My Favourite Books of 2017

I don’t know whether it’s writing for a living, gaining a social life, or just not needing to escape into fantasy worlds anymore – but I’ve barely read this year. It’s now November and I’ve managed a measly eleven books so far. So instead of trying to catch up with my usual reading wrap-ups (because they went so well), I thought I’d just focus on my five favourite books from this year. If any gems pop up between now and 2018, then I guess I’ll just have to write ANOTHER post. But for now, I’m pretty happy with my picks.

1. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

I have a love/hate relationship with Laini Taylor. I absolutely devoured Daughter of Smoke and Bone when it came out, but felt the sequel fell flat and after multiple attempts, I finally gave up reading it. I never even got around to reading the final book. But her world building always impressed me, so I was ready to give her another shot. I’m so glad I did, because Strange the Dreamer had everything I love about Taylor’s writing. The dreamlike quality of her words, the detailed world building, and characters I’m actually rooting for – yes please. I went into this not knowing it was going to be a series, so was a little apprehensive when I figured that more was coming and the same thing might happen – but I have high hopes for the following books. It’s even made me wanna give Days of Blood and Starlight another shot…

2. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

I love stories that straddle the lines between thriller and mystery and horror. Stories that aren’t overtly creepy, but you know there’s something else going on. I was initially put off from reading this because of the word Roanoke been forever tainted by American Horror Story, but there’s no cheesy otherworldly stuff in sight. All the happenings in this story are firmly rooted in reality – and that’s what makes it more terrifying. Whilst the book seemingly starts out as a pretty standard mystery, soon you get sucked into the character’s histories and really start to wonder if the book is a result of evil people, or something else.

3. This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

I never jumped on the hype train for This Savage Song when it came out last year, but with the the end of Schwab’s Series of Magic series, I needed another taste of her world building. And initially, this book just didn’t do it for me. I found it hard to picture the monsters and didn’t really grasp (read as: care how) they materialise. But I kept reading and everything changed. The characters grew on me, I was genuinely interested in August’s moping and Kate’s angsty bullshit. So I obviously upon finishing it, I immediately started on Our Dark Duet. I think I even preferred the second book to the first, and it wrapped the duology nicely for me. It’s not often you don’t see the ending coming within a YA story. This series was great, yes, but it was no Shades of Magic.

4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This is the only book on my list that wasn’t released in the past year and I’ve been meaning to read it for so long. And despite the years of preparation, I was definitely not ready. This book destroyed me. Considering A Monster Calls isn’t a fantasy series and is pretty short at only 240 pages – I was surprised I cried so much. To paint you a picture: I finished the book in the dark, in bed, at 2AM, and cried so much that my boyfriend thought I was having a panic attack. The less you know about this book, the better, so if like me you never got around to reading this one, add it to your list for 2018.

5. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Schwab? Yes, this is the conclusion of the aforementioned Shades of Magic series. I went into this book knowing it was the end of one of my favourite fantasy series (Harry Potter, Rivers of London, and The Kingkiller Chronicle, I’m looking at you), so admittedly, I was not happy. But I have to hand it to V.E. Schwab, even when she’s ripping away a piece of my heart, I still love her and her books. A Conjuring of Light was the perfect end to a perfect series and I couldn’t be happier with how it ended. I think Shades of Magic deserves a post of its own at some point, so I won’t dwell on it too much, but if you’re looking for well written fantasy with a badass female pirate, LGBT representation, and ambiguously good/bad “villains”, HERE YA GO.

I’m currently on book number 12, so I better get back to that. I blindly set my Goodreads Challenge this year to 30 books, but that’s not going to happen. So if I can hit the halfway point, I’ll be pretty pleased with myself. Better stay on the lookout for more eerily poetic fantasy novels then.


My Reading Rut: Part 3

I may not actually like reading at the moment, but I do still like talking about reading. So I figured it was time for the third post of my reading rut adventure: covering months April to June and books 10-14 of my thirty book challenge. This definitely got me back to my reading roots – meaning there were a lot of books I was anticipating the release of and fantasy novels. And I actually enjoyed this block of books a lot! Too bad I immediately stopped reading again afterwards… ugh.

