Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Rest-Of-Winter TBR

When I finished Three Dark Crowns over the weekend, I found myself paralysed by indecision over my next read.  I think in part because I acquired a fair few books over the Christmas period but also because  Three Dark Crowns was a bit of a disappointment.  Usually I get a pretty good gut feeling about what I'm in the mood for but I couldn't work it out. I ended up starting Bird Box by Josh Malerman, which is definitely very readable and had the advantage of being on my Kindle so I could read it when I woke up earlier than Boyfriend and had to try and read in the gloom...

All of that faff prompted me to whittle down a pile of books that I definitely want to get to over what's left of the Winter so that hopefully when I've finished Bird Box, I don't have as much of a dawdle over my next read...links are to GoodReads.

1.  The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan - I've been re-reading the Wheel of Time series over the course of the past year or so and I've loved each one even more than I did the first time. Maybe because I've since read more fantasy or maybe because of the nostalgia over teen me discovering the fantasy genre.  This fourth book, though, has been a bit of a looming figure for my re-read.  At over 1,000 pages, it's the longest book in the series and was one that I remember dragging a bit. I definitely want to keep on with the series though and the Winter will be a great time for facing down the slightly daunting page count.

2.  The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon - Why yes, this one is in the list mostly for its title.  It's also a literary/historical thriller, though, about a mother found dead in a field shortly after the tragic death of her daughter and a diary discovered by a modern day inhabitant of the house that seems to offer clues to what happened.  I bought this recently and it sounds perfect for a snowy weekend.

3.  The Unseen World by Liz Moore - This book has been all over BookTube recently and it sounds right up my street.  It's about a woman whose father gives her a floppy disk when he is diagnosed with Alzheimer's that supposedly contains secrets about her father's life.  It's set in the 80s and I'm definitely sucked in by the hype.

4.  Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama - I'm not going to lie, I bought this almost solely because it had pink end papers and looked cool.  It's a translated Japanese mystery that actually does sound pretty great ("SIX FOUR. THE NIGHTMARE NO PARENT COULD ENDURE. THE CASE NO DETECTIVE COULD SOLVE. THE TWIST NO READER COULD PREDICT" - call me convinced by Caps Lock).

5.  Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs - I read the first two books in the trilogy last year and I really want to finish the series before I lose momentum.  Also, I promised my mum she could borrow my copy when I'm done so I feel as though I should play fair and get to it soonish.

6.  The Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor - I read the first in the St Mary's time-travelling unit adventure-type series last year and it was just so much fun.  Sure, they're a bit overly simplified and they can feel rushed but Hanna's on the third one and I want to keep on with them too so this can be one for when I'm looking for an easy read.

7.  Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Brian Stevenson - I want to try and branch out a bit this year and read some more non-fiction (I currently read basically none...).  This is one I picked up last year that's about race and justice in the US legal system, written by a black lawyer who has struggled with the system for years.  It sounds very relevant to current political issues and frankly if I can't get into a non-fiction that's based on law, I'm not really sure what I'll be able to get into.

And that's it! My tentative TBR list for what's left of the Winter.  In future months, I'll probably go with 10 but seeing as we're already part way through the season, I'm just going to go with 7.  What books are you hoping to pick up in what's left of the chilly season?

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Review: 'Crooked Kingdom' by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

**This is the second book in the Six of Crows duology - so that I can bleat about this to as many people as possible, there aren't any spoilers in this review for either this or Six of Crows so unless you're particularly cautious about that type of thing and don't even want to know which characters are still around in Crooked Kingdom, you're safe!  If you decide not to read on, please just know this: this is one of the best books I've read this year and a new favourite.  The series is a triumph and one that should be held up to the naysayers about how amazing YA fantasy can be when done really, really well.

I really enjoyed Six of Crows when I read it in September last year and it really stuck in my head after I'd finished it (something I find quite rare with YA fantasy).  I decided to make the most of the momentum, ignore the hefty page count of Crooked Kingdom and just read it.  It turned out to be one of my better decisions of the year and I've been banging on about it ever since.  Six of Crows is a great book; Crooked Kingdom is just something else.  Outstanding.  I don't have the words to express just how much I adored this book (although that won't stop me trying).

