T5W: Books to Re-Read

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It’s Wednesday, and you know what that means – time for another Top 5 Wednesday! T5W is a weekly book meme created by Gingerreadslainey, and hosted here if you’re interested in participating!

This week we’re talking about books that we want to re-read! A topic that’s certainly near and dear to me, as I re-read books fairly consistently. While reading a book once is very rewarding, reading it again can bring so much more to the story. With each re-read, I believe a deeper understanding of the text can be achieved – of the characters, their motives, the subtle nuances the author worked in – and even of error and offenses that you never noticed the first time around.

Plus, it’s always wonderful to return to a world and characters that you love. Like sinking into a warm bath, or under soft flannel sheets, it’s a feeling of comfort that warms you.

So what are my top five books to re-read? In no particular order, lets begin!

Watership Down

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I first read this when I was fairly young – maybe about 11 or 12 years old. While I loved it as a kid, I’m sure there are things that I never quite understood about it. I think I’ll definitely benefit from reading it again as an adult. Plus, I’ve since learned that it was the author’s least favourite of his own works which is interesting and may lend a more critical eye during the re-read.

Inheritance Cycle

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A series that I loved as a teen, I nevertheless recognised at the time that the writing in the first few books was a rather poor emulation of fantasy novels that had come before. Despite that, I enjoyed the fast pacing and characterisations set in this new-ish fantasy setting. I’m curious to see if I’ll like these less in a re-read as an adult, considering that I used to do fast re-reads of them and would skip the parts I enjoyed less.

Amos Daragon

The only French titles on the list, these were favourites of mine as a kid. I’m fairly sure you can also get them in English (the series title would be ‘The Mask Wearer’) but a beautiful omnibus set came into my work in the original French and I’m making sure to snatch it up quickly. Amos Daragon’s adventures were thrilling, and the cast of characters were super interesting and included a young gorgon and a kid who could turn into a bear. Honestly, I think I’ll love these even more with a re-read, and they’ll help me become more comfortable with my French again.

The Fionavar Tapestry

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These books changed my life. They changed my perspective of fantasy, of the concept of alternate universes, and of how complex characters could be. I read them when I was about 14, and I’m far overdue on a re-read. Kay is a singularly gifted author. His beautiful prose builds his worlds with an effortless grace that I believe to be honestly unmatched by anyone else. (My love of this series only increased when I met Guy Gavriel Kay and he was kind enough to take a picture with me.)

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy

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I really enjoyed these books as a teen. Portraying a magical world that was more insidious than most I had previously encountered, I found them very compelling. Even as a teen though, I wasn’t a fan of the romance in these books. However, the mysterious nature of the settings, and many of the characters kept me guessing and wanting more. I also found the tragedies of some characters pretty unique among a whole lot of ‘feel good happy ending’ stories at the time. I’m eager to see how these books hold up on a re-read.

So there you have it! Five books (or series) that I’m eager to re-read.

Are any of these on your to-read list? Have you read any of them before? Did you love them, hate them, or forget about them? What are you planning on re-reading? Let me know in the comments below!

T5W: Publishers That Fill My Shelves

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It’s been ages since I’ve participated in a Top 5 Wednesday, and this week’s topic is a cool one. Top 5 Wednesday is a book meme created by Gingerreadslainey, and hosted here if you’re interested in participating!

This week we were urged to check out what we have on our shelves in order to determine our favourite publishers.

Determining favourite publishers is also insanely difficult because when I looked them up, they’re all basically imprints of the ‘Big Five’ – publishing companies that have a huge monopoly on the market. So figuring out how to divide this list was ridiculous. All the different imprints are essentially divided by genre so I didn’t learn anything about my preferences that I didn’t already know. I like fantasy, sci-fi, YA, and the occasional historical fiction or classic.

So with that disclaimer, here are the publishers I seem to have the most of.

1)HarperCollins

Largely because of my love of YA, my shelves are filled with HarperTeen and HarperCollins titles. They tend to stick with easily readable books in quartets or trilogies that all seem to sell very well – including some classics. Some of my favourites are the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr, Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing series, and my beautiful Chronicles of Narnia boxset.

