Top Reads of 2015

Top2015

Apologies for my lack of posting in the last couple of weeks! Although I am back in Australia, the holiday season has swallowed me whole with roadtrips, daytrips, and numerous end of year meetups. I promise to be a more consistent blogger when the new year rolls around and life gets back into its usual pace.

For now, I want to send off 2015 with a list of my favourite books this year! Thanks to book blogging, I read a lot more than I usually would – but it also made picking out my favourites extremely hard. Here are my top 12 this year in no particular order:

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: I recently finished this one and immediately kicked myself for taking so long to pick it up. The proses in book is exemplary of the lyrical, evocative writing style that I love so much. Walton mixes her hypnotic writing with a tragic yet hopeful tale about strangely beautiful women and the folly of love. It left me in a daze for days! My review.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace: In this dark and brutal tale, our heroine confronts her identity and helps a listless ghost in finding his purpose. Archivist Wasp defy genre boundaries, bringing to the table a post-apocalyptic dystopia, a trip to the underworld, and questions about what it means to be human.  My review.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: I don’t usually read contemporary, in fact – Fangirl is one of about 4-5 I read this year. Nonetheless, the sincerity of its characters won it a space in my heart. It captures the emotional roller coaster that is college perfectly, never forgetting humour, family and love. My review.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: Magical realism is quickly becoming one of my favourite genres, and books like Bone Gap is wholly responsible for it! In this strange modern fairy tale, we explore societal judgement of humans – especially of women. My review.

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The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin: In this unique fantasy, apocalypse are dime a dozen thanks to the ever changing tectonic plates. Themes of oppression and free will are examined as we follow the perspective of three orogene female. The proses are beautiful, the stakes are sky high, and the reveals are startling. My review.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey: This is one of those books that are best experienced when you know absolutely nothing about it. Hence, I won’t elaborate. Go in blind, trust me, it’s amazing!  My review.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Possibly my favourite young adult book of the year!  Six of Crows with its charismatic and dangerous cast, along with whip smart dialogue and engaging world, is a book to be remembered! My review.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown: While I had some issues with Red Rising, Golden Son blows everything out of the water by raising the stakes, introducing a host of intriguing females, and being completely unputdownable. Watch as Darrow navigates through planets and wage war against both armies and his own heart. My review.

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab: This was my first Victoria Schwab book and I quickly fell in love with her insane creativity. ADSOM features four Londons, two tortured magicians, a charming prince and the best leading lady of all time. Lila pretty much stole my heart! I loved going along with her and Kell’s adventures through worlds. My review.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas: In the space of one week, I went from a non-believer to a rabid Throne of Glass fangirl – mostly thanks to the latest two books in the series. I loved seeing the added complexity each novel brings to its world and the characters. My review.

Vicious by V. E. Schwab: The amazing Victoria Schwab appears once more- I love how each of her novel are so different to the last. Vicious features one of fiction’s most compelling frenemy, and a truly grey cast of characters. Although I yearned for more depth into Eli, Victor and his gang made this book memorable.  My review.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Hoerr: I read this book thanks Jenna‘s ringing endorsement, and she did not lead me astray. There’s poetry in every sentence and beautiful symmetry to every chapter. Moving, devastating and hopeful, this is a WWII story to savour.  Review to come soon!


Have you read any of my favourites this year? What were your picks? Please link me to your post if you have a similar one up on your blog 😀

6 Months Blogoversary & Giveaway

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I can hardly believe only six months have passed since I started Read At Midnight – to me, it feels longer! Hats off to all of you who have been able to maintain and engage with your blog for years and more! This blogoversary comes a little bit belated, due to my recent vacation and road trip – the official date is actually 13th December. Let’s not get that small technicality get in the way of the celebration!

I am hugely proud of what Read At Midnight has achieved over the past 6 months, thanks a million to everyone who have made these numbers possible:

WordPress and Email Followers: 606
Bloglovin Followers: 210
Twitter Followers: 1061
Instagram Followers: 300
Total Pageviews: 26960+
Unique Visitors: 9220+
Total Number of Comments: 4600+

Thank you so much to every one who has followed, commented, and viewed this blog! I can’t put into words how much I appreciate you guys.