The plot carries on almost straight from where Six of Crows left off and the pace is relentless. In the best, dark and brooding kind of way.  The story continues to be told in multiple perspectives, with narratives shifting to keep readers wrong-footed and to disguise those parts of the plot that the reader isn't privy to.  Not in a way that you notice at the time but in a way that means that when the twist comes, you're just as stunned as everybody else.  The writing and plotting is so clever and I would absolutely never have guessed that it was written by the same author that penned the Grisha trilogy book that I was so underwhelmed by if I hadn't known.  I have a lot of respect for Leigh Bardugo for writing a duology and not trying to drag the series out into a trilogy. Both books are tightly put together and nothing feels like filler.  Sure, I wish I'd been able to have more but only because I'm greedy and I loved the books so much.  I'd much rather be left wanting more than have had to tolerate a mediocre middle instalment that watered down this gut-wrenching finale.

And the characters! They're some of my absolute favourites. Not "for this year" or "for YA", my actual, all time, Hall of Favourites. Every single one of the main group is unique and is developed in a way that makes absolute perfect sense.  Their flaws are deeply rooted and they aren't the kind to be cured by a well-timed kiss or a motivational pep-talk.  Kaz Brekker breaks my heart.  Jesper's battle with a gambling addiction is so well written and his banter with Wylan makes me grin like an idiot.  Inej's struggles with what she's had to do to survive are quietly painful.  I hate when I start reading a book full of characters that have darker sides only to find that their quirks are ironed out over the course of the plot.  Not all of the characters got the ending that I so fervently hoped for while I was reading and yet I find that instead of being disappointed, I'm convinced that the endings that Bardugo chose are utter perfection.  I can't think of a single thing that I would have done differently.  I read the last 150 pages or so in one evening and I must have looked like a complete barmpot clutching the pages ridiculously hard, gasping, laughing and crying to myself.

I didn't start a new book properly for a good few days after I'd finished this one because I couldn't shake it off. I didn't want to read about new characters or fly straight into a new story.  I wanted to wallow in my feelings and cling to these characters. I still do, actually.  Every time I see the book in my living room (I haven't had the heart to ditch it back onto my 'Read' pile upstairs), I'm reminded of how bloody brilliant the whole thing was and how sad it is that I'll never get to read it for the first time again.  

Only one word of light warning on this one – if you haven't read the Grisha trilogy yet and do plan to, this book does have a pretty significant spoiler for the ending of that trilogy so you might want to get that finished before you get to this duology. Weirdly, now that I've read the ending to the trilogy, I am now tempted to go back and give it another try! 

Overall: I really don't think that I need to say anything here but honestly and really and truly, this book is so worth your money and your time.  It's one of the extremely few books that I can genuinely say that I might re-read at some point in the future.  If Leigh Bardugo writes anything else, I'll be pre-ordering it without a second thought.

Date finished:  15 December 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Fantasy fiction; YA
Pictured Edition Published: in September 2016 by Orion Children's Books
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

Monday, 2 January 2017

2016 End of Year Book Survey

This last month or so has flown and I can't believe that it's already 2017 and time to fill out Jamie's (from The Perpetual Page Turner) End of Year Book Survey!  I actually wasn't sure whether my brain was going to recover sufficiently today after a super late night to enable me to do this but I've vaguely rallied and answering questions about the books I read in 2016 seems like as good a way as any to stave off sleep until a more socially acceptable sleeping time.  Overall, I feel as though I've had a bloody good year personally (the less said about 2016's wider failings the better...).  I got engaged, travelled to some wonderful places (Japan being the major highlight!), got a new job that I'm loving and celebrated turning 30.  It's been fairly action-packed so blogging has fallen by the wayside a little but there are only so many hours in the day so that's just one of those things.

Number Of Books You Read:  53 books
Number of Re-Reads:  4 (which for me is a lot)
Genre You Read The Most From:  I couldn't say for certain but my guess would be fantasy.

Bonus facts!

Pages Read:  19,166 pages
Average rating:  3.8 out of 5 stars

1. Best Book You Read In 2016?

YA - Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (review coming soon)
Adult - it's tough because I have a few really solid contenders!  Either White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye or A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume in the Sandman comic series by Neil Gaiman.  I'd been expecting to love this because I've heard such great things about it but I really didn't like it.  I may still pick up the next volume but I'm not sure.
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik.  I picked it up after reading Katie's review and was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  It's clever and funny and so charming.  It's such a warm book and I adored it.  The world would be a better place if more people read and loved this book.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Haven't a clue, actually!
 5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

Same answer for all three questions - the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo.  I read and reviewed Six of Crows a few months ago and I recently finished up the series with Crooked Kingdom.  I have a review going up over the next few days but in short, I loved both books but it's Crooked Kingdom that is the real stand out.  
6. Favourite new author you discovered in 2016?

