February wrap-up: What I Read

Feb 18 Wrap-upIn which I love contemporaries again, what even is this?

A short month, but not a bad reading month. I’m still struggling to meet all the goals I set myself – the series a month is the one that’s falling by the wayside; I have so many books to read that committing to read three or more in a row just seems like too much a lot of time. I have at least started my first new series now, with the first book of the Half Bad trilogy, but I’ve got some catching up to do.

On the plus side, my writing is finally, slowly and painfully getting back into its swing. Partly thanks to the help of a brand new story idea, but I’ll be posting a separate writing wrap up for the first time since November – and that was only because it was NaNoWriMo month.

What I read

Goal progress February

The highlights

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Autoboyograpy was the most adorable, soul-destroying delight of a book. I was so invested in the main relationship that I was heartbroken when they hit problems. The full cast was well developed and nuanced, and I love it when contemporary romance-focused books don’t simply skim over the existence of other people in the MC’s life but really flesh out their relationships with friends and family. The conflict between the characters’ sexuality and the Mormon religion that dominates their Utah town was very well played out, with no easy resolutions, and I felt it was handled very fairly and respectfully, adding a lot of depth to the story. There was an awkward shift between first and third person towards the end of the book, which threw me out of the story a little, so I docked half a star and went with 4.5, but I still think this is going to be one of my favourite contemporaries of the year. I also recommend the audiobook!

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is an MG book which I may or may not have borrowed from my daughter. It’s magical and fantastical and surprisingly gruesome in places, with a whimsical writing style that you’re either going to love or hate – luckily I loved it, or at least I thought it suited this particular story down to the ground. The characters were beautifully developed, even the antagonist, who I actually ended up feeling quite sorry for. I rated it 4 stars, and my daughter loved it too. I also read the prequel short story, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While which if anything was creepier than the main book!

Reading Dracula was a bit of a strange experience. It’s a story I (and probably everyone!) know so well, though I’ve never read the original before. But in this case, knowing what was going to happen didn’t lessen the tension or the creepiness. If anything, it added to it – watching all the little hints come together and wondering when the characters were going to figure out what they were dealing with. It’s an epistolary novel, mainly through diaries, but that didn’t undermine the tension or even the action scenes as I was worried it might. There were times when the pacing was off, and Van Helsing’s character was a little irritating, but overall, I really enjoyed reading this horror staple, and while rating seems a bit redundant for a classic like this, I’d give it 4 stars.

Saga Vol. 4 was the best volume of this graphic novel series so far. We’ve got the usual beautiful art and vivid characters, together with, oh, just a few of my favourite tropes. Dubious morals all over the place, characters switching sides, enemies joining forces, storylines meeting and tangling. The conflict between characters got a lot more personal and entrenched, there were quite a few shocking twists in a relatively short space. Just wow – 5 stars.

imag2458~21622370729..jpgLove, Hate & Other Filters was a quick, easy read with a vividly realistic MC. It takes an unflinching look at the impact of Islamophobia and the conflict of cultures for the teenage daughter of immigrant parents growing up in the US, but it never gets preachy; everything flows as part of the story. The MC’s relationships with friends and family were complex and engaging, although I could wish the romantic conflicts hadn’t fallen back so much on lack of communication at times. I really appreciated the author’s honesty in showing how there’s often no easy solution, no way for people to get what they want without compromise and consequence – some of which were surprisingly heartbreaking. 4 stars.

The rest

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I can never honestly say Cassandra Clare books are my favourites, but I devour them anyway, and Lord of Shadows is one of the best. It chops and changes between viewpoints so you never have a chance to feel settled, the storylines are more and more tangled, there aren’t any choices without serious consequences, and there are several characters I really don’t want to see hurt any more. It’s even pulled off the trick of having a protagonist I’m rooting for without being sure if I like him; Julian and his ruthlessness scare me a little. The romantic relationships are just as tangled; the Mark/Cristina/Kieran dynamic is getting messier and I’m not sure what to make of it. Ty and Kit, though, are a fantastic pairing, whether they turn romantic or not; Kit has to be one of the most rounded and nuanced of all the Shadowhunters characters. The hate and bigotry of the Cohort is disturbingly familiar from real-world events, and I genuinely fear for where this story is going to end. But I’m not invested in the ongoing Julian/Emma saga and the parabatai ‘curse’. 4 stars.

imag2270~2145735348..jpgWith so many books lingering on my TBR, perhaps a reread of the Captive Prince series wasn’t my cleverest decision. But with a buddy read going on Instagram and since I was missing this world, I gave in. The first book has me as conflicted as ever; on the reread I pick up lots of little hints pointing to later reveals. Things we now know Laurent’s motivations and personality with hindsight add a lot of depth to the story. And the characters are as compelling as ever, even more so with a series’ worth of affection behind them. But there’s still no denying Laurent’s (and others) unpleasant, seemingly unforgivable actions in this first book, some of them seriously problematic. Maybe it’s a little less uncomfortable now I’m able to view this as the first instalment of a larger story, but I’m still not able to rate it above 3 stars.