The reason why I continue to push along with blogging – aside from my passion for books – is the wonderful community that I’ve befriended through the past six months. Now, I really dislike listing people individually because I’m a scatter brain who will inevitably miss someone I adore – but here are some of the people I really owe this past half a year to:

  • Thank you to Alyssa for being one of my first followers, and for all of your kindness and support! Your love and dedication to spreading knowledge about Chinese history and mythology makes me smile!
  • Thank you to Jenna for being one of my first and more firm friends in blogging. I can always count on you to goad me with pictures of watermelon cakes or push books I never knew I would love! So excited for us to meet in person in 2016.
  • Thank you to CW, my fellow kiwi and one of the most thought-provoking bloggers about. She also has wicked art skills!
  • Thank you to Jeann for firstly being blogging goals, then for being one of the best people ever! You’re the first blogger I met up with in real life, and our breakfast date was so much fun!
  • Thank you to Faye for being the first commenter on my blog – and thank you for embracing me into the Potato family!
  • Thank you to Rashika and Aimee for being awesome cobloggers, I can hardly believe I write blog posts along such smart and fierce women!
  • Thanks to Nick, always, for her sincerity, her authentic friendship, her steadfast honesty, her support!
  • Thanks to the ladies of Books with Chemistry: Vane, Evelyn, Tash – their sass is most impressive, and have been instrumental in weeding out the weak from my TBR pile.
  • Thanks to Joey, you and your posts never fail to make me laugh or think or both.
  • Thanks to Jesse for his uncanny ability to mirror my fangirly thoughts in every way.
  • Thanks to gorgeous Josie, who is beautiful inside and out, it’s been a privilege getting to know you!
  • Thanks to Summer for her warmth and comment-bombs!
  • Thanks to Kynndra for your warm heart, wit, and flawless taste in books! Your reviews have guided me to so many new worlds.
  • Thanks to Ashley and Lydia for always being ready to engage in any dialogue on the blog, I’ve learned so much from your discussions and your posts.
  • Thank you to the phenomenal Oz blogging community: Kelly, Emily, Cait, Eugenia, Chiara, Joy, Glaiza, Melanie, Gina, Brittany, Meleika, Jaz, KJ, Rebecca, Brett and countless others, for their friendliness, intelligence, and fierce devotion to home grown authors.
  • Thanks to all the teen bloggers for renewing my faith in the world’s future through their passion, their voices, their fierce intelligence. Aila, Rachel, Mishma, Alexandra, you absolutely own the YA community and you are so inspiring!
  • Thanks to every single blogger who has supported by Design Shop! Nick and Nereyda, Lisa and Becca, Kristen, Kristy, Jodie, Aila, Sajda. My book budget praises your light every day.

There are so many more people that has all my gratitude, but if I keep going on this post will never end. Please don’t take it personally if I didn’t name you, I love every single person that reads or comment on this blog!

As with all celebrations, I would like to host a small giveaway for a Book Depository order up to $30AUD in value!

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Cover Reveal: The Bureau Of Time by Brett Micheal Orr

THE BUREAU OF TIME is the debut YA SF/thriller novel from Brett Michael Orr, available early 2016 on all digital reading platforms, including Kindle, Kobo, iBookstore, and more. Stay up-to-date with The Bureau of Time by following @BrettMichaelOrr on Twitter!

I am sharing the cover and synopsis of The Bureau Of Time with the utmost excitement!

Brett is one of the first Aussie book bloggers I befriended on the blogosphere – he’s was so supportive in helping me become a part of the community.  Not only that, he’s an excellent writer – something you quickly realise upon reading his book reviews and short stories. This week, Brett’s debut novel is unveiled on Amazon Kindle. It sounds like an engaging and unique scifi, and I hope you’ll all join me in checking it out!

Brett is a fellow fangirl, I trust that his book will contain all the excitement, heart-pumping action and an OTP to rival the top YA books.

The Bureau of Time Official Blurb
You can not change fate.

