Summer Catch-Up

Seeing such a long list of books makes me much more satisfied with my reading than I have been for my last few wrap-ups (/catch-ups), though I know it’s a slightly artificial satisfaction (but not entirely! Booktubeathon meant that I read a lot more this summer than I would ordinarily have); three months naturally results in more books read than one, after all… 😅

Also, I find myself liking this new format. It’s kind of labour-intensive (I had to completely re-code it last night, which was a chore), but I expect that it will become less so as I get more used to it. And it looks very tidy, which I appreciate. 😊

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

29748925 Ann Leckie//Ancillary Mercy

JUNE

[REVIEW]

mary beard//women and power

JULY

[REVIEW]

robert harris//fatherland

AUGUST

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

Adam Silvera//History Is All You Left Me

[REVIEW]

Catherynne M. Valente//The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

[REVIEW]

sarah prineas//ash and bramble

[REVIEW]

jack london//White Fang

[REVIEW]

Kiersten White//Bright We Burn

[REVIEW]

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//Obsidio

[SERIES REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

29748925Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The first book in a new series of the same name, which follows the orphaned Lazlo Strange, who has always been fascinated by the lost city of Weep, which was one day erased from the world, as if by magic, leaving few who even remembered that it was ever more than a myth. I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone a lot, but this may be my favourite thing that Laini Taylor has written so far. I really loved both Lazlo and Sarai (the book’s second protagonist), and the supporting characters were all incredibly memorable, despite there being quite a few of them. The conflict at the centre of the book was fascinating, too, and the world-building amazing. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Weep, and am glad that I only have a month more to wait for Muse of Nightmares, which is unsurprisingly my most anticipated autumn release – and which I will definitely also be listening to, rather than reading in print, as Steve West’s performance of Strange the Dreamer was fantastic.5 stars

35037401Dragon Age: Knight Errant by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir. [COMIC; Illustrators: Fernando Heinz Furukawa & Michael Atiyeh]

A brief (and self-contained) story set in the Dragon Age world, about Vaea, the elven squire to drunken knight Ser Aaron Hawthorne – and, unbeknownst to her master, a thief. I’ll admit that I’m inclined to enjoy every foray into this world, regardless of length (or even story or writing quality), but Knight Errant surpassed all my expectations. It’s very short, but did a great job of making me care about Vaea and Ser Aaron, the two main characters (who are original to this comic), and although the plot is simple, it’s also solid, and a lot of fun. Varric and Sebastian from the games also had fairly significant roles, and it was great to see them both again (as well as Charter, who made a brief appearance). 😊 In terms of timeline, this takes place after Inquisition, but is not directly connected to the events of that game.4 stars

8146139The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

The tale of a domestic dog called Buck, who’s stolen from his owners in California and taken all the way to the Yukon, where he lives a much less comfortable life as a sled-dog, but is drawn to the wild places that exist just beyond the borders of his new life. This was a really interesting read! I picked it up a few days before Booktubeathon, because I was hoping to read White Fang for one of the challenges, and mistakenly thought that the two were directly connected, but I actually ended up liking this one a bit more, as the pacing was much more consistent, and the story a little gratuitously violent… Buck’s life in the North is a harsh one, but London doesn’t dwell on the brutality of it quite so much as in White Fang. Still, for such a short book, it packs a huge emotional punch.4 stars

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Aysha Kala & Jack Farrar]

An excellent, Roman Empire-inspired fantasy following two leads: Laia, a teenage girl who becomes a slave in order to spy for the Scholar resistance, and Elias, a Martial soldier who wants only to be free of the Empire. I first read (and reviewed) this book a couple of years ago, and my feelings on it haven’t changed in the slightest. 💕 The audiobook was a new experience for me, but also a good one; both narrators did an excellent job, though I feel like the communication between them might not have been particularly great, as there were several words that they each pronounced differently. It wasn’t usually too jarring, and the most significant pronunciation disagreement was corrected after a few chapters, but it’s something that really should have been addressed by an editor or director (or whoever is in charge of voice work) before recording… especially when it’s the name of one of the main characters!5 stars

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//ObsidioObsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

The final book in The Illuminae Files, which introduces two new protagonists: Asha, Kady’s cousin who was left behind on Kerenza IV when the majority of the population fled, and her ex-boyfriend-from-before-Kerenza, Rhys, who is now a technician for the invading BeiTech forces. As the conclusion to the trilogy, the plot of this book was much less self-contained than the other two, and it wrapped up the plot really nicely, and made for an incredibly powerful ending – though at the expense of some development for Asha and Rhys, who had to share their screen time with the series’ previous four protagonists (or five if you include AIDAN). However, I do think that they were both very well-fleshed out characters regardless, and the Kerenza-based perspective that they both provided to the story was essential. The pacing of the story was fast and tense, and only became more so as the stakes got higher and higher towards the end… and although I didn’t like this book quite as much as Illuminae, it was a near thing. A truly great ending to this fantastic series!5 stars

