May Wrap-Up

Eight books in May! I was feeling the beginnings of a reading slump towards the end of the month (after a couple of disappointing reads), but I’m glad I managed to shake it off so quickly! 😄 And apart from those few disappointments, the majority of the month has been filled with some really excellent books! Here they all are:

Darken the Stars by Amy A. Bartol. The final (I hope) book in the Kricket series, which follows a teenage girl who’s taken to another world and told that it’s actually her homeland. The last couple of books were fun, if somewhat grating, but this last book was seriously problematic. I wrote a review of the full series near the beginning of the month, but it’s mostly just a rant about Darken the Stars. 😡The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman. A sweet story about a girl who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a firework-maker, and so sets out on a journey to prove herself. This was a really cute book; a bit shorter than I would have preferred, but I loved the characters (particularly Hamlet the talking elephant) and the secret behind the Royal Sulphur…I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman. The story of a rat who is turned into a boy, and the elderly couple who take him in. I first read this book many, many years ago, so I was rather surprised by how vividly I was able to remember it… and by it being just as wonderful a read as it was the first time around. I’ve written a proper review of this book, which you can find here.Clockwork by Philip Pullman. Two dark, haunting tales told parallel to one another, about two men who both make deals with the sinister Dr. Kalmenius, who has a peculiar talent for clockwork. An excellent story, and genuinely chilling, even for someone who’s significantly older than the target audience… Of the two simultaneous story threads, I preferred the one about the clockwork prince, but the way they both came together in the end was wonderful. ☺️The Scarecrow & His Servant by Philip Pullman. A lighthearted tale about a scarecrow who is struck by lightning and brought to life, and the young (rather more grounded) boy he decides to hire as his servant. It was a fun read, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d read it when I was (a lot) younger. At 27, there are still things about it that I can appreciate, but as a whole it was just a bit too silly… My review can be found here.Four Tales by Philip Pullman. This was a compilation of the four tales I’ve just mentioned, and as a collection it was very impressive (and beautiful, which a book really ought to be if possible); the stories are great, and fit together very well thematically… My favourite was probably Clockwork  something that surprised me, as I was definitely expecting it to be I Was a Rat! (if only for nostalgia’s sake) – but they’re all good fun, and excellently written.The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten. A story about a boy with OCD, who meets a girl at his support group and falls madly in love with her, triggering a rapid downward spiral in his recovery… I ended up being pretty disappointed with this book, unfortunately, but since it was my May Library Scavenger Hunt pick, I’ve written a full review of it already; you can find it here. 😑Geekerella by Ashley Poston. An adorable modern re-interpretation of Cinderella, where Cinderella (i.e. Elle) is a huge fan of the sci-fi series Starfield, as well as the daughter of the founder of ExcelsiCon, a massive Starfield convention, and Prince Charming (i.e. Darien) is a young heartthrob actor and secret nerd, who’s just been cast for the lead role in the new Starfield reboot. It’s not exactly love at first sight, but they get there in the end. I absolutely loved this book! It’s super-cute, with great characters (even the minor ones), and a few surprising twists to the traditional Cinderella-retelling mould… I will hopefully be posting a full review of this in the next couple of weeks. 😄What’s a Soulmate? by Lindsey Ouimet. A surprisingly complex look at the soulmate-identifying-marks trope, in which a teenage girl called Libby meets her soulmate at the juvenile detention centre where her father works, only to find that he’s been brought there for committing a horrific assault. I’ve been seeing this trope in various different forms (including the one Ouimet uses) all over the place lately, and I’ll confess that I’m something of a sucker for it, but I really feel that Ouimet was able to do something unexpected with it. I won’t say too much else here, because this is another book that I’d like to write a more detailed review of, but the characters were all great, and the plot and the romance were both exciting and realistically portrayed… 👍

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Review: The Scarecrow & His Servant by Philip Pullman (Spoiler-Free)

One night a scarecrow is struck by lightning and comes to life, and a great adventure ensues, as – along with his newly-hired (and very hungry) servant Jack – the Scarecrow hits the road in search of fame and fortune and, eventually, home… all while being pursued by bandits, birds, and all manner of other fearsome foes!

The short version of this review would be “a jolly romp, but a bit silly for my taste”, but since that doesn’t tell you much, I’ll go into a little more detail…

The story is told rather episodically, with Scarecrow moving from one adventure to the next without much thought, and much of it seemed rather flippant. Pullman was clearly going for a more comic tone with this book, and while there were some humorous parts, for the most part I feel that it missed the mark with me. Jack’s narration was good, however, and I liked him a lot as a character; Scarecrow was incredibly silly, but Jack seems to take all his quirks in stride.

