#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 4 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Bright We Burn by Kiersten White.

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware.]

Lada has reclaimed her throne, but holding onto it will be another challenge entirely, and one she’s not nearly so suited for. Radu, meanwhile, returns to Mehmed’s side after the siege of Constantinople, haunted by his experiences there – only to find himself once again caught in-between his sister and his beloved friend.

An excellent conclusion to an excellent trilogy! Lada and Radu are such great characters, and their differing world-views balance out the story perfectly. I’m not usually a fan of very dark stories (and it’s probably not a surprise to anyone that I like Radu more than Lada), but White does a great job of showing how her actions affect people differently; a scene that is horrifying to Radu and his Ottoman companions in one chapter, is a glorious show of defiance to Lada’s Wallachian fighters in the next…

Lada is also a very sympathetic character. While I’m sure that nobody really agrees with her actions, it’s still very easy to understand where they come from: Pure rage at a world that refuses to take her seriously, whatever she seems to do (and a fair amount of bloodthirstiness, too). Lada is the phrase “great and terrible” given form, but she still manages to be human at the same time.

Radu’s chapters provided a much needed respite from his sister’s anger, though he is not without his own conflicts; they are mainly political, where Lada’s are military, but they are no less thrilling for being less action-driven. His internal struggles – of which there are many – are also incredibly heart-wrenching, from his attempts to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, to his complex feelings about both Lada (now his enemy) and Mehmed (who he may finally be accepting can never be more than his friend)…

Beyond its primary characters, the plot escalated and concluded in a very satisfying way, and the story as a whole remained as fast-paced and surprising as its predecessors (i.e. a lot). Unusually for me, I don’t think I have a favourite book in the series, as they were all truly fantastic.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Finished, and dead tired. 😪 I didn’t manage to get too much reading done yesterday, as I spent most of the day on a bus (and even thinking about reading on the bus makes me a little queasy), failing to sleep. But I did manage to finish off an audiobook while I was packing (An Ember in the Ashes, which I started before the readathon, hence the “.5” in my book count… though I shan’t be reviewing it, as I already did so for Booktubeathon 2016), and start on another: The Secret Life of Bees.

Books Completed: 4.5
Pages Read: 1402
(+ Hours Listened: 8:34)
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 3 & Review

JUST FINISHED: White Fang by Jack London.

White Fang tells the story of a wild wolf-dog, who is taken in by three human masters in turn, each of them with very different motivations. He is first a sled-dog, and then a fighter, then a sled-dog again, before finally getting a chance at an easier life, with a master who loves him.

This is an excellent story, as gut-wrenching as it is heart-warming, but it has a very slow start. It’s divided into five parts – the first following a two men being pursued across the snowy wastes by a hungry wolf pack; the second showing us White Fang’s puppyhood; and then a section with each of the wolf’s three owners (Grey Beaver, then Beauty Smith, and finally Weedon Scott) – the first of which is vaguely interesting, but entirely superfluous, and the second of which is even duller, but at least does the service of introducing the main character.

It gets better as it goes on, however, and the second half of the book is incredibly engaging. The heart of the story is in White Fang’s relationships with his three owners, and how he is shaped by each of them, whether through affection or through violence (of which there is a great deal). The very end of the book felt somewhat tacked-on, with a sudden flurry of action just as everything seemed to be winding down, and this part of the book could probably have been removed without really effecting the story at all – but the episode was only a few pages long, and the ending was otherwise appropriately sentimental.

Unsure of how closely they were connected, I made sure to read The Call of the Wild in preparation for this book, and although I would recommend reading them as a pair, it is certainly not necessary. The two books are thematically similar, and make a great accompaniment to one another (White Fang following a wild wolf who finds himself keeping company with humans, while The Call of the Wild is about a domestic dog who is, well, called to the wild), so it is clear why they are so often published in one volume, but there is no direct connection between them.

The film:
The adaptation I chose to watch (due to its easy availability more than anything else) was the Netflix animated film that was released earlier this year. I really liked the art style of this film, and appreciated that the filmmakers chose to leave out part one of the novel in its entirety, but felt that on the whole it was over-sanitised in a way that robbed the story of most of its emotional impact. The strength of White Fang is in the contrast between White Fang’s awful treatment at the hands of Beauty Smith (and, to a lesser extent, Gray Beaver) and his rehabilitation (so to speak) with Weedon Scott, and reducing the severity of the former also reduces the appreciation for the latter. I can see why this was done, as the gratuitous violence of the original story isn’t really appropriate for a children’s film, but it’s to the film’s detriment. This adaptation also changes the story a lot; it adds some structure, but most of these changes only seem to serve to make the book more politically correct… and the new ending tries its hand at heartwarming, but is significantly less so than in the original.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Now onto my most anticipated book of the readathon, Bright We Burn! 💕🎶 Which was not included in my TBR, but would have been had I remembered that I was going to be going on a book shopping spree the day after writing it. 😅

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 1011
(+ Hours Listened: 4:12)
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas.

