In which I make a last minute rush to 2018
I was still struggling with November’s slump when the month began, and then you add in the chaos of Christmas season. Presents to buy and wrap, food to organise, children’s school events… Up to Boxing Day, I’d read a grand total of three books and a short story. Then along came Kendall at The Geeky Yogi with a readathon and I added five to make the month look a little more respectable. Thank you!
What I read
Ruin and Rising is the final book of the Grisha (or Shadow and Bone or whatever we’re supposed to be calling it now) trilogy, and part of a buddy read organised by the brilliant bookstagram.buddy.reads. I didn’t mind the slower start – the Apparat was so decidedly creepy and I enjoyed watching him and Alina try and manipulate each other. When Alina left the tunnels the pace picked up again, and the stakes rose and rose, with gut-wrenching moments where I wondered how there’d be any coming back. Nikolai remains my favourite character, and I would have loved to see more of his story arc. I liked the twists with the Amplifiers; it didn’t go down the easy route with Alina’s powers. There were serious sacrifices required of several characters, but not all of them stuck, which was a little disappointing. I also felt the Apparat’s part in the story fizzled out, when I was expecting consequences to the early conflict. Still, there was drama and pain and action, the plot took some surprising turns, and the ending was bittersweet and mostly satisfying. Despite my quibbles, it was the best book in the series, and I gave it 4.5 stars.
The first thing about The Language of Thorns is that it’s absolutely stunning. The front cover, the illustrations inside and the way they build up page by page as the layers of each story are revealed, even the text is coloured to add to the special feel of this book. The stories are glorious little masterpieces, the dark sort of fairy story where there might be justice at the end but it’ll probably make you uncomfortable. They’re as beautifully written as they are illustrated, and pull you into their world with vivid characters and settings. You can usually see the inspiration of a fairy tale we know well, but they’ve been taken in completely original directions. My favourite might be Amara and the Thorn Wood, but there wasn’t a single one I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. 5 stars.
The Hate U Give is one book that absolutely deserves its hype. I mean, really, just go read it. Powerful and thought-provoking, with an MC I could get behind and feel for, and a three-dimensional and varied supporting cast. There were no punches pulled in depicting the reality of the character’s lives and the prejudice and unfairness they faced. But it’s not just an important book about an important topic – it’s also a really good YA contemporary about a girl dealing with the problems of growing up and figuring out who she is and her place in a much less-than-perfect world. 5 stars.
After mixed reviews I didn’t have high expectations of Wintersong, but I ended up loving it. It was otherwordly and yet familiar, with danger around every corner and the sharp, greedy viciousness of traditional folk tales where happily ever after isn’t guaranteed. Liesl wasn’t always easy to like but she was passionate and relateable and I loved her difficult, complex relationships with her family. I was aware she was written (#ownvoices) as having bipolar disorder, although it is never named as such in the book, due to the limited knowledge of the time period. However, the author’s note to the sequel, Shadowsong, acknowledges being hard to like is often an effect. My only (minor) criticisms are that while the Goblin King’s history was fascinating, I didn’t find him as charismatic and mysterious as I think he was supposed to be, and that the pace lagged in the last third or so. 4 stars.
Do you ever scroll through an author’s page on Goodreads and discover random short stories they’ve published online? Well, The Wives of Azhar was one of those. By Roshani Chokshi, and apparently inspired by Bluebeard’s habit of killing his wives. It was creepy and evocative, altogether unsettling, and while it’s hard to rate something so short and so random, I’d probably say 4 stars.
Ok, I’ve never watched The Princess Bride. I’m not sure how; it’s exactly the sort of film I spent a large proportion of my life devouring, but there you have it. If I’d seen it, maybe I would react differently to this book, but having no emotional attachment to the characters, I found the chemistry of this supposed great love story sadly lacking. The action was fun and frantic, the side characters generally enjoyable, and for the first two-thirds of the book I was enjoying it, despite the lengthy asides from the “author” (actually editor) who came across as a hateful and bitter soul. But the ending felt off, unsatisfying, and I couldn’t give it more than 3 stars.
The Thousandth Floor wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t know a huge amount about it, only that it was sci-fi, maybe edging towards dystopian. What I got was more like a book version of those TV shows that follow a bunch of glamorous young people while cracks appear in their perfect lives and everything basically disintegrates around them. Almost all of them were unlikable to some degree, though there were Reasons that were slowly picked apart throughout the book. I’m not usually a fan of poor little rich girl tropes, but the cast was surprisingly varied and not all of them fell into that stereotype. I couldn’t look away, and ended up racing through the book in no time. The opening scene was a shocker, and then you’re whipped back in time by a few months and spend the rest of the book trying to work out who, what and why. 3.5 stars.
Another series finale, Frost Like Night ends the Snow Like Ashes trilogy. Unfortunately the MC Meira remained a little too special snowflake for me. But I loved finally getting Ceridwen’s POV, and all in all this was a dramatic and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, with enough death, sacrifice and suffering to make the conclusion feel well-earned. The world-building has always been strong and felt more well-rounded in this instalment. Still a touch too simplistic and with some of the problems overcome too easily for my liking, which prevents it getting a higher rating than 3.5 stars, though it was definitely the best of the series, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the author’s new book These Rebel Waves.
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares didn’t do anything for me. A pretty typical YA contemporary with characters who grew on me by the end, although I started out not really liking either of them, for completely different reasons. Dash was just unlikable. Lily was Too Damn Cheerful. So sweet she’d give you toothache. It had potential and was well-written, I liked the concept, but it fell short. 3 stars.
December book haul
Otherwise known as Christmas! Yes, I managed not to buy a single book for myself this month. It helps that I can fulfil my bookish shopping urges by making sure everyone I know gets at least one book for Christmas, sometimes (often) more.
The books you see in the picture were all presents – and special mention for the Fantastic Beasts book, which was chosen for me by my 8 year old daughter. Yep, I’ve got her well trained.
There’s a comment button right below, whether you agree or disagree with my reviews. I’d love to know what you think.