April Wrap Up

I think I did pretty well in April, having read a total of 9 novels, 7 novellas/short stories, 2 graphic novels, 1 non-fiction book, and I also finished off a manga series that I put on hold a couple of years ago… And I’m doing pretty well with my reading resolutions for the year, as well: 9 of the things I read counted towards goals that I hadn’t already completed. 😀

Tahereh Mafi//Ignite MeIgnite Me by Tahereh Mafi. The final book in the Shatter Me trilogy. I enjoyed the book, and the characters, but I still felt that most of the time, the plot took a backseat to all the relationship drama – and while I don’t dislike that in itself, I think that dystopian fiction really needs more focus on the story and world-building. I did appreciate that the characters finally acknowledged that they hadn’t really had a viable plan to take down the Reestablishment in Unravel Me, which was something that had been bothering me, and I really enjoyed how Juliette’s relationships with both Warner and Kenji developed…3 starsTahereh Mafi//Fracture MeFracture Me by Tahereh Mafi. The end of Unravel Me, re-told from Adam’s perspective. I don’t have much to say about this, as I didn’t really find anything remarkable in it. Adam’s priorities were all over the place, as usual, and I guess it was interesting seeing his point of view, but I’ve never been a huge fan of his character…2 starsJuliette’s Journal by Tahereh Mafi. The whole of the journal that we see fragments of throughout the series. There wasn’t really anything new here, but I found that it was more interesting to read it as a whole, instead of in little pieces scattered all over the place.3 starsPhilip Pullman//Aladdin & the Enchanted LampAladdin and the Enchanted Lamp by Philip Pullman. A re-telling of the legend of Aladdin. Like most fairytales, it was rather lacking in character development, but my favourite thing about this edition (and, in fact, the main reason why I bought it) was the illustrations (by Ian Beck), which are absolutely beautiful. There were obviously no surprises in terms of the story (it’s a pretty straight-up re-telling, without any unexpected twists), but Philip Pullman’s writing was as enjoyable as always.4 starsNeil Gaiman//The Sleeper & the SpindleThe Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. A re-telling of both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, where Snow White and three dwarves set off on a quest to wake Sleeping Beauty and stop the sleep-plague that is creeping across the country. I didn’t expect, when I started this, that Snow White would be taking the place of the Prince (in fact, I didn’t expect Snow White to be involved at all), but it was a twist that I ended up really liking. The illustrations were also great – I’m not the biggest fan of Chris Riddell’s art, generally, but it suited this story, and the colour palette (black, white and gold), was lovely.4 starsThe Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault (from Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories). The original tale of Sleeping Beauty, in which, after Sleeping Beauty and the Prince fall in love and get married, they have two children (Dawn and Day), whom the Prince’s mother (who is part-ogre!) eventually tries to eat! It was certainly an interesting story, and the ending was very unexpected, but I ended up enjoying it a lot.4 starsMasashi Kishimoto//Naruto vol. 71Naruto (Ch. 614-700) by Masashi Kishimoto. The tale of a boy who wants to become the greatest ninja of all time, and gain the respect and friendship of all his peers. I’ve been following this series for years, and I’m so glad that I’ve finally finished. The story was (as usual) frequently ridiculous, but after however many years it’s been, I’ve come to expect that and not really mind it. More than anything else, the whole series was just a lot of fun! 🙂 What I read this month covered the fights against Tobi, Madara and Kaguya, as well as some really great Warring Clans-era flashbacks.4 stars