I also really loved the role of the birds in the story. Naturally, a bird is a scarecrow’s mortal enemy, but (with some intervention from Jack) the way their relationship with Scarecrow changed over the course of the book was wonderful, and culminated in a great scene near the end where Scarecrow was brought before an enormous congress of birds (including Granny Raven, who is quite possibly the best character in the whole book).

The plot did come together quite well in the end, too, and although the ending managed to seem simultaneously drawn out (by Scarecrow’s illness) and rushed (in the final four-page chapter that ties up all the loose ends for everyone, however big or small their role), it was still a good one.

August Book Haul!

As if I needed more books. But one of the great trials of book-lovers everywhere is, when walking past a bookshop, resisting the urge to go inside, and (once, inevitably, inside) battling the compulsive need to buy everything in sight. Lack of funds often helps to curb that second impulse, but, alas, not always – on this particular occasion, it was not helpful in the least.

August Haul

The (physical) books I bought this month!

So, this is what I bought (& thankfully, not all of these were impulse buys):

1) The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick. This book sounds very mysterious. I actually don’t know any more about it than what’s written on the back, but I’ve heard really great things about Marcus Sedwick’s writing, so I’m looking forward to trying this out. Also, I bought it second hand, so it was super-cheap.

2) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I read Princess Academy by Shannon Hale so long ago that I can only remember the vaguest details of what it’s about, but I remember being very pleasantly surprised by it. I don’t know what this one’s about, but I’ve heard that it’s one of her best works, & I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while, so…

3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. One of my favourite books of all time. I read this one for the first time a few months ago, while I was in Beijing, but I was under a very strict no-physical-books rule at the time (because I needed all my stuff to fit inside one suitcase for the trip home), so I borrowed a copy from a friend of mine. This book was actually the reason that I was in Waterstones today: I wanted to make sure that I got a copy with the pretty cover (which I did), ’cause I keep seeing the movie-cover edition everywhere…

4) Four by Veronica Roth. The Divergent novella bind-up. I read this pretty much as soon as I bought it, & I really enjoyed it.

5) The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. A complete impulse buy. But I really want to read this soon, because it’s beautiful (but also giant).

6) Boxers & Saints (box-set) by Gene Luen Yang. I actually ordered this one while I was still in China, & then had to wait an agonising (approximately) two months before I could read it. 😦 This is a graphic novel series about the Boxer Rebellion, & it made me feel all kinds of unexpected things. Of the two books, I think I preferred Saints (the second), but not by much – they’re both absolutely amazing.

Philip Pullman//Four Tales

Seriously, this thing is so far beyond gorgeous that I can’t even…

7) Four Tales by Philip Pullman. I’ve had my eye on this book for so long, but I’ve been putting off buying it because it’s pretty expensive. But I couldn’t resist any longer! Look how pretty it is! The aforementioned “four tales” are The Firework-Maker’s DaughterI Was a Rat!Clockwork, and The Scarecrow and His Servant. Philip Pullman was one of my favourite authors when I first started getting into reading, & I Was a Rat! was actually one of the first books that I read & really loved (it’s a Cinderella retelling/sequel-type thing, from the perspective of one of the rats that was transformed by Cinderella’s fairy godmother). The other three stories I haven’t read yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to.

8) Percy Jackson & the Greek Gods by Rick Riordan. Greek mythology as told by Percy Jackson (as far as I can tell). I studied Classics at university, so I’m assuming that I’ll be familiar with most of the actual stories in here, but I really love the way that Rick Riordan writes Percy’s voice~ 🙂

9) Japanese from Zero! Vol. 1. A beginner’s Japanese textbook. I’ve completed the first lesson, & it seems pretty good so far. The most exciting thing about it, in my opinion, is that as you learn the kana characters, they start replacing the roman characters, so you’re constantly reviewing the kana just by progressing through the lessons. (This is helpful for lazy people like me, who can’t be bothered to review normally, unless there’s a test coming up…)

& that’s all! This was a way longer first post than I expected it to be… & I didn’t even include all the kindle books I bought this month! I’ll probably do an ebook haul sometime later in the month, because I expect I’ll be buying more of them, but goodbye for now!

~Fran.