September 5, 2020

Mortal Heart: A Rambling Review

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

This has been the first book that I've become absorbed in since the pandemic hit, really. I've been in a reading slump of some variety, where nothing grabbed my attention enough to distract me from the news. While I did think Mortal Heart was a bit drawn out towards the end, and the introspective musings of Annith a tad repetitive, otherwise I was heartily glad to be whisked along on Annith's journey, as she discovers how to stand up for herself and those she loves. 

Of all three protagonists in the series, I think I found Annith to be the most relatable. She is not as assertive as Ismae or as wild as Sybella; rather, she is someone used to following the rules and not making waves. She has honed it as a defense mechanism, but as the walls of her cage tighten around her, she realizes she must break free of them before it's too late. That is what sets her off on an adventure that involves a very swoon-worthy (if a tad on the "emo" side) love interest, a reconnection with her old friends Ismae and Sybella, and a whole lot of secrets being revealed. (Which, I pretty much guessed at -- or they at least crossed my mind as possibilities -- way before they were revealed.) 

I did find the political plot line here rather boring, and the focus is far more on Annith's personal journey in terms of self-discovery and character development than the war going on between France and Brittany. Nevertheless, it does all come to a head eventually, and the resolution is not one I would have guessed. I do wonder if the Duchess will live to regret the decision she made...

Also, I remain confused about some questions of world-building. Spoilers, highlight to read: Are the hellequin already dead? I spent most of the book thinking they were -- and were stuck in the hunt as some sort of 'purgatory' before they earned their way to the afterlife -- but then a bunch of them actually died at the end, so... *blinks* 

Overall, I think my favourite in the trilogy remains the first, Grave Mercy, both for the introduction to the world and for the dynamic between Ismae and Duval. But this one is a close second, and probably had the protagonist I was most able to connect with.

4 shooting stars.

September 3, 2020

Mr. Rochester: A Rambling Review

Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

I enjoyed this glimpse into Rochester's mindset and retelling of the classic from his perspective. We get a lot of backstory that makes his character more sympathetic, while not feeling out of place with what Charlotte Bronte gave her readers in the original. I do think that the first part of the story, detailing his childhood and young adulthood (before he meets Jane Eyre) was more interesting (if slow-moving), since we are already familiar with what happens once he and Jane cross paths. Perhaps because of this, the author doesn't go into that much detail about their interactions, which left their romance and Rochester's emotional development feeling like it lacked something; I didn't connect with it the same way I connected with the original.

While Sarah Shoemaker sticks quite closely to Bronte's story, there is one subplot that is new. I don't think it clashes with the original, although in the end I'm not sure how much it adds (spoilers, highlight to read: the storyline involving Gerald Rochester... in the end he dies along with Bertha, and all of his scheming comes to nothing). I do like, however, that it provides more explanation for events in the original story that were not accounted for (spoilers: it makes sense that Rowland might have taken advantage of Bertha and then refused to marry her, and that Edward would have been offered up to marry her instead).

For those people who don't understand the appeal of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, I would highly recommend you pick this book up! And for those who love him already, you will probably enjoy getting to spend some time with this character during his most formative years.

4 shooting stars.

July 28, 2020

Short & Sweet: The Bridge Kingdom

The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

An utterly absorbing, unputdownable read. It's been quite a while since I've been so completely sucked into a world and storyline, but these characters and the premise -- a princess marries a king, but is secretly a spy trying to bring down his kingdom -- just won me over. The kingdom politics and relationship dynamic between Lara and Aren really reminded me of The Winner's Curse series(in a good way). It looks like The Bridge Kingdom was released by an indie publisher, and you can tell that some more editing would have helped tighten some sections up and get rid of typos. I also found the modern slang jarring given the "traditional fantasy" sort of setting. But the characters, storyline, and world-building made up for these detractions in spades. I wish I could pick up the next book in the series right now!
4.5 shooting stars.


April 19, 2020

Short & Sweet: First & Then

First & Then by Emma Mills

I actually quite enjoyed this one, more than I thought I might. I do think that it's less a retelling of Pride and Prejudice than very loosely inspired by the story, as well as other Austen books. (I mean, for one thing, Devon doesn't have any sisters!) 

