November Reading Wrap Up

The further I get into the year, the harder I find writing these wrap ups. You know the drill, I read three books, they were great, they were as follows:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – a book that I read years ago, but had no recollection of the vast majority of. All I could remember was that there was a girl who went to live with adopted parents, a woman who called her Saumensch, Death is the narrator, and the setting is World War II. I’m so glad that I decided to pick this one up again and reread, because there was so much that I didn’t remember and characters that I fell in love with all over again. A true classic that I think everyone should read, even if it’s only to read a book where you have a narrator almost more interesting than everything else that’s happening.

The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward – I picked this book up because I was going on a short holiday away and needed a light book to take with me (along with The Book Thief, which I was so close to finishing). I had no idea what this book was about before I started, and I’m actually very glad that I didn’t. This is memoir that is part prose, part verse about childhood, growing up, and the bonds of family. I read this in a few sittings, and could have done it in fewer had I not chosen to take breaks. A really engaging, powerful read.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – now this is the kind of book I adore. Sweeping fantasy tangled up with historical fiction, with beautifully written prose, fantastical creatures, and a great plot. Set in the wintery wilderness of Russia, this story follows the grandchild of a woman who was called a witch and appeared from the woods. You follow her along with various other characters she encounters as an old evil gathers strength near by.

I set a goal of reading 45 books this year, and currently I’m at 40 – whether I can read 5 in December who knows, but we’ll see what happens…

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October Reading Wrap Up

I think the last two months have included some of my favourite reads of not just 2018, but all time – September had some great books, and October was no different. Dare I say it, but October perhaps stepped up the game for brilliant reads. I’ve had a slow reading month this November, what with balancing work, trying to do NaNoWriMo, and going on holiday (all good things). Looking back at October is a great reminder of all the fantastic books that are out there, and makes me desperate to go out and find even more (which will have to wait until the next pay check, because Christmas season is crippling me already).

The first book I finished in October was The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. All of my friends were telling me that this is a book that I’d adore, something that I can only remember happening with The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller. Boy, they were not wrong. This is a retelling of the events that occur in the course of Homer’s The Iliad from the perspective of Briseis, the woman who is taken as a slave by the Trojan army and given to Achilles as a war prize. Although Helen is a more household name in terms of familiarity with the legend, as the one who supposedly started the war (men do like to blame women, is one of the many things that this book highlights), it is over the ‘stealing’ of Briseis that Achilles enters a wrathful sulk – the one that kicks of The Iliad. In Pat Barker’s retelling, she focuses in on what happens to the women in the Trojan war and creates a narrative and voice for Briseis, something she does not have in the original text. The characters speak with a modern vernacular, the crude modern day language bringing a new sense of life to the ancient setting and making the old seem far closer than expected. I truly enjoyed this book, and would recommend to all whether you know the original book or not. If I could, I’d prescribe both this book and The Song of Achilles to all.

The next marvel that I devoured in October was Muse of Nightmares by Lani Taylor, the sequel to Strange the Dreamer that I’ve been pining for. Laini Taylor just has an unbeatable imagination, one that I wish I could exist in. She manages to craft worlds – plural – that come to life in all of her books, and somehow link them together so that you have one universe that melds together but maintains unique characteristics in each separate world, each that are so dynamic they each deserve their own story. This is the second series I’ve read by this author, and if possible I love it even more than the first series. The characters are enchanting, the world mesmerising, and the plot kept me flicking through the pages long after I should have put the book down. This series is a wonderful escape for any fantasy lover – and even if you’re not much of a fantasy fan, I dare you to try and read a few lines of Laini’s prose and not to get drawn in.

The third and final book I finished in October was An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I remember seeing this book when it first came out, and for some reason I didn’t pick it up. Ever since it’s been popping up here and there, taunting me, and after some over-enthusiastic encouragement from a friend I decided to pick it up. To put it simply: I put aside a Sunday and made sure to have no plans so that I could just sit and read this book. I feel all my reviews are the same, but the characters! The world! The plot! All so brilliant, and I’m so very very glad that the rest of the series is published and ready for me to dive into.

And that was my October! As I said, November is off to a slow start but by no means is that due to slow, boring books. I’m also going away for four days this week, which I’m hoping means that I’ll be able to get some seriously good reading done.

September Reading Wrap Up

Well, September was quite the month. I read what will most likely be one of my favourite books of 2018 – possibly two of my favourite books of 2018 – along with a book that has taken me over a year to finish. Halfway through the month I thought I’d only finish 2 books, and it got to the end of the month and I somehow realised that I’d read far more than anticipated.