The Missing by C.L. Taylor

Another thriller, yes, but one I was waiting for. I loved C.L. Taylor’s previous two thrillers, but something about The Missing just fell flat. I wasn’t as invested in the story as I was with  her previous work. The Lie was one of the most innovative thriller novels I’ve read in years, with The Accident keeping me just as hooked. But with Taylor’s third novel, I just didn’t give a shit. And then the resolution came and I was just like “oh, I still don’t care”. A good book, but not up to her usual standard. If you’ve never read her work before, start with this one and work backwards – that way they’re getting better instead of worse.

I give this book: 3/5 schizophrenic visions

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

I have an apology to make to Mr Aaronovitch, because it took me two attempts to read this book. The first was last July and I got about 100 pages into it before giving up. This really bugged me because I absolutely love this series. But I decided to give it another chance and this time it finally clicked. This series definitely does have a pattern of one great book followed by a weaker one, and sadly this book was one of the latter, but that ending definitely made it worthwhile. I won’t dwell too much on this book because I think this series definitely deserves a post on its own, so just know that I’m sorry I doubted you, Peter Grant, and I’m glad I didn’t abandon you.

I give this book: 3.5/5 vengeful ghosts

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

You know what I was saying about the quality pattern of this series? Ignore it. Right after finishing book four, I jumped right into number five and I think that Foxglove Summer is my favourite instalment of the series so far – even more than Rivers of London. And I’m not just saying that because it saw the return of my favourite character. Getting out of the city was exactly what this series needed; as was a more standalone case that didn’t revolve around the Big Bad. Think of it as the Peter Grant equivalent of Prisoner of Azkaban. It rejuvenated the series for me after my struggles with the previous book and made me fall in love with the world all over again. And props for the great Good Omens reference, which brings us nicely to book four.

I give this book: 5/5 creepy unicorns

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

For as long as I can remember, everyone has been telling me to read this book. Although I’ve never read any Pratchett, I am a huge Gaiman fan and was assured I’d love this story. I bought the book years ago, excited to get down to reading it, and what happened? It just fell flat. I tried so hard to persevere but in the end gave up. Which makes me wonder what happened this time around because… I loved it. On my second attempt reading this book, everything fell into place and I finally got all the love for it. It’s witty, gripping, and original – basically all the things you’d want out of a fantasy novel. Crowley might just be one of my favourite literary characters ever.

I give this book: 4/5 Queen CDs

The Girls by Emma Cline

I don’t really have to go into too much detail on this book because I already wrote a whole post about it over here. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever read before – so dreamy and relaxing yet somehow totally dangerous. It nicely broke up my fantasy to thriller to oh look another fantasy pattern as well as seamlessly slipping me into summer.

I give this book: 5/5 charismatic cult leaders

I’m clearly behind in this whole book review thing – and if I want to get everything up by 2o17 then I’ll need to get a move on. Of course, that would also entail catching up on my reading itself. We are comfortably in November now and I still have six to go. Wish me luck.

Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Review

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Two years ago now I wrote a review of a little book series called The Grisha Trilogy and ended it with a wish to read more stories set in that universe. Well, my wish came true, because in 2015 the amazing Leigh Bardugo delivered with the wonderful Six of Crows. With the release of the second book last month, I figured once again I’d do a little review of the recent happenings in the Grishaverse.

Obviously I gave The Grisha Trilogy a glowing review, so I was a little nervous about revisiting the world again. The plot description enticed me though… the whole Oceans 11 meets Game of Thrones thing was too intriguing to pass up on. And Six of Crows blew me away.

As much as I enjoyed the first series, it was undeniably very YA. The books were shorter, there was a love triangle, and it was very much about how one person can change the world. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things – but these later instalments of the Grishaverse were just on another level. Multiple POV chapters. No romance fuelling the plot. And most importantly – no hero. Despite the young characters, this series doesn’t come off as YA. It’s the Grishaverse’s grittier, sexier, older sibling.

The Six of Crows duology is about a gang of misfit thieves who plan to pull off the ultimate heist. Through the POV chapters we learn about the backstories of each of these characters and their motivation for attempting to do the impossible. We learn about their specific skills and what they hope to get out of the cards they’ve been dealt. The first instalment, the titular Six of Crows, is an amazing adventure story. It’s gripping, well written, and has just the right amount of nods to the original trilogy to appease both new readers and old. I read this book over a year ago now and there are still scenes stuck firmly in my head.

