Library Scavenger Hunt: February

This month’s LSH challenge was to read a book with pictures in it, and since I’ve been craving Batman comics recently, I thought it’d be fun to try out some of the Gotham-based series that I’m not already collecting… There were two series in particular that I considered reading for this challenge, but although I borrowed them both (and I intend to read the second of them very soon, too), the one that I decided to review this month was…

WELCOME TO GOTHAM ACADEMY
Becky Cloonan & Brendan Fletcher
(Illustrated by Karl Kerschl)

Gotham Academy is home to the best and brightest students in Gotham… as well as a whole slew of strange secrets. Olive Silverlock just wants to get on with her life – and hopefully puzzle out what happened over the holidays that’s got her jumping at bat-shaped shadows – but unfortunately the world has other ideas, as she (along with Maps, the new student she’s supposed to be showing around) becomes drawn into investigating a series of school-wide ghost sightings.

This was a really fun read! The plotline (and the little mysteries that it presented) was both interesting and engaging, and surprisingly self-contained; though I am intrigued by the hints at a larger storyline in Gotham Academy, this first volume is quite satisfying to read as a standalone. It’s definitely lighter in tone than many of the other Gotham-based comics that I’ve read, but I found that that made for a really lovely change of pace…

The two main characters, Olive and Maps, played off one another wonderfully, with Maps’ innocent exuberance proving a nice counterpoint to Olive’s more serious character. (Maps was probably my favourite thing about this book, though – she’s just so cute! 😆) The cast of secondary characters wasn’t large, but those that we were introduced to seemed interesting, too, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them all better. And the tease at the very end of the book that Damian Wayne may be joining the Academy is another reason that I’m very likely to continue reading this series.

I also really enjoyed Kerschl’s artwork, which was incredibly expressive, super-cute, as well as consistently high-quality throughout the book.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

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Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s LSH challenge was, in honour of it now being the year of the dog, to read a book with a dog on the cover. Creative, I know, but upon consideration (and after reading a few of the suggestions on the LSH discussion thread), I was surprised by the number of books I was able to think of that fulfilled the challenge that I had already been hoping to read: The HumansThe Art of Racing in the RainSpill Simmer Falter WitherMy Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, and so on, and so on. Sadly, my library had none of these, so my first trip there ended up with me coming home with a book that I had no interest in, and then regretting it so much that I eventually decided to just request a book to be sent over from another library. So the book I finally ended up reading (which arrived in the nick of time) was…

THERE IS NO DOG
Meg Rosoff

Ever thought that the world is far too chaotic to have been created by a sensible god with a plan? Well, that’s because it wasn’t. God, it turns out, is a self-absorbed, sex-crazed teenage boy called Bob, and after all these years, the only part of his creation that still interests him is the beautiful girls. Lucy is human, and wants desperately to fall in love. One day on the way to work, she sends out a prayer for love that she hopes will be heard – but unfortunately for Lucy, Bob thinks that the ideal man for her is none other than… Bob himself.

I’ve read three of Meg Rosoff’s books so far, and all of them are very original – distinct both from other works with similar themes, and from one another – but this is quite possibly one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever come across. It’s also really, really enjoyable, with a cast of wonderful and awful characters whose stories are all connected, but each with their own troubles. There’s Bob, of course, who causes catastrophe wherever he goes; his long-suffering assistant Mr. B; his mother Mona, seemingly the bane of Bob’s existence; and his pet Eck (a kind of sentient, penguin-y creature), who is despairing over his seemingly inevitable death-by-being-eaten; as well as Estelle, who’s on a mission to save Eck from being eaten by her father. On the less divine side of things, there’s also Lucy, an assistant zookeeper whose main concerns are finding love, and avoiding her grumpy supervisor at work; along with the aforementioned grumpy supervisor, Luke; Lucy’s interfering mother; and her godfather Bernard, a vicar who’s questioning the value of his work.

