3 Audio Book Recommendations

My exam period just ended a couple of weeks ago and during that time I (obviously) didn’t have time to read but I did become obsessed with puzzles again – the simple yet completely absorbing task calmed me down. And while I was doing the puzzles, I started listening to the audio book of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This turned into a habit and I continued with other puzzles and new audio books. The beautiful weather outside also coaxed me out of my winter slumber and I’ve been taking long walks almost every day. That presented another opportunity to listen to audio books.

Audio books are of course immensely practical for our hectic life styles. You can listen to them while commuting, driving, cleaning, walking, exercising, basically whenever you have another task at hand which doesn’t require a lot of thinking. And after a long day when you’re too tired to read, audio books mean a more passive way of still enjoying your favourite story. Here are three of my favourite audio books:

  1. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Lesyle Walton: the story is magical and unpredictable, even sad and plain terrible at times but totally worth reading it. This is magical realism at its highest. We get to follow three generations of women, each with their own painful memories and challenges. The story explores love but not just the easy, warm kind of love, but also the  dark kind that can fuel terrible actions.
  2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: this is a historical novel and a coming of age story. It’s written in a form of a journal and the main character Cassandra lives in a dilapidated castle with her family – and their lives are far from romantic. When two young Americans move nearby, Cassandra’s and her sister’s lives are changed and suddenly they have to deal with heartbreak and the emotional insecurities of love. You can also watch the film adaptation but I highly recommend reading the novel first.
  3. The Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire (the books in order of publication: Every Heart a Doorway, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Beneath the Sugar Sky, In an Absent Dream): this is the perfect read for fans of fairy tales and fantasy literature. Each book is actually a novella, around 150-200 pages long, so you can tear through them pretty easily. The second book is also narrated by the author herself which is just amazing. The stories are all linked so I would recommend reading them in order of publication but you follow different characters in each book. Think Alice in Wonderland meets The Chronicles of Narnia. Beautiful writing style, amazing LGBTQ+ representation and wonderful, lovable characters.

My ultimate audio book recommendations are of course the Harry Potter books. I listened to the British editions which are narrated by Stephen Fry and they are just brilliant! He does a fantastic job at reading people’s voices, Mrs. Weasley’s is one of my favourite (and Dobby, Dobby is just hilarious).

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The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

It may well be still summer but I just spent three days under the snow covered trees in medieval Russia. This book tugged at my heart and took a huge chunk of it with it. It was beautiful. Katherine Arden’s writing is just so brilliant, she really puts effort into every single paragraph. I cried at mere sentences and marvelled at her skill as a writer. Her language is sophisticated and she manages to say so much with just a few words. It’s like poetry, really.

Rezultat iskanja slik za the girl in the tower

The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale ended, but it is much more action packed than the first book. That’s why I think it will appeal more to those who found the story a bit slow in The Bear and the Nightingale – here the pacing is fast and unexpected. I really loved the occasional references to the events that took place in the first book because they were there but the author didn’t summarise them fully which usually happens in series.

Morozko and Vasya are my dream team. I swooned over all their shared scenes and found them heart wrenching and at times almost unbearable. We get to see so much more of Morozko here, his story, his reasons for visiting Vasya, and Vasya herself has grown so much from the first book. She is a wonderful lead character and I adored her.

Arden’s characters are so well written, complex and fleshed out, full of flawes yet so lovable – in short they feel very realistic – it is a breeze of fresh air from the typical YA series where everyone is pretty much the same. Sasha and Olga were portrayed so intricately, I loved the way we got to see more of how and why they do the things that they do. This is character development at its highest.

Despite the fairy tale elements this book reads more like historical fiction than fantasy. Arden took great care to portray the medieval Russia properly; there is a mixture of politics, feminism, fairy tales, religion and the struggle for power. Vasya was trying to break free from the traditional role of women in Russian society and she deserves all the praise for that. The world building was just stunning.

Rezultat iskanja slik za the girl in the tower

The food! OMG, I loved the food descriptions. The writing in general was very atmospheric, it really transported me to that world despite the fact that I am currently on holiday and it’s hot outside – it felt chilly while reading the book. I really can’t tell you enough how much I adored this book. It got all the stars.

The trouble is, I’ll have to wait until January to read the next and final book in the series. How will I ever manage that?

Witch. The word drifted across his mind. We call such women so, because we have no other name.

Katherine Arden, The Girl in the Tower

Audio books or e-books? Paperbacks or hardbacks?

