Month in Numbers: January

As I seem to do every year, I’m changing up how I do my monthly reviews in 2018.  Last year I did a monthly favourites post but this year I’m tracking more of my reading using Sophie from Portal in the Pages’ spreadsheet and I’m actually doing a couple of reading challenges this year, I wanted to look more at my reading/book buying stats.  I’m sure the categories will change month on month depending on what looks interesting!

Books Read

I had a pretty good reading month in January!  I read 7 books in total and a respectable 2,306pages.  This might be in part owing to the fact that I read 3 graphic novels over the month but either way, I’m happy with those totals.  As my nifty spreadsheet tells me, that’s an average of 74 pages read per day and an average of one book finished every 4 days.  I read one 2 star read (As I Descended by Robin Talley) and one 5 star read (Saga: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan).  At an average rating of 3.7 out of 5 stars, I’ll call the month a success.

The most interesting thing I’ve noticed is that of the 7 books I’ve read, 6 were written by women.  I never consciously pay attention to much about authors when I’m picking what to read next and definitely focus more on the plot and what I’m in the mood for.  It’s curious then that I seem to be going for so many more female authors.  We’ll see how that pans out.

I’m also quite surprised that I haven’t actually read any fantasy during January.  Each year in wrapping up the year, I’ve assumed that fantasy is my most read genre.  Perhaps I’ve been wrong!  In January, I read 3 graphic novels, 2 crime/thriller novels, 1 horror novel and 1 historical fiction:

7)  See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (4 stars)

6)  Saga: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (5 stars)

5)  Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (4 stars)

4)  The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave (4 stars)

3)  Thornhill by Pam Smy (3 stars)

2)  Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. Talbot (4 stars)

1)  As I Descended by Robin Talley (2 stars)

Books Acquired

Now here’s where things unravel.  I apparently acquired 25 books during January.  Oops?  So that means that the number of books that I have in my house unread has gone up by 18 in the month of January!  It’s weird seeing the amount of money that I spend on books gradually creeping up over the weeks.  £82.66 in January, it would seem!  I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say that seeing the figures is changing my behaviour but maybe it will over the course of the year.  I’ve used the library a fair bit and got a couple of books from NetGalley so I’m only at an average spend of £3.31 per book.

Book I acquired in January that I’m most looking forward to: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Challenge Update

Science Fiction v Fantasy Bingo:  I’ve read two books for this during January:

Haunted – Thornhill by Pam Smy

This is totally going to happen one day – The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave

TBR Pile Challenge:  None read so far…

Beat the Backlist:  The average time that the books I’ve read have spent on my TBR is 6 months.  Of the 7 books I read, only 2 have been books that I’ve acquired since the start of 2018.  So solidly above my goal of 50% so far!

On Technical Glitches

On Technical Glitches

I would be the first person to admit that I am not particularly good with coding.  I got into blogging because I wanted to talk about books, not because I had any illusions that I would be able to build an all-singing, all-dancing website.  I managed to sort of get by for about 5 years and then last weekend I came a-cropper.  I managed to botch an update to a plug-in and in the process put my blog (including its back up) firmly beyond my technically feeble reach.

And so here we are.  Lit Addicted Brit has survived but everything I’ve written since July is gone.  It had sort of survived in my app and I was readying myself to copy type at least the reviews (dedication) and then they expired too.  I’ve considered throwing in the towel but honestly I don’t think I really blogged a massive amount towards the end of last year and I’ve maybe posted three reviews in January so I’ve taken a hit but it’s one that I’ve decided to just manage with.  Because the thing is, not having a space to chat about what I’m reading just didn’t really feel like a nice option.  When I read, I just can’t help but think about what I want to talk about.

So let’s press on.  Onward and upward.

Review: ‘As I Descended’ by Robin Talley

Review: ‘As I Descended’ by Robin Talley

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them. Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school. But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

This was the first book that I finished in 2018 but I didn’t want to review it first because I thought that starting my reviewing off by grumbling would set a bit of a gloomy tone! Because disappointingly, grumble I will.

I was really excited about reading As I Descended. I saw it mentioned in a Book Riot article about YA hallowe’en reads and it sounded like just what I fancied at the time – something pacy and sinister. A little while later (after my library reservation had come in and it was stowed safely on my ‘To Read Soon’ pile at home), I discovered that it was a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (one of my favourite Shakespeare plays) and I picked it up almost immediately.

To begin with, I enjoyed it. The novel is set in a school built in the grounds of an old plantation and the dark and violent history of the site is the perfect backdrop for a ghost story. It opens strongly, with Maria, Lily and Brandon using a ouija board, releasing malevolent spirits in tense scenes that played on the history of the school and really had me hooked. Maria’s hyspanic heritage, the ghost stories she was told as a child and the use of Spanish really add a different feel to the novel and it has a lot of promise.