2)Simon & Schuster

Another high-scoring publisher on my shelf purely due to YA titles, I have quite a few Simon Pulse books. Again, easily digestible titles, these tend to have eye-catching covers. According to their website they publish books “with a focus on high-concept commercial fiction”. Favourites include Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, the Night World series, and The Nine Lives of Chloe King.

3)ChiZine Publications

The first (and only) publisher on the list not an imprint of the ‘Big Five’, this is a local Toronto enterprise that publishes some weird and wonderful stuff. Deliberately publishing the dark and the strange, their tagline ‘Embrace the Odd’ is apt for each of their titles that I’ve read. Some of my favourites are Katja from the Punk Band, The Inner City, and Chasing the Dragon.

4)Ace

Next on the list is Ace, who are now an imprint of Penguin Random House. They’re a science fiction/fantasy publisher that has put out very influential books since their inception, such as Phillip K. Dick, the Dune series, and Robert Heinlein. My favourites include the Sookie Stackhouse books, and Sharon Shinn’s Samaria books.

5)Tor Books

Last, but certainly not least, is Tor. Now owned by one of the ‘Big Five’, Holtzbrinck, Tor is known for publishing science fiction and fantasy, and also for their excellent online sci-fi magazine Tor.com. It’s virtually impossible to look at a shelf containing those genres and not find a book published by Tor. Some of my favourite authors they publish include Charles De Lint, Jeff VanderMeer, and Catherynne M. Valente.

While those were the publishers and imprints that held the most of the books that I currently own, I found it impossible not to notice that lots of smaller imprints and independent publishers had a few titles on my shelves as well. It’s virtually impossible to escape the ‘Big Five’, nor will I seek to do so as I think that quality reading material can be found pretty much everywhere if you’re willing to look.

What were your top 5 publishers? Are there smaller presses or imprints that you’d like to recommend? Please so in the comments below!

A Darkly Beating Heart

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Though things have been busy lately, I really have been remiss in posting here consistently. So I have for you today another book review! Yet another NetGalley pick, I chose this one because of its cover and the interesting blurb on the back.

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This book follows Reiko, a Japanese-American teenager, after she’s shipped off to Japan to stay with her cousin’s family in the hopes that it will help her learn to control her emotions.

Reiko is a character who is filled with anger. Its pretty much brought up on every page, which has led some reviewers to give this book a pretty hard knock. They find it annoying and unrealistic (poor little rich girl, sent off to Japan…) and couldn’t sympathise or identify with her character.

I don’t agree.

There are aspects of this book I didn’t like, but Reiko’s anger wasn’t one of them. I was happy to see a character in her situation, that is, struggling to comprehend and express her emotions (or lack of). In reading, it was my understanding that Reiko was dealing with a mental illness – something she struggled to refute as she was medicated and committed to a psychiatric facility. In her mind, she simply wanted revenge – to hurt those around her as she perceived she had been hurt.

Reiko’s anger leads to an interesting supernatural situation as she and her companions visit the historic village of Kuramagi, preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period. After discovering a strange stone in a hidden shrine, Reiko finds herself living the life of Miyu, a young woman living in the Edo period itself. As Reiko struggles to piece together what is happening she bounces between bodies and timelines.

Her actions are often foolish, her impulses upsetting, her attitude reprehensible. But guess what: she’s a teenager.

I really enjoyed the supernatural aspects of this story, and I would have loved if that were expanded upon. As it was though, I didn’t like that the convergence of Miyu and Reiko was given as the cause of Reiko’s anger. It seemed like an easy out for the author and I really expected something more. Living happily ever after without emotional labour, consequence, or therapy seems very unlikely to me.

I also wished to see more of Miyu’s life, and to know what happened to her when Reiko inhabited her body. It seemed a bit laissez-faire for time-travel, though I did like that people in Reiko’s life noticed the strangeness about her later on in the book.