SAM_2456Half Bad had only been sitting unread my shelf for, oh, eighteen months or so. But then I guess that’s the point of challenges like Beat the Backlist, to finally knock some of those books off your TBR. I was unsure of how much I’d enjoy this, at the beginning – the writing style is very sparse, disjointed even. Parts of the book are in 2nd person, which is seriously hard to do well. But I was quickly pulled right into Nathan’s head. I don’t know if you’d exactly call him an unreliable narrator, but there’s a natural withholding of information until the point he needs to think about it which worked really well. The worldbuilding is decent, the sense of threat building up the whole time and Nathan is so determined and tries so hard to be good despite everything that it’s impossible not to be rooting for him. The hints of instalove let the book down, but overall, gritty and gripping and I need to know what happens next, so 3.5 stars.

imag2462~21833740267..jpgFebruary book haul

Well, that escalated quickly. I don’t even have an excuse. Well, a couple were pre-orders – Shadowsong, When the Moon Was Ours, and Of Fire and Stars – but most were complete impulse buys. I even impulse-bought a subscription box to get The Belles. Rainbow Book Box is pretty new, they focus on diverse titles and authors, and while I loved everything in the box, I’d have been a bit disappointed if it turned out I’d guessed the book wrong! I don’t have a great record for that; I had a FairyLoot subscription for most of last year and I got the book wrong several times. To the point where I had to go and impulse buy the book I thought I was getting, afterwards. Ooops.

Let’s chat!

There’s a comment button right below, whether you agree or disagree with my reviews. I’d love to know what you think. What’s your take on contemporaries that tackle bigger issues? What other graphic novels would you recommend after Saga?

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What are you reading Wednesday

What I'm Reading

Welcome back to What Are You Reading Wednesday!

The idea of these is for book lovers and bloggers to share, discuss, and recommend the books they’re currently reading.

All you do is answer five questions about your current read then head over to one of the hosts (Marissa at Marissa Writes, Kendall at The Geeky Yogi and Rhianna at Tsundoku Girl Reads) to link up your post. Have fun and don’t forget to check out everyone’s posts as well!

Since last time

I finally finished Prince’s Gambit, with a slight diversion to read one of the Captive Prince short stories as well and haven’t made any progress at all on Half Wild, though again, I ventured sideways into the short stories from the same world.

And then there’s the NA romance series I started reading last week. Six books – whether you’d call them novellas or just short novels I guess is a matter of preference. Either way, I read all 6 in the space of 3 days.  So my reading stats are looking pretty good, but my TBR is definitely judging me.

(It’s the Housemates series by Jay Northcote, if you’re interested – m/m romance, pretty steamy and so addictive!)

What I’m currently reading

Kings Rising is the third Captive Prince book, and Half Wild is still going from last week. I’m working my way through a poetry collection call Poem for the Day Two – though I’m not actually reading one a day as it’s a library book and I’m pretty sure they won’t let me keep it that long!

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The Island Beneath the Sea is my current audiobook – all 18 hours of it. That was a mistake – I misread it for 8 hours, which is more in the region of my usual choices. I’ve listened to almost 5 hours so far, but that’s still less than 30% of the way through.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité — known as Tété — is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint-Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride — but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.

Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tété and Valmorain, and of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances.

1. What made you pick up this book – cover or content?

Content, though I have to admit I didn’t know much about it. I’m trying to read more books from diverse backgrounds and settings, and this author kept coming up on recommended lists so I wanted to give one of her books a try.

2. Who is your favourite character so far, and why?

None of them have really grabbed me. Tété is fierce and determined and clever, but the chapters from her viewpoint are scattered and fleeting, and sometimes confusing because of the way time passes during the ‘narrator’ chapters in between. Toulouse Valmorain isn’t exactly likeable but he’s interesting to read about, the mass of contradictions that makes up his personality coming slowly unravelled. I do like one of the minor characters, Tante Rose, a disabled voudou woman who seems a lot smarter than most of the characters and has worked her way into a position of some respect and influence. I’m convinced she has more going on that we’re yet to discover.