Jennifer L. Armentrout//OppositionOpposition by Jennifer L. Armentrout. The final book in the Lux series, which is a half-romance, half-alien invasion story about a book blogger called Katy. I wasn’t quite as into this book as I was the previous ones, but I think that was mostly because I had to break up my reading quite a lot because of non-fictional events… Quality-wise, I think it was on par with the other books in the series. Overall, it was an exciting and satisfying conclusion to the series, and I enjoyed it a lot.4 starsJennifer L. Armentrout//ShadowsShadows by Jennifer L. Armentrout. A prequel to the Lux series, that tells the story of how Dawson and Bethany met and fell in love, and how their relationship played out in the lead-in to Obsidian. The story and characters were both very enjoyable, though I missed having Katy’s perspective, and it was a little jarring to be reading an almost pure romance story set in the Lux universe, after the plot-driven storytelling I’ve been used to since reading Onyx4 starsNon Pratt//TroubleTrouble by Non Pratt. The story of a teenage girl who gets pregnant – and the boy who pretends to be her baby’s father – that turned out to be unexpectedly touching. I’m currently in the process of writing up a full review of this book, which will probably be posted in the next couple of weeks, so I’ll save the rest of my comments for there.5 starsChristine Pope//Breath of LifeBreath of Life by Christine Pope. The first book in the Gaian Consortium series, which seems to be a series of sci-fi fairytale retellings (so far as I can tell, not knowing anything about the other books in the series). This one is based on Beauty and the Beast, and features a girl named Anika, who goes to live with her alien neighbour after her father steals some flowers from his garden in order to save his own life. It was quite entertaining, but very short (125 pages, according to my kindle), and as with Dragon Rose (another Christine Pope book based on Beauty and the Beast), I found it rather disappointing that “beauty” never actually sees the “beast”, since Sarzhin always keeps his face covered, until he’s revealed to actually be incredibly attractive – which I think takes away from the impact of the fairytale. After all, imagining that someone looks like a monster is completely different from actually being faced with it…3 starsChristine Pope//A Simple GiftA Simple Gift by Christine Pope. A short story set the Christmas after Breath of Life, where Anika introduces Sarzhin to her parents, and tells them about her marriage and pregnancy. This was a nice additional scene, and it made me feel a little more kindly towards Anika’s mother, but ultimately I didn’t think it added much to the story.2 starsKaren Perry//The Boy That Never WasThe Boy that Never Was by Karen Perry. A thriller that follows a married couple (Harry and Robin) whose son died during an earthquake when he was three, but five years on,  Harry sees a boy who resembles Dillon in the street, and becomes convinced that he was actually kidnapped. This book was a gift from my Dad, which is the main reason that I decided to read it, since thrillers really have never really been my thing – and they still aren’t, it would seem. The writing was fast-paced, and the book was very readable, but unfortunately I wasn’t surprised by any of the plot twists, and I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters…2 starsJane Hardstaff//River DaughterRiver Daughter by Jane Hardstaff. The sequel to The Executioner’s Daughter, a historical adventure novel set in Tudor London that I read earlier this year and liked, but wasn’t too impressed by. River Daughter, I am happy to say, was a huge improvement, though it took a little while to really get going… In addition to Moss and Salter, we had three new characters: Eel-Eye Jack and Jenny Wren, both of whom were great fun and really interesting, and Bear, who is a bear (naturally) that Moss somehow manages to befriend (and their friendship is adorable 🙂 ). Some of the plot developments were rather convenient, but overall this book was a lot of fun.4 starsGeraldine McCaughrean//Peter Pan in ScarletJulie Kagawa//TalonAt this point the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon came along, and I managed to get through two books for it – Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean and Talon by Julie Kagawa. I’ve written mini-reviews for both of them, which you can read  by clicking on the covers…5 stars4 stars

Luke Pearson//HildafolkHildafolk by Luke Pearson. A short graphic novel about a girl who goes on a miniature adventure with her pet fox/reindeer-thing (which is the most adorable creature ever), and meets a troll. And a person made out of wood. 😕 Very, very cute, and I really loved the art style, but the ending was very abrupt, and it didn’t really feel finished…3 starsBill Willingham//Fables vol. 1Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham. This series follows various familiar fairytale characters living in our world, after having been driven out of their homes by a mysterious invader. The first volume mainly focuses on the Big Bad Wolf, who is now a detective investigating the disappearance of Rose Red, Snow White’s younger sister. The focus on the plot made me ridiculously happy (especially when I think about most of the comics I’ve read recently), and the plot itself was really well thought-out and executed. The art was fantastic, too, and I’m really looking forward to reading the next volume~ 🙂4 starsChristine Pope//All Fall DownAll Fall Down by Christine Pope. The first book in the Tales of the Latter Kingdoms companion series (though this was the last one I read), which tells the story of a physician called Merys, who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, but finds herself falling in love with her new master. And then there’s a plague. This book was more plot-based than most of the other books in the series, which I appreciated, and the story was quite good for the most part (and particularly at the beginning). However, I didn’t really like the way some of the story’s themes were treated (slavery, euthanasia, at one point there is even what I would consider murder, though it’s not acknowledged as such…), and I thought that the ending was much too abrupt. :/ Overall, I liked it, but it definitely had its flaws.3 starsCarrie Hope Fletcher//All I Know NowAll I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher. A slightly autobiographical book of advice on growing up. First off, I should acknowledge that I’m not the target audience for this book – most of the advice in it is about things that I’ve managed to figure out by now – but it’s the kind of book that would probably have been really helpful when I was a teenager, and it’s also not the kind of advice that will ever go out of date (except, perhaps, the section on internet manners 😛 ). But although it wasn’t exactly helpful to me, I still enjoyed reading it. The writing was very good, and Carrie’s voice came through really strongly (if you’ve ever seen any of her youtube videos, then you’ll see that she writes exactly the way she speaks, which is nice), and the anecdotes she used to make her points were very relatable (mostly! I certainly can’t relate to being chased by a bear!) and witty. She’s also illustrated the book, and the pictures are really lovely. 🙂 Some of the advice she gives I didn’t completely agree with, but she makes it very clear throughout the book that this is just what she believes, and that ultimately everyone has to make their own choices.3 stars

