A BOOK OR MORE

Let’s Talk About The Poppy War

⭐⭐⭐⭐

There are 2 wolves inside of me. One says to rate The Poppy War 5 stars, the other snarls and says 3.

The rational human in me says let’s settle it at 4 stars. Both wolves slowly back away at this, but neither are sated. Ah well, when are we humans not upsetting the balance of nature? On to the review!

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang is, as many wise people have said before me, epic. This adult fantasy is packed with plot, making it hard to summise in a way that does it justice, but here’s the gist:

Our protagonist Rin is a peasant and war orphan with the utmost determination to change her circumstances. She knows that if she doesn’t do something quick, she’ll be kept in the clutches of her unloving family and forced into an unhappy marriage that serves their cruel whims. She decides then that against all odds, she’ll pass the Keju- a gruelling test conducted across the Empire, made to find the smartest students to study at its prestigious academies.

Rin works, boy does she work, and her test scores are so good that she is accepted into Sinegard, the most elite military academy. Only the wealthiest and most powerful are supposed to be able to make it, and so this ruffles some feathers. I absolutely loved Rin’s fire and drive shown at the beginning, it really sets you up to support her through the book. Because the Keju is far from the hardest challenge Rin that has to face.

Whilst at the academy, it’s clear that the peace currently enjoyed by the Empire is a frail thing indeed. War is on the horizon, and Rin learns and prepares all she can. More notably, she learns that (take a deep breath now) the gods are real and that she can access their power and she might have abilities beyond anyone’s comprehension..?

Yeh. It’s a lot.

Before starting The Poppy War, I’d heard a common complaint that people didn’t like how it changes pace in the middle of the story, right from classroom to warzone. That’s a fair concern, because the first half reads more like a YA with a barrel full of swearing, whereas the second half is thick with the gore and tragedies of battle, as well as exploring the weight of a genocide. It’s not worth proceeding with if you don’t feel comfortable reading that type of content, and there are plenty of trigger warnings to be mindful of.

I personally enjoyed the structure and pace of the book. I think R. F. Kuang changes her setting at a clever time, because she did want to write a story about war, so why beat around the bush? For me, there was definitely enough build up and foreshadowing to warrant such a reorientation. Furthermore, readers won’t have to deal with that awkward sequel feeling (you know, when everything has changed in the second book and you just want the first book back? that whole thing is nipped in the bud). Maybe partly because of this, I constantly had the thought throughout reading The Poppy War, that wow, Kuang’s whole structure didn’t feel formulaic at all. And that’s no small feat.

The 5 star wolf is yapping excitedly at my heels now, so I guess it’s time to mention that I LOVED the characters. I mentioned previously how much I liked Rin, but it’s worth reiterating that I so respected her work ethic, intelligence, and how she set her mind to fight for herself. But also, she’s just a cracking girl. At one moment in the book, she has the delight of getting her period for the first time, and her horrified reaction is just priceless. Just little things like that, and you grow with Rin.

My favourite character however, probably has to be Master Jiang. He’s an oddity at Sinegard, hardly ever turning up to teach lessons, but often seen annoying other staff members, and then waltzing away with a song on his lips. He has his funny moments, but he stands out because this light-heartedness is paired with such depth. You’re frequently given the impression that he might just be the only one who knows anything of worth, and you will him to let you in on his secrets.

I’d go on, but the 3 star wolf is getting agitated, and I can’t stand the growling. So… what could be wrong with this perfect book?

Just before we get there, it’s just plain wrong to talk about The Poppy War without mentioning its world building. It’s like no other book I’ve read, it’s stuffed with history and culture, and it can get dense. I was grateful for my kindle’s ability to recall where names had been mentioned previously, and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment at all. Much of it is inspired by real events and I’ll step aside for the author to explain:

“This is, as I’ve always conceived it, a war story. It draws heavily on the Second Sino-Japanese war which – if you know anything about Asia – was one of the darkest and bloodiest moments in Chinese history. It grapples with the Rape of Nanjing. It deals heavily with opium and drug use.”

Whilst I loved the level of world building, I mention this here because I’ve seen a lot of own-voice reviewers have issues with the way the aforementioned tragedies were used in the book. The criticism is that such matters should not be used for entertainment purposes. I can’t really comment on whether it was right or not to incorporate this real level of suffering into a fantasy novel, as I’m not Chinese. But I think it is worth highlighting this debate, because I did think the novel’s changes in tone could be somewhat jarring. For example, you’ll have a character say something equivalent to ‘let’s go kick everyone’s asses!1!!!’ and turn into a monkey or something, and then the following chapter will detail a character going through a horrific circumstance that was a reality for so many people in the past.