3. Will you finish this one?

If this was a hard copy, I might not. The pace is dragging, I’m not sure what the point of the story is and a large part of the book has an omniscient narrator that puts too much distance between me and the characters. But I rarely DNF audiobooks, I just get through them much more slowly.

4. Finish this sentence: This book reminds me of…

Gone With the Wind, not in the sweeping romantic sense, but because it deals with momentous historical events through their impact on a few particular characters. Also The Wide Sargasso Sea, which is the only other book I’ve read in a similar setting, and captured the same contrast of the decadence and harshness of the tropical colonies.

5. What type of read is this one?

Slow, dense, beautifully written with a lot attention lavished on details, but hard to engage with so far.

Your turn

What are you currently reading? Have you read any of these or are you considering it?  Let me know in the comments!

What are you reading Wednesday

What I'm Reading

Welcome back to What Are You Reading Wednesday!

The idea of these is for book lovers and bloggers to share, discuss, and recommend the books they’re currently reading.

All you do is answer five questions about your current read then head over to one of the hosts (Marissa at Marissa Writes, Kendall at The Geeky Yogi and Rhianna at Tsundoku Girl Reads) to link up your post. Have fun and don’t forget to check out everyone’s posts as well!

Since last time

I finished Captive Prince – behind schedule for the buddy read but I’m catching up! I read Half Bad, after a year of it sitting on my bookshelf, and Love, Hate and Other Filters after two weeks. I read that one in one sitting; it was such a quick, readable book I couldn’t stop myself. I finished I Am Malala, and then yesterday made an unscheduled detour through a few free or cheap ebooks – Green but for a season, from the Captive Prince world, and three by a new-to-me author, Jay Northcote – Why Love Matters, Coming Home (both short stories), and Helping Hand, the first in a novella series. I’d call them NA romance, I guess, and definitely on the steamy side.

What I’m currently reading

IMG_20180228_194358_789Prince’s Gambit is the second book in the Captive Prince trilogy – I’m rereading the whole thing with a group of bookstagram friends. Some of them are rereading too, but for some it’s the first time, and it’s interesting to see what they make of them! Synopsis:

With their countries on the brink of war, Damen and his new master, Prince Laurent, must exchange the intrigues of the palace for the sweeping might of the battlefield as they travel to the border to avert a lethal plot.

Forced to hide his identity, Damen finds himself increasingly drawn to the dangerous, charismatic Laurent. But as the fledgling trust between the two men deepens, the truth of secrets from both their pasts is poised to deal them the crowning death blow . . .

1. What made you pick up this book – cover or content?

Well, look at it. For such a well known and popular series, you’d think they’d make a little more effort, wouldn’t you? No, content all the way for this one – I originally read the series to see what all the fuss was about and once I’d got through Captive Prince (even after reading for the second time I’m not sure what to make of it) I had to know what happened to the characters.

2. Who is your favourite character so far, and why?

Now, that’s a tough question. At this point first time round, I probably would have said Jord and Aimeric. Yes, they’re minor characters but I quite often find myself attached out of all proportion to side characters. I find these two intriguing, and I want to know more about them. Jord, with his loyalty and fairness and the sense that he’s cleverer than people give him credit for, is easy to like, while Aimeric always struck me as someone with hidden depths, for good or bad. Buuuuuut… With hindsight, I’m going to have to say Laurent. He’s layers upon layers of personality and motivation, and I love the way we keep getting these little glimpses of there being more to him than the nastiness and plotting we saw in the first book.

3. Will you finish this one?

Is that even a question at this point?

4. Finish this sentence: This book reminds me of…

Ok, I fail again. I can’t think of anything these remind me of except themselves. There’s obvious Greek influences in some of the culture, but it’s a general thing, not any specific myth or history (that I know of, anyway). Although they’re fantasy, there’s no mention of magic or anything supernatural, so I suppose in one sense they’re a bit like a historical romance in that you know who’s going to end up together, but it’s the journey that matters. and the writing is full of little hints and not-so-little sexual tension.

5. What type of read is this one?

Fast-paced and twisty, often surprising.

