10 books in the second half of December? Yes, please!

I’ve only got about an hour left in 2015, but I can proudly declare that I’ve finished my reading challenges! The last few days have been a mini-readathon—yay books! Will post my Best of 2015 tomorrow, but for now, here are my final books of the year:

28. Alice Hoffman – Fortune’s Daughter (18 Dec)
29. Ken Hunt and Mike Taylor – The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Aussies (20 Dec)
30. Carrie Vaughn – Kitty and the Midnight Hour (26 Dec)
31. Anne Ursu – Breadcrumbs (28 Dec)
32. Eva Ibbotson – Journey to the River Sea (30 Dec)
33. Yamaguchi, Noboru – Zero no Tsukaima (The Familiar of Zero), Vol. 1 (30 Dec)
34. Malcolm X – Speeches By Malcom X: The Ultimate Collection (31 Dec)
35. Paul Zindel – My Darling, My Hamburger (31 Dec)
36. Scott Westerfield – Uglies (31 Dec)
37. Eimear McBride – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (31 Dec)

28. Alice Hoffman – Fortune’s Daughter (18 Dec)

I borrowed this audiobook (narrated by Carrington McDuffie) from my local library’s online shinies in order to complete my reading challenges.

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Blurb: This fierce and beautiful story charts the histories of two women: Rae, young, unmarried, and far from home, awaits the birth of her first child. Lila, a fortune-teller with no interest in the future, lost her own daughter more than a quarter of a century earlier in New York. When these two women meet in Southern California, it’s earthquake weather—the time when unexpected things happen. Immediately, their lives and fortunes become intertwined, as Rae tries to break away from the man she has been with since high school and Lila reaches into the past to search for the child she lost.

This contemporary world is set against a series of Russian folktales told by an old woman who lives at the edge of Manhattan, in a place so well hidden it can only be found once in a lifetime.

Overall: I started the audiobook knowing nothing about either story or author but with an open mind, and I’m afraid to say the novel did nothing for me. The female characters were spineless and whiny, and the writing style didn’t appeal to me at all (though that might’ve been the way it was narrated?). Some of the male characters were the only semi-redeeming features, but apart from having something to listen to while walking around everywhere (my main mode of transport), I had no inclination to continue with the novel, and was relieved when it was over.

For those who like numbers: 1.5/5


29. Ken Hunt and Mike Taylor – The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Aussies (20 Dec)

29-xenophobe-aussies

Blurb: A guide to understanding the Aussies which takes an insightful, laconic look at their character and attitudes.

Overall: I really enjoyed the similarly titled guide to the British that I read last year, but unfortunately, wasn’t such a fan of this Aussie version. There were some funny moments and some other moments that rang true, but for the most part, I felt the “guide” didn’t do Aussies justice—that, or I just have a very different idea of what constituents Australians (very likely, since I’ve been an expat for several years). Still, apart from the few laughs it offers, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone without prior knowledge of the Australian culture and people.

For those who like numbers: 3/5


30. Carrie Vaughn – Kitty and the Midnight Hour (26 Dec)

Another recommendation from Maria, who seems to know all the books with all the titles and all the authors! :D

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Blurb: Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station—and a werewolf in secret. Sick of lame song requests, she accidentally starts “The Midnight Hour”, a late-night talk show for the supernaturally disadvantaged.

After desperate vampires, werewolves and witches across the country begin calling in to share their woes, her new show is a raging success. But it’s Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf hunter and a few homicidal undead on her trail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew…

Overall: Although I wouldn’t call myself a super fan of paranormal fantasy (I don’t mind vampires and werewolves, but I wouldn’t go searching for them), I thoroughly enjoyed this series’ world and characters, and would happily recommend them to fans of the genre. And for those who don’t mind either way but are looking for a good story…who knows—you might be pleasantly surprised, as I was. Mind you, this is the first of an ongoing series (which I’ll definitely be checking out)!

For those who like numbers: 4.2/5


31. Anne Ursu – Breadcrumbs (28 Dec)

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Blurb: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs is a stunningly original fairy tale of modern-day America, a dazzling ode to the power of fantasy, and a heartbreaking meditation on how growing up is as much a choice as it is something that happens to us.

Overall: I might’ve enjoyed this more when I was a young girl, but alas, this novel didn’t age well for me. There was nothing “wrong” with it per se, and I thought the writing, plot, characters, pacing were all spot-on for a children’s book, but it just didn’t sing to me. Admittedly, although I expected a particular event to happen near the end, I still teared up a little when it occurred, and I imagine it might’ve had a much greater impact on a mini-me. On that note, I’ll probably pass this on to a neighbour with three daughters—hopefully they’ll be entranced by the magic!

For those who like numbers: 3.7/5


32. Eva Ibbotson – Journey to the River Sea (30 Dec)

I honestly don’t remember how I found this book. I remember having a plethora of Firefox tabs open as I searched for books and authors to meet my reading challenges, and later adding them to my Amazon and The Book Depository baskets when I came across something promising—but the exact moment I found this book, or why I decided to go for it? Nada.

But I did come across it, I did add it to a basket, it did arrive in the mail, I did start reading it without any expectations (or foreknowledge, even)—and I most certainly did end up staying up to 3am to finish it. I’ve not done that in a long, long time (especially since moving to these cold climes, because my hands end up freezing if I read for too long), but goodness, it was worth it. This book was worth it.