In graphic novels, Noelle Stevenson (both Nimona and Lumberjanes were so much fun).  More generally, I think Ransom Riggs.  I've read the first two novels in the Peculiar Children series this year and I love their quirky style.
7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

I read quite broadly and I can't think of anything much from this year that I really felt was outside my comfort zone.
 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman.  Which reminds me that I really need to get to Gemina!
9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I've recently started re-reading a bit (so far, only Harry Potter and the Wheel of Time series) but I won't be picking up anything from 2016 next year.
10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2016?

11. Most memorable character of 2016?

Kaz Brekker from the Six of Crows duology.  Most of the characters from that book for that matter!
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi is absolutely stunning.  The writing is incredible and I'm not sure how I can review it without doing more than just writing out quotes from it.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

Gosh, erm...A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.  It's a wonderful book (although I personally preferred Life After Life) that really spotlights the futility and wastefulness of war and it has a heck of an ending!  Not 'life-changing' but definitely thought-provoking.
14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read? 

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.  I've been meaning to read this for absolutely years and I wish I'd read it earlier.  There is definitely more Wyndham in my future.
15. Favourite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?
"One evening she pattered around inside me, sipping something strong that wedged colour into her cheeks, and she dragged all my windows open, putting her glass down to struggle with the stiffer latches. I cried and cried for an hour or so, unable to hear the sound of my voice, so shrill and pleading, but unable to stop the will of the wind wheeling through me, cold on my insides. That was the first and last time I've heard my own voice" [Page 23 of White is for Witching, told from the houses perspective]
16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?

The shortest was Lumberjanes: Volume 1 at 112 pages.  The longest book was The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss at 994 pages but technically I "read" that on audiobook.  Next up that I did read in physical form was The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber at a still not insignificant 845 pages.  I ran a readalong for this one earlier in the year and I adored it until the ending.  That ending still bugs me to high heaven.
17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough lived up to its 'WTF that ending' hashtag easily.  I have a review written that'll be up nearer to its release later in January.
18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Oof - a question that I always struggle with because romance is round about the least thing I'm bothered about in a book. Landline by Rainbow Rowell and the complex but so real feeling relationship between Georgie and Neil was achingly perfect though.
19. Favourite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

The friendship between Nimona and Ballister Blackheart in Nimona was super fun.  I was going to go for the captor-prisoner relationship of another of my five star reads of 2016, The Collector by John Fowles but that seemed a bit morbid so fun friendship it is!
20. Favourite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

That's got to be my re-read of Harry Potter.  I barely ever re-read but I decided to finally cave and read the script of Cursed Child but wanted to re-read the series first and I have loved going back to it.  I've read the first three in the series and am excited to get to Goblet of Fire soon.  It's my absolute favourite so it'll be a TREAT!  It also now turns out that I'll be lucky enough to see the show next year so the purpose of my re-read is now to read them all so that I can re-watch the films with the friend I'll be seeing the play with!
21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure

I would never have heard of White is for Witching if it hadn't been for Jean's BookTube channel, Jean's Bookish Thoughts, and it turned out to be one of my favourites of the year so that's as good an example as anything else.
22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

I can't thing of a single answer to this question so clearly none worth mentioning.
23. Best 2016 debut you read?

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs was the only 2016 debut I read, I think (I don't really keep track of debuts and the like very well...), but it was a corker so that's fine by me.
24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Ready to be bored by the same answer?  The world of the Six of Crows duology is sordid and dark and it feels incredibly real.  So, so much better than anything portrayed in the Grisha trilogy.
25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (and its predecessor) are action-packed and glorious.  Like reading myths and legends being spun out and so readable despite being incredibly long.
26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?

I literally always cry at books that are even the remotest bit sad.  I'm a crier.  I definitely properly cried at the end of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (bloody hell that book made me cry) and Crooked Kingdom but also a couple of moments from various Harry Potter instalments.  Oh, oh! And Illuminae.  Many tears at that one!
27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

According to GoodReads, the most obscure book that I read was The Jekyll Island Chronicles, Vol. 1: A Machine Age War.  It wasn't super stand-out but it was reasonable enough.  Nothing else that I read could really be classed as "hidden".
28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

A Tale for the Time Being gutted me in various places. It's an absolutely wonderful book and I just haven't a clue how to review it.  
29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

I'll resist the urge to write White is for Witching and instead go with The Collector, which even nearly a whole year later really stands out in my mind.  
30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber.  That book made me so bloody cross.  800 odd pages of impeccable writing and character building.  800 odd flipping pages of getting tangled up in the life of Sugar and becoming deeply involved in the story only to encounter a truly terrible ending.  Awful.  The book just stops.