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Series Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (Spoiler-Free)

SHATTER ME / UNRAVEL ME / IGNITE ME3 stars

Tahereh Mafi//Shatter MeSUMMARY

The Shatter Me trilogy tells the story of a teenage girl called Juliette, who is able to kill people just by touching them – and because of this (and her inability to control her powers), she’s spent most of her life locked up in a mental hospital, being treated like a monster. Needless to say, she’s a little unstable.

It’s set in a dystopian future, controlled by what seems to be an elected-government-turned-military-dictatorship called the Reestablishment, and its leader Anderson, and eventually Juliette joins up with a group of rebels with super-powers like her own, whose goal is to take down the Reestablishment and create a better world.

There are three main books in the series, as well as two novellas: Shatter Me (#1), Destroy Me (#1.5), Unravel Me (#2), Fracture Me (#2.5) and Ignite Me (#3).

Tahereh Mafi//Unravel MeSTORY [2/5]

The story had a very interesting concept, but I found that it never really went anywhere, and the plot certainly seemed much less important to the author than the characters and relationships, which I think was a mistake. The first book is almost entirely concerned with Juliette’s impressions of life outside the asylum she’s been imprisoned in, and even Omega Point (the rebel group) don’t seem to have any real plan for taking on the Reestablishment, even though they frequently state that that’s their goal.

This may be due to the narrative’s limited perspective (the story is told in first person, from Juliette’s point of view), but I feel that a lot more could have been explained about Omega Point, their plans, and even the Reestablishment itself, which seemed for the most part to be a distant evil, entirely forgettable except when civilians were being rounded up to be shot.

Tahereh Mafi//Ignite MeCHARACTERS [4/5]

Due to her history, Juliette is understandably withdrawn and slightly socially awkward for much of the series, but she really comes into her own towards the end of Unravel Me. More empowered, and a lot less angsty, she makes a really likeable protagonist.

Bachelor #1 is Adam, a likeable, but not particularly interesting soldier, who remembers Juliette from before she was locked away, and infiltrates the mental hospital in order to see her again. His primary characteristic, at least to begin with, seems to be his kindness, and he’s also very dedicated to his family – namely, his little brother James.

Tahereh Mafi//Destroy MeJuliette’s second love interest is Warner, who I personally found to be the most fascinating character in the series. He’s the leader of Sector 45, and the son of the Supreme Commander of the Reestablishment, and in Shatter Me, he’s the primary villain, but there’s a lot more to him than he lets on. Destroy Me, the first of the series’ two novellas, is told from Warner’s perspective, and is probably my favourite book in the series.

Last but by no means least is Kenji, who’s initially introduced as another of Warner’s soldiers, but is actually a spy for Omega Point. Kenji is often the comic relief character, but he is wonderfully aware of the fact, which makes him stand out from other comedic characters. He’s also Juliette’s best friend, and their relationship is one of the lighter, more fun aspects of the series.

There are several supporting characters, too (particularly at Omega Point), but apart from Adam’s brother James, none of them really make an impression.

Tahereh Mafi//Fracture MeROMANCE [4/5]

As you’ve probably been able to gather from my character descriptions above, there’s a very prominent love triangle in this series, and, to be honest, a lot of the time that I was reading, it seemed like Juliette’s love life was the most important part of the story – almost like a romance novel that just happened to have a dystopian backdrop. 😉

Like most love triangles, it can get pretty angsty and dramatic at times, but I found that I didn’t mind it too much: Juliette’s relationships with both Adam and Warner both had really interesting dynamics, and let us see very different sides of Juliette’s personality. Her relationship with Adam was very sweet, and she spent a lot of her time with him trying to learn to control her abilities so that she wouldn’t hurt him, or anyone else. In contrast, her relationship with Warner was more passionate, and when they were together she made a great deal of progress towards self-acceptance.

