Harry Potter re-readathon: The Deathly Hallows

9781408855959_309031We did it! We completed a series! The blog is alive! Alive with the sound of pages ruffling and words shuffling about on the spot waiting to be read. I am proud of this.

Here we are, on the last stop of our journey. The Deathly Hallows.

This book is painful. It hits you right in the gut so many times. With every grave injury or character death, I felt a crack splinter into my heart. It takes its toll – a mark of good writing.

It’s amazing to compare this to The Philiospher’s Stone, the two books are so different and yet they still feel like the same series. True, The Deathly Hallows is a much older, more experienced, and hardened brother to the sweet, innocent Philosopher’s but they are still brothers.

Speaking of brothers, I adore the Tale of the Three Brothers and I wish more folksy fairy tales were included in the body of the series. It added so much to the story and it felt like a real tale. I am a sucker for stories within stories.

Another thing I love about this book is that we get to visit the Ravenclaw common room and its wonderful riddle entry system. I identify as a Ravenclaw (if I haven’t already made that abundantly obvious) so I was so happy when the common room popped up in the books. It’s so wonderfully appropriate, I just want to curl up in there with a good book.

I am, however, still waiting for an epic Ravenclaw protagonist.

We get more helpings of McGonagall, who is just as bad-ass as I wanted her to be. It goes without saying (yet here I am saying it) that I am very much here for more McGonagall, in all of her forms. I am so glad she survives to pass her sass on to future generations of Hogwarts.

Like most Potter fans, however, I feel a great sense of exasperation towards the epilogue. I don’t think it was necessary and I think Harry needs to drastically improve his choice of names. There is no way Ginny had anything to do with that monstrosity. I refuse to believe otherwise.

I don’t quite know how to end this. I’d never thought this far. So I a just going to end it with this:

I bloody love these books. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25493853At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

I cannot even begin to tell you how hopelessly I have fallen in love with this book. I mean, I am going to try but it might just sound like loving nonsense. I am okay with this, as long as you know that I love it. I’ve already mentioned this book on here before, and I am almost certain that I will be mentioning it again.

Just thinking about it makes me feel warm.

So, as written in the blurb above, The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of Vasilisa (or Vasya as she is commonly referred to), an impish Russian girl who lives and breathes the old stories in more ways than one. I love Vasya. I love that she is not pretty. I love that she is gangly and frog-like and her eyes are large and that she likes to climb trees. I have taken Vasya into my heart and I am going to cling to her for the rest of my days.

I love a compelling main character, and Vasya is that. She has a set of beliefs which she values over all but she also has respect for her family, even when they are cruel to her.

Speaking of cruel, I love it when a book gets me to react and, boy, did I react. I wanted to strangle Anna, Vasya’s stepmother, and Konstantin, a priest. Every time they were horrible, every time they were being ridiculous, I found myself shouting a little at the pages (luckily I read this book from the comfort of my own sofa and not on public transport). But I wanted to strangle them for all of the right reasons, I wasn’t supposed to like them. It is a powerful and talented author who can get you to react visibly and audibly, and I bow down.

I find Konstantin particularly apt in the current political climate – he wants people to be afraid. I couldn’t help but compare what Konstantin was doing with what is happening in the real world. Even though The Bear and the Nightingale is steeped in fantasy, I couldn’t help but relate it to my current view of the world.

One of the central themes in the book is the clashing of the old and the new, the old stories, the chyerti with Christianity. The old gods and spirits with the new, and how village life can fit into that. It looks at the roots of its people and pulls them from the ground, only to tentatively put them back again. We learn about all of the various spirits that keep the world turning, the grass growing, the houses protected, and we learn about them both from the perspective of someone who wholeheartedly puts their faith in them, and someone who fears them. It’s so interesting to see both sides, even if one side makes you want to throw something.

It’s a slow burn. The Bear and the Nightingale takes its time and revels in the storytelling. It is in no rush to end but everything feels essential. It’s not heavy-heavy action but it’s not dormant either. It grows into itself as Vasya grows into herself, it is a journey in and of itself.

I just love it so much. I want to shout out to the world, I want to command the world to read this book and love it and take it into their hearts.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Half-Blood Prince

9781408855942_309034I am nearing the end of my nostalgic Harry Potter not-quite re-readathon posts (the actual not-quite re-readathon having taken place this time last year, cue whistling) and I am so happy about how excited I still get about these books (I wear my Ravenclaw jumper with pride – it is my favourite and I never want to take it off but if I do, I have a hoodie to wear in its place because I am just that invested). Even if I did hide my excitement for a number of years to hide my shame at not finishing the fourth book in one go.

