2016 in Review: Favourites

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your eggnog / champagne / whatever it is that people drink at New Year. 😉 Here at the Jar of Books, I will still be talking about 2016 for a few more days, as it’s time to share with you my favourite books of the year! 😀 So, here they are (in order of reading, not preference):

Alison Goodman//The Dark Days ClubI read a lot of good books this year, but the first one that really impressed me was The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, which I picked up on a whim back in April, knowing almost nothing about it (except that it was by the same person who write Eon, a book I had heard about but not read), but thinking it sounded like fun. It was so much more than fun, though, with exactly the right balance of action and mystery and romance for my mood at the time. The sequel will be coming out in a few weeks, and I plan to read it as soon as it’s in my hands; hopefully it’s just as good as this one! 🙂 [I have a review up of this book, if you’re interested.]

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesFantasy seems to have been the vast majority of everything I read in 2016, but this next book was really different from any fantasy I’d ever read before: I was originally drawn to An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir because of its quasi-Roman setting (Classics being my main academic interest), but the tense, complex story, and the wonderful characters blew me away. This is another book I reviewed, since I read it during Booktubeathon this summer, and it’s also another book with a sequel that I’m greatly anticipating; it’s been released already, but I’m waiting for it to be a little more affordable… ^^’

Leigh Bardugo//Six of CrowsNext up is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, which was my absolute favourite book of the year, and the only one on this list that made it onto my all-time favourites list (though the others were all close calls). I was intrigued by this book when I first heard about it, but not hugely excited, since I was a little disappointed by Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy (which Six of Crows is a spin-off of), but it surpassed all my wildest dreams, and ended up being close to perfection in book-form. ❤ I read the sequel a couple of months ago, but while it was still really good, it wasn’t quite able to live up to its predecessor in my eyes.

Andrzej Sapkowski//Baptism of FireLast but by no means least is Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski (and if anyone knows how to pronounce that name, please tell me!), the fifth book in the Witcher series, which I started reading in October after getting hooked on the video games based on the books. The series started off strong, and only seemed to get better and more fascinating as it went on, culminating in the awesomeness that was Baptism of Fire; not the last book in the series, but the latest one that I’ve been able to get hold of. If this upwards trend continues, then I can’t even imagine how great the series finale will be, but it’s definitely something to look forward to in the coming year. XD

April Haul

You remember what I’ve been saying for the last couple of months, about how impressed I’ve been by my self-control? Well… so much for that! 😳 I went a little crazy last month – all but one of these (fifteen!) books was bought on impulse, and while I’ve read a few of them already (and really enjoyed them), it’s still a little embarrassing to see them all together like this… Does this mean that book hauls might be good for me?! Shock therapy, maybe? 😉 But regardless, here’s what I bought in April:

April haul 20161) Half Lost by Sally Green. The final book in the Half Life trilogy, which I’ve absolutely loved – and this conclusion was well worth the wait! I still didn’t like it quite as much as Half Wild (the second book in the series), but it wrapped up the series really well… and kind of broke my heart. 😥

2) The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. The first book in the Lady Helen series, which is set in Regency London, and is about hunting demons! (Some of my favourite things! It’s almost like it was written specifically for me! 😉 ) I’ve already read this one, too, and you can read my full review here!

3) Across the Universe by Beth Revis. The first book in the Across the Universe series, which is a space opera, I believe… I don’t actually know much about this book, but I’ve heard that it’s very good, and I’ve been dying to read it for quite a while… It’ll happen soon, I hope.

4) The Melancholy of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Sigh of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Boredom of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Disappearance of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Rampage of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Wavering of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya, The Indignation of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya & The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa. The entire, ten-book Haruhi Suzumiya series, which is best known in the West for its anime adaptation, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The series follows a high schooler called Kyon, who gets dragged by chance into the chaotic world of his classmate Haruhi, who has (unbeknownst to her) the power to destroy the world if she ever gets tired of it… These books are pretty wacky, but I’ve read the first one already, and they’re also a lot of fun. 🙂

5) Starflight by Melissa Landers. A space adventure following a teenage girl making her way to the outskirts of the known galaxy in order to get a better chance of finding a job, and the former classmate she runs into who hires her as his indentured servant for the duration of the trip, in return for the price of her ticket – but for not-so-noble purposes. Another book that I read almost as soon as I brought it home, and that I really loved. 😀 My book-sense was really on-the-mark in April!

6) Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr. Lastly, I also picked up the second book in the Wicked Lovely series (though I didn’t realise that it was part of a series at the time), mostly because it’d been sitting on the shelf at the second-hand bookshop where I work for several weeks, and it was making me sad that no-one else had bought it… ^^’ This is a paranormal romance series about fairies, I believe, but the summary sounds intriguingly dark. I’m looking forward to reading this soon, hopefully (but first I need to pick up Wicked Lovely…).