If you’re looking for an okay quick read with a character in a state of emotional upset that also involves time travel, this is the book for you.

Have you given this book a try? Have you read any fantastic books set in Edo-period Japan? Let me know in the comments below!

Children of Icarus

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It’s been quite a while, but I’m back with a review from another NetGalley pick! This pick, though not exactly a horror novel, definitely fits the bill for my spooky October reads. Released in early August, this book didn’t have a very descriptive summary but the title and the cover intrigued me.

It is Clara who is desperate to enter the labyrinth and it is Clara who is bright, strong, and fearless enough to take on any challenge. It is no surprise when she is chosen. But so is the girl who has always lived in her shadow. Together they enter. Within minutes, they are torn apart forever. Now the girl who has never left the city walls must fight to survive in a living nightmare, where one false turn with who to trust means a certain dead end.

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Children of Icarus is set in a world in which Icarus is worshipped as an angel who was destroyed by fickle gods. The world-building, though not extremely elaborate was interesting enough that I wanted to keep reading and learning more about it. The book begins at a fast pace and stays that way for about the first third and last third.

The narrator is a very timid girl who I’m fairly certain is suffering from some sort of anxiety disorder. Her best friend Clara is an effervescent sort of girl – the life of the party, center of attention, confident and self-assured.

The blurb on the back of the book was so good at keeping the plot a secret that I’m reluctant to divulge any details of story or characters.

So what I will say is this:

Teenagers can be awful people, and the circumstances in this book often bring out the worse in them. I wish I could say it also brought out the best. The characters were doing what they had to, but I found a lot of them frustrating in various ways – just like I do regular people. It seemed pretty realistic in that aspect.

This book has pretty graphic gore and rather horrifying elements – but they are necessary parts of the story.

The mythos is super interesting and I would have loved to learn more about it – what I did get felt like a trail of breadcrumbs leading to a larger secret that I never got to know. The labyrinth was really interesting, and so were all the creatures contained within it.

So to sum up what I thought of the book:

After the main action a third into the book, it slows to the point that I was slogging a bit. It didn’t feel like there was a big enough pay off at the end to justify it. I feel as if the book could easily have been about 80 pages shorter, and that the reader is kind of forced into reading a sequel that I’m sure will exist to find out the rest of the story.

I liked the concept, and I enjoyed a fair amount of the story but I don’t think I would necessarily recommend it.

If you’re looking for a slow-paced setup novel that I’m sure will lead to an excellent second book, this is the one for you.

TTT: Favourite Villains in Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Top Ten Tuesday is basically exactly as it sounds: participants list their ‘top ten’ of whatever the subject is every week.

This week was ‘all about villains’ and participants were challenged to come up with their own list about villains. My top ten (or rather, my top nine) this week is a list of villains that I found compelling, terrifying, or both. Everyone on this list added a necessary evil to the books they were in.

Now, in no particular order, here we go!

Count Olaf

An arsonist with a deep desire to create orphans and acquire their inheritances, Olaf insinuates himself into their lives using murder, strange plots, and lots of disguises. Extremely creepy, he’s interesting because the reader never learns very much about him. However when his motivations become clearer (in The End) he becomes a more believably complex character and a masterful villain.

King Leck

A more unsettling villain is hard to find in any other books. Leck is unquestionably a psychopath and a sadist. But the worst part about him is his insanely insidious gift that holds even after his death. Making people believe something is scary, but that belief passing unquestionably from person to person like a virus is next level terrifying.

Black Jack Randall

A sadist of the most disgusting kind, he derives a deep pleasure from torturing and hurting other people. He can’t perform sexually unless his (unwilling) partner is afraid or he is hurting them. He is obsessive and once fixated on someone will do everything he can to get what he wants from them.

Irial

While I’m absolutely positive that Irial doesn’t see himself as a villain, there is no question that he is one. Though granted he’s trying to strengthen his people, he forges a disgustingly perverse connection with a teenager. Sucking all of the negative emotion from her to keep himself strong, he commits unspeakable atrocities in front of her to gain them. Dark fae have always unnerved me, but this pushed me to absolute fear.

