Library Scavenger Hunt: March

This month’s challenge was to read a book the colour of the sky (at the time of receiving the challenge/choosing a book), which I thought was one of my more creative recent prompts! 😁 In my case, at the time of setting the challenge, that colour was a dark-ish, desaturated blue, as it was pretty cloudy, and getting into the evening… and luckily, my kindle copy of The Warden matched up almost perfectly!

THE WARDEN
Anthony Trollope

As warden of Hiram’s Hospital, Mr. Harding lives quite happily on £800 a year, but when the fairness of the division of income from the hospital is called into question, he finds himself struggling with his conscience. Meanwhile Mr. Bold, the first of his accusers, must contend with what he feels to be the necessity of becoming the enemy of his old friend, and the father of the woman he loves.

This was an enjoyable read overall, and relatively easy to get into for a classic, but I have some mixed feelings… The found the main characters to be likeable and sympathetic – with the exception of Dr. Grantly, who was at least entertaining in all his bluster – and the book as a whole made for an excellent character study of Mr. Harding in particular, whose friendship with Mr. Bold and fondness towards his bedesmen are tenderly portrayed.

The writing, too, was very witty, but tended to go on rather; for instance, sometimes Trollope would spend several pages describing (albeit amusingly) a new character, only for them to have a brief interaction with the main cast, then never be heard from again.

And lastly, I found the plot somewhat unsatisfying. The story resolves around a disagreement over the interpretation of a will, and although many people are consulted on both sides of the debate over legal proceedings, and how each character can best to get their own way, it’s never made clear what the will actually says. The main purpose of this conflict seems to be give us a greater understanding of Mr. Harding more than anything else, and in that regard it definitely succeeds, but I wish that the story (as opposed to the character arcs) had had more of a resolution…

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: February

Once again this month, my choice for the LSH challenge – to read a book with “__ of __ and __” in the title – was pretty clear, as although I’m really eager to get my hands on A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, I’m still trying to prioritise reading books I already own… and the sequels to Daughter of Smoke and Bone have been sitting on my shelf unread since 2014, and both fit the challenge nicely! 😊

DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT
Laini Taylor

[Warning: Contains spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone.]

Her memories restored and her family lost, Karou finds herself with few options but to continue Brimstone’s work, creating new bodies for the White Wolf’s rebel army, despite her conflicted feelings about their mission. And Akiva, though heartened to know that his lost lover still lives, struggles to find a way to end the war between his people and hers.

I can’t believe it took me six years to get around to continuing this series, but I’m so glad that I did! Such drama! Such angst! Days of Blood and Starlight absolutely lived up to my memories of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and may even have surpassed them! 😆 There was not a single element of this book that I didn’t love, and I’m super-excited to see where the story’s going next.

It’s hard to pick out favourite parts, but I particularly appreciated Zuzana and Mik’s time at the kasbah, and both Karou and Akiva’s internal struggles with their past actions – and their very different methods of atonement. And their feelings for one another! There’s not a huge amount of romance in this book, but there are a lot of feelings, and they may have broken me… 😭 Here’s hoping it doesn’t take me another six years to read the last book! 🤞

(One final note: Trigger warning for a brief but vivid sexual assault scene near the end.)

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

Medieval-a-thon Update 4 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata.

Keiko has been working at the same convenience store for eighteen years, since the day it first opened; it’s the only place she’s ever felt that she really belongs. But at thirty-six, with no boyfriend and only a part-time job, her family and friends all wish that she’d conform a little more to their own ideas of “normal”.

I liked this. I liked Keiko; I liked her interesting perspective on the world and her matter-of-fact tone; I liked the bustle of the convenience store… and the ending was incredibly gratifying – triumphant, almost. As a whole, I’d call it more interesting than enjoyable, but I had a good time reading this, and was gripped the whole way through. (And I’m definitely adding Shiraha to my mental most-hated-characters list. He was just so ugh… 😑 But on that note, he made for a very effective villain!)

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: I actually finished this a few days ago & haven’t read anything since; apparently even readathon-ing must be put on hold when tax returns are due… 😓 But next up I’ll be starting The Haunting of Hill House, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time. 😊 This book was for the challenge to read a book with brown on the cover, and was also my pick for this month’s Library Scavenger Hunt, for the prompt “new”.

