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I used to know what my favourite books were

For about five years, I knew what my favourite books were. Each represented a series which I loved, but was my favourite of the series. I haven’t stopped reading but, it’s the end of the year, and I have realised that I can no longer tell you my favourite books, just the books I have read and enjoyed recently, perhaps. I feel like I’ve lost my gauge, that books still ground me, but for the moment it is books in general, and not any books in particular. 

Continue reading “I used to know what my favourite books were”

blogging · books · features · shanti

Interview: Michelle Cooper, Author of Dr. Huxley’s Bequest

Hi Virtually Readers! Remember a few weeks ago when I reviewed Dr. Huxley’s Bequest, a really wonderful exploration of the history of medicine that covers a lot of ground? It’s a fascinating book, and Michelle Cooper, who wrote it, is one of my favourite authors. She is an incredible researcher, and uses her characters and stories to bring history–and now science–to life. She was gracious enough to let me interview her (which I promptly derailed by losing her email in my spam folder). If you want to learn about Tasmanian Devil milk and Michelle’s research process, you’ll definitely want to read the interview below.

Continue reading “Interview: Michelle Cooper, Author of Dr. Huxley’s Bequest”

book review · books · shanti

Dr. Huxley’s Bequest

I adore Michelle Cooper; she wrote some of my favourite novels of all time, namely the Montmaray trilogy, and also the delighful The Rage of Sheep. She hasn’t published a new book for ages, which is okay, because this one was worth waiting for! Dr. Huxley’s Bequest is a non-fiction book framed with a fictional framing device. It is aimed at younger people (like maybe 9-14), but honestly anyone can learn from it. Continue reading “Dr. Huxley’s Bequest”

book review · books · shanti

Non Fiction mini-reviews

Hi Virtually Readers! I’ve been suuuuuper absent from the blogging world because literally everything else in my life has taken priority. I’ve still been reading though and am kinda sticking to a library ban. But that’s okay, I’m not gonna apologise too much. But here are some of the non-fiction books I’ve read recently, which is al ot, because I’ve hardly been reading YA which is weird, but here we are. I also will have some separate posts on Dr. Huxley’s Bequest, which will *hopefully* be my next blogging week at the end of October. It never rains but it pours, so this post is super long haha.


Continue reading “Non Fiction mini-reviews”

books · features · shanti

What I look for in genres

Hi Virtually Readers! I’ve been thinking about genre in books a lot lately because I’m taking an English course that is essentially about genre. We’ve talked about romance, gothic, romantic comedies, and we’re about to start detective stories. I’m really appreciating some of the things this is making me think about–especially the conclusion that there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ genre. All stories use elements from different genres. For instance, the book ‘Trouble is a Friend of Mine’ is ostensibly a mystery story, but it also has elements of comedy and horror. I thought that I’d talk a little bit about what I look for in different genres, and some of my favourite books from each of those.

Continue reading “What I look for in genres”

book review · Shar

Science non fiction mini reviews


 I really like science in general, and I surprised myself by reading 3 nonfiction books about science last month. Although they weren’t YA, I really liked two of them, and I’m also trying to branch out my reading and the content on this blog. So here are some bite-sized mini reviews for you.  Continue reading “Science non fiction mini reviews”

book review

Fairest: A review

I freaked out when I heard last year that there was going to be a new Lunar Chronicles book. (And then when I hear there was going to be another new Lunar Chronicles book, I was sort of over it. Thanks, Stars Above) But of course I bought Fairest. And I really quite liked it, everything considered. Levana is scary. In a believable way. And then some broken mirrors got involved (it’s ridiculously hard to take pictures of mirrors without getting the camera in them, if you were wondering) -Shanti

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

Fairest was amazing. I don’t sympathise or empathise with Levana, but I do understand her. The way she justified her completely terrible actions was awful, but it also made sense. I also loved getting glimpses of tiny Cinder and Winter and Jacin (and even Kai) I do feel annoyed that Winter was pushed back (and those tantalising three chapters!), but I think that the things we learn in Fairest are going to make Winter an even more compelling read (and who is looking forward to the short story collection?) Anyway, the characterisation, the world-building and the depictions of relationship are what makes this book entirely worth reading. And it is character driven. If you were wondering.