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Blurb: The girls in Maia’s class told her what to expect when she reached the Brazilian jungle. “There are huge mosquitoes which bite you. You turn yellow as a lemon and then you die.”

But Maia, an orphan, can’t wait to start the long sea voyage. She is to begin a new life with relatives she has never met, a thousand miles up the Amazon river. And Maia’s classmates could never, even in their wildest dreams, imagine the adventures that await her on the shores of the River Sea.

Plot: Absolutely fabulous. I saw some of the plot twists from miles (pages?) away, but a few others had me very pleasantly surprised. Although the final few pages felt a little rushed and vague (or perhaps this was because of my own sleepiness?), I thought the ending was beautiful.

Characters: Oh goodness, the characters! I loved every single one of them—even the “unlikeable” ones—because of how realistic they were. Although we only spend about 300 pages with these characters, everything about them rings so true that they feel like real, solid people. The twins were fascinating, Miss Minton made of epic win, and Maia herself was such a delightful protagonist—excellent stuff all round!

Themes: The notions of exploration and venturing beyond one’s comfort zones were prevalent throughout, and very beautifully delivered. They resonated with me particularly strongly because I am fascinated by the world and its cultures, languages, and people, but I think the novel would appeal to anyone with an open mind.

Language: I loved Ibbotson’s writing, which achieves that perfect balance that draws in everyone who reads. Her descriptions are incredible without being over-the-top, and her dialogue is spot on.

Overall: This novel is exactly why I participate in and host alphabet reading challenges, which encourage me to go beyond my current reading circle and discover new writers and books. And what an amazing discovery—highly recommended for children and grown-ups alike.

For those who like numbers: 4.7/5


33. Yamaguchi, Noboru – Zero no Tsukaima (The Familiar of Zero), Vol. 1 (30 Dec)

This was another book I picked for my author and title alphabet challenges, and it was pleasantly light.

33-zero

Blurb: In a world where sorcery reigns supreme, bumbling witch-in-training Louise Francoise le Blanc de La Valliere is known by her classmates at the Tristain Academy of Magic as “Louise the Zero”. During an important coming-of-age ritual, when each student must summon a lifelong familiar, Louise proves herself a klutz when she mistakenly conjures a teenage boy from Earth. Now, whether they like it or not, Louise and her unwilling servant, Saito, are bound to each other by the laws of magic for all eternity!

Overall: Since this is only the first volume of the manga series, I can’t comment too much on the overall plot and character developments. I may have moved on from the particular brand of Japanese kawaii (“cute”) and general mahou shoujo (“magical girl”) tendencies, and I wasn’t as entranced by them as I was when I first fell in love with Sailormoon. I did, however, enjoy what I’ve read so far—particularly the world-building—and I can see myself returning to this series in the future.

For those who like numbers: 3.7/5


34. Malcolm X – Speeches By Malcom X: The Ultimate Collection (31 Dec)

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Blurb: I couldn’t find a blurb for this, but here’s a listing of all the tracks/speeches included.

Overall: These tracks, which are recordings of Malcolm X’s speeches, made for some very intense listening. I found myself nodding and cringing in equal measures, and though I don’t agree with Malcolm X’s entire philosophy, I certainly found his rhetoric and delivery very, very powerful.


35. Paul Zindel – My Darling, My Hamburger (31 Dec)

35-darling-hamburger

Blurb: Four friends,
Two couples,
One year that will change their lives.

Liz and Sean, both beautiful and popular, are madly in love and completely misunderstood by their parents. Their best friends, Maggie and Dennis, are shy and awkward, but willing to take the first tentative steps toward a romance of their own. Yet before either couple can enjoy true happiness, life conspires against them, threatening to destroy their friendships completely. (From Goodreads.)

Overall: This is another book I’m glad I’ve read, though it probably won’t leave a lasting impression. Since it was published in 1969, a lot of the events depicted made me question today’s take on gender equality—always fun to contemplate.

For those who like numbers: 3.2/5


36. Scott Westerfield – Uglies (31 Dec)

36-uglies

Blurb: Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world– and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever… (From Goodreads.)

Overall: I remember hearing many good things about this novel when it first came out a decade (!) ago, and only picked it up recently because of the alphabet reading challenge. Unfortunately, I found the book rather average—there are some interesting concepts, but I thought the characters, world, and plots rather average. I guess it didn’t help that I didn’t care much about Tally, the protagonist… The “romantic” plot also didn’t appeal to me at all, so there goes that, too… I am mildly interested in what happens next, but I’m not sure if I want to read the next three books, or if a trip to Wikipedia is in order (I know, I know)…

For those who like numbers: 3.2/5


37. Eimear McBride – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (31 Dec)

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Blurb: Eimear McBride’s award-winning debut novel tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. It is a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world at first hand. This isn’t always comfortable—but it is always a revelation.

Overall: Having finished the book just a few minutes ago, my head is still swimming from the visceral read. The blurb offers a pretty accurate representation of the novel, and though I’m still quite undecided about the writing style, the portrait of this “half-formed” girl will remain with me for a while yet. Highly recommended for anyone who’s looking for an unconventional read.

For those who like numbers: 3.8/5


And at the completion of this year’s reading challenges, I fare thee well, 2015!

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