#ReadingRush 2019: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Tamora Pierce & the Full Cast Family]

[Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the previous books in this series, Wild Magic and Wolf-Speaker.]

Daine joins the Tortallan delegation as they head to Carthak for peace talks with Emperor Ozorne, but she’s not just there to take in the sights; Ozorne’s beloved birds have come down with a mysterious illness, and her new countrymen hope that, if she can heal them, it will help the talks to go a little smoother. Sick birds are far from the only problem in Carthak, however, and between politics, conspiracies, and angry gods, Daine will be lucky just to make it home alive.

This was a re-read, so I’m sure no-one will be shocked to hear that I love this book. When I first read it (maybe about 15 years ago) The Immortals was my least-favourite of Pierce’s series, but each re-read since has given me more to appreciate about it, and while it’s still not my absolute favourite of her works, I now consider it to be one of the very best parts of the Tortall universe. And as things currently stand with me memory-wise – I’m not super-clear on the plot of the final Immortals book – I think Emperor Mage may be the best book in this quartet. The plot is gripping, the new characters are multi-faceted and compelling, the returning characters have some great development (and face some shocking revelations), and this first foray into the Carthaki Empire paints a vivid picture of Pierce’s world beyond the borders of Tortall itself.

As regards the audiobook, which this was my first time experiencing, Pierce narrates her stories very slowly, which can be slightly jarring when compared to the speed of the actors who read for each of the characters, but after three books I’m used to it, and I do enjoy knowing that the pronunciation and emphasis is all exactly as the author intended it to be. The rest of the cast all gave fantastic performances (though I’m noticing that the badger god seems to get more and more gravelly in every book 😉).4 stars

MY READING RUSH PAGE

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: I’ve been mostly audiobook-ing things so far, as my hands have been busy with knitting, so I’m a little surprised to have already finished a book and a half – I usually take audiobooks much slower than this… Since I didn’t get around to posting my TBR for this readathon, I’ll let you know here that this book ticked off two challenges, read a book with purple on the cover, and read a book in the same spot the entire time (a nice comfy spot at the end of the sofa). The aforementioned extra half-book was Keeper of the Lost Cities, but I don’t think I’ll be officially counting it as one of my readathon books, as I was most of the way through it before the Reading Rush started. (I do have things to say about it, however, so you may be hearing more about it in the not-so-distant future.)

Books Completed: 1.5
Pages Read: 13
Hours Listened: 13:23
Challenges Completed: 2/7

[EDIT (31/7/19): Changed rating from 5 stars to 4, as I am in the process of re-assessing my ratings.]

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December Wrap-Up

Happy New Year! In the final month of 2018, I am pleased that my intense desire to read all the time remained strong (despite the shocking realisation that the single-player mode in the new Smash Bros. game is actually fun 😱), and so I managed to get through 7 manga volumes, 6 novels, 2 audiobooks, 1 novella, 1 picture book, and 1 data book! 😁 Here’s what I thought of them all:

FAVOURITE OF THE MONTH

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICK

[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, volume 1 by Hideyuki Furuhashi. [MANGA; Illustrator: Betten Court]

A spin-off series from the My Hero Academia manga, which focuses on a young man who wasn’t able to become a licensed hero due to the unsuitability of his quirk, so joins up with a group of vigilantes instead. I obviously haven’t managed to read much of this series yet, but I really like all the characters so far, and appreciate the alternative take on hero society that it offers.

Crimson Dagger by Morgan Rhodes. [NOVELLA; Available here: Part 1 / Part 2]

A prequel novella to the Falling Kingdoms series, featuring a pre-series Magnus regretting a cruelty he committed as a small child. This comes across more as fanservice than as something that’s meant to add to the series as a whole, but Kara seems like a cool character, and it would be interesting if she were to show up in one of the last two books. The other benefit of this snippet? 7-year-old Magnus, who is adorable. 💕

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith. [PICTURE BOOK; Illustrator: A.P. Quach]

A cute picture book that portrays Father Christmas as a gay black man, and talks about his life with his husband. I am of course not the target audience for this book, but I appreciated it as a challenge to the typical image of Father Christmas, and liked its underlying message that there is no wrong way to think of him – or other folk figures like him.

Crystal Storm by Morgan Rhodes.

The fifth book in the Falling Kingdoms series, about a group of characters who are in contention over the magical Kindred, which will decide the fate of the world. Super melodramatic, and oftentimes frustrating, but great fun overall. This book and the next (which I’ll talk about in a moment) are definitely the series’ high point.