April Wrap-Up

I was in top form last month! For some reason, reading’s pretty much the only thing I’ve wanted to do, and I’ve had some really great luck (or intuition?) with the books I picked up, as well; I gave almost everything I read in April either 4 or 5 stars! In total, I managed to read 9 novels, 2 short stories, and one (short) graphic novel. 😀

Genevieve Cogman//The Invisible LibraryThe Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. A great mystery/adventure story about a librarian called Irene, who works as an agent for the Invisible Library, collecting rare books from different worlds and returning them to the Library to be preserved. This book was action-paced from start to finish, and incredibly exciting. I loved trying to puzzle out Irene’s quest, and it was quite refreshing that the characters seemed to figure things out at a similar pace that I did (getting left behind in mystery books is always frustrating, but so is waiting for the characters to catch on to something that seems obvious). The characters themselves were all wonderful, as well: Irene, Kai and Vale in particular, but I also loved the way that Irene’s history with Bradamant was tied into the story, and even the villains were a delight to read. Highly recommended!5 stars

Ella Frances Sanders//Lost in TranslationLost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders. An adorable collection of words that have no clear equivalent in any other language. (The word I found most relatable was tsundoku, which is Japanese for a continually-growing pile of unread books. 😉 ). This book is perfect for any lover of words (or cute illustrations)! I actually bought this as a birthday present for my dad, but of course I couldn’t resist reading it myself first. 😛5 starsAlison Goodman//The Dark Days ClubThe Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. A Regency-era historical fantasy about the young Lady Helen, who one day discovers that she has the ability to fight a kind of demon called “Deceivers”, and is drawn into the sinister world of the Dark Days Club, an organisation of people with powers like her own. This book was so much fun! I almost regret reading it, since I’m now going to have to wait another year to read the sequel! 😥 I loved all the characters, and the plot intrigued and surprised and excited me in equal measures; I ended up staying up until 4 in the morning on a work night, simply because I just had to read “one more chapter” (by which I mean the whole book). I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can read here.5 starsSally Green//Half TruthsHalf Truths by Sally Green. The second spin-off novella in the Half Life trilogy, which takse place during the beginning of Half Bad, but is told from Gabriel’s perspective. I don’t have too much to say about this, except that I wish it’d been longer, so there would’ve been more Nathan in it (it ends pretty soon after Gabriel and Nathan first meet).4 starsSally Green//Half LostHalf Lost by Sally Green. The third and final book in the Half Life trilogy, which was released at the end of March… I feel like I’ve waited forever for this book, but it was absolutely worth it. Obviously there’s not much that I can say about the plot, since this is a sequel, but it was equal parts disturbing, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, which is what I’ve come to expect from this series… Half Wild is still my favourite in the series, but this was an excellent concluding novel – even though I spent most of the last part of the book trying not to cry (and only mostly succeeding). 😥5 starsMelissa Landers//StarflightStarflight by Melissa Landers. A space adventure following a teenage girl on her way to the fringes of the galaxy in order to find some semblance of a happy life, despite her criminal record, and the spoilt son of a fuel tycoon, who hires her on as an indentured servant in excange for her fare – but mostly just so he can make her journey hell. This book was the perfect antidote to my post-Half Lost melancholy; it was just so much fun! 😀 The characters were all wonderful, and Doran and Solara’s romance was surprisingly not cheesy at all. The plot was action-packed, taking quite a few surprising (in the best possible way) turns before reaching its conclusion, and the fast-paced narrative suited the story perfectly.5 starsPeter V. Brett//The Skull ThroneThe Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett. The fourth book in the Demon Cycle series, which I’ve been readalong-ing with Chloë. I have so many mixed feelings about this book… :/ In terms of pacing, the whole book was one long, drawn-out climax, and game-changing twists were being thrown around like no-one’s business. This really felt like the follow-up that The Daylight War needed. And it was well-written, and I really loved some of the earlier plot and character developments (e.g. Arlen and Jardir finally getting a chance to talk things out, Sikvah turning out to be awesome, and the way Thamos really seemed to humanise Leesha). In some ways, this is the best book in the series so far… But almost the entire second half of the book just made me angry. The story’s certainly moving in an interesting direction now, but I really dislike the steps that Brett took in order to get it there. It’s been a long time since a book has made me feel this much hate, and while it’s a good thing that Brett’s managed to get me that invested in the story he’s telling, it’s still a really uncomfortable feeling. I’m definitely glad to be taking a break from this series while I wait for the last book to be released… ^^’4 starsNagaru Tanigawa//The Melancholy of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa. The first book in the Haruhi Suzumiya series, which follows a high school boy known only by his nickname Kyon, who gets dragged into the frequently ridiculous life of his classmate Haruhi – a girl who has (though she’s not aware of it) the power to destroy the world on a whim. Another book that was just pure fun. 🙂 I love Kyon’s narrative, and how he deals with all Haruhi’s drama… I watched the anime adaptation of this series years ago, and my main take-away from that was “fun, but weird”; that still holds true for this  novel, but I also found it much less confusing than its counterpart.4 starsBeate Grimsrud//A Fool, FreeA Fool, Free by Beate Grimsrud. A vaguely autobiographical-feeling (though not, as far as I can tell, actually an autobiography) novel about an author and filmmaker who suffers from schizophrenia. I ultimately enjoyed reading this book, but had some pretty mixed feelings about it… but since it was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for April, I’ve written a mini-review where I’ve talked about it more – read it here!3 stars