fairest 1
So Levana begins the book as a sullen 16 year old. Her parents, who she doesn’t care about in the least, have just died, and her sister has become queen. She is wildly in love with a palace guard who she can never have, and wears a glamour all the time. By the end of the books she is queen regent, a master manipulator, with no qualms and an all burning desire to own Earth. She does terrible things in this book. I can easily say that it is a lot darker, with a lot more adult themes/content (though still no swearing or graphic descriptions of anything) The way that this journey is chronicled (oh, I’m punny) is fascinating. I thought that Levana’s justifications to herself for her actions were really interesting, and I thought that. The way she handled decisions and made choices, and even her perception of others offered a fascinating viewpoints. This novel is a lot more character driven than the others, and Levana’s point of view was the only one shown.
Until now the Lunar Chronicles have been set largely on Earth. I really loved the context of Artemisa’s court and it’s rivalries offered by this story. The over production and growing unrest, as well as the bio electricians and Sage Darnel helped me to understand the characters choices ten years later. It was a good backstory, and the legends of the court were fascinating. Artemsia (as well as being hard to spell) is very important, and seeing the production and the glitz of the court will really assist me in understanding Winter. I think. Though what the heck is regolith?
fairest 2Marissa Meyer writes fantastic relationships. The one between Channary and Levana explained so much –her always feeling unwanted and hating her sister for obvious reasons. It helped me to understand why Levana shut herself off from the rest of the court. She doesn’t have any friends, but she’s never been tauht to love. The progression of her and Everet’s relationship was intriguing. I thought the way they were honest with each other, and the revelations about Solstice and the constant, constant manipulation defined Levana. She was so in love, but she didn’t know what love was. And of course, she was a terrible mother. I felt terrible for Everet, who was taken advantage of in every way. Her constant ordering and angsting and manipulation made sense, even if it was terrible.
The entire story is written in Meyer’s taut prose, with excellent dialogue and complex relationships and a totally absorbing world. I guess the only thing that stopped me from giving this book five happy stars is that it wasn’t. happy, that is. In fact, it was terribly sad. And while I think that Fairest will lead nicely into Winter, it’s hard to emotionally invest in an evil character. While I understood Levana, I didn’t connect to her like I connect to Winter and her seven cohorts. I understand her, I don’t pity her, I can’t like her and I can’t connect to her. But it is still excellently written. And it will be read again.

So have you read the Lunar Chronicles? How do you feel about villains- do they deserve sympathy, or even a perspective? And most importantly, have you read Fairest?


beautiful pictures

This blog isn’t normally about travel or non-book related content. But I decided that it would be today, because I spent the last few days tramping in the very beautiful mountains, so I thought that I’d share the beauty (though it might be presumptuous to call my photographs that. You can tell me whether that’s right in the comments)

But, first things first! Marissa Meyer (author of the incredible Lunar Chronicles books which I love dearly and who sparked the ongoing cyborg-android debate in my house) is hosting bookmark designing contest on her blog, so I thought I’d share my entry (and my fairly incredible photo editing skills) with you.

bookmarks lunarNow, on with the pictures!

a stone table! Does anyone need to murder Aslan ?(It doesn't work, because of  the Deepest Magic, if you were wondering)
a stone table! Does anyone need to murder Aslan ?(It doesn’t work, because of the Deepest Magic, if you were wondering)
bear claw marks in a tree
bear claw marks in a tree
daisies are adorable (and very pretty)
daisies are adorable (and very pretty)
sunshiny, pretty, day
sunshiny, pretty, day
walking along the path, up and up and up
walking along the path, up and up and up
cold water=the best treatment for tired feet
cold water=the best treatment for tired feet
We found wild strawberries and they were delcious
We found wild strawberries and they were delicious
something about lakes and mist and mountains makes me want to sing the lotr theme
something about lakes and mist and mountains makes me want to sing the lotr theme
I love the texture of lichen
I love the texture of lichen

This area is very beautiful. It was badly damaged in floods a few years ago, and there were lots of old landslides and fallen trees. Monsoon is just coming here, so the weather was okay, but there was some rain, so we didn’t go up to the pass like we were planning to. But it was still a great path, even though my feet are sort of sore. Tramping is tiring but relaxing, and it’s a good time to have quality conversations and get away from the internet and homework and worries. I was so glad that we went. And we went swimming in the bitterly cold river which was really delightful. And though it was a five hour car journey on windy roads (throwing up was involved) it was still worth it. Shar can annoyingly read in the car/bus, but I listened to audiobooks and finished All the Bright Places after months of listening to it.

