December Wrap-Up

My first post of 2016! (Though I’ll probably still be talking about last year – and isn’t that odd to say? – for a little while longer.) I read nine books in December, which wasn’t my best reading month in 2015, but what it lacked in quantity, it definitely made up for in quality! 😀 And my reading was also pretty sci-fi-heavy, which isn’t something that’s ever happened to me before… But anyway, on to the books:

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//IlluminaeIlluminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. A sci-fi thriller that follows two teenagers who – after being evacuated from an illegal mining planet that was under attack – are attempting to reach safety with a group of damaged ships, and pursued by their attackers, whose ship is in significantly better shape than theirs. Interestingly, this story is told almost entirely in the form of data files and IM transcripts, and the such, which I was initially worried that I would find off-putting, but somehow it didn’t make me feel distant from the characters at all (and actually, since the files had personal details of everyone on board, I think it actually made the characters seem more real to me, not less). In terms of the story itself, it was fantastic, and tense, and full of surprises, and incredibly powerfully written. I would definitely recommend this, even for people like me who aren’t generally fans of sci-fi.5+ starsChristine Pope//Blood Will TellBlood Will Tell by Christine Pope. The second book in the Gaian Consortium series, which follows the hacker Miala Fels, who’s in the middle of trying to break into the bank accounts of her father’s murderer (the crime lord Mast), when he and his entire gang are killed in a shoot-out – except for the mercenary Eryk Thorn, who Miala saves in exchange for his help getting off-planet. I’ve always found Christine Pope’s writing rather hit-or-miss, but this is definitely one of the better ones! I really loved both Miala and Thorn, and their relationship dynamic was great. The plot was also pretty fun (especially in the first half of the book), though nothing special in itself – the romance is definitely the selling point for this series.4 starsLauren Oliver//Before I FallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver. A contemporary novel that I’ve been meaning to read for the longest time… It’s about a teenage girl called Sam, who dies in a car accident on her way home from a party one night – and then wakes up again (and again, and again), the morning before it happened. Time loops have, of course, been done to death in literature, but I found that I really liked Oliver’s take on it: Every time Sam relives her last day, she does things a little differently, and learns new things about herself, and the people around her, and this allowed for some really incredible character development. The characters themselves were brilliant – they were very realistically portrayed, and I found that I actually really liked all of them, even though most of Sam’s friends (and even Sam herself) aren’t always the most likeable people. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending (not because it was bad, but because it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to), but overall, it was an interesting and enjoyable read. I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can read by following this link.4 stars

Christine Pope//The Mandala ManeuverThe Mandala Maneuver by Christine Pope. The fourth book in the Gaian Consortium series (which is a companion series, and doesn’t need to be read chronologically), following a human diplomat called Alexa, whose shuttle is attacked, stranding her on the strange, inhospitable planet of Mandala with Lirzhan, the Zhore ambassador – but very soon they discover that not all is as it seems on Mandala. This was one of the less interesting books in the series, though the plot initially seemed to have some promise. Unfortunately Alexa and Lirzhan were both rather bland, which rather killed the story for me. :/ I might have enjoyed this more, however, if I’d read it before I read Breath of Life (the first book in the series, which is also about a human-Zhore couple), but the characters and relationship in The Mandala Maneuver felt very similar to in Breath of Life.2 starsMarissa Meyer//FairestFairest by Marissa Meyer. The prequel to the Lunar Chronicles novels, which tells the story of Queen Levana, the series’ main antagonist. I was initially a bit nervous about reading this, as I’d heard a lot of mixed reviews, but – much to my surprise – I ended up really liking it! 😀 It was also my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for December, so I’ve written a mini-review which you can read here. 🙂5 starsMelina Marchetta//Finnikin of the RockFinnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. The first book in the Lumatere Chronicles, which follows Finnikin, a Lumateran boy who’s searching for a way to help his people return to their homeland, which has been taken over by a tyrant, and is surrounded by a magical barrier that kills anyone who tries to cross it – and then one day he meets a girl called Evanjalin, who swears that the rightful heir to the throne is still alive. I struggled to get into this book at first: The narrative took some getting used to, and Marchetta seemed quite fond of switching perspectives without warning, which could be confusing at times. The story itself is wonderful, however, and I really, really loved the main characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin, and although the big reveal near the end of the story didn’t exactly take me by surprise, it was so well-executed that I found that I didn’t really mind. Even Froi grew on me, which is fortunate, since he’s apparently the main character in the second book… ^^’ And, as with many slow-burn fantasy books, I got a lot more invested as the story went on – for the last 200 pages or so, I had real difficulty putting it down!5 starsTakashi Hiraide//The Guest CatThe Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. A short novel about a couple who befriend their neighbours’ cat, Chibi, and how she changes their lives and way of thinking. An enjoyable story, though I’m not really sure how to explain it… It was slow-paced, meandering and quite whimsical, but I found myself liking all the characters a lot. This isn’t the kind of book I’d usually read, but was still definitely worth reading, and I’d recommend it for fans of literary fiction.3 starsMarissa Meyer//WinterWinter by Marissa Meyer. The fourth and final book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and the first book I completed for the Holiday Booktubeathon (for which I didn’t write a dedicated wrap-up because I was too pressed for time…). Obviously, anything I could say about the plot would make this place spoiler central, so I won’t, but I can talk about the characters, who were all wonderful. Scarlet and Wolf, in particular, really shone through in this book, which was something of a surprise to me, as they have, until now, been my least-favourite (main) characters in the series – and I also really liked the friendship between Scarlet and Winter. Winter herself wasn’t quite as awe-inspiringly crazy as she appeared to be at the end of Cress, but I still absolutely loved her. 😀 Getting to know Jacin a bit better was also wonderful, as were all the returning characters… My only real complaint about this book is that I wish it had been longer (and since it was already over 800 pages, that complaint seems a little unreasonable), so I’m definitely going to be getting the novella bind-up, Stars Above, when it’s out, as it apparently contains an epilogue-type story (amongst others, of course).5 stars