Books Completed: 5
Pages Read: 1386
Hours Listened: 03:46
Challenges Completed: 3

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

Somewhat cheekily in order to cater to my own personal reading goals, as well as my building reading slump, this month’s LSH challenge was to read a short story, and so I didn’t need to agonise over my choice at all; it was made before I even posted the challenge! 😋 I’ve been trying to make progress on the Shadowhunter Chronicles books for a while now, and since I finally finished City of Heavenly Fire last month, I figured it was about time I got started with the novellas:

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN PERU
Cassandra Clare & Sarah Rees Brennan

In which Magnus takes a trip (or a few) to Peru, causes trouble for the locals, exasperates his friends, and is eventually banned from returning.

I like Magnus Bane, but he’s never been my favourite of the Shadowhunters crew, and while I liked learning more about his background in this story, I found that his whacky hijinks weren’t really enough to hold my interest… My favourite parts of What Really Happened in Peru ended up being Ragnor Fell’s appearances (he’s really quite charming), and what was (I think) the longest section of the story, where Magnus fails to learn an instrument for the sake of love, which I found genuinely funny in places, even though it never does away with the over-the-top feeling of the story as a whole.

So I’m not off to a great start with The Bane Chronicles, but given the lukewarm things I’ve heard about this collection, and my feelings on short stories in general, I’m not too surprised. Fingers crossed that I’ll get on better with the next one! 🤞

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: November

This month’s challenge was to read the sequel to a book you read a long time ago, and I knew straight away what I was going to choose! I loved the first book in this series, but was sorely disappointed by the second, so book #3 has been languishing on my mental to-maybe-read-someday list for the last four years… But the time to give this series another go is finally here! 🤞

THE BRONZE KEY
Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

After a summer of lounging around reading comic books, Call, Aaron and Tamara return to the Magisterium to begin their Bronze Year, only to find that there’s a good chance that there’s a spy within the school – and that they seem to have it in for Call in particular.

My feelings on this series are pretty mixed; I really loved The Iron Trial, but while the plot of The Copper Gauntlet continued to be interesting and action-packed, the pacing was so rushed that I barely had time to take it all in… and I felt similarly about The Bronze Key. I’m still super-invested in the storyline (especially after that ending!), but it was really hard to get a clear idea of how much time was passing, which I found incredibly distracting. The book was supposed to cover the whole year, right? But it barely felt like it lasted a month…

And given how quickly everything went by, there was basically no character development for anyone. We got to know a little bit about Anastasia as the story progressed, but most of the other supporting characters we didn’t see anything of except what was strictly necessary for the plot to progress. And even the main three characters barely had time to talk about anything not immediately related to the plot… I think my problem with this series is that there’s not enough filler? The singular focus on the storyline does make that storyline very intense, but as a consequence, none of the characters are particularly memorable…

In short: It was too short. But I do still want to read the next one.

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: October

In honour of spooky season, this month’s LSH challenge was to read a book that scares you, and although I almost talked myself into finally reading my much-put-off copy of Empire of Storms, I eventually decided to interpret the challenge in a more traditional way, & pick myself out a (hopefully) spooky story instead… as well as return to an author I keep meaning to read more from!

WHITE IS FOR WITCHING
Helen Oyeyemi

Generations of Silver girls have grown up in the big house in Dover, and the house clings to them even after they’re gone.

I love Oyeyemi’s writing; it’s beautiful even when I have no idea what’s going on, and despite the fact that I’ve never absolutely loved one of her books, I still find myself wanting to read everything she’s ever written. That said, White is for Witching was neither what I was expecting, nor what I was hoping for, and that lessened my enjoyment of it quite a bit… (By which I mean that it’s marketed as a spooky book, but the spooky moments in it are few and far between.)

However! Although it never quite managed to hook me, there’s a lot to like about this book. I found the discussion of Miranda’s pica very interesting, and I liked the relationship between her and Ore (though it didn’t come across as a particularly healthy one). I also liked Ore a lot just in general; her love of stories, her relationships with her family, and her discovery of her sexuality were all expertly portrayed… I only wish she’d been around for more of the book.

