Fantasy

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch

I’ve taken a week to formulate my thoughts about the mesmerising finale of Arden‘s Winternight Trilogy. I’m afraid my emotions are still all over the place and I do apologise in advance for extensive gushing.

Let’s first back up a bit. The Winter of the Witch is the third book in the series and I do not recommend reading it as a standalone book as it heavily leans into its previous instalments. On the flip side, if you haven’t read any of these books yet, you have quite a treat waiting for you. There are full of magic, highly atmospheric and I do dare to agree with Amalia and her beautiful review of this book – I also think this trilogy is ‘making its way to be a classic‘.

The Bear and the Nightingale started this magical series with a highly atmospheric, coming of age story. I got to meet Vasya and I immediately fell in love with Arden‘s writing, her clever story telling and all that Slavic folklore, which always screams ‘HOME‘ to me whenever I am exposed to it.

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, turns darker. The innocence of youth is long gone and Vasya, a young adult, is determined to travel the world. Its tone is different – it’s not only that darkness but also its faster pace that contrasts the first book. It’s a roller coaster of events and I could not put it down.

The Winter of the Witch starts exactly where The Girl in the Tower ended. You can sense the torment medieval Moscow is experiencing, you can feel the fear her people are immersed in. The beginning is DARK…. and it gets darker, much much darker.

It’s rare to be amazed by all books in a series but that is the case of Winternight Trilogy – I do not know how it’s possible that every book makes me so sad when it’s over and every time I read those books I keep on thinking ‘this is why I read‘. It makes my heart sing, it makes me happy on so many levels. Arden‘s characters are believable and complex. Vasya is not beautiful and her appearance is utterly irrelevant. It is who she is as a person that counts. She is set on a quest, makes mistakes, asks for help, admits her flaws and owns all of it.

The Winter of the Witch explores Vasya‘s dark side. What I enjoyed in particular was her interaction with Medved (the Bear). Medved is a clear antagonist. In a perfect hero / anti-hero tradition, Medved almost completes Vasya and despite him behaving terribly and doing unacceptable things, you almost get to like him. Something I always appreciate when reading about villains.

And then there is Morozko (Frost Demon). Not portrayed as a monster but rather as someone, who can feel human emotions and who can care despite being terrified of it. A very minor spoiler ahead: yes, he is featured in this book and yes, Vasya doesn’t forget him. 😊

‘’I am a witch’’, said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. ‘’I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.’’ She caught his knife on the crosspiece of hers, hilt to hilt. ‘’I have crossed three times nine realms to find you, my lord. And I find you at play, forgetful.’’

This book is full of action, features battles, moments of sadness when lives are lost, moments of hope when Vasya steps into her power and utterly charming moments of magic when Vasya travels the Midnight road to start her new quest.

I appreciate how Arden mixes old and new beliefs together. How this book is not just about what you believe in but how strongly you believe it. Fans of Gaiman‘s American Gods will enjoy this messaging for sure!

I also enjoyed reading Arden‘s parting comments, in which she shares Russian history and explains how some of her characters got to be. Some of them are based on real historical figures. I do recommend reading this section as it is a fascinating read.

I loved everything about this book, its pace, well developed characters, that feeling of bittersweetness and Arden‘s gorgeous writing. Russian folklore, medieval setting, atmospheric descriptions… it will all steal your hearts.

To me, it’s an utter perfection. I could have easily read it in a day but forced myself to read it over seven days to prolong this magical journey. I cherished those evenings I could read yet another chapter of this book.

I’ll leave you with a question: “if someone lives in our thoughts, does it mean that person still exists”?

I firmly believe so.

I would like to thank both the publisher, Penguin Random House UK as well as the author, for proving me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ❤️


Over to you: have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, are you planning on doing so?

Happy reading and thanks for stopping by. 📚❤️

 

Fantasy

Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

Wolf Speaker

Do you remember how much I enjoyed Wild Magic – aka Book 1 in The Immortals series? Just in case, your memory is as good as mine, you can check it out here.

Wolf-Speaker is Book 2 in the series. Before we dive in, let’s take a look at Goodreads’ take on it:

Diane has wild magic: the ability to talk to and sway the actions of animals. When Daine is summoned to help a pack of wolves – friends from her old village – she and her mentor, the legendary mage Numair, travel to Dunlath Valley to answer the call. But when they arrive, Daine learns that it’s not only animals whose lives are threatened; people are in danger, too.

Dunlath’s rulers have discovered black opals in their valley. They’re dead set on mining the opals and using the magic contained in the stones to overthrow King Jonathan. Even if it means irreversibly damaging the land – and killing their workers. Daine must master her wild magic if she is to save the ones she loves – both human and animal . . .

