February Wrap Up

I had anticipated a very bad wrap up for this month considering university work, but I’m happy to say that I did good this month (well, for me).

So we start off the month with an easygoing Kindle flick called Legend which I thought was perfectly enjoyable, thank you very much. A solid three stars from me. Then I hit perhaps my earliest reading slump out of all my years due to the book Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott. Now maybe that’s a bit mean and I’m sure plenty of people will like this book, but it just really was not for me. Admittedly there were parts that I enjoyed, which is why I gave it two stars, but the supposedly strong female heroine of the novel was pretty wishy-washy in my opinion. For those of you who don’t know, this is a historical romance (fiction) which is about the woman who is in Leonardo Da Vinci’s first portrait. I have read almost no historical fiction, so going in I was excited to see if I liked this, but found that I didn’t like it at all. I would have far preferred to see more of Leonardo himself in the book and the character Sancha, who was far more interesting than the main character. There was a great piece of imagery in the prologue of ‘excuse me, I am a mountain tiger’ with the comment on the juxtaposition of ‘excuse me’ to that of the unfaltering ‘mountain tiger’. It intrigued me, and I wish that it would have held that edge throughout. I may also be a little bit biased as well, due to the fact that I didn’t particularly like the cover of this book at all but did like the hardback book underneath which had a small embossed tiger on it. Much nicer.

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After that I decided that I was going to read something that’s been on my ‘to be read’ shelf for a long long long time, and that was The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I had only read one other of his books, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which I enjoyed but didn’t think it was brilliant. Yet every time I mentioned this to someone, particularly customers buying his books, I was almost hit on several occasions by outraged fans of his, on account of the fact that I didn’t start with his Chaos Walking trilogy. Welp, I started it, and did enjoy it but found it all a bit confusing and overwhelming to start with. You’re thrown into the middle of everything, with no clue what’s going on or what’s happening or anything really, and the main character is just as stumped as you are. You turn a few pages and think ‘huh?’ so turn a few more, think ‘I’m even more confused’, a few more ‘what the eff?’ and so it goes on.

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Next up is The Time Machine by H.G. Wells thanks to the inclusion of it in the February Owlcrate (which you can find a review of below this post), and I was glad to read a proper Sci-Fi classic for a change. I probably should have been able to finish it in a day, but I admit it did take two. And of course I listened to the audiobook of the first Harry Potter book this month, and finished it around this point in the month – and it was great fun. Loved Stephen Fry’s narration of it, especially impressed with all of his different voices, and I’m starting the second one immediately. After that I entered the biggest reading marathon of my life, and that was when I finally bought a copy of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E Schwab. I mean, wow. Once again, I love fantasy – and it’s because I can read books that include cross-dressing, pirates, magicians, thieves, and all of it set across parallel Londons. There’s nothing like reading about a place where you live and know about – I absolutely loved it. So much so that I went out the next day as soon as I finished it and bought the sequel, which I finished yesterday on the 1st of March so I’m not counting it in this wrap up. Still, brilliant, brilliant, absolutely smashing. Read it. Five stars without fail.

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So, drumroll please…that means that I read five ‘proper’ books this month (yes I’m counting the audiobook, that took over eight hours of my time) and six in total. That means my overall total is 11/50 for my reading challenge and fourteen overall, which I’m incredibly proud of.

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I’ve found that I can finish the books I buy on my Kindle within a day, sometimes two if I really need to get some sleep. When it comes to ‘proper’ physical books, I find that it takes me a lot longer. Normally it can take me anything from one week to one month, depending on how much work I’ve got to do and whether or not I actually like the book. Although as well as reading the book, I’ll often have a couple books on my Kindle at the go. Then I discovered a beautiful book called Uprooted by Naomi Novik with an absolutely stunning cover, and luckily my Dad followed through and bought me a copy for Christmas. I picked it up towards the end of January, on a Thursday night, and by Saturday night (or, should I say, Sunday at 1am) I had finished it. Seeing as I had university on Friday and work all day Saturday, it was pretty impressive.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

One thing I have to say is that you can’t really tell how beautiful the cover of the book is from the above photo, as it has shiny bits which are really very underrated these days. I know everyone goes on about not judging a book by its cover, but when a book is this beautiful you just have to get it. It would be wrong not to.

