Self-isolation library eBook haul

If you’ve been around for some time, you’ll have noticed that, since the beginning of 2020, I haven’t made any proper TBRs or monthly wrap-up posts. The truth is, I’ve been planning to make them for a while, but always postponed writing them, up until the moment when they were no longer relevant. I hit a big blogging slump in march, and only just recently got out of it, which gave me the motivation needed to write this one !

With that newfound motivation, I wanted to make a reading list for April, but with self-isolation and the recent amount of covid-19 cases in my city, I haven’t gone shopping for books, or borrowed any physical copies of anything lately. However, just because I didn’t get out of my (tiny) apartment doesn’t mean I didn’t borrow anything !

My local library has an excellent online catalogue of eBooks and audiobooks. Personally, I’m not a fan of audiobooks, but I do love eBooks. I usually read them on the way to university in the morning, or to my once-a-week kickboxing class in the evening – on average, I spend one hour a day in public transport, so I like to use this time to read and be in my own little bubble before starting my day.

I’m especially lucky, because the library’s website is super well designed, and allows me to browse and discover titles I never would have found on paper. The different filters allow for a lot of freedom in your selection, and the holds / wish list system works very well for me : when I see a book I might like, I add it to my wish list, and when I see one I absolutely can’t miss a chance to get, I use one of my 5 available holds to ensure I get it ASAP.

These past few days, I’ve been wanting to read some non-fiction, and learn more about interior design. It’s not an accident : I’ve applied for a new apartment with my boyfriend, for may 1st, so I’m thinking about all the ways in which we could make that place our home, and how we could decorate and furnish it. My eBook reading tastes depend a lot on what’s going on in my life at the moment, and right now, that’s home improvement, personal organization, and nutrition.

So here are the books I currently have on loan, and will endeavor to read during the next 21-days period : 

So, in that pile, we have : 7 non-fiction books and 2 novels, including 3 books on home design, one on budgeting, and one on journaling. I should have more than enough material for the next three weeks !

I also have some ARCs I’ve been meaning to read and review – they’re NetGalley ARCs, so I’ll post the reviews on NetGalley before posting them on the blog, but I’ll cross-post them eventually, closer to their respective release dates. 

My university classes have resumed this morning. As they all have been changed from in-person classes to online sessions, I’ll save a couple of hours every week by studying from home. But this new situation is going to change a lot in my usual routine, and I’ll need to change some things to be able to accommodate that.

I haven’t planned all my posts for the next few weeks yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to keep a consistent posting schedule – and ace my exams !

The loneliest girl in the universe, by Lauren James

I picked this based on the sci-fi tag, and oh boy. It was scary. I’m easily frightened, and I know it, so I don’t usually read thrillers, watch horror, or anything like that – so I was legitimately scared when I read this book.

This is going to be a very short review, because I think this is a book that you need to read without having been spoiled any of the plot twists or surprises in the story, but I’ll do my best to tell you a little about it nonetheless.

Synopsis

Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.

Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean?

Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone . . . 

What I liked

The suspense ! The mystery ! Space ! Sending messages between two ships and actually respecting the time delays ! I adore science-fiction, and I’m pretty suspicious when books don’t seem to take into account the time it would take to send a message to a ship lightyears away from yours. 

With the first part of the book being mostly told through messages from Romy to J, the exposition scenes and the science are explained well, and you’re thrust into the story right from the beginning. The tone changes completely after 200 or so pages, and switches from cute space romance to scary space thriller – which I liked, but I see why some people wouldn’t, if they expected this to be a full romance book all along.

The main character was a realistic young adult, and her behavior was coherent with that of someone who had been isolated for a very long time – it made the rest of the story much more believable, and, after the 200 pages mark, added to the scary elements of the book.

What I didn’t like

The main character, to pass the time, reads and writes fanfiction of her favorite show, and sends them back down to earth to her NASA handler. As an avid fanfiction reader, the fanfiction parts of the book felt a bit strange, but I’m not exactly sure why.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a short, fun and scary novel about a girl in space to fill your quarantine time, this is the book for you. It’s well-written, and you’ll have a good time reading it.

Tess of the road, by Rachel Hartman

This book was… an experience.

I mean. Look at this cover. It’s gorgeous.

I got it on a whim, as an ebook from my local library a few weeks ago, because I liked the cover art. Without reading the synopsis on the back. In my defense, the cover has a dragon on it, and I love anything and everything with dragons.

It has since come to my attention that it isn’t, technically, the first book in a series, even though it was advertised this way on my library’s website. It is in fact a companion book set in the world of another series by the same author, the Southlands series. On Goodreads, a reader asked the author if it was necessary to read the other novels set in the same universe first, to which she answered :

It’s not strictly necessary, especially if you’re the kind of reader who likes to hit the ground running (I am, so I know we exist!). My husband recommends reading SERAPHINA first, at least, to get an idea how the world works.