This book makes me happy for many reasons but one of those is Ginny Weasley. I’d long seen the internet shouting about how great Ginny was but having only read to the middle of book four, and watching the films, I didn’t quite understand why before. I thought it was excellent but I didn’t understand. Now I do. Ginny Weasley is the greatest injustice in the films and I am so sad that I did not know that until last year. Well, I knew through tumblr but I didn’t really know.

Even though I think I got more out of this from reading it as an adult than I would have if I’d read it when I was younger, I wish I’d had Ginny in my life while I was in my teens. She is just the sort of role model I needed. If only I had a time turner. (Though, I can imagine so many ways that could go wrong. It’s probably for the best that I don’t have one. I can definitely see the world crashing down around me as soon as I caught up with the present. Or I would go too far back and just cease to exist in the present. I wonder if it works that way, I don’t even know.)

I also missed out on the hilarity that was Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown. I just… It’s great to see a ridiculous romance in teen fiction. There are too many all-important, way-too-serious romances in YA. Yes, some teens do have wonderful and meaningful and their-world-will-end-if-it-ends scenarios but a lot of teen relationships are ridiculous and over the top and incredibly cringe-worthy. It’s nice to see that teens in books also have those relationships. Perhaps, if I’d’ve read this book back then wouldn’t have been quite so ridiculous. I mean, I probably would be. But you never know.

I find it hard to pick a favourite book out of the last three in the series. I love them all whole-heartedly, as I always hoped I would. I did feel a sense of dread getting to the end of this one (which is unsurprising considering what happens at the end of this one), I knew I only had one more book before I had to stop reading them. I wasn’t ready for Harry Potter to leave my life. (My worries were unfounded, I later saw Fantastic Beasts and recently visited the House of MinaLima so the world of Harry Potter is still very much in my life – hooray!) It’s always nice to get that invested in a series.

I know I am preaching to the choir with these posts and that I was very late on the boat but at least the boat wasn’t so far out to sea that I could no longer catch it. There is still a community to be a part of and I think there always will be. This makes me happy.

Review: Dangerous Women (Part 1) edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

23018850Commissioned by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, these tales of dangerous women by the most stellar names in fiction are available for the first time in three-volume paperback.

This first volume features an original 35,000 word novella by George R.R. Martin.‘The Princess and the Queen’ reveals the origins of the civil war in Westeros (before the events in A Game of Thrones), which is known as the Dance of the Dragons, pitting Targaryen against Targaryen and dragon against dragon.

Other authors in this volume of warriors, bad girls and dragonriders include worldwide bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Lawrence Block and Nancy Kress.

Contents
Gardner Dozois’s introduction
George R. R. Martin, ‘The Princess and the Queen’
Carrie Vaughn, ‘Raisa Stepanova’
Nancy Kress, ’Second Arabesque, Very Slowly’
Lawrence Block, ‘I Know How to Pick ‘Em’
Megan Abbott, ‘My Heart Is Either Broken’
Joe R. Lansdale, ‘Wrestling Jesus’
Brandon Sanderson, ‘Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell’

PRIOR WARNING I have a lot of thoughts about some of these stories so there will be spoilers. Only read on if this is not a problem for you.

Now with that out of the way – I had high hopes for this collection despite the dull blurb we are offered on the book’s back cover. I have forgotten why I had high hopes when I added it to my wish list (it was so long ago) but high hopes were had.

I’ve been in the mood to read about fierce and wonderful and dangerous women, and thought the time was right considering the Women’s Marches going on around the world. I was ready to read about women, women who would empower me, women who would terrify me, women who were strong.

The introduction promised me things, several things and I couldn’t help but go back and hiss liiiiies at it every so often while I read. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the collection overall and will still be reading parts two and three but my hopes are considerably lower. This book did not do what it said on the tin. (George R.R. Martin, I am looking at you in particular.)

As it’s a collection of short stories by different authors, I want to focus on each separately. Buckle up, kids. This is going to be a long one.

Continue reading

In which I love La La Land

mv5bmzuzndm2nzm2mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm3ntg4ote-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Ah, La La Land.

I remember seeing trailers for La La Land many moons ago, and getting incredibly excited about Emma Stone. (I’m always quite excited about Emma Stone.) At first, I didn’t realise it was a musical, then I didn’t realise it was an old style musical. I am so glad it is.

