2018 in Review: Highlights

🎊🎊🎊 Happy New Year’s Eve Eve, everyone! 🎊🎊🎊 It’s the time of year again for everyone to talk about their favourite books! 📚 … And usually I’d be joining in with the numbered-list-o-mania, but I’ve read so many great books this year, so instead I thought I’d talk about some of my bookish highlights for the year! 😊 Not all of these are necessarily my absolute favourites, but these are the books I found particularly memorable in 2018:

If you’ve been following my monthly/seasonal wrap-ups, you’ll probably have noticed that I finally got myself an Audible subscription, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. I find it hard sometimes to tell whether my feelings about the book being read are affected by the narrator’s performance, or vice versa, but quite a few of my favourites this year turned out to be ones that I’d listened to rather than read. In terms of pure performance, though, nothing comes close to Garth Nix’s Frogkisser!, which was wonderfully read by Marisa Calin; you can find my review of it here.

The other stand-out audiobook I listened to was Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, though in this case I think my enjoyment was based mostly on the story itself (though Steve West’s narration was also excellent), and I’ve no doubt that I would have liked it just as much in print form. I was a little behind the bandwagon in starting this series, but this first book definitely lives up to the incredible amount of hype surrounding it, and the sequel (Muse of Nightmares, which was released a few months ago) was almost as good.

And on the topic of more recent releases: The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff and The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White both ended this year, and are by far some of the best series I’ve read in the last few years. Neither Obsidio nor Bright We Burn were my favourites from their respective series, but they both made for incredibly satisfying endings.

After a slightly disappointing start to the series, I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, which I finally – and reluctantly – picked up for the Fall into Fantasy readathon in November. I was never entirely sure why The Hidden Oracle didn’t resonate with me, but The Dark Prophecy has definitely saved the series for me; I’m currently reading book three (The Burning Maze), and enjoying it just as much, and no doubt it would be included in this post, too, if not for the fact that I’m unlikely to finish it before New Year. (I also have a review up for this book, which you can find here, if you’re interested.)

On the whole, my 2018 seems to have been a really great (and intense) year for fantasy books, and it’s been really wonderful to delve so deeply back into my favourite genre, including my first (kind-of) go at one of the classics: Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle! I’ve been meaning to read this series for such a long time, and now that I’ve started, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long! So far, I’ve only read the first three books, but I’ve loved them all, and the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, is probably my favourite book of the year; it was such a wonderful read. 💕 Needless to say, Tehanu (the fourth in the series) will be one of the first things that I read in 2019.

Finally, I’d like to also give a quick mention to We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which is probably the most thought-provoking book I read this year, and was an incredible roller-coaster of emotions. I feel like I read it so long ago that it’s heard to believe that it was really still 2018, but it’s stuck with me, and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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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.

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 4 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Bright We Burn by Kiersten White.

[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.]

Lada has reclaimed her throne, but holding onto it will be another challenge entirely, and one she’s not nearly so suited for. Radu, meanwhile, returns to Mehmed’s side after the siege of Constantinople, haunted by his experiences there – only to find himself once again caught in-between his sister and his beloved friend.

An excellent conclusion to an excellent trilogy! Lada and Radu are such great characters, and their differing world-views balance out the story perfectly. I’m not usually a fan of very dark stories (and it’s probably not a surprise to anyone that I like Radu more than Lada), but White does a great job of showing how her actions affect people differently; a scene that is horrifying to Radu and his Ottoman companions in one chapter, is a glorious show of defiance to Lada’s Wallachian fighters in the next…

Lada is also a very sympathetic character. While I’m sure that nobody really agrees with her actions, it’s still very easy to understand where they come from: Pure rage at a world that refuses to take her seriously, whatever she seems to do (and a fair amount of bloodthirstiness, too). Lada is the phrase “great and terrible” given form, but she still manages to be human at the same time.