The first book I finished in the month of September was an 800+ page beast of a book, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Thanks to very good friends and the lovely world of publishing, I managed to get my hands on an early review copy. As we all know, I adore all things fantasy and dragons – and this tome did not disappoint. Sweeping landscapes, extensive character lists, and intricately intertwined plots made this standalone epic a true delight. I truly hope that Shannon has a chance to write more in this world, as it’s probably the first 800+ page book that I’ve ever finished and wished for more. Highly recommend to any fantasy lovers, or those looking for a fresh, feminist take on typical fantastical tropes found in legends and lore.

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The next book I read was On Writing by Stephen King – an unexpected gem. I’ve been desperately trying to get back into a good writing habit, and thought a little bit of non-fiction writing wisdom from one of the greats might inspire some motivation in me. This book did that and more – it told the story of how Stephen King became, well, Stephen King, along with the tools and habits that he picked up on the way. There are snippets of advice, hints, and tricks to guide you on your way, along with incredibly poignant and moving episodes and anecdotes that came as a complete surprise to me. I found myself wanting to highlight passages like it was a textbook I needed to study, and now that I’ve finished it I know I’ll be dipping back into its pages to try and unlock even more.

Then came the book that I’ve been literally reading for over a year. It’s no secret that I’ve been trying to get through the Harry Potter books on audiobook, and I was enjoying listening to them so much that I thought it would help me get through other, very different, titles. After finishing The Order of the Phoenix, I decided to listen to something else before continuing my listening journey with Harry and the gang – what a mistake. A year and several months after starting, I have finally finished listening to 36 hours of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I can’t quite collect my thoughts on this book just yet, so thrilled I am to be finished, but it is finally, finally, over. Goodbye Esther and Jarndyce, it’s been quite a ride.

The last book I finished this month was a sequel I never thought I’d get to a book I never thought could get better – Vengeful by V.E Schwab. Honestly, Vicious was one of my favourite books when I read it, an incredible reimagining of the Frankenstein myth in a new, superhero format with dark edges, twisting plots, and brilliant characters. Vengeful was like Vicious at 100 miles per hour. The characters were even better, with new characters that definitely fit the current mood of the world where all women want to burn everything to the ground (which is exactly what we got with Marcella). Schwab has a great way of setting up lots of different plot lines and little details, some that she’ll use later and some that she won’t, and drawing all of them together in a huge, climactic finale that has you reeling. Beautifully written, gripping all the way through – it is no surprise that I finished this book in just a few sittings.

And that was my September. It’s going to be a struggle to top it in October, but I suppose with the cold nights drawing in and the increase in evenings spent curled up in blankets with candles lit, I’m sure I’ll get some good reading in.

August Reading Wrap Up

Plot twist: I did not read four books this month, like every other month. I read fewer books, but in my opinion more pages as last night I finished an 800+ page fantasy book that I adored – stay tuned until next month to find out what that was, or just look at my Instagram where I’ve already told everyone about it.

The first book in August that I finished was the incredibly powerful and moving Almost Love by Louise O’Neill. This is my third book by this author, and I still don’t know how I don’t seem to realise beforehand that, like all of her other books, this one would also wreck me in its own, gutting way. In some ways this one was similar to Asking for It, in the way that the main character isn’t immediately ‘likeable’. She’s a tough character to stick with, I’ll give you that, but mainly because you’re watching a woman who has been abused push everyone she loves away – and the worst part is, something you see from page 1, is that they let her. This is a story split into two narratives – the present, and the past. In the past you watch the main character in a ‘relationship’ with an older man, and in the present you see how the abuse from that affects her still, especially with her current partner. I didn’t read this quickly because I felt it difficult to read in long periods of time – not because it was a bad book, more the opposite. It was so well written, so poignant and close to real life that I found it difficult to stay in that ‘world’ for long.

After that tornado, I went to my happy place: fantasy with dragons. This time I picked up Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman – I read Seraphina a few months ago and really enjoyed it as a very differently written fantasy. Tess of the Road was no exception, but this time I far preferred the main character and her journey. Tess, our heroine, is sister to Seraphina – but unlike her esteemed sister, Tess is the opposite. From a past mistake, she is a disgrace to her family and destined to forever be a nun or a maid to her sister. One day, she decides to take a risk and runs away from home to find her own happiness elsewhere. A really enjoyable read, this was exactly the kind of book that I was after following the heartbreak from Louise O’Neill gave me.

The last book I finished in August was Fen by Daisy Johnson. This was an unexpected book, one that was sensual, dynamic, and pointed – far closer to the themes of Almost Love than Tess of the Road, for sure. Haunting as much as it was illuminating, this short story collection shows the contrast between the routine, everyday life and dark, magical wild that lives close by. I read a review of this that talked about the themes of Otherness, desire, and loss – and that’s exactly what these stories encapsulate in every line. It is twisted, dark, and exists on a very different plane. Some stories I loved, others I struggled with, but overall really enjoyed the full experience.

