May Reading Wrap Up

Well, it has happened – I have finally finished university. After a month of essay deadlines and exams, I’m amazed I read as much as I did. I think that’s been the standard theme of this year so far; my surprise each month that I actually found time to read. It definitely helped that I participated in a 30 day reading challenge, and I’m sure that’s why my totals this month (two books over 500 pages is quite the feat for me) are pretty darn fantastic.

First up this month was The Hero of Ages, the third and final instalment in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy that I started back in 2015! I read the previous two books the previous two summers, having saved them both all year for when I felt I had enough time to read them – and then the genius that is 2017 me decided I had enough time to read the final book over coursework season. If that’s not impressive, then I’m not sure what is.

Then as if that book wasn’t long enough, I followed it up with another final instalment to a trilogy: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas. This was pure guilty pleasure for me, and I devoured it within a week. Just pure fun, uncomplicated (in a good way) fantasy that you can just lose yourself in. Complete escapism at its best, and a series that has improved so much from its first instalment.

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After that, I finally read a book I’ve been promising myself, and my colleagues, that I would pick up for ages. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was an unexpected joy, Saunders somehow redefining what it means to write fiction and do so in a way that reminds you just how much art there is in writing. He weaves his story from excerpts of various non-fiction literature on Lincoln, interspersed with his own pure fictional writing. The combination of non-fiction, fiction, and non-fiction crafted as fiction, created a completely new way of reading. Although the first few pages I found it difficult to process, once you get used to the formatting you can hardly put the book down.

It was after this that I read Animal by Sara Pascoe, ‘The Autobiography of the Female Body’. For this I’m just going to repeat what I said in Goodreads, which is that this was a great book separated into discussions on ‘love’, ‘body’, and ‘consent’. Pascoe manages to insert humour and charm, but still discusses serious, and upsetting, topics with a sincerity. This is a good book if you want a mix of entertainment, autobiography, well/explained science, and talks on bodies. Of course people who are well versed on the subjects will find fault with some of the scientific facts, but for me it was a perfect balance of digestible science I could understand and Pascoe’s own thought. Whilst Pascoe is addressing matters of the ‘female body’ and does in her footnotes clarify that this can apply to those who do and do not identify as being female or to those who weren’t necessarily born in a ‘female’ body, I think I would have liked more discussion on gender within her ‘body’ section. Overall the book raises some fantastic points that I definitely support, but for a book on bodies and love I think there should be more discussion dedicated to gender itself.

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If you want more beauties like this you should definitely check out my Instagram *wink wink nudge nudge*

After a successful non-fiction read, which I don’t read enough of, I decided to go for something else new – poetry. The only poetry I’ve really read is within my education, and whilst I’ve enjoyed it I’ve never gone out and read poetry for fun. This is why, to start off my journey, I picked up the bestselling collection Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. And, I’m sad to say, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea – which is why I’m going to do a full review either sometime later this week or next. It’s so difficult, because of course you can see how much heart the author pours in, and then to find you don’t really like it, I especially find it hard to give such negative feedback. One thing is for certain – I’m definitely going to pick up more poetry soon to find something I do love.

And that brings me to the end of May, so let’s look how the reading challenge is going:

 

  1. *4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. *A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. **‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. ***Finish a series you’ve started
  9. A friend’s favourite book
  10. *Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. *A book from your TBR
  17. ****Book published in 2017

Thanks to Animal, I ticked off an autobiography because that word is within the subtitle so it definitely counts. Milk and Honey also ticked off poetry, so a pretty darn good month. The Hero of Ages and A Court of Wings and Ruin both added a notch to finishing a series you’ve started, as they were both the final instalments of two trilogies I’ve loved. Lincoln in the Bardo added a fourth notch to books published in 2017. Overall, a pretty great reading month. It means I’m still left with 3 Classics (I knew that was going to be a struggle to get to), a Horror Book, a friend’s favourite book, and a book with a character with your name. I definitely have books in mind for the latter two, but still haven’t found a Horror book that I want to read, so if anyone has any suggestions I’m all ears. After all, June is my birthday month so I’m planning to do a rather large book haul.

