Seasonal favourites: Winter 2018

Winter is almost over (finally!) and I thought it was time to talk about some things I’ve been loving in the past couple of months. Obviously the most important things on this list are books – I’ve had a pretty good reading start to the year though I think that’s starting to change. I’ve also watched some amazing films and TV series and I want to share them with you.

First of all the best books of this winter were (in no particular order) Uprooted by Naomi Novik, La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve posted reviews on all of these books so I won’t get too much into details here, they were all wonderful and one of my favourite fantasy books of all times and I can’t wait to read them again. This winter has been great for reading fantasy literature.

The next thing I want to talk about is my favourite TV series (and no, it’s not Arrow). I actually started watching Victoria again and I love Jenna Coleman so much, I think she’s great as queen Victoria. I’m not a huge fan of the actor who plays Albert but maybe he’ll grow on me, I am currently still watching season 1 so perhaps that will change with season 2. This series has reminded me how much I love period dramas. Downton Abbey has got to be my favourite TV series and Victoria is just as wonderful.

I’ve seen quite a lot of films this past months but the one that sticks out is Black Panther. To tell you the truth, I am not the biggest Marvel fan because the stories are too similar for my liking and the films packed with action and not enough character development, but I went to see Black Panther on opening night and I my mind was blown away. IT WAS SO GOOD. Not only was the story more original and complex than in your average Marvel film but the female characters were just amazing. I can’t wait to see more of them in the upcoming Avengers film.

Moving on to my favourite music of this past winter, I actually didn’t listen to any new bands. However, I did listen to a lot of Disney soundtracks. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be an adult. But I learned that listening to Disney songs while studying or writing papers really helps me relax. Even now, I’m listening to a piano versions of the songs on Youtube and I feel surprisingly calm.

I can go on talking about my favourite food of this winter (chocolate cake with red wine infusion), my favourite drink (mint tea) and my favourite piece of clothing (my Harry Potter sweat pants) but I think those are pretty self explanatory. I’m trying to decide about a favourite moment but there were too many of them to choose from (plus I forgot like half of them). For my last favourite category I chose favourite book purchase and it has to be the illustrated version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them because the illustrations are simply beautiful and I just love browsing through the pages.

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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

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Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

 

The latest novel from one of my favourite authors Maggie Stiefvater is a bit shorter than I’m used to, it only has 300 pages but the cover is absolutely stunning. It’s probably one of the prettiest covers I’ve ever seen. Sadly (and it breaks my heart to say it) the story inside it wasn’t that great (I’m so sorry Maggie!). After reading The Scorpio Races I had really high expectations of this book and I think that’s probably why I was disappointed by it. Also, I think it needed more volume, at least 400 pages in total.

The language was of course beautiful (everything Stiefvater writes is beautiful) but I felt like the writing style was somewhat different than in her other books. I think she slightly adjusts her writing for each book – for example the Shiver trilogy is written in a very lyrical style and is similar to The Scorpio Races while The Raven Cycle has a different feel to it (but totally heart-wrenching *sob*). This book had yet another music to it and that really shows how versatile Stiefvater is and I love her for that.

The overall story was complex and it contained very interesting metaphors. I loved the character Marisita because she was always rained upon, she literally had her own rain clouds hovering over her head and her body was covered with butterflies who couldn’t fly away because they were soaking wet. This seemed like a beautiful portrayal of depression and I think that’s really hard to achieve. All the other characters were also unique and compelling, I only wish I could read more about them (300 pages just isn’s enough!).

The love story between Beatriz and Pete was really cute though I preferred Daniel and Marisita’s. I guess I have a soft spot for the impossible, die-for-you, intense-all-the-way love stories. Also, I really liked reading about Beatriz’s parents and their relationship, I think it was very realistic because although they were in love, they sometimes couldn’t stand being around each other.

As with every Stiefvater book, the atmosphere is sublime. She can create a world of sensations with her words in a way that makes you feel like you’ve just stepped onto a new planet! Only great writers can do that. And the feels, I had so may of them while reading this book. I highlighted like a dozen paragraphs along the way because they were so touching.

I realise that I’m only praising this book yet I gave it four stars on Goodreads. That’s mainly because I absolutely adored The Scorpio Races and The Raven Cycle and I can’t rate them the same. I really do believe that this story could be better if it were longer. Then again my head wasn’t really in it while I was reading the book so that could also be the reason why I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.

Still, Maggie Stiefvater remains one of my all time favourite authors and I would be so insanely happy if I ever managed to write half as good as she does. She is amazing and cool and funny and clever and a bit strange but all the best people are. I wish I’ll get to meet her one day and have her sign all of my books. That would be a dream.

“Do you have darkness inside you?”
“Yes,” Tony said.
“And do you want to be rid of it?”
This is a harder question to answer than one might think at first blush. Almost no one would think it’s correct to answer this question with a no, but the truth is that we men and women often hate to be rid of the familiar, and sometimes our darkness is the thing we know the best.