What are some beautiful places that you’ve been to? Are you a diehard Lunartic? tell me in the comments!

book review

Emma by Jane Austen

It took more than a month, but I did it. I read Jane Austens Emma , and it was awesome. I loved the way that Emma matured and discovered herself, how amazing Harriet was and also the emotional complexity. Because I watched the (fabulous) youtube series Emma Approved I couldn’t help but use gif’s in this review.

Emma Woodhouse is an independent character. She’s totally happy where she is. She has a father and friends and is at the top of her society of HIghbury. She’s very arrogant, but also very people smart. She is devastated when her best friend and confidante, Annie Taylor, moves away (two whole miles down the road) because she got married. The evening of the wedding, the Woodhouse’s friend George Kinghtley visits, and we see that he is one of the very few people who percieve any real fault in Emma. At this point, Emma is like :

via giphy

But Emma isn’t worried for long. With ‘Miss Taylor’ gone, she makes friends with Harriet, a girl of unknown parentage and of a lower social class who adores Emma. If her matchmaking was so successful for the Westons, Emma is determined to continue. She sets up Harriet with Mr Elton, which goes terribly (because he’s in love with Emma) and makes her question everything she thought she knew about people. And longing for revenge

via giphy

Then Emma meets Frank Churchill, Mr Westons son. He seems amazing, and he is very suave. The question is, who does he like? And who does she like? And why is Mr. Knightley angry all the time? No spoilers but I’ll give you some gifs.

how I felt about Emma’s behaviour sometimes via giphy

I did take a while to get into the classic writing. Everything is said obliquely. I was reading this for fun though, not English class, and I could decipher it. The writing is actually quite funny at times, and Jane Austen is very sarcastic.

“It was almost enough to make her think of marrying”

Women are definitely inferior and in their social place. Yet within that clearly defined society, women have all the power. This is my second Austen book-I’ve read all of Pride and Prejudice and part of Sense and Sensibility, and Austen writes women really, really well. To some extent the minor characters- like Mrs. Elton and Mrs (not Miss) Bates- are interchangeable, and they don’t have much personality. But neither do the men. Within their rigid societies the women have a lot of power, as is shown when Emma goes around manipulating her friends. Emma’s amazingness, but her human flaws- arrogance, assumptions and cruelety  were portrayed so well. I was like this by the end

via giphy 

Another thing I appreciated was awareness of social class. Jane Austen was white, educated and (relatively) wealthy, as are all her characters. They are expected to get married. Yet the genuine relationship that Emma and the one other person (who is quite obvious, but no spoilers) find is beyond that. The mentions of Harriet’s social class only befitting her to someone like Robert Martin did irritate me, but it is important to consider Emma as a product of it’s time. And it isn’t like class barriers are gone-in any way- today, but Emma reminds us that is could be worse. The interactions with the Bateses- and what Emma learns from her harsh judgment of kind people, helped develop the theme of humility and thoughtfulness.

via giphy

Emma was a good book. I loved the character devilopment, the dialogue and the characters. It talks about female friendship, social class and other issues at a time when that wasn’t important. If you want to read a thoughtful classic, and can get pas a flawed character (which is good) and a slightly petty plot, you’ll love it.

How do you feel about classic books? Have you read Emma? Have you watched EA? tell me in the comments!

book review

An Ember in the Ashes – SO SO good

I loved this book a lot. It made me very happy. You should go read it asap, but if you want to know why I liked it, I have helpfully provided a synopsis and a review.

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

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.

