Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: My picks for 'Authors I Read For The First Time In 2016'.

Sadly, I've been slacking with TTT for a while. This is mostly because I've had a lot on my plate for the last few months (illness, moving flat, promotion at work, etc.) and I haven't had the energy to continually keep up so I've been picking the topics that really interest me instead. It's coming to the end of 2016 now so I thought this would be a good time to reflect upon the reading that has kept me grounded through a chaotic year. I probably won't be including Debut authors on here as it's the first time anyone has read anything by them. Just authors that I really feel I ought to have read by now.

1) Arthur Conan Doyle.

That's right. 2016 was the year I finally got to read the famous, original Sherlock Holmes series. Or at least, part of it. Over the course of the year I've read three of the nine 'volumes' and I have to say I've enjoyed them all immensely. Arthur Conan Doyle was part of my attempt to get back into reading Classics that I hadn't read yet and I'm pleased with my progress so far!

2) Matt Haig.

I hear Haig's name bounced around a lot, though I never fully looked into his books. Then, my sister read his non-fiction book 'Reasons To Stay Alive' and begged me too, and I'm so glad I did. That book has changed my life and perception of myself in so many different ways, and was also my first non-fiction read in a really long time. Thanks Matt Haig for opening my eyes.

3) Kiera Cass.

Pretty much every blog I follow has reviewed Kiera Cass' 'The Selection' series, for better or for worse. It's definitely a 'marmite' series in the blogging community. I'm one of the weird few who found it 'okay' but I can see a lot of potential in it and I'd like to read more. I know it's quite a long series and I've read only the first book so far, but I felt like I accomplished a big reading goal when I got round to it at last.

4) Sarah J. Maas.

Maas, just like Cass, is one of those authors I see everywhere. Her 'Throne Of Glass' series might be a little more popular but I was of course drawn to the Fairy Tale retelling inside. I have to say, while I see that elements of the book could lead to some real issues, I really liked it and am putting faith in Maas' judgement that I'm not going to start hating the series further down the line.

5) Jennifer Niven.

'All The  Bright Places' was a book that started getting shoved at me by various advertisements after I read and adored 'The Fault In Our Stars'. While the two follow story-lines that are actually pretty different, it's easy to see why they've been lumped into the same category. I enjoyed it a lot, and read it not long after my two flat mates which meant we could rave about it together. I'm looking forward to 'Holding Up The Universe', Niven's next work that Netgalley recently approved me for.

6) Dan Brown.

To be honest, Dan Brown has never been of great interest to me. I was alive and reading during 'The Da Vinci Code' craze and didn't watch any of the films or even pick up the books to read the synopsis. It wasn't my thing. My boyfriend however loves them. I was reading over his shoulder while he read the latest one last year and found myself inexplicably hooked, though it wasn't, by any means, the best thing I'd read all year. Finally, in 2016, I have caved and given the first in the 'Robert Langdon' series a try. There's a lot of contention surrounding this author, as well as love, so it was quite strange to see that while I was angry that Brown had so obviously decided to purposely mislead people on the facts, I also guiltily enjoyed the cheesy cliffhangers and sense of danger.

7) Cassandra Clare.

It seems I've had a bit of a penchant for controversial authors this year. As well as Dan Brown, the amount of hype and adoration that surrounds Cassandra Clare is insane. But so is the amount of claims of plagiarism and copying that she has been accused of. 'City Of Bones' is the first book in her most popular series, so I gave it a try. In a way, it was corny. I could totally see why people were angry too because having done my research, the claims seem pretty well-founded. But in a way, it was a pretty good series with, again, plenty of potential. I've been warned to only read the first three (advice I'll probably take) but who can resist a book that contains Magnus Bane?

8) Rainbow Rowell.

I know, I know. It's basically a crime not to have read Rowell's work by now. Contemporary YA Romance has NEVER been something I adore so I honestly thought Rowell wouldn't be the kind of author I would get into easily. Turns out I was totally wrong and once again need to give my sister all the points for her amazing book recommendations. I liked 'Kindred Spirits', her short story, a lot. I loved 'Fangirl' and now I'm looking into more of her YA. 

9) Rudyard Kipling.