Huntley Fitzpatrick//My Life Next DoorMy Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. A contemporary romance that follows a teenage girl called Samantha, who lives next door to the warm but chaotic Garrett family, whom her driven, political mother completely disapproves of. So naturally, Samantha ends up falling for one of the Garrett boys. Everything about this book was just wonderful: The characters, the storyline, the relationships, the writing… Samantha was very relatable, and she and Jase were incredibly cute together, and I loved how much we got to see of the two of them as a couple; so many romances just focus on the main characters getting together, and then end once they’re actually in a relationship. The focus on Jase and Samantha’s families was really nice as well, and the more dramatic turns that the plot took towards the end were incredibly gripping.5 starsMy Heart is Either Broken by Megan Abbott (from Dangerous Women). A short story about a man trying to deal with the disappearance of his daughter, and the fact that the police and the public all seem to suspect that his wife was the one responsible. I’m not usually one for crime novels, but I actually really enjoyed this one – it had a wonderfully sinister feel to it, and since it was a short story rather than a full novel, it wasn’t long enough to drag…4 starsMorgan Matson//Second Chance SummerSecond Chance Summer by Morgan Matson. A bittersweet story about a teenage girl called Taylor, who’s spending the summer with her parents and siblings at the lake house that they haven’t visited in years (since she had an argument with two of her friends there, and ran away rather than try to fix their relationship), as a last chance for some quality time as a family, since her father only has a few months left to live. Naturally, this book was very sad, but it was also uplifting at times; Taylor got a chance to really get to know her father before his death, and their shared grief let her connect with her brother and sister in a way that she never had before. She also had the “second chance” referred to in the title – with her former best friend Lucy, and her ex-boyfriend Henry, with whom she’d had a disastrous parting… Taylor’s tendency to run away from her problems could sometimes be frustrating, and was perhaps a little overdone, but she was still very relatable, and the writing was excellent. I actually liked this book even better than Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, though I would still recommend reading that book first, as there’s a nice cameo near the beginning of the book!4 stars

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (Spoiler-Free)

THE DARK DAYS CLUB5 stars

Alison Goodman//The Dark Days ClubSUMMARY

Eighteen years old, longing to escape from her disapproving uncle’s home, and about to make her debut (and meet the Queen!), Lady Helen Wrexhall ought to have nothing more on her mind than dances and dress fittings, and catching the eye of a suitable man. Instead, she finds herself drawn into the society of the infamous Lord Carlston, an accused (though not convicted) murderer, recently returned from overseas – and whose past is somehow linked to that of Helen’s long-dead mother.

The Dark Days Club is the first book in the new Lady Helen series, and was published in the UK in January this year. The (currently untitled) sequel is expected in 2017.

STORY [5/5]

As much a mystery novel as an adventure, The Dark Days Club presents several tantalising mysteries to unravel: The fate of Lady Catherine, Helen’s mother who died at sea after being accused of treason; the unexpected disgrace of her friend Delia, who ran off with an unknown man despite never having been a romantic sort; the disappearance of the maid Berta; the reappearance of the presumed wife-killer, Lord Carlston, in decent society – and seemingly endorsed by several of the ton’s most influential members, when he ought to be a pariah; and, of course, the mysterious blue glow that Helen keeps seeing around people…

Not all these questions were actually answered in the course of this book, but that’s to be expected, really, since it’s only the first in a series – and the questions that were answered, were answered really well. All the threads of plot were really well fleshed-out, and woven together masterfully.

