Upcoming Releases: Winter 2021-22

Most of the new books I’ve been really hyped for this year were packed into autumn, so winter’s looking a little sparse… but there are still a few gems coming up! (Most notably, for a lot of people, the new Crescent City book, though I won’t be picking that one up myself…) So here are my most exciting picks for December, January & February:

[All dates are taken from Goodreads unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 23/11/2021.]

The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling (7th December)

A YA sapphic romance between a girl with the unsettling ability to see the deaths of anyone she touches, and a vampire who’s been sent to help her learn to control her power. There’s a murder mystery in there, too, I believe, though naturally I’m not sure whether the mystery or the romance will be the book’s greater focus. I’m no longer as desperate for vampire romances as I was a couple of months ago, but this one looks promising (and is giving me slight Mediator vibes, which would be fun! 😁). Excitement level: 7/10

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (9th December)

The first in a new fantasy series set in an alternative Edwardian England, following a man who’s appointed as the non-magical liaison to a hidden magical society. Again, I’m not sure what this book is really about, but I’ve been hearing glowing reviews from early readers, and apparently the magic system is based on Cat’s Cradle (which I always sucked at)! Also, this is another queer romance, which is nice to see. ☺️ Excitement level: 7/10

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett (13th January)

The second novel from the author of The Appeal, an unusual, multi-media murder mystery… and from the sound of things, The Twyford Code will be much the same – though this time the mystery will be centred around an old book that supposedly contains a hidden code. I struggle a lot with mysteries, however original, and however interesting they sound, so I won’t be picking this one up myself, but if I hear even half as much praise for it as I have for The Appeal, I expect I’ll be buying it for all my more criminally-inclined relatives in 2022! 😅 Excitement level: 5/10

Honourable Mentions:

  • Munro by Kresley Cole (25th January) – a new entry in the Immortals After Dark series.
  • A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (8th February, in paperback) – the sequel to A Memory Called Empire, for which I’ve been patiently waiting for the paperback.

March Wrap-Up

Happy Easter!!! 🐇🥚🐣 I wish you all as much chocolate as you can eat! 😁 March, as it turns out, was the best reading month I’ve had in years; I read fourteen books! Fourteen!! 😱 And, for the most part, they were all really good ones! The highlight of the month was, of course, my re-read of Komarr, but in general I was really motivated to read this month, and really enjoying everything I picked up. 😊

BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

The Rift by Gene Luen Yang. [COMIC; Illustrated by Gurihiru]

The third of the Avatar: The Last Airbender continuations, in which the Aang takes the Air Acolytes to celebrate an old Air Nomad festival, only to find that a refinery has been built on top of his people’s sacred land. This story didn’t click with me quite so well as The Promise or The Search, but I still enjoyed it a lot. The main highlight for me was Toph’s role; her friendship with the refinery’s manager, and reconnecting with her father… and although I wouldn’t exactly say I liked reading about her fight with Aang, I liked how it was resolved.

Lothaire by Kresley Cole.

An entry in the Immortals After Dark series (which I am absolutely not reading in order), following the Enemy-of-Old Lothaire, who finds his soulmate possessing a human girl, and endeavours to find a way to give her permanent control over Ellie’s body… but although the goddess of death seems like a perfect match for Lothaire on paper, it’s squishy-human Ellie that he finds himself drawn to.

This romance has a lot of problematic elements, but I appreciate that the narrative didn’t try to gloss over them; Cole did a great job of fleshing out Lothaire’s character in a way that made him a sympathetic romantic lead without making excuses for his (extreme and unrepentant) villainy. And Ellie was such a great match for him; I loved her determination to be a thorn in his side, and the way her feelings for him gradually changed as the book went on… And I also really appreciated that (disregarding the epilogue, which was set years later) their story didn’t leave off with all loose ends tied up and everything forgiven, as this book wasn’t nearly long enough for them to believably work through all their problems.

I still have no desire to read this series in its entirety, but I’d definitely be interested in picking up more of the Dacians books (a subset of Immortals After Dark that follow Lothaire’s Dacian cousins).