Disney's 'Jungle Book' has been with me for a lot of my life and I've always enjoyed the story. My parents bought my sister and I a different animated version of it too which I adored so I've known the story all through my childhood. It occurred to me, while going to see the live-action film, that I have never read the books and I wanted to rectify this ASAP. Kipling's version is of course a little more adult and much darker, but I actually quite liked it and am glad that I took the time to try this collection of short stories out. 

10) Alice Sebold.

Alice Sebold is one of those names that I've heard often in my life, especially by readers of Cecelia Ahern or Jodi Picoult. Again, those kinds of books never really appealed to me, but the movie of 'The Lovely Bones' has always stuck with me since going to watch it with my friends all those years ago. With that in mind, I decided to try the book and liked it. The creepy tone, sense of justice in the end and bizarre but oddly beautiful nature of the story were all there. I don't know if I'll read more of Sebold's work, but it felt like a milestone nonetheless.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Last Week's Shenanigans (28th November - 4th December)...

This hasn't been an overly nice week for me, mostly because I've spent a good two thirds of it being very unwell. Sore throat, dizziness, nausea, severe ear ache. It's been a blast *insert sarcasm here*. The highlight of the week came on Sunday, my day off. Mat and I woke up fairly early in the morning and got the flat ready because it was the day that we host our yearly traditional meal: Thankchrismukkah! It's come from Mat's days at Uni, and we have done it every year since. Six friends came round and we listened to Christmas Music, watched Elf and The Holiday, ate a huge roast dinner and opened our Secret Santa presents! It was a lovely day all round and made me feel better, even though I didn't have much of a voice throughout the night.

I Read...

I Received...

- 'Cruel Beauty' by Rosamund Hodge: Won from Great Imagination's Story Sprites giveaway (30/11/16).
- 'Unburied Fables' by Tiffany Rose, George Lester et al.: Bought from Amazon (02/12/16).

I Posted...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Book Review: Dragon Slayer Number 9; Intisar Khanani.

This was a very short story (I'm talking literally a few pages long) so I don't have plans to do a huge post on this one. I did want to talk about it however because I always try to post about everything I read, even if it wasn't lengthy.

SOURCE: Free With Author's Newsletter
TYPE: E-Read

TITLE: Dragon Slayer Number 9
AUTHOR: Intisar Khanani
PAGES: 5? Maybe 10?
GENRE: Young Adult, Fantasy, Short Story

RATING: 3.5/5 Stars

Sometimes a dragon just really wants to talk...

This is an exclusive short story currently available to the author's newsletter subscribers.

Note From Author: I wrote Dragon Slayer Number 9 after reading a Very Short excerpt from David Eggers’ 'Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever?' (Which is kind of an amazing book, if you haven't read it.) The thing to know about Eggers’ book in relation to Dragon Slayer Number 9 is it’s all dialogue. No attributions, nothing. Further, it takes place between a person in power, and others in his power. That’s about all I gathered from my first glance, but it fired up my imagination. I mean, wouldn't it be fun to write a piece like that, except with dragons, and maybe a bit lighter in mood? Thus was born Dragon Slayer Number 9. I did eventually go back to read Eggers’ book, but not until after I’d had my fun with this little story. I hope you enjoy it!

Overall Conclusion:
As I said, no real need to break this one down because it was such a short read. It was an interesting, experimental piece involving all dialogue and no descriptors or even guidance as to who is saying what. In a way it was a refreshing, light-hearted, humorous read and I certainly commend it for that. Intisar Khanani's charming style always seems to shine through, no matter what she writes. The short length did astound me a little, despite the fact that I went in knowing it would not be long, because it literally took me mere minutes to read. I would love to see everything expanded upon, or even just a re-written version that is more than dialogue, to compare the two. 

Planned Reads For December.

I'm laying off of the spooky reads and delving back into some reads that I've been looking forward to for a while. While they aren't Christmassy as such, they're sort of a present to myself because I've been wanting to read all of them for a pretty long time now!