On the other hand, it would be remiss not to highlight that R. F Kuang is Chinese – American herself, and she must have felt it important to raise these important topics and talk about her history. I don’t think there’s a clear answer here, but I wanted to mention this concern.

I had other minor niggles whilst reading, but mainly, I just didn’t love the ending of this book. To explain simply without spoilers, our protagonist gets some revenge. Usually I’m all for a badass female character getting her justice (shoutout to Adelina Amouteru, if you know you know) but this was enacted in such a way that I felt left void everything she had learnt in the book. I’d be interested to hear from someone who liked the ending, but for me, it just felt like a bit too much, it wasn’t really justified, and I was disappointed.

With all this in mind, however, I’m more than excited, hungry maybe, to read the sequel The Dragon Republic (only 99p on kindle!!). The fact that the first was flawed, in my opinion, makes the second installment all the more tantalising. I don’t feel like I’ll be disappointed by it, and I’m eager for some wrongs to be righted.

So, quick update on my wolves- they’re sleeping now. I’ve said what I wanted to say. To summise, The Poppy War is insanely good and mind boggling as a debut, and it also has it’s fair share of faults. These things happen. If you’ve not been turned off, and you like political intrigue and fancy some strategising shamans, then this is a must read.

Let me know your thoughts on The Poppy War if you’ve read it, or whether it’s made it onto your TBR.

Happy Reading 😊📖

Diversify that Shelf Readathon

So, this is a belated update to say I’m very excited to be participating in the Diversify that Shelf Readathon! From the creator’s own words, this is ‘a readathon with a focus on supporting diverse books, experiences, and authors of colour’ and is taking place from August 10-19th. You may have noticed that today is the 11th so it’s well under way, but it’s never too late to talk about some good books!

This Readathon was created by the amazing Perks of Being Noura, and you can see their announcement here.

Mirage Readathon (6)

Here are the challenges:

  • Diverse middle grade 
  • Different culture than you 
  • By a Black author (any genre) 
  • South Asian inspired (any genre) 
  • Middle East inspired (any genre)
  • Focuses on identity 
  • Diverse contemporary 
  • By a Latinx author (any genre) 
  • Non western setting
  • East Asian inspired (any genre) 
  • POC on cover
  • A friends favorite diverse read
  • Own voice (culture, identity, etc) 
  • Diverse book with more than 300 pages
  • Book by an AOC you’ve wanted to read for a while
  • Pick a book by an AOC randomly 

That’s a whopping sixteen challenges, so I won’t be getting to them all, but it certainly gives a good scope for choosing the reads I’m most excited for! 

I’ve chosen 6 books that complete most of these. 

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Challenges: Focuses on identity, A friends favourite diverse read

Goodreads synopsis: The water-breathing descendants of African slave women tossed overboard have built their own underwater society—and must reclaim the memories of their past to shape their future in this brilliantly imaginative novella inspired by the Hugo Award nominated song “The Deep” from Daveed Diggs’ rap group Clipping.

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang 

Challenges: East Asian inspired, Diverse book with more than 300 pages, Book by an AOC you’ve wanted to read for a while

Goodreads synopsis: When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli 

Challenges: By a Latinx author

Goodreads synopsis: I was born in Pachuca, the Beautiful Windy City, with four premature teeth and my body completely covered in a very fine coat of fuzz. But I’m grateful for that inauspicious start because ugliness, as my other uncle, Eurípides López Sánchez, was given to saying, is character forming.

Highway is a late-in-life world traveler, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer. His most precious possessions are the teeth of the “notorious infamous” like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf. Written in collaboration with the workers at a Jumex juice factory, Teeth is an elegant, witty, exhilarating romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City and Luiselli’s own literary influences. 

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor 

Challenges: POC on cover, Pick a book by an AOC randomly

Goodreads synopsis: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman 

Challenges: By a Black author

Goodreads synopsis: Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.

Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum — a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy 

Challenges: South Asian inspired, Different culture than you, Non Western setting, Own voice

Goodreads synopsis: The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, a skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins is stranded on the highway amid a Marxist workers’ demonstration. Inside the car sit two-egg twins Rahel and Esthappen, and so begins their tale. . . .

Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, they fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family–their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt), and the ghost of an imperial entomologist’s moth (with unusually dense dorsal tufts).

When their English cousin, Sophie Mol, and her mother, Margaret Kochamma, arrive on a Christmas visit, Esthappen and Rahel learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river “graygreen.” With fish in it. With the sky and trees in it. And at night, the broken yellow moon in it.

The brilliantly plotted story uncoils with an agonizing sense of foreboding and inevitability. Yet nothing prepares you for what lies at the heart of it.