Rachel Hartman

Since I am part of the group of readers who like to hit the ground running, it didn’t bother me that much to not have all the information at the beginning, but if you like to be a little more informed, I would still recommend you don’t start with this one.  

Synopsis

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.

Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl—a subspecies of dragon—who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.

What I liked

It’s not easy to write such a slow, coming-of-age, character-driven story, and Rachel Hartman does it extremely well. Tess of the road is a love letter to girls growing up – normal girls, flawed girls, loud girls – whoever you are, there is something for you in this book. Tess’s journey around the world is also a spectacular journey of self-discovery, and the complex world in which she grows feels extremely real – yes, even with the dragons. 

The road was possibility, the kind she’d thought her life would never hold again, and Tess herself was motion. Motion had no past, only future. Any direction you walked was forward, and that was as must be.

Tess of the road, Rachel Hartman

This story touches on some pretty heavy topics, like sexual assault, abuse, grooming, miscarriages, death and grief, alzheimer’s disease, and religious extremism – if you are sensible to those topics, you might want to be aware of that. But Hartman’s writing never feels voyeuristic or awkward. Instead, she talks about the struggles of her main character’s life with tact, and gives you an unlikeable, angry, bitter heroine who you nevertheless end up loving and hoping for the best possible outcome.

I also appreciated a lot the inclusion of neutral pronouns, and the in-world explanation given for it. I found it very thoughtful and interesting, and would like to see more of that in future fantasy books !

What I didn’t like

Not much. Even though the pace was extremely slow, I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. I don’t usually read extremely raw stories, but this one was absolutely excellent. I’m not that convinced about the Young Adult qualification, though – based on the heaviness of the story, I would have put this in the New Adult range, at least.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but if you aren’t bothered by the themes it covers and like character-driven stories ? Go for it. It’s extremely well written, and it will make you feel like you want to put on your boots and travel the world. (Although, during this pandemic, it might be a little wiser to travel to your garden or your living room, just to be safe.)

Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson

I’m back with a book review !

It’s been a long time since I’ve actually done one of those, so I might be a little rusty, but I had fun reading this book ! This is a YA science-fiction novel by Brandon Sanderson, who apparently is a very prolific and famous American author and I won’t lie, I feel pretty dumb having no idea who he was before picking up this book.

Synopsis

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

What I liked 

I’m a sci-fi fan, so when I saw this book’s cover and description, I knew I had to try it. I quite enjoyed my time reading it, and got attached to the side characters really quickly – which made it even more heartbreaking every time something bad happened to one of them. But hey. That’s life.

Other good things about this book would be : it’s part of a series, but it doesn’t feel too unsatisfying and unfinished in the end. Story arcs are resolved, and wrapped up quite nicely, and you end up genuinely looking forward to the next one instead of being frustrated and left with no answers at all.

This novel also shows that you can write sci-fi without an extensive knowledge of space jargon, and without drowning your readers in spaceship parts and hyperdrive functions. The sassy AI robot and the snarky characters are a nice bonus, and I did like the added teenage angst in the flight school portions of the story.

What I didn’t like

A common critic about this book is that the main character is an asshole. And… yeah, she is. Maybe dialing that down a little bit would have helped more readers connect with her, instead of DNFing the whole novel because they couldn’t stand the MC. 

I had some suspension of disbelief problems too – at the beginning of the stories, the flight school recruits are called on to pilot ships in a fighting situation, when they haven’t had classes for more than a week. I’ll be honest, I expected it to be a kind of training exercise – they make them believe there’s an emergency, board the ships, and observe how the new recruits react under pressure – but, to my disappointment, it wasn’t an exercise. And even in a dire situation, I just couldn’t believe that instructors would risk recruits and ships without giving them the adequate training beforehand. 

Conclusion

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m rating this book 3.5 stars – not because it’s bad, but because it could have been much better than it ended up being. However, I’m still very much looking forward to reading the second installment of this series, when my library hold comes through.

Have you read this book ? Did you read other works by the same author, and if so, is there one in particular I should pick up ?

Series review : an ember in the ashes

I’ve been planning to write this review for weeks now, and I just didn’t seem to be able to find the right time -with the pandemic going on, and everything being so uncertain and changing around me, I haven’t been in the right head space to write. But I’m trying to get back to it, so here’s a short series review !

An ember in the ashes is a quartet of books written by author Sabaa Tahir, and the fourth installment of this series, A sky beyond the storm, is coming out on December 1st, 2020.

First book synopsis 

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I’m not sure where to start. I’ve read all three of those books in the span of a few days, because my library holds finally came in and I was able to get all of them at roughly the same time, and… I wish I’d borrowed them in physical copies, because it  would definitely have made it easier to organize my thoughts on this. 