 

May Fairyloot Unboxing

It comes as no surprise that book subscription boxes are my vice, and every month if I have saved enough money and can come up with a good enough excuse why I should treat myself (this month’s excuse was exams, in case you were curious), I ordered myself one. Fairyloot has definitely become my go-to for subscription boxes, as not only are they a UK based company, but also for the fact that every single one I’ve had in the past I loved. It also helps that the May theme was ‘Warriors & Legends’, and as a Classics student who is a huge fan of epic and wrote her dissertation on heroes, this was definitely going to be a box for me.

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Featured above is the design for this month, which was also included on a book mark – and, again, I’m a girl who is a big fan of all things dogs so clearly we’re onto a winner already.

The first two items were a tin of green tea named after the box from The Tea Leaf co and an exclusive candle titled ‘Mist’ to fit the theme of the book for this month’s box from In the Wick of Time. Two really lovely items, both of which I’ve already used (and, obviously, loved).

These next two are perhaps my favourite items in the whole box. The first is a pair of Celtic Socks, I believe from Fairyloot themselves, which are as comfortable as they are pretty. Then, as if this box was directly aimed at me, someone who basically tailored their degree into one on Ancient mythology, they included the book World Mythology in Bite-sized Chunks by Mark Daniels. Both items are just so well thought out and definitely work with the theme – and did I mention how much I love it? Yes? Oh.

Then we have a stunning bookmark from Ink and Wonder with a quote from The Lord of the Rings, ‘One ring to rule them all’. Apparently their bookmarks are made from sustainably sourced wood, so how can you not love it? Then there is the brilliant Metallic Feather Pen from Flora’s Wonder Emporium which, as you can probably guess from my reactions to everything else in this box, I absolutely adore.

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And finally, the beautiful book of this month is Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. Described as a retelling of Mulan set in feudal Japan, I am so onboard and definitely ready to bump it up on my TBR list – not to mention that it’s just such a beautiful book.

And so I come to the not-really-surprising conclusion that this box was everything I wanted and more, so I would highly recommend to any fantasy booklovers who are interested in trying out a subscription box to look into Fairyloot. Their boxes usually run out pretty quickly every month, so definitely keep an eye out for when they next go on sale as I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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(Still trying to improve my book-taking photos, and was actually pretty proud of how this turned out. You can however see that the book is balancing on something else, which I’m unashamed to admit is a copy of A Conjuring of Light by V.E Schwab because, honestly, there’s nothing stronger or more stable than that.)

Ban Reading Shame

There are certain genres of books that people just don’t want to admit that they like, usually because of the people they’re around or their own crippling self-doubt and anxiety about being liked (ahem, go read my post about this here on my other blog). It ties in with the concept of the ‘guilty pleasure’, the books/music/films that you have to label as something you’re not proud of, often due to the fact that others don’t deem it as high brow or intellectual enough to worthy being acceptable pieces of content to enjoy.

I, for one, admit that I have often lied, or more often haven’t admitted, what it is that I really like to read – in the real world, at least. And it varies depending on where I am. For the most part in university, I felt ashamed to admit that I could never really get into the ‘classics’ canon like Dickens or Bronte, so usually I’d just smile and nod. Almost everyone uses the line ‘But you’re an English student, how can you not like ___’ and let me tell you, it pisses me off every single time. Just because my degree is Classics with English does not mean that in my free time I read War and Peace for fun, or during parties I debate the use of pathetic fallacy within Little Dorrit. The stigma that is attached to certain books is sometimes just too high, and it’s a lot of pressure to be under. I am happy to admit with no trace of lie or sarcasm that there are a few ‘classics’ that I have enjoyed, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’m currently listening to Bleak House on audible to change up how I receive these types of texts, and I’m hoping to slowly plug away at them – but not because other people think I should read them, and instead only because I have an interest to. It seems the more you feel like you have to read a book, be it for school/work/social pressures, the more likely you won’t enjoy it as much.

The same thing happened to me at work when I first started as a bookseller. I felt the need to say that I read popular literary fiction, and all the upcoming ‘high brow’ titles some customers would ask for with their cuttings from the Sunday Times. Though for some reason, and it’s only just come to me, nobody really cares – or, at least, nobody that matters at least. Especially in an environment like a bookshop, it’s so important to have people who are passionate about all kinds of books. Sure, one colleague could be a huge fan of reading biographies and the other devours one thriller after the next, but if a customer comes in asking for something romantic that includes people turning into animals, they’re going to be a bit stumped. The same as I am when someone comes in asking for a certain poet’s work, when I don’t really have a clue about poetry in the slightest (something I’m trying to change). Whilst I want to be a bookseller who reads diversely, which is what I’m aiming to do with my reading challenge that includes reading from genres I don’t normally pick up, it’s important to embrace what I enjoy reading – and it will come to no surprise to you if you’ve read this blog before, that I am a hardcore fantasy fanatic. Add in a dragon, and it’ll be tricky for you to make me dislike it.