Jane Austen//Pride and PrejudicePride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Lindsay Duncan]

The classic tale of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who meet at a ball and absolutely do not hit it off. 😉 This is one of my favourite books, and always a joy to re-read, but I decided to buy the audiobook to listen to with some friends on our recent pilgrimage-of-sorts to Pemberley! (Or rather, Lyme Park, which played the part of Pemberley’s exterior in the 1995 BBC adaptation, i.e. the best adaptation.) There are several different audio versions of this book, so much deliberation went into the choice of this one in particular, and I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed! Lindsay Duncan’s performance was incredible, and I especially liked her take on Mrs. Bennet. 🎶5+ stars

*Not including re-reads.

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Library Scavenger Hunt: June

Last month’s challenge – suggested a few months back by my dad – was to read a book where the title and author’s name begin with the same letter, and it’s one that I’ve been holding onto for a while, saving for such a time as I was really, really eager to read the last Imperial Radch book. 😉 Considering that, I think it’s fairly obvious what I picked for the challenge – though I am rather glad that it was available, as I didn’t think to check beforehand… 😓

ANCILLARY MERCY
Ann Leckie

[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. Click here for my reviews of Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword.]

After the events of Ancillary Sword, Athoek Station enters a period of calm – but it is a short-lived one, soon interrupted by the troubling appearance of an unexpected visitor in the Undergarden, and then by the even more worrying arrivals of first a new Presger Translator, and then the Lord of the Radch herself, and not the part of her that purports to be Breq’s ally.

Ancillary Mercy is the final book in the Imperial Radch trilogy, and takes place entirely on and around Athoek Station, which was also the setting of Ancillary Sword. In tone, it’s also more similar to Sword than Justice, which is a bit of a shame (as Ancillary Justice is definitely my favourite of the two), but I did find that it did a good job of showing how the events of the second book tied into the overarching storyline, and answered a lot of the questions that I had at the end of Ancillary Sword. I also really enjoyed the way that Leckie wrapped up the plot; it was both brilliantly conceived, and completely unexpected.

Other things I appreciated about this book: Though the relationship between Breq and Seivarden didn’t go in quite the direction I was hoping, it did evolve in a way that felt very natural for both characters, and I was glad generally that Seivarden seemed to have a much more prominent role than in Sword. Breq’s assumptions about her bond with Mercy of Kalr were also challenged in a significant way, which made for several very interesting, character-defining moments… And I really enjoyed Tisarwat’s continued development; of all the characters in the series, she’s probably the one who’s grown on me the most. 😊

In terms of worldbuilding, Mercy gives us a better insight into Athoek Station’s importance to the Radch Empire than was previously known, as well as more information about the Presger, via Translator Zeiat (they’re still a difficult race to wrap my head around, but in an intriguing way rather than a frustrating one). A lot of attention was also given to the question of A.I. rights, a topic which interests me greatly, from a great many different angles – as there were so many prominent A.I. characters (even discounting Breq herself) – and I loved the discourse over the issue…

My favourite in this series is still Ancillary Justice, but I do think that this book was an improvement on Ancillary Sword – and, to be honest, the whole series is so good that “not-as-good-as-Justice” isn’t a very meaningful criticism. I will say, however, that those unhappy few who didn’t like Ancillary Sword at all will likely be disappointed by Mercy as well. I’m looking forward to reading Provenance, which I believe is connected to the trilogy (though I’m not sure how), but mostly I’m anxious to get hold of my own copies of these three, so that I can re-read at my leisure. 🎶

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

2017 in Review

Last year (and it’ll be strange for a while yet to be using that phrase to refer to 2017) ended up being a pretty great reading year for me, despite several not-quite-slumps, and a few very time-consuming video game obsessions. 😅 I’m still not reading at the pace that I was when I was in China (just before I decided to start this blog), but considering that I now have a considerably more active social life, and a job with far less downtime, I’m happy with both the quantity and the quality of the books that I read. I managed to complete my Goodreads Challenge, as well as all of my Reading Resolutions, which makes a huge change from 2016, where I only managed two out of ten. 😰 The My Year in Books page on Goodreads also looks as cool as ever, but I especially like that they’ve added reviews into the layout this time.

Of course, I’ve picked out a few favourites, which I’d like to say a little about (in order of reading, not preference), starting with The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, which was not at all what I was expecting it to be, but completely blew me away. It’s a story about a woman and the robot who helped to raise her, and all the ways that their relationship shifts and changes as they grow older. I only initially gave this four stars, but I took the fact that I’m still thinking about it, and remember it so favourably as a sign that I ought to bump it up to a five-star rating.

