Category: Miscellaneous

BEA 2016 Book Haul – part two of three

BEA 2016 Book HaulWelcome back to the second part of my BEA 2016 book haul.  There are lots of exciting books still to come!

The first book I’d like to mention is Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Kay Kristoff.  This is the sequel to last year’s awesome YA sci-fi thriller Illuminae.  Like its predecessor, Gemina’s formatting plays an integral part in the story, and this is a cool looking ARC.  I plan to re-listen to Illuminae in audiobook format to refresh my memory before starting Gemina – the audiobook was fantastically well done and actually won an Audiie at this years Audie awards.  Go Team Illuminae!  Gemina was another of the hot books at BEA, with people starting to line up hours in advance of the ARC drop.  I was one of the last people in line to actually get one, and I was so happy.  You can pick it up for yourselves in October 2016.

One Paris Summer by Denise Grover Swank is a young adult contemporary about a young woman who spends a summer in France after her parents’ divorce and father’s remarriage.  I’m hoping it will be in a similar vein to Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss which I adored.  We shall see.  This book is available from June 2017.

Next up is The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick.  I don’t know much about this one, but it appears to be a love story between an Irishwoman and a Frenchman in the setting of an Antarctic research base.  It appears they have been destined to be together since time immemorial, so colour me intrigued.  The Comet Seekers is available in October 2016.

The main reason I picked up Florence Foster Jenkins!!! The Life of the World’s Worst Opera Singer is because of the trailer for the upcoming movie starring Meryl Streep.  The trailer makes Florence sound such an engaging and fascinating character – I look forward to reading her story before seeing the movie.  Check it out from June 2016.

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles is a book about which I don’t know a great deal.  From the blurb it seems to be a YA thriller novel.  It was blurbed by Peter Jackson of The Lord of the Rings movies, so it does comes with high praise.  Thrillers aren’t generally my cup of tea though, but I’ll give it a go.  It is not available until January 2017.

Keith Donohue’s The Motion of Puppets drew my attention because the protagonist comes from Quebec.  This novel tells the story of a woman who is turned into a puppet and how she and her husband must struggle to be reunited.  It could be an interesting read.  Pick it up in October 2016.

One of the few middle grade books I picked up was The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart.  Reuben finds a magical antique watch and as a result, is drawn into many fantastical adventures and must work to defeat the villainous Smoke.  Should be worth a read.  It’s around from September 2017.

The 13th Continuum is a young adult dystopian novel about a world in which humanity has had to retreat to havens known as Continuums after a cataclysmic event nearly destroys the Earth.  A group of young people has the opportunity to change their reality.  The sequel, Return of the Continuums was also available so I picked it up, too.  The 13th Continuum is already available – it was released in April 2016 – but you’ll need to wait til November 2016 for the sequel.

One of the ARC drops at BEA was a roll the dice game which indicated which book you won.  I ended up with Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott, an author whose works I have very much enjoyed before.  Poisoned Blade is the sequel to Court of Fives, which I have not yet read, so I’d best get on it 🙂  The Poisoned Blade is available in August 2016.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer is the final book for this part of the haul.  I don’t know much about this one, but I’ve heard of the author’s previous works, so I’ll check it out.  You can read it from September 2016.

That’s all for today folks.  Final book haul post up soon!

BEA 2016 Book Haul – part one of three

BEA 2016 Book HaulHello, and welcome to the first of three posts detailing all the books I picked up at Book Expo in America last week.  It was a wonderful time and I picked up some amazing books.  There’s a lot to get through, so let’s get started.

Of the ARCs I picked up one of the ones I’m most excited about is Caraval by Stephanie Garber.  I was able to snag a ticket to get it signed about which I was very happy.  This is the first in a YA duology by a debut author, and it is certainly getting a lot of buzz.  The tagline for the book is Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .  This sounds really intriguing and it will be one of the first of the ARCs I picked up that I will read.  It is next on my list after finishing Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves.  Caraval will be published in January 2017.

Another book I picked up was Aaron Safronoff’s Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall.  This is a YA fantasy book in which Barra and her two friends must work to prevent a blight of creeping vine from destroying the treescape world of Cerulean which is her home.  This is chock full of breathtaking images – one to read in hard copy rather than Kindle I think.  Sunburn Rising: Beneath the Fall will be published later this month in May 2016.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald is a contemporary novel the synopsis of which really spoke to me as a booklover.  It tells the story of Sara, a young woman from Sweden who travels to Broken Wheel, Iowa, to meet with her bookworm penal.  Sadly, on her arrival she finds that her friend has sadly passed away.  Instead of returning to Sweden, Sara decides to remain in Broken Wheel to open a bookshop.  Sounds like a winner to me!  This book hit shelves in January 2016.