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The first book in the Vorkosigan Saga, in which Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Survey Corps is taken prisoner by Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar, whose fearsome reputation is belied by his behaviour towards her. This was a re-read for me, and I think I liked it even more the second time than I did the first! It’s a short book, but the world and characters are fleshed out brilliantly, and the romance develops slowly and believably. My favourite part is the final (maybe-)third of the story, where Cordelia returns to Beta Colony, only to find herself changed by her experiences, along with her family and friends’ reactions to her new self… it’s honestly quite chilling at times…

The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Lauren Fortgang & James Patrick Cronin]

Lara is sent to the Bridge Kingdom by her father to become its queen, and its downfall, but finds that King Aren is far from the brute she’s been told to expect, and his apparent stranglehold over trade to her impoverished homeland may not be quite what it seems. This was such a fun book! The worldbuilding was a little incomprehensible and the story a little, but I really enjoyed the characters, their hate-to-love romance, and the melodramatic storytelling – I’ll definitely be continuing as soon as my reading schedule allows! (In no small part thanks to that huge cliffhanger! It’s looking like The Traitor Queen might be a lot less predictable than this one.) 😁

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

The diary of a Japanese teenager washes up on a beach on the remote island where Ruth and her husband live, and Ruth finds herself consumed by the mystery of what’s happed to Nao. I found this more interesting than enjoyable, as the story was a very heavy one, dealing with suicide and really severe bullying… I thought the ending was a little unsatisfactory, though, and I also didn’t much appreciate the magical realism-y aspects in the last few chapters, nor the theoretical physics explanations, which made my eyes glaze over and were a huge departure in tone from the rest of the novel. However! As I said, it was very interesting, and I was invested in both Nao and Ruth’s storylines the vast majority of the time. No regrets for finally having read this. 👍

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson.

Joel is fascinated by Rithmatics, and with an unusual talent for maths, he seems like he’d make the perfect candidate – but he missed his chance to become a Rithmatist a long time ago, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to try again… But when students at his school start disappearing, leaving behind nothing but strange chalk marks, Joel’s theoretical knowledge may be just what’s needed to help solve the case!

I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed this, as I thought the concept was one of Sanderson’s less interesting ones, but I’m very pleased to have been mistaken! 😁 The chalk-based magic system actually ended up being my favourite thing about this book, and I loved the technical illustrations that were added in between chapters. The two main characters – Joel and his friend Melody – were also really great; I found Melody a little irritating at first, but she really grew on me as the book went on, and I liked how their friendship developed, given their very different personalities and priorities… The plot, too was pretty solid, though I thought that the identity of the villain was kind of out of nowhere, and there was a little twist right at the end of the book that I didn’t appreciate… but I’ll reserve final judgement on the plot for when (/if) the sequel is released.

A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe.

With her parents determined to marry her off to the rich but odious Mr. Van Peet, Christina flees to her neighbour Oliver, a reclusive inventor whom she accidentally befriended on a walk through his garden. Feeling for her plight, Oliver agrees to marry her with the stipulation that they will divorce a year later, so she’ll be able to make a better life for herself… but as they grow closer, both Oliver and Christina begin to realise that what they really want is each other. This was a pretty cheesy story, but very cute. Both the main characters were very endearing, and I loved their interactions the whole way through – but in particular, Oliver’s surprise at Christina’s interest in his inventions, and in learning sign language (Oliver is deaf) were really touching. My main criticism is that most of the conflict in this story seems very contrived; there are a lot of villains, and they all come across as comically evil, and then go away very quickly.

The River Whale by Sita Brahmachari. [NOVELLA; Illustrated by Poonam Mistry]

Immy loves to dive, and dreams of being a marine biologist, but her big diving test has to be cancelled when a whale gets lost in the Thames, and Immy’s instructor is called on to set it free. I don’t have much to say about this one, except that it was a sweet but simple story, written in a dream-like combination of poetry and prose, and beautifully illustrated. A very atmospheric read.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal.

Zafira has a unique ability to find her way, and so has been hunting alone in the dangerous magical forest of the Arz since her father’s death, and has gained a good deal of notoriety as the Hunter. Nasir is a prince, but has been trained as an assassin his whole life, and now serves his cruel father without question. Both are sent on a quest to recover an artefact that could restore magic to their dying homeland, but although they need each other’s help to complete this quest, their goals are very different.

I liked the main characters and the story well enough, but there was a lot of wasted potential. I feel like the story would’ve been much more interesting (and character and relationship development much more compelling) if Zafira and Nasir (and perhaps Altair) hadn’t had so many random companions along for the ride. Deen’s presence in particular seemed incredibly pointless, but more characters are introduced later in the book with little purpose beyond exposition – if that, even. There were also a few dramatic reveals towards the end that were rather predictable, and I also thought it was a shame that, although the Arz kept being spoken of as this incredibly dangerous and mysterious place, we barely saw it… I was under the impression early on that Zafira was going to have to find her way all the way to the far side of the forest, but when we got to that part of the story, it was just skipped over… 😑 I’m interested enough in these characters (and to a lesser extent the story) to continue, however; I just hope that Zafira and Nasir’s relationship is fleshed out more in the sequel.