Cassandra Wright is a Timewalker – a teenager with a genetic mutation that allows her to manipulate the flow of time. But her inexplicable powers have made her a target for Adjusters – monstrous assassins from a parallel universe.

Saved from almost certain death, Cassie is pulled into a secret agency sworn to defend our timeline against these threats: the Bureau of Temporal Integrity, Monitoring, and Execution. Cassie’s life soon becomes entwined with Shaun Briars – a reckless Timewalker with an alluring smile and dark suspicions about the Bureau itself.

When Cassie and Shaun cross into the parallel universe, they discover a world in the grips of nuclear winter, with a new war threatening to spill over into our universe. With time running out, they must learn the true history of Timewalkers, confront the unforgivable crimes of their future selves, and defy their own fate to save two worlds.

Join the Conversation: #TheBureauOfTime on twitter!

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Amazon US  //  Amazon UK  // Amazon Australia  // Amazon Canada

Also coming soon to iBook, Kobo and other leading digital platforms – keep your eyes out!

 

Book Review: The Rose Society

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4-starTitle: The Rose Society

Author: Marie Lu

Series? Yes, 2 of 3.

Rating: 4
out of 5 stars

Goodreads

Book Depository


 

“Someday, when I am nothing but dust and wind, what tale will they tell about me? Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all.”

The Rose Society is one of those rare sequels that shine brighter than its predecessor. In The Young Elite, the foundation of Adelina’s tumultuous path towards villainy is laid down: with betrayal, with insecurities, with corruption. Her story takes a darker turn in this chapter. Supporting characters also get their stories fleshed out in this sequel, adding layers of increasingly compelling motives to the narrative.

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One of the things I enjoyed most from The Young Elite was the murky relationship between Adelina and her sister, Violetta. While Adelina is an agent of fury and madness, Violetta tempers her with compassion and steely resolve. While the girls are fiercely protective of one another, their relationship is also fraught with tension – Violetta does not agree with all of Adelina’s choices, Adelina is ever wary of Violetta’s gift to take her powers away. Added onto this is the weight of their shared history, in which Adelina was shunned while Violetta was adored by their father. Together, the pair creates a relationship more compelling than any romance the series could present. Continue reading “Book Review: The Rose Society”

Japan Blog Series: 5 Books You Should Read Before Going To Japan

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I am finally back from holiday and fighting the post-holiday blues. I will be slowly catching up on comments – although I caught the Tsum Tsum fever while I was away, so it may take longer than usual XD PS Does anyone play it? Add me on LINE, the username is aentee!

Meanwhile, I’d like to give you guys some recommendations of books you should read before or after you go to Japan – just to give you a slice of what the country has to offer! I am still reading some of these books myself, as a way for me to wean off my vacation. Thank goodness for books and their ability to transport you! Continue reading “Japan Blog Series: 5 Books You Should Read Before Going To Japan”

Japan Blog Series – Book Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

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Title: Ink

Author: Amanda Sun

Series? Yes. 1 of 3.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Goodreads

Book Depository


Note: This is a pre-scheduled post. I am currently on holiday. Apologies for delays in commenting back!

Reading this book was like watching a checklist of of i) preconceptions of Japan via anime/J-drama and ii) a stereotypical paranormal romance. There’s very little here that’s innovative, although I did enjoy the incorportation of Shinto mythology and religious ideals in the text.

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The plot of this book is nothing to write home about, you’ve seen it a dozen times before if you’ve read YA Paranormal romance in their heydays of 2008-2010. Except, of course, it’s set in Shizuoka. There’s an ordinary girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and a handsome and mysterious boy who’s more than he seems. They fall inexplicably in love, though there’s very little interactions leading up to these undying declarations. Throw in a flimsy reason to keep them apart, some unrepentant baddies, and a ex-girlfriend – there’s your recipe to a run-of-the-mill story. Continue reading “Japan Blog Series – Book Review: Ink by Amanda Sun”

Book Review: The Peony Lantern

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3star

Title: The Peony Lantern

Author: Frances Watts

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Series? No

Booktopia

Goodreads


Note: This is a pre-scheduled post. I am still on vacation. Apologies for any delay in commenting back!