As a speaker of both English and French, I was intrigued by When in French (Love in a  Second Language) by Lauren Collins.  This is a memoir detailing Collins’ romance with and marriage to a French speaker and aims to explore how much of our understanding of a different culture is related to language.  I am a native English speaker, married to an Anglophone,  but have lived in both France and Quebec. I am very interested to read of Collins’ take on the matter.  When in French Love in a Second Language is available in September 2016.

Scholastic Audiobooks were also giving out cards to download samples of some of their upcoming books.  These include Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven King, and Everland by Wendy Spinale.  Being an audiobook aficionada, I will definitely be checking these out.

When I saw the title Women Who (Still) Love Cats Too Much I couldn’t resist.  This is a cartoon book by Allia Zobel Nolan and cartoons by Nicole Hollander and I had a nice chat about, what else, cats, when meeting them at BEA.  This book is already available – it was released in September 2015.

Unfortunately, not all the books at BEA were full copies – some were only samplers.  Two of these are very highly anticipated – Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom (the sequel to Six of Crows) and Carve the Mark, the latest novel by Divergent’s Veronica Roth.  I picked them up anyway, although sometimes a sneak peek can be so frustrating if you want more.

Another of the books I was most anticipating from BEA was Sabaa Tahir’s A Torch Against the Night.  This is a sequel to the YA fantasy book An Ember in the Ashes, which I very much enjoyed.  I am anticipating reading about the further adventures of Laia and Elias.  You can pick this up starting in August 2016.

One book with an especially eye-catching cover is The Graces by Laure Eve.  This is a young adult fantasy about three siblings who are witches.  I don’t know much more about it, but it promises to be intriguing.  Check it out in September 2016.

Another book about witches – is that a theme this year? – is Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova.  It’s about an unwilling witch who tries to rid herself of magic, but the spell backfires.  We shall see what it’s about.  Labyrinth Lost is available in September 2016.

All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker is unusual in that they also provided an advanced copy of the audiobook, read by Dylan Baker.  It’s difficult to pinpoint what the book is about – the publicity seems to be focussing on the fact that Reese Witherspoon has bought the film rights.  I guess I’ll find out in due course!  You can find out for yourselves from July 2016.

That’s all I have for today.  More book haul posts to follow!  Let me know if you’re excited about any of these books.

 

Back home from Chicago and Book Expo America!

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So, as I’ve mentioned in my blog before, this year I attended BEA (Book Expo America) in Chicago.  As my books are being shipped, this is not my official BEA book haul – expect that one in a week to ten days!

This was the first time I have attended, and I was both a little nervous and excited.  Although I’ve heard it described as San Diego Comic Con for booklovers, it is a trade show for those in the publishing industry as well as those involved in promoting books through blogs.  Now, I’m passionate about books, but this blog is pretty small fish compared to some and at first, I admit I felt somewhat overwhelmed and, to be honest, a bit of a fraud.  I found myself thinking, I don’t work in publishing should I really be here getting all these free books?  That lasted for about two hours!

It was a great experience meeting some fantastic authors, checking out all the awesome upcoming releases and chatting with like minded bookworms.  Note to self: when waiting in line to meet famous authors, take the time to Wiki their last book if it’s been more than a few months since I read it. This is to prevent excessive fangirling and/or complete mental blank when asked who my favourite character is. With apologies to Leigh Bardugo.  I also caught sight of some of my favourite BookTubers (Kat from Katytastic, Jesse the Reader, Christine from PolandbananasBooks and Natasha from Tashapolis).  Weirdly, I was more intimidated to go up and say hi to them (I woosed out) than to meet my favourite authors!  I think it’s because if you’re standing in an autograph line, you know the author is expecting some kind of interaction.  I never know if I’m bothering the YouTubers.  Sorry, guys, I do love your vlogs even if I didn’t say hi.  

I used the official BEA app on my iPhone and tablet to plan my days at the conference and it worked very well.  I planned which ARCs and autographs I really wanted and focussed my efforts on getting those.  I was able to pick up all but two of the ARCs I really wanted; the two I missed out on were Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin (LOVED Wolf by Wolf) and Marissa Meyer’s Heartless.  Heartless really was THE hot book in town this BEA; tickets sold out within minutes, and it became quite the currency. 

Of the ARCs I picked up there are four about which I am really excited.  I’m really looking forward to reading:

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, this is the sequel to Illuminae, which was amazing.  The formatting of these two books are integral to the story and I’m so excited to read Gemina.

A Torch Against the Night.  This is Sabaa Tahir’s sequel to An Ember in the Ashes which I enjoyed very much.  I can’t wait to see where she takes the characters next.

