2018 in Review: Highlights

🎊🎊🎊 Happy New Year’s Eve Eve, everyone! 🎊🎊🎊 It’s the time of year again for everyone to talk about their favourite books! 📚 … And usually I’d be joining in with the numbered-list-o-mania, but I’ve read so many great books this year, so instead I thought I’d talk about some of my bookish highlights for the year! 😊 Not all of these are necessarily my absolute favourites, but these are the books I found particularly memorable in 2018:

If you’ve been following my monthly/seasonal wrap-ups, you’ll probably have noticed that I finally got myself an Audible subscription, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. I find it hard sometimes to tell whether my feelings about the book being read are affected by the narrator’s performance, or vice versa, but quite a few of my favourites this year turned out to be ones that I’d listened to rather than read. In terms of pure performance, though, nothing comes close to Garth Nix’s Frogkisser!, which was wonderfully read by Marisa Calin; you can find my review of it here.

The other stand-out audiobook I listened to was Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, though in this case I think my enjoyment was based mostly on the story itself (though Steve West’s narration was also excellent), and I’ve no doubt that I would have liked it just as much in print form. I was a little behind the bandwagon in starting this series, but this first book definitely lives up to the incredible amount of hype surrounding it, and the sequel (Muse of Nightmares, which was released a few months ago) was almost as good.

And on the topic of more recent releases: The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff and The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White both ended this year, and are by far some of the best series I’ve read in the last few years. Neither Obsidio nor Bright We Burn were my favourites from their respective series, but they both made for incredibly satisfying endings.

After a slightly disappointing start to the series, I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, which I finally – and reluctantly – picked up for the Fall into Fantasy readathon in November. I was never entirely sure why The Hidden Oracle didn’t resonate with me, but The Dark Prophecy has definitely saved the series for me; I’m currently reading book three (The Burning Maze), and enjoying it just as much, and no doubt it would be included in this post, too, if not for the fact that I’m unlikely to finish it before New Year. (I also have a review up for this book, which you can find here, if you’re interested.)

On the whole, my 2018 seems to have been a really great (and intense) year for fantasy books, and it’s been really wonderful to delve so deeply back into my favourite genre, including my first (kind-of) go at one of the classics: Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle! I’ve been meaning to read this series for such a long time, and now that I’ve started, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long! So far, I’ve only read the first three books, but I’ve loved them all, and the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, is probably my favourite book of the year; it was such a wonderful read. 💕 Needless to say, Tehanu (the fourth in the series) will be one of the first things that I read in 2019.

Finally, I’d like to also give a quick mention to We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which is probably the most thought-provoking book I read this year, and was an incredible roller-coaster of emotions. I feel like I read it so long ago that it’s heard to believe that it was really still 2018, but it’s stuck with me, and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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

ursula le guin//the tombs of atuan

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! ❄️4 stars

*Not including re-reads.

[EDIT (23/12/18): Decreased rating for The Bear & the Nightingale from 5 to 4 stars after further consideration, and replaced it with The Tombs of Atuan in my “favourite of the season” slot. My feelings on the book haven’t changed, just my assessment of those feelings… if that makes any sense. 🤔]

#FallIntoFantasy: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan.

[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 The Hidden Oracle.]

Betrayed by his demigod master, and still shockingly mortal (even after all the uncomfortable questing he’s already been subjected to), Apollo sets out with the demigod Leo Valdez and the (also newly mortal) sorceress Calypso in search of one of the most dangerous Oracles of all, the Cave of Trophonius. But their journey is a tricky one, and Commodus – former Emperor of Rome, and Triumvirate member – will stop at nothing to keep them from reaching their destination.

After reading The Hidden Oracle, I remember thinking that Apollo was probably my least favourite of Riordan’s protagonists so far. He grew a lot, however, over the course of the book (and I definitely liked him a lot more by the end of it), and I’m pleased that this continued in The Dark Prophecy. He is still incredibly arrogant, but I found that the relationships he formed in this book and the last humanised him a lot. That includes his friendship with Meg, of course, but we are also introduced to several characters in The Dark Prophecy who were important to him before he became mortal, which made his backstory a lot more sympathetic.

I also thought that Leo and Calypso made excellent companions for Apollo. He and Calypso, in particular, provided an interesting contrast to one another; both of them former immortals, but reacting to their new mortality in very different ways. Additionally, it was just nice to be spending time with Leo and Calypso again. Theirs is one of my favourite romances in any of Riordan’s books, but it’s also one of the least-showcased, so it was wonderful to see them develop as a couple.

It took me a long time to finally pick up this book, as I was really worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this series as much as I usually do with Riordan’s work, but I’m happy to have been mistaken. I didn’t quite mesh with The Hidden Oracle, but my enthusiasm for The Trials of Apollo has definitely been re-invigorated by this book – and hopefully it won’t take me nearly so long to get to The Burning Maze!

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Well, this is up later than it should’ve been! 😅 But no matter! Next up is The Smoke Thieves, which looks pretty promising from the first thirty pages, so I will be spending (what’s left of) today immersed in that. 😊

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 772
Challenges Completed: 7/8

#FallIntoFantasy Readathon | TBR

With autumn soon coming to an end, Penguin is launching the aptly-named Fall Into Fantasy readathon, which will run from 18th-25th November, and challenges us to read at least four fantasy novels over the course of the week. There are more specific challenges as well, of course (which I’ve used to tailor my reading list), as well as a FallintoFantasy_Challenges_InstaFB-1024x1024collection of official buddy reads (which I haven’t; some of the books do look interesting, I just don’t have any of them…), all of which can be found on Penguin’s site (linked above), and in the infographic to the right. 👉