The God of Small Things takes on the Big Themes–Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite Joy. Here is a writer who dares to break the rules. To dislocate received rhythms and create the language she requires, a language that is at once classical and unprecedented. Arundhati Roy has given us a book that is anchored to anguish, but fueled by wit and magic.

So here are all my choices! I’ll be over the moon if I get to them all.

Are you participating in this readathon? Have you read any of these? Let me know!

Happy reading 😊📖

The Reading Rush- Day 4 & 5

So… how to put this?

I didn’t read anything on Day 4.

Yup that’ll do. Moving swiftly on !

Today I ever so nearly finished The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden but it just wasn’t to be, and I’ll have to get to it tomorrow morning. Just a few more pages of sheer silliness!

I did however start Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and I have to say, the BBC TV show is almost identical which I very much approve of. The 2005 film on the other hand… well we don’t need to talk about that.

I’m on page 48 and already, I believe in Caroline Bingley supremacy. The way she teases and gets us to see Mr Darcy’s affections are highly amusing.

There are also lots of iconic scenes that I’m looking forward to finally reading about, after seeing the two aforementioned productions. Namely, I’m excited for the absolute fail of a proposal that ends in seething rage on both sides. Ah. To be in love ❤️

It’s going to be a fun day of reading tomorrow!

The Reading Rush- Day 3

Sooooooo IDidn’tReadThatMuchTodayBecauseIHadWorkAndAlsoFeltReallyTiredAndLazy. But such is life.

I’m still on track though! I’m about 60% through The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson and I’m getting really into it now. If you’ve read The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, you know how wild and explansive Jonasson’s writing can be. It just takes a little to time to acclimatise to the… well, sheer nonsense.

In TGWSTKOS the main character is a girl named Nombeko who grows up in the slums of South Africa cleaning up sewage. It’s not long however, until her genius begins to shine and she winds up assisting in the development of nuclear warheads. 0 to 100. I’m absolutely loving her character and how she thinks her way out of the most bizarre situations.

On the flip side, we hear about a passionate, Swedish royalist turned vehement republican who raises his twin sons as if only one exists. This is, of course, in the hopes of bringing them up with the same diehard beliefs as himself. And funnily enough, these sons end up meeting with Nombeko when she finds herself on the run from the secret service.

Okay it turns out that this plot is basically impossible to explain, and if you’re not confused then maybe you should be.

In any case, it’s all good fun, with a healthy double-serving of insanity and a side of historical madness. I hope to finish it tomorrow and continue my pace of a book every 2 days.

Good luck to everyone else participating out there!

The Reading Rush – Day 2

So I’m taking part in this year’s Reading Rush, which is happening right now, this week. You can check out their website for details here. This announcement is admittedly pretty late, but I think we can all move past this, because we’re all such strong people.

Thank you for your understanding.

And from now on, I’m going to aim to update every evening with my Reading Rush progress. Huzzah.

There are 7 challenges in this readathon, and today I completed 2 of them! I read My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite which is set in Nigeria, so it completes the challenge ‘Read a Book from a Different Continent.’ I also sprawled out in my garden this morning and read it in one sitting to complete the task ‘Read a Book Completely Outside your House.’

It’s the perfect book for a readathon: short, snappy chapters, and a real page turner. Gorgeous serial killer women have a habit of keeping your attention.

I’m also a quarter of the way through reading The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. This is a pretty hefty book for a readathon- weighing in at 419 pages- but I’m hoping it will cross off 3 challenges for me, as shown below.

– A book cover the colour of your birthstone. Feast your eyes on the visual aids below!

-A book beginning with ‘The.’ Pretty self explanatory.

-The first book you touch (I laid out a couple of books that fit multiple prompts and then just flailed my hand around until it hit this one- super classy).

Well that’s my day! Best of luck to anyone else getting their read on this week 🤓📖

Book Haul: Bath’s Best Bookshops

Here’s the deal. I went to three of Bath’s best book shops with my family, and after not being able to browse in book shops for about 4 months, it felt like a dazed dream. Of course I’ve done my fair share of internet shopping but it just doesn’t compare.

I’m really excited to talk about what I bought, but I’m also going to gush a little, tell you what I enjoyed about the shops we visited, and spread the love.

Topping & Company Booksellers

Our first stop was Topping & Company Booksellers. It’s not the largest bookshop, but it can seem a bit intimidating at first with it’s wall-high bookshelves and has so much packed in, you don’t know where to look.

Ah who I am I kidding, it’s a sheer delight.

Topping’s main front room is layed out by genre of book, my favourite sections being their new translated fiction and paperback fiction. However, the best part about Topping for me, is what’s at the back of the shop. A narrow passage brings you into a circular room that is brimming with poetry of all types. In the centre is a large table piled with first edition copies and signed works. It’s glorious.