My Hero Academia, volumes 1-6 by Kohei Horikoshi. [MANGA]

A series about a boy with no superpowers, in a world where almost everyone has superpowers, and his journey to become a hero. I’ve been loving the anime version of this series, and decided to pick up the manga while I’m waiting for the next season to be released. Needless to say, the story and characters are all just as charming as their anime counterparts, and I’m looking forward to reading more as soon as my book-buying ban will allow. 😅

Immortal Reign by Morgan Rhodes.

The sixth and final book in the Falling Kingdoms series. As I’ve said before, these books aren’t without their (significant) faults, but I’ve really enjoyed my time with them (and am actually kind of tempted to re-read some of the earlier books soon…). The characters have all grown so much, and I’m a little sad to be saying goodbye to them all; even Jonas, who I hated for the majority of the series, has been quite likeable in the last couple of books! 😱 And the plot, too, wrapped up in a satisfying way, though I was definitely less invested in it than in the characters.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Kathleen Gati]

The sequel to The Bear & the Nightingale, wherein Vasya, disguised as a boy, leaves home for Moscow, and becomes caught up in a hunt for a group of bandits that are raiding villages and stealing girls, but seem to leave no tracks behind. This book was just as hauntingly atmospheric as the last one, and it’s plot was engaging and suspenseful in a way that made it very difficult to stop listening. Some of the first book’s minor characters were more prominent here, and it was wonderful to be able to get to know them a bit better, along with some really interesting new characters… I’m looking forward to seeing where Vasya’s story will take her next.

The Angry Tide by Winston Graham.

The seventh book in the Poldark series, which follows the inhabitants of a Cornish mining community, mainly focusing on the titular Poldark family. Naturally, as a sequel, I don’t want to say much about the plot, but there were some developments in this one that made me very happy, as well as a few that made me very sad. The writing was as engaging as ever, and I remain incredibly emotionally invested in all the characters – even the ones I despise. As always, the emotional rollercoaster made the book somewhat draining to read, however, so I will probably be taking a(nother) break before reading the eighth one… but hopefully it won’t be too long!

Tortall: A Spy’s Guide by Tamora Pierce. [DATA BOOK; Co-authors: Julie Holderman, Timothy Liebe & Megan Messinger; Illustrator: Eva Widermann]

A companion to Pierce’s Tortall-universe novels, primarily made up of letters, journals, pamphlets, and intelligence reports (hence the title, though one of the larger sections of the book is also a more blatant guide for spies). My favourite parts were probably an interesting set of letters that led up to Lord Wyldon’s appointment as training master, Daine’s gorgeously-illustrated notes on Immortals, and an amusing homework assignment near the end, in which Thom (of Pirate’s Swoop, not Trebond) is tasked with compiling a timeline of the kings and queens of Tortall, which he does with much sass.

As regards spoilers: I’d say that the book contains fairly minor spoilers for basically all the Tortall series except for the Beka Cooper trilogy, and more significant spoilers for the Trickster’s books, The Immortals, and Protector of the Small. The very last section of the book (entitled “An Official Chronology of Tortallan Events”), is spoiler-heavy for basically the whole series.

The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Jennifer Saunders]

A short story about an elderly man who’s persuaded to hire some children in order to liven up his home for Christmas. The early part of the story that talked about Sir John’s time with his two daughters I found quite interesting, but on the whole this book was rather tedious; it’s primarily character-driven, but all the characters were either bland or annoying, and Moppet – the most prominent of the hirelings – in particular was incredibly grating, not only for her own actions, but also for how all the other characters acted around her. I wasn’t particularly taken by Jennifer Saunders’ performance, either, but it was very expressive, and I probably would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been attached to such a dull book.

 

Spring Catch-Up

Once again, I’m trying a new layout for my wrap-ups, and I’m thinking of also switching them to being seasonal rather than monthly, at least at times (like now) when I’m not reading all that much… Let me know what you think! 😊 I did post a wrap-up of my March reads, so this post has everything that I read/listened to in April and May – a total of six novels, two audiobooks, and one (very short) comic:

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

When Anxiety Attacks by Terian Koscik. A short, autobiographical comic about Koscik’s experience with anxiety, and her decision to see a therapist, along with a call for others not to feel ashamed or embarrassed to do the same, if they feel that it would help them. This was super-short, but it conveyed its message very well, and the cute artwork made it really fun to read, too. 😊
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce. One of the later books in Pierce’s Emelan series, as well as my audiobook purchase for March. This is one of my favourite books of all time; I love the story and the characters, and how the four main characters have all changed after their years of separation make for a lot of tense, emotional re-thinking of their relationship. One thing that struck me this time through was how childish Sandry was at times in comparison to the others… Of course, she is a child, so it’s not entirely surprising, but I don’t remember ever really noticing it before… The performance was also excellent: Pierce took the narrator’s role, while the characters were each played by different voice actors. I did find that the actors who played Tris and Daja had quite similar voices (for a while I even thought that they were the same person), but they differ so much in personality that it was only occasionally difficult to tell which of them was speaking.
The Four Swans by Winston Graham. The sixth book in the Poldark series, which takes place in a small Cornish mining community, and follows the titular Poldark family – though the number of protagonists has been steadily increasing as the series goes on, and characters whose names are not Poldark have been becoming much more significant to the story. Obviously since this is a sequel, I can’t say too much about the plot, but it remains very exciting. I’m very glad that Morwenna’s plight has not been forgotten, and her younger sister Rowella is also an interesting addition to the cast; while I’m definitely rooting for her, and am frequently concerned for her, I’m still not entirely sure how much I like her… 😓 Ossie continues to be super-disgusting (as I talked about in another recent post), and the feud between Ross and George takes some unexpected turns in this book, too. I can’t say I found it quite as good as The Black Moon, but it was a little less anxiety-inducing to read… the Poldark series as a whole has a tendency towards drama that is probably not good for my heart, but definitely keeps me invested! 😋
Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell. A fantasy novel set in a society where magic-users, known as Jan’Tep, rule absolutely, while the magic-less Sha’Tep live lives of subservience, regardless of their own preference. Our protagonist Kellen is the son of a prominent Jan’Tep family, but with his sixteenth birthday rapidly approaching, and his magical abilities having been growing steadily weaker all his life, he has to come up with an incredible con in order to avoid the fate of becoming a Sha’Tep. I found the premise of this book really, really interesting; the tension between the different social classes, and the very real possibility of Kellen failing his trials both lent themselves to a potentially epic storyline – but while I did think that Kellen’s personal journey was very compelling, I found that the world-building wasn’t strong enough for me to feel any investment in the story beyond its immediate effects on Kellen… Ferius (probably the most important of the supporting cast) also felt quite convieniently-forced-in-for-the-convenience-of-the-plot at times, which was disappointing, although I did like her as a character. I did enjoy the book enough to continue with the series, though it’s a shame that (in my opinion) it didn’t quite live up to its potential.
Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell. The sequel to Spellslinger, in which Kellen leaves home with Ferius, and the squirrel-cat Reichis in hopes of learning the Argosi way, but is soon caught up by a mysterious girl called Seneira, who seems to have contracted Shadowblack as a disease, despite having no magic to speak of. The beginning of this book was quite slow, but I found myself really enjoying it once the plot got going (around the time they reach the University). The new characters that were introduced were all a lot of fun, and although I’m disappointed that the new setting meant that my world-building issues from Spellslinger haven’t been fixed yet, I remain hopeful that they may be eventually, as apparently this is going to be a six-book series. Book 3, Charmcaster, is out already, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to read it sometime soon. 😊
Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce. The first book in the Circle Opens quartet, which is set in Pierce’s Emelan universe, and follows Sandry a few years after the Circle of Magic books, now with her magical qualifications, and a student of her own to teach – whether she feels ready for it or not. I’ve read this book several times before, and still love the story and characters just as much as ever. I decided to listen to it as an audiobook this time (I’m slowly making my way through the whole of Audible’s collection of Tamora Pierce books), and it definitely wasn’t a mistake; the whole cast did an excellent job. 🎶

*Not including re-reads.

March Wrap-Up

Once again, March was not a heavy-hitter in terms of the number of books I read, though it was strong on quality, with two of the three books getting five-star ratings – and one of which was a behemoth of an (audio)book that I’ve been slowly making my way through for a couple of years now. 😁 I almost finished a fourth book, too, which is quite astonishing considering how preoccupied I’ve been with Zelda for the last couple of weeks… 😅 But anyway, here’s what I thought of my March reads:

Dune by Frank Herbert. The epic tale of a boy whose family is embroiled in a bitter power struggle involving the planet Arrakis and the strange – and expensive – drug that’s produced there, known as spice. That’s a massive oversimplification, by the way, but the plot and the characters and the world that Herbert creates in Dune is far too complex to explain properly in just a sentence or two… It’s taken me about two years to finish this book, not because I wasn’t enjoying it (I was), but because until the last couple of months I just didn’t listen to audiobooks that often – but I’m so glad that I finally decided to buckle down and finish it; it’s such a great book! I loved all the characters, the story was wonderfully intriguing, and the book as a whole made such a strong impression on me that it was really easy to pick back up where I’d left off, again and again! 😊