Alex Rider Undercover by Anthony Horowitz. [SHORT STORY COLLECTION]

A collection of four short stories in the Alex Rider universe, mostly featuring Yassen Gregorovich, the series’ recurring villain. In The Man with the Wrong Shoes, Alex foils an assassination attempt at his school; in Double Agent, Ash’s loyalties are tested; in Metal Head, Yassen comes sniper-scope-to-face with the man who made his childhood a misery; and in The White Carnation, a client comes to Yassen with an unusual request. Overall, this was a pretty solid batch of stories; Metal Head was the strongest (and, unsurprisingly, the longest) of the bunch, and The White Carnation was probably the weakest, but I enjoyed them all, and my desire to catch up on this series has definitely been re-kindled. 😊

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks.

Street-rat Azoth is determined to escape from his life of drudgery, and his method of choice is to convince Durzo Blint – the city’s most dangerous assassin – to take him on as an apprentice. But becoming an assassin will mean turning his back on everything in his old life, even the friends who helped him get here. I really liked the beginning of this story, and the end of it, but the middle was very confusing, with the storyline jumping all over the place, and a lot of sudden character- and relationship-developments for no apparent reason… It kind of came together in the end (and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel), but I feel like everything would’ve been a lot smoother if Weeks had either spent more time on the Azoth-growing-up chapters, or else just had one clean time-skip in the middle rather than a hundred tiny ones…
3 stars

[EDIT (13/4/2021): Changed rating of The Way of Shadows from 4 stars to 3, after further consideration.]

November & December Wrap-Up

It feels weird to still be talking about 2020 so far into January, but alas, I’ve been very slow to collect my thoughts on my November and December reads… which weren’t numerous, I’m afraid (I hit a bit of a reading slump at the beginning of December), but made up for the quantity with pure quality! For although I only read 13 things, 5 of them were 5-stars! Which is more than half my 5-star reads for the whole year (excepting re-reads)! 😅

BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

The Promise by Gene Luen Yang. [COMIC; Illustrated by Gurihiru]

A continuation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series, in which Aang and Zuko’s friendship is tested by their different hopes for the future of the former Fire Nation colonies – particularly in the case of Yu Dao, which has existed for so long that its Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom residents have come to consider themselves a single people.

To be honest I love this world and these characters so much that Yang could have written basically anything and it would’ve pleased me, but this story surpassed all my expectations! 😁 I loved seeing Zuko continued to develop as a character even after achieving his goals, and his friendship with Aang and the pressure it came under here were perfectly characterised. And the side-story with Toph’s earthbending school nicely offset the more serious themes of the complexities of decolonisation…

Ravensong by T.J. Klune.

The sequel to Wolfsong, but this time following Gordo, his history with the Bennet pack, and how it’s changed over the years, and how it’s changed him. Gordo was my favourite character in Wolfsong, so it’s no surprise that I was excited for this book, but sadly I didn’t think it was quite as good. I still love Gordo, of course, and I found his backstory really heart-wrenching; the plot was also very solid, and continued on where Wolfsong left off, but I didn’t think the romance was quite as well-developed, and I didn’t manage to form much of an attachment to Mark beyond what rolled over from the last book… The best parts of this for me were probably the flashbacks, but I’m also looking forward to seeing where the plot goes in Heartsong.

A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole.

Emma Troy’s search for the truth about her late parents is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a powerful, half-crazed Lykae, furious with her for no apparent reason; Lachlain, meanwhile, finds the strength to break free of his ancient prison when he catches the scent of his destined mate… but he doesn’t expect her to be a vampire.

This was a fun, and pretty addictive read, but I found myself growing a little bored towards the end, and looking back, I’m finding it kind of difficult to remember the details… The good: Emma I liked well enough; she and Lachlain had decent chemistry; the steamy scenes were a good level of steamy. The less good: I didn’t care about much of the Valkyrie or Lykae lore, which was what this book mostly focused on, worldbuilding-wise; I find phonetically-written Scottish accents more comical than sexy, and the old-fashioned slang didn’t help with that; and I found the side characters beyond the main couple all kind of boring. Also, trigger warnings for kidnapping and dubious (at least) consent, and probably other things that I can’t think of right now…

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare.

The final book in the Mortal Instruments series, in which Clary & friends face off against the seemingly-unbeatable Sebastian and his growing army of Endarkened for the last time. As always, Clare delivered a pretty epic conclusion here, but although I really enjoyed it, I still kind of agree with the people who say that this second trilogy didn’t need to exist… The first half of this book, in particular, was a real slog (as were the two preceding novels), but I do feel like the ending made up for most of it. I’m mainly still in the Shadowhunter universe for the Infernal Devices cameos, which were finally delivered in this book (that epilogue was perfect), and other good things were: 1) Sebastian is still a really great, thoroughly hate-able villain, and 2) I’m glad that all the romances ended out well (kind of).