All of this solidified Topping & Company as my sister’s favourite of our 3 stops. Not to mention the tall ladders on the high shelves that gives the shop that classic aesthetic.

What did I buy?

IMAGINE if I’d just written all that and then didn’t get my hands on one of the poetry books… clownery. But I’m happy to report that I got Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky and I’m chuffed. Kaminsky is a Ukrainian-American poet and I believe this is his second work. Apparently it reads like a play in 2 acts, with each poem being a different scene in the play. The prevalent themes are of war and ignorance, and through it we get to see how different people react and live with conflict.

I’ve previously read a few of the poems in Deaf Republic and loved them, so it won’t be long until I read the rest.

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She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore was my other purchase at Topping & Company. Not only is the cover gorgeously grabbable, the novel’s premise sounds incredible. From the sounds of it we start by being taken from character to character, starting in a West African village where there’s a girl who just can’t die. Then, we’re taken to a plantation where one of the men there is struggling to hide his unbelievable strength, and there’s someone in Jamaica who can turn invisible and so on. You get the picture.

Our cast of characters are forced to hide and escape in different ways, and are unltimately brought together. From this begins a narrative of Liberia’s early years. So instead of, say, the action sci-fi tumble that is X-men, the vibe of this is more historical magical realism. I’m hoping for something beautiful and hard-hitting.

Mr B’s Emporium

Our next stop was Mr B’s Emporium, which is an absolute essential for any booklover checking out Bath. It’s got awards, and you can tell. It’s adorned wonderfully; the highlights being an exciting children’s area and an upstairs scattered with cosy armchairs to sink into. The majority of their fiction is not layed out in genre like Topping’s, but the classic A-Z by author. This meant I was easily able to find specific books I wanted, but it’s potentially less ‘browsable’ without a plan.

That being said, Mr B’s was both of my parents favourite shop due to their excellent wall of staff recommendations. So if in doubt,you could just pick any of those books up- I’m sure they won’t let you down. This was also my brother’s fiancé’s favourite of our stops. She enjoyed the great YA collection in the emporium as well as commending the lovely and helpful staff.

What did I buy?

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As I said, I knew I’d be able to get the specific books I wanted, one of which being There There by Tommy Orange.

I knew that I wanted to read some Native American work and when I heard this novel being discussed on the podcast Books Unbound, I was sold. It’s about different groups of people journeying up to a powwow, which is a Native American Indian ceremony with feasts and dancing. That already grabbed me because as (is probably obvious) this is something I know nothing about. The blurb tells us that someone has come to the powwow with dark intentions, which of course just adds to the intrigue.

The author Tommy Orange is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapho Nations of Oklahoma so I’m really looking forward to this own-voice story.

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Next up, and most definitely the weirdest of my random pile, is The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli. This book came to my attention as I was looking for some Mexican literature to read, and there was no way I could forget it.

Our main character is an auctioneer who is selling off his collection of famous peoples’ teeth. Yeh, you read that right. Not only that, he’s selling his collection because he needs the funds to buy the perfect set of teeth for himself. And now, if my calculations are correct, you’re agreeing with me that The Story of My Teeth sounds fascinatingly strange.

As I was browsing Mr B’s Emporium with book in hand, a member of staff commented on how much they loved this book, and how intelligent the author was. They even went on to recommend Luiselli’s newest work which made me even more confident in my decision to give this a good go. (Isn’t people affirming your book buying decisions the best feeling?)

Skoobs Books

Then for a complete change of pace, we headed to Skoobs for some second-hand book shopping. Skoobs can be found in Bath’s Guildhall market, so it’s not a place you’d just happen to pass by, but it’s certainly worth seeking out.

Skoobs is a stall that fits a much greater collection of books than you’d think was possible in such a space, which made it the highlight of my brother’s shopping trip. In fact, it was the only stop of ours where everyone brought more than 1 book- the selection was that good.

The owner there was also very friendly and ready to help direct you to the right stack of books if needed.

What did I buy?

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The Blinding Knife is the second book in Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series, following The Black Prism. I didn’t particularly set out to get this continuation, but when I saw it sat so proudly on the shelf at it’s beautiful discount price, it kind of felt like a sign.

It’s been a while since I started this series, but from what I can remember, it’s an adult fantasy where certain individuals have magic that comes from specific colours. For example, some folks can wield the colour red (they tend to love a bit of fire action), some people wield green and you know, they love a good field, and so forth. The leader in this fantasy land is a man called the Prism who has the ability to use magic through all the different colours. This unfortunately comes with a price though, because using magic takes years off your lifespan. This novel kicks off when the Prism realises he has a son he never knew about. Talk about drama.