  1. 'Memories Of Ash' by Intisar Khanani. I have gotten a little way through this book and am loving it. Intisar Khanani just never lets me down! I adored the prequel novella 'Sunbolt' but I read it quite a long time ago and I was a little concerned that I wouldn't remember it very well. I needn't have worried because everything came flooding back and I'm hooked on the plot so far!
  1. 'Stealing Snow' by Danielle Paige. That's right, fairy tales are very much on the agenda for this winter because I haven't read some in quite a while. I miss them! Danielle Paige has been floating around my TBR for over a year, with her 'Dorothy Must Die' series constantly resurging in popularity. Having received approval for this book on Netgalley, I felt that this had a much more wintry feel to it. I know very little other than the fact that it mixes The Snow Queen and Snow White & The Seven Dwarves together, so it should be interesting.
  2. 'Heartless' by Marissa Meyer. Words cannot describe how excited I am for this book. Seriously. Pan Macmillan were so kind to send me an ARC of this, and it was the one that made me squeal the most of the three they sent me. I'm actually hoping to read all three this month but this one is top priority and I'm desperately hoping that her portrayal of Wonderland and it's characters is as clever and original as 'The Lunar Chronicles' series I adored.
  3. 'Under Rose Tainted Skies' by Louise Gornall. YALC made me so excited for this book (in fact it was there that I bought it) and I've been dying to read it ever since because the reviews it has received are amazing. There's focus on anxiety, in particular agoraphobia, which will be interesting to read and probably receive a lot of comparisons to Michael Christie's 'If I Fall, If I Die'. Also, just look at that beautiful cover!
  4. 'A Girl Called Owl' by Amy Wilson. I thought I'd try out a slightly younger read and upon remembering this Netgalley approved Pan Macmillan read, felt it was the perfect one to choose! There's hints of Jack Frost in there, it's set in the winter and really couldn't scream December more if it tried. It's a debut from Wilson too, so I have high hopes that it'll be a good'n.
  5. 'A Quiet Kind Of Thunder' by Sara Barnard. Another pink cover (I'm loving this trend if it is one) for another YA Contemporary read. This was the third Pan Macmillan book sent to me and I was also very excited to see it because 'Beautiful Broken Things' was actually one of my favourite reads this year and I brought a copy at YALC just so I could look at it. I have high hopes for this one too after reading the synopsis and I'm hoping that I'll enjoy it as much as or even more than Barnard's debut!
  6. 'The Bear & The Nightingale' by Katherine Arden. Of course this book was making it on the list. I have been eyeing it up for a while now and while browsing for inspiration in my Netgalley approvals, remembered that this was also a winter-set novel that focuses largely on Fairy Tales of the Russian variety. The last time I read a Russian folk tale retelling, 'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey, I adored it and I know that people have been raving about this book! What a great Christmas this is going to be!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

November Wrap-Up.

Things went a little off track this month in that while I'd planned reads, I ended up reading a fair few books that weren't on the original list. This meant that I only managed five of the seven reads from my Planned Reads For November post. However, that's actually not too bad, and I did manage a couple of other, much shorter reads on top bringing my total for the month to seven! Wahoo!