And a second readathon will also be going on at the same time: The Tome Topple readathon, which is all about reading big books – 500 pages or more – will be on from 16th-29th November. And since fantasy books tend to be more chunky than not, I think these readathons go together perfectly! 🎶 I won’t be jumping into this one from the start, as I have a couple of shorter things I want to finish off before I get carried away to fantasyland, but if I’m still in as much of a reading mood after #FallIntoFantasy as I am now, I’ll definitely be picking up a(nother?) tome to finish before the 29th. 😊

Here’s what I’ll (probably) be reading:

1) Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. The first book in the Sorcerer Royal series, which tells the story of Zacharias Wythe, former slave and distinguished sorcerer, who sets out on a journey to Fairyland in order to find out why magic seems to be running out. I’ve been getting serious Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell vibes from this book since I first heard of it, but I’m hoping that it will be a little more accessable, by virtue of being about a quarter of the length. 😋 This book will tick off challenges #1 (a new series), #2 (been on my TBR too long) and #4 (a diverse fantasy).

2) The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. The second book in Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series, which takes place in the same universe as the Percy Jackson books, but follows the god Apollo, who is transformed into a human teenager as punishment for annoying his father – the king of the Greek gods, Zeus – one too many times. Apollo is canonically bisexual, so this is (shockingly) the only fantasy I own (and haven’t read yet) that could possibly satisfy challenge #3 (and LGBTQ fantasy), but it will also do for #7 (a sequel), and is another contender for challenge #2 – though, to be honest, I could say the same for pretty much any of these… 😅

3) A Court of Wings & Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. The third book in the A Court of Thorns & Roses series, and the conclusion to Feyre’s storyline, I believe. I’ve been somewhat nervous about picking up any of Maas’ books since reading Queen of Shadows, so this has been lingering on my TBR for a while, but I am cautiously optimistic about it, as I really enjoyed the last book in this series… 🤞 This book will fulfil challenges #2, #7, and #8 (Booktube recommended).

4) The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green. Last but by no means least is the first in a new series by one of my favourite new authors of the last few years! I don’t know much about the story of this one, but I do know that it’s a high fantasy (as opposed to Green’s previous urban fantasy trilogy), follows four different protagonists, and was released earlier this year – thereby completing the last two challenges, #5 (multiple POVs) and #6 (a new fantasy). 🎉

A Court of Wings & Ruin will also count for the Tome Topple readathon, as it’s well over 500 pages, and although The Smoke Thieves isn’t, I’m still going to include it, as 494 pages is awfully close… Some of the other tomes that I might pick up when my fantasy sprint is over are: The Angry Tide by Winston Graham or Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, both of which I’ve already started on, but still have well over 500 pages to go, or perhaps Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – something I’ve been meaning to read for years now… 😓

Autumn Haul

Well, this post has been a long time coming! I think the last book haul I posted must’ve been in July? Or maybe even earlier… In any case, I’ve been adding things to this list since August, when I broke my book-buying ban on a trip to Topping in Ely… But I’ve managed to be pretty good since then. 👍 (The library has been my friend.) These are the books I bought from August to October:

1) The Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening. A book that’s pretty self-explanatory… Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of my favourite games, and I really loved all the art in it, so I was very happy to find this at Topping, despite the pain I felt in the general vicinity of my wallet (at the total price of everything I bought there, rather than just the price of this book, which wasn’t unreasonable for an art book of this size)…

2) The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Another treat to myself from Topping. I was actually debating between getting this or History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, but I came down on the side of The Dark Prophecy because they had signed copies. The second book in the Trials of Apollo series, set in the Percy Jackson universe but focusing on the god Apollo who’s been turned into a mortal teenager. This isn’t my favourite of the Percy Jackson-verse series’, but I had a lot of fun with The Hidden Oracle, and I’m sure that I’ll enjoy this one, too.

3) On the Pleasure of Hating by William HazlittOn Liberty by John Stuart MillThe Rights of Man by H.G. Wells. The last three books from my splurge in Ely, all of which are indulgences of my (kind of) recent obsession with civil rights… The first two books are part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, which I’m tempted to start collecting (they’re really nice editions), despite the fact that not all of them appeal to me content-wise. 😓 I read On the Pleasure of Hating back in October, but have yet to start on the other two.

4) The Claiming of Sleeping BeautyBeauty’s PunishmentBeauty’s Release by Anne Rice. The entire original Sleeping Beauty trilogy (though I believe another sequel was written not long ago). Not pictured, because I couldn’t bring myself to remove them from my “get-rid-of-ASAP” pile. I read (and had way too many thoughts about) the first book in September, and it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever come across. Which is saying a lot… I was hesitantly considering reading the other two out of morbid curiosity, but decided on further refection that sticking needles in my eyes would be a better use of my time. 😑

5) La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. The first volume of The Book of Dust, which is a companion series to His Dark Materials, one of my favourite trilogies of all time. I haven’t managed to start this book yet due to way too many other time commitments, but I’m hoping it’ll be one of the first things I read in 2018. 😆

6) Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot. The follow-up to the Princess Diaries series, which follows a grown-up Mia dealing with the stress of her royal duties and all the personal drama that always seems to follow her around. I started reading this the night before last, and it’s been great fun so far, getting back into Mia’s head, but with a slightly (only very slightly) more mature spin on things. I had a grin on my face the whole time I was reading. 😁 Review to come soon.

7) A History of Magic. The catalogue for the exhibition that’s currently on at the British Library, which is about Harry Potter and occult history. I wrote a whole post about the exhibition just the other day, but in short, it was really fascinating, and this catalogue is basically the exhibition in book form -though, of course, it’s different seeing the exhibits in the flesh (as it were) than in pictures. A wonderful book that I will be perusing often now that I’ve recovered it from my mother. 😋