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

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! ❄️

*Not including re-reads.

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Review: Black Light Express by Philip Reeve (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the first book in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of Railhead.]

Zen and Nova have escaped from the Network Empire aboard the Damask Rose, and must now make a new life for themselves in an entirely new world, unknown to humans, but far from uninhabited. Meanwhile, Threnody – now Empress – releases the criminal Chandni Hansa from her frozen prison, in hopes of learning more about the plot that resulted in her father’s death.

Black Light Express has something of the middle-book-syndrome about it; it started off very strong, and the final section was fantastic, but the entire middle of the book was spent on travelling the Web of Worlds, which – as a new system, with loads of new species and cultures to encounter – ought to have been really exciting, but was actually mostly quite dull. Nothing really happened for the majority of the time that the characters spent there, and Zen and Nova seemed barely to even interact with any of the Web’s people… The Kraitt, who served as the only real antagonists during this arc, were at least decently worrying villains, but showed up kind of out of the blue near the end of the arc, and then disappeared just as quickly. I expect that they will return in the next book, but their introduction here was somewhat lacking.

What I did really like about the Web of Worlds was the alternative perspective that it provided on the history and mythology of the Network Empire, as the Web’s own stories fit together with the Empire’s to present an interesting picture of what is presumably the true history of both systems. Towards the end of the book, we already begin to see some game-changing revelations, but there is still presumably much more to come!

The slow pacing of this part of the book also allowed for excellent relationship development for Nova and Zen. The challenges of a romance between a human and a Motorik were not glossed over at all, and I really enjoyed their struggle to figure out how it should proceed, and whether it was important enough to them to work through their wildly different goals in life…

The end of the book was amazingly action-packed (and will hopefully set the tone for the series’ conclusion), but so too were the early parts of the book set in the Empire. Threnody has become one of my favourite characters, and Chandni makes an excellent addition to the cast. I yo-yoed back and forth a lot over whether I liked Chandni, but came down more often on the side of liking her than not, and her practical cynicism made an excellent foil for Threnody’s more naïve, privileged worldview. (Their tentative friendship was one of my favourite things about this book.) We also got a small part of the book from the perspective of Threnody’s ex-fiancé Kobi Chen-Tulsi, which was interesting despite its brevity, and contained a great deal of the kind of political manoeuvring that I most enjoy in fictional high societies.

It was really difficult to give this book three stars – even reminding myself constantly that three stars is not a bad rating – since I loved Railhead so much, but in truth, much of Black Light Express seemed very filler-y… It does do an excellent job of setting things up for the next book, however, and Station Zero looks like it’s going to be incredibly exciting. I get the impression that Black Light Express is a book that I’ll probably appreciate more on re-reading once I’ve finished the series, and am able to see more of what this has all been building up to.

Upcoming Releases: Summer 2017

In a miraculous turn of events, it’s actually been sunny here for the last few days – which is wonderful when you have the day off, but not so wonderful when you’re trapped inside all day… 😓 I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the good weather will stick around for a few more days, but if it doesn’t, then at least I’ve got some exciting new books to look forward to! Here are just a sample of the new releases I’m most eager to see in June, July & August:

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 27/05/2017.]

   

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone, House editions by J.K. Rowling (1st June)

It feels like Harry Potter has been a part of my life for way more than 20 years, but the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone is imminent, and to celebrate, Bloomsbury are releasing brand-new editions of the first book in all four house colours! I’m not entirely certain if I’ll be picking one of these up (my heart is saying yes, but my self-control is saying no; I’m not yet sure which will win out), but don’t they look amazing? And they’re doing paperbacks, too! You can find the full range here.
Excitement level: 10/10

Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz (1st June)

A follow-up to the Alex Rider series, in which Alex moves to San Francisco to recover from the loss of his best friend and guardian at the end of Scorpia Rising, only to come across a suspicious email that seems to indicate that she may be alive after all. A co-worker of mine mentioned to me last week that this book was a thing, and it was a huge bombshell! I never expected to have more Alex Rider in my life, but it’s a welcome surprise! 😆 Excitement level: 9/10

The Rise & Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland (15th June)

A time-travel adventure set in both 19th century London and 21st century America, and involving a group of agents who are tasked with travelling back in time in order to prevent the disappearance of magic. I’ve never read anything by Neal Stephenson before (or even heard of Nicole Galland), but I’ve heard really amazing things about his work, and this story looks like a super-fun place to start. 😊 Excitement level: 7/10

Now I Rise by Kiersten White (6th July)

The sequel to And I Darken, which retells the life of Vlad the Impaler and his brother Radu, had Vlad been born a girl – Lada – instead… And I Darken was an unexpected favourite of mine last year, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating Now I Rise ever since I finished its predecessor. It hasn’t been too long a wait, but it certainly felt like one. Excitement level: 9/10

Also out soon in paperback:

  • A Closed & Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (15th July)
    Excitement level: 8/10
  • Black Light Express by Philip Reeve (1st August)
    Excitement level: 8/10