A slave in the fortress of the fearsome Godmother, Pin remembers nothing of her life Before, but she knows there must be something beyond the enchanted walls that surround her – and it’s likely to be better than what’s within. Along with Shoe the shoemaker, she makes a break for freedom, but the world outside the fortress is a prison of another kind entirely.

My expectations for this book weren’t super-high (in fact, I almost got rid of it unread just last week, but hesitated for unknown reasons), but I was happily surprised by what I read. Pin was a really entertaining protagonist; I enjoyed her very blasé form of defiance a lot (particularly in part two), and I thought that Prineas’ concept of the Godmother – and the Story that she is an agent of – being the book’s real villain was incredibly clever, as was the way that several different fairytales were all woven together. Primarily, Ash & Bramble is of course a Cinderella retelling, but other tales that I noticed being referred to included The Twelve Dancing PrincessesRapunzel, and (perhaps most prominently) The Elves & the Shoemaker.

Apart from Pin, however, most of the cast was quite bland (though still likeable), and the Godmother’s motives seemed rather unconvincing. The romance was sweet, but not very well developed (as Pin didn’t spend very much time with either of her potential suitors), and the end of the book felt somewhat rushed… I’m aware that this book has a sequel, but it doesn’t cry out for one; it stands alone quite well.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Starting on White Fang, with hat at the ready.

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 765
(+ Hours Listened: 2:27)
Challenges Completed: 4/7

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.

Bored with her very ordinary life as a twelve-year-old in Omaha, September is delighted to be spirited away from her home by the Green Wind and his steed, the Leopard of Little Breezes. They bring her to Fairyland, where she sets out in search of adventure and fantastical friends – but Fairyland’s problems may be interfering with her plans far more severely than she expected.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this for quite a while, but was initially a little disappointed with it. I enjoyed the writing style, as well as all the characters, but found them to be flitting in and out of the story a lot more rapidly than I was expecting, and the story didn’t immediately grab me. (Structurally – and also thematically – it’s reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book that I like in theory, but don’t actually enjoy reading.) However, I got much more into it as the story went on, and by the time September met the Marquess I was fully invested; the book had by that point taken a slightly darker tone, and September had also found a companion who seemed to be sticking around. 👍

I really, really loved the ending, but my favourite thing about this book was September, and her relationships with the other characters she met. I’ve complained that many of the side characters were fleeting, but even so, they were still very memorable, and left their mark on September – and the characters with bigger roles were even more so. In particular, the friendship that grew between September and A-Through-L (or simply Ell) was wonderful to read about, and the inclusion of Saturday made for some incredibly heartwarming scenes.

With Fairyland, Valente has created a tale with the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, the heart of The Little Prince, and the adventure of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and yet somehow entirely original. Her writing here is not quite as breathtakingly beautiful as it was in Deathless (the only other one of her books that I’ve read), but her unique style is still very noticeable, and adds a lot to Fairyland’s narrative; and Ana Juan’s charming illustrations make a perfect accompaniment to the story.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Already started on my next book, which is Ash & Bramble (this post took me a little while to write). 😊 And also an audiobook for car time (An Ember in the Ashes) – though I was already halfway through that before the readathon started.

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 328
Challenges Completed: 3/7

#BookTubeAThon2018 TBR~ 💕

This year’s Booktubeathon comes at a fortuitous time, since I will be on holiday for the entire duration, and hopefully in the mood for a great deal of reading. 😁 The readathon is going to be from Monday 30th July to Sunday 5th August, and you can find more details about it in this announcement video – but what I want to focus on for this post is the challenges, which as always will be shaping the majority of my TBR ~🎶 So here goes:

1) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. This book has popped up on a lot of my TBRs in the last couple of years, but for some reason I never seem to get around to it – but maybe this summer will be the summer of Fairyland! This is my pick for challenges two (read a book about something you want to do; in this case, sailing, which I expect, though don’t know for sure is involved in this book) and three (read a book with green on the cover; it’s there, if only barely), and it also won the coin toss against The Princess & the Captain (which I subsequently removed from my TBR altogether), so if I do actually manage to start the readathon with it, then it will count for the first challenge (let a coin toss decide your first read) as well! Not bad for a less-than-300-page book! 😋