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I love pure escapism, and fantasy is the genre that delivers that to me every single time. In between studying and work, I want to consume something completely different, and if it’s got wizards or dragons or flying purple squirrels what should it matter? There’s a stigma attached to genres like fantasy, dictating who should enjoy them and who should be ashamed about enjoying them, and there’s a similar attitude with genres such as Young Adult. Some seem to think that you can only be a certain age to be allowed to read YA, and that age is usually confined to teenagers not yet out of school, despite the fact that YA is usually aimed generally at 16-25 year olds, but is more than happy to appeal to everyone. So what if you find pleasure in reading something that isn’t specifically within your ‘age range’? Reading is about enjoyment, and if you don’t find it in one genre then you might as well go find it in another. Don’t let others stop you from doing what you love and, hey, you’re reading. You’re already a lot better off than most people.

So, just enjoy what you love and don’t think about everyone else. You do you, that’s all any of us can really do. Whether you love romances that are so cheesy you almost feel cheesed out, or whether you like to read children’s books because they’re fun. After all, Harry Potter is technically classed as 5-8, yet hundreds of thousands of people read it all the time – often there’s more shame if you haven’t read them. So don’t worry about what everyone else thinks, and just go forth and read whatever you damn please.

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

We all know I’m a fan of a pretty book, but Strange the Dreamer was at a whole other level on the scale of book porn. My specific edition is a gorgeous hardcover with these beautiful illustrations on the title page, signed, and has blue-sprayed edges. And to top it all off? It was a fantastic book as well.

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photo credit to my own instagram (plug plug) as I’m usually terrible at taking pretty book photos

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

***

I knew almost nothing before going into this book, but had seen a lot of hype about it on social media. All I knew was that it was a beautiful book that was fantasy, so imagine my sheer delight at finding it was about gods, goddesses, magic, and a protagonist who is a hardcore bookworm. I imagine most of us who like to think themselves bookaholics and writers would proudly accept the epithet of ‘the dreamer’, so to have your main hero be a lover of books and fairy tales? A joy to read.

‘His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales on the first day of the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange:head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy’ 

High fantasy at its best, this is a book that I just didn’t really expect. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now. Her writing flows so beautifully, and her descriptions are inspiring, poetic, and, without doubt, pretty darn magical. I didn’t expect to get invested so quickly, and as a wannabe fantasy writer myself I kept on thinking “How can this be so good?”. I kept on having to put it down and sigh, wondering why I even allow myself to fantasise about writing something myself, but then had to pick the book back up again because I really needed to know what happens.

A great start to a new series, and although there was some serious world-building that Taylor included, I can only hope she was just laying the foundations of what is to come as there is so much more of that world that needs exploring. It’s the kind of book that completely transports you into a different world and you soon forget that you’re reading, devouring word after word until you’re on the edge of your seat because of the drama going on. There were several plot points and ‘twists’ that I personally found slightly predictable, but the only reason they were predictable was because the author gave you the hints to reach that conclusion only moments before the other characters did.

Enjoyable, fun, endearing characters, and a fantastic, fantasy tale that will leave you ready to read the sequel as soon as you finish it – and once you do, you can join the rest of us in the waiting game, which I’m sure will be the best kind of agony.

March Fairyloot Unboxing

I’ve received a few boxes from Fairyloot over the past year, one of my favourite book subscription boxes, and when I saw that not only was March their one year anniversary, but that the theme was ‘Myths and Monsters’, I obviously had to order one. (Being the fantasy/dragon/mythology/creatures lover that I am).

It did not disappoint.

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The first thing in this box were fairy lights, and not just any fairy lights but unicorn ones. You don’t understand how excited I was to receive these, especially as I broke my fairy lights a few weeks ago (I’m a bit of a klutz).

Next up were these two beauties – the first is a small handheld mirror with a brilliant mermaid design on the back, which is just beautiful. On the right is a pair of bookmarks which I adore, one of a dragon and the other a phoenix. You can already tell how well chosen these items are to fit with the theme, and the box includes such a range of fantastic items.