Ever since I truly gave in to my bookish obsession, I spent most of my time hunting for harbacks on sale. Checking book depository every other day was part of a routine and I despised paperbacks. If a certain book wasn’t available in hardback, I’d despair over it and then grudgingly buy the paperback. My motto was: I may own fewer books but all of them are PROPER books. Meaning hardbacks, of course.

There is no denying it – hardbacks do look the prettiest on your shelves. The spines make for the most beautiful home decor you could ask for and they are far more resilient than paperbacks and don’t bend as easily. But they cost a lot more than paperbacks, sometimes even twice the price. And with books that are a bit older, perhaps not as mainstream and hyped as your typical YA fantasy series, it’s sometimes difficult to find a harback edition of your beloved novel.

IMG_20180227_190006_069Availability was actually the first reason why I switched to buying paperbacks. Well, not entirely switched – but I do buy more paperbacks now than I do hardbacks. A couple years ago I wanted to buy the Crestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones and the only books available were paperbacks.When I started comparing the prices I did see that perhaps a change was necessary because I could get SO MANY books for the price of a hardback or two.

Today, my shopping habits are as following: for my favourite authors, such as Kate Morton, J. K. Rowling (I already preordered Lethal White, can’t wait to read it), Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor and others, I usually order hardbacks just because I know I will love their books and since I already own most of what they’ve written in that format, it makes sense to continue with the tradition.

For new authors, I tend to buy a paperback first, just in case I end up not liking it (as was the case with Shadow and Bone – I still regret that purchase). Also, if a book isn’t available in hardback, I don’t cry about it anymore and just buy the paperback instead. I look after my books and rarely break the spines. I just really don’t like the look of a book with broken spines – I know, I know, books are meant to be read and enjoyed and it doesn’t matter how they look! But to me, it does matter. I like my books to stay as undamaged as they possibly can.

davWhen it comes to e-books, I do own a kindle and use it. When my library doesn’t have a certain book I want to read and especially if it is from an author I haven’t read before, then I download an e-book and read it on my kindle. If I really like the book, I then buy a physical copy of it. But since I am on a tight budget (I am still a student) I can’t afford to go on buying every single book I want to read. My library isn’t that well stocked either. So it’s very important to me to first check if I really like a book before I actually buy it in physical form. Too many times have I been burned like this – buying a book and then absolutely hating it (or at least disliking it very much).

This past year I’ve also started listening to audio books. I only listened to three audio books but I really liked all of them. It took me a while to get used to it and I did notice that my attention span was far shorter – I’m just not the listening type. Even in class, I remember very little if I only listen to the lecture, without taking notes. So audio books aren’t my favourite and best option, but I will try to encorporate more non-fiction audio books on my TBR.

If I had to choose only one format of a book to read for the rest of my life, I’d go with hardbacks in a heart beat. But I also have to admit that paperbacks are far more practical to read because they fit in your hands so perfectly. And e-books are great for non-English speaking countries because we don’t have that many English books in our libraries and so our choices are very limited. And audio books are perfect for when you are out and about, whether you like talking a walk every day or you’re commuting to somewhere.

What matters at the end of the day is consuming stories in all shapes and sizes and I truly do believe reading can change your life for the better. It is after all one of the cheapest ways of escapism – you just need a library card and you are set to go.

Enjoy your adventure.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

After I finished reading Uprooted at the start of the year which instantly became one of my favourite fantasy standalones, I was so eager to get to this book. I just knew I would love it as much as Uprooted because Novik has a wonderful writing style, magical and fairy tale inspired and she crafts such detailed worlds in her books, you are immediately transported to them after reading just one chapter. I was a bit scared at first because I kept wondering: “What if I don’t like the book? How can it possibly be as good as Uprooted?” but all my fears were squashed to death in the first hundred or so pages. This story captured my heart and filled me with so much joy.

The book is told by three main protagonists but we also get individual chapters which are written from the POV of other characters so we really get a rounded story at the end of it. I was a bit confused about the different narrators at the beginning because the chapters are only marked with numbers so you don’t immediately tell there’s been a shift in narration but once I picked up on that, it was fairly easy to see the different writing styles that each girl used to tell her side of the story.

Image result for spinning silverThis book is the perfect balance of character and plot driven narrative. Miryem, Wanda and Irina are all so different from each other but interesting in their own way and I was blown away by how the author changed her writing according to whichever girl was telling the story. That shows real skill! My favourite character was Miryem and I loved reading about her ventures in the winter kingdom. I think she was insanely brave and determined and heart warmingly generous.

