Autumn Catch-Up

Almost immediately after implementing this new format, I am forced to re-think it again, as, with my reading slump now completely over, this post will be a mammoth one! 😅 (Perhaps flexibility is the key…) In any case, I read a great deal over the autumn months, and was mostly in the mood for fantasy, but with bits and pieces of quite a few other things mixed in, too! All in all, I managed to get through: 18 novels, 1 short story, 1 comic, 7 manga volumes, 2 pieces of non-fiction, and 5 audiobooks…

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

ursula le guin//the tombs of atuan

SEPTEMBER

[REVIEW]

OCTOBER

[REVIEW]

NOVEMBER

[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[SERIES REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

The Girl in the Mirror by Lev Grossman. [SHORT STORY; Anthology: Dangerous Women]

A quick tale from the world of The Magicians, that makes me almost tempted to read the main series… Undergraduate Plum and her friends in the League play an elaborate prank on the college’s student wine steward – who has been short-pouring the wine at dinner – only for it to take a rather unsettling turn just before its completion. What I’d heard about this series makes me think I probably won’t like it, but I enjoyed this short story a surprising amount. I didn’t like Plum all that much, and even felt a little sorry for her chosen victim, Wharton, but the way that the prank played out was great fun (for the reader, though not the participants 😉).

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Jenna Lamia]

The story of a white girl called Lily who runs away from her abusive father, and sets out – dragging along her nanny and best friend Rosaleen, in trouble with a dangerous group of racists after spitting on a white man’s shoes – in search of information about her mother, who died when she was a toddler. I had a hard time getting into this story, but once I got through the first section of the book I was hooked. Lily was probably the weakest of the main cast (though I still liked her a lot by the time the book ended), but the relationships she formed with the people who helped her on her search were incredibly compelling. She and Rosaleen had their ups and downs, but their love for one another was always very obvious, and the bond that grew between Lily and the Calendar Sisters (and August in particular) was wonderful. Lamia’s narration was also beautifully done; I don’t know if I would’ve liked this book half so much if not for her excellent performance.

I Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton. [COMIC]

A collection of short comics about a very silly, very cute cat (with whom I’m sure we are all familiar). I actually bought this to give to a friend who really loves Pusheen, and hadn’t intended to do more than flip through it myself, but as is often the case with episodic cartoons like this, a quick flip-through turned into an entire read-through without much input from me. (It was still pretty quick, though. 😋)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin.

The first book of the Earthsea Cycle, which tells the story of the early years of the wizard Ged, who, as a boy, and out of pride, summons a terrible shadow that stalks him throughout the rest of his childhood – and which he must hunt in turn once he is a fully fledged wizard. I stalled halfway through reading this book about ten years ago, and have been meaning to get back to it ever since, but somehow it was never a priority. But I’m really glad to have finally been able to experience the beginning of this amazing series! 😁 It’s a very character-driven story, with slow pacing and an often a somewhat lonely tone, and a vast world, saturated with magic.

Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras (a.k.a. Mary Kirby). [Illustrators: Stefano Martino, Álvaro Sarraseca, Andrés Ponce & German Ponce]

A short tale from the world of the Dragon Age video games, as told by Varric – a companion character from both Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition – who is one of Thedas’ most popular authors. The majority of this book exists in-game in the form of unlockable codex entries (of which I had already read a few), but it was really lovely to read them all together, with some wonderful accompanying illustrations. The story itself – a murder mystery – is nothing particularly special, but the real charm of Hard in Hightown is all the familiar locations and characters that are scattered throughout the book, as Varric’s penchant for modelling his characters after his friends is greatly in evidence. 😊

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin.

The second Earthsea book, which is told from the perspective of Tenar, the young priestess of the Nameless Ones, who wield a dark power in the sacred tombs beneath her island home of Atuan. I think I may have enjoyed this book even more than A Wizard of Earthsea! The new perspective was unexpected (and I was surprised by how long it took for Ged to appear in the story), but I liked Tenar a lot, and her small world above and below the island were fascinating.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The sequel (and conclusion) to Strange the Dreamer, in which Lazlo Strange and his companions come face to face with the horrors of Weep’s past, and begin to uncover the reasons behind them. Since this is a sequel, I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but I had somewhat mixed feelings about it; while I loved all the backstory and worldbuilding in this book, and felt that the story wrapped up in an interesting way, I wasn’t as blown away by it as I hoped to be… Given that my expectations were sky-high, perhaps that isn’t saying much, but I found the book a bit too romance-driven (even though the romances were all ones I liked), and thought that the consequences of the dramatic – and potentially game-changing – twist at the end of Strange the Dreamer were avoided more than addressed… But regardless, I still think this was a fantastic series, and my interest in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy (which I think this one is peripherally connected to?! Though I could be mistaken about that!) has definitely been re-invigorated.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.