Inspired by old legends and folk tales, this book is everything you could possibly wish for in a fantasy book. I knew almost nothing about this book outside of the blurb, but with a wizard called Dragon and an enemy in ‘The Wood’, how could I resist? Although I did have Meryl Streep’s voice saying ‘Into the Wood’ every time it was mentioned.

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Agnieszka is an interesting heroine, and we’re introduced to her with the belief that she isn’t the heroine, just the girl we follow. In her world, the wizard Dragon takes a girl every ten years to serve him – not that anyone knows what he truly needs from these girls or, shall I say, what he takes. Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia is the girl who everyone believes the Dragon will take this time around, but as is revealed in the blurb – and what you can probably guess without even starting the story – ‘it is not Kasia he will take with him’.

The concept of having the mysterious Wood as the enemy was fantastic and worked brilliantly, and having a kind of anti-heroine in Agnieszka was wonderful to read – she isn’t the most beautiful, or the most talented, but ends up being the ‘chosen one’. There’s not much more I can say without spoiling the book, but I will say that there is a reason I finished it in three nights – the combination of a brilliant, intricate plot, wonderfully dynamic characters, and a beautiful writing style made this one of my favourite books.

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SPOILER SECTION – I will not reveal the end, but there are a few topics I’d like to discuss which will spoil parts of the book. You have been warned.

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It’s safe to say that I adored this book, but there was a particular element that didn’t work for me. But let’s start with the positives first. Kasia easily became my favourite character, which was quite the surprise to how I felt at the beginning. Clearly Agnieszka is the one you prefer at the beginning, being the clutzy girl who isn’t all that interesting. After she’s chosen, she soon becomes this surprisingly powerful, but still stubborn, character that you still love, but Kasia’s development as a character was stunning to watch. She starts off as the ‘perfect’ one, but after the Wood takes her everything seems to change. Naomi Novik was very clever in revealing Kasia’s flaws, and I especially loved the jealousy of Agnieszka that is revealed. As the story goes on and Kasia has her new-found gift thanks to the Wood, she turns into this strong – physically and mentally – woman who is ready to fight for friendship and protect those she loves. In all honesty, I just want a Kasia side story to read, a novella will do – just something, please Naomi?

Now onto the part that I didn’t like. I do firmly give this book 5 stars, but in honesty I think I’d give it 4.8 stars if that was possible. Although I grew to love the moody Dragon, in no way did I enjoy the romance that was added between him and Agnieszka. Their first ‘romantic encounter’ was not even the slightest romantic, and felt entirely forced like it couldn’t be helped as they were consumed by their magic yada yada. I absolutely understand where Naomi was going with it, what with the connection formed by doing joint magic, but the relationship between these two characters didn’t need to progress to a romantic one. At no point did it feel natural or comfortable, and I would have far preferred it if the romance was left out entirely. Perhaps if there were a few softer moments, such as a calmer scene between the two, but all we have are a few scenes that don’t even escalate to being a romantic scene; one second they’re practising magic and the next they’re kissing and Dragon is playing out the standard mysterious love interest trope of saying that it’s not right, he’s not good for her, she needs to stay away from him, he’s trying to protect her blah blah, ok, right-o, we get it, move on.

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Apart from that, I stand by my opinion that this book was beautifully woven together and artfully told, with a new, interesting plot with legends and tale adaptations that were new to me and great to read.

Vicious by V.E Schwab

I’ve been meaning to review this ever since I finished it, but was sidetracked by my university reading – the first book of which is Frankenstein that I finished about three minutes ago. And I’m very glad I chose to read it, one of the reasons being that I realised how V.E Schwab uses the story of Frankenstein in her book.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same ambition in each other. A shared interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl with a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the arch-nemeses have set a course for revenge but who will be left alive at the end?

I will just say now, that I will have a short spoiler section at the end of this review, but there will be plenty of warning before you see it. I’ll also be talking about Frankenstein in this section.

Are we surprised this is yet another fantasy novel? No. Probably should rename this blog ‘alwayslovetoreadalotoffantasy’. Back to the book, Vicious is the superhero book I’ve always wanted to read (and write). I’ve always loved the concept of superheroes, ever since watching The Incredibles when I was a child up until recently reading All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. Vicious is a book about superheroes for adults – and the term ‘superheroes’ is one I use loosely, particularly the ‘heroes’ part.

