Books - Haul

Fantasy, Steampunk, & Some Very Beautiful Editions | June Book Haul

June 26, 2017

It’s no secret that I have a slightly worrying book-buying problem. I seem to be physically unable to pass a bookshop without going in, having a browse and leaving with a book (or three), charity shops are my weakness and I’m usually unable to complete the weekly food shop without adding another bargain paperback to the trolley. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that so far this month I’ve already accumulated quite the stack of books, and am, if I’m being really honest, now struggling to find space on my shelves to keep them. That being said, I’m very happy with my recent book purchases, and despite my already rather large TBR, I really hope to get around to reading these soon.

The charity shop purchases

While out on a little day trip with my boyfriend earlier in the month, we popped into a cute little down full to the brim with charity shops. While the book sections in many left quite a lot to be desired (battered copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?!), I did manage to track down a couple of bargains for just a few pounds each, so of course I had to bring them home with me. The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt has been on my radar for quite some time now, and despite hearing mixed things I’d definitely like to give it a go. I can’t resist a good historical family saga, and this one promises to be a particularly emotional ride. Speaking of historical fiction, I also stumbled upon a brand new copy of Kate Mosse’s Laybyrinth, the first in her popular Languedoc trilogy, which I read (and loved) back in 2011. I adore Mosse’s writing and as I previously read the books on my Kindle, I was more than happy to part with the mere £2 to have a physical copy for my shelves. I’m hoping to re-read the trilogy sometime in the not too distant future, and when I do get around to it I’ll definitely be reading from this 10th anniversary edition.

One of the perks of volunteering in a charity bookshop is getting to take a look at the stock before it goes out on the shelves. A couple of weeks ago I spotted Soulless, Changless and Blamelessthe first three books in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, lurking in a donation bag, and promptly snapped them up. I’ve heard so many great things about this fantasy-of-manners series, and am currently reading and very much enjoying the first instalment. Fun, fast-paced and highly addictive, I’m so glad I decided to give this series a try, and will be on the lookout for Gail Carriger’s other work in the future.

The late-night Amazon order

After many years of believing that they really weren’t my cup of tea, last year I started getting into thriller and crime fiction, and I have to say I very much enjoyed it. I gobbled up Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, so when I saw that her latest novel The Lying Game was due for release this month, of course I had to order myself a copy. I’ve heard that it’s a little different to her previous novels, but I have high hopes that it will be just as thrilling, and will definitely be reading it soon.

As you read this, I’ll be getting ready to jet off on a little spontaneous holiday in Prague with my boyfriend, so of course I had to pick up a few novels set in the city to take along with me. I have also previously read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, but decided that the time had come to invest in a physical copy, and I’m looking forward to taking this away with me and reading it while on holiday. In a similar vein, Prague Nights by Benjamin Black is a recently released historical mystery/thriller that I have been eagerly anticipating for many months now, and what better time to treat myself to a copy than before heading off to explore the city in which it is set! Fingers crossed our holiday won’t be quite as gruesome…

On to a few literary fiction titles that again I’ve had my eye on for a while, but only recently decided to purchase. Earlier in the year I read Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life, which I very much enjoyed, so I was eager to read his latest release The Tobacconist, a historical fiction novel set in Vienna at the time of the Second World War. Having recently watched Elena’s BookTube review of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, I was well and truly convinced that this was a book I needed in my life. I love Elena’s reviews and we have a very similar taste in books, so I’m confident that I will enjoy it. Finally, following the recent release of the television adaptation, I decided to pick up a copy of Margaret Atwood’s beloved dystopian, The Handmaid’s Tale – yes, I am slightly ashamed that I haven’t read this yet! Earlier in the year I read Louise O’Neill’s young adult retelling, Only Ever Yours, so I’m very much intrigued to see the similarities and differences between the source material.

Last but by no means least, I treated myself to a copy of Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs, creator of The Snowman. It’s only been within the last year or so that I’ve started to read graphic novels, having previously been a little intimidated by them, and even then I’ve only read a handful. Having watched the beautiful film adaptation of Ethel and Ernest when it was broadcast over Christmas, I’ve been wanting to read the book on which it was based for some time, and I’ve recently been hearing so many great things about it that I decided now was the time. It’s a relatively short little book and the illustrations within are absolutely beautiful, as you would expect from Raymond Briggs, so I’m looking forward to spending an evening curled up with this one and devouring it all in one sitting.

