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.

 

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.

Book Covers

I think we all know the phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’, used in reference not only to books but to people, telling you that it’s what’s on the inside that counts – and this is very true. You shouldn’t judge by what’s on the outside, as a brilliant book may well have a really terrible cover. However, that doesn’t mean that I stop buying books that have beautiful covers – even when I don’t really know what it’s about.

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In reference to books, when someone chastises me for buying one due to its pretty cover, quite often they’ll use that phrase, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. “It could be awful”, a very true statement. “The cover shouldn’t factor – it doesn’t matter in comparison”, and that is where I disagree completely. See, some people forget that it’s someone’s job to design that cover to fit the book and to appeal to their targeted audience. Someone has put in blood, sweat, and tears to make that cover something great so that you, the reader, pick it up. A cover is meant to attract people to it. It’s not the blurb that catches your eye from across the room, it’s the gorgeous cover. It’s supposed to reel you in to get you to read the blurb and flick through the first pages. A book cover is meant to not only capture the book, but enrapture you, so that as you make your way towards it you entertain fantasies of what that beautiful book will look like on your shelf.

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Not to mention that most book covers are more than simple pretty pictures or designs. There are often little hidden gems within them – take V.E Schwab’s Shades of Magic series. When you look at all three books together, there are little details that are meant to open up your imagination about the books. For the US covers, it’s the use of maps, for the UK covers it’s the changing coloured circles on each cover that change as the series progresses, showing a clever continuation that relates to what happens in the books.

There have been many occasions where I’ve picked up a book purely for the cover, and I have even bought a book that I already owned just because it had a different cover that was just stunning. There has even been an instance where I bought a book barely glancing at the blurb, as the cover was just so appealing for me. Called The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky, I saw it at work with it’s tribal wolf in this shiny gold emboss which pictures really can’t capture. It probably helps that I adore dogs and, so by default, also love wolves, so any cover with a wolf on I’m eager to buy, but this particular book was just too angelic to walk past.

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BEHOLD THE BEAUTY

And that’s what we want! That means that the book designer has done their job in following the outlines of the publisher. It is the publisher who will give the designer ideas, such as colour ways or images etc that they think sums up the book, and then the designer has something to play around with. The marketing is a complete success if you actually like the cover and it draws you in. Because at the end of the day, this is one of the big factors of why people buy physical copies of books. It’s the feel of them in their hands, the smell, and the pleasing cover – it’s the whole experience, beautifully packaged, which makes physical books so marvellous.

And that, my friends, is why when it comes to books, it is absolutely ok, in my opinion, to buy a book for its cover.

A Darker Shade of Magic/A Gathering of Shadows by V.E Schwab

An actual book review! Man it’s been a while – so to make up for that, I’m doing a two-for-one sort of deal. I had been meaning to pick up A Darker Shade of Magic for almost a year after all the brilliant reviews it received. Then, when I finally do pick it up, I finish it in under two days, head straight back out to buy the sequel A Gathering of Shadows, and finish that within 24 hours. It so shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that this is going to be a very positive review.

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https://www.instagram.com/stammydodger/

Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…

For spoiler reasons, I won’t post a blurb of the second book.

The first book I read by V.E Schwab was Vicious (read review here) and I loved it, so it’s surprising it took me this long to pick up this series. The world Schwab has created is enchanting and, with no better word for it, magical. Set throughout parallel worlds, all in London, we meet Kell who can travel between all three of these Londons which he has nicknamed: Red London, White London, and Grey London. We know that there used to be a Black London, but that’s all you do know going in. Grey London is supposedly the London of our world, as in the reality, without magicians and abilities and all of those marvellous things.

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Schwab’s imagination knows no bounds, and the way she’s conjured up this world (or worlds) as well as weaving an intricate plot, not to mention the fantastic characters, is just incredible. She is definitely the kind of author I want to be one day, and not just because she writes fantastic fantasy.

Kell is one of those characters that you feel inclined to love, although it isn’t until about halfway when you realise that you do actually love and adore him. He’s the definite hero of the book, and his heroine/ally/antagonist/the best person ever is Delilah Bard, the magnificent (otherwise known as Lila). A cross-dressing thief with dreams of being a pirate, I’m not quite sure how you can’t like the guarded, wary Lila. She is everything you want in an heroine, from her stubbornness to her determination to tackle everything head on. She isn’t helpless, she isn’t vulnerable, and she most certainly doesn’t need saving.

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Then there comes the charming, wonderful Rhy that you can’t help but adore. Man, I just want to live in Red London and meet these people before setting sail with Lila. It’s just a book (well, both of them) that sucks you in until, before you know it, you’ve finished it and are going crazy on the internet trying to discover when the next one is coming out. My only critique might be the few Americanisms that pop out at you which, for an English reader expecting to be firmly grounded in parallel Londons, it’s distracting.

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So, if like me, you like fantasy and a book including cross-dressing, pirates, thieves, magicians, and parallel worlds sounds appealing, then this is the one for you. Also, if you know when the third one comes out, hit me up.

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Book Resolutions

I made a post of my twin blog (alwayslovetowrite) about my resolutions this year, and one of those was to read 50 books. I wanted to take this moment to mention a few things about what I hope to do in the near future with this blog.