The next book was definitely the best book I read in 2017: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie! This book not only defied my expectations, but completely blew them out of the water. It tells the story of a soldier called Breq who used to be part of the consciousness of a sentient starship, and is now on a mission to avenge the destruction of herself (kind of). It’s very strange conceptually, but I found the characters, the plot, and the intergalactic society that Leckie created completely enchanting, and I can’t wait to finish the series (after which I will be deciding whether this book specifically, or the series as a whole, will make it onto my all-time favourites list)!

And third is Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, which I finished reading on Boxing Day evening, so it’s a very recent addition to the list. It’s a British contemporary novel about a girl who’s always been super-focused on her academic performance, but secretly loves a strange podcast called Universe City, whose creator is a complete mystery – until one day an acquaintance of hers drunkenly reveals himself to be the mysterious “Radio Silence”. Plot-wise, this book was probably quite weak, but I loved it for its characters, who I identified with very strongly, as well as its homage to fan-culture (of the podcasts and fan-art variety), which read very much like a love letter. 💕

Lastly, here’s a round-up of my resolutions, which (as I previously mentioned) went  really well:

1) Take part in the Library Scavenger Hunt every month:

2) Read 1 non-fiction book:

  • Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks [review linked above]

3) Read 10 adult/literary novels:

4) Read 3 classics or modern classics:

  • Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen [review linked above]
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne [review linked above]
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [review linked above]

5) Read 5 books that showcase cultures different to my own:

6) Read 5 comics, manga or graphic novels (each series can only count once):

7) Read 10 short stories (not including spin-off novellas):

  • Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (from the Dangerous Women anthology)
  • Odd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  • The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass (DW)
  • Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughan (DW)
  • Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale (DW)
  • Neighbors by Megan Lindholm (DW)
  • I Know How to Pick ‘Em by Lawrence Block (DW)
  • Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson (DW)
  • A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman (DW)
  • Midnights by Rainbow Rowell (from the My True Love Gave to Me anthology)

8) Read 5 books that were given or lent to me:

  • Odd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  • The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman [review]
  • Wild Lily by K.M. Peyton [review]
  • The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke [review linked above]
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [review linked above]

9) Finish reading 3 DNF books:

  • Now I Rise by Kiersten White
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld [review linked above]
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [review linked above]

10) Finish or catch up on 5 series that I started before the beginning of the year:

Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from Ancillary Justice, so if you haven’t started the series at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of the first book.]

Athoek Station is almost as far from the Lord of the Radch’s influence as it’s possible to get without leaving the Empire; with a great deal of wealth and prestige – both from it’s thriving tea industry – and an alarming schism between the ruling and working classes. Breq has been sent here in order to protect the Station from the no-longer-secret war between the two different parts of the Lord of the Radch herself… but she has her own agenda, too: to make contact with the Horticulturalist Basnaaid Elming, the younger sister of Lieutenant Awn.

This book involved a mixture of politics and culture that made for an incredibly interesting story, but the scale of it surprised me somewhat; the ending of Ancillary Justice seemed to promise far-reaching changes to the Radch Empire, but it seems that Athoek Station is just a bit too far for those changes to have taken effect. And although this does make sense when considering that Athoek is a remote station, on the very edge of Radch territory, it makes it an odd place for Leckie to have chosen to set the book.

It’s also never made entirely clear why Breq is sent to Athoek at all. She mentions several times in the first book wanting to track down Awn’s younger sister, Basnaaid, which is motive enough on her own part, but why does the Lord of the Radch want her there? Is it simply to spread the word of the now-open war? Because that would seem to be a mission that Breq would approve of, but she expends very little effort in trying to convince the local government of what’s happened. Or is she simply there to defend the station? That’s definitely a task that she throws herself into, but it seems strange that the Lord of the Radch would send Breq to protect a place that is both incredibly far away from her, and also grants her very little tactical advantage… While I did enjoy the story a lot, I’m still not sure why it happened, or how it’s supposed to affect the series going forward.

Another surprise in this book was how small Seivarden’s role in it was; when at the end of the last book, she decided to accompany Breq on Mercy of Kalr, I expected that their relationship (which was one of my favourite things about Ancillary Justice) would be explored a lot further, but although Seivarden’s feelings towards Breq are made even more plain in this book, they actually spend very little time together. I did, however, like the focus that was put on some of the newer characters: Sirix provided an interesting and unique perspective on Athoek Station; Tisarwat played an unexpectedly prominent role in the story, and managed to bring out a new side of Breq that was both frightening and compassionate. And I particularly liked the contrast between Mercy of Kalr’s human crew who acted like ancillaries (usually represented by Kalr Five), Breq who was an ancillary but was thought to be human, and the actual ancillaries of Sword of Atagaris that they encountered at the station…

(If you’ve noticed that I didn’t even mention Basnaaid Elming, then it’s because she also played a surprisingly small part in the book.)