Maggie Stiefvater, All the Crooked Saints

Wrap-up: January 2018

January wasn’t a good reading month for me but I did read some of the books I received for Christmas. I told myself I won’t buy any more books till I read the ones I have at home and I’m sort of sticking to it (for now). So despite being totally stressed out because of uni and exams, I managed to read five books this months and here is the list:

  • Until by Anna B. Doe
  • La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust 1) by Philip Pullman
  • Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell
  • A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones
  • All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

The best book I read this month was without a doubt La Belle Sauvage and you can read my full review here. It was such a great book and I loved going back to Pullman’s worlds and exploring them even further. Pullman is one of those authors who write fantasy as easily as if the magical worlds actually existed and as a reader you dive into their books and wish you could drown in them (well not drown but swim around for as long as possible).  I plan on reading two more books of his this year and of course I am patiently awaiting for the next book in this series.

Until was a romance novel, an easy and entertaining start to the year. The author sent me an ARC of her book and although I read it super fast, it didn’t deliver. I was annoyed with the main character and I hated reading the chapters that were the same as in the first book of this series, because we literally read the exact same conversation just told from a different POV. I found the story to be very typical and filled with cheesy dialogue.

Since I was so stressed out because of school, I picked up a children’s book called Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse which was really funny and hilarious! The illustrations were beautiful and the story far from ordinary. I’ve only known Chris Riddell as the illustrator who works closely with Neil Gaiman so this was the first original story of his that I read. I’ll definitely be picking up more of his books because I am really excited to read about Goth Girl and her future adventures.

As you all probably already know (I do repeat this A LOT) Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite fantasy writers and this month I read her novel A Tale of Time City. This book wasn’t as good as some of her other work but nevertheless I enjoyed myself immensely. I love reading children’s literature, especially fantasy stories because the main focus is on magic and happy endings are a must.

The last book I read this month was All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. Although I am a huge fan of hers, I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. Perhaps the timing was off, because when I was reading it my anxiety was all over the place and I couldn’t really relax enough to just enjoy the book. Or maybe it was because I loved The Scorpio Races so much that I set the bar too high. Anyhow, I liked this book (I highlighted a lot of paragraphs) but I didn’t love it as much as Stiefvater’s other books.

I’m currently reading Sherlock Holmes’ Best Cases or something like that (still, I know) and Uprooted by Naomi Novik which is so great, I read like half of the book yesterday evening because I just couldn’t stop. It reminds me a little of Howl’s Moving Castle, at least the main story, the frame of it, but it’s really good and I love the magical elements in it.

Hopefully February will be a better reading month for me but I’m definitely sticking to fantasy because I’m in that kind of mood. One cup of magic for me, please!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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A word of warning: I am going to sing praises to this book throughout my review. Yes, it’s THAT kind of a book. So good and magical and heart-warming and intense and I could probably list a number of adjectives but none would do this book the justice it deserves. It is AMAZING. Yes, I am partial to it since Maggie Stiefvater is one of my favourite authors and the story is set on an imaginative island somewhere near Scotland/Ireland but even if that would not be the case, I would still love this book to the death and shoved it in everyone’s faces (which is exactly what I’ll do tomorrow when I get back to uni).

I took my time with this novel. It took me three days to finish it but I literally went from one sentence to the next and marvelled at each paragraph. That actually happens quite often, especially when I’m reading a particularly interesting story because I don’t want it to end so I go slowly and really try to appreciate what the author has done. It happened with The Raven Cycle as well.

If you ask me what this book is about, I’d have to say that at a first glance it’s about a close-knitted community living on an island where each year a race takes place and in that race jockeys ride murderous water horses who try to eat them and escape back to the ocean. Sounds great, right? But there’s so much more to the story than that. It’s also a story of a family growing apart, a lonely man trying to gain his freedom and independence, a patriarchal community where changes are NOT welcomed and an old religion worhipping the gods of the ocean. It’s a story about love and sacrifice and the importance of family and it’s also a story about killer water horses.

My personal library contains a few collections of fairy tales and folk stories and one of them is a collection of Scottish folk tales which is where I first read about the dangerous water horses called kelpies who pray on innocent victims and lure them into the water. This story takes that myth but bends it substantially. Maggie Stiefvater does that a lot, she takes old myths and makes them work in her favor. She’s brilliant at that. And she is also known to focus primarily on the atmosphere, the feel of the story, not so much on the narrative and the characters themselves. I think this is portrayed beautifully in The Scorpio Races.

If you decide to read this book, you’ll meet two main protagonists. The first is a girl named Puck Connolly (in reality her name is Kate but her friends call her Puck) who decides to compete in the race with her horse Dolly because she wants to help her family. There she meets a four-time-winner Sean Kendrick, a man of few words but with a particular knack for horses. They become unlikely friends and even something more but they both fight their own battles. This was probably one of my favourite things about this book – though there was very little romance in it, the love parts that were included were simply magical and heart-wrenching.

The last 50 pages of this book were so intense I kept whispering to myself oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I even texted my sister because my heart was beating like crazy. For a few minutes I thought the worst had happened and then came the ending which made me cry so hard. The last page… Brilliant, truly brilliant.