I love Tamora Pierce’s books. They tend to consist of a strong moral message and there is this sense of wholesomeness about them that just makes me so happy.

I enjoyed Wolf-Speaker but didn’t love it as much as I did its predecessor.

I think the main reason is that it felt somehow slow. I sadly found some of its parts quite repetitive, purely because our main character Daine is learning about her powers and the same scene is repeated over and over as she practices her new skill on various animals.

With that said, there was enough sensory information included that kept me engaged. I got to become a bat, a cat, an eagle, a wolf and much more. I felt Pierce really researched various animals and wrote about them very vividly at times. That was the reason why the repetitiveness didn’t feel perhaps as tedious as it could have felt had such sensual information been omitted from the book.

I also felt that villains were not developed. They got introduced but we didn’t get to know them. That made them a little bit one dimensional. I like well-developed villains to understand their motives. To see what drives them, why they became that way. Sadly, I felt this was a little bit of a let-down for me.

Let’s take a look at what worked for me:

I appreciated that this book challenged our perception of good vs. evil. Daine grows in this book again. Not only is she developing her new magical skills but her beliefs about what is good or wrong get challenged on a regular basis.

The messaging is that just because someone behaves questionably, that doesn’t necessary make them bad. And the same applies to the entire group of species, let it be humans, immortals or animals. The so called ‘goodies’ get also questioned – nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes and that’s OK. Given this is a MG book, I think there could be a very powerful lesson for our youngsters to experience.

I also enjoyed the environmental aspect of this book. We only have one planet to look after. Daine cares about the environment and the impact of a possible destruction of wolves’ habitat was explained extremely well. Again, another great learning point, to which I applaud from my end.

Despite some of the points above, I still enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading book three in the series.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves animals as they are pretty much the main characters in this book. 

I would like to thank to both the publisher, Pan Macmillan as well as the author, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. 


Now over to you.

Have you read anything by Tamora Pierce yet?

Thanks for reading and for being here! ❤️❤️❤️

Fiction

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Wild Magic

Let’s start with GoodReads‘ summary:

Wildness is a kind of magic

Discover a land of enchantment, legend, and adventure in this first book of The Immortals series, featuring an updated cover – perfect for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Daine has always had a special connection with animals, but only when she’s forced to leave home does she realize it’s more than a knack . . . it’s magic. With this wild magic, not only can Daine speak to animals, but she can also make them obey her. Daine takes a job handling horses for the Queen’s Riders, where she meets the master mage Numair and becomes his apprentice.

Under Numair’s guidance, Daine explores the scope of her magic. But she encounters other beings, too, who are not so gentle. These terrifying creatures, called Immortals, have been imprisoned in the Divine Realms for the past four hundred years – but now someone has broken the barrier. And it’s up to Daine and her friends to defend their world from an Immortal attack.


Do you remember that time when you read a book and it made your heart sing? That’s what Wild Magic did to me. I felt so wonderfully absorbed whilst reading it and all I wanted to know was what was going to happen next.

I fully agree with Saraj J Maas’ statement of Tamora Pierce‘s work: “Tamora is a pillar, an icon, and as inspiration“. There is something about Pierce‘s books that just makes me so happy.

I’ll start with a caveat– Wild Magic is not a Young Adult (YA) book anymore. It was written when YA was slightly differently classified than how it is today. I would classify it as Middle Grade (MG) as there’s a lot of innocence in it and it’s that coming-of-age story that grabbed me and stole my heart. The content is much less mature than what YA is these days but please don’t be put off by that by any means!

Wild Magic is wonderfully charming and utterly warmed my soul. For starters, our main character Daine talks to animals. How cool is that? Ever since I was a little child, I have always pretended I could understand animals and have always ‘voiced’ their opinions.

I notice a trend in YA fiction these days that delivers those ‘I can kick anyone’s butt and I don’t need anybody’s help’ heroines, which can become after a while rather tedious and bland. I suppose they are the response to those traditional damsels in distress and frankly, I am rather fed up with both of those types.

Daine is different because she fits neither category. I so wish I read this book whilst growing up as she could have been a brilliant role model for me then. I immediately warmed to Daine as she is my definition of strength. She is happy to think for herself, decides to face her fears, asks for help when needed and is also shy and modest. Her strength is this quiet quality that doesn’t scream ‘look at me, I’m so awesome’ but rather says ‘that didn’t work, I’ll try again tomorrow’. She grows and her, sometimes naïve opinions, get slowly questioned and shaped whilst she still stays in charge of those final decisions. She decides what she will think but is also willing to listen and learn. How beautiful would that be to share such message with our youngsters?

I also appreciate how Pierce dives into breaking stereotypes – her characters teach us that it’s absolutely OK not to be able to fit in. That belonging is much more than ticking certain boxes and that family, regardless if it’s our blood one or a chosen one, doesn’t care about what we are but rather who we are as people.