The beautiful special editions

The Harry Potter series and the His Dark Materials trilogy have, and will always remain, two of my very favourites. I have read them many, many times each, and already own a few editions of the books. However, when Bloomsbury announced the release of these special edition house copies in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I thought it was my duty as a Ravenclaw to pick up this beautiful bright blue paperback edition to add to my collection!  Not only is the cover design completely magical, but these new editions contain many other extras, such as chapters on the history of the houses and their founders, their ghosts and notable students, as well as a note from J. K. Rowling herself alongside some new illustrations. I’m not going to lie, I am quite tempted to pick up the other house paperback copies to complete the set, but I think that might be going a little far even for me!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I cannot wait for the release of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage in October, the first in his long-awaited Book of Dust series. In preparation, I’m hoping to reread His Dark Materials over the next few months, something that I haven’t done in a good few years. I’ve been eyeing up these 20th anniversary editions of the books for about a year or so now, and finally – and inevitably – I caved! I love the design and blue foiling on this paperback copy of Northern Lights, and the design of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass are just as beautiful. Don’t be surprised if you see them pop up in a future haul – I’ll try to have some self-retraint, but when books are concerned, I can’t make any promises!

Have you read any of these books? What have you been buying in June?

Books - Tag

The Mid-Year Book Freak-Out | TAG

June 22, 2017

1. The best book you’ve read so far in 2017?

I’ve read quite a number of books that I have loved so far this year, a few of which I’m sure will remain among my favourite books for many years to come. However, if I have to choose just one, I think I’ll go with Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger, an absolutely beautiful literary dystopian novel that will completely restore your faith in humanity. It really touched me, and I have found myself thinking about it a lot, despite having read it towards the beginning of the year. It’s definitely a book that I’d like to return to soon, and one that I’d highly recommend to all.

2. The best sequel you’ve read so far in 2017?

I’m not too great at reading series, often waiting quite some time between instalments, and consequently I haven’t read too many sequels so far this year. The best from the small pool that I have read, however, is Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb, the second in Hobb’s exceedingly popular Farseer Trilogy. Despite it’s rather mammoth length (around 650 pages!), I loved following Fitz’ story, and I’m hoping to read many more of Hobb’s novels in the coming months.

3. A new release that you haven’t read yet, but want to?

I cannot wait to read A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas, the third in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, yet for some reason I haven’t quite got around to it yet. Despite pre-ordering a copy ahead of it’s May release way back at the beginning of the year, it’s still sitting there unread on my shelf, and this is definitely something that I must rectify soon. I’d also like to reread, if possible, A Court of Mist and Fury before moving on to ACOWAR, so that’s definitely a plan for the summer!

4. Your most anticipated release for the second half of 2017?

La Belle Sauvage, the first in Philip Pullman’s long awaited Book of Dust series, of course! I adore His Dark Materials, and have read the trilogy multiple times both as a child and as an adult, so of course I can’t wait to get my hands on this ‘equal’ series that we’ve all been waiting years for! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy, and am hoping to squeeze in a re-read of His Dark Materials ahead of the October release date. If you’re interesting in reading an extract from La Belle Sauvage, you can find a little sneak peak over on at the Guardian here.

5. Biggest disappointment?

I must confess that, despite the huge amount of hype that surrounds this series, I found City of Bones, the first in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, a bit of a disappointment! I’ve heard so many amazing things about this series and the spin-off books, particularly Lady Midnight, so I finally decided to take the plunge and get acquainted with the Shadowhunter world. While it was an enjoyable enjough read, it certainly wasn’t as great as I was expecting, so I really hope that the next few books pick up a little.

6. Biggest surprise?

Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories by Alexander McCall Smith is definitely the biggest surprise I’ve had so far this year. Not only was McCall Smith a new-to-me author, I’m not typically the biggest fan of short story collections, as I often only like a handful of those included within the volume. However, this little collection of stories, each one inspired by a black-and-white photograph that the author chanced upon, was an absolute delight. I loved every single one, and even now, many months after reading, I can recall them all. One story in particular even moved me to tears, and it’s definitely one that I’ll be returning to time and time again.

7. Favourite new author?

Could I really pick anyone but the wonderful Daphne du Maurier? Of course not, and I cannot fathom why I haven’t picked up her books sooner. So far this year I have read Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel, both of which were absolutely outstanding, and again will be among my favourite books for many years to come. I have quite the number of du Maurier’s books on my shelf waiting to be read, including the beloved Rebecca, and I plan on making my way through the entirety of her backlist in the months to come!

8. Newest fictional crush?

Unfortunately I think I must pass on this one, as nobody in particular comes to mind!

9. Newest favourite character?

Rachel Ashley, the antagonist of du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, is certainly not the most likeable of characters, but she’s definitely one of the most interesting and intriguing characters that I’ve read about in a long time. For the majority of the novel you’re not quite sure where you stand with her, and her complex personality made her so enjoyable to read about.

10. A book that made you cry?

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is one of the most heartbreaking books I think I’ve ever read, and made me cry many times while reading. This extremely moving memoir chronicles Kalanithi’s career as a neurosurgeon, and his eventual diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer, with his account sadly being left unfinished and the epilogue penned by his wife Lucy. Kalanithi’s musings on life were so fascinating, and the book in general gave me such a lot to think about. The last 50 pages of so in particular had me in floods of years, and although this is deeply sad and emotional read I think it is an important one, and believe that it should be read by all.

11. A book that made you happy?

Mhairi McFarlane’s It’s Not Me, It’s You is easily one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year, and it definitely made me very happy while I was reading. Warm, witty and downright hilarious, this is women’s contemporary fiction at its finest, and I can’t wait to read more of McFarlane’s work as I’m sure I’ll love it just as much as this offering.

12. Favourite book-to-movie adaptation you’ve seen this year?

Does the recent live action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast count?! It’s always been one of my favourite fairytales, regardless of medium, but this latest adaptation made me love it so much more than I already did. Every single element was perfect, and I’m counting down the days until it is released on DVD in July, as you can be sure that it’ll be playing on repeat!

13. The most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year?

I was very kindly gifted a copy of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale for my birthday back in February, and it’s definitely the most beautiful book that I have acquired so far in 2017. The cover design is stunning, and looks more like a work of art than simply a book cover. I really must get around to reading it soon, and I hope that the story within will be just as beautiful as the exterior.

14. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

I recently booked tickets to see the wonderful Alison Weir at Edinburgh Book Festival later in the summer, where she will be discussing the first two titles in her recent Six Tudor Queens historical fiction series. I’m a bit fan of Weir’s non-fiction work, and have read one of her previous fictional titles, however despite owning beautiful hardcover copies of both I am still yet to read Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. These are both very high on my TBR list, as I’d love to read them before the festival and, hopefully, get my copies signed by Alison Weir herself. They are quite lengthy books, which I think may have been putting me off a little, but I’m sure that I’ll love them so I really must get on with it and read them soon!

Those of you that made it to the end, consider yourself tagged! I had such fun writing this post, and I’d love to read your answers and hear around how your reading has been going so far in 2017!

Books - Lists

5 non-fiction books on my TBR list

June 18, 2017

At the beginning of the year, I set myself the goal of reading more non-fiction. I’ve always enjoying dipping my toe into the world of non-fiction here and there, more often than not in the form of a good historical biography, however over the course of my time at university, reading anything but easy-to-consume fiction became increasingly rare. Despite regularly choosing to spend my time getting lost in one fictional world or another rather than a non-fictional tome, I’ve collected quite a number over the years that, despite being interested enough to spend my money on them, have sadly been left unread, collecting dust.

While I haven’t quite met my 2017 goal of reading one non-fiction title each month, I have been reading more than previous years, which I definitely count as an improvement. Just this morning I finished listening to Helen Russell’s The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country , which I very much enjoyed, and having ticked another non-fiction off my TBR list it inspired me to take a look at the other titles on my shelves that I’d like to get to soon. I’m certainly not making any promises, but I very much hope that by the end of the year the following five titles will, at last, have been read – wish me luck?!

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is an extremely popular writer within the realms of non-fiction, having penned a number of books covering topics such as history, travel, science and the English language, to name but a few. In One Summer, Bryson documents the summer in which ‘America came of age and changed the world for ever’, with the blurb promising ‘a tale of brawling adventure, reckless optimism and delirious energy’. As I mentioned, I love reading history non-fiction, and this offering from Bryson seems to be unique within the field of popular history. As summer is upon us once more, I think this would make for a highly enjoyable seasonal read, and although the exceedingly long page count is admittedly a little off-putting, I’m determined to give it a good crack.

Ice Cream for Breakfast: How Rediscovering You Inner Child Can Make You Calmer, Happier, and Solve Your Bullsh*t Adult Problems by Laura Jane Williams

First of all, who wouldn’t want to read a book with a title – or a cover – like that?! Sold! Although I am still yet to read Laura Jane Williams’ previous book, Becoming, her latest release certainly sounds right up my street. For the most part I’m not typically one to gravitate towards the self-help genre, however having recently read How to Be a Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan, another recent release in a similar vein, I decided that I needed this in my life. It promises to be a fun, light-hearted and ultimately reassuring read, and if the glowing praise that I’ve heard is anything to go by then I’m sure I’m going to love this one.

Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Dennison

It’s no secret that I am a great fan of Beatrix Potter. Not only have I adored her books and illustrations since childhood, I have great respect for her as an individual, particularly in regard to her work within the Lake District, a topic that I chose to explore in greater detail for my undergraduate dissertation. Through my studies I have read a number of books about Beatrix Potter, and have quite a collection on my bookshelves, however I couldn’t help but snap up a copy of Dennison’s latest biography. Not only is it beautifully designed, I’ve also heard that its highly readable, and paints a fantastic portrait of the famed children’s illustrator. While I’m not expecting to learn anything new from this one, it will be interesting to read another take on the life of Beatrix Potter, and given the subject matter I’m sure that I’ll enjoy it.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed

Following the release of film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon as author Strayed back in 2014, it seems that everyone has either read, or heard of, this travel memoir. I picked up a copy last summer, intending to read and participate in a book club discussion, however I failed to get around to it by the time of the meeting, and have been resolving to give it a go ever since. I’ll be honest, the tiny font in my edition puts me off a little, but I know that is a rather silly excuse not to read a book that so many people seem to love. I’d also really like to watch the film, but feel that I must read the source material beforehand, so hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy the story in both mediums within the coming months.

Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart

Miranda Hart is a woman who never fails to bring a smile to my face. She is, quite simply, an absolute delight, and I cannot believe that, despite my love for her, I’m still yet to read any of her books. Her first title, Is It Just Me?, is a collection of musings on topics such as music, hobbies, beauty, dating and Christmas, sprinkled with personal stories and anecdotes throughout. It sounds lovely, and given my love for Miranda, I have no doubt that this one will keep me giggling throughout!

What are your thoughts on non-fiction? Are there any titles that you’d recommend?

Book Review

Three Holiday Book Reviews | Windfall, Yuki Chan in Brontë Country & Bone Meal for Roses

June 17, 2017

When it comes to choosing books to take away on holiday, I am the worst. As a serial mood-reader, the thought of not being with easy reach of my extensive array of unread books tends to leave me feeling a little stressed, and consequently the pre-holiday panic sets in before I’ve even pulled my suitcase out of storage. If I’m being honest, I probably spend more time contemplating my holiday reading material than I do on any other aspect of the travel planning process – while my suitcase it often packed last-minute, inevitably lacking one essential item or another, I will spend weeks choosing the books that will accompany me on my jaunt abroad, and more often than not pick up a couple of extras at the airport bookshop for good measure, just in case.

On a recent trip to Dubai, I decided that, for a week-long holiday I needed no less than seven books, in addition to a loaded (yet often sadly neglected) Kindle. I had visions of spending the day relaxing in the sun, drinking cocktails and iced coffee, and making my way through at least (at least!) a book a day. Well, that didn’t happen. I ended up reading three of the books that I packed, all with varying levels of enjoyment, so here’s a little round-up of what I read on my holiday!

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

I’m not typically a great reader of YA contemporary fiction, or, for the most part, YA fiction in general. However, as soon as holiday season rolls around I find myself craving fun, quick, light reads that I can fly through in a day or two, the literary equivalent to a cheesy teen movie or romantic comedy. Having read a number of Jennifer E. Smith’s previous titles, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Windfall, a fun novel that ponders the highs and lows of a big lottery win and the ways it can change your life, both for the good and the bad.

Despite the rather lukewarm Goodreads ratings, Windfall was a really enjoyable contemporary that quite honestly I couldn’t put down. Yes, it was fun and fluffy and, in parts, a little predictable, but it also had a depth to it that I wasn’t expecting. There was, of course, a romance element, but unlike many contemporaries I’ve read that wasn’t the primary focus on the plot. Instead, Jennifer E. Smith placed the focus of the novel, and as such the reader’s attention, onto other elements of our main characters’ Teddy and Alice’s lives, such as family, friendship, grief, loss and finding your place in the world. All of the characters felt well fleshed out and completely believable, each with their own backstory and struggles, and I enjoyed getting to know this greatly diverse cast of side characters alongside following Teddy and Alice’s story.

This fun, coming-of-age story is definitely one to add to your Summer TSB list. While I wasn’t completely blown away by it, I really warmed to the characters and adored the themes that were so expertly explored alongside the fun and though-provoking plot, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Jennifer E. Smith in the future.

☆☆☆☆

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country by Mick Jackson

From a book that I very much enjoyed to one that was, sadly, a little bit of a disappointment. Yuki Chan in Brontë Country was very much an impulse purchase – the title and cover alone convinced me to give it a try – and given it’s short length I thought that it might make a sweet and charming holiday read. The novel started off strong, and I enjoyed following young Japanese tourist Yuki’s adventures to Haworth and the cast of characters that she encounters there. Haworth was the last place Yuki’s mother visited before her death, and our protagonist’s own visit turns out to be just as strange and unexpected as her mother’s before her. As Yuki delves deeper into her mother’s past and her trip abroad, she learns a few unexpected things about grief, acceptance, friendship and who she is, and for the most part I enjoyed going on this journey of self-discovery with her.

However, I had a real issue with both the pacing of the novel and it’s incredibly short length. I am in general a great lover of slow, quiet books, getting to know the characters and watching them grow and develop without the excessive noise of a fast-paced plot. Yet even for me, Yuki Chan in Brontë Country was a little too slow in parts. The mystery that Yuki attempts to unravel never feels as intriguing as it should, and it doesn’t ever feel resolved, either. Additionally, it felt just a little too short to make the reader feel as if something significant had happened or been achieved, and I often felt held at a distance from both the characters and the plot. My interest tailed off towards the latter third of the novel, and I felt that I really had to push myself to finish it.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag; some elements I enjoyed, but others I had problems with that hampered my enjoyment. Ultimately it was an interesting read, but one that I don’t think I’ll return to again, and as such I’m not sure that I would recommend it.

☆☆☆

Bone Meal for Roses by Miranda Sherry

Finally, I seem to have saved the best until last! No only was Bone Meal for Roses, a touching coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the beautiful South African landscape, the best book that I read when I was away on holiday, but it’s also one of the best books that I’ve read all year. Heartbreaking, terrifying and exceptionally beautiful all at the same time, I was completely enchanted by this quiet story of our protagonist Poppy’s traumatic early childhood and how, with a little help, she overcomes the demons of her past. While it is somewhat of a slow story, with the focus almost entirely placed on character development rather than he plot itself, I was hooked from the first page to the last.

Miranda Sherry has a fantastic ability to capture the very essence of her characters without the need for excessive description or dialogue, and consequently I warmed to Poppy and her grandparents from the very beginning of the novel. The healing effect of Poppy’s grandparents and the love and kindness that they showed her moved me to tears a number of times when reading, and there is a really sense of deep family love throughout. Not only were the characters wonderful and their relationships even more so, Sherry’s beautiful writing elevated the novel to another level for me. I wanted to both savour and devour it, and have already found myself returning to a few quotes or paragraphs that I particularly loved. This is a book that made a really impact upon me, and one that I’m sure will stay with me for a long time to come. In Bone Meal for Roses, Sherry has created something uniquely beautiful and downright extraordinary, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I loved it. 

☆☆☆☆☆

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?