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige.  This is the first in a new series by the author of Dorothy Must Die, and is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.  I really loved what Paige did with her reimagining of The Wizard of Oz for the Dorothy Must Die series, so I’m super excited for this new one.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber.  This is the first in a YA duology by a debut author, and it is certainly getting a lot of buzz.  The tagline for the book is Before you enter the world of Caraval, you must remember that it’s all a game . . .  This sounds really intriguing and it will be one of the first of the ARCs I picked up that I will read.

I got to meet some really amazing authors.  The highlight of BEA for me was probably discussing book hangovers with Maggie Stiefvater. Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs were both signing as was Leigh Bardugo.  I was also lucky enough to have Sabaa Tahir sign her latest book – that was probably the longest line I waited in other than that for Maggie and Marissa. 

So, I’ve returned from Chicago with many happy memories and a box full of wonderful books.  Check back later for my full BEA book haul.

My top three fictional relationships

Today I thought I’d tell you about my top three fictional relationships.  While I do not consider myself a hard core shipper, there are a few pairings in which I am super invested, and here they are.

The Doctor and River Song (BBC, Doctor Who)

Perhaps I should provide some background here for those readers unfamiliar with the BBC series.  The Doctor is a space and time travelling alien from the planet Gallifrey who has a special fondness for Earth and who is frequently called upon to use his smarts and trusty sonic screwdriver to save the world.  As a Time Lord, he has the unique trait that, when he is severely injured, his body regenerates, giving a whole new look and personality to the character.  River Song is a slightly-more-than-human time traveller whose timeline collides on a regular basis with that of The Doctor.

Showrunner Russell T Davies, who introduced River to the show, has said that his inspiration for the character was Audrey Niffinegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife in which a time traveller’s relationship with his wife is complicated by his meeting her at different points in her life.  The first time we – and The Doctor – meet River is shortly before her death when it’s clear she has already enjoyed a long and event filled relationship with The Doctor, one of which The Doctor is unaware.  Her devastation that her Doctor doesn’t know her is beautifully and poignantly played by Alex Kingston.

Throughout the following series, we learn more about River and her relationship with our favourite Gallifreyan.  Not only is their relationship complicated by jumping in and out of each other’s timelines – their first action upon meeting is to compare diaries to pinpoint where they are in their timelines – but also The Doctor’s changing personality due to his regenerations.  

Why I love this relationship.  In spite of the time travel and fantasy elements, there is a lot of human in this relationship, particularly the fear that a loved one will no longer be able to remember you or share in the memories of events you’ve experienced together.  That is the aspect of the relationship that touched me the most.  I’ll be perfectly honest here and say that much of my investment in this relationship comes from Alex Kingston’s performance as River.  it has to be said, she has some very cheesy lines: “I live for the days when I see him, but I know that every time that I do he’ll be one step further away. The day is coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes, my Doctor, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.”  Kingston delivers those lines with such truth you can’t help but feel for her character.

Fitz and The Fool (Robin Hobb, Realm of the Elderlings)

Again, perhaps some background might be necessary here.  Fitz is the protagonist of Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.  These are typical epic fantasy novels in which  the Fool prophesies a dire end for the Six Duchies unless he and Fitz can work together to prevent it.  Their adventures together creates a very strong bond between them, and it is a joy to watch their friendship develop.  

What makes this relationship very different in epic fantasy is the Fool’s gender fluidity.  At some points in the narrative he (I’ll use the male pronoun just for convenience) presents as male, at other points, he is female.  Throughout the series the Fool is extremely careful and adept at avoiding situations which may reveal his physical gender – he avoids bathing in public and refuses medical attention.  There are moments where Fitz could ascertain the truth of the situation but out of respect for his friend he refuses.  At this point I wonder if the Fool’s physical gender will ever be revealed – and more to the point, what difference it would actually make.

His gender has absolutely no bearing on the Fool’s love for Fitz; as far as he is concerned, Fitz is the centre of his world, his other half.  Fitz, on the other hand, views things differently.  For him a physical relationship is an integral part of a pair bond, something he struggles to accept with the Fool, given that he views him as male.  The Fool’s comment on that is very astute;  “You are confusing plumbing and love again.” I believe though that Fitz is lying to himself about the depth of his love for the Fool.  This central conflict between the pair has yet to be resolved – there is one more book to come in the Fitz and the Fool series – and I am so impatient to see how Hobb has the pair overcome this hurdle.  

As far as I am concerned, Fitz and the Fool is endgame.  Hobb all but confirmed it when Jinna the hedge witch reads Fitz’s palm and says “By your left hand, I’d say you had a sweet and true love in your short life. A love that ended only in your death. Yet here in your right hand, I see a love that wends its way in and out of all your many years. That faithful heart has been absent for a time, but is soon to return to you again.”  The very next chapter it’s not his previous love, Molly, who returns to Fitz’s life but the Fool.