As will this post!  Thanks to everybody who stopped by in 2016 - you're all fabulous!  Fingers crossed for a winning 2017!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

November Wrap-Up

Image credit
November has been super busy at work but I have had an excellent reading month. Work's been hectic and looks set to continue on that way for the rest of December but we've had a couple of quiet weekends that have been pleasantly chilly before the onslaught of Christmas parties and other festive activities so I've spent a good few hours curled up under a blanket reading. I'm super excited about Christmas and all of the merriment that comes with the season. I love Christmas! I love the decorations, the smell of mulled wine, getting to eat pigs in blankets on a regular basis, buying gifts for family members, socialising and just the general cheeriness. It's just my favourite :)

The Books

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (5*) - I think I was texting Hanna when she pointed out that I seemed to be on a bit of  good run with books. She was so right! I picked this one up on Hallowe'en while I was tucked up in the back of my house, reading by lamplight so that I wouldn't be bothered by trick or treat people and it is absolutely stunning.  The writing is incredible. I wrote so many quotes into my review notebook and I've yet to figure out how to review it without just typing out huge chunks of it.  The story follows a family who have lived in the same house for generations, a house that is very possessive over its inhabitants.  There are the odd excerpt from the perspective of the house and they're chilling.  I'll be writing about this soon hopefully but know for the time being that I loved it.  One of my favourite books of the year.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (5*) - Why have I left it so long before re-reading this series?!  I'm so enjoying being reunited with this set of characters.  I've been surprised about how much I remembered about the series but there have also been plenty of moments that I'd either forgotten or hadn't appreciated when I was younger/when I didn't know where the story was heading. 

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (4*) - Surprisingly, I've already reviewed this one so I won't say too much more about this one.  I really like the series and I've already got the last one in the trilogy, Library of Souls, lined up to get stuck into soon.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (3.5*) - The hashtag being used on Twitter for this book is #WTFthatending and I was intrigued enough that I requested a copy on NetGalley. It's a twisted sort of psychological thriller focussing on a psychiatrist, his wife and his secretary and it is so unbelievably addictive.  I sat down to read it last Sunday and flew through the whole thing in a day. I had to know what was going on. It was such a fun reading experience and I had a great day with the book (and I am so glad that I didn't have any plans). #WTFthatending indeed.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell (4*) - It's been a while since I picked up a Rainbow Rowell book. I've had this out from the library for months and I just didn't feel compelled to pick it up. I did finally get to it when I'd run out of renewal options from the library and I'm so glad I did.  Actually, late November was the perfect time to read it. This one sees Georgie and her husband Neal facing challenges in their marriage. It's a bit more grown up feeling than Rowell's other novels that I've read but I loved it for showing how "proper", non-romantic-comedy relationships take work and shouldn't be taken for granted.  Rowell also writes engaging dialogue like nobody else I've ever read and I love her books.

The Other Stuff

I've got back into the gym this month and have been alternating between circuits classes, spinning and yoga. I've joined a local, independently owned gym. It's more expensive than the big chains but I feel better supporting a business run by a lovely couple so I'm happy to commit the extra few pounds a month.  The spinning and the circuits I already knew I'd love because they're hard classes that I can do without putting too much pressure on my dodgy hip.  The yoga was completely new to me. I'm perhaps the clumsiest person I know and my balance is not so great. I thought I'd give yoga a go because it's something new and the class I go to is at 7.30am and I fancied a bit of relaxation as a start to the day once a week. I am terrible at a lot of the poses but after four classes, I do feel as though I'm starting to improve so I'm really going to try hard to stick it out and keep trying.

It was also Boyfriend's birthday in November so we did plenty of eating out and celebrating. We took a trip to one of James Martin's restaurants and had a night out in Manchester with friends and it was a lot of fun!

Looking back, it was actually a jolly good month!

