January Wrap-Up

I got off to a pretty good start this year: 6 novels, 3 short stories, and 1 picture book. And my average rating was pretty high, too – most of the books I read this month I gave 4 stars; only the short stories fell a little short… Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up this momentum over the next few months! 😀

Coralie Bickford-Smith//The Fox & the StarThe Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith. An incredibly beautiful book about a lonely fox whose only friend is a distant star – which one day disappears, setting the fox off on a journey to find it again. This may be essentially a picture book, but I’d recommend it for anyone, regardless of age. The story is very touching, and when I first opened this book, the art literally took my breath away.5 stars

Morgan Rhodes//Falling KingdomsFalling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. A high fantasy series that follows several different protagonists: Cleo, the second princess of Auranos, a spoilt but well-meaning teenager who’s hoping to escape from an arranged marriage to a boy she hates; Janos, the son of a poor Paelsian wine merchant, who is filled with rage at the injustices his people have suffered; and Magnus, the prince of Limeros, who mainly just wants to keep his sister safe. This one was a fun read, though I found it a little difficult to get into at first – it takes a while for anything to really happen plot-wise, and Morgan Rhodes’ writing style is not bad, but her phrasing is somewhat unconventional in places, which I found slightly jarring. The characters are rather hit-or-miss, but I feel like they’re the kind to grow on you as you read more. I didn’t really like any of them (except Theon) much at the beginning, but as the story went on, I found myself feeling more and more for Magnus, and even Jonas seemed to show some promise towards the end of the book. Cleo I got attached to a little earlier in the story, but at times I also found her frustratingly naive… I was, however, completely hooked by the time I reached the end of the book, and I’m looking forward to reading more.3 starsThe Threads of Time by C.J. Cherryh (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). A short story about a man whose job is to fix the paradoxes that people have created by illegally travelling back in time. An interesting story, and less confusing than some of the others in this collection – but only slightly. ❓2 starsTriceratops Summer by Michael Swanwick (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). Another short story, this time about a man who sees a herd of (presumably cloned) triceratops that have escaped from a lab, and – finding out from one of the scientists on the project that they’re planning on resetting time to fix their mistake – tries to find something exciting or meaningful to do before his timeline fades out of existence. This one was also pretty interesting, conceptually, but unfortunately (as is often the case with short stories) I didn’t feel any connection to the characters. :/2 starsMorgan Rhodes//Rebel SpringRebel Spring by Morgan Rhodes. The sequel to Falling Kingdoms, which I’m not going to be saying too much about, because there are a lot of things I could potentially spoil from the first book… However, the POV characters have changed a little in this book: Lucia has a much more prominent role, as do Alexius and Nic, and I was surprised when Rhodes also added King Gaius and Queen Althea to the short list of people whose perspectives we see. There’s also a brand new character called Lysandra who seems to be becoming very important to the story – I don’t always like her (she’s very pushy), but it is quite gratifying when she constantly calls Jonas out on his terrible plans (and they’re sometimes really, really terrible). As far as character development for the returning characters goes, Jonas and Cleo both seem to be maturing a lot, in the best possible way (though – as I touched on before – they both still make awful, unhelpful, obviously-doomed-to-failure decisions); Lucia’s back-and-forth between kindness and viciousness is kind of fascinating; and Magnus is quickly becoming my favourite character in the series. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Magnus/Cleo romance, too, though I’m  not sure how popular that opinion is with this series’ fans… ^^’4 starsMelvin Burgess//Nicholas DaneNicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess. The story of a teenage boy who – after his mother overdoses on heroin – is sent to a boys’ home, where he is horrifically abused, and how this abuse impacts his life, even after leaving. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so I’ve written a mini-review of it – you can read it here.4 starsThe Most Important Thing in the World by Steve Bein (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). A story about a taxi driver who finds a suitcase left in the back of his car by a customer – and containing a suit which borrows time from the future to be used in the present instead. The science of this story is (as always) a little over my head, but I found that the characters – Ernie the taxi driver; his wife Janice; and of course the scientist who created the suit – were all very compelling, and I ended up enjoying the story a lot more than I have many of the others in this collection. 🙂3 starsBecky Chambers//The Long Way to a Small, Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. A standalone sci-fi novel that follows the a tunnelling crew (who drill holes in “subspace” in order to allow faster travel between planets) on a long journey, the goal of which is to create a path to a new planet. The story itself is quite episodic – there is an overarching plotline, but for the majority of the book it’s pushed aside in order to deal with obstacles in the way of the crew’s journey, and for more personal story-arcs – and the pacing is accordingly quick; each chapter is dated, but if they hadn’t been, I probably wouldn’t have realised that more than a year had passed over the course of the story… This is usually a negative point for me, but in this case I actually didn’t mind too much, as the mini-arcs themselves were all quite interesting, and the story as a whole actually turned out to be more character-driven. And, on that note, the (incredibly diverse) cast of characters were all wonderfully fleshed out. Lovey and Jenks were particular favourites of mine, but I really did love them all (even Corbin, eventually!). A sequel/companion novel is apparently scheduled for release in October this year, and I’m already looking forward to reading it. 😀 I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can read here, if you so desire.4 starsAmy A. Bartol//Under Different StarsUnder Different Stars by Amy A. Bartol. The first book in the Kricket series, which follows a teenage girl called Kricket, who’s hiding from Social Services when she’s abducted by a group of people from another planet (or possibly dimension), and finds out that she’s one of them. The writing in this book was witty and engaging, and I enjoyed the story and characters a lot, despite the fact that Kricket could seemingly do no wrong, and the way she reacted to everything that was happening to her was ridiculously unrealistic (she’s definitely more of an ultimate-wish-fulfillment character than a relatable one). I did find her continuous use of Etharian slang to be kind of irritating at times (and I regularly lost track of what each word actually meant), but that’s a pretty minor issue… I wouldn’t recommend this book for die-hard sci-fi fans, as it barely read like a sci-fi novel at all (it’s very romance-centric), but it was definitely an enjoyable read nonetheless.3 starsPeter V. Brett//The Painted ManThe Painted Man by Peter V. Brett. Three children – Arlen, Leesha and Rojer – grow up in a dangerous fantasy world, where the night is ruled by fearsome demons called corelings. I read this book as part of a readalong with Chloë, which probably added to my enjoyment quite a bit (it’s always nice to have someone to rant/rave at without having to worry about either spoiling them, or getting spoiled myself 😛 ), but even so, it was extraordinarily good. Fast-paced, exciting, and with really strong characterisation and a great plot! There was a romance towards the end of the book that I wasn’t too happy with (it developed way too quickly), and – also towards the end – I found myself a bit disappointed with the direction that Leesha’s storyline seemed to be taking, and with the huge time-skip in Arlen’s storyline, but otherwise, I really, really loved basically everything about it! And the ending was absolutely epic! XD4 stars