Novik spins such a wonderful web of different stories; we have the fairy tale element, the retelling of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, the historical background set around the Russian history and social injustice and religous prejudice towards the Jews, then we get to see some feminist ideas when Wanda refuses to marry the man her father picked for her. There is politics, the ever present battle for power, the good old darkness vs light power struggle, we have a bit of romance (although not enough for my taste, I have to admit) and at the center of it all is the friendship and love and compassion which holds us together.

I can’t say which book I loved more: Uprooted or Spinning Silver. They were both set in the same world and had elements of fairy tale and fantasy which were superbly portrayed and both books had such interesting female characters. I think I can honestly say that I love both books equally. Since I read Uprooted in Slovenian translation, it’s hard to compare the language but I can without doubt say that Novik’s writing style is rich and full of imagery, it fits so perfectly with the detailed world she has built.

The only thing that confused me in this book was the way the Staryk king spoke: I had to reread some of his paragraphs just to make sure I knew what he was saying because the language he uses is archaic. Still that adds to the experience and well done for thinking of it. Novik is without a doubt one of my favourite fantasy authors and I have yet to tackle her Temeraire series. I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it.

But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.” 

Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver

The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

In December I plan on writing a post on my most disappointing books of the year and this series will be somewhere near the top. Leigh Bardugo’s books get all the hype on Instagram and almost every bookstagrammer has at least one (if not more) photo of Six of Crows on their feeds. To be honest, I was sure I’d like this series as well, since it has such a high rating on Goodreads. As it turned out, I was sorely disappointed.

What annoys me the most is the fact that I actually bought the first book in the series! And not on book depository where it costs about 8 euros, no, I bought it at my local book shop, paid 13 euros for it and now it just sits there on my shelves, waiting for me to either sell it or give it to someone else. Though truth be told, I wouldn’t want to gift it to anyone because it was so bad.

Image result for grisha seriesThe first book in the series actually didn’t start off so bad or at least that’s what I tried to make myself believe. I did notice while reading it that I wasn’t that invested in the story and that the main character got on my nerves but I just thought that’ll pass by the time I get to the next book in the series. So I read the second book on my kindle and the beginning was midely interesting but then the story got SO BORING.

I struggled to read on and thought about DNF-ing it. When I reached 70 % I decided that was that, so I just skimmed through the rest to see what happens. SNOOZE FEST! I watched a video made by @booksundays on Youtube to see what happens in the third book just to see the story to the end. But I honestly can’t see why there is such a hype around this series and why people adore it.

First of all, the writing is poor. Think Stephenie Meyer on a bit of a higher level but that’s about it. Secondly, the characters are flat. In other words they are one dimensional and BORING. There is no depth in these books, I wasn’t emotionally involved AT ALL. Thirdly, the story plotline is repetitive and … can you guess it? Yes, BORING! Whilst the first book introduced the world and we get to see the mechanics of the politics and the power struggles, the second book just seemed pointless.

Our main protagonist Alina spends most of her time worrying about a boy, albeit her one true love, Mal. She is the most powerful Grisha in the world (with the exception of the Darkling), yet all she does is worry about her love interest. I am so fed up with this type of female protagonist. If you break down the second book, you realise that nothing really happens. You could easily shorten the book but no, the world needs more trilogies. *sigh*

When it comes to the story plotline, the second book offers such an obvious hint regarding Alina’s quest for the amplifiers that I immediately started to roll my eyes at it. You basically already know what will happen in the third book. I didn’t read it and I could easily predict it. What happens in the second book is basically this: Alina and Mal escape the Darkling, then they get caught, then they manage to escape again and then they are confronted by the Darkling … AGAIN.

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Regarding the emotional depth (or lack of it), this series reminds me of the Vampire Academy though that series was better. The writing itself was better. I do think highly of having a distinct writing style and Bardugo’s just wasn’t good. There it is, I said it. I know you can’t objectively say why a certain writing style works and why it doesn’t. But Bardugo’s story telling is just so plain and rudimental. It lacks in the richness of the language which separates a good book from a great one.

Once again we get to see a YA fantasy series that is mediocre but somehow beloved by the readers and most especially by the bloggers. Talk about over hyped books. If you are a fan of YA fantasy books, I would urge you to pick up Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer or Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. These books are wonderful, the writing style is on a whole new level and the story is fresh and original.