And that was my August. Unlike last month, I’m sat here in a jumper not even thinking about ice cream, so it definitely feels like Autumn is on it’s way. Although I’m sad to see the hot sun leave once more, I can’t wait to bundle up in scarves and jumpers, light candles every evening, and restock my bath bomb supply – and, of course, read some fantastic books.

 

July Reading Wrap Up

Every time I try to sit down and write this wrap up, I keep having to abandon all progress I make because it’s too bloody hot to be sitting down with a laptop and all I really want to do is lie in the shade with an ice cream. But, here I am, ready to bash out this wrap up post in a prompt fashion so I can go back to finding ways to keep cool.

It seems my average books per month this year is the nice, even number 4, and July was no different. I was off to a flying start in this month because I picked up a fantasy novel I’d been meaning to read for a while, which only fed my fantasy addiction so I picked up another straight after. The first was Beyond a Darkened Shore by Jessica Leake, a fantasy set in a historical Ireland where the main threat consisted of Nordic Viking invaders. You follow the heroine Ciara, who has strange and powerful gifts to control the minds of people in battle, as she is forced to partner up with her enemy to defeat a greater threat. There are great elements to this story, blending two different folklores such as The Morrigan with Norse Mythology, and doing it very well. I loved the opening chapters, with these engaging storylines and well paced plot – any book with Norse mythology in it will obviously keep me very happy, but I think there was definitely more that could be done.

On the whole, the book was paced well, but scenes towards the end seemed cut short – a huge battle that is essentially the ‘boss fight’ lasted no more than two or three pages. And let’s be honest, I love a good bit of romance and I liked the two leads, but I was the complete opposite of invested which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a fun fantasy adventure. Overall a good book and a fun read, but definitely think there was more room for development – especially in the second half of the story.

Whilst I was still in the high of whizzing through that fantasy, I dived straight into Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett. And, again, I finished this in two or three days. A really enjoyable, quick read – which was exactly what I wanted from it. For me, I think whilst I did enjoy the book it definitely needed some more worldbuilding and explaining of magic systems, religions, and the actual reasoning behind some parts of the story. There are also more YA fantasy cliches and tropes than you know what to do with, which can be a bit of a slog if you’re fed up with similar plot ‘twists’ and character traits. I’m hopeful that the world will develop more in the sequels, and maybe the following books will give answers to elements not covered in the first book. Overall, I found it gripping up until the last quarter, where the end felt forced and rushed. Still, I would recommend for a light, fun read if you’re not too worried about large world building elements and rich detail.

Deciding that I needed to make sure July wasn’t a fantasy-a-thon, the next book I picked up was I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. Wow, is all I can really say. An incredible memoir of Maggie’s near-death experiences, from reckless childhood behaviour to illness to giving birth. There are accounts of encounters with strange men on deserted paths, being robbed on holiday, and ending with protecting her daughter from a condition that leaves her vulnerable to the world around her, for who the book is written for. I honestly could have read this all in one sitting, but it was the perfect book to read on the tube, dipping into one episode after the next on each journey. A truly fantastic, powerful read.

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Finally in July, I ended on a bit of a slog with The Idiot by Elif Batuman. Despite all the acclaims, praise, and recommendations, I just couldn’t get into this one. I really struggled to pick it up and read, and so ended up talking half the month just to finish it. In comparison to the fantasy I read, this was the exact opposite where I had to force myself to find time to read it, and felt like I’d read 50 pages when I’d barely got through 10. It is very well written, but unfortunately wasn’t for me.

And that was my July! Four books, all memorable and different in their own ways. I’m on track for my Goodreads reading target for the year, but since leaving working at a bookshop my TBR pile has really shrunk – hurrah! This means I’m on the hunt for reading recommendations, so if you have any definitely let me know. I’m also on the hunt for a proof of Samantha Shannon’s new book The Priory of the Orange Tree, but I have a feeling I’ll have to wait a long while for that one.

June Reading Wrap Up

June is always the month I look forward to the most. In my mind, June is the perfect month – halfway through the year, not too far in that you can’t change how the year is going and also far enough that whatever you’ve done so far doesn’t mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. June is summer, sun, beaches, lazy mornings, salads for lunch that you actually choose to have because anything warm is a huge ‘no no’. For me, June also means my birthday, again perfectly in the middle so I have a little wait when it hits June 1st but also not too long. Most importantly, June is the month for sitting outside with a book, jumping from reading in the sun to scurrying back to the shade because your poor, english skin is unused to such weather.

This June, I did pretty darn well when it came to books – and I base that solely on the first book that I read, no, that I conquered, because ‘read’ is too light a word for completing the masterpiece that is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. WHAT a book. It’s been on my TBR so long that I almost don’t recognise the list without that title on there. An incredible re-imagining of what ancient gods would be like in the 21st century, and which new gods have been created to worship over time. This in a fantastic road-trip esque romp through the US, leading to the battle between old and new – with plenty of twists and turns throughout. Gaiman once again proving to be an incredible storytelling.