The Toll  by Neal Shusterman. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Greg Tremblay]

Three years after the events of Thunderhead, Citra and Rowan wake to find themselves separated once again, each playing pieces for different sides of the Scythedom’s ideological split, and the world utterly changed. A great end to a great trilogy! I found the ending really satisfying, as well as the journey to get there – though, like in Thunderhead, I wish that there had been more interaction between Citra and Rowan. 😅 Some of the highlights for me were Citra’s search through the backbrain, the bits of worldbuilding we got via the chapter intros (especially all the Tonist analysis), and Grayson’s relationships with Jeri, Morrigan, and of course the Thunderhead itself… And while it wasn’t at any point as great as Thunderhead‘s most exciting moments, I found that it was much more consistently good the whole way through.

The Search by Gene Luen Yang. [COMIC; Illustrated by Gurihiru]

After the events of The Promise, Zuko finds a letter that may contain a new hint as to his mother’s location, and he sets out with the rest of Team Avatar to track her down – with a volatile Azula along for the ride! Of all the Avatar comics, this was definitely the one I was looking forward to the most, as the fate of Zuko’s mother is one of the biggest mysteries that the TV series left hanging… and it absolutely didn’t disappoint! I loved the tense interactions between Zuko and Azula, and the flashbacks to their childhood; the search itself takes a really interesting path; and the eventual reveal of Ursa’s fate was surprising and emotional… I’m really looking forward to reading more of these comics when my copy of The Rift, Volume 1 finally arrives! 😅

A Closed & Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.

Now stuck in an artifical body that she never asked for, Lovelace (now called Sidra) searches for a sense of purpose and self. Meanwhile, the young Jane 23 tries to make a life for herself outside the scrap-sorting facility that’s all she’s ever known.

I loved this so much. Becky Chambers’ books have always been great, but I this is my favourite thing she’s written by far; the characterisation is just so thoughtful (I’m not sure how else to describe it, but of course the security-AI would prefer to stand in the corner, it makes so much sense)! Naturally I loved Sidra (I’m a sucker for a good, multi-faceted AI character), but Pepper’s backstory was also incredibly touching. And the plot was basically perfect, too. There’s not much of it – the book is almost entirely character- (and relationship-) driven – but it blends the two timelines together wonderfully, and makes for a natural and gratifying conclusion to both Pepper and Sidra’s character arcs.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Emily Woo Zeller & Cynthia Farrell]

In a war that spans all of time, two rival agents send each other letters, and slowly fall in love. This is very poetically written, and I can see why it’s such a hit-or-miss book for a lot of people, but I really loved the vivid imagery, and I think this may have been my favourite book of last year. (If not, it definitely came close.) The romance was slow-building and it was wonderful to see it develop so gradually, and although there’s not much else of plot in this story, it was interesting to see the small, often arbitrary-seeming actions that Red and Blue took in order to shift the timeline.

A lot of the reviews I’ve seen for the audiobook in particular say that the two perspectives aren’t distinct enough, but I never found that a problem myself, and I think that the narrators both performed excellently.

The Novice by Taran Matharu.

And we go from an incredibly unique book to an incredibly boring one. The Novice follows a young orphan called Fletcher who accidentally summons himself a demon familiar, and must then attend a fancy magical school, where he’s out of place because of his common background, and the unorthodox way that he bonded with his demon. I liked the concept of a demon-summoning school, at least, and the three-way war between humans, orcs and elves made for a potentially intriguing storyline, especially as the series goes on… But! The characters were so awful. 😑

The villains were all comically evil, actual-enemy-of-the-nation and petty bullies alike – and Fletcher! Fletcher was the most annoying protagonist I’ve had the displeasure of reading about in a while. He’s the most open-minded person in the book, uniqely capable of accepting people for who they are; he’s the most un-racist human you’ll ever meet, able to convert the most stubborn or bigots with one encounter; he’s not naturally talented at all and has to work really hard for his skill, we’re told, even as we’re shown the exact opposite; and he’s so eloquent that he must have his own personal speech-writer following him around, scripting everything he says. Seriously, it’s not even as though he doesn’t talk like a teenager – it’s that he doesn’t talk like a person.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff.

Thankfully, though, I was able to end the year on a high note with Nevernight, which tells the story of another orphan – Mia Corvere – who swears revenge on the men who ruined her family, and heads off to join the Red Church – an organisation of deadly assassins – in order to learn the skills she needs. Dark, witty, frequently edgy and over-the-top (which I love… sometimes), with well-developed and surprisingly likeable (for murderers) characters, and a plotline that kept me on the edge of my seat – with some truly shocking twists (though admittedly, some of them I was probably more shocked by than I should’ve been). I was given the sequel to this for Christmas, and I can’t wait to get to it as soon as my new TBR game allows… 😅🤞