And speaking of things that I wish I’d seen more of, my favourite narrator by far was the house, which was weird and chilling and provided most of the best moments in the book. In particular, there’s one section where the house tells us about what happened to Jennifer Silver – Miranda and Eliot’s grandmother – which is super-creepy, and absolutely perfect. 💕 We don’t get to hear from the house all that often, though, and much of the rest of the book I felt pretty ambivalent towards.

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

#Bookoplathon Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Coming to the end of her time as a carer, Kathy begins to think back on her time at the idyllic Hailsham, where she and her fellow students spent their years in a happy half-ignorance, knowing without understanding the true purpose of their existence.

Caveat: I was spoiled for the big reveal in this book several years ago, and I think the story as a whole probably would’ve hit me harder if I hadn’t (although of course there’s no way I can tell for sure). That said, one of the things I like to do when re-reading this kind of story is picking out all the clues I wouldn’t have noticed the first time around, and I was definitely able to appreciate the slow, subtle way that Ishiguro wove them into the narrative…

Other things I really liked about Never Let Me Go were Kathy and her two friends. I wasn’t particularly invested in the romantic element of her relationship with Tommy, but I was myself very invested in their friendship; and although I found Ruth pushy and frustrating, and thought that Kathy was way too forgiving of her behaviour, their bond still felt incredibly real to me. I also really loved the very ending of the story, where the last few mysteries that I hadn’t been spoiled for were finally solved, and the last couple of chapters made me more emotional than all of the rest of the book put together.CURRENT READATHON STATUS: In a really great reading mood (though also a little pensive and sad)! This was my community shelf pick, as well as my choice for this month’s Library Scavenger Hunt challenge (to read a book by a new-to-me author – which really could have counted for most of the books on my Bookoplathon TBR, but this was the only one I actually borrowed…). My next book is Midwinterblood, which I’ve already begun. 😊 

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 709
Hours Listened: 2:57
Challenges Completed: 2

Library Scavenger Hunt: August

At long last, the Library Scavenger Hunt is back! And this time with a challenge to read a book that was written by a teenager! My initial thought was to go for Eldest by Christopher Paolini, as he couldn’t have written it too long after Eragon, but alas, he was in his twenties… But although this one was my backup book, I was by no means disappointed to be picking up Alice Oseman’s debut novel instead – which was released when she was 19.

SOLITAIRE
Alice Oseman

Tori Spring’s peaceful, pessimistic lifestyle is interrupted in Year 12 by the appearance first of maybe-crazy Michael Holden, who is, for no apparent reason, determined to be her friend, and then by Solitaire, a mysterious group that’s pulling pranks at school – pranks that seem oddly connected to Tori’s life… And as Solitaire’s actions get more alarming, she may be forced to get involved, whether she wants to or not.

This being Alice Oseman’s first novel, and (to me) not having as exciting a concept as the other two books of hers I’ve read, I wasn’t expecting to like Solitaire as much as I did Radio Silence or I Was Born for This… and I was right; I don’t think it was as good, in terms of story or execution. I did, however, still like it quite a lot! Solitaire’s pranks made for an unpredictable storyline – but more than the drama surrounding the pranks themselves, I liked Tori’s reaction to them, and the way it changed as they got more serious. The mystery element of discovering Solitaire’s identity wasn’t played up too much, but the eventual reveal was quite satisfying, too.

Tori and Michael were both quite pretentious characters, which I would probably have found annoying if the narrative and the supporting cast hadn’t been willing to call them out on it every now and then. In this case it ended up being quite amusing instead, though your milage may vary. I was also a little bit unreasonably indignant about Tori’s vehement dislike of Pride & Prejudice, but at the same time it was kind of refreshing to be reading about a YA protagonist that hates reading… 😅

The parts of the book that I found most compelling, however, were the glimpses we got into Tori’s brother Charlie’s life (and, predictably, I went and picked up all three currently-released volumes of his story, Heartstopper, at the bookshop as soon as I finished Solitaire); Oseman does a great job of making her supporting characters interesting! Charlie’s not a major character in this book, but he plays a huge role in shaping Tori’s actions and motivations… Though it wasn’t something that Oseman dwelled on, the relationship between the two of them was very sweet.