Why I love this relationship.  The depth of the connection between Fitz and the Fool is so movingly written.  Both would happily give up their lives and/or happiness to ensure the other’s wellbeing.  I am so invested in the relationship and am keen to see how it develops.

Tessa Gray, Jem Carstairs and Will Herondale (Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices)

Generally I am not fond of love triangles, especially in young adult fiction.  All too often, it’s very clear from the beginning which couple the author intends as endgame (did anyone seriously expect Bella to end up with Jacob?)  and the third party serves as little more than a temporary roadblock on the way to true happiness.  Bleugh.  I’ve read that scenario far too often now for it to be remotely interesting.

The love triangle between Tessa, Jem and Will in The Infernal Devices is different.  The triangle is perfectly balanced in that both Jem and Will are written as valid partners for Tessa.  Clare does not make it clear which couple is endgame.  Jem and Will also have a very strong pre-existing bond and they love and respect each other as brothers.  Both are willing to sacrifice their lives and happiness so that the other may be happy.  I was genuinely upset that one of them had to step aside, and I couldn’t decide which Tessa should choose.

Why I love this relationship(s).  That ending.  Wow.  The way Clare resolved this triangle was just so beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. She clearly did her work well to evoke such a reaction in me.

So there you have it, my top three fictional relationships. What they all have in common is that the love between the pairs is selfless – they would all give up their lives in a heartbeat to ensure their partner’s happiness – and that they all have interesting obstacles to overcome.  Let me know about your favourite fictional relationships in the comments!

Most anticipated reads of 2016 and other news

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My last entry talked about my favourite books of 2015, so now it’s time to talk about my most anticipated books of 2016.

Passenger by Alexandra BrackenPassenger is the latest book by Alexandra Bracken.  it is the start of a new YA series and is billed as a YA treasure hunt through time.  I really loved Bracken’s Darkest Minds series, so this sounds like a real winner to me.  The publisher has released a sampler, which I encourage you to check out.  Passenger is officially released in just a few days on January 5th 2016.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra ClareThis is the first book in a new series by Mortal Instruments writer Cassandra Clare.  It is set in the same world of the Shadowhunters but the action takes place in Los Angeles.  At first, I’d been a little sceptical of the setting; the older cities of London and New York seemed a more natural fit for vampires and demons than sunny Los Angeles.  However, the last book in the Mortal Instruments series, City of Heavenly Fire, functioned as much as a setup for this new series, introducing characters, locations and possible plotlines in the new series, and I am 100% convinced now.  I will certainly be devouring Lady Midnight when it is released on March 8th 2016.

Yellow Brick War by Danielle PaigeYellow Brick War is the third and final book in the Dorothy Must Die series by Danielle Paige.  This series is set in the world of L Frank Baum’s Oz in which Dorothy has turned wicked.  While I loved the world and protagonist – Amy Gumm – is wonderfully kick ass, yet real and flawed – but I was unhappy with the pacing of the first book.  The second book, The Wicked Will Rise, fixed these issues and had such a fantastic cliffhanger ending that I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Yellow Brick War is released on March 15th 2016.

Paper and Fire by Rachel CainePaper and Fire is the second in Rachel Caine’s Great Library series. I was originally drawn to Ink and Bone because of the world – a world in which the Great Library of Alexandria survives and exercises complete control over all published work.  Our protagonist discovers a way to break the Library’s control and ends up in danger.  With this book I came for the concept and stayed for the characters.  They are both engaging and intriguing and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Paper and Fire is released on July 5th.

The next book in Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, The Thorn of Emberlain is scheduled to be released on July 21st 2016.  At least that’s what Amazon tells me.  I’m not certain how official that date is – it has been put back several times.  In any case, this is one book I am very much looking forward to.  I love the characters, the world and the writing is so sharp and witty.  I look forward to what the future holds for Locke.

The final book I’d like to mention is Heartless by Marissa Meyer.  This is a new series set in the world of Alice in Wonderland in the same way that the Lunar Chronicles were a retelling of traditional fairytales.  Other than the brief synopsis, not much has been revealed about this book.  I look forward to picking it up on November 8th 2016.

One book that I am not holding my breath anticipating in 2016 is George R.R. Martin’s continuation of The Song of Ice and Fire, The Winds of Winter.  In a recent blog post, Martin confirmed what most of us had expected: Winds of Winter will not be published before the upcoming sixth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  While disappointing, this is not surprising.  However, the tone of Martin’s post suggests that he still has a lot of work to do, and that he cannot say when it will be completed.  I’ll be interested to see how that affects viewing of the series.  Personally, I’m going to watch it and treat it like any other book adaptation – I’ll enjoy watching David and Dan’s interpretation and then read the original whenever Martin publishes it.  I do have more faith in Martin’s handling of the characters though.