It’s not a secret that I started up this blog just so that I could have a space where I talk about books and all things book-y. If I had the guts, I would start up a Youtube channel and join the ‘Booktube’ community, but the thought of some people watching me on Youtube makes me feel ill – along with the fact that I tried it once, and when I look back at the videos today I do, indeed, feel very, very ill.

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Anyway, avoiding conversations about how ill I feel, my goal for this blog was to reach a point where I had enough followers and subscribers that I could reach out to publishers and request copies of books to review. If successful, not only would I save some money (every book lover and student’s dream), but it would mean I will have reached a point where my blog and my thoughts are deemed important enough to facilitate.

That’s why, this year, I hope to start accumulating more followers – which means, on my side of things, I need to make a serious effort and dedication to keep everyone reading interested. I want to be the person proud to ‘plug’ their blog because they think it’s good, rather than just forcing all my friends to click that follow button to help me out. I think that’s one of the reasons that I don’t ever post my blog on facebook – I mean, sure, I’ll shove it into my description on Twitter and Instagram, but other than that I try not to draw attention to it. I want to know that people are reading it because they chose to, not out of obligation to my incessant ‘plugging’.

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Back to resolutions, I’m going to try and keep you all updated on how I’m getting on – and get some reviews to you as well. I already owe you a review for ‘Neverwhere’ by Neil Gaiman (it’s good, people) and ‘A Little Life’ (it’s sad, people) although the latter may or may not be appearing on a friend’s website, but I’ll keep you posted.

So far this year, I’ve finished ‘A Little Life’, ‘The Little Prince’, ‘The Score’ and am currently reading ‘A Moveable Feast’. After I’ve finished this by Hemingway, I’m going on to ‘The Martian’ which I am ridiculously excited for and not at all embarrassed that I bought it for my Mum for Christmas 1. Because I knew it was a great book and 2. Because I wanted to read it. If I manage to finish the Martian this month, that would mean a total of 5 books (Despite the fact that ‘The Little Prince’ was very short). That sounds like progress to me, alright.

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Finally, I want to know what you think. So let me know what you want to see from me – be that reviews, posts about kindles, discussions on reviewing books for websites (man do I have stories about bad books from that), or other odd posts, such as the previous best booky gifts.

Good luck to you all for the New Year, especially if you’ve set your own book goal – let’s make it a good one.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

‘Original’ is a word I really don’t like, mainly because it’s the word my lecturers use. ‘Try and have an original idea’, ‘All you have to do is have something original’, ‘You need something original’. I mean, what even is original? I want to say yes, of course, let me just grab my hat of original ideas and pull one out for you. Is anything really original any more? Most books and films and essays and what-nots have been inspired by other books and films and essays and what-nots. You can’t stop yourself from being influenced or inspired by something.

This is the mindset I approach when reading most books. As a writer and a reader, I’m always interested to see if I can see what inspired them or what the book is like. For example, earlier this year I read Vicious by V.E Schwab and in my review I mentioned how incredible it was to recognise the retelling of Frankenstein. Then you have Frankenstein itself which is inspired by the myth of Prometheus. Everything is just one beautiful cycle.

Then came Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children;, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

I’ve been meaning to pick up this book for a while, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for over a month now. As it’s main genre is ‘horror’ (at least, that’s where we shelve it at work), I decided it would be a great read for Halloween – and that’s the day that I finished it, funnily enough.

The book astounded me, to put it lightly. I just found it so clever, and mesmerising, and enchanting, and just beautiful. The writing is fantastic, and the concept of the book is just so, dare I say original, that I just fell in love with it. However I was completely unaware that all of the weird and wonderful photos that are spattered throughout the book are actually real. Yes, the photo of a girl floating and the baby levitating are real. And somehow, Ransom Riggs collected all of these marvellous photos and managed to weave together a story out of them. It’s just so incredibly imaginative and new and exciting. I want to meet the author just to shake his hand and tell him that I think he’s a genius and one day I want to be him. Well, like him, but you get the idea.

I seem to be getting into the habit of not knowing that much about the books I start to read. All I knew for this one is that it was about children who had some kind of gifts, like X-Men, and it was classed at Waterstones as horror. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as I started the book, but as soon as you start to see photos and hear descriptions of the peculiar children you’re completely swept away. There is also a later concept introduced in the book called a ‘loop’, and so I don’t spoil anything I just want to say to those of you who do know the book: how bloody clever an idea was that? Again, I just want to say that Ransom Riggs is a genius. And I want his talent.

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the protagonist of the book. There were times where I wanted to like him, but most of the time I just wanted to yell at him. He just annoyed me for some reason, the exact justification for it still unknown to me, but that didn’t particularly detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel. Usually for me, if I don’t like the main character I’m set against the whole book. I think it was probably because this book doesn’t feel just like Jacob’s journey to discovery, but our own. I was desperate to know about his grandfather’s history for my own benefit, not Jacob’s. Never mind whatever drama you’re dealing with, let’s just keep exploring and – no, Jacob, why are you going back to town? Get your arse out of bed and go find out what’s going on because I swear if you whine one more time I’m going to find my way into the book and shake some sense into you.

If you’re interested at all in a book like this, and even if you’re not, you should read it. The photos really add such depth to the book, and for moments I can’t help but puzzle over what their true story is – Ransom sells this story, so I like to think that something similar actually happened. At least one thing is for sure – if there is such a thing as an original idea, this is it.

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.