If you’ve been here for a while, you might know that I love musicals and am a frequent theatre go-er. I love the magic of theatre but I also love the magic of cinema, especially musical cinema. In all of its many forms, from Disney to Les Mis to Pitch Perfect.

La La Land brings me all the same wonderful feelings I get when I watch the likes of Singin’ in the Rain and Shall We Dance with my grandmother on a sunny Saturday afternoon but also brings with it the whispers of something more modern. I find it really hard to describe.

La La Land  is like an old musical, old Hollywood but it’s also not. It’s hard to miss the hints to old cinema, the yellow dress and the street lamp both things that recall scenes from Singin’ in the Rain, the tap dancing which could be from any Ginger and Astaire movie.

la-la-land

While it bathes us in old Hollywood nostalgia, it carries more realism than its ancestors – we have some heavy moments that would not have necessarily made it into the movies of old.

I know many people who have fallen head-over-heels for this film and I understand why, it underlines what it is to be a struggling artist and the artist in me feels it to my core. La La Land grew on me. I love it more the more I think about it. I enjoyed watching it, I enjoyed how I felt coming out of the cinema, but it takes some thinking to really hit home. Now, I am in love with it – I have been listening to the songs and singing them to myself in my head.

My other half, however, was not as enthused. And I get that too. This is partly why I find it hard to describe. It’s a great film but it depends entirely who you are. There are some people who simply won’t get it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

lalaland

Visually, it is stunning. My favourite parts happen in the prettiest scenes (the Planetarium and the epilogue, with a large helping of the dance near the lamp post). I love beautiful things and this film is a beautiful thing. The cinematography is everything I could have wanted and more. I want my dreams to look like this film, and I have a feeling it will inspire me for some  time to come.

Vocally, they’re not Broadway or West End stars. For this film, that is perfect. Neither of their characters claim to be singers, neither of their characters are perfect. They are beautifully flawed and so are their songs. It is different and extraordinary and the score is to die for.

Please see this film. You might love it, you might hate it but you should definitely see it.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

27827627Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. I read the first paragraph on amazon many moons ago and knew I had to read it.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.

It’s a fantastic opening paragraph. That combined with the idea of a Wood with malevolent power and I was all in.

It follows Agnieszka as she is chosen by the Dragon to serve him in his tower for 10 years as he works to keep the Wood from consuming the valley, and the kingdom with it.

I didn’t know how fairy tale-esque the novel would be (the clue should have been in the ‘girl serves dragon in his tower for 10 years but apparently my brain didn’t pick up on that very large cue), I don’t know what my expectations were before reading but they weren’t that! I love fairy tales, and I love stories that feel like fairy tales. So Uprooted was a win.

I really enjoyed the way magic was presented, and the different methods of using it, as well as the names given to the various wizards. They made me very happy. One thing I wished for though, was more of Jaga. I adore the mythology she is based on and would have loved to have seen a little bit more on that.

However, the thing that stole the show was the Wood itself, how it was described, the back story, all of it. I adore the Wood more than anything else, though I think Kasia comes close second.

It’s a lovely little standalone, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good fairy tale.

Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…

I am very into graphic novels and comics at the moment. I’d seen Through the Woods floating around for a while and wanted it. Before that, I wanted it because the author’s name was so similar to mine (and so I was intrigued).

I’m so glad I put this on my wish list. It’s a quick read, I read the whole thing in less than an hour. The art style is glorious, I love it. It differs slightly between each story but it is all tied together, by the use of colour especially. I enjoyed her art so much that I then went on a hunt for more, and will heartily recommend Anu-Anulan & Yir’s Daughter and The Prince & the Sea for any who might want a taste of her work before buying it in print. Do yourself a favour, though, and buy this book.

The stories are effortlessly creepy, and definitely spoke to the teen, Point Horror obsessed version of me (who I still revert back to every now and again) but in a much more satisfying way. Emily Carroll is good at what she does.

The book itself is well produced, the paper choice is perfect and the finish on the cover is wonderful though I am unsure what it actually is. It brings something very tactile to the book and as the stories themselves are tactile in their own way, it’s very well suited.

All of the text is written by hand, which is a lovely touch and makes me envious of her handwriting. It’s easy to read and the layout really works for each spread. Overall, I love it. It’s definitely a winner.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to leave this without some visuals, so here are a few spreads to get you interested (trust me, you want to be interested in this book)!

through the woods spread through the woods spread2 through the woods spread3

Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Furiously HappyIn Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.

Jenny’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. Furiously Happy is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. And who doesn’t need a bit more of that?

This book. This book is brilliant. I have to confess, I haven’t read Lawson’s first book but it is most definitely on my to-buy list now.

