January Wrap-Up

The first month of the year is over, and I feel like I got off to quite a good start with all my reading goals! 🙂 And to make things even better, I really enjoyed everything I read – 5 novels, 1 graphic novel, and 2 short stories – with the exception of one short story (which only took up about half an hour of my life in any case 😉 ). Here’s what I thought of them all:

Laure Eve//The GracesThe Graces by Laure Eve. The first in a new series about a teenage girl called River who moves to a new town and becomes fascinated by a glamourous local family, whom the entire community believes are witches. This is ringing some Twilight-shaped bells, right? But it’s also seriously messed up, and (unlike Twilight) aware of how messed up it is, and fully embracing the sheer messed-up-ness. I posted a mini-review of this book a few weeks ago – you can find it here.4 starsIsabel Greenberg//The One Hundred Nights of HeroThe One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg. A new collection of folk-tales in comic form, told in the style of One Thousand and One Nights, with a woman called Hero telling stories night after night, in order to stave off a man who’s hoping to seduce her lover, Cherry. My particular favourite of Hero’s stories was A Very Honest Harp, which was about two sisters who were courted by the same man, to a disastrous end, but, as with Greenberg’s previous work, the whole book is made up of beautiful, haunting tales, charmingly illustrated.5 starsAmy Alward//The Potion DiariesThe Potion Diaries by Amy Alward. The first book in a series about a talented (but not “Talented”, which means something quite different) young potion-maker called Sam, who is called to join in a nation-wide race to create a cure when the kingdom’s princess accidentally doses herself with a love potion… and falls in love with her own reflection. A fun, lighthearted read, though not without its flaws. I read this book for the January Library Scavenger Hunt challenge, so my review’s already posted – you can find it here!3 stars

Rae Carson//The Bitter KingdomThe Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. The third and final book in the Fire & Thorns series, which I’ve been re-reading for the last few months. Like with Crown of Embers, my opinion of this book hasn’t changed at all upon re-reading it; it’s still a fantastic story, with wonderful characters, and really impressive character growth. In the final part of the book, I did feel a bit disorientated to be back in Brisadulce after such a long time (Elisa leaves around the mid-point of Crown of Embers and doesn’t return until close to the end of The Bitter Kingdom), but I figure that’s mostly because I really took my time with this book the second time around. Overall, definitely a series that’s worth coming back to a few times. 🙂5 starsNora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (from the Dangerous Women anthology). Holland is apparently a historical fiction author of some prolificacy and renown, but I found this short story – about Eleanor, the second daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, as a young girl – rather lackluster. The writing was engaging, and the period of history in which the story is set is an interesting one, but the story itself suffered seriously from a lack of… anything, really; a few confusing events are all presented in a great rush, and then it ends. I do think that this might have made a good prologue for a longer story, but on its own it doesn’t leave much of an impression.2 starsSarah J. Maas//A Court of Mist & FuryA Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The sequel to A Court of Thorns & Roses, which was an imaginative retelling of Beauty & the Beast involving fairy courts and a fantasy realm held hostage by a madwoman. I enjoyed this book a lot, but still had quite a few problems with it, which I won’t go into here lest this paragraph become an essay. ^^’ I’ve written a spoiler-free review, however, which you can find here.4 stars

Neil Gaiman//Odd & the Frost GiantsOdd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman. A short story written for World Book Day in 2008, in which Odin, Thor and Loki find themselves in something of a pickle, and need to rely on Odd – an improbably optimistic young boy, who’s just run away from home – to help them resolve it. An incredibly cute story, with a surprising amount of character development and depth, given its length. Definitely the best Norse mythology novel(la) I’ve read in a long time, and the perfect thing to get me out of the reading slump that I was beginning to feel coming on. 😀4 starsHonobu Yonezawa//The Kudryavka SequenceThe Kudryavka Sequence by Honobu Yonezawa. The third book in the Kotenbu series of light novels, which inspired the anime Hyouka (one of my favourites!); a mix of mystery and slice-of-life, focusing on a group of characters who are all members of their school’s Classics Club. In this book, the school’s cultural festival is disrupted by a phantom thief, who’s been taking random items from various different clubs, and leaving notes to replace them. It’s difficult to explain the appeal of this series, but I really love it, and The Kudryavka Sequence definitely lives up to the books that came before it (Hyouka and The Credit Roll of the Fool, respectively). ❤ It’s not available in English at this time, so the version I read is a fan translation from Baka-Tsuki.4 stars

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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

October Wrap-Up

Well, I’ve did a terrible job of keeping to my blog schedule in October! Don’t worry – I’m still alive! 😛 I’d like to blame work, but although things are still pretty hectic on that front (though not as bad as a few weeks ago), the actual reason for my long absence is that I’m trying to write a review for The Lumatere Chronicles, and every time I decide to work on it, my brain goes blank and my fingers freeze up. ^^’ So, writer’s block, I guess. But – review or no review – I’ll try to do better this month.