As events escalated, I sadly became increasingly disengaged. Almost all of the characters come from rich and privileged backgrounds (and that’s not me making me assumptions, we’re actually told), which makes it feel a bit ridiculous that central events revolve around a competition with the prize of a scholarship to the college of their choice. It’s acknowledged more than once that most of the students could go wherever they wanted without the prize so I couldn’t believe that Maria and Lily would drive each other to the lengths that they do all for something that they could have had anyway. Delilah, their nemesis, is also a bit of a caricature of a prima donna teenager (twirling lipgloss and sharp tongue and all) and it’s frustrating. By the end, I pretty much hated all of the central characters and didn’t care what happened to them anyway. I sometimes think that it’s a little bit churlish to intentionally read YA and then complain about the characters being too childish but that’s precisely what I’m going to do! I don’t mind a degree of immaturity but the characters in this are so bloody whiny. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m older than the natural target market but I can’t be persuaded to think that not having the bestest of the best grades is worth killing for.

The subtlety of Macbeth and the main characters’ genuine struggles with guilt and their pain over the loss of control over the events they have set in motion is missing and everything just gets…well, silly if I’m honest. And there are far too many dream sequences! I lost count of the amount of characters relaying dreams of veiled women and horrors from their past. They became eye-rolling-inducingly frequent and I skim read a lot of them.

Ok, last thing, I promise – I just need to get some of this off my chest, unpopular though it might prove. I also struggled with the balance of characters. I obviously appreciate and want diversity in the books I read. I want to read about characters with backgrounds and cultures that are different to mine. What I don’t want is to feel as though an author is forcing diversity in. Of the 8 or so main characters, 5 are LGBT, 3 are people of colour and one is disabled (some have more than one!). In a novel of about 350 pages, it feels a bit much and almost as though the novel is trying too hard to fulfil some unwritten criteria (particularly when the characters don’t feel too distinct).

Overall: If you whip through this in a session or two and don’t pay too much attention, it’s not unentertaining and there are elements of it that are fun so you’ll stand a fair chance of enjoying it. Perhaps if you’re also a little more patient with teenagers being obviously teenage. All in all, though, let’s just say this wasn’t the novel for me. There’s real potential with some of the ghosts and history but it all ended up falling flat. Well, actually I suppose it falls the opposite of flat and spirals into bonkers melodrama but you know what I mean…

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Pictured Edition published by Mira INK in May 2014

Date finished: 04 January 2018

Source: Library

Review: ‘Sally Heathcote: Suffragette’ by Mary M. Talbot

Review: ‘Sally Heathcote: Suffragette’ by Mary M. Talbot

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for votes for women. A tale of loyalty, love and courage, set against a vividly realised backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a maid-of-all-work swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is another stunning collaboration from Costa Award winners, Mary and Bryan Talbot. Teamed up with acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth, Sally Heathcote’s lavish pages bring history to life.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I went to an all girls’ secondary school as a teenager and we studied a social/economic history syllabus instead of what I think is a more common world history syllabus, with a whole term spent focussing on the history of the Suffragettes. In theory, I really ought to remember a reasonable amount about women’s efforts to obtain the vote and yet I don’t. I remember some key dates/facts and could probably get by in a light conversation on the topic (not that there’s likely to ever be such a thing but still) but by no means as much as I’d like to. I’ve been trying a little bit over recent months to get into non-fiction and I have a few books that I’m really looking forward to but I wouldn’t back my fledgling interest to survive a bout with a detailed book on women’s suffrage. Enter Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, a part fiction, part non-fiction graphic novel story of a young woman who was involved in various organisations’ efforts to secure votes for women.

Sally Heathcote is a fictional suffragette, who at the opening of the novel is a maid in service who ends up working for the Pankhurst family. As historical events unfold, Sally conveniently manages to continue to find herself at the heart of the action. While there wasn’t specifically a Sally Heathcote who travelled to London to work for the Women’s Social and Political Union or other political pressure groups, there were undoubtedly numerous women who did flock to the organisations to contribute their efforts to the groups’ work, challenging their previous role in society and Sally’s actions all feel entirely consistent with a young woman of her position at that time and not a strained storytelling device.

The book is only a couple of hundred pages but it manages to neatly cover all of the main events of the suffrage movement and show how women might have responded at the time (the death of Emily Davison is particularly thoughtfully covered). What Sally Heathcote: Suffragette does extremely well is different groups that were all trying to secure women the right to vote. Alongside the fairly militant WSPU (the group led by the Pankhursts and perhaps the most famous), there were other, arguably more peaceful organisations without subtly different aims, all of them often lumped together as “the Suffragettes”. Talbot does a brilliant job of introducing these groups by portraying Sally as a conflicted suffragette, committed to securing women’s rights but not sure about the best methods and engaging with efforts as best she can. As an introduction to the history and political climate of the era, it’s really solid.