This book turns every idea you have about superheroes on its head. It turns the concept of who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’, who the ‘hero’ is and who the ‘villain’ is, completely upside down. The book follows Eli and Victor, who start off as friends and become enemies. The layout of the novel is gripping, jumping back and forth between the past and present to slowly unravel what the hell is actually going on and how it got to this point. You see Eli and Victor as teenagers, full of curiosity and ambition, then the next page you see them as adults, entirely vengeful.

Not only do you have such complex main characters, but the ‘sidekicks’ all have their intricate backgrounds and even more interesting abilities. I loved seeing the different relationships, especially that of the sisters and how their abilities affected their relationship. I don’t want to say so much more on this, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to spoil it.

Which means, it’s time for some spoilers. Along with some Frankenstein context. For those of you stopping here though, if you enjoy anything fantasy, with action, revenge, and fantastic characters – this is the book for you.

Continue reading “Vicious by V.E Schwab”

The Final Empire: Mistborn Book 1

One thing that I adore about going on holiday is the complete isolation from technology – which, I’ll admit, I sometimes love but sometimes don’t. For the past 10 days I’ve been lucky enough to be in France with my parents sunbathing and, more importantly, reading. 5 books later, I’m here to tell you about one of them that stood out and I don’t feel has had enough recognition.

It’s not often that I come across a book which reminds me why I love reading so much and also makes me want to write something in the hopes that it will be as great as this one. Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy trilogy overturns the expectations of readers and then goes on to tell the epic story of evil overturned in a richly imagined world.

A thousand years ago evil came to the land and has ruled with an iron hand ever since. The sun shines fitfully under clouds of ash that float down endlessly from the constant eruption of volcanoes. A dark lord rules through the aristocratic families and ordinary folk are condemned to lives in servitude, sold as goods, labouring in the ash fields.

But now a troublemaker has arrived and there is rumour of revolt. A revolt that depends on criminal that no-one can trust and a young girl who must master Allomancy – the magic that lies in all metals.

I know, I know, yet another fantasy but bear with me, you won’t regret it. At least, I hope you won’t.

The blurb on the back of the book gives away a lot less than the one above does – which I found on Amazon for those of you who are curious, though I don’t see why you would be – and the main message is ‘What if the dark lord won?’. That was the line that got my attention.

Sanderson creates this world that feels almost apocalyptic in nature, with ash constantly falling from the sky and the thought of a blue sky being ridiculous. You’re introduced to a clear divide between the noblemen, who are said to have sided with this novel’s own dark lord, the Lord Ruler, and the Skaa, the people who have essentially been forced into slavery and poverty.

However, there are whispers of rebellion by a particularly charming troublemaker who enlists the help of a mismatched group of friends and a Skaa thief, who is worth a lot more than you might first think.

Upon starting this book, I basically knew nothing. It came up as a recommendation for me and a particular book reviewer I like mentioned it as one of her favourite fantasy reads. How could I resist? I’ll have to admit, though, that I read this as quickly as I anticipated. The first part of the novel focuses on introducing you to the setting, characters and several story lines (along with some seriously fantastical elements). As I had no clue where it was all going, I could appreciate that it was well written and imaginative but it didn’t grip me.

I was so unprepared for part two.

Oh my goody gumdrops did that take off. The book is separated into several different parts, and I think it’s just so you can take a breather. The action scenes are so fast paced and exciting that I was literally on the edge of my seat, biting my fingernails, desperate to see what would happen. So many twists and turns, surprises around every corner, to the point that if someone tried to talk to me I had to shoo them away because I seriously did not have time for any interruptions. Part One may have taken me a while to get through, but once I hit that first action scene? Jeez, I read as fast as I could turn pages.

I’m forcing myself to stay away from spoilers, but I still want to give you some ideas as to what you might find within this fantastic book. First of all there’s a great development within a young female character, and as you read on you feel some serious awesome vibes from her.

The ‘magic’ within the novel, called Allomancy, had me confused at it’s first demonstration but, once it was explained later on all I could think was wow, that’s clever. Serious respect for Brandon Sanderson at this point, and I’m ordering the sequels as I write. I’ve always been curious as to what would happen if the ‘bad side’ won, and to see this idea as to what could happen was just brilliant to read.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I absolutely recommend this book without hesitation to anyone interested in fantasy whatsoever. It’s just so clever and good and the twists had me screaming, crying, or just holding up my hands to scream ‘WHY?!’. Basically, you should go read it.

Seriously though.