On a more positive note, I have managed to do quite a bit of reading, and most of what I’ve read lately has been really great! 😀 Here’s what I thought of them all:

Holly Black & Cassandra Clare//The Copper GauntletThe Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare. The follow-up to The Iron Trial, which I read a couple of Christmases ago. This sequel follows Call and his friends in their second year (or their Copper Year) at the Magisterium, where they’re trying to find out about a mysterious magical artefact called the Alkahest. I enjoyed The Copper Gauntlet, though I didn’t feel that it was quite able to live up to my expectations after reading The Iron Trial (which was fantastic); it just felt too rushed. The entire book seems to take place over the course of a few weeks, whereas the first book took an entire year to build up to the climax… I’m still having a lot of fun with this series, but I’m not quite as excited for the third book as I might otherwise have been.3 starsRae Carson//The Shadow CatsThe Shadow Cats by Rae Carson. A novella set in the Fire & Thorns universe, and telling the story of Alodia – Elisa’s older sister, and heir to the throne of Orovalle – on an official visit to a region on the border of the kingdom, where the locals have been being terrorised by a creature that they call Espiritu… An interesting insight into Alodia’s character, since she was a bit of a mystery in the main series, and it was odd to be reminded of where Elisa started, considering how much she’s grown by the end of the series. The story itself was good, too, though it was lacking the thing that I like most about the Fire & Thorns series – Elisa’s fully-realised self! 😉3 starsRae Carson//The Shattered MountainThe Shattered Mountain by Rae Carson. A brief but powerful look at Mara’s life just before she was introduced in Fire & Thorns, as she tries to lead a group of children to safety after her village is attacked by Inviernos. This story was incredibly intense and emotional, which is particularly remarkable when you consider how short it is. I became very attached to all the children in Mara’s group, and the one major character death that I already knew about (because it’s mentioned in the main series), was agonisingly built-up to, and then heartbreaking when it finally occurred. 😥 A must-read for anyone who liked the main series.5 starsRae Carson//The King's GuardThe King’s Guard by Rae Carson. The last of the three novellas in The Girl of Fire & Thorns Stories, which follows a teenage Hector as he begins his first year in the Royal Guard, and has to prove himself all his superior officers and his fellow recruits, who believe he’s only been allowed into the Guard because he’s friends with the new king. This story wasn’t as emotional as The Shattered Mountain, but it was much more plot-driven – and that plot was excellent! I won’t say too much about it for fear of spoilers, but it was truly shocking in places, and it sheds a really interesting light on some of the events of the main series (which I believe I may be re-reading soon, now that I have this new perspective. 😀 ).4 starsLesley Fairfield//TyrannyTyranny by Lesley Fairfield. A short graphic novel about a girl with an eating disorder. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, and again (and this seems to be becoming a disappointing trend), I wasn’t hugely impressed by it – but you can read my mini-review of the book here. 🙂2 starsAndrzej Sapkowski//The Last WishThe Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. The first book in the Witcher series, which is actually a collection of short stories – not usually the greatest way to be introduced to a new world or protagonist, but in this case it really worked; the way that the stories tied together made them read very much like a single novel (though admittedly one with several different storylines). As for the stories themselves, a couple of them were a little confusing (but still enjoyable), and all the others I really loved, especially A Grain of Truth and The Witcher. I wasn’t a huge fan of Yennefer, which surprised me, since I’ve really liked what I’ve seen of her so far in the game-verse, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see how she’s developed in the later books…4 starsRae Carson//Fire and ThornsFire & Thorns by Rae Carson. A re-read of the first book in the Fire & Thorns trilogy, which lived up to, and even surpassed my first experience of reading it. I remember finding the first part of the book quite slow before, but this time I was able to enjoy spending time with Elisa’s more naive side, since I wasn’t so impatient for the story to develop. Otherwise, my feelings haven’t changed much; this is still a brilliantly-written book, with wonderful characters and a fantastic story to tell.5 starsAndrzej Sapkowski//Sword of DestinySword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski. The second book in the Witcher series, and another short story collection, though this one was a bit more of a mixed bag; I really enjoyed the final three stories in the collection – A Little SacrificeThe Sword of Destiny, and Something More – but I found that the first half of the book dragged quite a bit… This is probably partly because the first couple of stories concentrated more on Geralt’s relationship with Yennefer, which I’m not entirely on board with (I still don’t like Yennefer much, and nor do I really like the way Geralt acts when he’s around her/moping over her). On the whole, this was an interesting collection of stories, but they didn’t flow together in the way that made The Last Wish so enjoyable, but instead felt quite disconnected from each other (with a couple of exceptions). This is obviously not entirely unexpected, but it’s one of the main reason I don’t get on that well with short stories in general – they’re just too short for me to really get invested in them! ^^’3 starsAndrzej Sapkowski//Blood of ElvesBlood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski. The third Witcher book, and the first full novel in the series, in which Geralt finds out that there are dangerous people looking for his adoptive daughter, Ciri, and sets out to find them – and to stop them, while Ciri herself begins training in magic with Yennefer. As I expected, I’m beginning to like Yennefer (and also Dandelion) more, now that she’s a more prominent character, and Ciri only got more and more wonderful as the book went on, though I would’ve liked to have seen more of her and Geralt together. The plot was a bit disjointed in places; it jumped between characters and story-threads a lot, and there was a very abrupt time-skip halfway through the book (in which Triss disappeared from the story completely, without explanation), but overall, this was a really enjoyable novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.4 stars

Books you should be reading if you love Game of Thrones!

