2017 in Review

Last year (and it’ll be strange for a while yet to be using that phrase to refer to 2017) ended up being a pretty great reading year for me, despite several not-quite-slumps, and a few very time-consuming video game obsessions. 😅 I’m still not reading at the pace that I was when I was in China (just before I decided to start this blog), but considering that I now have a considerably more active social life, and a job with far less downtime, I’m happy with both the quantity and the quality of the books that I read. I managed to complete my Goodreads Challenge, as well as all of my Reading Resolutions, which makes a huge change from 2016, where I only managed two out of ten. 😰 The My Year in Books page on Goodreads also looks as cool as ever, but I especially like that they’ve added reviews into the layout this time.

Of course, I’ve picked out a few favourites, which I’d like to say a little about (in order of reading, not preference), starting with The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, which was not at all what I was expecting it to be, but completely blew me away. It’s a story about a woman and the robot who helped to raise her, and all the ways that their relationship shifts and changes as they grow older. I only initially gave this four stars, but I took the fact that I’m still thinking about it, and remember it so favourably as a sign that I ought to bump it up to a five-star rating.

The next book was definitely the best book I read in 2017: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie! This book not only defied my expectations, but completely blew them out of the water. It tells the story of a soldier called Breq who used to be part of the consciousness of a sentient starship, and is now on a mission to avenge the destruction of herself (kind of). It’s very strange conceptually, but I found the characters, the plot, and the intergalactic society that Leckie created completely enchanting, and I can’t wait to finish the series (after which I will be deciding whether this book specifically, or the series as a whole, will make it onto my all-time favourites list)!

And third is Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, which I finished reading on Boxing Day evening, so it’s a very recent addition to the list. It’s a British contemporary novel about a girl who’s always been super-focused on her academic performance, but secretly loves a strange podcast called Universe City, whose creator is a complete mystery – until one day an acquaintance of hers drunkenly reveals himself to be the mysterious “Radio Silence”. Plot-wise, this book was probably quite weak, but I loved it for its characters, who I identified with very strongly, as well as its homage to fan-culture (of the podcasts and fan-art variety), which read very much like a love letter. 💕

Lastly, here’s a round-up of my resolutions, which (as I previously mentioned) went  really well:

1) Take part in the Library Scavenger Hunt every month:

2) Read 1 non-fiction book:

  • Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks [review linked above]

3) Read 10 adult/literary novels:

4) Read 3 classics or modern classics:

  • Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen [review linked above]
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne [review linked above]
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [review linked above]

5) Read 5 books that showcase cultures different to my own:

6) Read 5 comics, manga or graphic novels (each series can only count once):

7) Read 10 short stories (not including spin-off novellas):

  • Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (from the Dangerous Women anthology)
  • Odd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  • The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass (DW)
  • Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughan (DW)
  • Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale (DW)
  • Neighbors by Megan Lindholm (DW)
  • I Know How to Pick ‘Em by Lawrence Block (DW)
  • Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson (DW)
  • A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman (DW)
  • Midnights by Rainbow Rowell (from the My True Love Gave to Me anthology)

8) Read 5 books that were given or lent to me:

  • Odd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  • The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman [review]
  • Wild Lily by K.M. Peyton [review]
  • The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke [review linked above]
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [review linked above]

9) Finish reading 3 DNF books:

  • Now I Rise by Kiersten White
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld [review linked above]
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [review linked above]

10) Finish or catch up on 5 series that I started before the beginning of the year:

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February – April Haul

Good news, everyone: My book-buying ban (/restriction) is going super-well! So I only have five new books to show you even though it’s been three months since my last haul (one of which was a gift, so I’ve only actually bought four). 😀 They are:

1) Starfall by Melissa Landers. The sequel to Starflight (and final book in the duology), an epic space-pirate adventure that I read around this time last year. This book will focus on two of my favourite supporting characters – Cassie and Kane – from its predecessor, and will hopefully be just as amazing (if not more so).

2) Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer. A re-telling of Pride & Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective, which I picked up on a whim in March, and read pretty much immediately. I wasn’t expecting much more than a few hours of fun from this book, but it actually turned out to be surprisingly well-written, as well. 🙂 (I doubt I’ll be holding onto it for long, though.)

3) The Tower of the Swallow by Andrzej Sapkowski. The penultimate book in the Witcher series, which I’ve been obsessing over since late last year – and definitely one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I’m dying to know what happens next, but am also resolved not to read The Lady of the Lake until it’s available in paperback… so this year is looking to be a particularly suspenseful one in Witcher-land. 😉

4) The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. A standalone novel that follows a girl called Cat Novak through her life, and in particular her unusual relationship with Finn, an android whom her father programmed to act as her tutor when she was young. This is a book that I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, but it turned out to be not at all what I was expecting – in the best possible sense. 🙂 I’ve written a proper review of this book, which you can find here. (And many thanks to my aunt, Lucy, who gave me this book as a belated Christmas present!)

5) Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. This last book I just bought a couple of days ago, and I don’t actually know all that much about it, but the blurb sounded rather Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell-y in premise (a court sorcerer who travels to Fairyland in order to find out why magic has started to disappear)… though of course Sorcerer to the Crown is considerably less dense (as is the case with most books). It’s the first book in the new Sorcerer Royal series, and I’m looking forward to reading it soon!

Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Spoiler-Free)

Cat Novak grows up in the aftermath of an event that’s only known as the Disaster, in which millions of humans were killed, and after which millions of robots were created to help rebuild. Homeschooled and with no close neighbours, Cat’s best friend is Finn – a unique, super-advanced robot whom her father has re-programmed to be her tutor – and as she grows older, her feelings for him only become more complicated… but can a robot, even one as advanced as Finn, ever be capable of returning her feelings?

What I was expecting from this book was a cute (though maybe a little sad) romance between a robot and a teenage girl; something in line with Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse series – the only other books of hers that I’ve read. What I got was something much deeper, much heavier, and much more complex. Rather than cute-but-sad, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, and unlike The Assassin’s Curse, it was very clearly not aimed at younger readers. This last point would probably have been less of a surprise to me if I’d investigated the book a little more before deciding to read it, but I saw the words “Cassandra Rose Clarke”, “love” and “robots” on the same cover, and let my imagination have free reign from there. A mistake? Possibly. But I do enjoy having my expectations defied – and in this case, far surpassed.

This is very much a character-driven story, and Clarke’s done a really great job of creating a cast of characters who were all beautifully – and realistically – flawed. Even though at times I didn’t particularly like Cat, I always felt that I could understand why she was behaving in the way she was (even when her reasoning was somewhat faulty), and the relationships she formed with the people around her were wonderful. I really enjoyed how close she became to her father as she grew up, and the way that she and her mother continually failed to understand one another (despite loving each other) was heart-wrenching.

And, of course, there was also Finn, who constantly struggles with his own sense of identity and purpose, as well as his desires. Later on in the book, Cat has a chance to finally find out about Finn’s origins, and what she discovers is both incredibly sad and incredibly fascinating. I loved the way that Finn’s friendship altered Cat’s worldview throughout the book; first leading her to get into a fight with a boy at school who calls robots abominations, then influencing her choice of topic for her thesis, and later on leading to her involvement in the Automaton Defense League (a pro-automaton rights group)… but at the same time there’s something of a disconnect between the things that she believes about Finn and the way that she behaves towards him.

Richard was an interesting character, too, and I had a lot of very conflicted feelings about him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad that he exited Cat’s life at the point that he did, but I also think that he and Cat were both in some way to blame for everything that went wrong in their relationship; Cat was as much the villain of Richard’s story as Richard was the villain of hers…

The exact setting of the story is rather vague, both in terms of location (somewhere in America) and time (futuristic, but not so much so that the world seems unfamiliar), but I found that this mattered very little, because it’s not really a story about living in a distant future; it’s a story about people, and people will always be people wherever – or whenever – they are. If Clarke hadn’t wanted to write about robots, then The Mad Scientist’s Daughter could just have easily been set in America at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, or even in ancient Rome without being any different in essentials… by which I mean that the although the book’s setting is futuristic, the issues it deals with are both timeless and universal.

Overall: Powerful, thought-provoking, and superbly written. I have no doubt that this is a story that I’ll still be pondering for quite some time, and it’s well-deserving of all the thought that I can give it.5 stars

EDIT (3/1/2018): Bumped up from 4 stars to 5, after further consideration. Also one of my favourite books of the year, even over some really solid 5-star books.

March Wrap-Up

I spent the majority of March obsessing over Horizon: Zero Dawn (probably one of the best games I’ve ever played), so I didn’t do as much reading as I might otherwise have done… but I did manage to read six novels and a short story, and finish off a manga series that I started a little while ago. 😀 Better yet, almost everything I read was really amazing; it was definitely a good month in terms of reading quality!

