T5W: Second = Best

Second books get a lot of criticism. If a series started out strong, then they have a lot to live up to, and sometimes they can seem like just a whole book’s worth of filler before a (hopefully) epic final novel… but I actually tend to really like them; with quite a few of my favourite series, I end up liking the second book best. 😊 So, naturally, I was thrilled to discover that this week’s Top 5 Wednesday theme was second books… Here’s my (heavily abridged) list:

5) A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This may be a bit of a cheat, since I haven’t finished the series yet, and so can’t know for sure whether A Court of Mist & Fury will be my favourite, but I couldn’t help including it here, simply because it was such a dramatic improvement over the first book… I liked A Court of Thorns & Roses, but the more I thought about it after I finished it, the more underwhelmed I felt; I was somewhat reluctant to even pick the sequel up, despite all the amazing things I’d been hearing about it… but, wow, was this book a huge step up. If you’re not sure about this series after book one, then rest assured that it’s worth it (so far🤞).

4) Lirael by Garth Nix

Nix’s Old Kingdom series is fantastic as a whole, but as much as I loved Sabriel and Touchstone in the first book, Lirael’s character arc in this book has always stuck with me. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the new storyline that Lirael began was fantastic, and she had a wonderful set of sidekicks in Sam, Nick, and the Disreputable Dog. 😋

3) Half Wild by Sally Green

Not a huge amount happens in Half Wild compared to the other two books in the trilogy, so this may be something of an odd choice, but what I really love about this book is how, with the action slowed down, there was so much character and relationship development. In particular, there was some really amazing exploration of Nathan’s relationship with his estranged father Marcus, as well as his two potential love interests, Gabriel and Annalise…

2) Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is the second book in the Graceling Realm trilogy, and seems to be a lot of people’s least favourite entry… It’s certainly very different from the other two books – it’s even set in a different world! Kind of. But although I found the transition between books quite jarring (I wasn’t even expecting the change in protagonists, and that’s the least of the changes from Graceling), I very quickly became attached to the new characters, their world, and I loved how much this book effected the other two, despite their apparent disconnect… 💕

1) The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is such an incredible series, and deserves all the praise it’s ever received and more; it’s exciting, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, beautifully written… Naturally, I love all three books in the trilogy, and the spin-off novellas, and I’m eagerly awaiting The Book of Dust. But Will’s introduction, and how our own world was pulled into this story with him, is what makes me love The Subtle Knife so much. (It also gave me what was probably my first ever OTP. Lyra & Will forever. 😭)

And an honourable mention for Street Magic by Tamora Pierce, which is one of my favourite books of all time, and also the second book in The Circle Opens quartet… which is itself a follow-up to the Circle of Magic series. I didn’t include it on the main list mostly because I tend to think of it as being a sixth book rather than a second, but this is also a series that people should definitely read! 🙏

(Also, in no particular order: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick,  Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson… and probably about a hundred more. But I’ll stop here, for the sake of all our sanity.)

[Top 5 Wednesday is run by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. To find out more or join in, check out the Goodreads group.]

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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

Mini-Review: A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas (Spoiler-Free)

Sarah J. Maas//A Court of Mist & Fury[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from A Court of Thorns & Roses, so if you haven’t started the series at all yet, beware.]

Feyre has broken the curse on the Spring Court, and is free to return to it with her lover Tamlin, the High Lord. Nothing now stands in the way of her future happiness… except for the possibility of an impending invasion… and the pesky deal she made with Rhysand, the powerful and greatly-feared High Lord of the Night Court, in order to save her own life. But her time Under the Mountain has altered Feyre both physically and mentally, and the dreams she once held so dear may turn out not to be what she truly wants any more – or needs.

What this book does well: It builds on the world of Prythian excellently; large groups of new characters are introduced, and they’re all well-developed, with their own backstories; the overarching plot of the series escalates brilliantly, and the writing (especially in the second half) does a great job creating a dramatic, tense atmosphere; and of course the romance, which comes across as much deeper and more convincing than in the first book.

What it doesn’t do so well: This seems to be something of a trend with Maas’ books, but many of the supporting characters from the previous book are just thrown by the wayside in A Court of Mist & Fury, or – even worse – altered entirely. This book also completely breaks away from the Beauty & the Beast mythos, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself (after all, the story Maas is telling seems to be a much more intricate and engrossing one than simply girl-falls-in-love-with-monster-and-makes-him-a-man), but the way that it’s done really begs the question, why even bother using Beauty & the Beast as a springboard, if you’re then going to turn around in the next book and undermine the entire message of that story? (I can’t be the only person who felt this way, right?)