What I liked 

These novels are written with alternating POVs, and while I’m not normally the biggest fan of those, I have to admit that they’re extremely well done in this case. Each new POV adds a layer of complexity and humanity to the characters, and with a story as axed on tension and suspense as this one, it’s incredibly useful.

The world-building is excellent. Politics, intrigue, war and magic all work together to create a lot of tension and suspense. The plot itself is complex, with multiple side-stories all coming together one after another, and it makes for a very entertaining read.

What I didn’t like

I was a bit confused at times in the third book, in which the characters seemed to move a lot between places without letting me understand properly where they were, and what they were doing there.

Some parts were a bit too dark for me, but it’s mostly because I’m not used to violence or cruelty in books – I don’t read horror or thrillers because of it, so it’s not a surprise that themes of torture or slavery come off as a bit too much for my taste.

Conclusion

I’m definitely hyped for the next installment in this series. I greatly enjoyed the first 3, and the ending promises to be as entertaining as the rest of it ! For readers who’d like to get even more of Tahir’s universe, a graphic novel is coming out this summer, and it features our two heroes, Elias and Helene, as young students at the blackwood academy ! 

Animal crossing New Horizons Book tag !

I’m in self-isolation for the next 10 to 15 days, at least, so I have nothing better to do than read, play video games, and write blog posts…. and so far, I’ve read 3 books, played a ton of hours of Stardew valley, despaired over my lack of a Nintendo Switch to play the new Animal Crossing game, and… written 0.5 blog posts. I even procrastinated by doing sports.

But I’ve been tagged in this super cute Animal Crossing book tag by Kristina at Books and dachshunds, and I think that’s the perfect thing to get me back to writing about books !

New Villagers : New-to-you author you’d wanna read soon

Hafsah Faizal ! I heard a lot of good thinks about her debut, We hunt the flame, and she announced her second novel, We free the stars, for spring 2021 – I’m really excited to get my hands on a copy of the first one !

Dodo Airlines : Book that made you travel to other part(s) of the world

Is space a part of the world ? No ? I’ve been reading a ton of science-fiction lately, so most of what I’ve read was set in space, but I did really like reading contemporary novels like Red, White and Royal blue this year – and, for me, the US is another part of the world !

Deserted Island : Pick 3 books you’d go on a deserted island with!

If I’m going on a deserted island, I’d probable bring some books I’d like to read more than once… and big ones. So, probably my favorite trilogy of all time : Ellana, Ellana : the flight, Ellana : the prophecy. It’s in French, and I don’t think there’s been an English translation yet, but of all the books I’ve ever read, these are the ones I’ll always want to re-read.

It’s the story of Ellana, a young orphan in a fantasy world, who grows up to be a Marchombre (literally : shadow-walker), and help a young girl save the empire they live in. She’s a side character in the main trilogy written by Pierre Bottero, and the MC of the Ellana trilogy.

This is Ellana, as a teenager ! She’s the best.

The first book follows her from age 6 to 20, the second one from age 20 to around 28, and the third one is centered around her dramatic disappearance : she gets attacked in the mountains with her newborn son and is believed dead, and everyone she’s ever helped or befriended rallies around her close friends to find those responsible for the attack, and get her and her son back from them.

It’s got flesh-eating grass, flying wooden boats, people using their imagination to create objects out of thin air, and a black-widow-like organization of benevolent mercenaries who fight for balance in the world. It’s amazing.

Nook Phone : Favorite book you’ve read as eBook or Audiobook

Surprisingly, there’s some books I just can’t read at all as eBooks, and some where reading the eBook takes me way less time than reading the physical copy. I can’t figure out why. But recently, my favorite eBook has been The loneliest girl in the universe – it’s a very short novel about a girl, alone on a spaceship, light-years away from earth, who one day gets a message telling her another ship is on its way to her. It’s scary, it’s fun, and it’s really easy to read.

Toe beans : Your favorite pet/creature from a book

I’m such a fan of dragons. I love them. Dragons are the best. Give me a book with dragons any day.

Evolution : The most memorable character growth 

So far this year… I think I’d say Bobbie Draper, from The Expanse series. She’s a solid character who goes through a horrifically traumatic event and spends the entire book trying to cope with that, and figure out who she is and what her place in this brand new world is, and she’s doing an amazing job at that.

I hope I’ve answered these questions properly ! I haven’t been able to write in so long, and this tag really helped me get back into writing blog posts, so thanks a lot ! I’ve been staying in self-isolation with a friend who has a Nintendo switch, and oh boy, do I want to buy the animal crossing special edition one now. And play all the fancy Pokemon games too.

I hope you’re all okay, and staying home as much as possible during this pandemic.