IMAG0368I’m also reading Half Wild, the sequel to Half Bad, and the first new-to-me series that I’m getting through this year. I’m supposed to be doing one a month, by the way, so I’m maybe a little behind there. I went into the series on after seeing a few trusted reviewers rave about it, but knowing very little else. I can’t put the synopsis here because it’s packed full of spoilers for book 1!

1. What made you pick up this book – cover or content?

Ooops, I’ve answered this already – it was reviews that got me interested. But the covers for the series are amazing too.

2. Who is your favourite character so far, and why?

Nathan. Or Gabriel. No, Nathan. Definitely Nathan. I think.

He’s had such a raw deal, and he’s trying so hard to make the best of it, and resisting even when he knows it’s going to cause him pain or trouble. And he’s still willing to see the good in people, to hope for the best and to try to dictate his own future instead of follow the path other people expect or want him to take. I just want to give him a big hug.

3. Will you finish this one?

Oh, yes.

4. Finish this sentence: This book reminds me of…

It reminds me a bit of the Shadowhunters books. Urban fantasy, with a world of witches alongside but hidden from the mundanes (or fains, as they’re called here). And then there’s the issues of Nathan’s father, though unlike Jace he knows perfectly well what his surname is, and the authoritarian controlling council getting stricter and more dictator-like. It has the same sort of fast pace and varied cast, too, though it’s first person from Nathan’s point of view rather than skipping between many.

5. What type of read is this one?

Fast-paced, tense, action-packed. It’s got a very distinctive writing style, short and choppy (and grammar extremely optional) that sticks you right in Nathan’s head. Plus it’s one of those books where you’re never sure who to trust and who’s on what side. That’s pretty much my favourite thing, providing it’s done well.

Your turn

What are you currently reading? Have you read any of these or are you considering it? Let me know in the comments!

January wrap-up: What I Read

Jan 18 Wrap-upIn which I finally post a monthly wrap-up on time

Welcome to 2018, book people! (And writer people, and anyone else who happens to be reading this – I love you anyway). If you saw my post about reading resolutions you’ll know I’ve been ever so slightly ambitious. Backlist titles, new series (including adult epic fantasy books I’ve been putting off for far too long), finishing off several half-read series and reading more classics, and books with non-western settings.

This month got off to a good start, partly because my writing is still on a go-slow as I recover from the slump and burnout of last November. I ended up with only 6 books read, but a couple of them were 600 page monsters & I’ve almost finished a 7th (so close I put it into my wrap-up photo in anticipation). Let’s hope I can keep it up over the next few months as I build back up to a decent drafting speed.

What I read

Goal progress January

The highlights

The Start of Me and You was a quick YA contemporary read. I can knock these out in a day to boost my reading figures if the month’s going a bit slowly. No, I have no shame. I’m not usually a fan of contemporaries in schools with such a focus on romance, but this was impossible not to like. I’m doing the book a disservice, because there’s actually a very well done storyline of the MC dealing with grief and possible PTSD, but still, it was a lot fluffier than my norm. I loved the nerdiness; Paige might not be the most attention-grabbing protagonist but she’s definitely relatable, and I loved the dynamics she had with her family, her friendship group and the love interest. The characters were so real and likeable they carried the story even when the plot wasn’t the most action-packed. 4 stars.

IMG_20180130_201944_202The Bedlam Stacks put Natasha Pulley firmly on my auto-buy list. I loved Merrick’s character from the outset, and the writing was amazing. The setting, the mystery around everything going on in Peru, character motivations and growth and reactions. Oh my word, just everything! It’s a slower build, but the characters are so compelling it didn’t bother me at all. Merrick, a disabled protagonist in a fantasy novel, isn’t the sort of MC you often come across, and as someone with mobility problems myself (also like Merrick, not ones I was born with but which happened suddenly and I had to adjust to) I would totally recommend this book for the disability rep. The injury doesn’t define him, and yet it’s an unavoidable part of his life, his every move. It’s a hard balance to write, and done wonderfully here. Just like Pulley’s first book, it surprised me with moments of heartbreak amidst the wonder. I loved this book, and it’s my first 5 star read of 2018.

kite runner

It took me 5 months to get through the audiobook of The Kite RunnerNot because it was a bad book, but it was long! Listening instead of reading did add to the experience; it was narrated by the author and there’s no way I would have got the proper Afghan pronunciations by reading. It’s a difficult book to review, because there’s so many unpleasant things happening, and the MC Amir is often so unlikable, that I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it, but I am definitely glad I read it. The sections in Afghanistan were very atmospheric, a vivid picture of life in Kabul. The part in America was dragged and felt mundane, though I couldn’t point to anything specific that felt irrelevant or unnecessary. I disliked the way Amir used his honesty about flaws and shortcomings as an excuse for bad (sometimes unforgivable) choices, and everything was so coloured through his viewpoint that other characters often felt one-dimensional. There was a fair amount of heavy-handed foreshadowing and, towards the end, coincidences stretched belief a little too far and weren’t actually needed to make the story work, in my view. But overall, it was powerful and moving and the lack of a clear happy ending felt real, a reflection of life’s struggle and unfairness that fit the tone of the book and Amir’s journey. 4 stars.