[EDIT (3/5/2017): Changed rating of Under Different Stars from 4/5 to 3/5 after finishing the last book in the trilogy & thinking on the series as a whole.]

Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s challenge – to read a book with an arrow on the cover – was picked by my co-founder Chloë (from SSJTimeLord and Her Books), who is an archer, and therefore I’m almost certain that she meant “arrow” in the bow-and-arrow sense, but one of my favourite things about the LSH is that the challenges can be interpreted however you choose. 🙂 I did give the fantasy section a quick browse for archers when I arrived at my local library, but after not-very-much-time spent searching (during which the only relevant book I found was Fire by Kristin Cashore, which I already own, and have read several times…), I moved on to the YA shelves, in search of something more contemporary. At which point I stumbled across an interesting-looking book, which was absolutely covered in arrows. 😛

NICHOLAS DANE
Melvin Burgess

Melvin Burgess//Nicholas DaneNick Dane has a relatively ordinary life: He finds school boring, but gets decent grades, he has a good – if sometimes annoying – mother, and some really great friends. Then one day, he comes home to find that his mother has overdosed on heroin and died, leaving him with no immediate family to rely on, and in a mess with Social Services. He’s eventually shipped off to a place called Meadow Hill – a Boys’ Home with a stellar reputation – but he quickly comes to realise that it’s not as great a place as it seems on paper, and he has to deal with hazing, an abusive house-master, and the seemingly-friendly deputy headmaster, Mr. Creal.

This book isn’t my usual fare – this amount of criminal activity (and stealing in particular, which is something that happens a lot in this book) is somewhat outside my comfort zone – but I found that I really enjoyed this book. I started reading on Sunday evening, expecting to get through maybe about 100 pages or so, and ended up staying up until the small hours of the morning in order to finish it; the story and writing were both incredibly gripping, and the rather chilling situation that Nick found himself in was also very thought-provoking.

I wasn’t immediately sold on Nick as a main character (he initially seemed rather arrogant, ungrateful and opportunistic), but he grew on me a lot. I spent much of the first third of the book with an ominous sinking feeling that life was going to get very unpleasant for him, very quickly – and once it did, I was a little bit overwhelmed with a kind of horrified sympathy for him. His more redeeming characteristics also come over a lot more as the story goes on: He’s bright, and incredibly loyal (if temperamental), and always looks out for his friends.

His friends at Meadow Hill I also liked a lot: Oliver was an intriguing mystery, and Davey was a really fun counterpoint to all the rage and hurt that this book has to offer. I also liked Jenny – Nick’s mother’s best friend – a lot, and his uncle Michael was an interesting character, too. The book’s villains – Mr. Creal and Mr. Toms – were wonderfully hateful, and even Jonesy (a less pure-evil-type villain) was legitimately terrifying at times.

Overall, this was a really great read, full of (very) gritty realism; interesting, sympathetic (if not always likeable) characters; and hard-hitting themes – it made me think about a lot of topics that I don’t often consider, and feel a lot of powerful emotions. The writing was fast-paced and engaging, and had me hooked almost from beginning to end. I’ve knocked off a star only because I felt that the epilogue-style ending was rather rushed; there was just a huge amount of material crammed into a few short pages. I also really would have liked to have found out more about what happened to Oliver, but I suppose that’s also a realism-thing; you don’t always manage to keep track of everyone in your life…4 stars

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