I remember really enjoying the political intrigue and the magic system of this, so hyped to move forward with it.

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And last but not least, I bought Arundhati Roy’s much praised and loved The God of Small Things. I’m always drawn to fiction by women from other cultures and this appears often in book lists about women from around the world. So again, when I saw this at Skoobs it was a no brainer.

That aside, I don’t know a lot about it, except that it’s set in India and it’s about an eclectic family. From the description it looks like we have a die hard marxist, a violinist, and an ex-nun among others in this family.

But it won the Booker prize, it’s applauded often for its intelligence and beauty, so who am I to ask questions.

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And that was my haul!

Thank you for reading, and I hope that more and more people soon get the opportunity urtunity to visit these brilliant bookshops.

Let me know if you’ve recently bought any books your excited to get into, or maybe tell me a bit about your favourite bookshop?

So long, and stay safe x

Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag 2020

Hi all!

I recently decided that I’d like to start doing book blogging again (lucky you!), and so I’ve unearthed my sad and abandoned old blog from the depths of 2016. Due to the current situation (that needs no more explaining, I’m sure) I’ve found myself dedicating more time to enjoying reading, which I unfortunately hadn’t been doing for a number of years. It is therefore my hope that I can get back into this and become part of the book community again.

[End of boring intro]

Since we are half way through the year now, what better post to start on than the mid-year book freakout tag! This tag gets us to examine the highs and lows and everything in between of our reading in 2020 so far.

This tag is usually done on Youtube, and you can see the creator’s video here.

Onto the questions!

1. Best book I’ve read so far in 2020

I’ve actually been having a really good reading year, so I’m thinking I’ll have to cheat on this one! Whether it’s pure luck that I’ve picked up great books, or I’m just feeling super generous because of my reignited love of reading, I’ve rated nearly a third of the books I’ve read this year the glorious 5 stars. (If only Goodreads allowed for a 4.5). I’m going to give two answers for this: best in fiction and best in non-fiction. That’s fair, right?

My best in fiction is going to This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. This was actually my very first read of 2020 and what a start to the year! This book follows two agents on opposing sides of the time war: a war that is fought by time-travelling through different streams and threads of the past in alternate universes, tweaking events here and there in the hopes of effecting the outcomes of the future. The two agents, Red and Blue, find that the only real competition they have is each other, and begin a correspondence of letters that they leave for each other when they scupper the other’s plans. But the taunting and teasing doesn’t last forever, giving way instead to hints of mutual affection.

I absolutely adored it. I connected with it so naturally as someone who loves sci-fi, letter writing, and of course, a healthy bit of yearning, that this book felt made for me. The writing can at times cross the line of being excessively flowery, but if you’re in the right mood for a romance then it’s all a delight. It will definitely be hard for me to beat it this year.

In 2020 I’ve also enjoyed so much more non-fiction than I usually do, and whilst I’d like to mention a few favourites, I won’t break the prompt more than I already have! My non-fiction winner goes to Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. This is a journey of the author’s own dramatic undertaking to prove his devout faith in Islam, but after much debate and many tears, he has an incredibly moving conversion to Christianity instead. I’d recommend more people to read it than just Christians, because I was particularly inspired by his desire to be certain in his faith whatever it happened to be. Whether it’s Islam or Christianity or nothing at all, let’s be sure and happy in our convictions. Why is the world so full of people with half-baked beliefs? This is a journey worth undertaking.

2. Best sequel I’ve read so far in 2020

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This question is suuuper easy for me. I’ve only read two sequels this year, and whilst both were good, one I loved. Please cue the dramatic music, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater has entered the building~.

The Dream Thieves is the second installment of the popular YA series The Raven Cycle. It’s a difficult plot to summise, but I’ll do my best. Our protagonist, Blue, is a sensible girl in a house full to bursting with psychics. She’s not psychic herself, but gets more than involved because she has the ability to increase the talents of those around her. In the first book she sees that a boy named Gansey will die. Gansey is an annoyingly rich and handsome private school student who you’d be sure to hate, if he wasn’t so sincerely and madly desperate to find a long lost dead Welsh King. Yep- not quite what you’d expect. He inspires loyalty and has a group of friends with their own quirky and vivid personalities, who you can’t help but love. It’s all totally magical, and the sequel gives us deeper insight into the mechanics of this found family, with clear direction into the next installment. Chefs’ kiss.

3. New release I haven’t read yet, but want to

There’s so much to choose from, but the plot of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown has particularly gripped me since I read it. This fantastical debut came out just this June and has built a lot of hype. It’s inspired by West African folklore and revolves around a princess and refugee who have their hearts set on murdering the other to achieve their own ambitions. This is pitched as an enemies to lovers, and I’m a sucker for this trope, so bring it on.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I don’t really tend to anticipate releases, but The Midnight Library by Matt Haig has been on my ‘want to read’ shelf for many months. Here’s the pitch:

‘Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices… Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?’

