T5W: Books for a Rainy Summer

To be honest, summer hasn’t really shown its face where I live; we had a truly beautiful Sunday, followed by a couple of days of gloomy rainclouds (and as I write, raindrops are attempting to batter their way through my windows). 🌧 Spring does seem to be finally-hopefully-maybe asserting its dominance over winter, but I’m not going to hold my breath for true summer weather for at least a couple more months… So, since this week’s theme – summer reads – is wholly inappropriate, I thought I’d tweak it a little bit, and instead I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite books for a wet summer spent indoors! 😉

Sunny days always make me want to read light, fluffy contemporaries. Rainy days lend themselves to something a little bit heavier; sad or mysterious or thought-provoking or lonely, or maybe even a little spooky (but not too much!)… Though if you asked me why, I doubt I’d be able to answer. 😅

5) The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

A story about a young girl called Maria Merryweather, who, upon moving to the country to live with her reclusive uncle, discovers that her family is cursed, and it’s up to her to find a way to break it. This is a really magical book, and one that I still love even though I’m considerably older than its target audience. Naturally, I’d especially recommend it for people who love horses. 😊

4) Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Not long after Vera falls out with her best friend – and secret crush – Charlie, he dies in damning circumstances, and Vera is left to decide how far she’s willing to go in order to clear his name… and if she even wants to. Dark, mysterious, heart-wrenching, and gripping from start to finish.

3) The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The eerie tale of a man who one evening saves the life of a crane that crash-lands in his garden, and shortly afterwards meets a young woman called Kumiko who seems to have some connection to the crane. And interwoven with this is a wonderful folk-tale-esque story about a crane and a volcano (which I may or may not have liked even more than the main storyline)… Beautifully written, and full of wonderful characters; Patrick Ness is an incredible author, and it’s just as evident in The Crane Wife as in some of his better-known works.

2) Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

A dark, slow-building story about a young man and his first love, who suffered deeply from depression. This book is much heavier than the others on this list (even Please Ignore Vera Dietz!), and is very emotionally draining, too, but it’s definitely worth the energy it takes to get through it. Incredibly thought-provoking, and brilliantly atmospheric.

1) The Kotenbu series by Honobu Yonezawa

Also known as the Classics Club series or the Hyouka series, these books tell the story of a high-schooler who’s forced by his sister to join his school’s dying Classics Club. It’s supposed to be a club where students meet in order to read and discuss classical literature, but instead the small club becomes all about solving mysterious happenings around the school and town, and willingly or not, Houtarou – our main character, who prefers to live his life in ‘energy-saving mode” – is dragged into the chaos. Each book offers up a different main case, and they vary in tone and complexity, but are always a great deal of fun. I really love these characters, too, which probably helps. 😆

These books have no official English translation at the moment, but if this series sounds like something you’d like, then fan-translations are available on Baka-Tsuki. Or you could check out the also-fantastic anime (which is called Hyouka). Or  do both! 😉

T5W: LGBTQ+

This is a day late, I know, so it’s more like a Top 5 Thursday than a Top 5 Wednesday, but I’ve been meaning to do a post of my favourite LGBTQ+ books for a while, so I wasn’t going to let this excuse pass me by. 😉

5) The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

A story about the crew of a spaceship, who’ve signed on to create a wormhole between two distant planets, a task that involves a long journey through deep space, and a lot of time with only each other for company. This book is, naturally, heavily character-driven, and the thing I like most about it is the sheer diversity of it, both in terms of race/species and relationships (and the “plus” part of LGBTQ+ plays a prominent role here). My favourite relationship in the book is between one of the crewmembers and the ship’s A.I., which is incredibly sweet, but the book also does a really great job of portraying same-sex relationships, inter-species relationships, and even polyamory.

4) The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

The gay character (who I won’t name here for the benefit of the one person in the world who hasn’t read this series yet, a.k.a. Chloë) in this series is actually closeted for the majority of it (as well as the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, in which he also plays a fairly prominent role), but his forced coming-out scene in The House of Hades is one of my favourite moments in any of Riordan’s books, ever. So many feelings! 😥 I’m not a huge fan of the eventual pairing that Riordan seemingly picked out of a hat for him (something that I’ve been forced to confront more and more recently, as I’ve just started reading The Trials of Apollo series, which is set not long after Heroes of Olympus), but he himself is a really wonderful, well-rounded character, and I love how the (quite sudden) revelation of his sexuality didn’t change his role in the books in the slightest.