As you can see, the cast is huge, which might have presented a problem if the characters were any less memorable and entertaining (I won’t say likeable, because not all of them are, or are even meant to be), but in this case really doesn’t. The narrative moves fluidly between characters, and although their different concerns made it difficult to pin down any one main plot, I really liked all the miniature storylines that the book presents… It really comes across more as a snapshot of all these people’s lives with a potentially apocalyptic backdrop, rather than a cohesive story. (My favourite parts were probably Eck’s friendship with Estelle, any scene that involved Mr. B, and Lucy and Luke’s brief moments of bonding towards the end of the book.)

There Is No Dog is a comedy of wonderful absurdities, but I can definitely see why people would dislike it. The silliness could easily become too much for someone (even I was glad that Rosoff didn’t try to make it any longer than it is), and if you’re looking for some kind of deep message in this book, then you’re not likely to find one – unless it’s that, if there is a god, let’s hope they’re a Mr. B and not a Bob. 😅 I would also definitely not recommend this to anyone who’s super-serious (in the not-to-be-joked-about sense) about religion, as they’d probably find it more offensive than funny…

Also, for the record: This book has nothing to do with dogs.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

For this month’s LSH – to read the last book in a series – I have to admit that I cheated a little… I did make a trip to the library in hopes of finding something, but the only series that I was near to finishing ended with books that I either already owned, or planned to buy before reading, so I went home empty handed, deciding instead to read a book that was waiting for me at home, and that I was extremely excited for. I feel a little bit bad about it, but not so bad that I won’t still count this towards the challenge…

ROYAL WEDDING
Meg Cabot

Seven years after the conclusion of the original Princess Diaries series, Mia Thermopolis is now twenty-five years old, a published author, the founder of a community youth programme, a powerful public figure… and still subject to the dramatic mood swings of the media, who love her and hate her in unpredictable turns.

Seven years passed between the releases of Ten Out of Ten (/Forever Princess) and Royal Wedding in real-time, as well as in the books, and I was a little nervous to be stepping back into Mia’s life after such a long break; these were books that I couldn’t get enough of as a teenager, but haven’t really looked at since, so I was worried that Mia would seem either altered beyond recognition, or else petty and immature. But it appears that my fears were unfounded! 😁 Mia definitely seems different enough that the years show, but still retains all the character traits (and flaws) that made her so loveable in the original books. I think that Cabot has done a great job in this book of making her relatable to an audience that’s also grown older.

Plot-wise, there weren’t very many surprises in this book, but my primary enjoyment wasn’t in being surprised, but in watching Mia be surprised – and I don’t think that surprising the readers was Cabot’s objective, either. Mia’s narrative was as hilarious as always, and it was lovely to revisit all her old friends as well, and see what they were up to. I was pleased to find that Mia was still close to both Tina (now in medical school) and Lilly (in law school), and the references to Rocky’s obsession with farting reminded me of a few real-world pre-teen boys that I know. 😓 And I loved the way that Boris was worked into the story, although he never showed up in person. Many of my favourite moments, however, came at the hands of Grandmère, who – in classic Grandmère style – caused as much trouble as she could to as many people as she could, wherever possible.

And, of course, there will always be a place in my heart for Michael and Mia. 💕

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: November

This month’s challenge was to read a book that I should have read in school, and really, I could’ve picked any number of things, as I used to really hate reading, and tried to avoid assigned reading whenever possible. But since most of those books are ones I still have very little interest in reading, my choice was somewhat obvious:

NORTHANGER ABBEY
Jane Austen

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is obsessed with Gothic novels, and all the horrors that they can offer, and when she’s given the opportunity to visit Bath with some family friends, she’s able to meet others who share her passion – but her new friends are not all who they appear to be, and Catherine may be leading herself into a different kind of trouble than what’s found in the books that so enthral her.