  1. 'The Dead House' by Dawn Kurtagich. I started this spooky read in October and did end up liking it a lot, though not as much as I thought I would. It had a great premise - an unusual format comprising of diary entries, police interviews, etc. that told the story of a young girl living with an identity disorder trying to figure out if her extra personality is a 'symptom' or something more. There were too many aspects to the plot and Kurtagich kept introducing them, even towards the end. This meant that my attention waned and the 'finale' was pretty disappointing. 3/5 Stars.
  2. 'Kindred Spirits' by Rainbow Rowell. This short story that I received at YALC for free had been playing on my mind, and while I was already borrowing 'Fangirl' to read later on in the month from my sister, I wanted to read this too. It's a very sincere depiction and I liked it a lot, as it introduced me to Rowell's writing style pretty well. The characters were well-rounded and considering it's length the plot was very succinct. The end was a little cheesy and I would have liked it longer of course, but they are called short stories for a reason. 4/5 Stars.
  3. 'The Lie Tree' by Frances Hardinge. It is so easy to see why this one Costa's Book Of The Year award in 2015 and I'm so happy for Hardinge. I read 'Cuckoo Song' and enjoyed it a lot, but I think I liked this even better. It's set in Victorian Society (my favourite historical period) and Hardinge's characters were powerful and complex, her plot imaginative and her writing exquisite. I need to read more books written by this lady, she's clearly the kind of author whose books just work for me. 4.5/5 Stars.
  4. 'The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams' by Stephen King. The often-called master of horror did not blow me away in the past with his book 'It' and I'd been afraid to go back for quite some time in case I was disappointed again. Finally I decided that this time I'd opt for some of his shorter stories and I did enjoy them a little more. They were each different, though linked by common themes and I don't think that I disliked any of them, though a few I loved more than others. If you're intimidated by King's larger novels then maybe this is a good place to start. 4/5 Stars.
  5. 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I'm trying to read more non-fiction as I do enjoy learning about facts as well as through fiction. I am a feminist though until this book, I'd never read many essays or books on the subject and as I had already adored Adichie's TED talk, 'The Danger Of A Single Story', this seemed like a good one to start with. It's short but it neatly summarises what feminism is about Feminism, taking from Adichie's personal experiences and injecting her distinct style and wit. 5/5 Stars.
  6. 'The Ice Dragon' by George R.R. Martin. I didn't think that George R.R. Martin, famous for his use of gore, adult scenes and killing off everyone's favourite characters mercilessly would be able to pull of a children's book. But he has. In fact, it had a fairy-tale like quality to it, reminding me a lot of 'The Snow Child'. I did miss Martin's attention to detail, time period and setting however and elements of the story were a little vague. A great read though, and Luis Royo (whose artwork I've always admired) illustrates this edition beautifully. 4/5 Stars.
  7. 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell. My second Rowell book of the month and this one is significantly longer, which pleases me a lot. All I can say is that this lovely lady has a total mastery over realistic teen lives. The dialogues, characters, relationships and situational events such as first time going further than a kiss or first time at college felt so real. I related so much to Cath's anxious personality and honestly, it's a great depiction of how anxiety actually feels and why it's so frustrating for us when people thing we're just being difficult or weird. Loved the fanfiction element too, it brought back some happy memories. 4.5/5 Stars.

This month I have read six books for Pretty Deadly Review's Backlist Challenge, bringing my yearly total so far to fourty four. This month's reads were:

- 'The Dead House' by Dawn Kurtagich
- 'The Lie Tree' by Frances Hardinge
- The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams' by Stephen King
- 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- 'The Ice Dragon' by George R.R. Martin
- 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell

This month I have read one book for Falling For YA's Netgalley & Edelweiss Challenge bringing my yearly total so far to sixteen. This month's read was:

- 'The Dead House' by Dawn Kurtagich

This month I have gained zero points for Novel Heartbeat and Writer Grrl Reads' Prequel & Sequel Challenge, bringing my yearly total so far to sixty.

This month I have read one book for [un]Conventional Reviews' New Releases Challenge, bringing my yearly total so far to fifteen. The books I read were:

- 'Kindred Spirits' by Rainbow Rowell
This month I have read zero book for Daily Prophecy's Retelling Challenge, bringing my yearly total to ten

I also updated my Bookish Bingo card, and here are this trimester's results!

Stand Alone: Fearless; Tim Lott.
Back List: If I Fall, If I Die; Michael Christie.
Killers: The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams; Stephen King.
Suspense: The Dead House; Dawn Kurtagich.
Sea Creatures: Dark Tide; Jennifer Donnelly.
Revenge: The Gospel Of Loki; Joanne M. Harris.
Horror Or Paranormal: A Monster Calls; Patrick Ness.
Freebie: The Star-Touched Queen; Roshani Chokshi.
Illustrated: The Ice Dragon; George R.R. Martin.
American History: China Dolls; Lisa See.
Friendship: Harry Potter & The Cursed Child; J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany.
Black Cover: The Graces; Laure Eve.
Fall Release: As I Descended; Robin Talley.
Creepy Cover: The Lie Tree; Frances Hardinge.
Short Story: Kindred Spirits; Rainbow Rowell.
College: Fangirl; Rainbow Rowell.

Book Review: Fangirl; Rainbow Rowell.