Need I say more??

5. Biggest disappointment

I really hate being negative about books unless they’re already very established and past the point of judgement. And so for that reason I’m going to give Homer’s The Iliad the joy of being my biggest disappointment, because you can hardly get more established than that. My explanation being that I read The Odyssey previously and found it more enjoyable and fitting to my tastes.

6. Biggest surprise

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For this I think I’ll choose Audre Lorde’s poetic auto-biography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Zami is ultimately a chronicle of the women who have shaped Lorde, with a keen eye on the racism, othering, poverty and grief she experienced all the way. Her situation is so painfully sad at the start that I almost decided to leave the book unfinished. Thankfully her recounts take some hopeful turns, and we get to see the light that poetry and love became in her life. The reason I call this suprising is because Lorde is far from shy in this book, with some of her confessions and secrets honestly shocking me in their frankness. I know this is what some people most love about Zami, but I’m not entirely convinced. (I blame my Britishness.)

7. Favourite new author

I read my first Steinbeck this year! 2020 is the year I get educated on my modern classics, you mark my words.

8. Newest fictional crush

Hmmm… Pass.

9. Newest favourite character

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Ooooh, now this I can get into. I’ve met so many new characters I love, so picking one is, in fact, cruel. Most of The Raven Boys characters would definitely be in the running for the top spot, but since I’ve touched on that series, let’s move onto some fresh meat.

That sounded more evil than I intended…

…But perhaps we should get a little evil? My newest favourite character has got to be Adelina from The Young Elites series. And Adelina is deliciously morally grey. As readers we’re left wondering if she’s going to be able to grasp onto the goodness inside herself, or if she will, for want of a better phrase, turn to the dark side. I personally love a bit of female villain action, and if you’re interested in this I have a lil review of The Young Elites here.

10. A book that made me cry

I hate to say it but I’ve never cried reading a book. Maybe that’ll be my challenge for the second half of the year? Let’s read ’em and weep, as they say.

11. Book that made me happy

There is one author, or rather poet who never fails to make me happy. And this year I had the pleasure to read her work Upstream: Selected Essays. I’m talking of no other than the pure delight that is Mary Oliver. Truthfully, I prefer her poetry collections such as Felicity (my favourite) but it was still great to try her essays. Quite a few of the essays in this collection were about other poets, some on nature (not a shock) as well as some isnights into her growing up.

Have you seen those ‘Try Not to Laugh’ challenges on YouTube? Well reading Mary Oliver is a ‘Try Not to Smile’ challenge that you’ll be sure to fail. Her optimism is so uplifting and her desire to see goodness and love in everything has helped me on many a rainy day. Even if you’re not sure if poetry is your thing, I think it’s worth checking Oliver out. I think what she has to say is of great worth.

One of my favourite quotes:

Doesn’t anybody in the world anymore want to get up in the middle of the night and sing?

12. Most beautiful book I’ve bought so far this year 

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I’ve tried very hard to not buy books this year (although I’m not sure if my family members would agree) and if I do buy, to buy second hand. Consequently, I can’t think of any typically beautiful books, but I personally love the simplicity of these selected poems from Margaret Atwood. I definitely couldn’t just get the one book; they look so good together.

13. What books do I need to read by the end of the year?

There’s so many books I’d like to get around to this year, it’s slightly ridiculous. But what I actually need to read is another question altogether. What I can say however, is that I just finished binge-watching the BBC television adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (which took me to silly heights of entertainment) and it’s a crime I’ve not ready any of her novels. So I think I do need to get around to that. Mr Wickham, you’d better watch out.

14. Favourite Book Community Member

Easy! My favourite person in the world is my twin sister Rebekah, and she has a channel where she discusses everything bookish which you can check out here! Keep doing what you do, Bex. I love watching your videos and I know I’m not the only one ❤

[AND SCENE]

Whew! We’ve finally come to the end of the whoppinggg mid-year freakout book tag. Thank you for reading and reflecting on the highs and lows with me. If you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned, I’d love to know your thoughts.

And let me know what you’re most excited to read this year!

Happy reading 🙂

 

 

An out of reach goal

As the title suggests, I set myself a book goal, specifically a Goodreads goal to read 55 books this year. At the time, it seemed achievable as last year I read 52 (an improvement from the year before) and so I thought this trend might continue. Not quite the case as there can, of course, be factors such as book lengths, stress, and well, stress that affect reading.

