January & February Wrap-Up

My reading year didn’t exactly get off to a great start (at least in terms of quantity); I only managed to finish two books in January, both of which I wrote full reviews for, which is why I decided to hold off for another month on posting this wrap-up. February was a lot more promising. 😊 In total, over the last two months, I got through four excellent novels, two graphic novels, and an audiobook! (I re-started my Audible subscription, and it’s amazing! 💕 Though I’m finding it very difficult to be patient while I wait for my next credit…)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. A novel about a young woman called Rosemary, who one day came home after staying with her grandparents to find that her sister Fern was gone. The book deals mainly with how what happened with Fern affected their family over the years… This was such a fascinating story! I really wanted to write a review of it, but wasn’t sure how to go about it without spoiling a plot twist that really makes this book what it is. But even beyond the twist, this is an excellent novel; I really enjoyed Rosemary’s perspective, and her relationships with her parents and siblings, and Fern’s part in the story was heartbreaking in places. 😥 The non-linear narrative greatly increased the effectiveness of the story as well, and I had a great time trying to puzzle out everything that had happened to Rosemary’s family, while she herself danced around the subject, leaving little breadcrumbs for us to follow.Grayson Volume 1: Agents of Spyral by Tim Seeley & Tom King. The first in a DCU-based comic series, wherein Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Nightwing, a.k.a. the first Robin) is undercover in the mysterious organisation Spyral, and reporting to Batman on their activities. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this more if I were up-to-date on the Nightwing series (which I believe this is supposed to follow on from), but as it was I found the plotline pretty incoherent, the characters (including Dick) boring, and the artwork not compelling enough to make up for the book’s flaws… I was initially quite excited by the appearance of Helena Bertinelli, but sadly in the New 52, she seems to have traded in her Huntress persona to become the bland Spyral agent known as Matron. 😑 It’s a shame, because my fondness for the Robins (all of them) makes me predisposed to like their solo titles, but doubt I’ll be continuing with this one.Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce. The second book in the Immortals quartet, which is part of Pierce’s Tortall universe – wherein Daine is called upon by her old wolf friends to negotiate with the local humans on their behalf, and discovers a sinister plot against the king and queen while she’s there. The Immortals is a familiar (and beloved) story to me, but this was my first time listening to the audiobook version of it – which was excellent! The voice acting really brought all the characters to life, and although the difference in speed between Pierce’s narration and the rest of the cast’s speech took was a little jarring at first, I got used to it quickly – and (on principle) I do like it when authors narrate their own books… 😊

BOOKS I ALREADY POSTED REVIEWS FOR:

 
 

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Review: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (Spoiler-Free)

Malcolm Polstead spends his days working at his parents’ inn, helping the nuns at the convent across the river, and tending to his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage. But strange things are afoot in Oxford: Mysterious disappearances; children joining the sinister League of Saint Alexander; a threatening man with a three-legged hyena daemon; talk of a flood the likes of which England hasn’t seen in decades… and the charming baby Lyra being brought to the convent for protection from the great number of people who would see her harmed.

first read His Dark Materials when I was about ten or eleven – back when I’d only just realised that reading could be fun – but despite the many great books I’ve read since then, it’s remained one of the most impactful stories I’ve ever come across, and this new entry into the series (a prequel) does a really great job of re-capturing what made the original trilogy so enticing. It’s not just the daemons, but the subtle hints of magic, too, and the constant sense of some dark, looming threat… revisiting this universe is always a delight for me. The plot is a slow-burning one, and some may find that the pacing is too slow, but it’s not really any more so than in many of Pullman’s other novels – and, to be honest, I found that it mattered very little, as the build-up to the action was just as enjoyable as the action itself.

Malcolm made for a wonderful protagonist; curious and bright and well-meaning, as protagonists are prone to being, but he really shone through his bonds with the people around him, from his daemon Asta, to baby Lyra, to his slowly-developing friendship with Alice, the surly girl who works in the kitchen at the inn… I found his interactions with Lyra and Sister Fenella particularly charming, and I loved the camaraderie between him and Asta (there was a scene near the end with the two of them that nearly reduced me to tears). The chapters from Dr. Relf’s perspective were also very interesting, and I really enjoyed the way her and Malcolm’s mutual love of learning was able to forge a genuine friendship between them despite their difference in age and situation, and the contrived nature of their first few meetings.

In regards to villains, there were a few different antagonists featured, or antagonistic organisations, but while most of them lingered ominously in the story’s background (the CCD, the League of St. Alexander, and so on) and will presumably come more to the forefront as the series goes on, the spotlight in La Belle Sauvage fell on Gerard Bonneville and his disfigured daemon. While Bonneville’s reputation seemed to precede him in Oxford, I found it interesting how the initial contrast between his own appearance of friendliness and his daemon’s aggressive behaviour was slowly inverted, until I almost found myself feeling sorry for the hyena, for being stuck with such a monstrous other half.