The book is also unflinching about WSPU members’ treatment in prison during their hunger strikes following arrest and the forced feeding that women were subjected to and the horror of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, which saw women released from prison when they were deemed in danger of becoming a martyr for the cause and re-arrested when they were thought to be healthy enough to ultimately serve their full sentence. I think all too often we refer to women ‘fighting for the right to vote’ without remembering that women suffered for it and the images and the telling of that in this account are raw and heartbreaking and incredibly powerful.

Speaking of, the illustrations are mostly in grey scale, with some colours used occasionally for emphasis (mostly organisations’ colours, including the now iconic white, green and purple, and Sally’s ginger hair). It’s a style that I’m always a fan of and one that works well here. The palette imbues the narrative with the gravitas and…weight that it deserves and avoids the graphic novel medium making it seem a little frivolous. It can make the other female characters a little difficult to identify by image alone but mostly they’re identified by name and it doesn’t become too much of a problem.

I don’t really want to spoil the book so I’ll just say that the last few panels are really impactive. They’re quiet compared to the drama of the main chapters but the stark contrast between the struggles that are so vividly portrayed in the rest of the pages and the last few statement that Talbot makes is stunning and absolutely perfectly judged.

Overall: I was a fan of Sally Heathcote: Suffragette before I got to the last few pages and those moments really made it something memorable. Books like this should be given to young women as an accessible account of what women (and men!) went through to secure the rights for women to vote, especially in the year that the country will commemorate centenary of the first British women to get the vote. Highly recommended if you want a either an introduction to or a refresher on a still very relevant and fairly recent period of UK history.

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Pictured Edition published by Jonathan Cape (an imprint of Random House) in May 2014

Date finished: 07 January 2018

Source: Library

2018 Reading Challenges

2018 Reading Challenges

I haven’t done year long reading challenges in a while. When I’ve done them previously, I’ve either not really paid attention to them and have just ended up failing miserably or I’ve found them a hindrance to reading because I feel like having something I’m supposed to be reading makes me avoid reading completely if I end up not being in the mood for it. Earlier this year, though, I took part in the Reading Quest and actually went out of my way to pick books that fitted the prompts. I had a lot of fun doing it and I read some books I wouldn’t have read otherwise so win-win. After that, I started keeping an eye out for 2018 challenges and here we are!

Science Fiction v Fantasy Bingo: Hosted by Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

I loved the idea of this as soon as I saw Ellie mention it on Twitter. There’s a bingo card full of different Science Fiction and Fantasy…themes? Things. I’ll be aiming to complete the board but given that’s 25 books and I only tend to read 52ish a year, that’s probably a bit hefty. I’ll be happy if I get a couple of lines done! I have plenty of fantasy titles but please do drop me some recommendations for science fiction because I definitely have fewer ideas for those.

The TBR Pile Challenge: Hosted by Roof Beam Reader

I currently have 453 unread books on my TBR pile. Not all phsyical (I have loads on my Kindle) but still. That’s a lot. This year, I really want to reduce that number, ideally by reading some of my own flipping books and buying less than I’m reading but I may also do a bit of a cull. I’m using the reading spreadsheet that Sophie at Portal in the Pages has posted this year (SO excited about this!) and populating it made me realise not only how many unread books I have but how long some of them have been on my shelves. With the TBR Pile challenge, you pick 12 books (plus two alternates in case there are duds) that you’ve had for at least a year and then you read them. Simple!

1. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch – owned since 24 September 2011

2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – owned since 09 July 2012

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – owned since 16 August 2012

4. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – owned since 25 December 2012

5. Among Others by Jo Walton – owned since 26 March 2013

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – owned since 12 November 2013

7. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – owned since 22 December 2013

8. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – owned since 30 December 2013

9. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo – owned since 16 August 2014

10. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters – owned since 23 August 2014

11. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi – owned since 04 January 2016

12. The Prestige by Christopher Priest – owned since 16 August 2016

Alternates…

13. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel – owned since 16 August 2016

14. Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland – owned since 28 October 2016

Beat the Backlist: Hosted by Novel Knight

In a similar vein to the TBR Pile challenge, this challenge is all about reading the books that you already own. I’m absolutely not on a book buying ban because that would make me sad but I do need to start reading more of the stuff I own. That will become easier when my books are shelved (a state that is mercifully imminent) and I can see what I have. When I’ve been compiling my spreadsheet, I’ve been reminded just how much I already own that I’m excited about.

I’m going to aim for 50% of the books I read in 2018 to be books that I own as of today. Well, technically yesterday. I’m quietly hoping that I’ll do much more than that but I have a few new publisher subscriptions this year and I just know that I’ll be buying more books and I don’t want to restrict myself too much or this challenge will become a chore. Nobody wants that. So 50% it is! Or roughly 25 books.