2) White Fang by Jack London. Another book that has the benefit of being extremely short, and has also been sitting unread on my kindle since I got it (maybe five years ago?). There’s a recent Netflix adaption of this, so I’ll be using it for challenge three (read and watch a book to movie adaptation), and due to its length it will probably also be my hat book (for challenge five: read a book while wearing the same hat the whole time), as it’s much too hot to be wearing a hat for any significant amount of time at the moment… 😓

3) Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas.Cinderella retelling (I think) that I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years now at least, and which will easily tick off challenge six (read a book with a beautiful spine; it’s red, with the same thorn design & ornate font as the cover). At 449 pages, this is the longest book on my TBR, but I find that most Young Adult books are quite quick reads, so I’m not too worried. And even if I only read these three books, I still will have ticked off all the challenges except the last…

4) So, the final challenge is to read seven books, and I’m planning on leaving it fairly open. I’ll be taking my kindle on holiday with me, with its hundred-or-so unread books, and since I’ll be spending the last day of the readathon in transit, I also have a couple of audiobooks loaded onto my phone. The only two physical books that are possibilities are Women & Power by Mary Beard, which I’m hoping to read before Booktubeathon starts, but will otherwise be my first book of the readathon, as I need to finish it by the end of the month anyway (potentially thwarting the coin toss challenge, I know, but needs must ☹️); and Fatherland by Robert Harris, which was a birthday present from my aunt.

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 3 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Nowhere People by Paulo Scott.

Driving home one evening from a Workers’ Party meeting, Brazilian law student Paulo meets a young girl on the side of the road, and decides to give her a lift. Maína is fourteen years old, Guarani Indian, and lives with her family in a roadside encampment; she’s not planning on going home.

If I could rate the two halves of this book separately, then I would. I didn’t exactly dislike the first half of the book, but I found it very difficult to get through… Scott’s words themselves (or at least Daniel Hahn’s translation of them) were really beautiful, but I found the way they were structured – each paragraph seeming to take up three or four pages, for no apparent reason – made it really tiring to read, and although (again), I didn’t precisely dislike the main character Paulo, I disapproved of nearly all his life decisions, and found it extremely uncomfortable being inside his head. The sections from Maína’s perspective I found easier to get through, but there weren’t very many of them, and they were all quite short.

However, about halfway through the book we’re introduced to a new main character, Donato, from whose perspective almost the entire remainder of the book is shown, and I loved this part (despite the continuing problem with the paragraph structure). His outlook on the world, his circumstances, his relationships with his friends and parents… they were all really interesting, and only seemed to be becoming more so as the book went on. In particular, I really loved his performance activism towards the end, and the contrast it provided with Paulo’s much less fruitful efforts at activism at the beginning of the book… I only regret that the story ended where it did, as the final scene (a return to Paulo’s perspective) marked a dramatic change for both Paulo and Donato, which I feel could have been explored further.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: So glad that I finished this book (& the review is slightly late, I know, but I promise that I finished it before midnight)! For a while I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I pulled through! 😆 This was still my least successful booktubeathon ever, but with this third book, I’m actually pretty happy with how it went, as I spent much of the week either  at work, or super-tired, or super-distracted (by Final Fantasy XII 😓)…

And I’ve decided to count this book as completing the cover-buy challenge, as well as the one it was originally intended for, as, well, the whole set of & other strories books that I own I bought at least 80% because they were so pretty. (The other two were By Night the Mountain Burns, and The Alphabet of Birds.)

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 914
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.

A terrifying illness sweeps over the US, killing almost every child who catches it – which is all of them. The lucky survivors, however, might not be so lucky after all, as they’ve all been corralled into massive, dehumanising rehabilitation camps that are supposedly going to help cure them of the frightening, uncontrollable new abilities the the disease has left them with… Ruby is in one of the worst camps, and has been hiding one of the most dangerous kinds of power; a power which may now have come to light.