Skinner Sweet

Skinner Sweet is the kind of character that you love to hate. Sometimes he’s just kind of a dick, and sometimes his actions are so completely reprehensible that you don’t want to believe them of him. He’s on this list because reading about him is always extremely enjoyable despite his awful actions.

Wanderer

Though some may disagree, Wanda is unquestionably the villain of this book for me (fight me). Part of a colonization after an invading force has taken over the Earth, she does her best to subsume the consciousness in the body that she’s stolen. She then proceeds to seek out that body’s lover, because through memories she also fancies herself in love with him. While there’s no doubt that she’s a likeable and sympathetic villain, she belongs on this list.

Lord Voldemort

I’m sure you knew this one was coming. But really the man split his goddamned soul in the pursuit of immortality. In addition he basically enslaves the very people that seek utopia under his regime while using them to persecute all other groups of people. He has intense intelligence and magical power at his disposal, and those become more unstable as time goes on – making him unpredictable and thus even more dangerous.

Galbatorix

Megalomania and insanity are not a good mix. No nation should have an immortal king who has committed genocide and murdered the entire order of people keeping the peace. While he’s kept a semblance of order, he destroyed a golden age and quickly halted all progress. Also he twisted a dragon to be his slave. Not cool, man.

Opal Koboi

A villain that becomes more terrifying in each book in which she appears, she’s the epitome of evil genius. She uses her intelligence to construct plots that become increasingly elaborate and which are meticulously planned. She’s also emotionally unstable and sometimes flies into rages. You never know when she’s going to pop up because she has a million failsafes in place for her own death.

Did any of my villains make their way to your list? What are some of your favourite villains in books?

Why I Don’t Use Star Ratings

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Since I started this blog, I’ve discovered an entire world of book bloggers and reviewers. I’ve learned that it’s possible to request to read books before their publication date, and I’ve learned more about the endless resource that is my local library.

As I follow more book bloggers, I’ve noticed that most everyone has a few things in common. Pretty much everyone has a review policy, book tags are fun to do in between reviews and original content, and book reviews are accompanied by a star rating of some kind.

Every time I posted a review I wondered if I was doing something wrong by not using a clear rating system.

Still, I’ve decided against using one for a few reasons.

My opinion is often one extreme or the other.

Usually, I either love a book or I hate it. (Hate definitely encompassing terrible boredom.)

I find it difficult on Goodreads to rate anything between 1 and 5, and feel grossly forced every time I do. I don’t want to seem too harsh or too generous with my ratings, so I compromise – which I don’t think is good for anyone. I have a great deal of enthusiasm for things that may be cliché tropes, or silly premises. Maybe I’ll just be in the wrong mindset for a book and give it a (potentially undeserved) 1 star rating.

I might love a book that you’ll hate, or hate a book that you’ll love.

Reading is a very personal and subjective experience. If I love something about a subject that you find dry and uninteresting, but you pick it up because you trust in my five star review, I’ve most likely wasted your time. Similarly, if you love a book because it addresses a personal issue that you feel touched reading about, there’s no guarantee that I’ll even be interested in it – maybe I’ll give it 1 star and you’ll never pick it up!

Which brings me to my final point:

I write about what I like and didn’t like about a book so that you can make an informed choice.

Its nigh on impossible to be objective when reviewing a book, and I don’t think it would be a benefit if I was. Passion, whether it be positive or negative says a lot about a story. When I write a review, I’ll focus on the specific reasons I liked or didn’t like a book. I do this to try and be fair so that if there are things I didn’t like, you can figure out if those are things you’d like! I feel that sometimes people see a star review and ignore or skim the text that goes along with it.

While it’s true that means you have to actually read through the entire review, I hope that if you’re following the site you enjoy it enough to do so and that you find it worthwhile.

Do you enjoy using or reading star ratings? Do you read reviews without star ratings? Are there other things that make reviews more fun or reader friendly for you?