Emma Mills//First & ThenFirst & Then by Emma Mills. A contemporary romance that’s half Pride & Prejudice, and half Friday Night Lights: It follows a girl called Devon in her last year of high school, as she copes with: college applications; her younger cousin, Foster, coming to live with her; an embarrassing, long-time crush on her best friend Cas; and her developing feelings for Ezra, the captain and star of the school football team. I’ve never been a huge fan of American football, and since I’d heard this book compared to Friday Night Lights, I suspected that it’d be fairly central to the plot, but although it was undoubtedly important to the story, I found that it felt more like a backdrop to everything else that was going on, which I liked; I definitely wouldn’t recommend that anyone read this book purely for the football aspect. As for the aforementioned “everything else”, it was all really great. I loved Devon, and really identified with her; Foster was adorable, and their relationship progression was both realistic and incredibly sweet; Ezra – the Mr. Darcy of the story – was a wonderful combination of swoon-worthy and socially-awkward (my favourite kind of love interest! 😉 ). It was a shame that the book wasn’t longer (my copy is 267 pages long), however, as I would’ve liked to have seen more of Emir – a character who showed up at the beginning, then disappeared until near the end, when he became surprisingly important to the plot – and also of Ezra and Devon as a couple.5 stars

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Library Scavenger Hunt: December

Almost the end of the year already! And so this month’s LSH challenge was (quite appropriately, if I do say so myself) to read a book that was published this year. I knew right from the start what I wanted to look for: Now that Winter is out (and since, for possibly the first time ever, I’m in a real mood for sci-fi), I thought it was about time that I finally picked up Fairest, which I’ve been reliably informed should be read before reading Winter. Luckily, my library had a copy, though I did have to order it in from another branch, which meant quite a long wait. :/ Fairest was published in January 2015.

FAIREST
Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer//FairestThe prequel to The Lunar Chronicles, in which Levana’s – the series’ “evil queen” character – backstory is explored. I’d heard some pretty mixed things about this book, so I was a little uncertain what I would think of it when I started, but – to my delight – I ended up really enjoying this book.

Levana herself isn’t a character that I ever thought I could like, based on her portrayal in the main series, but she’s portrayed surprisingly sympathetically in this novel… and although I still don’t exactly like her, I did find myself feeling incredibly sorry for her. Fairest offers massive insight into the person Levana might have been, had her life been a little different – she obviously cares a lot about Luna, and might well have made a competent (or even good) queen, if she weren’t so paranoid, and if she and the people around her didn’t all have the bioelectrical powers that the Lunar people are known for in this series.

Her sister Channary is vicious and shallow, and probably one of the worst possible influences on Levana (she actually reminded me quite a lot of Joffrey from A Song of Ice & Fire), and while this doesn’t even come close to justifying Levana’s actions throughout the series, it does make me understand them a bit better. One of my favourite things about this book was watching the degeneration of her character: How she starts out as a lonely child, but becomes gradually more and more caught up in her own delusions, until she’s able to convince herself that all the horrific things she’s doing are for the good of Luna.

The romance was also absolutely perfect – as creepy as it was heart-wrenching. Evret was probably my favourite character in the story, and I really loved how he was the only one who ever seemed to make Levana question her actions, even if their relationship on the whole was rather disturbing. Overall, I’d say this book was a very pleasant surprise, and it’s definitely made me excited to read Winter!5 stars

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

My Life in Books

I can’t seem to find (and therefore credit) the person who created this tag, but I was tagged by The Quirky Book Nerd (who has a wonderful blog that you should all check out) – much to my delight! 😀 I’ve had my eye on this tag for a while now (it seemed super-fun), and had actually been planning on doing it soon whether I was tagged or not. It is, however, always nice to be tagged~ 🙂 I hope you enjoy it!