It’s been a long enough time now since the end of the dystopian craze that I’m no longer put off by the very idea of reading a dystopian novel, but oddly, I think that I would probably have enjoyed The Darkest Minds even if I’d read it back then… Like most good dystopians, there are a lot of truly horrific things going on in this book, but it’s also strangely fun. The characters are all wonderfully quirky, and I loved the way they interacted with each other – and a decent chunk of the book is spent on exploring that dynamic. 😊

Ruby made for a sympathetic and likeable lead, and her fear of her abilities, and her hesitance to use them – even when they would undoubtedly have been helpful – made a lot of sense; I personally found her a lot more relatable than many of the dystopian heroes and heroines that I’ve come across before. As for the side characters: Liam was a sweetheart the whole way through. I’d like to see his character developed a bit more as the series goes on, but as things are now, I like him a lot. Likewise with Zu, who was a very interesting character, but a little under-developed. Chubs was wonderful, too, and the way that he and Ruby slowly warmed up to one another was one of my favourite things about the book… I also really enjoyed reading about Clancy, who was endearing and suspicious in equal measure until pretty close to the end of the book; I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Braken has done with his character in the next two books.

Plot-wise, the beginning of the book shaped out the world really well, and the final part was exciting and action-packed. There was something of a lull in the middle of the book, but – as I said earlier – I appreciated the space that that left for character- and relationship-building. I’m also a fan of the Ruby-and-Liam romance that is in the works, though I also wouldn’t object to (and may have spotted some hints at) some further exploration of Ruby’s relationship with Clancy, provided that Bracken doesn’t shy away from how messed up it is (and I feel that she wouldn’t).

So, yeah, I really liked this book, and am glad that I finally got round to reading it… Now to hunt down the sequels! 😉

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Finding it difficult to pull my mind away from Final Fantasy XII, so I’m not sure how much more I’ll be reading today, but I hope to pick up either Nowhere People or Darkbeast next…

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 608
Challenges Completed: 4

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman.

Tom’s wife isn’t ignoring him, she just can’t see him any more… leaving Tom with only the scant hours of her flight to Vancouver in which to convince her that he’s still by her side.

This book is incredibly short, and very anecdotal, which combine to make the overarching plot quite weak; it’s interesting conceptually, but I found that I wasn’t given enough time with either Tom or his wife (whose superhero name is the Perfectionist) to become fully invested in them, or in their plight – both due to the length of the book itself, and to the amount of time that was spent meandering through Tom’s musings over the various different superheroes he’s known.

Kaufman’s writing, however, was wonderful, and the descriptions he included of all Tom’s superhero friends and their powers were incredibly imaginative. In particular, I was struck by the Projectionist and Mistress Cleanasyougo, but to be honest, if Kaufman was to write a directory of superheroes, I’d read it happily. I also spent much of the book (and still remain, to a certain degree) unsure of whether many of the superheroes were actually personifications different kinds of mental illness, but I may have been reading too much into it… and in any case, I doubt that knowing for sure would have made me like the book any more or less.

Conclusion: Interesting, imaginative, enjoyable, and splendidly written, but weak in terms of story and character development.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Happy to see some sunshine, which allowed me to get that tricky “read a book outside” challenge finished early on. I’m already halfway through book #2 (The Darkest Minds, which I started yesterday), so hopefully I’ll be able to finish that soon, too. 😊

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 373
Challenges Completed: 3

#BookTubeAThon 2017! | TBR

Guys, it’s Booktubeathon time again! 😆 Which means… a whole week of reading, and reviews, and challenges! (If I can drag myself away from my PS4…) If you’re new to the Booktubeathon, it’s an annual week-long readathon hosted by Ariel Bissett on Youtube, and always includes reading challenges to guide your TBR, daily video challenges and giveaways, a discount code over at The Book Depository, and this year there will also be a readalong, so that people can (if they so desire) all pick up the same book and read together for a day. I don’t tend to take part in much beyond the actual reading, but it’s still probably my favourite of all the readathons I’ve taken part in.. 💕

As always, I’ve tried to tailor my TBR to tick off as many of the challenges as I possibly can (and I hope to be posting reviews of each one as I go along), though, interestingly, it looks like that might be a bit more difficult this year than usual, as quite a few of the challenges are more situational than book-specific. If that makes any sense at all (it probably doesn’t, but you’ll see what I mean)… 😓 But in any case, here’s what I’ve decided on so far:

1) Read a book with a person on the cover.

For this challenge I’ve decided (after much agonising, because there are so many books I want to read that could qualify for this challenge) to go with Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes, which is a fantasy novel about a girl who lives in a society where everyone has an animal companion that represents their inner darkness – or something of the kind – which is sacrificed when they come of age.

2) Read a hyped book.

In contrast, I knew what I was going to read for this challenge almost as soon as it was announced: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, which I picked up ages ago after hearing so many people heaping praise on the series… and then never looking at it again. I don’t even know what it’s about, really (kids with superpowers, I believe, and something to do with a road trip?), but I’m looking forward to finding out! 😁

3) Finish a book in one day.