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: June

This month’s challenge was to read a book that’s thinner than your little finger, and I decided to take the opportunity to pick up a book which I’d been dithering over whether to just get rid of or not (yes, I’m cheating again this month 😓), Jack London’s Before Adam, which at 125 pages in paperback is just a smidge smaller than my (not particularly little) little finger… 😊 (And, having read it, I think I will be passing it on after all, but at least I’m making an informed choice!)

BEFORE ADAM
Jack London

A modern (at the time of writing, i.e. 1906) American man experiences the life of his prehistoric ancestor through a series of vivid and terrifying dreams, and as “Big Tooth”, he makes friends – and enemies – and learns about the beauty and danger of the younger world.

I was dubious about this book for a number of reasons… while I find prehistory interesting in a historical sense, as the setting of a novel it intrigues me not at all, and added to that, the basic premise of past lives/ancestral memory is one that I find distinctly off-putting*. So why, you may ask, did I not just dismiss this unread? There were a number of reasons (with varying levels of compelling-ness): 1) I really liked both of the other Jack London books I’ve read (The Call of the Wild and White Fang, naturally); 2) It was a gift, and I really dislike having to admit to people that I didn’t even bother to read the books they gave me 😓; and 3) It’s super-short, so if I did end up hating it, at least I wouldn’t have wasted too many hours of my life.

It would seem that this particular risk payed off, however! I’m far from in love with Before Adam (and it’s definitely my least-favourite of the three Jack London books I’ve read), but I found myself pleasantly surprised by it. It starts slow, and ends abruptly, but I found the bulk of Big Tooth’s life to be quite gripping, and while I found myself predictably frustrated whenever the narrator broke up the story with his (then-)present-day observations, this happened a lot less than I was expecting, once I’d got through the first couple of chapters.

*An aside: I don’t know why I dislike past-life stories so much, since I’m completely down for reincarnation ones – though I’m guessing it has something to do with the recollectory nature of the former, or because most of the reincarnation books I’ve come across have more of a mystical feel to them, and don’t try to bring science into it…

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

Library Scavenger Hunt: May

This month’s challenge, in honour of Japan’s new Reiwa era (the name of which is drawn from the words for “fair” and “gentle”), was to read a book with one of those two words in the title, and it proved to be more of a struggle than I was expecting! I wasn’t able to find anything that I’d specifically been meaning to read, but while browsing my library’s ebook collection, I came across an M.C. Beaton book that fit the challenge, and since I’d been interested in reading one of her (many, many) books for a while, I decided to give it a go…

(It was a bad decision. 😑)

DEATH OF A GENTLE LADY
M.C. Beaton

Everybody in the small Highland town of Lochdubh thinks that Mrs. Gentle is wonderful, but local policeman Hamish Macbeth has seen a more malicious side to her – so he’s the only one unsurprised when she’s murdered, and her own family are the prime suspects.

I made a few mistakes in choosing this book; I’ve been curious about Beaton’s writing for a while, but Death of a Gentle Lady was probably not a great one to start with, firstly because it’s the twenty-third book in a series, and secondly – and most importantly – because it’s a murder mystery, and I’ve never read a murder mystery that didn’t bore me to tears (except Fatherland, but I liked that for other reasons).

So you won’t be surprised to hear that I hated it. The characters (both new and recurring) were flat, the writing plodding, the mystery contrived – all its major developments coming completely out of the blue – and the investigation dull, and despite the extremely short length of the book (the edition I found was 177 pages, of which the last 15 or so were actually a preview for the next book), I really struggled to get through it. In the book’s defence, I expect that many of the recurring characters would have felt less one-dimensional if I had read at least a few of the other books in the series, but that’s not an excuse that holds up for any of the other problems I had.

On a more specific note, there were two small but persistent annoyances in this book: One of the new characters introduced was a Russian detective whom Beaton kept calling “Putin-like”, which I thought was a lazy description at best, and xenophobic at worst; and it was also rather tedious how the female characters seemed to throw themselves at Hamish, and continued to do so despite his very wishy-washy attitude towards even the ones that he’s supposed to have a history with.

Anyway, the tl;dr is that this was definitely not the right book for me, but at least I’ve learnt that there’s no point in my picking up any more of Beaton’s books.

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