Let’s do this, 2018!

2017 End of Year Book Survey

2017 End of Year Book Survey

I was going to do a straight ‘Top Books of the Year’ post and then I was struggling to think of books to put onto it. It turns out that I’ve had a bit of a mixed reading year. On GoodReads, I have just two 5 star reads for the year and one of those is a Harry Potter re-read. Perhaps I’ve been being harsh because looking over my 4 star reads, there were some real treats in there so it isn’t all doom and gloom! ALSO, I’ve done this survey for years now so it seems a shame not to do it this year before I start in on some 2018 challenges.

I’m a little early but I’m busy over the next couple of days and I can’t see myself finishing anything else. Thanks as ever to Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner for posting the questions 🙂

Number Of Books You Read: 54

Number of Re-Reads: 3

Genre You Read The Most From: Total guess but I’d say…fantasy?

1. Best Book You Read In 2017? Yep, I’m cheating and breaking things down…

Best Graphic Novel: The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Best YA Novel: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Best Adult Novel: It has to be a tie between The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell and The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? I had really high expectations for Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. I’d read loads of positive reviews and seen a lot of praise for it on BookTube and it just turned out not to be for me at all. There were odd phrases that I thought were beautiful and I found the extracts where two boys were talking about losing their mother very poignant but other than that it was just too experimental for me and I didn’t like it. One that I’m glad I borrowed from the library! Also, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers wasn’t really for me either. I know that’s super widely loved and I’m sorry but I didn’t find it interesting and I won’t be reading the next one.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? In a bad way, definitely The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Bleugh. In a good way, The Call by Peadar O’Guilin. I picked it up from the library and I wasn’t expecting too much and I read it over the space of about 24 hours and I can still remember some of it so vividly months after finishing it. Definitely recommended.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)? I’m counting my biggest win on this front as finally getting Hanna to read the first few books in the Wheel of Time series so that I have someone to talk to about them. There’s proof online and everything, look!

5. Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017? In that order: Cinder by Marissa Meyer; A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas; Winter by Marissa Meyer. In unusual form for me, I actually both started and finished three series this year – the Cinder series (loved it), the Discovery of Witches trilogy (ok but not my favourite) and what I’m counting as a full trilogy in the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy (wrote about this yesterday…mostly great, some iffy bits at the beginning and end).

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017? Laura Purcell. The Silent Companions is just a perfect gothic ghost story and the more I think about the ending, the more I love it. She has a new book coming out next year and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone? I find this tricky every year because mostly I’ll read anything. Looking over my list of books I read this year, I actually can’t find any that I’d say were out of my comfort zone so let’s move on.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year? The Call by Peadar O’Guilin. Honestly, that book had me HOOKED. All teenagers in O’Guilin’s dystopian world get kidnapped at some point and taken away by the (very dark and in no way kissable) fae to the Grey World for three minutes. Most don’t return alive. As the characters all get whisked away to the Grey World, I just couldn’t stop reading to see if they’d survive and then who would get taken next. It’s a real cracker and one that I don’t think gets talked about enough.

9. Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year? None. I’d never re-read that soon.

10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2017?

11. Most memorable character of 2017? It seems odd to write this but Maus was truly wonderful and the artist’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, and his experiences still haunt me. The graphic novel tells of Vladek’s experiences during World War II, with the jews all portayed as mice and the Nazis as cats. It sounds as though it will trivialise Spiegelman’s story but it’s actually very cleverly done and I’ll absolutely re-read one day.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017? Easily The End We Start From.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017? Quite a lofty description but for me there’s only really one answer. Still The End We Start From. Not because of what it says about the world as it might look if there was an apocalyptic flood but for what it says about how being a mother changes you. It’s beautiful and I envy anybody who is still yet to read it for the first time.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read? Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve owned it for absolutely years and it’s short so I should have just read it already. To be honest, I’m really not convinced that I ‘got’ all of it but the parts where the narrator was recounting his experience in the war, I really enjoyed.

15. Favourite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2017?

It is bad, the news. Bad news as it always was forever, but worse. More relevant. This is what you don’t want, we realise. What no one ever wanted: for the news to be relevant.” From The End We Start From.

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017? The shortest was a St. Mary’s novella, When A Child Is Born by Jodi Taylor, at a mere 21 pages. To be honest, I’m not even sure if it ‘counts’ as a book but it’s on GoodReads so I guess it does. The longest was The Shadow Reborn by Robert Jordan, the fourth book in the Wheel of Time series and a HUGE 1,007 pages.