Reading through my preorders and my most anticipated list, I see that the vast majority of them are YA fantasy type books.  One of my goals for 2016 should be to expand my reading genres.  That may be tricky – there are just so many good YA books coming out and so little time to read.  I do have some historical fiction, some Outlander and some biographies to read.  I also see that all of them are by authors with whom I’m already familiar.  That is probably also something to work on in 2016.  Because not yet published books don’t have Kindle previews, I’m a little more reluctant to commit my money to an unknown.  

This year I have set my GoodReads reading challenge to 80 books.  I feel that should be doable, even if I do listen to more audiobooks.

One very exciting thing I’m really looking forward to this year is attending BEA in Chicago!  This will be my first visit to the book expo and I’m so excited at the opportunity to spend time with people who are as passionate about books as I am.  I look forward to seeing some of you there.

Reading roundup of 2015

Now that 2015 is almost done, it’s time to review my reading year.  Thanks to GoodReads, I have a very good idea of how I did.

I had set my reading goal at 75 books, and I completed 87 with a total of 29,110 pages.  This is a little lower than the last few years, but I did enjoy many of these books in audiobook format, which does take longer.

The shortest book I read was Two Tales of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne which had a total of 39 pages, and the longest was Voyager by Diana Gabaldon which weighed in at a hefty 870 pages.

I read some pretty amazing books this year.  So without further ado, in no particular order, here are the books I enjoyed most.

Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb is pretty much defaulted to my top books list because I am so, so invested in the characters of Fitz and the Fool and their unconventional friendship.  Of course I was going to soak up every nuance of their continuing tale.  Hobb would have had to really mess it up for me not to like it. Fortunately, she produced a wonderful continuation to their story and I loved it.

You can see my full (spoilery) review here.

The Martian by Andy Weir The Martian by Andy Weir is perhaps the most unexpected entry in my top books so far.  This is because it is very much out of my usual genre(s).  For those of you who have not  heard of this, it’s a science fiction adventure about an astronaut who is accidentally left behind on Mars and how he has to use all his skills to “science the &^$% out of things” to survive.  Although there is a strong emphasis on the science side of things, it is beautifully blended with the personal and you can’t help but root for our hero’s survival.  At one point I was seriously tempted to text my friend to ask if he did survive, but I managed to restrain myself. Watney’s story is told primarily in a first-person journal style and the writing is very accessible.  I listened to this in audiobook format, which was a wonderful way to get into the story.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan GraudinWolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin was one of the books which really got under my skin this year.  It is an alternative history set in a world in which the Nazis won World War II. We follow our protagonist, Yael, who is a death camp survivor, and her mission to kill Hitler.  This mission hangs on the fact that Yael’s experiences in the death camp gave her the ability to change her appearance to look like any other woman.  I cannot explain why it got under my skin so much – perhaps it was because the protagonist was so beautifully written – a real blend of kick ass heroine and vulnerable young girl.  My full review can be read here.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell From time to time a book will come along in which plot, character, pacing, worldbuilding and writing come together to create something wonderful. For me that book was Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Carry On is a follow up to Rowell’s Fangirl – Carry On is the final book in the series about which our fangirl protagonist is obsessed. I should point out that it’s not necessary to have read Fangirl before reading Carry On.

I will admit that initially I wasn’t too interested in reading Carry On. Fangirl was one of the few Rainbow Rowell books I did not finish. However some glowing reviews encouraged me to reconsider and I’m very glad I did.

Carry On follows the final school year of Simon Snow, a Harry Potteresque Chosen One, destined to save the magical world from the Insidious Humdrum. As well as the impending confrontation with the Humdrum, Simon must also deal with his growing feelings for his vampire roommate Baz. The book is a perfect blend of humour, romance, adventure and wonderful character moments and I highly recommend it.

I gave Carry On a resounding five stars out of five.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffIlluminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a young adult adventure story imaginatively told through a collection of documents. We follow Kady and Ezra as they are forced to flee their planet after it is invaded.

Now, I’m going to say something I don’t often say; PLEASE don’t buy this book in ebook format. Pick up the hard copy instead. Because formatting is an intrinsic part of the story, the ebook is often scanned images rather than text. This means that you lose all the advantages of using an ereader – font size adjustment, searching for example. More worryingly, when I tried to read it on my iPad, a significant number of these images were missing, meaning I lost a whole chunk of the story. I only noticed this because I was following along with the audiobook at the same time. The images were present in the Kindle, but I found the text very small and sometimes difficult to read. So do your eyes a favour and skip the ebook in favour of the hardback.

In an ideal world, you would experience this book in both hard copy and audiobook format. The audiobook is narrated by a full voice cast and is absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend it. However, by listening to the audiobook alone you miss out on the formatting of the book which also adds an extra dimension.

