Reading Wrap-Up: December 2020

Previously: A Tale of Two Cities Masterlist| Coming Soon: January TBR

Twisted Pride by Cora Reilly ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the third book of The Camorra Chronicles we follow the Capo himself, Remo Falcone, as he falls for the captured Outfit ice princess, Serafina Mancini. I was extra excited for Twisted Pride in particular because Remo is such a fascinating character that I could not wait to spend some time in his company and in his head. The experience did not disappoint. Aside from Twisted Pride I’ve read another nine of Cora Reilly’s mafia romance books, and while I always enjoy them, Remo is so different to the other male protagonists that he really stands out as one of my favourites. Serafina proved to be a fantastic counterpoint to Remo, but she was also a strong enough character to stand on her own. Overall the pacing was better than in some of her previous books, though the final chapter did feel just ever so slightly rushed and tacked on. If you’ve already read Bound by the Past then you will know one side of this story, and getting to see a more intimate version of it was so interesting. It does mean that you’ll roughly know the direction that the story takes, however, I still felt utterly compelled by Remo and Serafina’s perspectives which made the story feel fresh and interesting. 

Along the Razor’s Edge by Rob J. Hayes ⭐️⭐️

Along the Razor’s Edge is a short fantasy novel which follows Eskra, a magic wielder who is imprisoned in a pit after she finds herself on the losing side of a war. For a fantasy book, this one is surprisingly short, coming in at only 281 pages, which was a big reason why I finished this book at all. It was not a bad book, but I was incredibly bored while reading this book. The plot takes a good long while, or at least if felt that way, to get started, and by the time it did I was already so bored. When the plot does develop it doesn’t go anywhere all that interesting, and instead, it goes almost exactly where you expected it to go. There was a moment towards the end of the book which should have been right up my street, but I was just so done with this book I could not bring myself to care. I imagine that this moment could have lead to more fascinating developments later on in the series but it was quickly discarded which was frustrating to read. However, even more, frustrating was the retrospective narration from Eskra’s point-of-view because it felt as though she was speaking down to the reader. Essentially I was bored by the plot, I did not like the protagonist in the slightest, and I am just glad to have finished the book at all.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novak ⭐️⭐️

A Deadly Education is a YA fantasy novel, that follows El in a very dangerous school for magic, and was also the September Illumicrate pick. The magical school trope seems to be very familiar with in YA literature, and I know it is quite popular with readers. The school in this book was very different from the type of school we are used to seeing, and there is no guarantee a pupil will survive until graduation, let alone the graduation process itself. This was unexpected and initially an interesting g prospect, but the architecture, history, and nature of the school are drummed into us so thoroughly that the book begins to feel like a textbook about the school. I was incredibly bored by the end of the first couple of chapters, and I never quite overcame that boredom. This was my first Naomi Novik book and I don’t think that her writing is particularly for me because I find it quite dry. If I’m honest the only reason I finished the book and made such an effort to do so is that is such a short book.

Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga by Rainbow Rowell, Sam Maggs, and Gabbi Nam ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fangirl, Vol.1 is the first of four manga volumes and is an adaptation of the YA contemporary novel of the same name. The narrative follows Cath, a socially anxious freshman at college, who fills her time with writing fanfiction for her favourite fantasy series. I have already read the original novel, and love it, so I expected to love this too. If you’ve read it then you will know exactly what to expect. The book does a great job of charting Cath’s inner thoughts in such a visual format without the panels feeling too clunky with text. She is a very introverted character so, from what I remember of the original novel, there are a lot of words dedicated to exploring her inner thoughts, and it was nice to see this important aspect of her character carried over to a different medium. As my experience with manga is extremely limited there isn’t much that I can say about the art. I enjoyed looking at it, but I can’t say how it compares to other manga. It is something that you can read super quickly, which is ideal for this time of year, but also for trying out a medium of storytelling you may not have experienced before. Overall I thought this was really enjoyable, but since it’s an adaptation it did not and probably will not surprise me. Still, I would definitely recommend it, especially if you’re a particular fan of this author.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ready Player Two is the sequel to the YA sci-fi sensation, Ready Player One which follows Wade, a teenager on an AR scavenger hunt through 80s pop culture. That first novel wraps up nicely by the final chapter, and so I wasn’t as excited for this novel as I may have been, despite really enjoying its predecessor. For the most part Ready Player Twofollows a very similar premise, with Wade and his friends on another scavenger hunt through more 80s pop culture. While this was fun, especially getting to see some different fandoms to what was featured in the first, it did lack the sense of emergency that the first have. There is a convoluted plot to try and inject that sense of urgency into this book, but despite the danger, I found I just didn’t care as much as I had in the first book. This one also takes a very long time to get to the crux of the plot and spends the beginning filling us in on what has happened since we left the characters. Essentially it was all telling and no showing. Over the course of the novel, it seems as though the author was leading us to a certain conclusion regarding technology and the real world, about what is truly valuable. However, at the eleventh hour, he seemed to change track and I ended up really disliking the final conclusion. A certain development in the Oasis, the AR world where the majority of the plot takes place, reminded me a lot of an episode of Black Mirror, and none of the characters seemed to broach the subject of just how dangerous and potentially immoral those decisions could be. It felt as though the author changed his mind last minute because he seemed to do a complete u-turn. This was unfortunate because I think his original point would have been a great note to end on. In addition, our protagonist, Wade, had lost his sense of being an underdog and was no longer as easy to root for as he had been. Generally, it’s a lot easier to root for a poor teenager, than a billionaire with unlimited resources. I think that there was a lot more work the author should have done to rectify that. Overall I enjoyed Ready Player Two and thought it was a lot of fun, but not quite as much fun as the first novel, and my rating reflects that.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Billed as Romeo and Juliet meet a monster in 1920s Shanghai, These Violent Delights caught my attention instantly. Rather than providing a new retelling in a different setting this book takes the core elements of the classic tragedy and twists them into something new. From the beginning to the end I was trying to fit the pieces I already knew into this new puzzle. There is a mystery involving the monster at the heart of the novel that kept me guessing until the very end. When we meet Roma and Juliette they already have a past relationship that ended in bloodshed and hasn’t seen each other for a long time. It was interesting to see the characters navigate such an interesting take on their relationship, and it enabled the author to cut away a lot of the youth and naivety that is inherent in those characters. I was very excited by the prospect of this setting, both in terms of the historical period and the geographical location, but without the odd mention of Juliette’s flapper dress, it did not feel like a prominent part of the story. I wish Roma had been described more because I think that details about his clothing would have helped with this problem. There are countless depictions of Victorian England, on the page and on the screen, which makes it easy for me to imagine myself there. The setting 1920s Shanghai is not in this position and I found the setting hard to grasp so that even by the end it did not feel like a tangible place. I understand that the vagueness could be saying something about the timelessness of this story, but I feel that it does a disservice to the potential of 1920s Shanghai as a setting. Other than this I thoroughly enjoyed These Violent Delightsand eagerly await the sequel.

The Pale Dreamer by Samantha Shannon ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Pale Dreamer is a prequel short story to Samantha Shannon’s genre-defying Bone Season series. Taking place in 2059, in a Victorian-esque London, where clairvoyance has been outlawed by the government. Under threat for simply existing Paige joins a crime gang, run by the charismatic, Jaxon Hall, and, in this story is hunting a murderous poltergeist. This is a series that is very dear to me but my first time reading this prequel. I absolutely adored it, and think that it is a great way to try the series without committing to the first book. Samantha Shannon achieves a lot in such a short amount of pages, from establishing the world, to turning this version of London into a living and breathing place, to introducing the characters. This is a masterclass on how to deliver a novella. It had an overarching plot, the hunt for the poltergeist, which gave us moments of action, but this was well balanced enough that there were plenty of quieter character-building moments. It works brilliantly both as an introduction to the series, and as an addition to the series. As someone who isn’t usually a fan of novellas or short story additions to a series, this really impressed me, and I feel utterly immersed in this world once again.

Blood of Elves by Andrezj Sapkowski ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Although this is the first novel in the series, it follows two books of short stories set in the world of The Witcher making Blood of Elves the third book overall. Although I am not typically someone who rates short story collections very highly, they really impressed me. However, this did now. If you were to ask me what the plot of this book is, I’m not sure I could tell you. Things happen, and you can see the seed of future events being planted but for the most part, this book is characters meeting other characters. Ciri and Geralt were the most interesting character, so any scenes with them made for great reading. Together they have chemistry, and even apart they are able to make those around them interesting to read about. However when neither of them is present and we’re listening to political meets that feel to be mostly dialogue then the story begins to drag a lot. There was one chapter in this book where I thought I would never make it out alive. The book is relatively short for a fantasy novel, but it feels like the first three hundred pages of a larger, more epic fantasy. I have faith that the following books will improve, but I am glad to have made it though this one and will be taking a well-deserved break before I continue.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is a book of short stories and vignettes from the perspective of Cardan, of the Folk of the Air YA fantasy series. I am a big fan of this series, and especially of the cruel prince himself, Cardan Greenbriar. Firstly, the book is full of the most beautiful art by Rovina Cai. I had seen pictures, but seeing the art on the page was a stunning addition to the stories being told. They compliment each other to perfection, and the book is worth reading to experience the art alone. I expected to enjoy seeing events from Cardan’s perspective and I was not disappointed in that sense. What did disappoint me was the structure of the book because it was severely lacking. There was an attempt at structure since the first story and the last take place after the end of the main series. The author could have built the rest of the book around this event, but she chose not to, a decision which I find quite confusing. As it is the organisation of the stories feels messy and haphazard, which is a real shame. It is not bad, but it could have been so much better, and that is really frustrating for a reader to see. Despite this, the stories themselves were brilliant and I loved them. This made it a hard book to rate because my heart gave this book five-stars, but my head knows that it is a four-star book. If you love this series, and Cardan in particular then you will not what to miss out on what this book has to offer. I do feel as though overall it did add to the series, and I can undoubtedly see myself rereading it.