17. Book That Shocked You The Most? Bird Box by Josh Malerman. This was horrific towards the end in ways that I really wasn’t prepared for. It’s a terrifying book.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!) The only relationship that I can think of for this question is a fairly big spoiler so…pass.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year? Curve ball but I’d say the relationship between Emily Morris and her son, as told in her memoir My Shitty Twenties. Morris found out that she was pregnant while at university and the father scarpered. Morris’ writing is warm and funny and she writes honestly about the emotions she went through on finding out that she was pregnant. I think it also helped that the author is from Manchester, which is a city in the north of England not too far from where I grew up, so her writing was full of phrases that remind me of home and places I know.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously? I feel like it’s a bit of a waste to bang on about Sarah J. Maas or J. K. Rowling or Robert Jordan so instead, I’ll harp back to a book of short stories that were creeping me out way back in January: The Visitors Book and other Ghost Stories by Sophie Hannah. Hannah’s crime fiction is what she’s more known for but this teeny tiny book of ghost stories was well worth the few hours I spent with it.

21. Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure? I read the A Discovery of Witches because someone at work insisted that I must pick it up right away. It was underwhelming. I didn’t hate it but I equally didn’t love it and it was responsible for a big lull in my reading over summer.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017? Can’t think of any…

23. Best 2017 debut you read? I’m sorry but it has to be The End We Start From. Honourable mention to One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus, though, for keeping me hooked during a sunny day on our honeymoon.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year? The world in Sarah J. Maas’ Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy is marvellous. The fae world is divided into different seasonal courts and different time courts, each with their own affinity for certain powers. It’s mostly developed in the second book and I loved it.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read? OOH – The Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings. Hanna recommended this to me and even though I’ve never read it, I got such a fuzzy feeling of nostalgia from it. It’s the start of a fantasy series and the dialogue is so sharp and witty in a way that had me smiling along with the characters as opposed to cringing at forced jokes.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017? SO MANY! I cry all the time at books. And films and TV. Anything, really. I think I cried the most often through Maus. As you might expect, I suppose.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year? I read my first Peirene Press book, Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe. It was a quirky story of a Chinese artist and his life and work. Their books are beautifully published and are all translated works that are less than 200 pages long. “Two hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film“. I have a few stashed away for 2018 and a subscription for their 2018 titles. They’re my current favourite publisher.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul? Maus, ok?! Maus made my heart hurt and my soul feel tired.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017? I can only really think of Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, because both the writing and the layout of the book are not what I’m used to. That wasn’t necessarily a positive for me in the end but hey ho.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)? The Roanoke Girls made me super cross because I felt as though the ‘twist’ made the novel feel cheap somehow. As though it was resorting to a shock tactic to get readers in as opposed to just focussing on building tension. Thinking about it still makes me feel icky.

And that was 2017! I have a few slightly different goals for 2018 and I’m planning on doing a few reading challenges too so hopefully I’ll have a bit more variety by this time next year! I hope you had a wonderful reading year and the best start to 2018!

A Court of Thorns and Roses: The Series So Far (spoiler free!)

A Court of Thorns and Roses: The Series So Far (spoiler free!)

I was thinking about writing a review of the third book in the series, A Court of Wings and Ruin, but decided that was too niche and probably not overly helpful anyway. If you’ve read both of the first two books, it’s safe to assume that you’re invested and after the ending of the second, I can’t imagine not wanting to carry on. So instead, I figured I’d go for a few musings on my thoughts on the series so far.

The series is set in a fae world, Prythian, that sits alongside the human world, separated from it by a huge wall. Feyre lives in the human world with her father and two sisters, hunting for food so that they can survive the winter. During one hunting outing, she kills one of the fae in animal form and is swept away to Prythian by the High Lord of the Spring Court. The story that follows is a sprawling one that sees Feyre continuing to fight for survival as Prythian comes under threat and war breaks out.

So let’s start at the beginning. A Court of Thorns and Roses. A colleague leant it to me and said that although the first one was good, it was the second one where things really got going. Expectations appropriately managed, I flew through it. It isn’t perfect and it felt to me as though Sarah J. Maas had perhaps written it some time ago – the writing doesn’t flow quite as well as it does in Maas’ other books and it’s all a bit heavy-handed, especially when it comes to part that’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. For those flaws, it’s still very readable. If there’s one thing that Maas can do almost without fail, it’s write stories that I just want to be reading all of the time. The last third of this one in particular I devoured. I know that some readers find the romantic relationship at the centre of the book problematic and if that’s put you off the series, or if you didn’t like the fairytale retelling element, the next book is so much better and definitely worth giving a shot if you’re on the fence.

It was only a few weeks later that I picked up A Court of Mist and Fury and it’s so bloody good. It’s a fairly chunky book and I read most of it over the space of one weekend. I couldn’t put it down. There are new characters that I loved and the world that the first book hints at is fleshed out, with Feyre travelling to more of the Courts and meeting more of the High Lords. It’s all done gradually and the unravelling of the overarching story arc is well paced. Feyre grows as a character and I loved how the book showed Feyre dealing with the emotional effects from the events of the first book. Too many fantasy series just have their characters go through what would clearly be quite traumatic events only to come out the other side absolutely fine with it all. It doesn’t suffer from ‘Second Book Syndrome’ and it’s a really solid book. One of my favourite books of this year, actually, and nearly a five star read. It would have been five stars for me if there had been slightly less romance but that’s just personal preference. The ending in particular was a real gut punch – I was so invested in it and I went through a whole host of emotions. It was intense and frankly exhausting in a way that I still remember a few months on.