A love story between two ghosts who are only able to meet by possessing the bodies of two teenagers. I didn’t have high expectations for this book, but was pleasantly surprised by it! It wasn’t particularly scary, but the spooky atmosphere was excellent, and I loved how the characters were caught between their desire to be together, and the dubious morality of their actions. I believe that the sequel is about the two teenagers whose bodies they were inhabiting, which sounds interesting, and I hope to read that at some point, too.

The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin. [Illustrator: Charles Vess]

The third book in the Earthsea Cycle, where Ged – now Archmage – is called away from Roke by a young prince who visits the island, bringing news that magic is fading from the world. As the majority of this story was spent travelling, it covered a lot of places in Earthsea that I hadn’t seen before, and which it was very interesting to visit, and I also really liked Ged’s new companion in this book, Prince Arren, and the bond that grew between them… Of the three books I’ve read so far, I found this the least-compelling, but that’s not much of a criticism! 😅 Having just begun reading from my new illustrated edition, I wish that there had been more pictures, but that only speaks to the quality of Vess’ artwork.

Secret Vampire by L.J. Smith.

The first book in the Night World series follows a human girl called Poppy who is secretly in love with her best friend – who is, unbeknownst to her, a vampire, and possibly also her soulmate. This is probably one of the weakest stories from this series, as it’s almost entirely romance-driven, and neither of the two lead characters are particularly compelling, but it’s quite short, and I some of the secondary characters are interesting (meaning Ash, and Poppy’s brother Phil).

Daughters of Darkness by L.J. Smith.

The second Night World book, in which the three Redfern sisters run away from their vampire family in search of a little freedom, and find themselves living next door to an inconveniently observant human girl, who suspects they may be killers. In contrast to Secret Vampire, this is one of the best entries in the series. I really liked all three of the Redferns, and Mary-Lynnette, their neighbour, was a great protagonist, although the length of these books doesn’t really lend itself to a great deal of character development. I appreciated, too, that the focus of this story was on the murder mystery, rather than pure romance – though the romantic aspects of the book were also very well done.

Spellbinder by L.J. Smith.

The third in the same series, which is about two teenage witches who find themselves in competition over a mortal boy, and throwing around spells that are quickly growing beyond their control. This was another promising entry in the series, and I enjoyed the focus on Blaise and Thea’s friendship, despite their wildly different values. I liked Eric a lot, too, and his growing romance with Thea was very sweet.

Dogs, volumes 0-6 by Shirow Miwa. [MANGA]

A dystopian series about a group of characters who are all searching for a way into the Below, their home city’s sinister underground. I had previously read the first three volumes of (and prequel to) this series, but decided to give them a (much needed) re-read before continuing on, as it’d been such a long time. And I find myself (for a second time) intrigued by the story and characters, and wowed by the beautiful art, but wishing the series was a bit less violent, as much of it seems unnecessary, and the action scenes are sometimes quite hard to follow. I’m also a little worried that, with Heine’s backstory now explained, the most interesting part of the plot may be over – despite the tease at the end of volume 6 of a new, powerful enemy for the team…

Frozen Tides by Morgan Rhodes.

The fourth book in the Falling Kingdoms series, which follows a group of young protagonists, each of whom is trying to get their hands on the four Kindred – a set of stones with powerful magical abilities – for reasons of their own. The plot is definitely escalating dramatically in this new entry in the series, and I like where a lot of the relationships are going. Princess Amara of Kraeshia also joins the main cast in this book, and I’m not sure how I feel about her as a character yet, but she certainly adds an interesting new perspective on this world… And I still hate Jonas – I will probably always hate Jonas – but he does seem to be getting at least a little less insufferable as the series goes on. I tend to talk quite negatively about this series, but I do kind of love it. It’s not great literature by any definition, but it’s super-fun, and I’m really looking forward to reading the last two books. 😁

The Rights of Man by H.G. Wells.

A new edition of Wells’ manifesto on human rights, introduced with an essay by Ali Smith. The beginning of the book is primarily made up of a proposed bill of rights, which is rather dry when read in its entirety (despite the importance of its contents), but I found Wells’ discussion of each clause interesting, and considerably more engaging. This is definitely not the most extensive thing ever written on human rights, but it provides a good introduction for those interested in the topic.