Go.

READ IT.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Fairytales. I love them. Why wouldn’t you love a place where if you somehow fit yourself into a rabbit hole, you end up in a new world or where it doesn’t matter if you die because some charming bloke might come along, give you a kiss and hey presto, you’re alive and now have a perfect boyfriend? Needless to say, I’ve always loved a good disney movie or magical tale where good (almost always) triumphs and everyone is happy happy happy.

There is, however, something I love even more – and that is modern adaptations and the retelling of fairytales. You recognise some of the elements, but only as a background thought because you truly have no idea how it’s going to end. Ok, so those films like Snow White and the Huntsman or Maleficent and the like are pretty standard in their adaptations, in the sense that you still know the characters and pretty much what’s going to happen. However, there are very few books that can do a fairytale retelling and make you forget that that’s what it is. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Written by the brilliant Sarah J. Maas, known for her fantastic Throne of Glass series, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast is fantastically brilliant. My favourite books that include faeries, or ‘The Fae’, still remain as the Iron King series by Julie Kagawa, most likely due to the fact that they were among the first I read so I have some nostalgia for them. Sarah J. Maas, however, has definitely claimed her place among my favourite reads, let alone favourite Fae reads. She has a perfect blend of fantasy and magic with action, adventure with that sprinkle of romance to whisk you away to another world. Her writing style is just beautiful with exquisite detail that maintains this fast pace into this new world. She builds up each scene until you’re flipping through the pages at the speed of light, devouring every word.

Feyre is a great lead character but clearly has a lot of room for development for the next books in the trilogy. Her circumstances force her to be a Katniss-like figure, hunting in the dangerous woods and providing for her family where there are other fairytale elements – for example, her two sisters almost act like the typical ‘evil stepsisters’ but in a much more realistic way. Instead of just insults and jeers, there is a complex background and history to their family relationships which only brings the story to life.

As said in the blurb, Feyre (I think it’s pronounced Fay-rah, but I’ll get back to you on that one) is taken to magical, yet sinister, Fae realm/territory and her captor’s face is covered by a strange mask. From here, you delve into a strange mystery with new plot twists at every chapter. Maas adds elements to the story like logs to a fire, so where you started with a small flame you’re left with a raging bonfire as the tale builds and builds.

I read this book in one sitting, unsurprisingly, and would definitely recommend to anyone interested in fantasy and mystery. It transforms any notions of faeries being small and sparkly people with wings and fairy dust into these terrifying, ruthless monsters that use trickery to cause pain for their viewing pleasure. A brilliant read and an easy five stars from me.

The Night Circus

Every now and then you come across a book that reminds you why it is that you adore reading. A few of my friends had recommended The Night Circus so I’d bought it, yet it remained on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf for quite a while. I picked it up just before exams and so read the first few chapters before having to put it down again, leaving the rest as a post-exam reward. Honestly, I had no idea what I was expecting when I started this book – all I knew was that it was a circus that travelled around the world, open only at night. Personally, I think that was possibly the best way to approach this masterpiece of a book.

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:

Opens at Nightfall

Closes at Dawn

As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.

Le Cirque des Rêves

The Circus of Dreams.

Now the circus is open.

Now you may enter.

This blurb perfectly prepares you for the fantastical world you’re about to discover, filled with mystery and intrigue. If I had to sum this book up with one word, it would be ‘enchanting’. I’m wary of saying anything more about the actual plot of the novel, as really it’s about discovering for yourself and trying to figure out what on earth is going on as you read.

I think my favourite thing about this book is the world that Erin creates. When I do my own writing, I often struggle to add enough detail about a particular scene and gloss over minor details – clearly, this is not something Erin Morgenstern does. Every setting is filled with enough description to help you visualise such a wondrous place, yet not so much that it deters you from reading more. I think it’s a combination of the imaginative scenes, the wonderful characters and that constant element of mystery which allow this book to be such a masterpiece.

I would recommend this book to anyone, and especially if you’re interested in a little bit of magic or fantasy. I know that I’ve barely said anything about this book other than how great it is, but that’s because I don’t want to ruin it for other readers! With something like The Night Circus, you just need to go pick it up and read it to see for yourself, then shove it in everyone’s face and scream, ‘You must read this book!’.

So, Miss Morgenstern, I bestow upon you five glimmering, fantastical stars – and also a request that this is made into a movie. Please.