This is part of the small list of books I read in preparation for my trip to Japan this year. The Peony Lantern follows the life of a commoner turned lady in waiting in 1800s Japan. It makes for a breezy, yet somewhat forgettable read. The tale is penned by an Australian author, yet the research into traditional Japanese culture is sound. This is a great first look for any teenagers interested in Japanese history.

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The Culture

I think where this book excelled was definitely in the research into Japanese culture. In fact, The Peony Lantern was less book and more a love letter to Japan. I could feel that the author was enamoured with the country (a sentiment I share!). You can read all about the research Ms Watts did for the book here.

The story carries us through a full year, letting the reader experience a piece of Japan’s love for seasonal changes and celebration. It starts at the beginning of summer, evocative in its imagery of the rain season (called tsuyu). The book then follows through to those muggy summer days, vibrant with the colours of irises, hydrangeas and firework. We then get the luscious autumn scenes, dressed up in gold and reds through chrysanthemum and maple leaves. Finally, we get the intimacy and mystery of snowy winter; seen through frost and steaming bowls of oden.

Through Kasumi’s inexperienced eyes, the readers also get to see her first glimpse at ikebana, painting, and ukiyo-e. The book is a crash course in all that foreigners celebrate about Japanese culture. You know: geisha, sashimi, beautiful sweets and tea ceremonies. However, I did not get the sense that the author was misappropriating the culture – just that she loved Japan very much and wanted to share her experiences. My knowledge of the Japanese culture is limited to my short holidays there and specialised books or website – yet from what I could surmise, the information conveyed were accurate.

The Story and Characters.

Unfortunately, in the book’s zeal to display Japan and all its many faces – it forgot its human characters somewhere along the way. While Edo was a character unto itself, the same cannot be said for Kasumi, Misaki, and the rest of the cast. Kasumi, our main character, was an bland vessel through which the reader viewed Japan. She never lifted off the page and became a real person. Kasumi’s conflicts felt like a check box of: love interest, ‘passion’ in painting, and her relationship with her mistress, Misaki. While Kasumi’s father touted her as the disobedient and free-spirited child – she sadly did not live up to his snide remarks.  All I learned of her was a sleepy curiousity and a love for art of all kind – both a necessity of the plot.

I did find her mistress, Misaki, a lot more engaging, as was the mystery surrounding her. However, given the neo-Confucian societal structure of Edo Japan, I find her situation quite farfetched. I don’t want to risk spoiling the ending for those interested to check out the book – but needless to say, it is wishful thinking.

The actual story itself is a part mystery and part political intrigue, however – there was not enough content or investment on the heroine’s part to make the storyline engaging. I did enjoy the fact that the story is a loose retelling of the Japanese Ghost Tale:  The Peony Lantern – the reimagining has a great feminist spin that I appreciated!

I would say that this book is 60% a crash course in Japan culture, and maybe 40% plot. Take that as you will, though I personally enjoyed it because my main draw to this story was Japan.


A Tour Through Japan

As I did during my previous posts, included in this post are photos of my travel, in relation to this book!

We left the Kiso Valley. I had thought I’d be sad as we moved further and further away from my home, and I was a little, but more than that I was entranced, my eyes travelling over new landscapes: the sight of the sacred Mount Fuji from the Shiojiri pass; the bleakness of the Asama plateau, so wide and flat, the desolate air broken by the porters from Oiwake singing a song about the inn of the moon and flowers. Then Mount Asama, the mighty volcano, so unlike the comforting embrace of the mountains in my valley. I saw lakes and bustling towns and the grand Korigawa shrine, and crossed a wide river on a ferry boat: my first time on the water.

Hakone

‘Tell me about Hakone,’ I urged. Her expression became rapturous. ‘It was so beautiful, Kasumi — I wish you could have seen it.’ She described the blazing autumn colours of the forested hills, the view across the lake to the sacred peak of Mount Fuji.

Lake Ashi

I didn’t pass through the Kiso Valley region in Japan, so my journey was a little different to Kasumi’s own. I did attempt to glimpse at Mt Fuji by traveling through Hakone. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the elusive Mt Fuji – the sky was clear and blue everywhere BUT over the mountain top!  Damn you, condensation laws and physics!  However, like Kasumi, I did get to travel on a ferry across Lake Ashi – which was stunning. It was liberating seeing the azure sky, emerald mountains, and open water – especially after spending a week in the concrete metropolis of Tokyo.