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After that, I was very easily swayed by a lot of friends in my decision to pick up HeartburnI by Nora Ephron. This was an unexpected gem, and one that I truly enjoyed. Bound in the new Virago Classic covers, this gorgeous looking book is, as the author prefaces, a novel/memoir/nonfiction/fiction journey. An examination of the days around the fallout of her second marriage, Nora tells the story with new names and a few reimaginings, but at the heart is Nora herself. The more I try to describe it, the worse I become at explaining exactly what this book does, but I recommend it all the same.

Whilst I like to think of June months as hot moments in the sun reading, the truth is I spend most of my week at work and do most of my reading on my commute. As I’m sure many can relate, the tube is so disgustingly unbearable in summer that trying to focus on some lovely chunky book that you can sink into, I can barely concentrate on a few lines before thinking ‘god, it’s bloody hot in here’. This is why the next two books I decided to read were two more of the Penguin Modern Mini Classics.

The first I decided to pick up was The Skeleton’s Holiday by Leonora Carrington. A small bind-up of some of her very short stories, this was an enjoyable read and perfect for dipping in and out of. They made me think of small vignettes rather than explored ideas, just a glimpse of a story without more meat to it, but enjoyable all the same. A couple I truly loved and would read again, but others definitely felt like they went straight over my head.

The second mini, and last book I read in June, was The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson. If I quite liked The Skeleton’s Holiday, then I absolutely loved The Missing Girl. This has definitely convinced me to pick up a Shirley Jackson, and I definitely plan to do so when Halloween is approaching later on this year. Creepy and unsettling, this different stories were all expertly told and addictive, ones that you just have to devour (before they devour you).

And that was my June! July is already off to a flying start for me, mainly because I started off with a couple of fantasy books to get my reading juices flowing again, so I look forward to telling you all about them next month.

April Reading Wrap Up

We’re already past the halfway point for May, but seeing as I’ve been so behind on updating my blogs, my April wrap up is happening now. I haven’t really had the inspiration to blog much recently, but luckily that hasn’t extended to my reading.

In the month of April, I finished reading 4 books – the first of which was The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a mammoth of a book that took up most of my March reading time. I truly enjoyed it – the writing style was beautiful, the world perfectly crafted, and such interesting characters. However, I wanted just a little bit more from it (which isn’t what I thought I’d say about that beast of a book). Despite it’s length, I felt some of the characters didn’t get enough time to be developed. As I don’t want to spoil it, all I can say is that there were certain characters who were set up fantastically, but didn’t really have much of an ending or story-arc. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one, and hope that the un-finished stories of the characters that I felt deserved more are merely indications of further novels dedicated to them.

After that, I went into full fantasy mode starting with Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Illuminae Files series, and the final instalment was not exception. It had me on the edge of my seat, in denial half of the time and in pure disbelief for the rest of it. Fast-paced, action-packed, and full of life, laughter, and such brilliantly created characters, this is a sci-fi series I’d recommend to everyone. One page can have you sniggering, and the next moment you’re tearing up and cursing the authors. This series also has the added impact of the non-prose led narrative, the story told instead through accounts, images, recorded conversations, and other various pieces of information to create the ‘files’. I already miss this series and its unique way of telling a story, and can only hope that these authors collaborate more in the future.

Next, I listened to everyone, falling to peer pressure (and I am so glad that I did) to pick up Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Clearly I wasn’t ready to let go worlds such as those created in the Marvel film Black Panther, and this book definitely filled that void. Similarly fast-paced, the world-building was stunning and had such a action packed plot that I could barely catch my breath from one scene to the next. This is fantasy at its best, with challenging characters, adventure tales that keep you guessing, and a world you want to sink into. I loved it.

The final book I read in April was The Bone Season, the first book in a series by Samantha Shannon. I’ve been so intrigued by this author and her writing, and I’m glad that I picked up The Bone Season. This is definitely a book devoted to world-building, set in a dystopian world that has an alternate history with the addition of people with certain abilities. In the end, I really enjoyed the writing and the storyline, the world clearly heavily developed and researched. My only issue was that, whilst it was flawlessly researched and hugely developed, the first third of the book felt like an information-dump. An overload of facts and points and info that, frankly, I couldn’t keep up with. I’d read snippets during commutes only to have to go back and re-read the next time I picked it up. Whilst I enjoyed the book, it felt like a battle before I could be fully immersed into the story. Still, it has definitely not put me off reading more from this clearly talented author.

So all in all April was a good month, filled with fantastical stories and brilliant characters that I’m sure I’ll want to go back to and re-read one day. May so far has been a similarly good month, and equally filled with plenty of fantasy. Let the days continue to be warm and sunny, so I can continue to laze about and read in the park on my weekends.