So, here it goes – a brief overview of all the new books I read in January. These are in the order I read them in.
The Broken Eye (4/5 Stars) and The Blood Mirror (3/5 Stars) (Lightbringer #3 and #4) by Brent Weeks
Shoutout to my sister for getting me these books for Christmas and finally giving me the push I needed to continue reading this series 😉 I can’t say much without spoiling the first two books, but I can say that this is a very political high fantasy series with wonderful morally gray characters and an excellent magic system revolving around light. While the writing overall may only be average and could sometimes do with a bit of cutting, the plot more than makes up for it and always continues to surprise me. I really enjoyed these next two installments, especially The Broken Eye, which added a lot more tension, an assassin guild, and still had the magic school setting of the Chromeria which I liked so much in the first two books. While I also enjoyed The Blood Mirror, I did think that Kip’s chapters dragged a lot and that the book could have improved with some substantial cutting. I also would have liked to see more of Zymun, who now has a very important role in the world, yet somehow got almost no page time. The same goes for Andross Guile, who is by far one of the most interesting characters in the series, but didn’t play as large of a role in this installment as the one before. Still, this book was a good addition to the series and there were several major reveals about Gavin that absolutely blew my mind, yet also made a lot of sense. I am interested to find out where this series is going next, so the fifth book had better come out soon!
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (4.5/5 Stars)
I loved this book, which may come as no surprise, since it focused heavily on the staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and, as I have mentioned before, I am an absolute sucker for Shakespeare in books. Still, I was surprised by how much I liked it – I personally enjoyed it even more than Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which many people consider to be a modern classic. This story has beautiful writing and follows the story of Felix, who is fired from his post as director of a well-known theater festival, right before he is about to stage The Tempest. This comes as a heavy blow to Felix, whose wife died long ago and whose only daughter Miranda also died as a child. The Tempest was meant to be a farewell to Miranda, and now Felix can’t have even that. Felix decides to leave town and assumes a fake identity, not wishing to be found. At some point, he takes a job at a prison to teach literacy to the inmates, which he does by staging Shakespeare plays with them. Then, one year, a perfect opportunity for revenge presents itself to Felix and he decides it is time to stage The Tempest after all. This book goes into great detail about the play itself and made me think about it in many ways that I hadn’t thought about it before. It is ingenious in the way that Felix’s story itself models the story of the play he is staging. While his revenge plan is slightly ridiculous and far-fetched, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it and it was very reminiscent of a Shakespearean comedy, just as it was probably supposed to be. If you’re an English major and/or a Shakespeare buff, I think you will probably enjoy this, too. However, I think you can definitely also get a lot out of this even if you haven’t read The Tempest (though it does certainly give you a lot of additional insight) – it deals extremely well with the topic of grief and losing a child and gives a very interesting perspective on education within the prison system.
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (3.5/5 Stars)
This was a cute, summery contemporary and just what I needed after reading tons of fantasy this winter. It follows a girl named Samantha, whose very strict mother has always disapproved of their rowdy next-door neighbors with their countless children. I always tend to reach for books that are supposed to have nice big family dynamics – maybe because such families always remind me of mine, or maybe because I’m hoping to find something as wonderful as The Penderwicks, which is my second-favorite series of all time (first place, obviously, goes to Harry Potter). For the most part, I did really enjoy the portrayal of the family in this book and thought it was pretty accurate, and I also liked the love story in this. However, I did have a few issues: for one thing, I did not think that Samantha’s mother’s character was completely believable, especially her dialogue. When Samantha is seven, her mother tells her: “Oh no [.] I hoped we could have avoided this. […] This kind of thing. […] There’s one in every neighborhood. The family that never mows their lawn. Has toys scattered everywhere. The ones who never plant flowers, or do and let them die. The messy family who lowers real estate values. Here they are. Right next door.” Now, if this were a book from Samantha’s mother’s perspective and this was part of the prose, I wouldn’t have minded. However, it absolutely does not sound the way a mother would talk to a seven-year-old. And this was not the only instance of such writing. It happened with the other characters, too, but Sam’s mom especially always sounded like she had swallowed a textbook of overly lyrical prose, which I found unnatural and completely distracting. Also, the mother was a very static and one-dimensional character – there were great opportunities for some character development, but I never got to see it. Another issue that I had was that there was a subplot about one of Sam’s friends that was suddenly abandoned and never picked up again about 100 pages from the end. That just felt lazy, so I was kind of disappointed. Other than that, though, this was a cute, summery story and the Garrett family immediately wormed its way into my heart. If you’re looking for a light, easy read that has a healthy relationship and still has a bit of depth to it, you might enjoy this one.
Godsgrave (Nevernight #2) by Jay Kristoff (4.5/5 Stars)
Since this is the sequel to Nevernight, I won’t say much except that if you loved Nevernight, you will also love this. It did not disappoint at all and the world-building just continues to become richer and richer. While I was a bit sad to see the assassin school setting go, Godsgrave did give Mia the opportunity to travel around, which makes the reader learn so many new historical, political and geographical tidbits. Mia continues to work on her plans for revenge and to do so, she lets herself be captured as a slave to fight in gladiator-like battles that will enable her to get close to the Consul – if she survives. This has everything Nevernight had – action, amazing plot twists, smut (and let me tell you, there is some pretty steamy girl-girl romance going on here…). Plus, I am now, if possible, even more curious to find out more about the history of the darkin and what exactly it has to do with the mysterious “here he fell” on the map. And that cliff hanger at the end – the next book had better come out soon because I need to know what happens next.
The Doldrums (The Doldrums #1) by Nicholas Gannon (4.5/5 stars)
This has everything one could want from a middle grade book. It follows Archer B. Helmsley, whose grandparents were explorers that disappeared before he ever got to meet them. Archer grows up in his grandparents’ house, raised by parents who think that an explorer is a terrible thing to be, when one could also, for example, become a lawyer. However, Archer is a dreamer and yearns to go exploring to find his lost grandparents. For this, he enlists the help of his two friends, Oliver Glub, the boy next door, and Adélaïde Belmont, a girl with a wooden leg who just moved to his town from France. Nothing quite goes as planned, but this is a funny, heartwarming novel about friendship and dreaming, that has a wonderfully odd and unique plot and beautiful illustrations to go along with it. I think that children (or older people 🙂 ) who like Allen Kurzweil’s, Eva Ibbotson’s or Lemony Snicket’s books will also like this.
Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah J. Maas (3.5/5 Stars)
Very skeptically, I finally decided to pick this up. After all, there are no Rowan or Aelin in it, whose most recent character development plays a large role in why, in my opinion, the Throne of Glass series has been steadily going downhill. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised. We follow three different characters’ perspectives in this book, which I found to be much easier to follow than the abundance of characters there were in Empire of Storms. I found myself invested in all their points of view again and I actually liked all of them, a very welcome change. The world-building was also well done – I think this expanded the existing world nicely and also added diversity that Sarah J. Maas has often been criticized for lacking to the series. I also finally felt like more emphasis was finally getting put on the plot and the development of relationships again, rather than just writing chapter after chapter of smut accompanied by extravagant displays of nature. This made me get a lot more attached to the characters than I had been in a long time (in fact, even Nesryn grew on me – in Queen of Shadows, she was just a plot device to make sure all characters were paired up again, but thankfully, she actually got some character depth now). I also think that for the most part, this book did a good job on dealing with the topic of disability, although I do think that the ending was a bit cheesy and there would have been a better way to handle this. Still, I really enjoyed the book, although I do have to dock off points because I just don’t think this series is consistent as a whole (the first two books feel completely different, and then it seems like Sarah J. Maas started mixing the plot up with that of her other series) and because of all of the male smiles and snarls and whatnot that annoy me to no end in all of Maas’ books. And, for those who are curious – yes, I do think you have to read this before you read the last book in the series. There are some pretty major reveals that are relevant to the overall story arc. Although I suppose you could also read a summary, but in my opinion, this was miles better than Queen of Shadows or Empire of Storms, so I’d recommend reading it anyway…
Further Chronicles of Avonlea (Chronicles of Avonlea #2) by Lucy Maud Montgomery (3.5/5 Stars)
I have owned this for a very long time, but I always put off reading it because I thought I had to read Chronicles of Avonlea, which I don’t own, first. However, I was talking to a friend, who loves Anne of Green Gables as much as I do, about Anne with an E, which made me furious all over again about how the show started off so well and then decided to morph Anne’s wonderful imagination into some horrible product of a twisted childhood. But that might be a rant for another time… Anyway, the discussion put me in the mood to read some more L. M. Montgomery, so I decided to read this in spite of my reading-the-second-book-first-misgivings. It turns out, though, that it doesn’t matter at all if you haven’t read the first short story collection. Overall, these were cute stories, mostly about love, that were exactly what I needed to cheer me up, even if they were all rather predictable. I do have to admit that I was rather shocked to read the last story, “Tannis of the Flats”, which had some pretty racist comments towards Native Americans in it. I suppose this type of thinking was normal at L. M. Montgomery’s time and some aspects of the story might even have been considered progressive, but it was still sad to see that one of my favorite authors had written something like this. However, I still enjoyed the book overall and although I do love the Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon series heaps more, I do think it is a fun read for anyone wanting more.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (4/5 Stars)
I guess now that the movie is coming out soon, my library finally decided to get a copy of this book. Somehow, when everyone was raving about the 80s pop culture references in this, that always immediately put me off reading it. I thought I didn’t really know much about the 80s or pop culture, so I probably wouldn’t like this. However, since the library now had a copy, I thought I’d give it a try. Boy, were my expectations wrong. This was extremely action-packed, and since I started it right before I went to bed intending to read only a few chapters, I ended up staying up until about 2:30 a.m. to finish it. It was exciting, had great villains, good character growth and even for someone who rarely plays video games, the virtual world and the gaming aspects of this were – there is no other word for it – cool. Also, it turns out that I actually do know a great deal about 80s pop culture – I just didn’t know that this stuff was from the 80s or the type of thing to be important enough to be considered pop culture. I understood tons of movie references and I even knew some of the games mentioned. However, even if you knew absolutely nothing about the 80s, I think this would still be enjoyable. The action is great and there are enough explanations so that you don’t feel lost when you read this. This book was a huge surprise and now I’m actually kind of excited to see the movie.
Die Spur der Bücher (Die Spur der Bücher #1) by Kai Meyer (2/5 Stars) (this book has, as far as I could find out, not been translated into English yet, but my translation of the title would be The Trail of Books)
People have been recommending Kai Meyer’s books to me forever, so I finally decided to give him a try. After all, I love fantasy, so why should I hardly ever read any in my native language when there’s this author out there that so many people love? However, this book was a big disappointment. I was drawn to it because of the cover and since it is Meyer’s most recent book, I thought his writing would probably have gotten really good with practice. Plus, it had the word “books” in the title, and which book nerd can resist that? And the synopsis – Victorian London, a thief stealing books, magic done with stories – it sounded enthralling. Unfortunately, I was not enthralled. Part of that is probably my fault because I realized a couple of chapters in that this is a spin-off to Meyer’s Die Seiten der Welt (The Pages of the World) trilogy. However, this was not explained anywhere in the synopsis or elsewhere and I do think this new series is supposed to stand on its own (and it’s a prequel, so you don’t need to know much). Plus, while I was a bit confused about the magic system at first, I was able to understand enough to figure out the basics. Sure, more would have been nice, but that also wasn’t my biggest issue with this book. First and foremost, I thought this was boring. The main reason for this was that I found the book to be extremely predictable. I was able to see the “plot twists” coming about twenty pages into the book and overall, the story felt like something I had read countless times before, though maybe with a different magic system. I also felt like the characters were cliché cutouts that were just supposed to fit current YA fantasy trends like “the strong female thief” or “the brooding mysterious boy”. These tropes can work, but here I thought there was not much behind them. I didn’t get enough uniqueness and personality that made me connect to the characters, even though there was so much potential. For example, something terrible happened to the main character Mercy that causes her to stop using her magic – something the reader is constantly reminded of in every single situation (this repetition, too, got extremely annoying). However, instead of showing some of Mercy’s inner turmoil and showing her gradually come to deal with this, there is one situation that threatens her life and forces her to use magic. But does this affect her psychologically? No. She just continues using magic like nothing happened, which makes the not using magic earlier seem like a weak plot device that made sure Mercy couldn’t easily solve predicaments earlier in the novel. Also, I did not like the way the passage of time was shown in this novel. For one thing, there was a fifty-page prologue at the beginning that was completely unnecessary – it revealed tons of details that would have been interesting for readers to figure out themselves later. For another, it seemed like everything Mercy experienced was described – there were no short transitions of time passing in between scenes, Mercy and the other characters were just constantly running from one thing to the next. This gave the characters little downtime or time for character growth and made the overall pacing kind of strange. Another thing I did not like at all was the writing style. At least, I did not like the writing style in conjunction with this particular story. This was supposed to be set in Victorian London, but everything about the writing screamed 21st century to me. Now, I don’t expect Dickens or anything – that would also be going overboard and probably a bit tedious to read. However, I do expect authors to adjust their style to somewhat mirror the time period, especially in the dialogue. And, yes, even if the characters would speak English anyway and the book is in German. Use slightly old-fashioned German, then. However, this just felt like someone had dumped modern teenagers into Victorian London. This problem also extended to how the characters acted. Yes, I do like it when girls stand up for themselves, but Mercy acted nothing like a Victorian girl would. She felt very much like a teenager from 2017, which was when this was published. This could have been fixed so easily, especially since it is obvious that the author did do research. There were historical facts dumped throughout the story. And yes, I mean dumped. They always sounded very conspicuous because the style was so different from the other writing, much more textbook-like. A problem that again goes back to this book’s style not mirroring the setting. So yes, unfortunately, I was very disappointed with this overall. I might give Kai Meyer another chance sometime in the future, but right now, I’m definitely not feeling it.
Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman (5/5 Stars)
I loved it. I will probably spend all my money this year buying every single book Neal Shusterman has ever written because the Arc of a Scythe series is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites. Scythe was one of my favorite books, if not my favorite book, of last year, so of course I preordered Thunderhead and I have to say that it was just as good. This series is really making me think through philosophical topics and I loved the short excerpts from the Thunderhead’s point of view. I loved seeing old characters again, I loved the addition of Grayson, I loved seeing how Scythe Anastasia chose to glean and how Scythe Lucifer tried to implement his ideals. I loved all the further world-building, mystery, intrigue, and action. And I most definitely need the next book.