1) Find a book for each of your initials.

K.M. Peyton//Flambards Philip Reeve//Mortal Engines Garth Nix//Sabriel Rick Riordan//The Son of Neptune Tamora Pierce//The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

Flambards by K.M. Peyton
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

Frances Hodgson Burnett//A Little Princess2) Count your age along your bookshelf – what book did you get?

I’m 26, which (discounting my shelves for study guides, comics and manga, which I usually try not to use for tags) lands me right in the middle of my miniature section of Children’s Classics, where I ended up with A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Anthony Horowitz//The Devil & His Boy3) Pick a book set in your city/county/country.

I don’t think I’ve read any books that are set in Cambridge itself, so instead I’ll go with The Devil & His Boy by Anthony Horowitz, which is at least set in England (and is also a really great book that I don’t mention much!).

Marissa Meyer//Fairest4) Pick a book to represent a place you’d like to travel to.

Can I pick the moon? I’d love to go to the moon. Fairest by Marissa Meyer. 😉

Fredrik Backman//My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises5) Pick a book that’s your favourite colour.

My favourite colour is orange, which isn’t the most common colour for books… I do own a couple, though, and one of them is My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises by Fredrick Backman, which has a lovely shade of orange on the spine, in particular. 🙂

J.R.R. Tolkien//The Hobbit6) What book do you have the fondest memories of?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. My love of fantasy was seeded in me early on in life – my dad used to read this book to me and my sister before bed when we were both little.

7) Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?

George R.R. Martin//A Dance with DragonsProbably A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin, which I carried around in my purse for several months before I finally managed to finish it (I remember it clearly: I constantly had a very sore shoulder from the weight of the book, and I also ended up mangling the dust jacket… :/ ). It wasn’t just that the book was long – I made it through the rest of the series easily enough, and they’re all super-long, too – but most of the book was taken up with either Daenerys or Jon Snow chapters, and they’re my least-favourite POV characters in the series.

David Mitchell//Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell//The Bone Clocks8) Which book on your TBR will give you the biggest sense of accomplishment to have finished?

Either Cloud Atlas or The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. These two have been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while now, because although I like David Mitchell’s writing, I also find it quite tough to get through. So, yeah, I’ll be pretty proud when I finally manage to finish these. 🙂

9) I tag:

Upcoming Releases: Winter 2014-15

My last Upcoming Releases post was rather long-winded, and didn’t have much in the way of solid dates… so I thought I’d make this a quarterly thing – this one will cover December 2014 – February 2015. One of the books being released this winter I’ve already mentioned, but all the others are sparkly new things to get excited about. What books are you most looking forward to this winter? Be sure to let me know in the comments!

[NB: All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 27/11/2014.]

Katie McGarry//Breaking the RulesBreaking the Rules by Katie McGarry (8th December)

This is the fifth and (probably) final book in the Pushing the Limits series, which is made up of companion novels, instead of forming an overarching storyline. Chronologically, this book will be set between the first two books in the series (around the same time as the novella, Crossing the Line), but instead of focusing on a new couple, as most of the books in the series have, we’ll be returning to Noah and Echo, the main protagonists from Pushing the Limits, which I’m personally really excited about. Noah and Echo remain my favourite couple in the series, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them in a more settled relationship.

Neil Gaiman//Hansel & GretelHansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman (11th December)

I think this may actually be out in some places already, since Goodreads lists an October release date, but in any case, I haven’t seen it in shops yet. This is a retelling of the classic fairytale of the same name, and I don’t know that there’s going to be any particular new spin on the story, but Neil Gaiman’s haunting writing should make this book wonderfully atmospheric. It’s also illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti, and I’m not familiar with his work, but if the cover’s any indication, it’ll be a perfect fit. Fans of The Sleeper and the Spindle (released earlier this year) will probably want a copy of Hansel & Gretel.

Marissa Meyer//FairestFairest by Marissa Meyer (27th January)

Probably my most-anticipated of the books in this post, though it’s only a novella… Fairest is set in the Lunar Chronicles universe, and is essentially an origin story for Levana, the cruel Lunar queen. It is, I suspect, based on the tale of Snow White, and my hope is that it will tell us more about the relationship between Levana and her stepdaughter Winter. It’s a little disappointing that we’re not getting the final Lunar Chronicles book for a while, but hopefully Fairest will help to fill that hole while we wait for Winter.

Francesca Haig//The Fire SermonThe Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (26th February)

This is the first book in a new dystopian, post-apocalyptic series, set in a world where all humans are twins – one physically perfect Alpha, and one mutated Omega – who are separated into camps by society. Some of the reviewers I follow have already received ARCs of this book, which makes me incredibly jealous, and all the reviews I’ve seen so far have had very good things to say.