The rest

IMG_20180125_194307_941Milk and Honey is the first poetry book I’ve read since school. It’s also the first time I’ve read a whole collection of very modern, short, free-form poetry like this. I’m not sure it suits me, but there’s no denying the grace and power in the writing. My reactions, though, were a bit hit and miss. Some of the poems spoke to me strongly, others less so, but on such personal subjects that’s got to be as much down to the person reading and the stage of life I’m at as with the writing itself. It’s definitely worth reading. 3 stars.

IMAG1588~2The Plague of Doves is beautifully written, with strong, individual character voices and an atmospheric setting. The writing weaves fantasy and reality so well the boundaries blur. But I found the connections between characters and episodes too tenuous to bind the book into a coherent story, though some of the subplots would have been strong enough to carry an outstanding book by themselves if they’d been allowed. I found several of the characters impossible to care about, in particular Evalina, who was so grating I almost DNF’d. The parts I enjoyed most were the slow unravelling of Mooshum’s story and the truth of the lynching, but the mass murder in the opening scene which overshadowed the whole story barely seemed to touch many of the other events. 3 stars.

IMAG2029Tower of Dawn was a disappointment. For nostalgia’s sake at least, I hoped the return to my favourite character would recapture some of my earlier love for this series. Sadly, Yrene and even Chaol’s personalities became bland, and the political manoeuvring fell flat. The disability rep was treated with respect, and many of the thoughts, challenges and changing attitudes Chaol dealt with were hugely relatable, but let down by the way the storyline was resolved (I discuss it in my Goodreads review with spoilers). When the story did get going, the tension and drama were interwoven with the slower healing scenes very well, and some of the plot twists were huge, with stakes raised for the rest of the series. Nesryn and Sartaq saved the book, for me. Nesryn really came into her own as a character, while Sartaq, his growing friendship with Nesryn, and their interactions with the ruhkin were a delight. And, for once, the romance plot(s) didn’t centre on over-bearing, possessive, hyper-masculine characters – a welcome relief. 3.5 stars.

January book haul

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I’m not entirely sure what happened here. I pre-ordered Chainbreaker some time ago, and Flashtide was a must-buy after it failed to materialise under the Christmas tree despite heavy hint dropping. Then there were a couple of second hand buys, including the big non-fiction book, which is entirely justifiable as research for my writing. And then… Well, I can only put it down to a moment of weakness on Amazon. And this isn’t even half of it; there’s a whole bunch of pre-orders I put in at the same time.

I also have a huge ebook haul this month (we’re talking about 20!) But almost all of those were gifted so they only generate a small amount of TBR-related guilt. Honest!

Let’s chat!

There’s a comment button right below, whether you agree or disagree with my reviews. I’d love to know what you think. How are your reading goals going so far? And do you have any poetry recommendations for me?

Can anyone really write poetry?

notesHere’s the thing about me and poetry

I haven’t written poetry since I was at school and had no choice. I’ve barely read any poetry since I was at school. And that was… a long-time ago, okay.

I couldn’t tell you what kind of poetry I like or dislike (except William Blake. Read him.) or what makes a good poem or anything. In fact, this post was supposed to be about how I can’t do poetry.

 Here’s the other thing about me and poetry

That first sentence, up there? That’s a lie. Not a big lie; in fact about a month ago it would have been entirely, and as far as I knew, irrevocably, true.

And then.

I started writing poetry. Completely by accident. It started with the first attempt at this post, the one with a different first sentence that said “I cannot write poetry.” That turned into… this

poetry

I know it’s not going to win any prizes. It might be utter rubbish. But it worked, in my head, and out it came onto the paper, and since then I’ve been pouring out my fears and frustrations and inner demons into little (and less little) free-form poems. Is it Tumblr poetry? Maybe. I don’t know exactly what defines Tumblr poetry, whether its the form or the length or the themes or some combination of those. Tumblr poetry isn’t necessarily a bad thing, anyway, though people tend to use it as a derogatory term; if there’s one thing I do know about poetry, it’s that it speaks differently to different people, and it’s hard to know when you’ll stumble across a poet or even a single poem that makes a sudden, lasting impact on you.