David Gaider//AsunderAsunder by David Gaider. The third book in the series of Dragon Age spin-off novels, which tell the stories of various side-characters and background events from the video games… Asunder tells the story of Cole in the lead-up to the Mage Rebellion and, consequently, the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, as well as his two friends at the White Spire (Val Royeaux’s Circle of Magi), Rhys and Evangeline… and it’s by far the best of the Dragon Age novels I’ve read so far! I’m pretty preoccupied with the plight of the mages, so this book seems almost like it was written for me; so many of the things that were said in it are things that I’ve been wanting to hear people acknowledge since I started playing the games! Even beyond the Mage Rebellion issues, the plotline was fascinating, and the characters were all great, too: It was wonderful to revisit all of the returning characters from the games, and I really loved all the new characters who were introduced.5 starsLove So Life by Kaede Kouichi. A manga series about a high school girl who is taken on as a babysitter for an adorable pair of three-year-old twins, and ends up falling in love with their guardian. The characters were all super-sweet, and I loved the romance between Shiharu and Seiji, as well as Shiharu’s relationship with the twins. ❤ As with many slice-of-life series, there’s not much to say in regards to plot – it’s fairly standard rom-com fare – but it was very well executed. This was such a cute series to read; I’m really glad that I stumbled across it in my journeys through manga-land! 😉Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen. A classic novel about two very different sisters who both find that their paths to happiness may not be as straight as they were expecting. This was a really enjoyable read; I love Jane Austen’s writing and characters so much, and Sense & Sensibility definitely lived up to my expectations. I didn’t like it quite as much as Pride & Prejudice or Emma, but anyone who knows how much I love those two books will realise that that’s really not saying much. 😉 I’ve written a proper review of this book already; you can find it here.Fearless by Tim Lott. A dystopian novel about a girl living in what appears to be a boarding school, but is actually an institution where supposedly criminal girls are sent to become the City’s unpaid labour force. I picked this up for the March Library Scavenger Hunt, but it was distinctly uninspiring… My LSH picks seem to be rather hit-or-miss, and unfortunately this one was definitely a miss. :/ You can find my full review here.

The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass. A sci-fi short story from the Dangerous Women anthology, which tells the story of a human aristocrat who’s having a risky affair with a half-human stripper, in a future where all human-alien relationships are illegal. I’m not usually one to get very invested in short stories, but really enjoyed this one, and only wish that there’d been more of it; the world that Snodgrass set up was fascinating, and the plot definitely had the complexity to support a much longer book…Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer. A retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s perspective. The problem I often have with Jane Austen fanfiction (which is what this is, regardless of its publication status) is that the writers usually try to imitate Austen’s writing style, and it ends up coming across very stilted, but I’m pleased to say that Aylmer has done a reasonably good job in that respect, and Darcy’s voice rang true even during the scenes that were not part of Pride & Prejudice. In terms of dialogue, she has barely strayed from the original work, so it is naturally excellent, but not very original. I didn’t mind this, as it’s to be expected in a straight-up retelling, and in fact it probably would’ve irritated me if it’d been modified overmuch… with the exception of one scene in particular (when Lady Catherine visited Darcy to tell him about her talk with Elizabeth at Longbourn), which included some shoehorned-in direct quotes which made the conversation feel very unnatural… Overall, however, this was an enjoyable read, and an interesting study of Darcy’s character.Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham. The third book in the Poldark series, which follows a Cornish family in the 1700s, who are all very involved in the copper trade. As with previous books in this series, I found the insight into the copper industry itself to be really fascinating, and the continuing plot and character development are both tense and frustrating (in the best possible way). Some of the suspense was removed for me by the fact that I already knew what was going to happen (I’ve been watching the TV series, too), but I don’t think that really effected my enjoyment of the story except in that it made me a little surprised by how not-belligerent Ross was being for most of the book, compared to his on-screen portrayal… I’ve rated Jeremy Poldark slightly lower than the previous two books, not because it’s not as good, but because I wasn’t quite as engaged with it as I was with Ross Poldark or Demelza, but needless to say, I’m still really enjoying this series.The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. An unexpectedly powerful and thought-provoking story about a girl who falls in love with a robot, at a tumultuous time when robots are beginning to be thought of as people, but haven’t been given rights. I won’t say too much more about it here (except that, of course, I really liked it), as I’m hoping to have a proper review of it up shortly. 🙂5 stars

Teaser Tuesday #9

THE RULES:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

A few days ago I finally picked up The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, a book that’s been on my radar for a few years now – ever since I read her Assassin’s Curse duology (a super-fun adventure featuring an assassin, a pirate and a curse). The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has turned out to be quite a different kind of book, however; less fun and more thought-provoking, but really enjoyable nevertheless. It is, at face value, about a girl who falls in love with a robot, but the story is much deeper than it initially appears.

Teaser #1:

His normalcy was contagious. Her mother would approve.

Teaser #2:

The monitor flickered black, then bright blue, then switched to the screensaver of floating, iridescent jellyfish. Finn had severed the connection from his end. He was gone. Her father’s house was gone. Replaced by jellyfish that looked like ghosts.

[Teaser Tuesday was created by MizB over at A Daily Rhythm.]