Radu’s chapters provided a much needed respite from his sister’s anger, though he is not without his own conflicts; they are mainly political, where Lada’s are military, but they are no less thrilling for being less action-driven. His internal struggles – of which there are many – are also incredibly heart-wrenching, from his attempts to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, to his complex feelings about both Lada (now his enemy) and Mehmed (who he may finally be accepting can never be more than his friend)…

Beyond its primary characters, the plot escalated and concluded in a very satisfying way, and the story as a whole remained as fast-paced and surprising as its predecessors (i.e. a lot). Unusually for me, I don’t think I have a favourite book in the series, as they were all truly fantastic.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Finished, and dead tired. 😪 I didn’t manage to get too much reading done yesterday, as I spent most of the day on a bus (and even thinking about reading on the bus makes me a little queasy), failing to sleep. But I did manage to finish off an audiobook while I was packing (An Ember in the Ashes, which I started before the readathon, hence the “.5” in my book count… though I shan’t be reviewing it, as I already did so for Booktubeathon 2016), and start on another: The Secret Life of Bees.

Books Completed: 4.5
Pages Read: 1402
(+ Hours Listened: 8:34)
Challenges Completed: 6/7

Upcoming Releases: Summer 2018

Let me tell you, this list was a hard one to put together. When I started writing, I had no idea how I was going to write a whole post about just two books, but the more I looked into what was actually coming out this summer, the more I realised that the actual problem was how to narrow the list down to a manageable length… 😓 The next few months are going to be crazy for new releases, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here (in particular, there were a tonne of sequels that I left off because I’m not caught up on their series, and I had to draw the line somewhere). And of the ones I have mentioned, two are going to be released on my birthday! (No prizes for guessing which, because it’s obvious.) So without further ado, here are the most exciting things coming out in June, July & August.

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 06/06/2018.]

Night Flights by Philip Reeve (5th July)

A set of three short stories set in the Hungry City Chronicles universe, focusing on Anna Fang, an interesting side character from the original trilogy. To be honest, it’s been so long since I read any of the Hungry City books that I don’t remember all that much about Anna, but I’d be excited to read anything he deemed to write for this universe… 😅 I’m so glad that the world in general seems to be realising how amazing this series is – and if you haven’t seen either of these amazing trailers for Mortal Engines, then what are you waiting for?! Excitement level: 7/10

Bright We Burn by Kiersten White (5th July)

The third and final book in The Conqueror’s Saga, which explores the life of Vlad the Impaler, had he been born a girl. Starting this series is one of the best book-related decisions I’ve made in the last few years, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it’s all going to wrap up (though it’s also sad to think that it’ll soon be over). Lada is such an excellent, bloodthirsty anti-heroine, and her brother Radu (the story’s second protagonist) pulls at all my heartstrings (I just want him to be happy! Is that too much to hope for? 😭)… Whatever direction this conclusion takes, I anticipate epicness, and a lot of feelings. Excitement level: 10/10

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (24th July)

The third book in the Wayfarers series, which follows an entirely new cast, though one of the new protagonists is related to Ashby, a character from the first book. I haven’t read A Closed & Common Orbit yet, so this book almost got cut from the list (or relegated to the honourable mentions section), but I’m just so thrilled to see that Chambers is writing more for this series – and also they’re companion novels, so I don’t imagine it’ll matter all that much if I end up reading this one before AC&CO… 😓 I’m expecting interesting space adventures, and lots of really complex new characters! Excitement level: 7/10

Hard in Hightown by Mary Kirby (2nd August)

A detective novel set in Dragon Age‘s Kirkwall, the city of chains! 😆 The observant among you may have noticed the name Varric Tethras on the cover, rather than Mary Kirby – because this is a book that exists within the DA universe, and Varric (an important character in both Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition) is it’s in-universe author. I don’t usually read crime novels, but I think I can make an exception for this one; I’ve already read bits and pieces of it in the in-game codex, and I’m looking forward to seeing it all put together (and illustrated!). 😁 Excitement level: 9/10

Honourable Mentions: (With links this time!)

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. 😊

Teaser Tuesday #10

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!

This week month more-than-a-month I’ve been reading Now I Rise by Kiersten White, the second book in an amazing series that re-imagines the life of Vlad the Impaler, in a world where he is born a woman. I really loved the first book, and so far this sequel is living up to my admittedly high expectations – which is making me very happy indeed. 💕

Teaser #1:

She was as likely to kill anyone who talked to her as she was to make a friend.
No. She was 
far more likely to kill someone than to make a friend.

Teaser #2:

The fog changed the character of the city, obscuring landmarks, leeching the already faded colors. With no church steeples visible, bells rang out as though from the world of spirits, their metallic warnings hanging lonely in the air.

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

May-July Haul

My book-buying ban has somewhat derailed, I’m afraid, but at the end of last month it was still going strong, and so I only have seven books to show you in this post, several of which were gifts, and all but one of which I have already read (incredibly. I’ve never known myself to read things so promptly after buying/receiving them!). In any case, here they are:

1) Geekerella by Ashley Poston. A super-cute love story between die-hard fans of Starfield, a fictional Star Trek-esque TV show, which jumped straight to the top of my to-buy list almost as soon as I discovered that it existed. 💕 I’ve already read this book, and you can find my review of it here.

2) We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. An essay about why feminism is (or should be) important to everyone. This book was a gift from my friend Grace, who just so happened to have a spare copy lying around, and kindly offered it to me when I off-handedly mentioned that I’d been meaning to read it for a while… 😁 I didn’t write a full review for this one, but you can find my thoughts on it in my June wrap-up.

3) Bee & Puppycat, Volume 1 by Natasha Allegri & Garrett Jackson. A cute comic book about a girl and her alien/cat/puppy flatmate, doing bizarre temp jobs. I bought this on a whim when it appeared at the second-hand bookshop where I work, entirely due to the cuteness of the art and Natasha Allegri’s name on the cover… And although I liked the book, it’s not a series that I think I’ll be continuing with. ☹️ Not pictured because I re-donated it a few days ago; my review is here.

4) The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts. A beautiful and amazing book of art from the Legend of Zelda series, which was a birthday present from my best friend Chloë (who also gave me Hyrule Historia – which Art & Artifacts accompanies – for Christmas last year!). As it’s an art book, it’s not really the kind of thing to be read cover-to-cover, but I have spent a significant amount of time staring at it, and can confirm that it is a thing of wonder. 😍

5) Now I Rise by Kiersten White. The sequel to And I Darken, which is about a young Vlad the Impaler, had he been born a woman. This is the only book on this list that I haven’t finished reading yet (I’m currently about a quarter of the way through it, but I keep getting distracted by life – and readathons), but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far, & I hope to get round to continuing it soon. I really can’t recommend this series enough. 😊

6) Once & for All by Sarah Dessen. The latest of Dessen’s teen romances, which I bought – along with Now I Rise, as they were both on buy-one-get-one-half-price at Waterstones – right before going on holiday to Skye. I was actually intending to finish this book before I left, but didn’t quite make it, and so it came with me on my trip, and was very much enjoyed. 😋 Not my favourite of Dessen’s books, but an amazing read nonetheless… you can find my review here.

7) Calum’s Road by Roger Hutchinson. The last book I acquired in July was a birthday present from my sister Helen, the biography of a man called Calum MacLeod, who build a two-mile road between Brochel Castle and South Arnish in Raasay, with only a wheelbarrow, shovel, pickaxe, and his own two hands. Biographies are not usually my thing, but this was an incredible story – which I’ve reviewed here. (Also not in the picture, because I lent it back to Heli to read almost as soon as I’d finished it myself, but this is definitely a book I’ll be keeping. 👍)