The third Song of the Lioness book, in which Alanna, now Tortall’s first lady knight in centuries, spends some time among the Bazhir tribes and accidentally becomes shaman to one of them. This is probably my favourite entry in this series, and has the least pacing problems; it also tells a much more character-driven story than any of the other books, focusing on developing the Bazhir as a people, and on Alanna’s personal growth, which I loved (predictably).

Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce.

The fourth and final Song of the Lioness book, in which an old enemy rears his ugly head again, and Alanna goes on a quest for the legendary Dominion Jewel. This made for a pretty great finale, though once again, its pacing was not the greatest. Highlights of the book included: The journey through war-torn Sarain and the addition of Thayet and Buri to the cast; the alternate-perspective chapters that let us know what was going on back in Tortall; Thom finally becoming a major player; and the whole of the climax at the end of the book. Lowlights were: Liam being judgemental; Alanna being self-conscious about her love life (moreso than before); and I wish that the motivations of some of the minor villains in the series had been expanded upon.

Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The final (hopefully not forever, though! 🤞) installment in the Vorkosigan Saga, where we get ourselves a new protagonist in the form of Oliver Jole (who may have been in previous books in the series, but if so I didn’t remember him), whose life has been intertwined with Cordelia and Aral’s for some time. I had a harder time getting into this book than some of the previous ones, probably because of the new protagonist, but I grew to like Jole a lot as the story went on, and I also loved seeing how Cordelia was dealing with her upcoming retirement, as well as with the ongoing (and often alarming) Sergyar colonisation efforts.

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley.

Recalled to duty despite his leg injury, Merrick Tremayne, former East India Company smuggler, is sent off to the heavily-guarded mountains of Peru to retrieve cuttings of cinchona trees to make quinine. But once there, he finds himself holed up in a tiny colony surrounded by salt lines its people are forbidden to cross, with a priest who’s determined to keep him out of the forest – and who seems to have some connection to Merrick’s long-dead grandfather.

If this was a three-star book, then it was definitely a high three-stars. Pulley’s writing was beautiful, Merrick was a really compelling main character, and I found his struggles over how to smuggle the quinine trees out of Peru and his history with the East India Company very interesting. I could have done without the magical realism aspects of the story, which I was less interested in, and which I didn’t feel added much to the story, but they didn’t take away from it either… The real highlight of the book, however, was the relationship between Merrick and Raphael, Bedlam’s young priest, which was quiet and intense and really beautiful, and may be one of my favourite fictional relationships of the year; I’ve seen a few people tag this book as LGTB, and I can see why, though there’s nothing explicitly romantic about their feelings. But romantic or platonic, I still loved it.

Very slow-paced, and almost entirely character-driven, I wasn’t blown away by this book while I was reading it, but it’s definitely stuck with me, and every time I think about it I find myself appreciating it more. So don’t be surprised if this rating goes up at some point. 😊

The Doll that Took a Detour by Honobu Yonezawa. [SHORT STORY COLLECTION; Translated by Ex.wife]

A collection of stories from the Kotenbu universe, in which Houtarou is coerced into solving a number of small mysteries, and learns a little more about himself along the way. These were all very memorable stories, and I enjoyed them a lot despite already knowing most of the story beats (from the anime adaptation, Hyouka, which I watched a long time ago). My favourites were probably The Case of the Handmade ChocolateSappy New Year, and of course the titular story, The Doll That Took a Detour, but To Commit a Deadly Sin also contains one of my favourite moments from the whole series, ever… so all in all, I’d say this is a pretty strong collection.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

A classic novel of pettiness and unnecessary suffering, which I hated. I’ll be posting a review of this at the weekend, though, so that’s all I’m going to say here.

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black.

The third and final book in the Folk of the Air trilogy, which began with The Cruel Prince, wherein Jude returns to Faerie as a favour to her sister, and is forced to confront her foster father’s rebellion against the crown, as well as her own feelings for the High King.

I went into this book with pretty low expectations, as I’d heard less-than-stellar things about how the series wrapped up, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised! Granted, a lot of the plot developments seemed a little too convenient, and the resolution to the dramatic cliff-hanger ending of The Wicked King was rather underwhelming (and felt a little retcon-y, to be honest), but it was still such a fun book to read! Jude and Cardan’s relationship was also a lot less fraught, which made the story less tense, but pleased my shipper’s heart. 😅 So while I definitely think that this was the least good of the three books, I still enjoyed it almost as much as the other two…

 

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.]

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).
5 stars

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.
5 stars

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.]
[EDIT (22/12/2020): Changed rating of Tales from Earthsea from 4 to 5 stars after further consideration.]
[EDIT (11/11/2021): Changed rating of The Mountains of Mourning from 4 to 5 stars after rereading.]