Having just finished the third book, A Court of Wings and Ruin, my enthusiasm waned a little bit in the middle, only to rally towards the end. The tensions in Prythian continue to build and there are huge battles (too many battles for me personally but there you go…) and world changing events but it all feels too drawn out. There are two battles, for example, that span many, many pages and feel very similar. One could have been cut and the book wouldn’t really have lost anything other than some paper. I enjoyed it (and did do some weeping over the ending, prompting an amused/slightly baffled look from my husband) but it took me nearly a month to get through its 700ish pages and towards the end I was bored of it being the book that I was reading. Not bored of reading it, just feeling as though I’d been reading it too long, if that makes sense? Anyway, overall it’s still got plenty that’s good about it and there are some stand out twisty moments but it needed much more editing. I’ve grumbled many times over the fact that what was originally marketed as a trilogy at some point shifted to a “series” but thankfully, this book actually has wrapped up the main plot of the first three. I think my expectation that the threads of the plot would be left loose and dangling at the end of this book actually detracted from my enjoyment; I was annoyed at the events that I felt dawdled because I was convinced that it was just wasting time and filling pages in a story that was supposed to be a trilogy, damn it! I’d even pre-written a ranty paragraph to go into this post when I had about 175 pages to go because I couldn’t see how everything could conclude and I predicted a great, annoying cliffhanger. I was wrong. Over the last three years, I’ve read 9 books written by Sarah J. Maas and this is the first time that I’ve read anything approaching an ending from her. I’m not a huge fan of all of the parts of the ending but there were some that were brilliant and it was an ending so I’ll take that! Enjoy this knowing that you have that coming up.

In May 2018, a “point 5” instalment is released, with book 4 following in 2019 and 5 and 6 presumably coming in 2020 and 2021. I’ll be honest, at this point it feels like Maas is pushing out books to meet a publishing timetable but at least I’ll be picking up the next ones when I want to and not in a resigned way because I feel like I have to drag myself towards any kind of resolution. So do I recommend reading the Court of Thorns and Roses series? Even with my disgruntlement with the third book, yes, I do. There’s enough about it that’s brilliant for me to set aside my grumbling. Apart from some of the last one, they’re absolute page-turners. The characters are particularly wonderful and it’s got just enough darkness that the at times sickly sweet romantic storylines are tempered and don’t become overwhelmingly irritating. And it will give you a pay back that so far the Throne of Glass series is denying us faithful readers by actually concluding stuff. Hurrah indeed.

November Wrap-up and Favourites

November Wrap-up and Favourites

I’d planned to arrive back on the blog with some reviews and then I’ve seen yet another unexpected upturn in the hours I’ve been spending at work and so here we are with a slightly more chatty favourites post. I could go back over a few months too and pick out some favourites from each month but I’m going for the easy option and just looking back over November.

I have a lot of unread books at the moment – my GoodReads TBR shelf has just reached 450 books. I know that some people find that off-putting or stressful but I find it really exciting! I’ve been enjoying buying books that I either fancy right now or that have been published by companies that I want to show some support to. We’re off over Christmas and I’m planning on hunkering down and getting through some then! Good times 🙂

The Books

Turns out I only finished three books in November! I’m a bit surprised by that but then I suppose we were away for a busy long weekend and I’ve recently bought a couple of new 3DS games that I’ve been playing a bit so I guess that’s one of those things.

First up was a bit of a hangover from Hallowe’en, Hollow Pike by Juno Dawson (originally published under the name James Dawson). I really enjoy Juno’s writing style. I think in part it’s because she was brought up not far from where I live and it makes a real (pleasant) change to read slang and speech that is undoubtedly northern and very familiar. I wasn’t 100% sold on the witchy plot but it was a lot of fun. When I saw my Dad in October, he was reading The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd and really recommended it. It was a bargainous £1.99 so I snatched it up and read it straight away. It’s a fictional story based around a real relationship between Descartes and a Dutch maid, Helena. The writing is beautiful and I highlighted so many passages. While the relationship between Descartes and Helena is interesting, it was Helena’s development that really stole my heart. I cried in public over this book and that says it all, really. Last up was my first Ruth Rendell, The Secret House of Death. I’ve written bits of a review of it so I’ll be writing more on this soon but it took me a while to get through this and I was underwhelmed.