I first started reading Northanger Abbey in secondary school, but only made it about halfway through before my own feelings of embarrassment on Catherine’s behalf made me unable to continue; and while her visit to the Abbey was just as awkward as I remember, I’m happy to say that I managed to power through this time, and actually finished the book. And, more importantly, I really loved it! 😁 Catherine is still naive and foolish, but in a way that makes her seem incredibly true to life, rather than just irritating, and I really enjoyed her relationship with the Tilneys, and how it contrasted with her relationship with Isabella and John Thorpe.

Austen’s writing is also as excellent as always; there are lots of asides in this book where she talks about the literary and societal conventions of the time, and they’re frequently hilarious. One of my favourite passages in the book is one such aside, where Austen discusses how novels are looked down upon as a choice of reading material, and how strange it is that authors always seem to write about heroines who despise them… 😂 Austen is frequently praised as an excellent romance writer (which she is, of course), but she also had a brilliant sense of humour, which shouldn’t be overlooked.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: October

This month’s challenge was to find a book with either an alliterative title or an alliterative author, and I knew immediately what book I was going to seek out; the final book in a series that I’ve been meaning to finish for ages (and also conveniently checks off one of my year-long reading challenges, which I really need to buckle down on in the next few months if I want to complete them… 😓): the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series…

LIBRARY OF SOULS
Ransom Riggs

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but may contain references to events from previous books in the series (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City).]

With their friends now missing along with their beloved ymbryne, Miss Peregrine, Jacob and Emma are forced to continue their rescue mission – through some of the world’s most dangerous time loops – with only the help of Addison the peculiar dog. Luckily, Jacob’s still-developing powers seem to have manifested in a useful new ability: controlling hollows…

The main problem with this series as a whole, I think, is that it tries to pitch itself as a scary story, when it’s really, really not. Or at least, no more so than any other adventure series (such as Harry Potter or Percy Jackson) that would probably be pretty scary to live through, but is not so horrifying to read. Even in this third book (the readers of which presumably all know exactly what they’re in for), there are comments – this time in the form of a mini author-biography – that try to play up the creepiness of the series; a creepiness that is barely present in the book itself.

This is on the publisher, however, not the author. Taken as the adventure series it is, the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series is interesting, well-written, and great fun. It’s certainly not without its flaws, and I personally felt that Hollow City and Library of Souls were much weaker novels than their precursor, but it’s a solid, entertaining series to read…

Some Library of Souls-specific things I wanted to bring up (since this is, in fact, a review of Library of Souls, and not the whole series): Jacob’s new hollow powers play a major role in the plot; so major that none of the other peculiars’ abilities are important for more than a moment, and they are able to deus-ex-machina many of the situations that Jacob finds himself in. I did find that they took the story in an interesting direction, however, and I enjoyed the strange bond that developed between Jacob and “his” hollow – though that was a thread of the story that remained sadly open-ended. The final few epilogue-style chapters also involved a very sudden and very convenient plot development, which was somewhat disappointing.

In regards to the photos, I found that the ones that were included in Library of Souls were both less interesting in and of themselves than those in previous books, and also less relevant to the plot. There are some notable exceptions (Mother Dust on page 252, the ambrosia dealer on page 229, the grimbear with its ymbrynes on page 185, and so on), but in most cases they only showed people or things that Jacob noticed in passing, without having much effect on the story. In fact, the passages in the novel where these things are mentioned often seemed shoe-horned in in order to justify including the pictures. I don’t know if it’s just that Riggs has already used his most interesting pictures or shown pictures of all his most important characters, or if the novelty of the combination has simply begun to wear off for me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both, but its a shame regardless of the reason, as the way the story and pictures worked together was a big part of what made Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children so compelling.

But despite all this, I did enjoy the book a lot. It’s both exciting and well-paced, with very few moments where nothing seemed to be happening at all. And there were a few important new characters introduced, too: most notably Sharon and Mr. Bentham, though I personally thought that Mother Dust was the most interesting of them all, both in terms of her peculiar abilities and her role in the story. I’m glad that I took the time to finish this series, but I doubt it’s one that I’d re-read, and I’m unlikely to be picking up the spin-off (Tales of the Peculiar).