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. The first book in a prequel series to The Immortals quartet, which tells the story of Numair’s years at the Imperial University in Carthak. Returning to this world was such a joy, and Numair’s backstory is something I’ve always been curious about, so it was really nice to learn some more about that, too. 💕 I wouldn’t say that this is one of Pierce’s strongest books, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless, and am looking forward to the rest of the series. You can find my full review here.4 stars
The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout. A contemporary novel about two teenagers, Mallory and Rider, who lived in the same abusive foster home as small children, but were separated later on… and then reunited by chance in high school, when Mallory decided to attend a public high school in an attempt to overcome her severe social anxiety. I picked this up mainly because of Armentrout’s name on the cover (her Lux series was great fun), but although I enjoyed The Problem with Forever, and it definitely had its poignant moments, I didn’t find it all that memorable. It’s solidly-written, the romance was sweet, and I feel like Armentrout did a good job of portraying the crippling severity of Mallory’s anxiety… but it’s not up to the standard of the other books of hers that I’ve read.

[EDIT (31/7/19): Changed rating of Tempests & Slaughter from 5 stars to 4, as I am in the process of re-assessing my ratings.]

Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (Spoiler-Free)

[This is a spoiler-free review, however I may allude to some events from other Tortall-based series – particularly The Immortals quartet, to which this book is a prequel.]

Numair Salmalín is one of the world of Tortall’s most powerful mages, but at the age of 11 – then a student at the Lower University of Carthak, and going by his birth name, Arram Draper – he was only just beginning to learn the magic that would help him so much in later years. Talented, but frequently in trouble with his instructors, Arram’s life is changed forever when he is befriended by the charismatic Prince Ozorne and his lovely friend Varice, now two of the University’s brightest students, but who will eventually go on to become the dreaded Emperor Mage and his head of entertainment.

This is the first book in a new trilogy called The Numair Chronicles, which acts as a prequel to the Immortals quartet by explaining the history of one of its most prominent but enigmatic characters: Numair, and focuses on events that are alluded to parts of that series, but never really explained in much detail. The nostalgia comes across very strongly in this book, with plenty of cameos from the original series, including one particularly great one that snuck up on me (the gladiator Musenda, who I had thought was a new character, but was suddenly revealed later on to be a familiar face), and although the young Arram is very different from his older counterpart, we can clearly see his character being shaped over the course of this book, from his growing doubts about remaining in Carthak, to his fascination with obscure magic that many more academic mages refuse to believe in…

That said, the story itself is quite fragmented. There’s no strong overarching plot, and there doesn’t seem to be much indication of one to come in the later books. What there is is a few strong story arcs, such as a brief murder mystery towards the end, and a couple of vaguely medical-drama-y sections, while the bulk of the novel concentrates on character and relationship development. There’s also quite a bit of political intrigue, but it’s focused on Ozorne rather than Arram, and so mostly stays in the background.

(An aside: Of these mini-arcs, I probably enjoyed the medical sections the most. My favourite Pierce books are actually the Emelan-based ones, and of those, I like Briar’s stories the best – something that I’d assumed was primarily because I like Briar. But although I do really like his character, reading this book has also driven home for me just how good Pierce is at writing engrossing historical sickroom-based stories.)

While I do hope that there will be a stronger plotline in the sequels to Tempests and Slaughter, I also found that the slow start to the series really gave me time to get to know these characters in their present incarnations, while still providing enough interesting action to keep me engaged throughout the book. After all, most readers will know how things are going to turn out for Arram before they even open the book, and the interest in reading it is seeing all the little things that lead up to that point. Perhaps there will also be one giant straw that breaks the figurative camel’s back (in the form of an overarching story), but even if there isn’t, I think that more of what Tempests and Slaughter has already offered will be enough for me to love this series. 💕4 stars

[EDIT (31/7/19): Changed rating from 5 stars to 4, as I am in the process of re-assessing my ratings.]