I didn’t think it could get much better, but lo and behold it did. There was a ‘Nephilim’ candle which packs such a punch smelling like cherries, and again just excellent timing as I’ve run out of candles. Then, my favourite item of the box (which I’ve already used) is a scarf of dragon scales. Ok, not actually dragon scales, but close enough. Pictured above, I’ve matched it with my dragon earrings and feeling like Daenerys ready to conquer the world.

Then, what we’ve all been waiting for, the book:

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I’ve seen this book all over the place, and for good reason. Laini Taylor is already well known for her bestselling series Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and to find out her new book fits in with a myths and monsters theme? I’m already a huge fan. This has definitely been added to my TBR pile, and I can’t wait to dive into it.

There’s a very good reason why Fairyloot is one of my favourite book subscriptions, and they’ve outdone themselves this month. 100% worth the money, and a UK company as well, so would highly recommend to everyone. If I had the money, I’d get it every single month – but, alas, I’m but a poor student. So if you can, definitely go out and get yourselves a Fairyloot! You won’t regret it.

Magic Monday: Caraval, The Night Circus, and The Crown’s Game

I recently finished Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and since finishing I keep describing it by relating to other books – in particular, The Night Circus and The Crown’s Game, the first of which I’ve reviewed previously. The clear correlation between all of them is magic, but with the added element of spectacle and ties to the circus. Clearly something works with the format, and instead of doing a standard review for Caraval I’d rather look at all three books and see what it is about their magic and setting that makes them great reads.

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So let’s look at a brief overview of each book, starting off with one of my all-time favourites The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This enchanting book is based on a circus which arrives with no warning, opening at sunset and closing at dawn. The circus is no ordinary one however, filled with secret magic and mystery. In case any of you haven’t read it and don’t want too many spoilers, I’ll be brief in saying that there is another huge plot line in the book which follows two people, both with their own kind of ‘magic’, who must compete against one another. There’s love, there’s adventure, there’s beautiful descriptions and imagery, and of course a ton of magic. You read this book for the ‘aesthetic’ I think. You read it for those incredible descriptions of the various spectacles at the circus, for the beautiful imagination the author has and the world she weaves. This book definitely stands out as an all time favourite just because of it – and after all, circus’ are meant to enrapture you.

The next book that I read out of the three was The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, which had me completely hooked for days on end. The heart of this story follows that of Vika and Nikolai, both somehow born with magic that should only be granted to one. The Russian tsar needs an enchanter at his side, and so the two compete for the position in what is known as ‘The Crown’s Game’, a magic duel to the death that spans across several days where each enchanter must create some kind of illusion or spectacle, putting on a show for their large audience. There’s incredible imagination, brilliant characters that make you want to jump straight into the pages with them, and once again brilliant magic. This one left me with a serious book hangover that I’m still feeling today.

And finally, we have Caraval by Stephanie Garber which I finished in just a few days, reading late into the night to finish it. We meet two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who are desperate to escape out from under their father’s thumb and go to the mysterious Caraval, a legendary game where the audience participates in the show. Tella manages to get Scarlett to the grand location of the game, but is soon taken by the master organiser Legend – if Scarlett wants her sister back, she has to find her in order to win the game. Fast plot, a dark element, a love interest and plenty of twists to finish it all off, and once again, you got it, magic.

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So at the centre of all of these books, there is that element of competition. With NC and CG, two individuals are competing against each other with magical duels, whereas Caraval is about a competition with many participants. Something about this plot line adds a layer of excitement and anticipation, but also gives the novels a structure that is easy enough to follow. Yet in my reading experience of all of them, the pacing was very very different. NC was like a slow-burning candle, with the same intensity imagination and awe throughout, but one that you take your time with to let it all soak in. CG and Caraval however were like quick bursts of flame, ones that I had to finish as soon as possible before the fire went out. I think out of all of them, I enjoyed CG the most in terms of the actual reading of it, finishing it in a few days and absolutely loving it. For long term however, NC is one that I always think back to just because of it’s amazing descriptions and I always use it as an example of how to create a beautiful book which although has a great plot, it has a slow pace which works for it. Comparing CG and Caraval, both of which are different to NC as they are part of a series, I feel far more inclined to read the sequel of CG because I still think about that ending that had me screaming along with my adoration of the characters.