So, the new series of Game of Thrones is finally here! No spoilers, please; I’m not up-to-date with the show at all. ^^’ I am, however, all caught up on the books, and (not-so-patiently) awaiting the next one… Waiting is hard. 😦 But I’ve got you covered! With luck, these excellent series will be enough to tide you over until The Winds of Winter is released!

Peter V. Brett//The Painted Man1) The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett. A seemingly quite traditional fantasy series, which follows a small group of protagonists living in a world that’s beset by demons which come up from the Core every night. This series only gets more complex as it goes on, however, introducing several new conflicts in the later books, and sympathetic (as well as despicable) characters on every side. This series made my heart so confused.

Mark Lawrence//Prince of Thorns2) The Broken Empire series by Mark Lawrence. If you like dark fantasy, then this series is perfect for you, as it’s one of the darkest things I’ve ever read. It follows a largely amoral prince, aiming to avenge the death of his mother and brother, and to become king, but prone to looting and pillaging, and murder and rape – a terrifying (but perfect) mix of Robb Stark and Ramsay Bolton that I wouldn’t have thought was even possible before reading this…

Rae Carson//Fire and Thorns3) The Fire & Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson. Another fantasy series, but this time following a young, insecure princess called Elisa who’s sent away from her home against her will, in order to marry the ruler of a neighbouring kingdom. The story puts a lot of emphasis on religion – as Elisa was born with something called a Godstone, which marks her for an important religious duty – and her struggle to adapt to her new home, and her responsibility towards it, but the reason I think it will appeal to Game of Thrones fans is because of Elisa’s incredible growth as a character, which was very reminiscent of Danaerys Targaryen (and, to a lesser extent, Sansa Stark) in the first couple of A Song of Ice & Fire books.

Sally Green//Half Bad4) The Half Life trilogy by Sally Green. A dark fantasy series set in a world where there are “good” White Witches and “evil” Black Witches, who live isolated from one another, and despise each other. Nathan, the main character in these books, has been raised by his mother’s White family, but is an outcast in White society, as his father is one of the most notorious Black Witches around. I’m kind of obsessed with this series at the moment, but the main reason I’m adding it to this list is that Sally Green is not at all afraid to make her characters suffer.

5) Philippa Gregory//The White QueenThe Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory. This last recommendation is blind, as I haven’t read the books… I have seen the BBC adaptation of the first book, which was really well done (and made me feel a lot of the same things as Game of Thrones). But I’m mainly recommending this series – which is a novelisation of the War of the Roses – is because this time period was a major inspiration for the events in A Song of Ice & Fire.

[An aside: You know how, since Game of Thrones became popular, almost every fantasy book that’s come out has had the tagline “Perfect for fans of Game of Thrones!”, or words to that effect? And then they all turn out to be nothing like it, or only like it in some incredibly superficial way? (I’m looking at you, Falling Kingdoms.) I can’t be the only person bothered by this, right? :/ Well anyway, I hope I’ve done a little better in that respect.]

Thematic Recs: Religion

Religion’s not a topic that you often see covered in children’s fiction – I suspect because it can be quite controversial – but I’ve noticed that when authors do decide to touch on in, they tend to do it very well (so long as they can avoid being over-preachy). I’ve not read too many religious books, but here are a few that stood out to me:

Annabel Pitcher//My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece1) My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher. This story follows a young boy whose sister died in a terrorist bombing in London, after which his family fell apart. Now living with his increasingly intolerant father, Jamie struggles over the Christian command to honour one’s father and mother, in the face of his growing friendship with a muslim girl at his new school.

David Almond//The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean2) The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond. This post-apocalyptic novel focuses on the secret, illegitimate son of a priest, who’s lived in seclusion all his life. Billy’s perspective (and spelling!) can be a little confusing at times, but the story is both powerful and chilling, and the religious aspects of it are incredibly well thought out.

Rae Carson//Fire and Thorns3) The Fire & Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson. A high fantasy series about a young princess who was born with something called a “godstone” embedded in her belly, indicating that she would have an important duty to perform for God. The actual religions portrayed in this are fictional, but the attitudes towards them and the conflicts that arise between them ring true.

E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski//How to Be Bad4) How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski. For the most part, a fun contemporary novel about three friends on a road trip. One of the girls (Jesse, whose character was written by Lauren Myracle), however, is deeply religious, and often wonders if the troubles that she and her family are facing are some kind of divine punishment for her sins.

Philip Pullman//Northern Lights5) The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Last up, I’ve picked out a much darker take on religion for you. His Dark Materials follows a girl called Lyra, who leaves her home in Oxford for the Arctic Circle in pursuit of a missing friend. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like it has much to do with religion at all, but the Church plays a huge (antagonistic) part in the story, and there’s a lot of allegorical allusions as well, particularly as the series goes on.

♡ 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