Book of the Month: The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month: I’ll be honest – Designated Survivor. It’s a Netflix series about a man who survives a terrorist attack that kills the President of the United States and most of the Cabinet and is the “designated survivor”, automatically becoming the next President. It’s not spectacularly unique but it’s really entertaining and has some interesting characters so it’s earned its spot here as far as I’m concerned.

Film of the Month: I finally watched La La Land in November and I mostly enjoyed it. It’s a default film of the month because it’s the only film I watched. I really loved the ending and I adore Emma Stone so maybe it would have been the best even with competition. Who knows?

Recipe of the Month: Beef and ale stew with dumplings! I kind of freestyled this so I haven’t got anywhere to point to but it’s been wintery and cold and that calls for stew and home-made dumplings. Ooh, actually though, I can tell you that if you like dumplings but don’t want to mess with suet, this Jamie Oliver recipe is super easy,comforting and has never failed me.

Beauty Product of the Month: Lush’s Bûche de Noël cleanser. I swear by Lush’s facial cleansers and this one is made of satsumas, cranberries and I think it has brandy in it too so it smells so festive and it’s delightful. I definitely want to get another pot before it disappears in January!

Image credit: https://goo.gl/images/nqFE8D

Activity of the Month: We went to Lithuania for Husband’s birthday in November and it was such a good trip! Vilnius is beautiful and absolutely packed full of cosy bars and pubs and restaurants. It was flipping freezing and it snowed while we were there but it was fabulous all the same. We went to some really interesting museums (a former KGB Headquarters was so disturbing and haunting and a Holocaust memorial that was incredibly moving among others) and got a local bus out to the most stunning castle I have ever seen in real life. If you get the chance to travel to Vilnius, absolutely do go – it’s less touristy than other European locations, much more reasonably priced and so much fun. And Trakai is wonderful even when it’s freezing (there’s a chocolate shop/cafe on the way that does great coffee if you need warming up and gooey chocolatey cookies that are to die for).

And that was November! It’s been perhaps not as book-filled as I’d like but we had a lot of fun so that’ll do me. Now roll on Christmas!

Books I Want To Read Before the End of 2017

Books I Want To Read Before the End of 2017

I knew it had been a while since I’d posted but, as ever, time has flown and I didn’t know quite how long it had been. In all the time that I haven’t been posting, however, I have been reading. So much so that on 21 November, I finished my GoodReads challenge for the year. I set it at 52 books simply because I wanted to have read an average of one book a week by the end of the year. There was a time earlier in the year when I was wading through the Discovery of Witches trilogy when I was sure that this year would be a bust so I’m excessively pleased about not only meeting but exceeding my 2017 goal!

Going into the last five weeks or so of 2017, I wanted to pick out some books that I thought were likely to be top reads of the year. At first, I sorted my ‘To Read’ shelf on GoodReads by highest average rating to see what I had lingering on my shelves and then picked a couple of those as hopefully ones that will be contenders for favourite of the year. And then I looked at the books that I’ve bought or received this year that I was so excited to get hold of and then have just left sat on my shelves and picked a couple of those. I don’t know if I’ll read all of these but I had fun putting the list together so I’m not sure the reading even really matters.

1. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

I enjoyed the first book in this series well enough but then I loved the second one and meant to rattle straight into the third one. I got a bit annoyed with Maas following Tower of Dawn but I really want to get back into the Court of Thorns and Roses series before I forget what’s going on. There’s the added fact that I’ve borrowed this from someone at work and she keeps asking me about it in the way that someone who only has 1 or 2 unread books on their shelves really can…

2. The Unseen World by Liz Moore

I’ve only seen glowing reviews of The Unseen World and I was really looking forward to reading it when I got it and then I sort of forgot and left it sat in a pile. I want to pick it up before I completely forget why I was even so desperate to get hold of it!

3. The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy

The blurb makes this book sound bloody brilliant: “Every seven years something goes missing in the remote town of Sterling: people’s reflections, the stars in the sky, the ability to dream. Aila realises that her mother may be to blame for the curse. But some mysteries are buried very deep and some secrets want to stay hidden – and one young woman’s desire to uncover the truth may not be enough to save Sterling from the past”. I bought this when I was in Waterstones with Hanna a couple of months ago and I thought I’d get straight to it and here we are in late November and I still haven’t read it.

4. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is such a well regarded fantasy author that I’ve been a little bit wary of starting the first instalment of the Farseer trilogy in case I got sucked into the whole world and ended up having to buy all of them. BUT ever since visiting Trakai Castle in Lithuania earlier in November, I’ve really fancied a medieval style fantasy and I’ve had this one for years.

5. United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

Hanna bought me this for my birthday and it’s literally been on the top of my physical To Read pile ever since. We visited a few museums in Lithuania that had some fascinating exhibits on World War II in Eastern Europe and I’ve been looking longingly at this since we got back a couple of weeks ago. I know that the connection is a loose one but who knows how these things work?!