Since this is a prequel, it would be surprising if there weren’t a few callbacks to the original series beyond the presence of baby Lyra, but while not all of these cameos are essential to this new story (though some of them definitely are), none of them felt as though they’d just been shoe-horned in for the sake of fanservice… And they’re very enjoyable! I felt a definite thrill when I checked the end of The Amber Spyglass and realised that, yes, my hunch that Dr. Relf and Dame Hannah were one and the same was correct! 😁 And Lord Asriel’s tenderness towards Lyra in this book is a nice counterpoint to his severe countenance in much of His Dark Materials.

I also found myself surprised – and a little unsettled – while reading this book by the realisation of just how much His Dark Materials has influenced my views on organised religion… but although both La Belle Sauvage and Pullman’s original trilogy contain a lot of examples of organised religion gone wrong, it was nice that in this book we were also given a look at its more positive side, in the form of the nuns who were caring for Lyra.

Teaser Tuesday #12

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!

At the moment I’m reading La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, the first in his new Book of Dust trilogy, which is a prequel to His Dark Materials… I’ve been taking my time with it, not because it’s at all a struggle (it’s not), but because I want to savour the experience – and I’m also doing a month-long readalong of it with one of my friends. 😊 The story is about a young innkeeper’s son, who meets Lyra as a baby, and then gets caught up in all the intrigue surrounding her, from the shadowy and threatening CCD (Consistorial Court of Discipline) to the also mysterious (but more benign, at least to Malcolm) organisation of Oakley Street…

Teaser #1:

‘Not really,’ Malcolm said, beginning to feel awkward. He didn’t want to keep things from his parents, but they didn’t usually have the time to ask anything more than once. A non-comittal answer normally satisfied them. But with nothing else to do this evening, the matter of Malcolm’s talking to Alice became of great interest.

Teaser #2:

Pan was a sparrow chick now, so Asta became a bird too, a greenfinch this time.

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

Autumn Haul

Well, this post has been a long time coming! I think the last book haul I posted must’ve been in July? Or maybe even earlier… In any case, I’ve been adding things to this list since August, when I broke my book-buying ban on a trip to Topping in Ely… But I’ve managed to be pretty good since then. 👍 (The library has been my friend.) These are the books I bought from August to October:

1) The Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening. A book that’s pretty self-explanatory… Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of my favourite games, and I really loved all the art in it, so I was very happy to find this at Topping, despite the pain I felt in the general vicinity of my wallet (at the total price of everything I bought there, rather than just the price of this book, which wasn’t unreasonable for an art book of this size)…

2) The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Another treat to myself from Topping. I was actually debating between getting this or History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, but I came down on the side of The Dark Prophecy because they had signed copies. The second book in the Trials of Apollo series, set in the Percy Jackson universe but focusing on the god Apollo who’s been turned into a mortal teenager. This isn’t my favourite of the Percy Jackson-verse series’, but I had a lot of fun with The Hidden Oracle, and I’m sure that I’ll enjoy this one, too.

3) On the Pleasure of Hating by William HazlittOn Liberty by John Stuart MillThe Rights of Man by H.G. Wells. The last three books from my splurge in Ely, all of which are indulgences of my (kind of) recent obsession with civil rights… The first two books are part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, which I’m tempted to start collecting (they’re really nice editions), despite the fact that not all of them appeal to me content-wise. 😓 I read On the Pleasure of Hating back in October, but have yet to start on the other two.

4) The Claiming of Sleeping BeautyBeauty’s PunishmentBeauty’s Release by Anne Rice. The entire original Sleeping Beauty trilogy (though I believe another sequel was written not long ago). Not pictured, because I couldn’t bring myself to remove them from my “get-rid-of-ASAP” pile. I read (and had way too many thoughts about) the first book in September, and it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever come across. Which is saying a lot… I was hesitantly considering reading the other two out of morbid curiosity, but decided on further refection that sticking needles in my eyes would be a better use of my time. 😑

5) La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. The first volume of The Book of Dust, which is a companion series to His Dark Materials, one of my favourite trilogies of all time. I haven’t managed to start this book yet due to way too many other time commitments, but I’m hoping it’ll be one of the first things I read in 2018. 😆

6) Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot. The follow-up to the Princess Diaries series, which follows a grown-up Mia dealing with the stress of her royal duties and all the personal drama that always seems to follow her around. I started reading this the night before last, and it’s been great fun so far, getting back into Mia’s head, but with a slightly (only very slightly) more mature spin on things. I had a grin on my face the whole time I was reading. 😁 Review to come soon.

7) A History of Magic. The catalogue for the exhibition that’s currently on at the British Library, which is about Harry Potter and occult history. I wrote a whole post about the exhibition just the other day, but in short, it was really fascinating, and this catalogue is basically the exhibition in book form -though, of course, it’s different seeing the exhibits in the flesh (as it were) than in pictures. A wonderful book that I will be perusing often now that I’ve recovered it from my mother. 😋

Upcoming Releases: Autumn 2017

The next few months seem to be choc-a-bloc with great new books I could mention here… but in the interest of not letting this list go on forever, I’ve picked out a few that I’m most excited for, or intrigued by that will be released in September, October & November

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 28/08/2017.]

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken (5th September)

This might seem like an odd choice, since although I like Alexandra Bracken’s work, I’m not a die-hard fan… but something about The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding just sounds incredibly charming to me. It seems to be about an unremarkable boy from a family with a history of being anything but, who finds out one day that he’s sharing headspace with a demon. The impression I’m getting is a mix of Naruto and A Series of Unfortunate Events, which would make for an interesting combination! I’ll have to wait and see, however; the early reviews for this book have been somewhat mixed… Excitement level: 6/10

Provenance by Ann Leckie (28th September)

I only read my first one of Ann Leckie’s books recently (Ancillary Justice), but I was so blown away by it that I couldn’t help but add this to my “most anticipated” list as soon as I found out that it was going to be a thing… What I can tell about it so far: deep space and thievery. What I assume about it from my experience with Leckie’s writing thus far: complicated politics, rich world-building and great characters and plot. What I haven’t been able to discern: whether or not this is set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch books… 😓 So I likely won’t be picking it up until I’ve finished those books first (which will hopefully be very soon!). Excitement level: 8/10

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (3rd October)

The Prisoner of Azkaban has been out for years, of course, but Harry Potter fans (who seem to make up the majority of the world’s population) are bound to know already that Bloomsbury has been re-releasing new, beautifully-illustrated (by Jim Kay) editions of all the books… and this year is the turn of my favourite book in the series! The art for the last two books was amazing, so I can’t wait to see what this one will look like! 😆 Excitement level: 10/10

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (19th October)

The first of the three-volume Book of Dust, which takes place in the His Dark Materials universe, though it follows a new set of characters. I don’t know much more about this book than that; I really don’t need to, as I am sure to buy it anyway, and I doubt very much that I won’t enjoy it. Like many others, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book for years, so naturally, I’m very excited that it’s finally (almost) here! Excitement level: 10/10

Tortall: A Spy’s Guide by Tamora Pierce (31st October)

It’s been so long since I read anything new from Tamora Pierce! So even though this seems to be a dossier-style book (along the lines of The Artemis Fowl Files or The Demigod Files), rather than a whole new novel, I will undoubtedly devour it. Hopefully, like the other two books I mentioned, there will also be a short story or two in the mix… Excitement level: 7/10

T5W: Second = Best

Second books get a lot of criticism. If a series started out strong, then they have a lot to live up to, and sometimes they can seem like just a whole book’s worth of filler before a (hopefully) epic final novel… but I actually tend to really like them; with quite a few of my favourite series, I end up liking the second book best. 😊 So, naturally, I was thrilled to discover that this week’s Top 5 Wednesday theme was second books… Here’s my (heavily abridged) list:

5) A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This may be a bit of a cheat, since I haven’t finished the series yet, and so can’t know for sure whether A Court of Mist & Fury will be my favourite, but I couldn’t help including it here, simply because it was such a dramatic improvement over the first book… I liked A Court of Thorns & Roses, but the more I thought about it after I finished it, the more underwhelmed I felt; I was somewhat reluctant to even pick the sequel up, despite all the amazing things I’d been hearing about it… but, wow, was this book a huge step up. If you’re not sure about this series after book one, then rest assured that it’s worth it (so far🤞).

4) Lirael by Garth Nix

Nix’s Old Kingdom series is fantastic as a whole, but as much as I loved Sabriel and Touchstone in the first book, Lirael’s character arc in this book has always stuck with me. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the new storyline that Lirael began was fantastic, and she had a wonderful set of sidekicks in Sam, Nick, and the Disreputable Dog. 😋

3) Half Wild by Sally Green

Not a huge amount happens in Half Wild compared to the other two books in the trilogy, so this may be something of an odd choice, but what I really love about this book is how, with the action slowed down, there was so much character and relationship development. In particular, there was some really amazing exploration of Nathan’s relationship with his estranged father Marcus, as well as his two potential love interests, Gabriel and Annalise…

2) Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is the second book in the Graceling Realm trilogy, and seems to be a lot of people’s least favourite entry… It’s certainly very different from the other two books – it’s even set in a different world! Kind of. But although I found the transition between books quite jarring (I wasn’t even expecting the change in protagonists, and that’s the least of the changes from Graceling), I very quickly became attached to the new characters, their world, and I loved how much this book effected the other two, despite their apparent disconnect… 💕

1) The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is such an incredible series, and deserves all the praise it’s ever received and more; it’s exciting, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, beautifully written… Naturally, I love all three books in the trilogy, and the spin-off novellas, and I’m eagerly awaiting The Book of Dust. But Will’s introduction, and how our own world was pulled into this story with him, is what makes me love The Subtle Knife so much. (It also gave me what was probably my first ever OTP. Lyra & Will forever. 😭)

And an honourable mention for Street Magic by Tamora Pierce, which is one of my favourite books of all time, and also the second book in The Circle Opens quartet… which is itself a follow-up to the Circle of Magic series. I didn’t include it on the main list mostly because I tend to think of it as being a sixth book rather than a second, but this is also a series that people should definitely read! 🙏

(Also, in no particular order: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick,  Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson… and probably about a hundred more. But I’ll stop here, for the sake of all our sanity.)

[Top 5 Wednesday is run by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. To find out more or join in, check out the Goodreads group.]

September Wrap-Up

I was feeling a bit slumpy in September (and I’ve been super-busy at work), so I’m actually quite surprised by how many books I’ve managed to read: 4 novels – most of them quite chunky – and 1 novella! And, more importantly, I really loved almost all of them! ❤

Melina Marchetta//Froi of the ExilesFroi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta. The second book in the Lumatere Chronicles. This book follows Froi – one of the supporting characters from Finnikin of the Rock – on a mission in the enemy kingdom of Charyn, where a curse has taken hold, and no child has been born in 18 years… since the birth of Princess Quintana, whom the Charynites refer to as “Quintana the curse-maker”. I really enjoyed Finnikin of the Rock, but Froi of the Exiles was even better; the same brilliantly complex characters, and wonderful world, but built up even further, and a little easier to get into. I wish there’d been a bit more of Finnikin, but I really loved all the characters – new and old – who had parts in this new story. In particular, it was great to see how Beatriss and Trevanion’s relationship developed after their years apart, and the Charynite twins, Gargarin and Arjuro, were fascinating. The plot was wonderful, too; quiet or dramatic in all the right places, and there was a very sudden development right at the end of the book that made me very glad that I already had the sequel on my shelf, waiting to be picked up immediately. 😀5 stars

Melina Marchetta//Quintana of CharynQuintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta. The final Lumatere Chronicles book, and what a book it was! 😀 I obviously can’t say much about what happens, but all the story threads were tied up wonderfully, the romance (and this book is definitely the most romantic in the series) was great, and the writing beautiful. Froi of the Exiles is still probably my favourite of the three books, but it’s been a long time since I was this satisfied by the way a series ended. 🙂5 starsMichael Grant//Messenger of FearMessenger of Fear by Michael Grant. My Library Scavenger Hunt pick for September, which follows a teenage girl who wakes up in a mysterious place, remembering nothing of her life before. I was a little disappointed by this book, but I’ve already posted a mini-review explaining why.2 starsPhilip Pullman//Lyra's OxfordLyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman. A short story set a while after the end of the His Dark Materials trilogy, in which Lyra and Pan come across a witch’s daemon being attacked by a vicious flock of birds, and set out to help it on its mission. Obviously, this comes nowhere close to matching the sheer brilliance of the main series, but it was really lovely to be back in the His Dark Materials universe (and I believe I said something quite similar after reading Once Upon a Time in the North, too 😉 ), and it was doubly nice to be reading about Lyra again, at to see what’s been going on in her life, and how much she’s changed (a hint: not too much). The story was interesting, too, though I wish it’d been longer.4 starsWinston Graham//DemelzaDemelza by Winston Graham. The second book in the Poldark series, which is set in a Cornish mining community towards the end of the eighteenth century, and follows various members of the Poldark family, who are landed gentry fallen on hard times due to the falling price of the copper from their mines. I actually started reading this book sometime last year (pretty much immediately after finishing Ross Poldark, I think), but ended up putting it aside when I got distracted by other books – but I’m really glad that I’ve finally finished it! I really love the drama in this series, and the romance, and all the politics/economics (which is not something that I ever thought I’d find myself thinking) of the community where the main characters live. I had already seen the whole of the first series of the TV adaptation (which covers the events of the first two books in the series) before I started Demelza, so I already knew what was going to happen, but I found that it made me anticipate each new development, rather than making the story seem tedious.5 stars