Hope you all had super Novembers and are enjoying the run up to Christmas! I've been trying to keep an eye out for Christmas mysteries and had some great recommendations on Twitter but if you have any particularly good'uns, let me know in the comments please :)

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Review Minis: Recent Comic Reads

Paper Girls: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

I've heard a lot about Saga but I've never actually got started on that series (despite owning the first volume…). I was looking for some comics and graphic novels on NetGalley before a holiday earlier in the year and when I saw that this was on and by the man behind Saga, I figured it would be a reasonably safe bet. When I was reading it, I didn't have a clue what was going on (to be honest, I'm still not sure I do) but not in a way that annoyed me. This volume follows a group of paper girls who are out on their early morning round around Halloween. They're threatened by a group of young men and ultimately saved by a man in a weird looking costume. As said weird man is fleeing the scene, he drops a strange looking box that baffles the girls but is familiar to readers as an iPod.  The story gets and stays weird from there on in!  The group of girls are fun to read about but they haven't a clue what's going on in the world, where everybody has disappeared off to or what the devil they're supposed to do now.  Their confusion is readers' confusion and the panels racket about until the final few that hint at where the overarching story might be going.  The whole thing was completely bizarre but because I felt as though it was clearly setting the scene for a bigger story, I still enjoyed it.  It's difficult for me to know what else to say, really, given that this was such an unusual story.  It looks cool and the popping colours and art have a strong 80s vibe that's a lot of fun and packed full of nostalgia. A series I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for in future!

3 out of 5 stars for keeping me baffled but intrigued

Get your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery
The Jekyll Island Chronicles, Book One: A Machine Age War by Steve Nedvidek

Another NetGalley find, it was the alternate history spin in this graphic novel that drew me in.  It's set in the 1900s and features a host of historical figures, just not as we might know them.  As the story opens around World War I, we learn that Jekyll Island is a 'holiday' destination to the rich and influential (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Canegie and Ford all hanging out there at various points).  As it becomes apparent that the world isn't quite done pulling itself apart, the 'Jekyll Island Club' set about trying to track down those with the skills that could be used to combat emerging new enemies.  Their development of the heroes that they find and their forays into battling a lurking evil were entertaining enough.  Not necessarily particularly original but enjoyable to read.  It reminded me of a steampunk version of the X-Men to be honest so if that sounds like your thing, you'll probably enjoy this one.  I think the main thing that I felt that I was missing out on was knowledge of the American 'leads of industry' from the time. I knew the names most of the time but not necessarily what they were famous for and I don't doubt that there were references that I missed as a result.  It wasn't obstructive and it didn't detract from my face value enjoyment but maybe there's more to this for readers who are better versed in American history than I am.  I believe that this is the first in a series of six graphic novels and I liked this enough to give another one a go.  Especially if there's more of the lady whose name I've forgotten but who can conduct electricity!  The art and colour work really add to the vintage, steampunk feel and I liked the way drawing style and how it was more true-to-life than surreal (I feel as though there's a term for that that I just don't know...)

3.5 out of 5 stars for the cameos from British historical figures that I did recognise and for giving me a steampunk action fix!

Get your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

Fables: Volume 2 - Animal Farm by Bill Willingham 

The first volume of this series was actually the first comic book volume that I ever read and I loved it so I was curious to see how the second volume would fare now that I have a bit more graphic experimentation under my belt.  I was pretty jet-lagged when I finally picked it up and although it didn't quite manage to stave off the dreaded mid-afternoon sleep, it did a much better job than I expected and than a lesser volume might have done.  Where the first volume takes place in New York and focuses on those of the Fable outcasts that can blend into modern society, this volume features more of 'Animal Farm', the residence of the talking animals and other creatures that even the more ignorant humans might spot as out of the ordinary.  It's brilliant.  It exposes the conflicts between factions of the human Fables and the non-human Fables and the impact that might have on the overall community. The story reveals something deeper and darker lurking behind the 'fairytale heroes trying to make it in the big city' front. The characters are still as strong as ever (I *love* the Snow White/Rose Red sister dynamic) and the series continues to be just the right amount of dark that it's just possible to offset the sense of impending doom with wry humour.  Meeting new characters and getting to play 'Guess the Fairytale' is as good as ever, too.  I can see why this series has continued to maintain its popularity despite the pretty epic number of volumes.  I already have the third volume and then this series will become the series into which I have read the furthest to date!  My relationship with Fables is seemingly all about the meaningless accolades.

4 out of 5 stars for the black humour, the twisted versions of my favourite fairytale characters and just generally being my favourite comic series that I've read so far

Get your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery