Friday, 21 June 2019

Unread Books I Think I'll Love #2

I’ve been browsing my TBR shelf recently (as you do) and it’s got me thinking about the books I currently own that could potentially be new favourites. I’m terrible at buying books in the heat of the moment and then not picking them up immediately, but of late I’ve been pondering the books that I own which could be future five star reads. I wrote a post like this one last year and my predictions were interesting so I wanted to share the books that are currently my top contenders for being my favourites of the year.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
1992  629 pages  Penguin Books

I feel like one of the few people to not have read this book and it saddens me because I think I’m going to love, love this one. A group of college students who gradually go beyond moral boundaries and slip in to corruption and evil?  Sign. Me. Up. It’s been on my shelves for a little over a year, and I did in fact take it away with me last year with the full intention of reading it whilst I was on holiday in sunny Spain. However, the timing felt off and I wasn’t feeling compelled to pick it up and the time. The last thing you want is to taint a book by reading it at the wrong time so I decided to save it for when I really wanted to read it. That time may be almost here because it’s been drawing my eye of late and I’m so excited to finally get stuck in.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
2016  536 pages  Orion

I read Six of Crows, the first book in this fantasy duology, at the back end of last summer. It was a fun, fast-paced story that again I felt everyone on Bookstagram had read apart from me! I was curious and wanted to see what all the fuss was about and I’m very glad I did. I enjoyed it and went ahead and bought the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, shortly after. And I haven’t read it yet. Oops. I know I’m going to enjoy this one, I can feel it in my bones. Leigh Bardugo’s writing style is engrossing and each of her characters has their own unique voice so I’m keen to revisit this well-crafted fantasy world. Again, I think I’m just waiting for when I feel truly inspired to pick it up.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn
2019  560 pages  William Morrow Paperbacks

One of my anticipated release for 2019 by one of my favourite authors. It’s been a couple of years since Quinn released The Alice Network – a historical fiction set between the two world wars which I absolutely loved. Now she’s back with another post-war novel about three individuals who all cross paths with a Nazi murderess known as The Huntress and it sounds so, so good. The way Kate Quinn writes characters and makes history come to life is amazing and I’m forever in awe of her work as an author. I’ve read all of her books to date and she’s not disappointed me yet so I’ve no doubt The Huntress will be one of my favourites of this year.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
2014  599 pages  Virago

Remember earlier this year when I wrote a post saying one of my reading goals was to read all of Sarah Waters published works? Well, it’s six months in to the year I have yet to put that goal in to action but worried I am not because The Paying Guests is increasingly looking more and more appealing to me. As Waters’ most current novel to date it’s a chunky one even by her standards but I’ve been reading my fair share of ‘big’ books lately (in fact, I realised while writing this that all of the books in this post are over 500 pages) so I’m not letting that put me off. Set in 1922 this is another post-war novel about the lives of an impoverished widow and her daughter as they welcome a lodger couple in to their lives. In true Sarah Waters fashion, I have no doubt this will be an engrossing and evocative read so this is one I’ll be adding to my summer to-read list for sure.

Which of your unread books do you think hold the potential to be new favourites? As always, feel free to let me know if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned and what you think of them!


Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Review: The Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding

Minor spoilers for the Ketty Jay series ahead!

It’s been a while since I wrote a full-length review for a book or a series. I find mini-reviews much more effective when I’m rounding up my feelings towards my recently read pile. However last night I finished The Ace of Skulls, the final book in the Tales of the Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding and I was left with lots of thoughts. I’ve been reading this four-book series since the beginning of the year and it’s been an experience to say the least, so I wanted to round up my overall final thoughts because when I finished up the story in the early hours of this morning, I had some feelings.

The Tales of The Ketty Jay is a steampunk-fantasy series which follows a crew of dysfunctional pirates on board a flying vessel known as the Ketty Jay. The crew are a misfit bunch of characters each with their own history and are led by Darian Frey, their rogue, down-on-his-luck Captain who is better at charming ladies than he is at leading his crew. Alongside Frey you’ve got Crake, a man on the run who practises an outlawed science known as deamonism; Malvery, the loveable drunk doctor; Silo, the silent engineer; Jez, the navigator with a dark and terrifying secret; Bess, Crake’s eight foot golem; Harkins and Pinn, two bickering out-pilots who are the polar opposite of one another; and then you’ve got Slag the Cat who roams the Ketty Jay and is as much a part of the crew as the rest of them. They make their living transporting contraband and generally living on the wrong side of the law, as pirates do, and the plot of each book is fast paced with one dilemma after another around each corner. It’s a fun, swashbuckling fantasy series that feels as loveable as Pirates of the Caribbean in a world very different to our own.

I’ve never read any steampunk before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I loved the world-building and the futuristic, yet historical feel to the setting. Chris Wooding has clearly spent a lot of time crafting this world for his characters, creating a believable societal system with politics and religion being the driving pivotal points in the big events that drive the plot. One thing that was missing, something that I think is an added bonus with any fantasy series, was a map at the start of each book. The central characters move around a lot, going from country to country and frequently reference other places, so I think a map would have been greatly beneficial. I used my imagination of course, but as a reference point I think it would have been handy to know how far one place was from another.

So, the world and the setting get a big thumbs up from me, but what about the characters? Character focus in novels is a big thing for me and as much as do enjoy a fast-paced story, the characters ultimately have to be the central motivation to keep me reading. My favourite parts of these books were the scenes that focused on character building, which I thought on a whole, Chris Wooding did a good job with. The relationship between Frey and his crew goes through many ups and downs but they always pull together and learn to work and live together like the dysfunctional yet loveable family that they are. The first two books, Retribution Falls and The Black Lung Captain, were in my opinion the strongest at building and exploring the crew’s relationship. Things fell a little short me by the third book. There seemed to be an increase in action scenes which I did get a bit lost in. Battle scenes always tend to go by in a bit of blur for me.

Frey is the most central figure in this ensemble cast and despite his sometimes-questionable ability of being a good leader, his compassion and will to be a better person shines through. His relationship with former lover-turned nemesis Trinica Draken, a formidable pirate queen in her own right, plays a big part in Frey’s character arc and a lot of his motivation by third book stems from his feelings towards her. It’s very “will they, won’t they,” and their relationship goes through a lot of turmoil before the final book comes to a close. I enjoyed Frey’s character, but was I entirely satisfied with his character arc? For me his story became a bit romance heavy in the final book, to the point where he risks the safety of his crew over the woman he loves, which for me negates what he and his crew had been previously been through.

As for the other characters and their stories, I enjoyed the time I spent with them and I appreciated how they all had their own individual character arcs. Crake, one of my favourite characters, felt like he’d come a long way since the opening of book one and everything in his story was rounded off nicely. Pinn and Harkins were two of my least favourite characters; they felt the most under-developed and I felt they were mainly there for comic relief. Even Slag the Cat gets his own chapter thrown in every now and then, which I thought was a bit odd and the first time it happened it took me right out of the story because it doesn’t add anything to the overall narrative.

One of my favourite characters and my biggest disappointment was Jez, the Ketty Jay’s trusty navigator. The main focus of Jez’s story is that she’s half-Mane; a ghoulish, haunting creature that is neither dead or alive. They’re feared beings who live in the north and Jez’s encounter with one left her not quite human, but not quite Mane. She spends the first two books trying to fight her Mane-side and understand these new-found supernatural abilities she possesses (amazing eyesight, incredible perception at knowing where places are) all of which improve her ability as a navigator. But by the third book I felt as though she gets forgotten about. Her Mane-side is growing and she can’t control it; the crew become a bit wary of her and all of the aspects of her original character just sort of disappear. By the end of Book Four she’s turned fully Mane and leaves to join her brethren. It felt as though Jez the navigator and member of the Ketty Jay left in Book Two and the last two books she was Jez the Mane who the crew weren’t sure about anymore. She was one of my favourite characters and her story arc fell very flat and cold for me.

So, what is my overall impression of this series? My general feelings towards it is that I enjoyed these books and I had a lot of fun with them. I liked the time I spent with these characters and despite not being entirely satisfied with some character arcs, I am going to miss them. I loved the fast-paced action, I thought the world building was brilliant, and as a newbie to steampunk fantasy I’m very glad I read these books. They’d been on my radar for sometime so it feels to good have finally given them a shot.

Overall series rating: 4 stars

Would I recommend? Yes

And who would I recommend to? Lovers of fantasy; people who enjoy fast paced historical fiction with a twist; lovers of well-developed and realistic characters.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Book Series I'm Not Going to Finish

After a month-long absence from blogging all throughout April and nearly all of May (oops) I’m back with a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while. We all have book series we love and adore, but what about the ones that didn’t capture us as much as we’d hoped? I used to get terrible book-guilt over series I hadn’t finished and forever kept telling myself that I’d eventually get around to picking up the next instalment. I’ve now made peace with the fact that there are just some series that I’m never going to complete because I didn’t love them enough to carry or I’ve outgrown the story. And that’s okay. So today I’m going to discuss the series I’ve decided to leave behind and not continue. First up:

The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson

I was a bit late to the party with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but when I got around to it I did enjoy it. A thriller with a kick ass heroine and a mystery that kept me guessing right until the very end. So why haven’t I carried on with the series? This is a classic case of ‘I enjoyed this book at the time, but it didn’t stay with me afterwards’. As good as the story and the characters were, I found the writing to be dry and over-written. I told myself I would pick up the next book but I never felt compelled to, even when I first initially finished this one.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

This was one of those books that repeatedly kept popping up on my radar to the point where I had a fear of missing out and wanted to see what all the hype with these books was about. I went in to reading it with some trepidation, as I do with any well-known and well-loved book. What if I found it didn’t live up to the hype? In cases like those you just have to go for it and hope the story is for you. That’s how I discovered V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series and I’m so glad I gave those books a chance. However, while I thought A Court of Thorns and Roses was good, I didn’t enjoy it enough to warrant me reading the rest of the series. I’m glad I gave this one a go, but ultimately this series just isn’t for me.

The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories) by Bernard Cornwell

When I picked up the first book in this epic historical fiction series a few years ago I expected to fall in love with it. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and I always enjoy reading books set in periods I know very little about. Ninth-century Saxon England is an era in history I’d barely touched upon so I was curious to read a historical fiction set during that time. I did enjoy it to an extent, but I think my main issue with The Last Kingdom wasn’t so much the history, but the writing style. It felt dry and although it’s been a few years since I read it, I remember being very underwhelmed by it. Sadly this just wasn't what I was looking for.

A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Series) by Libba Bray

Yet another historical fiction I had high hopes for but left me feeling lukewarm. Again, it’s not that I disliked this book, but it also didn’t leave me compelled to rush off and buy the sequel. I actually wrote a favourable review for this one a few years ago which you can check out here, but this is one of those books that didn’t stand the test of time for me. Libba Bray isn’t a complete write off for me though, and I may check out some of her other standalone novels in the future.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George. R. R. Martin

This one is a toughie. I surprised myself when I realised that this series of books just isn’t for me because I really, really wanted to love them, but I've made my peace with the fact that I'm never going to finish them. I made it as far as A Storm of Swords and called it a day. Instead, I trusted the storytelling of these books to the T.V show, which is easily one of my favourite shows of all time. However, I’m now writing this post-watching the final ever episode (sob) and my disappointment has left me wondering what more the books can offer. Yet I have a few reasons as to why I abandoned this series – too many POV’s and a writing style I couldn't gel with to name two – so as much as I love the story overall, realistically I don’t think I’m going to return to these books. My experience was that whilst they added more depth to the overall story, I found them to be long-winded and an overall slog to get through.

That being said, that doesn’t mean I won’t shy away from finding out who GRRM really feels belongs on the Iron Throne because the show really dropped a ball in that final season. Sigh.

Which series have you decided you’re never going to finish? Are on of yours on my list?

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