Autumn Catch-Up

Almost immediately after implementing this new format, I am forced to re-think it again, as, with my reading slump now completely over, this post will be a mammoth one! 😅 (Perhaps flexibility is the key…) In any case, I read a great deal over the autumn months, and was mostly in the mood for fantasy, but with bits and pieces of quite a few other things mixed in, too! All in all, I managed to get through: 18 novels, 1 short story, 1 comic, 7 manga volumes, 2 pieces of non-fiction, and 5 audiobooks…

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

ursula le guin//the tombs of atuan

SEPTEMBER

[REVIEW]

OCTOBER

[REVIEW]

NOVEMBER

[REVIEW]

 

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[SERIES REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

The Girl in the Mirror by Lev Grossman. [SHORT STORY; Anthology: Dangerous Women]

A quick tale from the world of The Magicians, that makes me almost tempted to read the main series… Undergraduate Plum and her friends in the League play an elaborate prank on the college’s student wine steward – who has been short-pouring the wine at dinner – only for it to take a rather unsettling turn just before its completion. What I’d heard about this series makes me think I probably won’t like it, but I enjoyed this short story a surprising amount. I didn’t like Plum all that much, and even felt a little sorry for her chosen victim, Wharton, but the way that the prank played out was great fun (for the reader, though not the participants 😉).

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Jenna Lamia]

The story of a white girl called Lily who runs away from her abusive father, and sets out – dragging along her nanny and best friend Rosaleen, in trouble with a dangerous group of racists after spitting on a white man’s shoes – in search of information about her mother, who died when she was a toddler. I had a hard time getting into this story, but once I got through the first section of the book I was hooked. Lily was probably the weakest of the main cast (though I still liked her a lot by the time the book ended), but the relationships she formed with the people who helped her on her search were incredibly compelling. She and Rosaleen had their ups and downs, but their love for one another was always very obvious, and the bond that grew between Lily and the Calendar Sisters (and August in particular) was wonderful. Lamia’s narration was also beautifully done; I don’t know if I would’ve liked this book half so much if not for her excellent performance.

I Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton. [COMIC]

A collection of short comics about a very silly, very cute cat (with whom I’m sure we are all familiar). I actually bought this to give to a friend who really loves Pusheen, and hadn’t intended to do more than flip through it myself, but as is often the case with episodic cartoons like this, a quick flip-through turned into an entire read-through without much input from me. (It was still pretty quick, though. 😋)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin.

The first book of the Earthsea Cycle, which tells the story of the early years of the wizard Ged, who, as a boy, and out of pride, summons a terrible shadow that stalks him throughout the rest of his childhood – and which he must hunt in turn once he is a fully fledged wizard. I stalled halfway through reading this book about ten years ago, and have been meaning to get back to it ever since, but somehow it was never a priority. But I’m really glad to have finally been able to experience the beginning of this amazing series! 😁 It’s a very character-driven story, with slow pacing and an often a somewhat lonely tone, and a vast world, saturated with magic.

Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras (a.k.a. Mary Kirby). [Illustrators: Stefano Martino, Álvaro Sarraseca, Andrés Ponce & German Ponce]

A short tale from the world of the Dragon Age video games, as told by Varric – a companion character from both Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition – who is one of Thedas’ most popular authors. The majority of this book exists in-game in the form of unlockable codex entries (of which I had already read a few), but it was really lovely to read them all together, with some wonderful accompanying illustrations. The story itself – a murder mystery – is nothing particularly special, but the real charm of Hard in Hightown is all the familiar locations and characters that are scattered throughout the book, as Varric’s penchant for modelling his characters after his friends is greatly in evidence. 😊

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin.

The second Earthsea book, which is told from the perspective of Tenar, the young priestess of the Nameless Ones, who wield a dark power in the sacred tombs beneath her island home of Atuan. I think I may have enjoyed this book even more than A Wizard of Earthsea! The new perspective was unexpected (and I was surprised by how long it took for Ged to appear in the story), but I liked Tenar a lot, and her small world above and below the island were fascinating.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The sequel (and conclusion) to Strange the Dreamer, in which Lazlo Strange and his companions come face to face with the horrors of Weep’s past, and begin to uncover the reasons behind them. Since this is a sequel, I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but I had somewhat mixed feelings about it; while I loved all the backstory and worldbuilding in this book, and felt that the story wrapped up in an interesting way, I wasn’t as blown away by it as I hoped to be… Given that my expectations were sky-high, perhaps that isn’t saying much, but I found the book a bit too romance-driven (even though the romances were all ones I liked), and thought that the consequences of the dramatic – and potentially game-changing – twist at the end of Strange the Dreamer were avoided more than addressed… But regardless, I still think this was a fantastic series, and my interest in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy (which I think this one is peripherally connected to?! Though I could be mistaken about that!) has definitely been re-invigorated.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.

A love story between two ghosts who are only able to meet by possessing the bodies of two teenagers. I didn’t have high expectations for this book, but was pleasantly surprised by it! It wasn’t particularly scary, but the spooky atmosphere was excellent, and I loved how the characters were caught between their desire to be together, and the dubious morality of their actions. I believe that the sequel is about the two teenagers whose bodies they were inhabiting, which sounds interesting, and I hope to read that at some point, too.

The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin. [Illustrator: Charles Vess]

The third book in the Earthsea Cycle, where Ged – now Archmage – is called away from Roke by a young prince who visits the island, bringing news that magic is fading from the world. As the majority of this story was spent travelling, it covered a lot of places in Earthsea that I hadn’t seen before, and which it was very interesting to visit, and I also really liked Ged’s new companion in this book, Prince Arren, and the bond that grew between them… Of the three books I’ve read so far, I found this the least-compelling, but that’s not much of a criticism! 😅 Having just begun reading from my new illustrated edition, I wish that there had been more pictures, but that only speaks to the quality of Vess’ artwork.

Secret Vampire by L.J. Smith.

The first book in the Night World series follows a human girl called Poppy who is secretly in love with her best friend – who is, unbeknownst to her, a vampire, and possibly also her soulmate. This is probably one of the weakest stories from this series, as it’s almost entirely romance-driven, and neither of the two lead characters are particularly compelling, but it’s quite short, and I some of the secondary characters are interesting (meaning Ash, and Poppy’s brother Phil).

Daughters of Darkness by L.J. Smith.

The second Night World book, in which the three Redfern sisters run away from their vampire family in search of a little freedom, and find themselves living next door to an inconveniently observant human girl, who suspects they may be killers. In contrast to Secret Vampire, this is one of the best entries in the series. I really liked all three of the Redferns, and Mary-Lynnette, their neighbour, was a great protagonist, although the length of these books doesn’t really lend itself to a great deal of character development. I appreciated, too, that the focus of this story was on the murder mystery, rather than pure romance – though the romantic aspects of the book were also very well done.

Spellbinder by L.J. Smith.

The third in the same series, which is about two teenage witches who find themselves in competition over a mortal boy, and throwing around spells that are quickly growing beyond their control. This was another promising entry in the series, and I enjoyed the focus on Blaise and Thea’s friendship, despite their wildly different values. I liked Eric a lot, too, and his growing romance with Thea was very sweet.

Dogs, volumes 0-6 by Shirow Miwa. [MANGA]

A dystopian series about a group of characters who are all searching for a way into the Below, their home city’s sinister underground. I had previously read the first three volumes of (and prequel to) this series, but decided to give them a (much needed) re-read before continuing on, as it’d been such a long time. And I find myself (for a second time) intrigued by the story and characters, and wowed by the beautiful art, but wishing the series was a bit less violent, as much of it seems unnecessary, and the action scenes are sometimes quite hard to follow. I’m also a little worried that, with Heine’s backstory now explained, the most interesting part of the plot may be over – despite the tease at the end of volume 6 of a new, powerful enemy for the team…

Frozen Tides by Morgan Rhodes.

The fourth book in the Falling Kingdoms series, which follows a group of young protagonists, each of whom is trying to get their hands on the four Kindred – a set of stones with powerful magical abilities – for reasons of their own. The plot is definitely escalating dramatically in this new entry in the series, and I like where a lot of the relationships are going. Princess Amara of Kraeshia also joins the main cast in this book, and I’m not sure how I feel about her as a character yet, but she certainly adds an interesting new perspective on this world… And I still hate Jonas – I will probably always hate Jonas – but he does seem to be getting at least a little less insufferable as the series goes on. I tend to talk quite negatively about this series, but I do kind of love it. It’s not great literature by any definition, but it’s super-fun, and I’m really looking forward to reading the last two books. 😁

The Rights of Man by H.G. Wells.

A new edition of Wells’ manifesto on human rights, introduced with an essay by Ali Smith. The beginning of the book is primarily made up of a proposed bill of rights, which is rather dry when read in its entirety (despite the importance of its contents), but I found Wells’ discussion of each clause interesting, and considerably more engaging. This is definitely not the most extensive thing ever written on human rights, but it provides a good introduction for those interested in the topic.

The Secret Crusade by Oliver Bowden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Gunnar Cauthery]

A novelisation of the first Assassin’s Creed video game (with some elements from later games which explain why it’s the third in the novel series, and not the first), which tells the tale of Altaïr Ibn La-Ahad, the youngest ever Master Assassin, who’s stripped of his rank after a series of horrific misjudgements on an assignment put the whole of the Order of Assassins in danger. I was hoping that this book would fill in some of the gaps that were left in the game’s storyline (which jumps around a lot in terms of times and locations), particularly in regards to Altaïr’s relationship with Malik. But while it did offer a lot of extra content – including extra backstory for Altaïr, an explanation of his enmity with Abbas, and a continuation of the main story which really fleshes out his relationship with Maria – Bowden didn’t elaborate much on the retelling of the game itself, which is a shame.

The Bear & the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Kathleen Gati]

The enchanting first book in a fantasy trilogy inspired by Russian folklore, which follows a young girl with a hint of magic, who becomes caught in an unending battle between the gods of life and death. Vasya was a really wonderful lead character, and the haunting, wintery wilderness of northern Russia – full of magic and spirits – was as much a character as a backdrop to the story. The slow pacing may be a little off-putting for some people, and the start of the book is a little confusing (since a lot of the characters are introduced all at once), but needless to say, I loved it! I’m already nearly done with the second book in this series, and can’t wait for the third! ❄️4 stars

*Not including re-reads.

[EDIT (23/12/18): Decreased rating for The Bear & the Nightingale from 5 to 4 stars after further consideration, and replaced it with The Tombs of Atuan in my “favourite of the season” slot. My feelings on the book haven’t changed, just my assessment of those feelings… if that makes any sense. 🤔]

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Review: The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green (Spoiler-Free)

Deep into the forbidden territory of the Northern Plateau, Tash and her partner Gravell are hunting demons for the smoke that’s released when they die; a drug that causes euphoria, and will earn them a fortune. Meanwhile, Princess Catherine of Brigant prepares for a marriage that may forge an alliance with her country’s former enemy; the royal guard Ambrose finds himself under scrutiny when his sister is executed for treason; March, a servant, prepares to betray his prince for the sake of revenge; and Edyon, a merchant’s bastard, meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have been sent by his absent and unknown father.

The story of The Smoke Thieves centres around an old conflict between the kingdom of Brigant and the small principality of Calidor, which King Aloysius of Brigant believes should be his, but was instead left to his younger brother upon their father’s death. When the book begins, a war has already been fought – and hard-won by Calidor – but rather than raising his troops to try again, King Aloysius has made the baffling decision to instead focus on strengthening the bonds between Brigant and the neighbouring country of Pittoria – by betrothing his only daughter to Crown Prince Tzsayn. Each of the five protagonists has access to a different piece of the puzzle of what’s going on and why, and none of them will be able to put together the whole picture unless they are willing to work together.

Naturally, seeing things from five perspectives instead of one, it’s not a difficult task for us to figure out the mystery long before any of the characters do, but thankfully it’s not then just a tedious wait, as each of the protagonists also had their own individual struggles to contend with – though some of these were more compelling than others.

Of these characters, the most important – and the most likeable – is undoubtedly Catherine, Aloysius’ daughter, whose actions have the greatest influence on the events of the book. Her storyline is sadly held back by the fact that Aloysius and his son Boris (the book’s primary antagonists, whom we see mainly from Catherine’s perspective) are so comically evil that it completely breaks immersion, but is otherwise interesting. Tash is probably the most fun character, though she comes across as one of the least-connected to the main plot, and Ambrose has the opposite problem: His journey is very story-significant, but he’s incredibly bland.

Edyon is a slightly more interesting case; when he’s introduced, Green seems to imply that he’s a kleptomaniac, which plays an integral role early on in his storyline, but is completely dropped a few chapters in with no explanation. And last of all is March, who I really wanted to like, but who made so many terrible decisions – and was being so blatantly manipulated throughout the book – that I mostly just found his chapters frustrating. I do somewhat question March’s presence as a protagonist, as his perspective doesn’t really advance the story at all except to introduce Edyon, and Edyon’s storyline might have been improved by featuring March as a truly mysterious figure, rather than somebody whose goals and motives we’re already familiar with…

My favourite thing about this book, however, was the relationships. I wasn’t able to get really invested in March and Edyon’s relationship since I didn’t really like either of them that much, but I really enjoyed all Catherine’s different interactions, from her late-but-sweet friendship with Tash, to the unexpected respect between her and Prince Tzsayn, her betrothed. I also found myself liking the hints of actual romantic feelings between the latter two that were scattered about the last few chapters, as a relationship between them could prove interesting in the later books, but with even the book’s synopsis declaring Ambrose as her “true love”, it seems unlikely that Catherine will stray from that far less interesting romance.

I did like this series, and don’t think the series looks devoid of promise, but with so many exciting books out there (even just in the YA fantasy genre), I don’t know if this book has given me enough incentive to come back for a sequel. Which is a huge shame, as I really would like to see where the story will go next, and in general, I have a lot of faith in Sally Green’s storytelling ability. We’ll have to see, I suppose.

#FallIntoFantasy Readathon | TBR

With autumn soon coming to an end, Penguin is launching the aptly-named Fall Into Fantasy readathon, which will run from 18th-25th November, and challenges us to read at least four fantasy novels over the course of the week. There are more specific challenges as well, of course (which I’ve used to tailor my reading list), as well as a FallintoFantasy_Challenges_InstaFB-1024x1024collection of official buddy reads (which I haven’t; some of the books do look interesting, I just don’t have any of them…), all of which can be found on Penguin’s site (linked above), and in the infographic to the right. 👉

And a second readathon will also be going on at the same time: The Tome Topple readathon, which is all about reading big books – 500 pages or more – will be on from 16th-29th November. And since fantasy books tend to be more chunky than not, I think these readathons go together perfectly! 🎶 I won’t be jumping into this one from the start, as I have a couple of shorter things I want to finish off before I get carried away to fantasyland, but if I’m still in as much of a reading mood after #FallIntoFantasy as I am now, I’ll definitely be picking up a(nother?) tome to finish before the 29th. 😊

Here’s what I’ll (probably) be reading:

1) Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. The first book in the Sorcerer Royal series, which tells the story of Zacharias Wythe, former slave and distinguished sorcerer, who sets out on a journey to Fairyland in order to find out why magic seems to be running out. I’ve been getting serious Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell vibes from this book since I first heard of it, but I’m hoping that it will be a little more accessable, by virtue of being about a quarter of the length. 😋 This book will tick off challenges #1 (a new series), #2 (been on my TBR too long) and #4 (a diverse fantasy).