It was really great, however, that until we got close to the end of the book, it was never entirely clear which of them Juliette would choose – I’ve always found it irritating when there’s a love triangle, but the outcome is obvious from the start.

WORLD-BUILDING [1/5]

The world-building in this series was almost non-existent. We see the mental hospital, and enough of Sector 45 to realise the disparities between the living conditions of the ordinary citizens and the members of the Reestablishment, and little else. There is supposedly also some kind of global crisis going on, but the only thing we are ever really told about it is that it exists, and is causing a shortage of basically everything (and that birds can no longer fly).

WRITING [4/5]

The writing is one of the most impressive things about this series, and is something that I always find mentioned in other reviews that I’ve come across.

They’re written in a very distinct, stream-of-consciousness style, which changes as the series goes on, to reflect Juliette’s state of mind, and her growing sense of self-awareness and self-worth. In Shatter Me, for instance, much of the narration is crossed out, where Juliette is trying to reconcile the what she actually thinks with what she’s been taught to think, and it makes for a very interesting read.

Tahereh Mafi is also very good at writing quick but poignant narrative moments, and there are literally hundreds of really great quotes that can be found in all three books. Epic Reads even made a video out of a small collection of them not too long ago, which you can watch here, if you so desire.

OVERALL IMPRESSION [3/5]

An almost-generic, over-hyped dystopian series that is saved from its lacklustre storyline and abysmal world-building by a wonderfully quirky writing style, and some incredibly compelling characters and relationships (not to mention the beautiful book covers).

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Fans of the feelings-first approach of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, as well as those who enjoyed the love triangles in books like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy or Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series (though both these series have significantly better storylines).

2014 in Review: Some Superficial Favourites

Just to end things on a more positive note than my last post, I thought I’d finish off my “2014 in Review” series by showing you some of the prettiest books that I came across over the course of the year. For the record, I haven’t read all of these (but I certainly hope to!).

Philip Pullman//Four TalesFour Tales by Philip Pullman. This is a bind-up of four fairytale-style stories, & I really love the way this is reflected by the Disney-style castle on the cover. If you look at the details at the bottom, you can see some of the various characters & props from each of the stories: The rat; the scarecrow & his servant; the pair of shoes; &c. The simple two-tone colour scheme is beautiful as well – though the white-looking line art is actually silver – and lends the book the look of a starry night.

David Mitchell//The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I love the whimsical style of this cover, with all the different objects connected by threads of birds and water and I believe that the spiral in the lower left corner is made up of cards (?). I haven’t read this book yet, so I don’t know what the significance of each item is, but the look of it is certainly striking.

Marcus Sedgwick//MidwinterbloodMidwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick. This cover reminds me of the opening scene in the film of Watership Down, though I don’t know how many of you will have seen that. I love the style that the rabbits are drawn in (made up of lots of lines rather than block colour), and the red and purple go well together for the background. The skull-and-thorns motif on the side looks pretty, too, and adds a sinister touch.

Tahereh Mafi//Ignite MeIgnite Me by Tahereh Mafi. This whole trilogy has really beautiful covers, but of the three books (plus novella bind-up), I think Ignite Me is the prettiest. The orange around her eyes and the flowers on her eyelashes really create an impression of spring, making it seem like life must be improving for Juliette (which I very much hope is the case, after the events of the first two books). There’s also the bird reflected in her iris on all three covers, which (as she mentions in the book) represents freedom.

Naomi Novik//Empire of IvoryEmpire of Ivory by Naomi Novik. This is the fourth book in the Temeraire series, which (again) all have really lovely covers, but since this is the only new one I bought this year, this is the one that I will talk about. I believe that this particular book is set in Africa, and at the bottom of the cover you can see a lion and some African elephants, as well as some tribal spears and shields at the sides. The warm colour scheme is nice, too (especially after the cool blues, greens and purples of the previous books), and I really like that the flowers have been done in colour, to contrast the black line art.

Rosamund Hodge//Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. Generally speaking, I don’t tend to like covers with people on them, unless they’re clearly hand-drawn, but I’ll make an exception for this one, simply because I really, really love the way the rose and the staircase have been blended together. The rose, of course, brings to mind the story of Beauty & the Beast (on which this story was based), while the seemingly never-ending staircase (with Nyx running down it) creates a feeling of entrapment which matches the novel perfectly.