‘I know. They boil it in the hot springs and it turns the shell black. But eating it will bring you seven years of good luck.’ ‘Thank you.’ I cradled the egg in my palm, touched that Misaki had thought of me on her travels. What would seven years of good luck mean for me?

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I also had the famed blackened eggs at Owakudani valley in Hakone. Misaki is right, they are touted to increase longevity – although once cracked they’re just ordinary boiled eggs. I remember this batch of 5 costing us 700Y! There are also many other gimmicky foods sold in this area: such as black ramen and egg flavoured ice cream – I was not brave enough to try either, so I cannot report on their taste!


A series of stepping stones led to a small stone bridge, which we crossed into a cool glade of ferns, at its centre a large stone lantern covered with moss… Whoever had designed the garden had ensured there was a colour for every season, I noted. It was like the world in miniature.

Kinkakuji

The gardens in Japan are resplendent, each plant carefully curated to mimic nature. My favourite is the garden surrounding Kinkakuji: The Golden Pavilion. The temple lies in a middle of a completely still pond, filled with koi fish. There are numerous little rocky islands in the pond, rumoured to represent Japan’s many islands. It’s a beautiful space for quiet contemplation, if you could ignore the gaggle of tourists behind you. It took me ten minutes to get this particular shot, this temple is so popular it would be packed whatever time of day you arrive – but the view is completely worth it.

I am also going to visit Kenrokuen and Korakuen when I go back to Japan this year. They are famed to be 2 of the 3 leading gardens in Japan, so I will be sure to share photos if I am able to get reliable wifi!


Japan Book Blog Series: Anime/Manga Readalikes

Today’s blog post resumes my Japan related blog series, I am still on my holiday and I am sure future-me is having a great time. Anyway, like many people out there, one of my first brush with Japan was via manga. Actually, the very first book I ever read was the first volume of Dragon Ball. While I don’t read as much manga as I use to, I thought it would be fun to recommend some readalikes based on your favourite book series!

The Fifth Wave & Attack On Titan

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I am sure you are all familiar with both series as they have been huge successes worldwide. In The Fifth Wave, ruthless aliens overtake the world, and a group of young people try desperately to survive despite the odds. In Attack On Titan, humanity has been plaqued by human-eating giants for centuries, and desperately try to survive while living behind great walls. Both looks at humanity and family in times of mortal crisis.


Archivist Wasp & Magica Madoka

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I adore both stories, which features strong female characters and lies about destiny in an unsettling story. Both are also series best enjoyed when you know as little as possible about the storyline – I just suggest you look past their covers and dive in deep! It wil lbe worth it, I promise!


Throne of Glass & Akatsuki no Yona

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Both series features a steely princess displaced from her own kingdom. Celaena and Yona didn’t capture my attention at first, but as the series went on, they both became beloved female characters. They also have an entourage of gentlemen each, ready to serve and protect them.


Firebird Series & Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles

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While I admit The Firebird Series has multiple flaws, I really enjoyed the interdimension travel which allows the characters to cross countries and parallel worlds at will. Similarly, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle features interdimensional travel, into new and wonderful locations where we can meet previous CLAMP characters in an alternate universe. Both series also has a strong romantic undertones and a huge focus on fate.


The Lunar Chronicles & Sailor Moon

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This one is obvious, as The Lunar Chronicles was actually partly inspired by the classic magical girls anime. Both features strong, independent ladies, with loads of moon and space motifs, and a terrible Queen.


Fangirl & My Girlfriend’s A Geek

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When I first heard of Fangirl, I immediately thought of this manga – which features a fujoshi (a female equivalent of an otaku, especially one adoring M/M romance). Although Yuiko also dreams up fanfiction, let’s just say she’s a lot more… enthusiastic about it all, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend. I prefer Fangirl, but this manga is also a bit of fun.


Have you guys tried reading manga or watching anime? Which are your favourites?