(Also, the first half of the book was really slow, but that’s a minor complaint next to the other two.)

A Court of Mist & Fury is superior to A Court of Thorns & Roses – a book that I enjoyed reading (you can find my initial thoughts on it in my review), but had more issues with the longer I thought about it – in every way that I can think of. I really, really liked this book, despite my reservations over it, and I remain anxious but hopeful about A Court of Wings & Ruin, which is slated for release this spring.4 stars

Summer Haul

summer haulYou remember that book-buying ban I was on? Well, it’s failed utterly. I did fantastically in June, and in July I only bought three books (though my birthday was in July, so I also received a few as gifts 😀 ), and then in August I went completely crazy… resulting in the photo above. ^^’ On the plus side, several of these I’ve read already, so the stack of unread books on my bedroom floor hasn’t grown too much…

1) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. A birthday present from my friend Grace, who has (among others) been trying to get me to read it for a while now. And I loved it, just as everyone was sure that I would! 😀 I read this in July, so you can see what I thought of it in my wrap-up.

2) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Another birthday present, this time from my sister. A thought-provoking novel about a Dominican-American boy who has never quite managed to fit in anywhere… I read this during the Booktubeathon, so I’ve also posted a mini-review of it.

3) 1066 and All That by Walter Carruthers Sellar & Robert Julian Yeatman. A tongue-in-cheek history book that was given to me by my friend William. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m hoping to get to it soon.

4) The Spy’s Bedside Book by Graham & Hugh Greene. Also a present from William, this is a collection of short spy stories and tips, from what I’ve been able to gather. It looks like another super-fun book, so I’ll probably be picking it up reasonably soon.

5) Harry Potter & the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany. The follow-up to the Harry Potter series, in script form! I bought this the day it was released (of course), and read it almost straight away, and despite the misgivings of others, I really enjoyed it. I’m sure that the play itself will be better – and I really want to see it soon – but this was a nice traipse back into the Wizarding World. More detailed thoughts on this are in my August wrap-up.

On the Other Side - photo6) On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher. The new novel by youtuber ItsWayPastMyBedtime, which I couldn’t resist picking up after hearing the song she wrote for it. Unfortunately I wasn’t a huge fan of the story itself (again, reasons why are in my August wrap-up), but I do feel like I should take the time to point appreciate the fact that someone at Little, Brown must have put a huge amount of effort into making this book as beautiful as it is.

7) The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. The first book in Riordan’s new Percy Jackson-universe series, The Trials of Apollo. I’m not sure when I’ll actually read this, but I wanted to pick it up while it’s still available in hardback, so that it will match the rest of my Rick Riordan books…

8) The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. I bought this one solely because it showed up unexpectedly at the second-hand bookshop where I work, and I’ve been looking for a copy for ages. This is another one that I’m eager to read soon, though my eagerness is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that I have no easy access to either of the sequels. 😦

9) A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The sequel to A Court of Thorns & Roses, which I liked when I read it, but have had my reservations about since… I wasn’t initially sure whether I was going to continue this series, but so many people have told me that this book is way better than the last, so I’ve decided to give it a try. Also, it (along with the next three books I’m going to list) was buy-one-get-one-half-price at Waterstones, so I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. 😉

10) And I Darken by Kiersten White. An intriguing novelisation of the life of Vlad the Impaler, if he had been a she. This is another book that I read pretty promptly after buying, so my (long, rambling) thoughts on it are all in my August wrap-up.

11) Railhead by Philip Reeve. I’ve not actually read much of Philip Reeve’s work, but I remember really loving his Hungry City Chronicles when I was in school, so of course I couldn’t resist seeing what his most recent book was like. Spoiler: it was fantastic – and I’ve written a full review of it here!

12) Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. The first of a new duology set in the same universe as Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, which I binge-read a few years ago and loved. And much to my surprise, Six of Crows was even better – I’m really excited for the sequel! Once again, I’ve talked about this book in my August wrap-up.

13) Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle Volumes 11-20 by CLAMP. And lastly! Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle is a series I’ve been reading since it was first released in English, but I’ve always had trouble tracking down any volumes after the first 10 (except online, but I’ve never much liked buying manga online), so when the first 20 volumes all showed up at work, I took it as a sign. 😉 I’m looking forward to catching up (at least partially) on this series soon!