Although the unusual format is one of the key attractions of this book, the story itself more than holds its own – I was enthralled by Kady and Ezra’s dilemma, and the ending is fantastic. It really made me anxious to read the next book.

I gave Illuminae four stars out of five.

Reading roundup of 2015

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Now that 2015 is almost done, it’s time to review my reading year.  Thanks to GoodReads, I have a very good idea of how I did.

I had set my reading goal at 75 books, and I completed 87 with a total of 29,110 pages.  This is a little lower than the last few years, but I did enjoy many of these books in audiobook format, which does take longer.

The shortest book I read was Two Tales of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne which had a total of 39 pages, and the longest was Voyager by Diana Gabaldon which weighed in at a hefty 870 pages.

I read some pretty amazing books this year.  So without further ado, in no particular order, here are the books I enjoyed most.

Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb is pretty much defaulted to my top books list because I am so, so invested in the characters of Fitz and the Fool and their unconventional friendship.  Of course I was going to soak up every nuance of their continuing tale.  Hobb would have had to really mess it up for me not to like it. Fortunately, she produced a wonderful continuation to their story and I loved it.

You can see my full (spoilery) review here.

The Martian by Andy Weir The Martian by Andy Weir is perhaps the most unexpected entry in my top books so far.  This is because it is very much out of my usual genre(s).  For those of you who have not  heard of this, it’s a science fiction adventure about an astronaut who is accidentally left behind on Mars and how he has to use all his skills to “science the &^$% out of things” to survive.  Although there is a strong emphasis on the science side of things, it is beautifully blended with the personal and you can’t help but root for our hero’s survival.  At one point I was seriously tempted to text my friend to ask if he did survive, but I managed to restrain myself. Watney’s story is told primarily in a first-person journal style and the writing is very accessible.  I listened to this in audiobook format, which was a wonderful way to get into the story.  /p>

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan GraudinWolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin was one of the books which really got under my skin this year.  It is an alternative history set in a world in which the Nazis won World War II. We follow our protagonist, Yael, who is a death camp survivor, and her mission to kill Hitler.  This mission hangs on the fact that Yael’s experiences in the death camp gave her the ability to change her appearance to look like any other woman.  I cannot explain why it got under my skin so much – perhaps it was because the protagonist was so beautifully written – a real blend of kick ass heroine and vulnerable young girl.  My full review can be read here.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell From time to time a book will come along in which plot, character, pacing, worldbuilding and writing come together to create something wonderful. For me that book was Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Carry On is a follow up to Rowell’s Fangirl – Carry On is the final book in the series about which our fangirl protagonist is obsessed. I should point out that it’s not necessary to have read Fangirl before reading Carry On.

I will admit that initially I wasn’t too interested in reading Carry On. Fangirl was one of the few Rainbow Rowell books I did not finish. However some glowing reviews encouraged me to reconsider and I’m very glad I did.

Carry On follows the final school year of Simon Snow, a Harry Potteresque Chosen One, destined to save the magical world from the Insidious Humdrum. As well as the impending confrontation with the Humdrum, Simon must also deal with his growing feelings for his vampire roommate Baz. The book is a perfect blend of humour, romance, adventure and wonderful character moments and I highly recommend it.

I gave Carry On a resounding five stars out of five.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffIlluminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a young adult adventure story imaginatively told through a collection of documents. We follow Kady and Ezra as they are forced to flee their planet after it is invaded.

Now, I’m going to say something I don’t often say; PLEASE don’t buy this book in ebook format. Pick up the hard copy instead. Because formatting is an intrinsic part of the story, the ebook is often scanned images rather than text. This means that you lose all the advantages of using an ereader – font size adjustment, searching for example. More worryingly, when I tried to read it on my iPad, a significant number of these images were missing, meaning I lost a whole chunk of the story. I only noticed this because I was following along with the audiobook at the same time. The images were present in the Kindle, but I found the text very small and sometimes difficult to read. So do your eyes a favour and skip the ebook in favour of the hardback.

In an ideal world, you would experience this book in both hard copy and audiobook format. The audiobook is narrated by a full voice cast and is absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend it. However, by listening to the audiobook alone you miss out on the formatting of the book which also adds an extra dimension.

Although the unusual format is one of the key attractions of this book, the story itself more than holds its own – I was enthralled by Kady and Ezra’s dilemma, and the ending is fantastic. It really made me anxious to read the next book.

I gave Illuminae four stars out of five.

My month with Star Wars

Now, pretty much anyone who has an interest in popular culture is aware that the first Star Wars movie since 2005, The Force Awakens, was released on December 18th 2015.  Full disclosure: while I consider myself a fan of Star Wars, I have only dabbled in the Extended Universe/Legends supplementary material.  Like many, though, I was anxious to see what J.J. Abrams would make of Lucas’ legacy and booked my ticket to a showing on release day.  In anticipation of the event, I did a fair amount of preparation.  This blog post details my immersion in the world of Star Wars during the month of December.  Out of respect for the three of you out there who have not yet seen The Force Awakens, I will place my thoughts on the movie/audiobook itself below the cut.  

