January was a bit of a mixed bag, some great reads, some surprises and some disappointments. I’ve managed to read a couple short story collections, fairytale retellings, fantasy epics and a 1930s crime classic so I’m quite pleased with how varied I’ve been.
Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith, Hamish Hamilton, 220 pp, ★★★☆☆
I had really high hopes for this book as it has rave reviews everywhere I look but unfortunately I was a little disappointed. This was my first foray into Ali Smith and short story collections alike so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I did enjoy two of the stories; The Poet and The Ex-Wife, I found the others quite dull and unmemorable. The stories were broken up with author discussions on libraries and how they have impacted their lives and I did enjoy this aspect. Any discussion on books and how brilliant they are is good with me, and I do like that this book is showing support of public libraries and trying to demonstrate what a huge loss to society it would be should they be closed. But unfortunately this collection wasn’t for me I think I should perhaps try one of Ali Smith’s novels and see if I can get a bit more onboard with that, as she does come highly recommended.
A Wild Swan: and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham, 4th Estate, 144pp,★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This collection of short stories is full of modern retellings of some of our favourite fairytales. I really enjoyed this, each story was funny and clever with a macabre twist. I read it in one sitting and particularly enjoyed Rumplestiltskin’s perspective and his take on Jack and the Beanstalk. Definitely recommend if you’re looking to get into some quick, easy fairytale retellings. And it has beautiful illustrations throughout.
The Lake District Murder by John Bude, British Library Crime Classics, 288pp,★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I really, really enjoyed this book. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of this when I picked it up so I was pleasantly surprised when I devoured it so quickly. I picked it up when I was back home in the Lake District over Christmas and thought it’d be a nice little reminder of home down here in Cambridgeshire. Last year I discovered that I enjoyed crime/mystery storylines so I thought I’d appreciate the concept if not the writing/plot. It was so good! It was written in the 1930’s but I found it was quite timeless. It follows Inspector Meredith as he investigates a mysterious death in an isolated garage. It had been set up to look like suicide but as the title suggests, all is not what it seems. There are small hints that set Meredith on his painstaking path of piecing together evidence. It is written in a very engaging way that really pulls you in, I felt like I was right there trying to slot together clues with him. It’s quite funny and certainly kept me guessing. I cannot wait to get some more books by this author as well as trying more of the British Library’s stunning Crime Classics. Look out for a post all about them!
Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders #1) by Robin Hobb, Harper Voyager, 896pp,★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Ahh, I love Robin Hobb. If you missed by post on favourite author discoveries of 2015, please check it out if you’re interested in finding out more about Hobb and her wonderful Realm of the Elderlings world here. This is the first book in the second trilogy set in this world. What I loved about the Farseer Trilogy (The first three books in this setting) was the focus on character development throughout and I am so glad this continues. The characters in this series are based south of the Six Duchies in the Cursed Shores and the waters surrounding it. This land is full of magical creatures and intriguing characters who are not all what they seem. This books follows the Vestrit trader family who’s patriarch has passed away, making their Liveship, Vivacia, quicken and Captain Kennit, a dark character who will do whatever it takes to capture a Liveship for himself. This is very much an introduction to the characters and their motivations but that by no means makes it boring or perfunctory! I love the depth each character has and the way Hobb’s writing really evokes strong feelings towards them. It’s easy to make wholly evil and wholly good characters but she is expert at making each one fall in the grey area in-between. Sometimes you love a character only for them to do something which makes you pause. The only reason I gave this four stars rather than five is because it introduces the character’s origins and ambitions in a slow way, I felt this could have perhaps been achieved with a slightly smaller word count but I understand that this length is necessary when dealing with so many interesting characters and new settings. I’d rather the world building was done properly than rushed so it’s okay. I honestly cannot wait to continue on with this series! Robin Hobb is definitely one of my top authors, if not my number one!
Poison by Sarah Pinborough, Titan Books, 187pp ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Charm by Sarah Pinborough, Titan Books, 208pp ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Beauty by Sarah Pinborough, Titan Books, 208pp ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
These stories are ‘Wicked’ retellings Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, with other well known characters popping in. I enjoyed these slightly-more-sinnister-than-disney versions but I wouldn’t say they were particularly dark or macabre, which is what I was expecting. Poison followed quite closely to the original Snow White story, which I don’t mind but it made it a bit boring as I knew what was going to happen. Although the ending was different as the Prince isn’t exactly the same and I liked that twist. Don’t get me wrong, there are some… wicked… moments in them, I was just expecting more. Nonetheless, they were quick, easy reads and were enjoyable. Charm and Beauty were definitely better than Poison but all three link together really well so I do recommend reading them in that order. Beauty is the third in the series yet is a prequel, so hints of darker times mentioned in the first two are explained and I enjoyed that aspect too (although some parts were a tad predictable).
Mistborn: Secret History by Brandon Sanderson, Dragonsteel Entertainment, 149 pp, ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This was such an exciting new release this month! For fans of Sanderson’s Mistborn series this is a must have. I don’t want to go into too much detail about who this story follows and what is revealed as I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you. This is the novella Brandon Sanderson fans have been waiting for. It explains so much about the truth behind events in the original Mistborn trilogy and the Cosmere universe (where most of Sanderson’s stories are based). It has spoilers for The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension and Hero of Ages and Sanderson himself said it’s better if you read the next three of his Mistborn books too before reading this novella. I haven’t started the Wax and Wayne books yet as I’m waiting for them to come out in paperback to match my collection but read it anyway. I did find that it is mainly focussed on the events of the first three novels though. It was extremely exciting and interesting to see how everything pulls together and explained so much. I really recommend this novella but it did make me judge one of my favourite characters a little more harshly… but that’s part of the fun!
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E Schwab, Titan, 386pp, ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This fantasy novel follows two protagonists; Kell, one of two living Antaris – rare magicians who are able to use blood magic to travel between worlds through the one city that exists in all three: London, and Lila Bard, a homeless, kickass thief living in Grey London. There are three Londons, Red London (where Kell is based) is full of magic and is flourishing, Grey London is dull, no magic remains there and is ruled by mad King George and White London, where murdering the monarchs means you take control, where magic is draining and kills its inhabitants. I thought Schwab’s world building was superb. I really felt immersed in each London and the characters were complex and full of secrets. I empathised with Kell and Lila and really felt their anxiety/frustrations and when things went wrong and they were in danger or a part of their plans were thwarted, I felt stressed for them and rooted for them to succeed. It was gripping, once I’d started I couldn’t put it down. My only niggle, and unfortunately it was a bit of a large niggle, is that Kell and Lila are very similar to Kelsier and Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. I just felt that parallel all the way through which is why I could only give four stars. I also wasn’t wholly satisfied with the ending, I won’t go into why but you’ll see what I mean. It was still a really good read and if you can get past the resemblance to Kelsier and Vin it is enjoyable. I have already pre-ordered the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows , which comes out later this month so hopefully the characters can come into their own a bit more.
Overall a really satisfying reading month, plenty of great reads! I’m not sure how good February will be for reading as I plan to get through more Robin Hobb books which all seem to be 800 pages plus which, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE big books, they just take me a bit longer to finish 🙂 Let me know what you’re reading and if you’ve read any of these and what you thought!