Honourable mentions to the books that ever so nearly made the cut and might yet muscle their way into my reading year: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry; Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough; We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

What are your priorities for what’s left of 2017? Any books that you’ve been meaning to pick up all year and just haven’t got round to?

June Wrap-up and Favourites

June Wrap-up and Favourites

June was extraordinary. We got married, spent three weeks in Italy exploring, eating and drinking delicious wine and it was truly incredible. Since I’ve been back at work, I’ve been insanely busy but I’ve barely had time to think during the week. Hopefully things will be settling back down soon but for the time being, it’s looking likely that reading time is going to be a little sparse.  Still, let’s look back at what I did manage to read back when I was living the Italian dream!
What I’ve Been Reading

I finished a pretty whopping 7 books during June. It was a real treat to be able to spend so much time reading and relaxing and I’m very grateful that we got to start out married life in such a marvellous way! First up was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.  In pre-wedding prep time, I wanted to read something that I’d be able to follow even while I was busy and Harry Potter was the obvious, comforting solution. Goblet of Fire has always been my favourite and that hasn’t changed so far on a re-read. I cried at the end, perhaps even more likely given that I was somewhat hungover when I finished reading it. 
Next up, my Mum had impressed on me just how good the final two books in the Lunar Chronicles were so I went so far as to take out my paperbacks of Cress and Winter, both by Marissa Meyer.  I raced through Cress over a few afternoons in Sestri Levante and loved it just as much as I had the first two books in the four part series.  The last instalment I picked up when we got to Lake Como and I knew I’d have some solid reading stints by the lake.  It’s a series that I’ve really enjoyed; they’re so much fun to read and they’re completely addictive.  I’ll be reviewing the series as a whole soon (actually this time – I’ve written out a fledgling post and everything!).  In between those two, I broke out a NetGalley acquisition, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus.  It’s a bit of a teen locked-room mystery.  Five students are locked in a room during detention and one is murdered.  The narrative flicks between the four remaining students as their secrets are revealed and they each try to clear their names.  It was surprisingly good!  I read a lot of Point Horror as a teenager and for some reason this reminded me of them.  I didn’t see the ending coming.  Or rather, I did a little bit before the Big Reveal but not so far ahead that I felt as though it was too obvious.  A solid summer read for sure.
After finishing the Lunar Chronicles, I fancied something a bit different and went for The Power by Naomi Alderman.  What a book! It won the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction so you don’t need me to endorse the quality but, honestly, it’s the type of book that really makes you think!  It makes some really interesting social points (even if it is a little heavy handed at times) and it’s such a gripping story.  The ending absolutely stuck with me and after I finished it, I was hit with a serious book hangover.  I tried to get over that by finally finishing The Book of Shadows by Deborah Harkness.  I’d read most of it before going away and had maybe 100 pages to finish on getting back.  It wasn’t my favourite series but it was ok. Good in places but just far too long. It felt a bit drawn out and laboured at times. 
On a sunny afternoon, I decided to pick up a comic volume, I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1: Madly Ever After.  It’s a bubble-gum coloured, bright volume with a gruesome storyline. It’s basically about a girl who gets sent to Fairyland when she’s a small child but who, it turns out, is terrible at questing.  While most visitors explore the marshmallowy surroundings, find the key and go home within a day, this kid ends up spending 30 years trying to complete her mission.  She ages in her mind but not in her body. I can see that it wouldn’t be for everybody but the dry sense of humour is right up my straight and I enjoyed it enough to want to hunt down Volume 2 soon.
Books of the Month: Winter by Marissa Meyer; The Power by Naomi Alderman
Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  Easily Line of Duty. Everybody’s been talking about it for ages with the latest series being shown on the BBC.  It’s as good as everybody says! It’s about an anti-corruption department investigating dodgy police and we’re half way through the third series and it is so, so good. I’m partly glad we’ve not watched it before so that we can binge watch!
Film of the Month:  I literally haven’t watched a film all month…
Recipe of the Month:  Anything involving salami and cheese.  I ate cold cuts and cheese at least once

a day while we were away.  I kept expecting to get bored or tired of eating cold cuts and cheese but no.  I was living my best life.

Beauty Product of the Month: This pigment powder in Vanilla from MAC was part of my wedding make-up kit and it is AMAZING. It’s the easiest to use as a highlighter and it’s helped me maintain the look of someone who gets to spend plenty of time outside in the sunshine even though I no longer am!  
Album of the Month: Since I’ve been back, I’ve listened to Sia’s album This Is Acting a lot to keep me pepped up!  Who doesn’t love Sia?!
Activity of the Month: I’ll save you another wedding ramble, bark out WEDDING, point over to this post and shuffle off on my way 🙂
And that was June!  I miss it already.  Let’s hope that July is half as good!