So can anyone write poetry?

Voiceless.pngMaybe. From my experience, I’d say it’s not something you can force. It’s either there, begging to get out, or it’s not. Sure, once it’s written you can tweak and polish it into a better, shinier, more impactful version of itself, and that’s a whole different set of skills and perhaps the difference between good and bad poetry of whatever form happens to be your favourite.

But I’m not stopping any time soon. Perhaps I won’t ever share any more of it, here or elsewhere, or perhaps I’ll post occasional ones that sum up my feelings better than a thousand words of explanation could. Perhaps I’ll end up with so many and get good enough at them that I’ll consider publishing (don’t laugh). Whichever way, I can’t deny I’ve caught the poetry bug.

Do you have the poetry bug?

Do you write it? Read it? Hate it? Do you have a strong opinion on Tumblr poetry, whether it’s a real genre, whether it’s worthwhile, what the boundaries are? Or even a mild opinion, I’m happy to hear those too!

What are you reading Wednesday

What I'm Reading

Welcome back to What Are You Reading Wednesday!

The idea of these is for book lovers and bloggers to share, discuss, and recommend the books they’re currently reading.

All you do is answer five questions about your current read then head over to one of the hosts (Marissa at Marissa Writes, Kendall at The Geeky Yogi and Rhianna at Tsundoku Girl Reads) to link up your post. Have fun and don’t forget to check out everyone’s posts as well!

Since last time

I finished two books – Dracula and Autoboyography. Dracula I enjoyed far more than I expected to, and means I can tick off my first classic of the year (I’m aiming for 10). Autoboyography was an audiobook, and even though we’re barely 6 weeks into 2018, I can tell it’s going to be one of my favourite contemporaries of the year. I wrote about it last week, but if that doesn’t convince you to go read it yourself, I don’t know what will!

What I’m currently reading

The Tale of Genji and Captive Prince are both buddy reads, and I’ll talk more about them when I’m further in. Captive Prince is a reread for me, and I’ll be interested to see what I make of it now I have hindsight on the whole trilogy. I’m also working my way through a poetry collection.

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I Am Malala is a non-fiction memoir type book, not something I usually read, but I’m trying to broaden my horizons. I’m sure everyone’s heard of Malala, but the byline sums it up pretty well: “The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban”.

1. What made you pick up this book – cover or content?

Definitely content. What I know of Malala’s story from news coverage is equal parts horrifying and inspiring, and I’m keen to be better informed about world events and the stories of people affected by the sort of problems we in the West sometimes struggle to imagine.

2. Who is your favourite character so far, and why?

Hmm, I feel a bit weird answering that about real people! Obviously, Malala’s got a really strong presence in the book, but I’m also very interested in her father and why he took such a radically different approach to her upbringing and education than was traditional for girls in their community.

3. Will you finish this one?

Yes, definitely.

4. Finish this sentence: This book reminds me of…

I recently finished The Kite Runner, which was set in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan but had the same background of upheaval and religious extremism in the region. Although that was fiction, it had the same kind of conversational “life-story” style and it’s hard not to compare the different viewpoints on things like the region’s wars, religion and culture. There’s a definite contrast, too, between the protagonist of The Kite Runner who had a very privileged upbringing in Afghanistan, and Malala’s fairly impoverished background, at least while she was very young.

5. What type of read is this one?

Slow, but not in a bad way. It’s so packed with detail it’s impossible to rush through it. And it’s very, very thought-provoking so far – I’m about a quarter in.

Your turn

What are you currently reading? Have you read any of these or are you considering it? Do you read non-fiction? Let me know in the comments!

December wrap-up: What I Read

 

Dec 17 Wrap-upIn 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

The highlights

IMG_20171219_202956_303Ruin 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.

IMG_20171216_003659_863The 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.

IMAG2202~2The 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.

IMG_20180206_221203_944After 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.

The rest

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.

IMAG1507~2Ok, 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.

IMG_20171213_222614_994Another 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

IMAG2208~2Otherwise 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.

Let’s chat!

There’s a comment button right below, whether you agree or disagree with my reviews. I’d love to know what you think.