Do you want to read about revenge and freedom and love and awesome people and fighting and betrayal and amazingness and a Rome-Middle Eastern hybrid fantasy world? Then this book is for you. Every character in this book is well written, the themes of choice and individuality and brutality are dealt with so well, the worldbuilding is so well done and the plot doesn’t stop moving. But if that isn’t enough to convince you to read this, I’m going to write an entire review anyway.
Elias is like the best ever He has been raised as a Martial, and is one of the leading people of the academy (and the Commandants son), but he doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t want to be the Mask who rapes and kills, he wants to be compassionate and thoughtful His relationships- especially that with Helene were amazingly written and I am so glad that Here are some quotes about him which I loved.

“Help her, Elias. But I can’t…The risk or punishment is too great”

And then he gets braver and more developed, with help.

“Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged, but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you, Elias'”

even though

“He’s never been anything more than a Mask”

he is compassionate and insightful and loving.
Laia is courageous and confused and passionate She is forced to be a slave to save her brother, and she feels eternally guilty about abandoning them. I loved how that choice impacted all of her decisions as the novel progressed. Her background -jam making and walking around the Scholar Quarter with her brother- was revealed just right, and I understood that. Her relationships with Keenan and Elias were perfectly written and I could feel her fear and confusion, but I especially loved that she realized that others had it worse than her. Not enough YA heroines are aware of that Her development was interesting, and she began to take a lot more action as the book progressed which was great. She has doubts though

“My doubts rise insiduously from the soil of my mind, like creeping, choking vines “

She was so brave and quiet and oh boy, I don’t want to be a slave.
So Helene is pretty much my favourite character (though I love Cook and Izzi and Keenan and Elias and Laia as well) because she was so complex And therefore, so interesting. She follows the rules, but loves so fiercely and wonderfully.  Sabaa Tahir paints her as this torn character who is obviously trying to save lives but is also a martial and also loves her best friend. Her anger made me angry too. She thinks like a Martial

“But it was them or us so it’s hard to feel guilty”

” That I should think of [Scholars] as equals? We conquered them. We rule them now. It’s the way of the world “

She’s fierce and desperate to hold on to her identity even when it erodes all the good that’s in her -love and mercy.
I love most of the other characters too, but this review is getting long
The world is impeccably built. the desert, the city and academy are all so real and so wonderful and it’s fabulous. The mythology- jinn and efrit- are built well into the novel, as are the tribespeople and the slaves. My favourite part was the Moon festival (though religion wasn’t really a factor- it wasn’t too well explained) because we saw all of the interaction, and that was awesome. The ranks of the army and Masks also immersed me in Serra.
The themes in this book are pretty much everything I like Trust. Hope. Friendship. Betrayal. And especially violence vs. compassion.

“I warn you now, if you show mercy, if you hesitate to kill, there will be consequences”

“Where there is life, there is hope”

“You will be changed to the darkness withing yourself as surely as if chained to the wall of a prison”

” Seeing the enemy as human. A generals ultimate nightmare”

Yet both Helene and Elias confront very human enemies, and deal with the consequences. These themes are built on through the Trials. The Trials help the characters to realise who they are (and even Laia goes through her own Trials) and it culminates in Elias’s realisation that he’d

“Rather die than live with no mercy, no honour, no soul”

The idea of friendship and loyalty and trust is also developed, but I can’t talk about it much because SPOILERS. I love this book so there are going to be more quotes
-about freedom

“This is freedom! Our destiny is power and death and violence”

And Laia’s destiny is to be a member of the Resistance, but all the characters seek to do their best in a rigid world.

“The freedom to go to my death knowing it’s for the right reason. The freedom to call my soul my own. The freedom to salvage some small goodness by dying for something that is worth dying for”

-about guilt

“You’ll be trailing ghosts now. Just like the rest of us. “

– and in case you doubted the beauty of the figurative language used in this novel

“The simulacrum falls into a pile of laughing shadows, their cackles falling against my ears like slivers of ice”

The plot of this novel is seamlessly switches perspective. It is horribly intense and there are visions and pain and magic and anger and death. I loved it so much. I am dying for a sequel. These characters are worth holding onto, and you should read it now.

What is your favourite quality in a character? Have you read this book yet? Does a story world of Rome and the Middle East appeal to you? Tell me in the comments!