2) The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. The second book in Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series, which takes place in the same universe as the Percy Jackson books, but follows the god Apollo, who is transformed into a human teenager as punishment for annoying his father – the king of the Greek gods, Zeus – one too many times. Apollo is canonically bisexual, so this is (shockingly) the only fantasy I own (and haven’t read yet) that could possibly satisfy challenge #3 (and LGBTQ fantasy), but it will also do for #7 (a sequel), and is another contender for challenge #2 – though, to be honest, I could say the same for pretty much any of these… 😅

3) A Court of Wings & Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. The third book in the A Court of Thorns & Roses series, and the conclusion to Feyre’s storyline, I believe. I’ve been somewhat nervous about picking up any of Maas’ books since reading Queen of Shadows, so this has been lingering on my TBR for a while, but I am cautiously optimistic about it, as I really enjoyed the last book in this series… 🤞 This book will fulfil challenges #2, #7, and #8 (Booktube recommended).

4) The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green. Last but by no means least is the first in a new series by one of my favourite new authors of the last few years! I don’t know much about the story of this one, but I do know that it’s a high fantasy (as opposed to Green’s previous urban fantasy trilogy), follows four different protagonists, and was released earlier this year – thereby completing the last two challenges, #5 (multiple POVs) and #6 (a new fantasy). 🎉

A Court of Wings & Ruin will also count for the Tome Topple readathon, as it’s well over 500 pages, and although The Smoke Thieves isn’t, I’m still going to include it, as 494 pages is awfully close… Some of the other tomes that I might pick up when my fantasy sprint is over are: The Angry Tide by Winston Graham or Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, both of which I’ve already started on, but still have well over 500 pages to go, or perhaps Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – something I’ve been meaning to read for years now… 😓

Upcoming Releases: Spring 2018

Once again, I had a pretty hard time picking out just a few books to look forward to this spring, as there seem to be a tonne of exciting things coming out in the next few months – and in particular, lots of books from series or authors that I really love… Narrow it down I did, however, so these are a few of the books I’m most excited for in March, April & May. 😁

[All dates are taken from Goodreads unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 25/2/2018.]

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (13th March)

The final book in the Illuminae Files series, in which we will be returning to Kerenza (where the first book began) and joining new protagonists Asha and Rhys. I absolutely loved Illuminae when I first read it, and although I didn’t like Gemini quite as much, I still really enjoyed it… At this point I’m not sure how I’ll take to the new protagonists, but I’m willing to give Kaufman & Kristoff the benefit of the doubt, and the likelihood of me buying this as soon as it’s available is close to 100%. Excitement level: 9/10

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green (1st May)

The first in a new high fantasy series with four main characters: a princess, a thief, a hunter, and a traitor. I know very little else about it, but since I loved Green’s Half Bad trilogy so much, I’m interested to see what she’ll be doing with what looks like a more traditional fantasy setting. Excitement level: 8/10

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman (3rd May)

A standalone contemporary novel about the lead singer of a boyband called The Ark, and a teenage girl who owes a huge amount to her experiences as part of their fanbase. I only discovered Oseman’s writing recently, but I was super-impressed by it, so I’m really eager to see what she’s come up with next. This also sounds like its going to be more on the fluffier side of things than most of the other books on this list, but (although I wouldn’t be disappointed if that were the case) judging from Radio Silence – and, I hear, Solitaire, too – I expect that it’ll get heavier at some point. Excitement level: 6/10

Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski (22nd May)

A spin-off, standalone novel set in the Witcher universe, some time around the events of The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny (the two prequel short story collections), if I’m not mistaken. I remember being super-excited when I heard (sometime last year, I think) that Sapkowski was going to write another Witcher book, but, given that the main series has only just finished being released in English, I’m surprised that this one was translated so quickly! I’m definitely looking forward to reading it… as soon as I’m done with Lady of the Lake. 😋 Excitement level: 7/10