CHARACTERS [5/5]

The two main characters in this book are Lady Helen and Lord Carlston, and I really loved them both. Helen is, of course, the character we see the most of, as the story is told from her perspective, and she’s both likeable and relatable, unsure whether or not she really wants to be part of this strange demonic world, even if it is for the greater good, and might give her some answers about what happened to her mother.

With Carlston, Goodman managed to build a really great amount of mystery around him: He appears to be a (mostly) good person, but the rumours about him are incredibly dark, and it’s difficult to tell (for the reader and for Helen) how much of his reputation is grounded, even as we get to know him better.

There are a quite few supporting characters as well, but notably among these are: Helen’s brother Andrew, who came across as nice enough, but rather short-sighted, particularly where his sister is concerned; his friend Duke Selburn, who is suspiciously attentive; Helen’s well-meaning, protective Aunt Leonore (who I loved) and preachy, judgemental uncle, Lord Pennworth (who I hated); and Darby, who pulls double-duty as Helen’s handmaid, and as, essentially, her best friend.

ROMANCE & RELATIONSHIPS [5/5]

The romance took a definite back-seat in this book, which was quite refreshing for a YA novel. Which is not to say that there isn’t any, but love isn’t the most important thing in Helen’s world with everything else that’s going on in the story. Or possibly ever – as a woman, and particularly a noblewoman, she’s very realistic about the fact that her choice of husband will have more to do with the life that he can offer her, than with romance (or even affection). That said, the romantic feelings that she does have come about quite gradually, and are worked into the story in a very natural-feeling, unobtrusive manner.

In terms of platonic relationships, I don’t have so much to say, but I loved the way that Helen and Darby interacted, constantly aware of their difference in status, but also trusting each other implicitly. Helen’s slightly strained relationship with her aunt was also delightfully complex: Aunt Leonore clearly feels a great deal of affection for her neice, but it’s often mixed with shame over the actions of Helen’s mother, and worry that Helen is heading down the same path.

WORLD-BUILDING [5/5]

Regency England is one of my favourite time periods to read about, and the addition of the secretive world of Deceivers and Reclaimers, and the mysterious Dark Days Club, just made it more exciting. Goodman’s portrayal of the period itself was nicely done, with plenty of detail, but not so much that it felt that the setting was all there was to the book. The more fantastical parts of the world were also introduced at a good pace, making it easy to grasp new information without being overwhelmed by it.

WRITING [4/5]

There’s little that I can say about the writing except this: It was really good. Easy to follow, fluid and very well-paced, and rather addictive… I ended up reading the majority of this book in just one sitting, it was so difficult to put down!

OVERALL IMPRESSION [5/5]

A really fantastic start to what looks to be an intriguing series. I will definitely be picking up the sequel as soon as it’s available!

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Fans of Cassandra Clare’s books should absolutely read this, too; the Infernal Devices trilogy in particular.

Upcoming Releases: Winter 2015-16

Autumn was a pretty hectic (and exciting!) season for new books, but things seemed to have calmed down a little now… That said, there are still a few things coming out in the next few months that I’m really excited for, so without further ado, here are my most anticipated new releases of December, January and Februaury!

[NB: All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 15/11/2015.]

Den Patrick//The Girl on the Liar's ThroneThe Girl on the Liar’s Throne by Den Patrick (21st January)

The third book in the Erebus Sequence, a gothic fantasy series that I picked up earlier this year on a whim and was blown away by. The second book left off on a serious cliffhanger, though, so I’m really excited for this one – which, in addition to being the continuation of an incredibly intriguing and dramatic storyline, is also told from the perspective of Anea, one of the most fascinating characters in the first two books.

Alison Goodman//The Dark Days ClubThe Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (21st January)

The first book in a new series by the author of Eon  and Eona (which I haven’t read, but which I’ve heard amazing things about). The Lady Helen series is a fantasy adventure set in Regency England, and featuring a demon-hunting heroine.

Julie Murphy//Dumplin'Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (28th January)

A book I’ve been hearing a lot about in the last couple of months – Dumplin’ has generated a lot of buzz! This is a contemporary novel about the daughter of a former beauty queen, who, despite being overweight, has always been confident and comfortable in her own skin. Until she meets a guy… So in order to prove to herself, and to the world, that she’s beautiful just the way she is, she decides to enter a beauty pageant herself.

Maria V. Snyder//Night StudyNight Study by Maria V. Snyder (25th February)

The next book in the Chronicles of Ixia series, which I’ve been really enjoying lately. I’m not caught up, so I’ll likely not be reading this for a little while, but I thought I’d share it anyway. 🙂 Night Study is the second book in the Soulfinders trilogy (which is the third Chronicles of Ixia trilogy), and follows Yelena on her continuing adventures.