The Secret Crusade by Oliver Bowden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Gunnar Cauthery]

A novelisation of the first Assassin’s Creed video game (with some elements from later games which explain why it’s the third in the novel series, and not the first), which tells the tale of Altaïr Ibn La-Ahad, the youngest ever Master Assassin, who’s stripped of his rank after a series of horrific misjudgements on an assignment put the whole of the Order of Assassins in danger. I was hoping that this book would fill in some of the gaps that were left in the game’s storyline (which jumps around a lot in terms of times and locations), particularly in regards to Altaïr’s relationship with Malik. But while it did offer a lot of extra content – including extra backstory for Altaïr, an explanation of his enmity with Abbas, and a continuation of the main story which really fleshes out his relationship with Maria – Bowden didn’t elaborate much on the retelling of the game itself, which is a shame.

The Bear & the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Kathleen Gati]

The enchanting first book in a fantasy trilogy inspired by Russian folklore, which follows a young girl with a hint of magic, who becomes caught in an unending battle between the gods of life and death. Vasya was a really wonderful lead character, and the haunting, wintery wilderness of northern Russia – full of magic and spirits – was as much a character as a backdrop to the story. The slow pacing may be a little off-putting for some people, and the start of the book is a little confusing (since a lot of the characters are introduced all at once), but needless to say, I loved it! I’m already nearly done with the second book in this series, and can’t wait for the third! ❄️4 stars

*Not including re-reads.

[EDIT (23/12/18): Decreased rating for The Bear & the Nightingale from 5 to 4 stars after further consideration, and replaced it with The Tombs of Atuan in my “favourite of the season” slot. My feelings on the book haven’t changed, just my assessment of those feelings… if that makes any sense. 🤔]

#FallIntoFantasy: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.

Zacharias Wythe hasn’t been Britain’s Sorcerer Royal for long, but he’s already close to buried in problems: The dangerously dwindling supply of magic in the country, the government pushing for him to involve himself in foreign affairs, and the Society of Unnatural Philosophers itself ready to revolt over having a black man as their leader. And the sudden entry of Miss Prunella Gentleman – prodigiously talented, despite her lack of training – into his life brings a whole new set of problems… but perhaps a few solutions, too.

Zacharias and Prunella are incredible protagonists; both charismatic and compelling, both talented magicians, both somewhat tenuous in their positions, and with completely distinct voices. I was drawn first to Zacharias’ dogged desire to do the right thing – whether he’s considering the good of British magic, or how to best honour his predecessor’s memory – but Prunella was quick to win me over with her ambition and nerve. She’s quick to see how to get her way, and won’t hesitate to manipulate good-natured sorcerers like Zacharias, if that’s what it takes. 😋 The relationship that builds between the two of them is lively and unpredictable, and frequently hilarious.

I also really enjoyed Zacharias’ heartwarming relationships with his guardians (particularly the wonderful Lady Wythe, who is his greatest supporter), as well as Prunella’s conflicted feelings for Mrs. Daubeney, to whom she was something in between a daughter and a servant. And their London friends – and enemies – were a brilliantly colourful lot (but the practical Damerell and the charming Rollo were my favourites).

The plot, too, is a delightful whirl of intrigue and backstabbing, social reform, magical experimentation and learning, and near-death experiences, all while somehow managing to retain its coherency. And with so many different threads of storyline going at once, I thought a few of them might get lost or be neglected, but instead they all came together, not neatly, but in a wonderfully chaotic manner.

I picked this up hoping that it would be somewhat like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, only more readable, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Conceptually, the two books are similar – as is obvious just from the synopses – but Cho’s novel is considerably shorter, much more immediately engaging (in terms of both story and characters), and has no less rich a world. And I say this as someone who enjoyed Clarke’s novel immensely (eventually), despite my struggles with it. Certainly, more time could have been spent exploring Fairyland, or the vampire-infested Janda Baik, but it seems likely that these will be expanded upon in the sequel, The True Queen, and for now I am content to wait for its 2019 release.4 stars

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Done for today, but excited to spend the whole of tomorrow reading The Dark Prophecy, since I have the day off work. 😊

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 371
Challenges Completed: 4/8

[EDIT (23/12/18): Changed rating from 5 to 4 stars after further consideration.]