November & December Haul

Nov.-Dec. Haul 2014I didn’t really think it was worth posting a haul in November, since I ended up buying a grand total of one book, but hopefully this will make up for it… I went a little crazy spending my Christmas money, and (including that book I bought in November) I have twenty books to tell you about today. 😀 From top to bottom:

1) Studio Ghibli Layout Designs by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. A beautiful book of (mainly) artwork from various Studio Ghibli films. This was a Christmas gift from my lovely friend Chloë, when I went to visit her in Hong Kong. 🙂

2) Books I Have Read & Books I Want to Read by the British Library. This was the only thing that I actually requested this Christmas, and it found its way (to my delight) into my stocking on Christmas morning. It’s a journal-style book for keeping track of all the books I’ve read, as well as book clubs, literary events, and there’s even a little address book at the back for all my favourite bookshops and websites!

3) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This is the book I mentioned that I bought in November. I came across it while I was Christmas shopping, and couldn’t resist buying it (I’m weak-willed, I know) – partly because I’d heard so many good things about it, but mainly because it’s signed! It’s a World War II-era novel set in France, I believe, but I don’t know too much else about it.

4) Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson. A contemporary summer romance novel, though I’ve heard that it’s pretty sad. I decided to pick this one up after reading Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, since I liked that one so much.

5) White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick. This is the first of the books I bought on my Christmas-money-shopping-spree, and I don’t really know what it’s about (this is going to become a theme in this haul), but it’s by Marcus Sedgwick, so I’m sure it’s very good (even though I still haven’t read any of his books…).

6) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Again, I don’t know much about this book, but I read We Were Liars, by the same author, earlier this year and loved it, so I have high hopes for this one, too.

7) The Executioner’s Daughter & River Daughter by Jane Hardstaff. The first two books in a series (or perhaps just a duology) about a girl who’s locked up in the Tower of London. These two were complete impulse buys, & I mainly picked them up because River Daughter (the second book) was in the buy-one-get-one-half-price deal, along with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I’ve been craving historical fiction lately, though, so hopefully I’ll read these sometime soon.

8) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. I’ve heard so many amazing things about this series, & I’ve been wanting to pick them up for ages! Once again, I don’t really know what it’s about, but Catherynne M. Valente’s writing is like some kind of word-magic, so I have high expectations~ 😀

9) Trouble by Non Pratt. This one’s about a teen pregnancy, and sounds pretty interesting.

10) Mãn by Kim Thúy. This was a gift from my aunt & uncle, & I really have no clue what it’s about, except that it is very short (less than 150 pages) and the author apparently won several awards for her previous book. I’ve flipped through the first few pages, and the writing style seems really beautiful, so I’m definitely looking forward to reading more.

11) The Boy that Never Was by Karen Perry. A mystery novel about the parents of a small boy who disappears. My Dad picked this one out for me, as he apparently read a review that claimed it would be perfect for fans of Gone Girl (by Gillian Flynn). It looks interesting, though I’m not sure when I’ll get round to reading it…

12) Shatter MeUnravel MeUnite Me & Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi. This is a YA dystopian trilogy (Unite Me is a novella bind-up) about a girl who has a lethal touch. I’ve actually read the first book already, so you’ll be seeing that in my December wrap up post, & I’m currently reading (& enjoying) Unravel Me.

13) Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley. A graphic novel about a young chef who finds a way to erase her past mistakes and ends up screwing with the fabric of the universe (more or less), to disastrous effect. It’s a lot of fun, & I actually read it almost as soon as it arrived in the post, so I’ll talk more about it in my wrap up.

14) Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki. A short manga set during World War II, from the perspective of a Japanese soldier (I think). I’m definitely excited about this, since most WWII literature that I’ve come across is told from the Allies’ side, or else from the side of German Anti-Nazi sympathisers… I believe that it’s also partially autobiographical.

15) Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen. Another book that I read as soon as I got it, so you’ll be hearing more about it soon. It’s a collection of graphic short stories mainly about the Greek gods in the modern world. Very well-done (and, to my surprise, published as a fold-out, concertina-style book, though only one side of the concertina has been printed on…).

16) Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. The third and final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, which I have not yet started, but am really looking forward to reading. I was actually planning on waiting until it came out in paperback to buy it, in order to save space on my shelves, but I recently obtained a new bookcase, and so I decided to throw caution to the wind! And it is a very beautiful book, so I regret nothing. 😉