This is the first of the two “situational challenges” that I mentioned earlier (meaning, ones that are to do with how you read, rather than what you read), so I haven’t really picked out anything specific for it; it may well end up being Darkbeast, as it’s quite short, but more certain is that if I get this challenge done, it will be on either Wednesday or Thursday, as those are my two days off next week…

4) Read about a character who’s very different from you.

I was tempted to choose Now I Rise by Kiersten White (the sequel to And I Darken) for this challenge, as Lada – a murderous Transylvanian princess – is about as different from me as a person can get, but I thought it would be a bit of a cheat to pick a book that I’d already started reading, even though I’m only about 60 pages in… So instead I decided to go with Nowhere People by Paulo Scott, which is about a Brazilian law student (also called Paulo), who one day decides to give a lift to a young indigenous girl who he spots on the side of the road as he drives home.

5) Read a book only while outdoors.

This is the challenge that I’m dreading the most, as it looks like it’s going to rain for most of next week… Understandably, I’d like to pick something short for the challenge, but picking Darkbeast again seems like a bit much (especially since it’s going to be ticking off the next challenge as well 😓). All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman might work, as it’s both very short, and on my kindle (which has a waterproof cover), but I’m not feeling particularly enthused about it right now, so who knows.

6) Read a book you bought because of the cover.

Like most people, I’m drawn to pretty covers, but I was surprised by how difficult I found it to pick a book out for this challenge, as the only book I own that I bought solely because of the cover is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, which I’ve finally decided to get rid of, after accepting the fact that I’m never going to read it… So I’ve decided that this is going to be another challenge that will be fulfilled by Darkbeast; I didn’t just buy it for its cover (it also has complimentary comments from my favourite author on the back, and the synopsis sounds pretty interesting, too), but it was definitely a significant contributing factor… 😅

7) Read seven books.

And all this leaves me with three more books to pick out if I want to meet the ultimate Booktubeathon goal of seven books in seven days (which I do)! But I figure I should give myself some flexibility here – and I don’t want to just end up re-hashing the TBR I did for my holiday in Skye last week! A couple of (very shaky) possibilities are A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. Or maybe a graphic novel? 🤔 I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there. 😊

[EDIT (22/7/17): The Booktubeathon starts on Monday, and will end the following Sunday… which is probably something I should’ve mentioned earlier… 😓]

#BookTubeAThon 2016: Update 5 & Mini-Review

Bram Stoker//DraculaJUST FINISHED: Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Engaged as a solicitor to Count Dracula, to assist him in acquiring a house in England, Jonathan Harker comes to Transylvania to meet the man himself. Over the course of his stay, however, he finds himself becoming more and more suspicious that the Count is much more than he appears.

By which I mean that he’s a vampire, of course. And that’s not a spoiler; everyone and their mother knows that Dracula is a vampire – the most famous literary vampire ever to have existed. More famous even than Edward Cullen! 😉 Something I didn’t know about this book, however, was just how long it is (I don’t think I’ve ever come across a physical copy of it)… so it took me much longer to read than I was expecting. But I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed it! The characters were well fleshed-out, and I really liked all of them, especially Mina and Lucy; I even think it may have passed the Bechdel test, which is a big surprise coming from a book written in the nineteenth century. 😀

The plot was also really well thought out, and very interesting, with mostly good pacing. There were a couple of places where it dragged a little (particularly while Van Helsing and company were planning how to deal with their vampire problem), but usually I found that the scenes that seemed unnecessary when I was reading them became more integral to the story as it went on. Overall, I had a really great time reading this, and I’m glad that I finally decided to pick it up. 🙂

[An addendum re: the film:
Dracula has been adapted a great many times, but the version I watched was the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, which was greatly abridged from the book, and in a few startling ways: For instance, the character of Jonathan Harker’s role seems to have been greatly reduced, and the part he played in the book was given instead to Renfield – most of the characters, in fact, are mangled beyond belief… :/ For the most part, the changes seem to make sense, if you consider that all the events of the book couldn’t possibly have fit into an hour-long film, and it does make a cohesive and enjoyable story in itself, but I was expecting the best-known adaptation of Dracula to be a little more faithful to its source material.]

4 stars

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Booktubeathon is now over! And I didn’t manage to finish all the challenges, but I did at least get most of them – which is an achievement, considering how busy I’ve been this week! I didn’t actually finish the film of Dracula (which was part of one of the challenges) until just after midnight, but I’m still counting it, as that was mostly the fault of my (incredibly slow) internet connection.

Books Completed: 5
Pages Read: 1440
Challenges Completed: 6