The second book, Crooked Kingdom, was equally as amazing – though there’s something about the first book I found more endearing. Though the writing and the character building and the pacing were just as great the second time around – the overall plot felt weaker to me. There were times I completely forgot what was going on and I thought two different characters were the same person for a good two thirds of the book. The characters’ drive from the first story also seemed to have disappeared in this one and I was often left wondering why they were doing certain things.

The strongest part of this series comes from the characters and I think it’s a real testament to Bardugo’s writing that she could portray all these diverse people so wonderfully. Diverse being the key word here: with the main cast including POC, LGBT, and disabled characters. My favourite character in both instalments was Inej – with Jesper as a close second. Total badassery with a light side of comic relief – just how I like ‘em.

It’s not necessary to read The Grisha Trilogy before Six of Crows, but for the second book in particular, it would definitely aid your enjoyment. Some characters from the first series make an appearance in the second book and you’ll definitely appreciate some of the interactions more if you got to know them in their own series first. One of my issues with Crooked Kingdom was that it did feel a bit fan service-y – but that fan service brought me another glimpse at my three favourite characters so I will gladly take it. But to really appreciate those moments – reading the first series definitely helps.

I could sit and gush over this series for hours but I’d rather not give anything away. If you want a fun, innovative fantasy series with great diversity and excellent world building – then Six of Crows is for you. If not, then get better taste in books. I’ll end this review of the Grishaverse as I ended my last one – WHERE IS MY NIKOLAI SPINOFF STORY?!

My Reading Rut: Part 2

I am terrible. Even with a job with a load of commute time, I have managed to get NINE BOOKS behind in my forty book reading challenge. I have no idea what I’ve been doing with my life but I’m trying my hardest to catch up during these last remnants of summer, before life starts getting crazy again.

I’ve currently read 17 books, but I’m not gonna spam you with all of that. Instead, here’s my thoughts on books five through nine instead.

It by Stephen King

This was the initial book that got me far behind in my reading challenge ’cause it took so damn long to get through. However, I did manage to catch up… and then fall behind again. I told you I’m terrible. My experience reading It went a lot like my experience reading other King novels – in that it starts off slow, I regret everything by the middle, and then the last third turns out to be some of the most gripping literature I’ve ever read. I won’t bother recounting the plot to you, as I’m pretty sure everyone knows the tale of Pennywise, but I will say this: it wasn’t scary. All my life people have been telling me how scary this book is. It’s not. I mean, I’m sure if I was been stalked by a weird creepy killer clown, I’d be terrified. But told on page, it just didn’t cut it for me. It’s an excellent book, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I didn’t have the expectation that I’d be terrified by it. But I’m glad I read it in preparation for the film adaptations coming out next year!

I give this book: 4/5 unexplained child murders

The Magpies by Mark Edwards

After reading a book the size of my head, I needed something quick to bring me back up to speed, so I asked my mum to recommend a thriller for me to get addicted to. She gushed about this book for so long that I finally relented. But to be honest, it’s been six months since I read it now and I can’t remember a single thing about (my fault for leaving this post so long, I know). I can vividly remember every other book I’ve read this year, even last year in cases, but not this one. All I remember is that it’s a creepy thriller based around new neighbours and is a typical wtf-is-going-on-here type of novel. I don’t regret reading it, and I think I remember enjoying it at the time, but it’s definitely not a memorable story.

I give this book: 2.5/5 dead birds

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Continuing on with my quick-to-read thriller tactic, I went with another recommendation from my mother – but I liked this one a lot more! This is type of thriller I live for: creepy, evil, and rooted in reality. Even though my favourite genre is fantasy, I like my thrillers to be about real life maniacs rather than the supernatural. I read a lot books that follow the ‘x has the perfect life – OR DO THEY?’ formula and although they can get a little overdone, Behind Closed Doors was refreshingly sinister.

I give this book: 4/5 secret pleas for help

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

The last of my thriller binge (until this point, at least – old habits) and it was another good one. It’s a movie, so I’m sure y’all know the plot – but basically the protagonist has some form of amnesia and is being cared for by her husband – or is she? Pretty standard thriller stuff but made for a gripping read. The ending was particularly satisfying, which is always a worry when I read thrillers. Sometimes it’s as if the writers are so excited to reveal the solution that they miss out a tonne of context. My only criticism would be that sometimes it was obvious that it was a male writer behind the woman’s voice – too much talk of her naked body to be believable sometimes. If I woke up with no memory of the last few decades, I’d have bigger concerns than my saggy boobs.