I've not been actively avoiding Rainbow Rowel's books as such. I'd heard such great things about them that I knew I'd get round to reading them eventually! Contemporary YA Romance has never been my absolute favourite genre however and so I've always found that there are things I'd rather read until now. Rainbow Rowell's short story 'Kindred Spirits' sold me to the idea that she's a very good writer and understands teenagers very well, and I couldn't put off one of her full-length novels any longer.

SOURCE: Borrowed
TYPE: Paperback

TITLE: Fangirl
AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell
PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan
PAGES: 459
GENRE: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

RATING: 4.5/5 Stars

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they're off to university and Wren's decided she doesn't want to be one half of a pair any more - she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It's not so easy for Cath. She would rather bury herself in the fanfiction she writes where there's romance far more intense than anything she's experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she's ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she's realising that there's more to learn about love than she ever thought possible...

What I Liked:
  • Rainbow Rowell has completely proven to me that she understands how to write teens and young adults. In fact, she does so in such a natural, easy way that this book completely sucked me in and wouldn't let me go until the very end. I also adored that she handled particular topics: first-time at college and away from home (a topic I rarely see covered by authors) and first-time foreplay/sex (a topic I see covered BADLY too often). She impressed me with the latter particularly because the awkwardness, humour and fear were there (unlike other books where it's painted as this amazing thing filled with fireworks and rose petals) but it was still hot. I loved it.
  • The characters were frustrating to read, and yet I loved that about them. I saw a lot of myself in Cath: anxious, unwilling to try in fear of getting it wrong, a hater of change, and misunderstood by most people. Her frustration with people who think drinking is fun and 'living' is also my own and it was so refreshing to find someone who felt the same way. The characters she surrounded herself with were flawed but likeable: Levi's tendency to say the wrong thing, Wren's constant selfish, bitch actions and words, Nick's arrogance, and even Reagan's jealousy and brashness. These characteristics I hated but I also liked that Cath didn't know perfect people because that's how the world is! I could see elements of these people in other people that I actually know and it was very comforting.
What I Disliked:
  • This book is extremely slow in it's pace. It took me a long time to exactly understand where the plot was actually going and though Rowell's writing was great from beginning to end, it lacked direction from the start. That being said, this was pretty minor for me in the end because a slow build meant real relationships. None of this 'Oh I've met a boy, he's hot, I'm in love with him forever now'. Cath and Levi remained good friends throughout a large portion of the book and even that took time before they finally moved onto something more serious.
Overall Conclusion:
Yes, the book was slow and I normally hate books that take a while to get to the point. But, I must have been in an especially good mood while reading this because I actually appreciated the slow build in this case. Realistic characters, relationships, plot and settings are all things that Rowell seems to have pretty much mastered and I'm just sad that I didn't jump on the hype train sooner because my sister has been telling me to read Rainbow Rowell since forever. It might be a while before I revisit her books, but I definitely will!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Last Week's Shenanigans (21st November - 27th November)...

It's been quite a busy week for me, especially as my sister's birthday was this week! That paired with Black Friday meant that work and 'me time' was pretty exhausting for me. It's been fun though! On Monday, Mat and I went to the cinema to see Doctor Strange, the new Marvel film starring Benedict Cumberbatch. We enjoyed it, though I feel some of the other films in the MCU were a little better. Cumberbatch was okay, but I loved Tilda Swinton in this one!

Friday was my sister's birthday which made it a good day, though working in retail on Black Friday on OXFORD STREET is not the one. Not at all. Nevertheless I only worked the earlier shift, so I'm glad I wasn't working until close. On Sunday, Mat and I made our way down to Ashford to see my family, both for Bev's birthday and dinner with my Nan and Grandad. There were a lot of problems with the trains to begin with but when we arrived we had a lovely day! We went out for a roast dinner, then back to my Grandparent's for a game before returning to Ashford for even more games!

I Read...

I Received...

- 'The Diabolic' by S.J. Kincaid: Received from Illumicrate (23/11/16)
- 'Blood For Blood' by Ryan Graudin: Received from Illumicrate (23/11/16)

I Posted...

Illumicrate Unboxing (Box 5)