Nevertheless, I liked Devon's voice and I felt like her character and perspective were very relatable. It took me quite a while to warm up to Ezra -- his dynamic with Devon starts out as less open hostility than Darcy and Elizabeth's, and more just sort of lukewarm apathy, so there wasn't a whole lot of unresolved sexual tension between them initially -- but eventually I came around to him. I also liked seeing Devon become closer to her cousin Foster and really develop a sense of protectiveness for him. 

Overall, an easy, "warm fuzzy" sort of read that portrays high school in a rosier light than a lot of YA contemps do, and yet manages to still feel authentic.

4 shooting stars.


January 18, 2020

2020 Reading Challenges

It is time again to sign up for reading challenges, so here's what I'm thinking I'll be doing this year:

As usual, I've signed up for the Goodreads challenge -- 40 books seems to be a good number for me to achieve and surpass, so I'm keeping that the same as the past couple years.

#StartOnYourShelfathon, hosted by The Quiet Pond -- this is a year-long readathon to tackle all the books sitting on your shelf, collecting dust! I think this is new to 2020, if I'm not mistaken? You can "collect a star" for each book you've read, and keep track on your star map. It seems pretty flexible, as participants can set their own goals for how many books they'd like to read. I think I'm going to set it at 25 books, and here are some of the ones I'd really like to get read this year:

- The Hate U Give
- Shadow Study
- Mistress of Rome
- The Last Summer
- The Book of Lost and Found
- Sweet Damage
- In the Shadow of Blackbirds
- Ultraviolet
- The Ballroom
- Elantris
- Paper and Fire
- Sorcerer to the Crown
- The Last Magician
- The Bear and the Nightingale
- Deafening
- The Clockmaker's Daughter
- The Winter Rose
- Maid of Wonder
- Close Enough to Touch
- Down a Dark Hall
- How to Find Love in a Bookshop
- Mr. Rochester
- Frenchman's Creek
- Doctor Death
- Bath Tangle
- The Woman Who Heard Colour

I completed my goal for the Finishing the Series challenge last year (hosted by Celebrity Readers), finishing 4 series! I have plenty more that I either need to finish or give up on, so I'm joining in again with this challenge. I'll still be aiming for the lowest level, C-List Series Finisher, 1-4 Series.

Some sequels I've got hanging around on my shelves that I have not yet read:

- Mortal Heart
- Outpost
- Enshadowed and Oblivion
- Reached
- Gemina

I did really well last year on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge (hosted by Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy) last year, so hopefully I can do the same in 2020! Here's the checklist for the challenge:

I like to pick a sort of "quirky" challenge that has some different sorts of categories, so this year I'm going with the 2020 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge (hosted by Gregory Road).

I think I'll start with the "Baker's Dozen" level -- one category from each of 13 topics. I'm not sure yet which categories I'll end up reading from, but here are a few examples:

- A book about lies
- A dark fantasy book
- A book by an author you always read
- A book about twins
- A book about a teacher
- A book whose title could be a Country song
- A book with binoculars on the cover
- A folk/fairy tale retelling in a non-western setting
- A story about a widow or widower
- A book that inspires you to go for a walk
- A book about a treasure hunt
- A book about nomads
- A book with a map on the cover
- A book with a narcissistic character
- A book about your parents' generation
- A book by a woman of colour

What 2020 reading challenges have you signed up for?

2019 Challenge Check-In

I tried 4 challenges last year (in addition to the Goodreads challenge), so here's a little review of how they went...

Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge: 8/10 categories

I did better on this challenge than I did in 2018, so yay! Got almost all of the categories:

- A book you've been meaning to read: check! I read Mistborn.

- A book about a topic that fascinates you: check! The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness 

- A book in the backlist of a favourite author: check! Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin 

- A book recommended by someone with great taste: check! My mom recommended The Silent Patient (which was indeed an excellent read!)

- Three books by the same author: fail. There were a couple of authors I read 2 books from in 2019, but none that I read 3 books from. 