3) The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick

The second book in the Erebus Sequence (though the first one reads very much like a prequel, so I think that The Boy Who Wept Blood might actually be a better starting point for this series), which follows a group of Orfani – people who are all remarkably talented and highly educated, but horrifically deformed – in a gothic fantasy setting. The main character in this book (who is also present in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, but only as a small child) struggles a lot with his sexuality, as his world is about as accepting of homosexuality as our own, over 100 years ago… so, not very much. :/

2) The Half Life trilogy by Sally Green

The main pairing in Sally Green’s Half Life trilogy – which follows a young man who’s half-Black Witch and half-White Witch, and persecuted by both societies – took me somewhat by surprise. It was a relationship I was rooting for from their very first meeting, and I was aware of comments that Green had made on social media that they were perfect for each other, but somehow it always seemed like Nathan would be running from his feelings until long after the series’ ending. (And also, he had a girlfriend, which didn’t bode hugely well.) Needless to say, I was overjoyed when it became canon. 😀 These were two amazing characters, and a beautiful, heartbreaking, and incredibly realistic love story, despite their fantastical circumstances.

1) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Lastly, one of my favourite books of all time, Carry On, which tells the story of Simon and Baz at Watford School of Magicks, where a mysterious being known as the Insidious Humdrum is threatening magic’s very existence. It’s actually a spin-off of another of Rowell’s books, Fangirl, whose main character writes fanfiction of the mega-successful Simon Snow series (which is the Harry Potter of the Fangirl universe). It’s all very meta (and also fantastic)… So pretty much everyone knew from the time the book was announced that Simon and Baz were going to be a couple, and their relationship played a major part in the novel, without eclipsing the main storyline in the slightest. It was just there, slowly and wonderfully developing in the background, while all the drama and mysteries unfolded around it.

You might have noticed that none of the books on this list (except maybe Carry On) advertise themselves as LGBTQ+ stories (i.e. books that deliberately focus on sexuality, and how it influences the lives of their protagonists). This wasn’t exactly a deliberate choice, but although there are plenty of specifically-LGBTQ+ books that I really like (and when you’re writing a book specifically about LGBTQ+ issues, then the only way your readers won’t know about it going in is if they don’t bother to read the blurb), I really appreciate it when authors don’t feel the need to make a big deal out of their characters’ sexuality… and I feel that it goes a long way towards normalising diversity in literature, without trivialising the struggles that LGBTQ+ people face in society.

Also, an honourable mention for Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson, which has a special place in my heart as one of the few books out there (and the only one I’ve read so far) with an openly asexual lead character. It’s also a really good book, of course, just not quite as amazing as most of the books on this list. (It was such a difficult choice!)

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

T5W: Polarising Books

Some books are like Marmite; you either love them have terrible taste, or you hate them just the smell of them makes you want to vomit. As you can probably tell, I’m not a Marmite fan, but these five books left a much more favourable impression, despite their detractors.

Stephanie Perkins//Isla and the Happily Ever After5) Isla & the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

I’ve never heard anyone say outright that they disliked Isla & the Happily Ever After, but pretty much every review I’ve come across agrees that it was something of a disappointing ending to the trilogy – citing their favourite parts of the book as the moments that call back to the previous books. It’s certainly much less dramatic than either Anna or Lola, but everyone else’s loss is apparently my gain, as Isla was my favourite book in the whole series. I really enjoyed the relatively drama-free romance between Isla and Josh, as well as the fact that we actually got to see their relationship progress throughout the story (rather than having it end as soon as they got together). Isla herself was a great selling point, too, as I personally found her (and all her self-consciousness and self-sabotaging) much more relatable than the previous two heroines… Also: Josh. (Josh! ❤ )

William Golding//Lord of the Flies4) Lord of the Flies by William Golding

This is one of those books that’s often used as assigned reading in school (and completely ruined by means of over-analysis), which I think is a big reason why it’s so despised by a lot of people (though I’m sure there are other reasons, too). I didn’t read it in school – lucky me! 😀 – and while I found the first half of the book tough to get through, I loved how dark it got as the story went on.

Lauren Oliver//Requiem3) Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Probably my least favourite of the books on this list, but also a book that I hear being bashed all over the place; the first time I ever even heard of the Delirium  trilogy, it was my aunt telling me that Delirium and Pandemonium were pretty much perfect, but Requiem was a rubbish way to end the series (paraphrased, and probably also embellished). But I actually ended up enjoying Requiem a lot more than Pandemonium (I was never able to take Julian seriously as a love interest…)

Patrick Rothfuss//Slow Regard of Silent Things2) The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

A spin-off from the fantastic Kingkiller Chronicle books, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is divisive even among the most die-hard of Rothfuss’ fans… and I can see why. The story’s told from the perspective of a minor character called Auri, who has a rather unusual outlook on life (to put it mildly), and mainly consists of her wandering around the strange tunnels where she lives, and moving things about. In a way, it’s kind of a story about decorating…? Rothfuss even put a note in the beginning of the book, preemptively apologising to all the fans who would (inevitably) dislike it. I thought it was pretty charming, however, and it had a dream-like tone that made it really easy to get lost in. It helped, of course, that I’ve always found Auri to be a great mystery, and it was fascinating to finally be able to take a look inside her head.

Stephanie Meyer//Twilight1) The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

Most of you are probably pretty sure by now that I’m simply a poor judge of quality literature, but to put the final nail in the coffin: I kind of love Twilight. Sure, its flaws are many, and blatant, and in most cases quite serious. Most of the main characters are either bland or creepy (or both), and the plot is so much an afterthought that it’s a wonder it even made it into the book at all. But still… these books were so much fun to read! And I figure that it’s fine to love something as objectively terrible as this series, as long as I also acknowledge that terribleness… right? 😉

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

T5W: Characters I wouldn’t want to trade places with

I’m sure we’ve all imagined what it would be like to learn magic and go on adventures at Hogwarts like Harry, Ron & Hermione in the Harry Potter series, or to have an epic romance like Lizzie Bennet in Pride & Prejudice. But there are also a lot of literary characters that have absolutely terrible lives, and this week’s Top 5 Wednesday is for them; the five characters whose lives I’d least like to live. Also, there are a lot of obvious choices for this topic (i.e. every character in every dystopian novel ever written), but I’m going to try to make my list a little more diverse than that. So, without further ado:

5) Todd Hewitt (from the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness)

Patrick Ness//The Knife of Never Letting GoThere’s a pretty massive war in the Chaos Walking books, so – as you’d expect – nobody really manages to reach the end of the series unscathed, but I have to admit that the main reason I decided to put Todd on the list is because of the Noise. How humiliating would it be to be constantly, uncontrollably broadcasting all your thoughts for everyone to hear? 😳

4) Hazel Grace Lancaster (from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)

John Green//The Fault in Our StarsHazel actually has a lot of great things in her life: a supportive family, great friends, hobbies that she’s really enthusiastic about, and (spoilers? 😉 ) a boyfriend who is – to all appearances – madly in love with her. But… cancer. And so much cancer. The Fault in Our Stars wasn’t the huge sob-fest for me that I know it was for a lot of people, but the knowledge that you, and so many of the people you care about, are likely to have their lives cut short cancels out most of the positives of her situation.

3) Sirius Black (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

J.K. Rowling//Harry Potter & the Prisoner of AzkabanUnlike Hazel, Sirius does not come from a supportive family; in fact, the vast majority of them seem to despise him simply because he was sorted into a different house at Hogwarts, and doesn’t believe in pureblood supremacy. And then, of course, he had to put up with Azkaban for twelve years, when he hadn’t even done anything wrong. Harry and the Marauders were some of the only good things Sirius had in his life, and he ended up losing them all. 😦

2) Sansa Stark (from the A Song of Ice & Fire series by George R.R. Martin)

George R.R. Martin//A Game of ThronesMost of the tragedy of Sansa’s situation is that the downward spiral began with something that she really, really wanted (to be Joffrey’s queen) without knowing what it would really mean, so in addition to all the obvious things she deal with – the beatings, the humiliation, the ruin of her whole family – she also suffers with the loss of her own dreams, and the belief that it all could have been avoided if not for her. I’m way behind on the TV series, but from what I’ve already been spoiled for so far, it’s looking like she might have been given an even worse lot in that version of the story.

1) Quintana of Charyn (from The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta)

Melina Marchetta//Quintana of Charyn

Quintana is at the top of this list partly because I’ve just finished this series, so she’s the freshest in my mind, but also because the things that she goes through over the course of the book are truly horrific: blamed for the curse on her kingdom, in turns scorned, abused or dismissed by the people she’s tried so hard to protect, and burdened with the knowledge that even if she does manage to break the curse, it will only stave off her execution for a few more months. So many of the characters in The Lumatere Chronicles have suffered unimaginably, but Quintana’s situation really takes the (mouldy) cake.

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

T5W: Books I wish had sequels

Apparently once every three months or so is my limit for how often I can do Top 5 Wednesday posts – which is a shame, because I really enjoy putting them together… And this month in particular there were several interesting themes that I would’ve liked to have done a post for, if only my blogging schedule hadn’t been packed already. 😦 But anyway! Today’s theme is books you wish had sequels, or series that you wish weren’t over, which is a very common wish on my part! 😛

Victoria Hanley//The Seer & the Sword5) The Seer & the Sword by Victoria Hanley

This book is one of my oldest favourites, but somehow I’ve never mentioned it on this blog before. It follows a young princess called Torina who – when her father returns from the war with the neighbouring country of Bellandra – is given two gifts: A crystal ball that shows her visions, and Bellandra’s prince, Landen, as a slave. The former of these she keeps, the latter she frees, and what follows is a beautiful and heart-breaking love story, with a compelling plot and plenty of interesting fantasy-world-politics. There are actually two more books in this series (which I haven’t read yet) but unfortunately they’re companions rather than true sequels… 😦

Philip Pullman//Northern Lights4) The His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is a beautiful series, and in truth I wouldn’t want to change a single word of it; not even then ending, which broke my heart, and which I’ve been griping about endlessly to all my friends for the last fifteen years or so… ^^’ The ending in question was incredibly bittersweet, with Will and Lyra struggling to come up with solution after solution, only to realise that there’s no magical fix-it to be found. So, yeah, it’d be nice to have a sequel, even if it’s just in short story-form, to provide some kind of closure beyond a garden bench. 😥

Rainbow Rowell//Eleanor & Park3) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This is an interesting one, because I did really like the way Rowell decided to wrap-up the story, but at the same time, I really wanted something more. Like, maybe a reunion? “Will there be a sequel?” seems to be a question that Rowell gets asked a lot (it’s even in the FAQ section on her website), so I know I’m not alone in wanting one, but the answer still seems rather up-in-the-air. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. 🙂

Rainbow Rowell//Carry On2) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Another Rainbow Rowell book, I know! ^^’ I usually prefer not to put authors on these lists more than once, but I couldn’t help it; Carry On and Eleanor & Park were the first things that popped into my head when I saw this theme, and I want them both to have sequels so badly. With Carry On, my wishes are a little more outrageous, however: Yes, I want a sequel (Simon & Baz after Watford!), but I also want prequels (Lucy & the Mage, anyone? And, of course, Simon’s first seven years at Watford), and maybe even a next-generation spin-off stage show? 😉 In short, I want it to be the Harry Potter-like phenomenon that was described in Fangirl – even though it’s never going to happen. 😦

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & South1) North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell

And lastly, a classic! I love this book so much (and you should read my review if you haven’t already *hinthint*), but the ending was so abrupt! Some interesting trivia regarding that, however: North & South was initially published as a serial, and due to lagging sales (partially because the book was in direct competition with Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, which had a similar subject matter and was being serialised at the same time), Gaskell was “compelled” to finish the story in 20 chapters instead of the 22 that she’d planned. Maybe those two extra chapters would’ve contained the ending I – and so many North & South fans – so desperately want! (Curse you, Charles Dickens! 😡 )

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

T5W: Books that deal with tough topics

Time for another Top 5 Wednesday! I haven’t done one of these since November, which is shockingly long ago, and I seem to have missed some really interesting themes! Speaking of which: Today’s theme is books with “hard” topics, such as mental health, illness, sexual assault, etc. And since I’m a sucker for a good tear-jerker (as books that touch on these topics often are), I’ve managed to find quite a few on my bookshelves. 😉 As always, it was difficult narrowing it down to just five, but here are some of my favourites:

Katie McGarry//Crash Into You5) Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

The Pushing the Limits series is full of characters with difficult backgrounds (orphans, runaways, drug dealers, etc.) but I singled out Crash Into You for a couple of reasons, even though most of its themes aren’t quite so heavy as in the other books in the series. Firstly, because it’s my favourite book in the series – but more importantly, because Rachel (one of the book’s two protagonists) suffers from anxiety, which is something I’ve not come across often in my literary wanderings, and makes for a really interesting read.

Haruki Murakami//Norwegian Wood4) Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

What to say about Norwegian Wood? It’s a hard-hitter right from the beginning, with Toru narrating his childhood best friend’s suicide, and much of the book also deals with depression… it only gets darker as it goes on. Murakami’s slow, ponderous – almost hypnotic – writing style fits the tone of the novel perfectly, and had me caught up in its atmosphere for a long time after I’d finished reading.

Lionel Shriver//We Need to Talk about Kevin3) We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The story of a woman trying to raise a child who hates her, and is strongly implied to be a psychopath. Of course, Eva is an incredibly unreliable narrator, and her opinions colour everything in this book – which is written in the form of letters to her husband – but I think it still counts. 🙂

Jenn Bennett//Night Owls2) Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

The “tough topic” in this book came as something of a surprise to me when I first picked it up, but I thought it was incredibly well-integrated into the story. Really, this book is a cute romance between aspiring medical illustrator Beatrix, and notorious teenage graffiti artist Jack – but later on, there’s an important new character introduced, who suffers from schizophrenia.

Sally Green//Half Bad1) The Half Life trilogy by Sally Green

Okay, so I’ll admit that this is mostly at no. 1 because I’m currently getting close to the end of Half Lost, and am obsessed. In my defence, though, it’s a brilliant series, and seriously dark in places (by which I mean from beginning to end). Even when we’re first introduced to Nathan (the main character), he’s locked in a cage, and is being tortured on a regular basis… and it never seems to let up. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll get a happy ending, but I’m definitely not going to hold my breath.

[Top 5 Wednesday was created by gingerreadslainey. To find out more, or to join in, please check out the Goodreads group.]

T5W: Books I haven’t finished (yet)

Apparently I haven’t done a Top 5 Wednesday post since May – shocking, I know. 😮 But I really enjoy this meme, so I’m glad to be back! Today’s theme is books you didn’t finish, but since I really, really dislike giving up on books entirely, I’ve tweaked it slightly… so these are my top 5 books that I will (hopefully) finish one day. Who knows, maybe writing this will inspire me to pick them up again! (Spoiler: It probably won’t. 😉 )

Winston Graham//Demelza5) Demelza by Winston Graham

The most recent addition to my on-hold list is Demelza, the second book in the Poldark series, which I started reading just after Booktubeathon this year, when I was super-into the TV series and wanted to read its source material. I made it about a quarter of the way through before being distracted by other books, but I expect that I’ll be picking it up again when the next series starts airing. 😀

David Mitchell//Cloud Atlas4) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I started this one a few years back, before the film was released – it first came to my attention in the form of the movie trailer, which I thought looked really interesting. And I have really enjoyed what I’ve read so far of it, but I just had to put it down for a while, because one of the main characters’ blatant thievery was making me super-uncomfortable… 😳

Sarah Grand//The Heavenly Twins3) The Heavenly Twins by Sarah Grand

I initially picked this up in my masters year at university, after coming across a quote from it that I really loved in one of the texts I was using for my dissertation. Unfortunately, I decided to read it on Google Books, and ended up completely losing my place because my computer crashed, or some such thing. :/ Still, I have an ebook copy of this now, so hopefully I’ll find the time/motivation to start it again in the not-too-distant future… And, for those who are interested, the quote in question was:

“I found a big groove ready waiting for me when I grew up, and in that I was expected to live whether it suited me or not. It did not suit me. It was deep and narrow, and gave me no room to move.”

Bob Haney//Showcase Presents Teen Titans vol. 2

2) Showcase Presents: Teen Titans Volume 2 by Bob Haney, Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, Robert Kanigher & Steve Skeates

A massive bind-up of some of the earliest Teen Titans comics, which I started reading years ago simply because I love the Teen Titans in all their incarnations… or so I thought. Of all the books on this list, this is the one that I’m most likely to drop entirely, as what I can remember of this comic was much too cheesy for my tastes… :/

Ursula Le Guin//A Wizard of Earthsea1) A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

This one – the first book in the Earthsea Cycle – I started reading maybe 10 years ago, and stalled about halfway through. I am quite likely to pick this book back up again soon, since I’ve really been in a fantasy mood lately, though I anticipate having to re-start it entirely… The only thing I remember about it is the main character’s name… ^^’

[Top 5 Wednesday was created by gingerreadslainey, and to find out more or join in, please check out the Goodreads group.]