January & February Wrap-Up

My reading year didn’t exactly get off to a great start (at least in terms of quantity); I only managed to finish two books in January, both of which I wrote full reviews for, which is why I decided to hold off for another month on posting this wrap-up. February was a lot more promising. 😊 In total, over the last two months, I got through four excellent novels, two graphic novels, and an audiobook! (I re-started my Audible subscription, and it’s amazing! 💕 Though I’m finding it very difficult to be patient while I wait for my next credit…)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. A novel about a young woman called Rosemary, who one day came home after staying with her grandparents to find that her sister Fern was gone. The book deals mainly with how what happened with Fern affected their family over the years… This was such a fascinating story! I really wanted to write a review of it, but wasn’t sure how to go about it without spoiling a plot twist that really makes this book what it is. But even beyond the twist, this is an excellent novel; I really enjoyed Rosemary’s perspective, and her relationships with her parents and siblings, and Fern’s part in the story was heartbreaking in places. 😥 The non-linear narrative greatly increased the effectiveness of the story as well, and I had a great time trying to puzzle out everything that had happened to Rosemary’s family, while she herself danced around the subject, leaving little breadcrumbs for us to follow.Grayson Volume 1: Agents of Spyral by Tim Seeley & Tom King. The first in a DCU-based comic series, wherein Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Nightwing, a.k.a. the first Robin) is undercover in the mysterious organisation Spyral, and reporting to Batman on their activities. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this more if I were up-to-date on the Nightwing series (which I believe this is supposed to follow on from), but as it was I found the plotline pretty incoherent, the characters (including Dick) boring, and the artwork not compelling enough to make up for the book’s flaws… I was initially quite excited by the appearance of Helena Bertinelli, but sadly in the New 52, she seems to have traded in her Huntress persona to become the bland Spyral agent known as Matron. 😑 It’s a shame, because my fondness for the Robins (all of them) makes me predisposed to like their solo titles, but doubt I’ll be continuing with this one.Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce. The second book in the Immortals quartet, which is part of Pierce’s Tortall universe – wherein Daine is called upon by her old wolf friends to negotiate with the local humans on their behalf, and discovers a sinister plot against the king and queen while she’s there. The Immortals is a familiar (and beloved) story to me, but this was my first time listening to the audiobook version of it – which was excellent! The voice acting really brought all the characters to life, and although the difference in speed between Pierce’s narration and the rest of the cast’s speech took was a little jarring at first, I got used to it quickly – and (on principle) I do like it when authors narrate their own books… 😊4 stars

BOOKS I ALREADY POSTED REVIEWS FOR:

 
 

[EDIT (31/7/19): Changed rating of Wolf-Speaker from 5 stars to 4, as I am in the process of re-assessing my ratings.]

Upcoming Releases: Winter 2017-18

A lot of sequels and spin-offs seem to be coming up in December, January & February, including one that I’m absolutely desperate for by my favourite author! 😁 Winter always seems to be somewhat barren in terms of exciting new releases, but I think that these four at least, are worth paying attention to:

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 4/12/2017.]

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman (14th December)

The fourth book in the Invisible Library series, which follows a woman called Irene who travels between worlds in order to collect and preserve unusual books for her workplace, the mysterious Invisible Library. Seeing this book pop up in my feed was a massive – and wonderful – surprise, as I’d been under the impression that this series was just a trilogy! 😊 I’ll be more excited once I’m all caught up on the earlier books, but for now it’s just great to see that there’s so much more of Irene and Kai to come. Excitement level: 6/10

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu (3rd January)

The second book in the new DC Icons series, which is written by several popular YA authors and features DC’s characters as teenage superheroes… I don’t know how connected this one is going to be to its predecessor (Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer), which I haven’t read, and wasn’t planning to, but since Batman is one of my favourites, I might have to dive into this series after all… & it looks like there’ll also be a Catwoman book coming up later in the year. Excitement level: 7/10

Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton (1st February)

The third and final book in the Rebel of the Sands trilogy, which was a surprise hit with me when I picked up the first book last year… The trilogy combines the Wild West and Arabian Nights-style settings, and follows a gunslinging heroine called Amani, who in the first book escapes from the small desert town where she’s grown up, and inadvertently ends up joining a rebellion… This is another series that I’m not yet up-to-date on, though, so I’ll reserve the majority of my anticipation for after I’ve read Traitor to the ThroneExcitement level: 6/10

Tempests & Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (6th February)

And last but by no means least, Tempests & Slaughter! 😆 I feel like I must’ve waited an age for this book – it’s been listed on Pierce’s website as “in progress” for years now – but it’s finally here! This is the first in a new Tortall-universe series that will follow the adventures of Numair Salmalín (first introduced in The Immortals quartet) as a young man at  University in Carthak. I expect that seeing Numair without Daine will be somewhat strange, but I’m hoping that the lack of Daine will be made up for by Arram and Ozorne, and a lot of exploration of Carthaki society. 👍 Excitement level: 10/10