A lot of people on Goodreads have criticised this book saying the pace was too slow but that is THE WHOLE POINT. IT HAD TO BE SLOW. The island life itself is slow-paced so of course you can’t have a million different things happening all at once. And also although it may seem like nothing happens, that nothing is actually EVERYTHING. I mean come on, you just missed the entire essence of this book.

What you can do with this book is you can FEEL IT in every single page. You can literally feel the cold on your skin, you can smell the salt in the air, hear the waves crashing. You feel for Sean who lost his father to the races and is now by himsef. You feel for Puck and Finn and Gabe who also lost both their parents to the sea and are now trying to do the best they can. Puck and Sean together are just, agh, SO MUCH, there really isn’t any other way to describe it, they just make you fell so much, I almost squealled every time they were together.

Just go and read this book. Please. It will change you.

I’ll see you on Thisby.

(Also, this book reads like a poem. It’s THAT GOOD.)

“Does anyone ask you why you stay, Sean Kendrick?”
“They do.”
“And why do you?”
“The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr.”

Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

 

 

Best books of 2017

I can’t believe it’s 2018 already! My birthday is slowly approaching and I’m freaking out because I don’t want to be old and gray. I’m exaggerating, I know, but still. There’s just something about birthdays that I strongly dislike. Anyway, I decide to talk about the books I read last year and I picked my top five favourites and here is the list:

  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  • The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I just noticed that all these books were written by female authors so hurray for them! Maggie Stiefvater is obviously the winner since the Raven Cycle consists of four books (and they are all amazing). The thing is I really didn’t expect to like the books as much as I did. I thought it would be entertaining but sort of easy going but then I was blown away with the constant plot twists and the beautiful writing from different POV’s. The story grabbed me with both hands and pulled me in, it was so amazing!

Over the past few years I got tired of YA literature because a lot of it is so similar and I almost skipped this series but since I really liked the Shiver trilogy I decided to give it a go.  What really surprised me was the fact that the last book was the best. In so many series the last book was such a disappointment (Delirium, Twilight, Vampire Academy) but this book, THIS BOOK made me scream and cry (usually at the same time) and sigh and just go OMG every couple of pages. It was a great ending of a fantastic journey. It took me a whole month to finish the series and thinking back that was probably wise because if I read all the books in like two weeks I’d probably end up lying on the floor of my bedroom refusing to leave and re-enter the real world.

For Christmas my sister bought me The Scorpio Races and I really liked that book as well. The focus was mainly on the atmosphere that the author created and she did a really good job at it because I felt like I was right there on Thisby riding a water horse. I also took my time with this book (I guess it’s a Maggie Stiefvater thing) and I marvelled at each and every sentence. The characters were so well-written, I loved the slow romance that developed between Sean and Puck and I wished Finn was my little brother. The island life was portrayed very realistically and I loved the blending of magic and reality, I think that Stiefvater is a true master of that because I’ve seen it in the Raven Cycle as well.

The next favourite of the year was Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Unlike Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor’s writing is more epic fantasy and I adore her for that because her books read as complex fairytales and they are SO GOOD. I adored Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and I was worried that I wouldn’t like this book as much but I was wrong. The story was beautiful and complex (the final plot twist blew my mind away, I literally started to pull at my hair), the ending broke my heart (I kept shaking my head) and the writing was again so beautiful that at times I just couldn’t continue with the story because I was rereading the sentences that I liked best. The second part is called Muse of Nightmares and I can’t wait for the release day, I’ll probably pre-order the book as soon as possible.

The last fantasy favourite was Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. I actually started reading this book like a year ago but gave up after the first few pages and then I picked it up again in spring and I was so glad that I did because the story kept surprising me and it never got boring. Jones is one of my favourite authors (I also wrote a blog post about her, you can read it here) and Fire and Hemlock is one of her best works. Howl’s Moving Castle was great but so was this book, perhaps even better, it’s really hard to say! The main protagonists Polly and Tom were such good friends and their relationship slowly grew to become something more. They invented a story together and that appealed to my writer side and when Tom started to sent Polly stacks of books via mail I got so jealous I started complaining about it during class when the professor wasn’t looking at me. I never knew what the story would bring and that is hard to do because I’ve read a lot of fantasy books and they tend to repeat. But then again I never know what to expect with Diana Wynne Jones – she is full of surprises.

Now it’s time to move from fantasy novels to history literature because the last favourite book of the year is The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. She is also one of my favourite authors because her stories are always so well planned, complex and intriguing, but what I actually love the best is her writing style. It’s very poetic and the way she paints the world is very special – seen through her eyes it gets an almost magical feeling about it. Even the bad things seem manageable and everything has its own purpose. Her books always consist of two or three stories and the focus then jumps from one to the next but this shift is so smooth that you just glide through the story to the end. The Secret Keeper is one of her best works because the plot twist is OUT OF THIS WORLD. I actually sort of guessed it because my friend told me it’s a huge one and so I payed attention to all the little hints in the book and formed several possible theories – one of them turned out to be the one.

So these are the best books that I read last year. The initial list was way longer but I decided to limit it because then this post would never end (it’s still quite long). In case I inspired you to read one of them, I hope you’ll like them half as much as I did.