Lady it’s Cold Outside, ed. Annabelle Anders ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lady it’s Cold Outside is a Christmas themed regency romance anthology consisting of nine short stories from various authors. Anthologies like this are a great way to trial romance authors, and potentially find some that you’re interested in reading more from. I appreciated that the stories in this anthology varied in setting so that they don’t all follow the typical regency romance template. This also helped in not making the anthology feel too repetitive, especially when each story is, of course, dealing with romance as a primary topic. As with all anthologies, there were high points and low points, but aver totalling my individual ratings this book got an average of 4 stars. My favourite story of the anthology and the only one I gave five-stars is ‘Miss Pageant’s Christmas Proposal’. This was also the final story which left me feeling especially benevolent towards the book. I read each story in its entirety, which shows that even my lowest-rated story, the two-star ‘A Gypsy’s Christmas Kiss’ which lacked plot, was readable. Overall I would recommend this anthology as a lovely read for the month of December, or when you want to feel a bit Christmassy. 

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Seven Days of Us is an adult contemporary novel about a family who are forced to go into a lockdown following the return of their eldest daughter, a doctor who had been treated a fictional epidemic abroad. It’s a strikingly appropriate topic for 2020, despite being written a couple of years previously. The author had a very charming narrative voice as she explored the dynamics of a family who are no longer used to spending so much time together. It was also told through multiple perspectives which was a great way to get the reader to sympathise with each character, even as they made mistakes. It read incredibly easily making it a great book if you are looking for something light, despite the fact that it touched on darker themes. Towards the final few chapters, we were thrown a curveball which seemed to come out of nowhere and shattered the charm of the book. You can see it as something that reflects the surprise curveballs that life throws us. For me, it felt a little out of place, as it wasn’t the sort of book I had signed up for, but I acknowledge that it can be seen bothways. Overall this was lovely Christmas read if you don’t mind something a little less fluffy.

Cursed Prince by C.N Crawford ⭐️⭐️

Cursed Prince is the first in a fantasy trilogy that takes a lot on inspiration from Norse mythology. In dual perspectives, we follow Marroc, a dark magician under a curse, and Ali, a Night-Elf who wished to free her people from their imprisonment by the High-Elves and take place after Ragnarok. I am going to put my cards on the table here and admit that I picked up this book on the promise of the cover alone, which I still love, but was left disappointed. The world that these characters inhabit is incredibly messy and utterly uninteresting. The elves, both night-elves and high-elves, live alongside the ruins of human civilisation. There aren’t any humans in the book itself, but there are iPods, blenders, and Beyonce. Worst of all there are multiple references to being Rickrolled. That should tell you a lot about what you’re getting yourself into with this book. I ignored the warning signs that existed within the world-building because I had faith that the characters would carry the book. I will always choose a character-driven story over a plot-driven one. Ali constantly claimed to be a super-assassin, but never truly exhibited any skills that made me believe that someone would pay her to be an assassin. Marroc was interesting at first. He was moody, angsty, and had a tragic backstory. I will admit that I was into it. He was cursed so that he couldn’t speak, but as soon as that curse was lifted all the faith I had in him to rescue this book dissipated. He was much more appealing when he was mute. Ordinarily, I adore dual perspective and was so excited when I realised that this book was going to give that to me. However, there is a skill in writing dual perspectives because ultimately they ought to complement one another. What they should not do is repeat each other. To give you an example of the way this book failed; Marroc’s POV would have his say that he wanted to consume Ali’s soul, which is an inner thought. Ali’s POV a chapter later would include her saying that Marroc looked as though he wanted to consume her soul. There was also a lot of repeating plot points and background, which suggests to me that either the author doesn’t trust their reader or the book is so complicated the reader needs constant reminders. Neither option is particularly pleasant. To recap thus far, I hated the plot, the characters were uninteresting and to top it all off the big twist was so predictable I guessed it maybe 25% of the way into the book, and that is me being generous. There was also a reveal at the end which felt like it should have been surprising. But here is the rub;(view spoiler). I was so excited to read this from the promise of the cover and am so disappointed that I’m not even sure who I would recommend this to. It’s such a shame that the cover for the sequel is equally as gorgeous, but I don’t think I can bring myself to read more of this mess.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black ⭐️⭐️⭐️

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