#FallIntoFantasy Readathon | TBR

With autumn soon coming to an end, Penguin is launching the aptly-named Fall Into Fantasy readathon, which will run from 18th-25th November, and challenges us to read at least four fantasy novels over the course of the week. There are more specific challenges as well, of course (which I’ve used to tailor my reading list), as well as a FallintoFantasy_Challenges_InstaFB-1024x1024collection of official buddy reads (which I haven’t; some of the books do look interesting, I just don’t have any of them…), all of which can be found on Penguin’s site (linked above), and in the infographic to the right. 👉

And a second readathon will also be going on at the same time: The Tome Topple readathon, which is all about reading big books – 500 pages or more – will be on from 16th-29th November. And since fantasy books tend to be more chunky than not, I think these readathons go together perfectly! 🎶 I won’t be jumping into this one from the start, as I have a couple of shorter things I want to finish off before I get carried away to fantasyland, but if I’m still in as much of a reading mood after #FallIntoFantasy as I am now, I’ll definitely be picking up a(nother?) tome to finish before the 29th. 😊

Here’s what I’ll (probably) be reading:

1) Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. The first book in the Sorcerer Royal series, which tells the story of Zacharias Wythe, former slave and distinguished sorcerer, who sets out on a journey to Fairyland in order to find out why magic seems to be running out. I’ve been getting serious Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell vibes from this book since I first heard of it, but I’m hoping that it will be a little more accessable, by virtue of being about a quarter of the length. 😋 This book will tick off challenges #1 (a new series), #2 (been on my TBR too long) and #4 (a diverse fantasy).

2) The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. The second book in Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series, which takes place in the same universe as the Percy Jackson books, but follows the god Apollo, who is transformed into a human teenager as punishment for annoying his father – the king of the Greek gods, Zeus – one too many times. Apollo is canonically bisexual, so this is (shockingly) the only fantasy I own (and haven’t read yet) that could possibly satisfy challenge #3 (and LGBTQ fantasy), but it will also do for #7 (a sequel), and is another contender for challenge #2 – though, to be honest, I could say the same for pretty much any of these… 😅

3) A Court of Wings & Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. The third book in the A Court of Thorns & Roses series, and the conclusion to Feyre’s storyline, I believe. I’ve been somewhat nervous about picking up any of Maas’ books since reading Queen of Shadows, so this has been lingering on my TBR for a while, but I am cautiously optimistic about it, as I really enjoyed the last book in this series… 🤞 This book will fulfil challenges #2, #7, and #8 (Booktube recommended).

4) The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green. Last but by no means least is the first in a new series by one of my favourite new authors of the last few years! I don’t know much about the story of this one, but I do know that it’s a high fantasy (as opposed to Green’s previous urban fantasy trilogy), follows four different protagonists, and was released earlier this year – thereby completing the last two challenges, #5 (multiple POVs) and #6 (a new fantasy). 🎉

A Court of Wings & Ruin will also count for the Tome Topple readathon, as it’s well over 500 pages, and although The Smoke Thieves isn’t, I’m still going to include it, as 494 pages is awfully close… Some of the other tomes that I might pick up when my fantasy sprint is over are: The Angry Tide by Winston Graham or Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, both of which I’ve already started on, but still have well over 500 pages to go, or perhaps Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – something I’ve been meaning to read for years now… 😓

February – April Haul

Good news, everyone: My book-buying ban (/restriction) is going super-well! So I only have five new books to show you even though it’s been three months since my last haul (one of which was a gift, so I’ve only actually bought four). 😀 They are:

1) Starfall by Melissa Landers. The sequel to Starflight (and final book in the duology), an epic space-pirate adventure that I read around this time last year. This book will focus on two of my favourite supporting characters – Cassie and Kane – from its predecessor, and will hopefully be just as amazing (if not more so).

2) Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer. A re-telling of Pride & Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective, which I picked up on a whim in March, and read pretty much immediately. I wasn’t expecting much more than a few hours of fun from this book, but it actually turned out to be surprisingly well-written, as well. 🙂 (I doubt I’ll be holding onto it for long, though.)

3) The Tower of the Swallow by Andrzej Sapkowski. The penultimate book in the Witcher series, which I’ve been obsessing over since late last year – and definitely one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I’m dying to know what happens next, but am also resolved not to read The Lady of the Lake until it’s available in paperback… so this year is looking to be a particularly suspenseful one in Witcher-land. 😉

4) The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. A standalone novel that follows a girl called Cat Novak through her life, and in particular her unusual relationship with Finn, an android whom her father programmed to act as her tutor when she was young. This is a book that I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, but it turned out to be not at all what I was expecting – in the best possible sense. 🙂 I’ve written a proper review of this book, which you can find here. (And many thanks to my aunt, Lucy, who gave me this book as a belated Christmas present!)

5) Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. This last book I just bought a couple of days ago, and I don’t actually know all that much about it, but the blurb sounded rather Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell-y in premise (a court sorcerer who travels to Fairyland in order to find out why magic has started to disappear)… though of course Sorcerer to the Crown is considerably less dense (as is the case with most books). It’s the first book in the new Sorcerer Royal series, and I’m looking forward to reading it soon!