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: September

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with “journey” (or a synonym) in the title – was chosen in honour of my best friend and co-moderator, Chloë, who’s just moved to Japan. I didn’t really have any idea of what I was going to read for it, and actually abandoned my in-person search after a few hours without success (the only book I could find was Fear Itself: Journey into Mystery, which is something like the twentieth book in a series, so no thanks… 😓). My second go was via the online catalogue, and I’m happy to say that this time I found more success! The book I ended up picking was…

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Jules Verne

Brilliant but eccentric Professor Lidenbrock discovers a 300-year-old runic manuscript, which his nephew Axel is unexpectedly able to decode. It spells out the first step of what will become an extraordinary voyage – first to Iceland, and then on to the Earth’s core, with all kinds of unlikely discoveries to be made along the way.

What a fun book! It’s silly, but an incredibly good read. The story was well-paced, eventful and exciting, and though the characters didn’t seem too deep, their differing personalities made them interesting travelling companions. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Lidenbrock’s wild theories (which seemed mad, but more often than not ended up being right) and Axel’s anxiety over them (which was actually very sensible, but was treated as – and came across as – the attitude of somebody who was just closed-minded). Hans’ unflappable nature was also delightful, and whenever the party got into a pinch, it was always fun to see how Hans would save them…

The Extraordinary Voyages series is massive, and seems only to be thematically connected, so I don’t know that I’d be likely to seek out the rest of them. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to reading a few more, though, if I stumbled across their paths.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: August

This month has been so busy! I was afraid for a while that I wasn’t going to be able to complete the August challenge (read a book with two of something on the cover) at all – which would’ve been a shame, as I was really proud that I came up with this idea. (Obviously, my fears were unfounded, or I wouldn’t be writing this.) So without further ado, the book I picked out this month was…

ANCILLARY JUSTICE
Ann Leckie

Nineteen years ago, Justice of Toren was an Imperial troop carrier; an enormous starship with hundreds of human ancilliaries whose eyes she could see through and bodies she could act through all at once. Now there is only Breq, a single fragment of her former self, with no other bodies, or eyes, or voices. But if she’s lucky, her long mission may be nearing its end, and although it will not right the wrongs that were done all those years ago, it will bring them into the light.

If that summary was a bit nonsensical, it’s because this is a very difficult book to describe. I struggled a lot with the first few chapters, not because anything particularly confusing was going on, but because the idea of a protagonist who is simultaneously both an individual and a collective was a tough one to wrap my head around. There were several places early on in the book where I was taken aback by what seemed to be a sudden, jarring time-skip or change of scene (sometimes even in mid-conversation), only to realise afterwards that Breq/One Esk (Justice of Toren One Esk being Breq’s true name) was actually just looking through one of her other sets of eyes… My confusion was short-lived, however, and it’s a testament to Leckie’s skill as a writer that I was able to adjust to it so quickly, as it’s such a baffling concept.

It was also completely worth any initial struggle on my part. Ancilliary Justice is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and the best sci-fi I’ve read in even longer. Breq’s perspective was fascinating, both of the alternating timelines were entirely (and equally) gripping, and the the world that Leckie has built for this series is incredibly rich and detailed. Her use of gender was also really interesting, and Breq’s frustration whenever she needed to stop and consider it when she (as someone who is part of a gender-neutral society) had to speak to anyone in a language that specifies gender was kind of charming.

For me, however, the best thing about this book was its characters and the relationships between them. I’ve already talked about Breq, but Lieutenant Awn was wonderful, too, and although (like Breq) I really didn’t like Seivarden much when she was first introduced, it was really incredible how much she grew as a character as the story went on; by the end of the book, I liked her just as much as the much more generally likeable Awn… And the sharp contrast between how One Esk interacted with Lieutenant Awn and Seivarden was another thing that I really enjoyed; both relationships almost brought me to tears (of sadness/joy/laughter) in several places. Needless to say, I will be continuing on with this series at the earliest opportunity – I can’t wait to pick up Ancillary Sword!

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]