It did come to various points in the year where I’d check my progress and see figures such as ‘6 books behind’ or I think my worst was ‘8 books behind’ because I really just hadn’t felt like picking up a book, and then consequently snap into a frenzy of reading the shortest books I could find. This kind of reading behaviour was certainly not desirable and put me into more of a slump; I was getting little satisfaction after finishing a book- that I never particularly wanted to read- and still remained behind schedule.

Currently, as I’m writing with 5 more days of the year, I am 87% through my challenge with 48/55 read. And to be honest, I now don’t really mind.

Ooooh.

I know.

Could that be acceptance in the air?

Yes, no more will the frenzy grip me as the year comes to a close. Because now a fresh start is in sight, and there’s even less pressure on next year having not completed my goal this year. I experienced a gross and out of hand feeling of seeing myself behind for the whole of 2017, and I have now come to accept that it doesn’t matter if I don’t complete every challenge I set. I shot for the moon and fell among the stars -as the factually dubious saying goes.

And what did the stars hold for me? Well, I had the honour of giving 13 books that glorious 5-star rating. As I’m a bit lazy I’ll just list them in order of reading for now, but if anyone wants a review- all you have to do is ask!

  1. Incomparable by Andrew Wilson ~ I briefly talk about what this is and why I wanted to read it here~
  2. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson ~ A rather hilarious historical romp~
  3. The Language Web: The Power and Problem of Words – The 1996 BBC Reith Lectures by Jean Aitchison ~Fundamental for an English Language student~
  4. King’s Cage (Red Queen #3) by Victoria Aveyard ~I say why I enjoyed the first book here in my 2016 wrap up, as well as some of the plot here ~
  5. Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie ~You can thank Slightly for this high rating~
  6. Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone #1) by Leigh Bardugo ~If only the rest of the books were as captivating as the series’ villain~
  7. Grace by Richard Paul Evans ~Gives you that warm feeling~
  8. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie ~a.k.a the only Christie murderer I’ve correctly guessed~
  9. Life of Pi by Yann Martel ~Pi is a fantastic character, it’s a beautiful story~
  10. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung ~Easier to read than to apply, that’s for sure~
  11. The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2) by Patrick Ness ~You there, yeh you- read this series~
  12. Esther: Silent but Sovereign by Carolyn Lacey ~I talk about this useful series here under the heading ‘Ezekiel: For His Glory’~
  13. Christmas Uncut by Carl Lafterton ~wow it’s almost like Christmas is worth celebrating~

So there we have it, some gems will come to you no matter how Goodreads says you’re doing.

An out of reach goal is just an opportunity to push yourself to do better, and certainly not something to cause you any grief.

So thank you for reading! I hope you too can look back on 2017 and see some good, whatever may have happened along the way. xx

Christian book haul

I put myself on a bit of a book ban this year. The aim was to blitz through the books I had on my shelf before 2017 and as far as I was concerned, it was going well; We were 8 months in and I’d only bought 7 books. Book lovers, you understand the struggle of holding back when charity/ book shops are always right around the corner… not to mention the internet.

But THEN came the holidays, and I went to a christian event called Newday and I also went camping with my church youth group. The book shops were well stocked at both, and really, can you stop yourself growing in your faith for the sake of a book ban? I don’t think so: the perfect excuse had arisen.

Newday

1. Storylines

Goodreads tells me that I’m 45% of the way through this, and I’m likin’ it. The book aims to take its readers through the 6 overarching themes of the Bible to help show us the relevance of scripture we might not have understood and to reveal the links between the new & old testament. It’s an easy read, the tone is friendly and it brings a lot of clarity.

2. Erasing Hell

I haven’t started this yet, but one of the main reasons I picked it up was because I heard one of the authors -Francis Chan- preach and it was extremely moving and compelling. (I laughed a lot as well). Now, that kind of speaker probably has an interesting thing or two to say. The blurb tells me that this book seeks to illuminate what the Bible actually says about hell, much needed in a time where many Christians feel too uncomfortable thinking about what the concept of hell could actually imply. This book has unsurprisingly got some mixed reviews, so I look forward to having a look myself.

Youth group camp

The book stall at camp had some absolute bargains, let me tell you. Pretty sure every book there was less than a fiver.

1. How can I be sure?

This is an addition to the ‘Questions Christians ask’ series (as is book #2) which I am definitely a fan of. As the title suggests, this is a book about all the times Christians have doubts about their faith. It deals with uncertainties that stem from things such as not having an ‘experience’ with God or wondering if you’re loved. I’m positive there’ll be a lot of content I can relate to and a lot of encouraging material.

