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.

 

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

The final LSH challenge of 2018 was to read a book with a lamp on the cover, and although I had a backup pick in the form of The Bedlam Stacks, in case my reservation didn’t arrive in good enough time, I knew pretty quickly what my first-choice book was going to be, as I’ve been wanting to read more from this author for a while now. And as luck would have it, my library came through for me again this month, so I’ve spent the last week or so reading (and pondering)…

THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES
Yuri Herrera
(translated by Lisa Dillman)

An epidemic is spreading across the city, and a young man and woman have died, but whether it’s by chance or design is up to the Redeemer to discover – and his also is the faint (and growing fainter) opportunity to keep their feuding families from all-out war.

My decision to pick up The Transmigration of Bodies was based primarily on my previous enjoyment of Signs Preceding the End of the World; it’s a very short book, with a heavy focus on crime, and none of these are things that I would usually gravitate towards, but I was drawn in by my appreciation for Herrera’s writing (and further reassured to see that Transmigration and Signs also share a translator)… And although I didn’t like this book as much as Signs, I’m glad to have read it.

As I almost expected, I didn’t really like a lot of the characters. The Redeemer – our protagonist – grew on me after a while, but I particularly disliked our introduction to him, where he comes across as an old man perving over his young neighbour (though in fact I don’t think we’re ever told how old he actually is), and most of the other characters came in and out of the story very quickly, which is to be expected from a novel this length, but disappointing nevertheless, as some of them seemed quite interesting. (The sister of one of the two deceased, known only as the Unruly, was my favourite.)

That said, what I was hoping to get out of Transmigration was not pure enjoyment, so much as a thought-provoking reading experience, and that was something that Herrera delivered in spades; he’s an absolute master of making a huge impact in a tiny amount of space. In this case, the story’s dark premise allowed for some really interesting discourse on violence and its consequences, and the eerie emptiness of the unnamed, plague-ridden city makes for an excellent backdrop, and was a huge highlight of the book for me.

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

Thematic Recs: Short Stories & Novellas

The end of the year is coming up quickly now, and I’m sure that many people – like me – are seriously behind on their overambitious Goodreads reading challenges. But fear not! I’m here to help, with some recommendations for really short, but still fantastic books for you to read! 😉 Obviously, not finishing your Goodreads (or equivalent) challenge isn’t the worst thing that could happen in a year (and I know I won’t finish mine, even if I read nothing but short stories from now until New Year), but seeing that shiny “COMPLETED” label always gives me a small sense of achievement. 😀

Yuri Herrera//Signs Preceding the End of the World1) Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. This most recent novella that I read is a thought-provoking story about a young woman crossing the border illegally from Mexico to the US in order to find her brother, an illegal immigrant, and pass on a message from their mother. Despite its length, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a while, and because I picked it up as part of the Library Scavenger Hunt, I’ve also posted a review – you can find it here. 🙂

Brandon Sanderson//Perfect State2) Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson. The tale of a man who has become the God-Emperor of his people, but is forced by the mysterious Wode to choose a partner and procreate. The woman he ends up choosing is at the very bottom of his compatibility list – a women’s rights activist – and the personality clash when they meet makes for a fascinating read. Additionally, this is another story that I’ve reviewed, as I read it during Booktubeathon this summer.

Rainbow Rowell//Kindred Spirits3) Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. A World Book Day 2016 story about a small group of strangers waiting in the overnight queue to see Star Wars on its release day. It’s simultaneously adorable and hilarious, and I only wish there was some way that I could read more about these characters. 😀

Ursula K. Le Guin//A Fisherman of the Inland Sea4) Another Story OR A Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Rather on the longer side for a short story, this tale blends science, mythology and emotional drama in a way that pulled at all my heartstrings, and tells the story of a young man leaving for university on a planet far away from his own, and the difficulties he faces in keeping in touch over such long distances. I don’t think that this book is available on its own, but it can be found in both Le Guin’s A Fisherman of the Inland Sea anthology, as well as the massive time-travel compilation, The Time-Traveller’s Almanac (volume 1, for the curious). It’s also part of the Hainish Cycle, but it can be read individually.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry//The Little Prince5) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Last but by no means least is The Little Prince, a novella that I’m sure you’ve all at least heard of about a pilot who crash lands in the desert, and there meets a little boy who claims to have come from an asteroid. Beautiful, poignant and touching, this story is known as a classic for a very good reason, and I only appreciate it more every time I re-read it. As a side-note, I watched the film adaptation of this recently, and it’s also fantastic; you should definitely check it out if you have access to a Netflix account.

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: November

This month’s Library Scavenger Hunt challenge was to read a book in translation, and I knew immediately what I was going to look for. 🙂 A couple of years back I managed to find the time to attend the Oxford Literary Festival, and in their massive ticket office/bookshop, there was a table of & Other Stories (a small company that translates and publishes literary novels from around the world) books on three-for-two. Naturally, there ended up being four books I was interested in, and I had to leave one behind – but I’ve been wanting to read it ever since, and this challenge was the perfect opportunity! It was…

SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD
Yuri Herrera

Yuri Herrera//Signs Preceding the End of the WorldSigns Preceding the End of the World is a short but powerful novel about a young Mexican woman, Makina, who crosses the border to the US illegally in order to deliver a message from her mother to her brother, who crossed several years earlier on what seemed to Makina to be a fool’s errand, and never returned home.

For being so short, this book packs a surprising amount of punch: the characters are well-developed and relatable, the plot – though quite simple in structure – is interesting, and there’s enough meditation on the nature of borders and crossings (not only physical ones, like the border between countries, but also the barriers that people create in their heads) to be thought-provoking, but not so much that it makes the book drag. The writing is also really beautiful, full of unusual but striking imagery; I can’t speak for Herrera’s writing directly, as I don’t speak Spanish, but Lisa Dillman’s translation was wonderful to read.

The story has something of a lonely feel to it, but there are some heartwarming moments mixed in as well – I particularly enjoyed Makina’s eventual reunion with her brother – and all in all, I found this book really enjoyable.

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