Which brings me to my next point: characters. It seems each book sacrifices something out of pacing, characters, and world. NC of course has the best world out of all of them but slow pacing, CG has the best characters with a less imaginative world, and Caraval doesn’t have the best character development. CG for sure has the best balance between the three, as it is a fantasy novel based on Russia and the Ottoman empire, imagining if magic was present in the time. Caraval, although having brilliant pacing and a great setting, didn’t have the characters to back it up. It starts off great – we have two sisters, a ruthless father, and a charming sailor. Yet there isn’t much development, and starts off as slightly stereotypical; one sister is the responsible ‘boring’ one who just wants to save her sister, whereas the other is more adventurous, flirtatious and reckless. A pretty classic format that the author doesn’t really try to deviate from until the very end, so hopefully that means the sequel will have some serious character development. I’ll admit, the ending puts a new spin to what has happened throughout the book which adds to the overall effect, but I wish there had been something more sooner.

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I gave all books 4 stars and above, as let’s face it: the competitive magic format just works. I loved all three and each of them has shown me different ways a great book can be – and all three have stunning covers. NC with it’s great colour way and character detail, CG with its dramatic crown, and Caraval with it’s secretive design underneath the dust jacket, of which there are four different designs that you can get. I’d recommend them all to anyone who is a fan or who wants to try a new fantasy, depending on what you love. For fast pace, magical fun with plenty of twists, go with Caraval. For a slower and more imaginative read, with stunning descriptions and characters that will take your heart, go with Night Circus. And finally, for a plot that will make you scream at the ending and and characters that make you lose your mind, go with The Crown’s Game.

 

November Wrap Up

It happened – I finally hit 50 books. This means that although 2016 was a complete mess in general, at least I was successful when it came to reading. Thank God.

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First up was Throne of Jade, the second book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. Just like the first one, I absolutely adored the main characters – the relationship between Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, is just perfect. However it took my a long time to get through this book, only partly due to university obligations. I just found that although I adored the characters, I didn’t need to know anything more. The plot isn’t exactly fast paced, and with a multiple book series I think it could have benefitted with a more gripping narrative. So although I did like it, I’m not incited to read the rest of the series.

Then I had the true joy of reading Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, a childhood book that I had never read before and it’s been on my list for years. Unexpectedly, it was even better than I imagined it could be – and has definitely inspired an upcoming post about children’s books. A lovely story, a sarky narrator, and magical realism alongside the real magic. Sweet, charming, and just a brilliant read – helped greatly by a great edition with gorgeous pictures.

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Then I read Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, which I ended up giving three stars. Based on a Russian folklore, this story is crazy beyond belief without much clarity. If you ever pick it up, I’d highly recommend reading up on the folklore beforehand, as the story makes very little sense without it – unlike other modern takes on fairytales, such as Novik’s Uprooted. I didn’t anticipate one of the twists at the end which was a great surprise that I enjoyed, but overall I think the book could have benefitted with some more character work as I didn’t actually like the two main characters, Vassa and Erg.

I then read a YA book about witches, called The Graces. Very easy to read, I finished it in a few short days and, although it was intended to be YA, it read more like teenage fiction. However the final twist at the end was also hugely unexpected, and I loved it once I realised all the clues that had been dropped through the narrative. Apart from that, the overall story was a bit simplistic and it was like Twilight but with witches. Essentially, the setting is a new girl in town at a school where there is this family rumoured to be witches that always hang out together and are super popular and everyone adores them. Every girl in school is in love with the boy character, including the protagonist, but she gets close to them and pretends that she isn’t in love with him, whereas she’s completely obsessed. Thought it would have been brilliant if this was played up a bit more, so the reader is completely turned off and even concerned about the main character and her obsession, but that doesn’t come to pass. Still, a fun, easy read.

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Finally, I read Fire Inside You by Jennifer L Armentrout and, as I usually do with her books, read it in one sitting. There’s not much I really feel like I need to say – Armentrout has a great style of keeping you hooked, dropping lines at every chapter end that make you think ‘Ok, after the next chapter I’ll stop’. She makes her characters likeable and overall it’s just lovely to read.

That means I’m on 51 for the year! I’m so excited that I met the goal, and have already planned a new challenge for next year which I’ll announce with my December Wrap Up. I’m currently on book 52, but it’s not taking priority at the moment as I focus on getting my university work done and dusted before Christmas. Best of luck to any of you attempting a reading challenge, let’s do well in something this year.