The Rewatch

Naturally, the main part of my pre Force Awakens preparation was a rewatch of the Star Wars movies released prior to Episode 7.  I chose to do this following machete order.  I urge you to check out the full link on why this order works, but in summary, you watch Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and then switch to the prequels Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith before finishing up with Return of the Jedi.  In essence, you treat the prequels as an extended flashback after Vader’s big reveal a the end of Empire explaining how that came about before concluding his character arc in Jedi.  Note that Phantom Menace disappears from the viewing entirely.  The creator of the machete order believed, rightly in my opinion, that losing Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians is only to the good, and anything explained in Menace is recapped in later films.

Machete order is especially good for those who have never seen any of the movies.  When my niece and nephew are old enough for their aunt to introduce them to Star Wars (three years old is still too young, isn’t it?) I will certainly be following this viewing suggestion.  It preserves the drama of the Vader reveal (which is lost if you watch the prequels first – their whole point is to set it up) while adding tension to Luke’s character arc.  You see Luke at the end of Empire, broken and in shock at the Vader reveal.  You then watch Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side.  When you next see Luke in Jedi, he has turned badass, Force choking guards and turning his beloved droids over to the evil Hutts.  Having seen Anakin’s fall really underscores the risk that Luke will turn to the Dark Side and makes his reappearance in Jedi a bit more of an “oh…crap” moment.

The other thing I got from the rewatch is just how much fun the original trilogy was compared to the prequels.  Seeing that Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was back on duty for The Force Awakens gave me a great deal of confidence in the movie. The banter between our heroes and the sparks between Fisher’s Leia and Ford’s Han were a joy to watch. I finished my rewatch the afternoon before heading to The Force Awakens in the evening, which meant certain events in the movie hit so much harder.

The Alternative Prequels

While preparing my Star Wars watch I came across Belated Media’s YouTube channel which has videos entitled What if Star Wars Episode 1 was good? – one for each of the prequels.  In these videos he discusses changes he would make to the prequels to make them stronger.  While I don’t necessarily agree with all of his suggestions, many of them do make very good sense from a storytelling and character development point of view.  I particularly liked his suggestions of making the Obi Wan/Anakin relationship the core of the prequels rather than the Anakin/Padme one.  This would add so much more emotional resonance to their final confrontation at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Go check these out – they are well worth watching.

Now we come to my thoughts on The Force Awakens.  If you’ve already seen it, join me after the cut

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four-stars

And now for something different… LEGO Dimensions!

Those of you who follow my blog know that I generally review books and audiobooks, so this review is somewhat different.  Today, ladies and gentlemen, I will be discussing LEGO Dimensions, the new video game from the folks at LEGO and Travellers’ Tales.  My playing this game has seriously eaten into my reading time.

For those of you who have never played a LEGO video game before, they are level-based humorous games in which you smash objects to create the solutions to puzzles.  They are a lot of fun.  You unlock in game rewards by collecting mini-kits, red and gold bricks and LEGO studs which you can exchange for new characters with different puzzle solving abilities and other new abilities to solve more puzzles to unlock even more stuff.

Dimensions is rather different in that it’s the company’s first foray into the toys-to-live world meaning that you must fork over hard cash for real-world LEGO sets to unlock the characters and content in the game.  The starter pack includes the game, the toypad. the bricks to build the Dimensions portal and the Batmobile and the mini figures of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Batman from DC Comics and Wyldstyle from the LEGO Movie. Gameplay is divided between the fourteen levels of the main storyline each based on one of the fourteen franchises in Dimensions, additional franchise specific levels and fourteen free roam Adventure Worlds each specific to one franchise.  In order to access the franchise specific content you need to purchase additional LEGO sets which come in Level packs (to access a new level and which contain one character, one vehicle and one gadget) team packs (with two characters,  a vehicle and a gadget) and fun packs containing one character and one vehicle.  .  Each of the team/fun packs gives you access to the Adventure World of that franchise.  So for example, by purchasing the Wicked Witch fun pack for $14.99 you gain access to the Oz Adventure World.  Of the 14 Adventure Worlds, the starter pack only gives you access to three, and none of the franchise specific level packs.  This is a serious limitation and something to be seriously considered.

Personally, I supplemented the starter pack with the Wonder Woman, Wicked Witch, Gollum, Gimli and Cyborg fun packs, the Scooby Doo team pack and the Back to the Future level pack.  I have preorders placed for the Doctor Who level pack, the Ghostbusters level pack, the Doc Brown fun pack and the Cyberman fun pack.  These have not yet been released.