- A book you chose for the cover: check! (Well, sort of. I pretty much never exclusively pick books based on the cover. This one had an awesome-sounding premise, too.) The Ten Thousand Doors of January

- A book by an author who is new to you: check! The Flatshare, by Beth O'Leary

- A book in translation: check! Daniel Half Human

- A book outside your (genre) comfort zone: fail. I didn't really read any books in 2019 in genres I don't normally pick up.

- A book published before you were born: check! A Stitch in Time

2019 Finishing the Series Reading Challenge: completed!!!
After my pathetic performance on this challenge last year (I didn't get a single series finished), I did much better in 2019. I reached my goal of completing 4 series, which were: the Janie Johnson series by Caroline B. Cooney, the Dark Gifts trilogy by Vic James, the Keepers' Chronicles by Becky Wallace (okay, it's a duology, but it still counts), and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth (finally!!)

Mount TBR Reading Challenge: success! I picked the level "Mount Blanc" this year (24 books) and read exactly 24 books that were already on my TBR shelves. It always feels good when I manage to read books that have been languishing on my shelves for years...

Putting Wings on Words Reading Challenge: I did...okay?...on this challenge. I got 16/30 categories done. These were:

Read an award-winning book: When You Reach Me  
Read a translated book: A Man Called Ove 
Read a book that you got as a gift: Carry On
Read a book from the library: An Anonymous Girl
Read a book by a woman of colour: An Extraordinary Union
Read a book you've owned a long time but never read: Emily and Einstein
Read a book with a diverse cast of characters: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Read that book people keep recommending to you: The Unhoneymooners
Read a book with strong family bonds: Between Shades of Gray 
Read a book aimed at an age group you don't usually read: A Stitch in Time
Read a recent release: The Flatshare
Read a gloomy book: The Unseen World
Read a cozy book: Stay Sweet
Read a book with positive representation of a disabled character: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Read an illustrated book: The Language of Thorns 
Read an indie book: A Hope Divided (I think this counts?)

Goodreads Challenge: success! I surpassed my goal of 40 books, reading a total of 51 (and DNF-ing a few more, so Goodreads counted those as part of my challenge. I wish Goodreads had a separate way to score books you've DNF-ed!)

How did everyone else's reading challenges go in 2019?

January 13, 2020

2019 End of the Year Reading Survey

Alright, so another year has passed -- farewell, 2019! -- and 2020 is upon us. It's once again time to catalogue my reading from 2019 and look ahead to 2020. I think I did decently well in 2019 in terms of reading -- I met (and even surpassed) my Goodreads challenge, and I met 2/4 of my other reading challenges.

This fabulous survey is hosted by Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner. If you want to participate, link up your blog post here.

Number Of Books You Read: 51 (which includes a couple re-reads, and not counting DNFs)

Number of Re-Reads: at least 2 (The Handmaid's Tale and The Eyre Affair)

Genre You Read The Most From: Tied between speculative fiction -- fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal -- and contemporary (Genre breakdown: 12 historical; 19 speculative; 19 contemporary)

1. Best Book You Read In 2019?

Illusion by Paula Volsky -- this is a thoroughly detailed and engrossing alternative universe fantasy retelling of the French Revolution

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides -- I read a few thrillers this year, which is a genre I don't usually read a ton of, and this one completely surprised me with the twist.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik -- I really loved Uprooted, but this one just didn't work for me the same way. I wasn't totally on board with the multiple POVs/storylines, as I didn't like or care about all of the characters equally.

A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole -- An Extraordinary Union balanced the romance and historical storylines really well, so I was disappointed that the second in the series leaned more heavily on the romance -- which, to be honest, I felt kinda lacked chemistry -- and was quite light on the spy/intrigue storyline.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?   

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell -- surprising in a good way! I really wasn't too sure about this book starting out, as it seemed like a campy, over-the-top Harry Potter wanna-be story, but then I warmed up to it.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood -- this was a re-read, but sort of surprised me in being quite different from what I had remembered (and also quite different from the TV show, which really expanded on what Atwood had originally written). It definitely has more of a "slice of life" sort of approach to living in the dystopian world she's built, rather than the rise and fall of a typical plotline.

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


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Illusion by Paula Volsky, the Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon

5. Best series you started in 2019? Best Sequel of 2019? Best Series Ender of 2019?

Best series started: not sure which to pick for this one... there are a number of series I started in 2019 that seem promising, including Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, and A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigit Kemmerer.

Best sequel: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. (Weirdly enough, since it was also listed for my "most disappointing books" question, but honestly, I read a bunch of unimpressive sequels this year, and Spinning Silver was still probably the most well-written one of the bunch.)

Best series ender: Bright Ruin by Vic James -- this series doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves!

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2019?

Paula Volsky, Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen, Alex Michaelides

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Illusion by Paula Volsky, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

9. Book You Read In 2019 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Rosemarked (to refresh my memory before reading the next in the series)

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2019?

A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Rosemarked, Wildflower Hill, The Ten Thousand Doors of January

11. Most memorable character of 2019?

Kelsier from Mistborn; Baz from Carry On

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2019?

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow -- while some of it got purple prose-y, there were also some beautiful, quotable turns of phrase in this story.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2019

The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan -- not life-changing, but definitely provokes some critical thought about the mental health system in the US.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2019 to finally read? 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys -- these books have both been sitting on my shelves for YEARS and YEARS. So glad I finally got around to reading them!

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2019?

From The Ten Thousand Doors of January:

"That afternoon, sitting in that lonely field beside the Door that didn't lead anywhere, I wanted to write a different kind of story. A true kind of story, something I could crawl into if only I believed it hard enough." 

And this one from A Stitch in Time:

"There are some supremely agreeable moments in life that are best savoured alone -- the first barefoot step into a cold sea, the reading of certain books, the revelation that it has snowed in the night, waking up on one's birthday... And others the full wonder of which can only be achieved if someone else is there to observe."

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2019?

Shortest: A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively (138 pages)

Longest: Illusion by Paula Volsky (700 pages)

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

The Silent Patient

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Eliste and Dref from Illusion, Simon and Baz from Carry On, Tiffy and Leon from The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

This is a hard one to choose this year... maybe the connections that Ove forms in A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman?

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2019 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Bright Ruin

21. Best Book You Read In 2019 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:
Carry On

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2019?

Malcolm McCall from An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole; Dref from Illusion

23. Best 2019 debut you read?

The Flatshare

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year? 


World building: Illusion; Spinning Silver; Mistborn

Setting: Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian; Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Carry On, The Flatshare

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017?

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase (it didn't make me cry, but it was quite haunting in how it dealt with the impact of a mother's death)

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Stay Sweet -- as I said in my review, this was a "feel-good read that transported me to a summery lakeside and made me really want to taste that indescribable ice cream flavour 'Home Sweet Home.'"

Daniel Half Human by David Chotjewitz -- I was surprised by how powerful and compelling a read this was.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Black Rabbit Hall, Mistborn

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017?

The Unseen World by Liz Moore -- it was a bit different from a typical contemporary novel, in that it dealt both with very realistic life events (the father's deteriorating mental state) and also the sci-fi elements involving artificial intelligence

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Allegiant by Veronica Roth -- Not super mad, but I just felt irritated by how pointless this book seemed. The execution did not live up to its potential.

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2019 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2020?

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine (this was my answer last year, and I still haven't read it...), Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly -- these are all already on my physical TBR shelves, so I have no excuses!

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2020 (non-debut)?

I know I'm a broken record at this point, but it remains: the next book in the Bone Season series. (Please let 2020 finally be the year it gets published!!!)

3. 2020 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2020?

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins  (not a sequel, but a prequel of sorts, so...)

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2020?

Just to read more books that I have a high likelihood of enjoying -- I read a lot of books in 2019 that were "okay, but not great." Perhaps this is partly because I can't resist a really good deal on Book Outlet, even if the book hasn't gotten amazing reviews. I feel like I need to be a little more selective about which books I pick up, or perhaps just more judicious in DNFing them... at the same time, I want to still be open to unexpectedly stumbling upon a hidden gem of a read!

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