2. How will the world end?

I finished this last week and gave it a 4 star rating. I was keen to begin it right away because it’s a question that confused me immensely. There’s always some horror movie about the Antichrist as well as a dozen different theories on Christians being zapped up to heaven, so I wanted to know what the Bible actually said about this stuff and what was just speculation. Disclaimer: I wasn’t disappointed. Although it isn’t much of a shock that people will read Revelation and have different interpretations, that shouldn’t divide our community. My personal opinion is still being formulated on this matter, but the important thing for Christians is that we unite in knowing Jesus will return. I think that’s a crucial point made by the author.

3. Ezekiel: For His Glory

This is one of many devotional books by 10Publishing. Before buying, I’d read their devotional through the book of Hosea and currently, I’m on Esther. I find the format of these books really helpful, so for £1.50 of course I was going to snap it up. Each page is numbered but undated so there’s no pressure to read them every day without fail. The explanations of passages (in the others I’ve read) were coherent easy reads and each of those sections end with a helpful reflection/ prayer.

4. Crazy Lazy

Despite this consisting of a mere 43 pages I’m expecting this to be convicting. It’s very telling that all of my family members were confident this was the book for me. The fact that this is my first post in about 8 months might also give you some insight into my need for a lil something on laziness. After all, I have an inkling that sloth wasn’t one of the fruits of the spirit.

Well, there we have it: the demise of a book ban, but a burst of new life into my bookshelves. Thanks for reading!

2016 wrap up

Last year I read 52 books out of a goal of 50, which needless to say, I’m happy with- though it does seem like reading goals are the only ones I can actually complete (rip).

Below is a summary of my 3 favourite and 3 least favourite reads last year… this excitement almost warrants party poppers, don’t ya think?

Least favourites

3. Frankenstein

I’m lazy, so if you care why this classic ended up here then my short review: https://abookormore.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/frankenstein/ might shed some light. I do respect this as a work of literature, don’t get me wrong. I just do not like it.

2. Demigods and monsters

This is Raye Wagner’s second installment of her ‘Sphinx’ series. Bafflingly, this has so far achieved a 4.3 average rating on Goodreads. A 4.3 rating for a sequel indicates a work of fiction where the plot progresses… a 4.3 rating signalizes a book that draws you closer to the characters… a 4.3 rating is not fitting for this book.

We’ll keep this short before I begin to rant, but I guess I was just disappointed that this new series of curses and mythology was reducing itself to a secret-ridden girl, sidelining her mission (and her readable story line) to work out her ever so confusing love triangle. Sigh.

1. Alice in Wonderland

???

I just didn’t really seem to get the appeal here. There’s an abundance of imaginative ideas (obviously) but I found Alice irritating and somewhat cringey, which is certainly not what one looks for in a protagonist.  I can’t say I enjoyed this which is disappointing. I will potentially read it again in the future to see if I can grasp some of its greatness because it just felt pointless to me, and still does. But hey, it was short so that’s a bonus.

Favourites

3. Red Queen

Did I really just slander two loved and respected classics, only to appraise an over-hyped YA fiction? Well, at least I’m self aware! Victoria Aveyard  t r u l y  sucked me in with this addictive read. I lapped up all the descriptions of the powers and special abilities on show, I was shamelessly excited to see an arena, I adored the cast of characters. Later on in life, I may sigh at my love for this. For now though, my teen self will continue to inwardly squeal at this series; Its just a lotta fast-paced fun, my friends.

2. Skulduggery Pleasant series

This 9 book series is one heck of a ride and well worthy of being mentioned in my bookish highlights. The first book is the weakest for me- perhaps it was trying to find its feet? In any case, I’ll let it slide. Throughout the series there is an incredible and exciting cast of cool characters, who work to make up a delightfully witty dialogue. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes magic, a bit of violence, and who’s looking for a laugh. It does do to bare in mind that this series is targeted at younger readers, but I know myself and many others still found it immensely enjoyable.

1. Ender’s Game series (thus far)

~~~ Just as a disclaimer, I’d like to say that my respect for these books (Ender’s game and Speaker for the dead) doesn’t extend to a respect/ endorsement of any hurtful remarks from Orson Scott Card himself. It is sad that many readers have blacklisted this story due to the author, but I cannot blame them for it. ~~~

Ender’s Game is conceptually rich and immersive, and focuses on a young boy onto which the burden of winning a war is thrust. The writing is haunting in the way that it challenges morals and evokes emotion, but it also handles the action and the thrill present in any good sci-fi with adept ease. The sequel follows on so well, and is yet so different to the first, that the series is massively intriguing. It’s deep and it’s exciting. I really cannot wait to pick up the third book.

 

So there were my messy thoughts on last year’s reads! Feel free to comment if there was anything you agreed/disagreed with, but first and foremost thank you if you even read this far! A happy new year to you all x