First, it has to be said the game is a heck of a lot of fun.  There is so much humour in the game, at levels which will appeal to both younger and not so young players.  Having the real world component makes the experience very interesting – at several points you have to put down your controller and go and physically put together LEGO bricks to continue the story.  The toypad is also heavily integrated into the game and is used as far more than a way of introducing characters into the game.  You are constantly moving characters around the toypad to solve puzzles.  It is very ingeniously done.

One of the joys of the game is the mashups that are created between the 14 franchises.  It leads to some hilarious moments.  For example, it turns out that Wyldstyle and Wonder Woman enjoy bonding over girl talk and coffee and Gandalf is annoyed at the Wicked Witch for giving magic users a bad name and he suggests she tone down the evil!  I have definite plans to take The Doctor joyriding in the Batmobile through the streets of Minas Tirith as soon as the Doctor Who pack is released.

Having said that, the constant blocks because you haven’t purchased a certain character with a certain skill set are tedious and frustrating in the extreme.  One of the first puzzles you come across in the game is a swarm of ghosts which the game, very helpfully, tells you can only be dealt with by Peter Venkman whom you can obtain by forking out $30 for the Ghostbusters level pack, which isn’t even available until January 2016.  You are constantly faced with such roadblocks, and, while they don’t prevent you from completing the main story adventure it becomes very, very tedious after a while.

There is a lot of enjoyment to be had in the game – I’m still getting a lot of fun out of it several weeks later – but if you purchase it, be aware that your experience will be rather limited unless you are prepared to fork out lot more money than that for the already expensive starter pack. 

I gave LEGO Dimensions four stars out of five.

Upcoming releases in September

Oh my poor wallet.  September seems to be one of the busiest months for new book releases and there are seven upcoming books about which I am super excited.  Without further ado, here’s the list.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Having just finished Heir of Fire, I am impatient for Queen of Shadows, the next volume in the Throne of Glass series. Heir of Fire was for me the strongest so far in the series and left some very interesting storylines to be followed in the next book.  I look forward to the confrontation between Celaena and Arobynn and to see how Dorian is affected by the events of Heir of Fire.

Queen of Shadows is released on September 1st and I have preordered it on both Kindle and Audible formats.

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Also released on September 1st is Holly Black’s and Cassandra Clare’s The Copper Gauntlet.  This is the second in the Magisterium series, which, like Harry Potter, is set in a school for magic.  Despite the comparison with Harry Potter, it’s the contrasts with that series that make the Magisterium so interesting.  I did enjoy the Iron Trial, the first book in the series, so I’m interested to see what book two has in store for Calum and his friends.

I have preordered this in Kindle format.

William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge by Ian Doescher

This is the third and final book in Ian Doescher’s retelling of George Lucas’ epic Star Wars prequels in Shakespearean format.  While I have not enjoyed the prequel trilogy as much as the original one – like the films – they are very cleverly written.  I do wish there would be audiobooks produced for the prequel trilogy as the ones for the original Star Wars were wonderful.  As Doescher himself said, Shakespeare is meant to be listened to, not read.

The Sith take their Revenge starting on September 8th and I have preordered it in Kindle format.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules is a young adult dystopian novel in which a superpower maintains peace on Earth by holding prisoner the children of world leaders.  If their country starts a war, the children die.  We follow the story of one such prisoner of peace, Greta and how her life and world view is altered by a new arrival.  I actually don’t know a great deal about this one, however, the premise seems intriguing and reviews are positive.

I’ve preordered this in Kindle format – I may add the Audible one before the book is released on September 22nd.

The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley

Following on from the success of the web series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the writers are continuing the story in novel form in The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet.  This will continue the story of Lydia, the youngest sister after the events of the LBD.  Lydia was one of my favourite characters and her character development was so beautifully written and portrayed by actress Mary Kate Wiles.  I see that Mary Kate will be narrating the audiobook.

Although I have a Kindle preorder, I will likely cancel that and preorder the Audible version if it becomes available before release date of September 28th.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher. Author of The Dresden Files.  Steampunk.  Aerial shenanigans.  Talking cats.  I’m convinced.

My preorder is placed to download to my Kindle on September 29th.  

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the author of the Grisha trilogy.  While I did have a few issues with that series, one of its key strengths was the worldbuilding.  Bardugo created a wonderful Russianeque fantasy world with a fascinating magic system.  Six of Crows is a new series set in the same world, involving some kind of heist.  It sounds very promising.  The first couple of chapters are up on Amazon for free if you want to check it out. 

My preorder should hit my Kindle on September 29th.

So there you have it.  Those are the books about which I’m most excited in the coming month.  Which of these will you be picking up?

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