Ancillary Justice is a tough act to follow; it’s probably my favourite book of the year so far. My sky-high expectations, combined with a dramatic shift in tone, meant that naturally this sequel was something of a disappointment to me… but it’s still an excellent book. I’m very eager to finish the trilogy.

September Wrap-Up

Last month seems to have been something of a reading rollercoaster; the highs were high, and the lows were rock bottom… 😓 On the whole, though, I’d say the good outweighed the bad. Here are the five novels I managed to read in September:

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice. An erotic retelling of Sleeping Beauty that had so many problems beyond just not being my thing… I’ve written a full review of this book – voicing all my confusion and frustration over it – which you can find here, if you so desire. But in short: the characters were bland, the plot was non-existant, the world-building (which my brain got really stuck on for some reason) was abysmal, and the sex scenes were boring and repetitive… 😑 Would not recommend. To anyone.Now I Rise by Kiersten White. The sequel to Now I Darken, which follows a Lada who has now left the Ottoman court to reclaim her throne, and her brother Radu, who has stayed behind in a seemingly hopeless attempt to win Mehmed’s love. Ah, I love this series so much! 💕 And everything seems to be escalating beautifully; it’s such an exciting novel! Obviously I can’t say much about what actually happens, but I will say that both Lada and Radu remain excellent protagonists, and it’s very interesting contrasting the way each of them thinks of Mehmed (about whom my own feelings are becoming correspondingly complicated).When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. A somewhat lacklustre romance between two Indian-American teenagers, one of whom feels that her family’s traditions are holding her back, while the other feels very connected to those same traditions. Also there was an app development convention, but it wasn’t as important to the story as it might have been… The book had both cute parts and interesting parts, but was mainly rather meh. 😕 You can find my review here.Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. My September Library Scavenger Hunt pick; a classic adventure/exploration novel, wherein an eccentric geologist and his nephew embark on a trip to the centre of the Earth. This book was silly, but a whole lot of fun, and I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Once again, I’ve got a review for this already posted.Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. The second book in the Imperial Radch series, which follows the soldier Breq, who was once part of an enormous starship, but is now learning to live with one body instead of hundreds… There’s not much that I can say that will do this series (so far!) justice, but I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as I did Ancillary Justice… I did like the interactions between Breq and her new crew, and I also found the story very interesting, but I was surprised by how little it seemed to be connected to the events of the first book – and even now, I’m not entirely sure why Breq was sent to Athoek Station (I understand why she wanted to go there, but it wasn’t so clear why she was ordered to go there). Also, I would’ve liked to see more of Seivarden, who was absent for a lot of this book… That said, I still liked it a lot, and, to be honest, Ancillary Justice must have been an incredibly hard book to follow up. Hopefully I’ll have a more detailed review up soon. 😊

August Wrap-Up

Last month ended up being something of a reminder to me not to try to read too many books at the same time; I end up feeling like I’m not making any progress, even when I am, just because I end up going for such long stretches without finishing everything… All of the three books I read, I finished within the last week, and I’m still not even halfway through Now I Rise (which, you may recall, I put aside “momentarily” in order to concentrate on the Booktubeathon – which was a whole month ago)… 😓 But it’s quality over quantity, right? Here are the amazing books I read in August:

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. A fantastic novel about a fragment of a sentient starship who has been violently cut off from her main body, and is on a mission to expose the truth of how and why this happened to her. This is a very difficult book to sum up in any king of succinct manner, but since it was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for August, you can find my more detailed review of it here. Spoilers, though: I loved it, and can’t wait to read the sequel.

Warleggan by Winston Graham. The fourth book in the Poldark series, which follows the lives of Ross Poldark and his wife Demelza, along with their family and friends (and an enemy). Obviously I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling things, but for those of you following the (remarkably faithful) TV series, this book covers the second half of series two… And of course I’m still loving these books, with all their melodrama and misunderstandings. As has been the case with almost all the books so far, Demelza was the highlight of Warleggan, though I did also enjoy all of Caroline’s antics, and getting the chance to know her better; Ross’ character arc, on the other hand, has become increasingly frustrating, but I’m hoping that this book will have got us through the worst of his pig-headedness. (The ending seemed promising, at least.)

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. The third Harry Potter book, which I have been (mostly) reading along with the third season of the Harry Potter & the Sacred Text podcast. This is my favourite book in the series (and probably always will be), and re-reading it was a joy, especially with the extra food for thought that the podcast offered… It’s something of a shame that (unlike season two), this season didn’t coincide with the release of the Prisoner of Azkaban illustrated edition, but I guess that just means I’ll be due for another re-read in the very near future – and that’s hardly a chore! 😊

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!

5+ stars

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

EDIT (8/7/2018): Changed rating to reflect that this is now on my favourites list.