I can’t quite remember how I stumbled across Furiously Happy, but stumble I did. With a cover like that I couldn’t just click away – I had to know what it was about, who it was by, why it existed and all those wonderful things you find out when you look into and then buy a book.

Except I didn’t buy this one. I read a bit of the ‘look inside’ on Amazon, added it to my wishlist after falling a little bit in love with the writing style and then went on my merry way. About a month later, when my birthday happened, I opened a present from my parents and there it was, a taxidermy raccoon staring out at me.

I started it reading it that day and finished it the next, which is quite impressive considering I read most of it out loud to my family and my boyfriend.

Reading aloud is not something I do by choice, I go lobster red and stumble my way through almost every word. It is a bad time for everyone involved. But with Furiously Happy I just had to share everything. There was very little that I did not read aloud. This is a testament to both the writing and the stories themselves – I use stories with a pinch of salt here, they are true, perhaps I should say anecdotes but they feel more story-like.

Furiously Happy  is relatable, I found myself thinking ‘that sounds like something I would do’ throughout, and my boyfriend actually exclaimed that I would have done some of those things too were I in those situations. It makes typically difficult subjects easy to digest and engage with and that can never be a bad thing. Lawson has a way of writing about really serious things in a really entertaining way that doesn’t mock or jibe.

I don’t often read memoirs and the like, I prefer my books to have a little bit of magic to them, but I discovered that sometimes memoirs have their own kind of magic. Furiously Happy  definitely does. I was hooked, completely and utterly.

I would recommend this book to everyone. Seriously. Buy it, read it, love it.

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

23306186One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

This book. This book is a very good book.

It takes place in both the present and in a future where a virus has wiped out most of the population. Unlike most dystopian fiction, Station Eleven deals not so much with the apocalypse but with art – how it connects us, those who perform it and what it can mean.

It’s not so much plot driven as it is concept driven. It’s a novel crossed with a study of art and life, and artists’ lives. Instead of trying to puzzle out the virus and its cause and each nook and cranny of what comes after, it brings our focus in on one man, Arthur Leander, and a girl he once knew, exploring the interconnectedness of their stories.

I love it. It’s a quick read, but a good one. The only thing that disappoints me is that my copy doesn’t have the comic spread created by Nathan Burton (who also designed the cover) inside!

Station Eleven Comic

All in all a great little book which stands out from the crowd. If you like introspection over action, I would definitely recommend.

Review: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance by Catherynne M. ValenteSeverin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.

Taken from Goodreads

Catherynne, Catherynne, Catherynne. Will you ever fail? If I had to sum up this book in one line, it would be: This book is everything I have ever wanted from Sci-Fi and more. (Or a ‘a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery’ as is more accurate, and brilliant.) Let’s face it, space whales. It’s so very me.

I am a self-confessed Catherynne M. Valente fangirl, I claw and clasp at everything she writes and can’t get enough (around seven months ago, I got words from Deathless tattooed onto my right bicep, and intend to get another from the same novel on the back of my left calf). But I am not ashamed to say that, I wasn’t sure about this one – I’d never read a novel which uses so many different kinds of storytelling. However, there was no way I wasn’t going to read it.

Boy, I’m glad I did. It is a beautiful, spiralling mystery, which seeps like paint. I loved piecing together each little snippet and clue, and I loved the descriptions of the creatures which still had their Earth names but were very much not the same as their earthly counterparts. As ever with a Valente work, the world building was complete and phenomenal, packed with little details that, while they do nothing to further the plot, solidify her version’s of planets and moons in a way that I never quite expect, even though I am used to seeing it in her work.

Valente is as poetic as ever and uses the different formats excellently, I’ve very rarely found myself enjoying reading a script but at this point, I am sure that I would adore reading everything she writes. Including her shopping lists. But not in a creepily stalkerish way. In a ‘I bet even they are poetic’ way. Rein it in, Elou. Anyway! The different formats in the book makes for some interesting typesetting, I particularly love the icons at the beginning of each chapter denoting on which planet it takes place.

The cover featured above is from the US, the book doesn’t come out in the UK until March but I adored the US cover desgn and had to own it (not to mention, I wanted to read it as soon as I possibly could, especially as I have to wait for the paperback editions of the Fairyland books to match my existing collection). Like I said, I claw for her writing.

What began as a short story in a zine, which I am listening to as I type, turned into a beautiful journey through space, and time, ever chasing a phantom of a girl who will always be a mystery that I would love to solve.

Thank you for another beautiful novel.