I give this book: 3/5 secret phone calls

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Finally back on the horror game! Bird Box was creepy af. Definitely one of those stories that works better as a book than a movie, which doesn’t often work in the horror genre. No clichés, no jump scares – in fact, jump scares couldn’t even possibly work in this story because most of it takes place with no vision. The plot of Bird Box is a mysterious disease has overtaken humanity and the only way to avoid it is to keep your eyes covered, if you see an infected, then you become one of them too. It’s a very isolated book for the most part, but that’s broken up with flashbacks to the beginnings of the virus, something which really helps to space out the plot. Again, not scary to read, but if that was happening in real life I have no idea what I’d do.

I give this book: 4/5 things in the shadows

Around this point I had finally rectified the damage from reading It for six weeks and was ready to start reading for fun again, instead of ploughing through thrillers which trick me into reading them. We are now up to April and soon will embark on some good old fashioned fantasy to suck me right back in again. I guess that post will be up whenever I somehow figure out how to read nine books (!!!!!!) in 24 hours. Seriously, how did I get this far behind? At this point, 40 books looks a long way off…

The Girls by Emma Cline Review

I’ve gotta be honest, recently I’ve been in a real reading slump. I’ve been buying so many books and then just… giving up. Nothing has caught my attention. But that all changed with The Girls by Emma Cline. I first saw this book pop up in the Booktube community a couple of months ago and immediately added it to my TBR. I just love cults, but I usually only get my creepy obsessive fill from reading Wikipedia pages at 3AM. But now I have this baby, and its simultaneously everything I wanted and didn’t know I wanted from a book on cults.

One of my favourite books of the last few years has been Vivian Versus The Apocalypse by Katie Coyle, which was another look at a cult-like phenomenon as told by a teenage girl. But despite a similar premise, they were such totally different books. And not for the obvious reasons like The Girls being set in the 1960s and VvsTA being a contemporary novel, or like VvsTA being a much more YA-focused story. Because as much as I loved the Vivian Apple series, her involvement always felt too big to me. Which is something you definitely don’t get with Cline’s novel. The protagonist, Evie, doesn’t change the world. She doesn’t stop the horrendous crimes from happening. She doesn’t have any control. And that’s why it’s so great. Not everyone who stumbles onto a cult becomes a major player, most people are on the outskirts of the action. Evie gets sucked into the cult, but she’s never in control, she never fully knows what’s going on around her. And neither do we for the majority of the story. We get snippets from Adult Evie in the future and can guess about future events from what Evie witnesses at the compound, but she is never the one making these decisions. We experience the cult from her powerless position, just as we would if we were the ones in that situation.

Usually in books like this, I’d be demanding more murder. More action. More blood. But not in this case. What drew me in was the dynamics of the compound and the cult mentality that gets these people do do what they do, something I think Cline portrays very well. Besides, if I wanted to read about the gory details or the major players, I’d read the Charles Manson biography. You don’t really get to see things from the perspective of the outsiders, and even if this account is a fictional one, its got to be rooted in reality.

Despite my going on about realism, a word I’d definitely use to describe this book would be dreamy. So much emphasis is put on the summer this happens in. From Evie’s lazy days before discovering the girls and even her time at the camp. And maybe it’s just because I’m a British person currently dying in 35 degree Spanish heat, but I’m damn sure I felt that Californian summer and I’m damn sure a lot of it was from Cline’s amazing use of language. It really helped to empathise with Evie, and there weren’t many times I experienced a “girl, why are you doing that?” type of moment. Some people might find the writing style a little pretentious, but I didn’t get that vibe. To me, it’s everything that We Were Liars tried and failed to do. Evie is super bored, so to me it makes sense that her way of describing things is a little long winded. What else has she got to do with her time? And when she’s joined the girls, she’s obsessed, so of course she’s going to be taking in all these little details.

I think this a book that anyone can enjoy, weird statutory rape scenes aside (but after IT by Stephen King, I’m pretty much numb to those). You don’t need to be obsessed with cults, or history, or weird descriptive novels. It’s got something for everyone, which is why I think the hype around it is so big right now. Excellent writing, an interesting plot, and a great lazy vibe to it that makes it the perfect summer read. Go forth, devour, and be thankful you didn’t join a cult when you were fourteen.

I give it 5/5 mind-controlled psychopaths.