Daine is flawed but also likeable. She goes through many lessons – my favourite one was what to do, when someone wants to help us but we don’t want them to as ‘they may get hurt’. The lesson from this book tells us that it is the decision for them to make, not us, despite of how much that may pain us.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a charming and well-written story. There is so much wisdom and soul in Wild Magic. It’s a wonderful story full of magic that features brave and likeable characters, varying from humans, horses, dogs, cats, whales, dragons and many more.

I would like to thank to both the publisher, Pan Macmillan as well as the author, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. 


Now over to you.

Have you read Wild Magic?

If so, what did you think?

If not, have you read anything by Tamora Pierce yet?

As always, the fun part is the one when I get to talk to you. Thanks for being here! ❤️❤️❤️

Fiction

The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

The Christmas Lights

Let’s first appreciate the book’s gorgeous cover, shall we? I must admit I am usually immune (read utterly oblivious) to books’ covers but this one really appealed to me and drew me in.

Maybe it’s the festive period, maybe it’s the stars or the northern lights… or maybe it’s the recent trip to Canadian Rockies.. who knows, I love this cover. 😊 What do you think?

Let’s start with the GoodReads blurb:

December 2018, and free-spirited influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.

June 1936, and fourteen-year old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .

The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

I was intrigued by both the book’s premise as well as its settings. I am slightly curious about social media ‘influencers’ and wanted to hear Swan‘s take on them. That as well as me being able to read endless books featuring Norwegian fjords! 😉

Let’s first talk about the pace. I must admit, I found the book’s beginning slightly on the slow side and it took me a while to get into it. Once I got involved though, I could not put it down. I read and read and then read some more. And yes, I was utterly bleary-eyed the next day, courtesy of The Christmas Lights. Sadly, I found the ending slightly disappointing, mainly due to being able to guess what was about to happen. It did not spoil the overall impact the book left though as it was an entertaining ride!

There are two story-lines that intertwine throughout the book. There is the present narrative told by Bo, a social media influencer. The second story-line is set in 1936 and is voiced by Signy, a young shepherd girl. Both female protagonists have to face danger – Bo is facing an online stalker whilst Signy is on a lookout for a dangerous animal.

It took me a while to warm up to Bo. It becomes quite clear from the beginning, that Bo has a lot of unresolved issues, some of which include dealing with a terrible loss. Her solution is to get distracted by escaping to new places. Bo is a part of a couple called The Wanderlusters – the ‘action’ duo that travels the world whilst embracing daring adventures, as well as promoting products from their sponsors on the way. I found her character self-indulgent, sometimes borderline annoying… yet also vulnerable and kind. There was definitely a mixture of emotions Bo triggered in me and I appreciated that she was complex and not entirely likeable as that made her feel more real.

I also enjoyed how Swan touched on what gets presented on some Instagram feeds and how reality vs. what is shown on social media, can sometimes be two very different things.

Signy‘s story appealed to me as her character is both feisty as well as modest. Signy is a fourteen year old girl, who learned very early in life, how to live in austere conditions and who loves animals she is in charge of. I found her story very poetic but also raw and brutal at times. It’s not just the wilderness that brings danger and Signy needs to learn very quickly whom to trust.

I thought the atmosphere was excellent.  I especially loved the harshness of wintery Norwegian fjords, full of serene solidarity as well as hidden dangers.

I also started feeling quite giddy about the upcoming festive period. I dreamt about lights that shine through those dark nights as well as those delightful smells of mulled wine and gingerbread that usually surround Christmas markets, and all those wonderful feelings that come with this time of year.

I recommend this book to those, who are after an adventure, who appreciate a little bit of a love story and who want to get into a festive mood. It is a charming holiday read that may just keep you awake at night as you may want to read that next page! 😊

I would like to thank to both the publisher, Pan Macmillan as well as the author, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.


Now over to you! Do you enjoy festive reads? And is The Christmas Lights something that appeals to you? 

As always, I really want to know. 😊

Fiction

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved Before BookSeptember was full of contemporary YA novels. I found myself craving something to read that would relax me, bring me a bit of romance and take my mind away from work and doctor appointments.

Jenny Han’s books were a perfect fit. Side note: I read six of them in September. Clearly I was on a roll! 😊

I watched the movie version of ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ on Netflix in August (I talked about it a bit here) and become interested to learn more about Lara Jean.

What it this book about? According to Goodreads:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

The book version of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before did not disappoint. Despite thinking the movie was super cute, I preferred the book to its movie version as there is more of Lara Jean in it.

“Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That’s the part of the risk. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”

There is something about this book that made me happy. It might have been that that bittersweet struggle of being a teenager again, that uncertainty of who I was becoming, that obsession about certain boys and worrying about them not finding about my secret crushes… and that horror that my secret letters may have been posted to certain someone… it was a perfect emotional read.

What I liked:

Emotions!!!  Dear emotions, you are cordially invited to come to this party. 😊😊😊 There are plenty of those in this book. They range from laughter, joy, love, embarrassment, anxiety, sadness… it’s all there.

John Lennon once famously sang: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”. Lara Jean’s dreaming nature is something I definitely related to. I am a dreamer. I enjoy day dreaming, visualising, pretending.. you name it. And I really appreciated that side of Lara Jean’s character.😊

What I wasn’t so sure about:

There was a certain character maturity flag that I just cannot shake off. I felt Lara Jean’s character didn’t grow as much as I would have liked her to. That especially started irritating me during the second book and completely annoyed me by the end of the third book. I think this book would have been probably the best suited for a standalone book as somehow, those two follow up books didn’t resonate with me – mind you that’s my opinion only, others may wholeheartedly disagree! 😊

I also felt there was a certain lack of female friendships – I know that Lara Jean has an extremely close relationship with her sisters and has a female best friend called Chris but somehow, that relationship felt a bit off.

Overall, it was a fun and quick read and I would recommend it.

I enjoyed the emotional aspect of it and despite Lara Jean something acting quite childish for her age; I could relate to her and ended up reading the entire trilogy. 😊


Now over to you!

Have you read this book?

  • If so, what do you think?
  • If not, do you want to read it?
Fiction

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoI have to admit that I do not love the cover of this book and had it not been for all those excellent reviews, I would have probably not picked it up. I am so glad I gave this book a chance despite of that cover… 🙂

So what is this book all about?

There are two fictional story-lines. One is told by Evelyn, a famous Hollywood actress that takes us back to the 50’s Hollywood and tells us her story about her husbands. Another is told by Monique, who is writing Evelyn’s memoir. Monique is a reporter, who is hoping to make a name for herself one day and is eagerly awaiting her lucky break. As Evelyn shares more of her past with her, we start seeing Monique‘s growth, something I always appreciate when reading about a character.

What are the book’s main themes?

I saw behind it a manifesto of how important is to have courage to be true to who we are. To have courage to be judged, ridiculed, outcast even, and to still stand holding our heads high despite all of that.

I also saw there a question about what a true freedom actually really is.

We are never truly free until we can admit, in front of everyone, who we are. When we stop playing it safe and let others see the real us.

“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.” 

Then there is a feminist theme present throughout the entire book. Evelyn belongs to her husbands before she can belong to herself. She gets abused by men, has to behave certain way, must ask for permissions.

We know from the book’s title that Evelyn has had seven husbands. The story explores, who was the love of her life. We get to hear the answer quite early on in the book but still, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, who hasn’t read it yet so I will not talk too much about it.

The revelation is then, what the entire story centres around.

Imagine you found the love of your life. Imagine your perception of being with that person was skewed by how the society would perceive you, should you decide to follow your heart. Would you follow your heart?

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”

There are many moral dilemmas and many philosophical questions presented. Something I immensely appreciated.

This book made me think. And I loved it.

Evelyn is a very complex character. She sometimes uses people; she takes her chances whenever she can. And she is utterly unapologetic about it, saying she would happily do it again. She accepts herself for who she is…. yet.. there are subtle regrets. Regrets about wasted years, regrets about certain decisions.

“If I want things to change, I have to change how I do things. And probably drastically.” 

I saw a woman, who grew up poor, who was abused and who was highly driven to succeed. And sometimes she would walk over whoever would stand in her way. I disliked her for that, but her ability to admit it and to own it, made me interested in her. She is not likeable but that’s what I actually liked about her.

I also saw a lot of irony behind some of Evelyn‘s decisions. She was driven to succeed but her definition of success may have not necessarily made her happy. She later on admitted that her regrets were not related to money but rather to people.

Another message that resonated with me as I think it’s really important to define what our own definitions of success are.

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a highly atmospheric read. We are thrown into the lush and vibrant world of glamorous Hollywood during 50’s. There is also a lot of diversity involved, its pace is quick and it is a character driven story that reads fairly easily and could still be a great summer read.

Recommended: YES! This book will make you think. 🙂

Trigger warnings: domestic abuse, child abuse


  • Have you read Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo?
  • What is your favourite summer 2018 read so far? Fancy sharing that with me? 🙂
Fantasy, Fiction

Circe by Madeline Miller

I discovered the magical world of Greek mythology during my childhood. I talked about it a little bit here.  I must admit that the Norse myths have always been my favourite ones but the Greek ones have followed very closely behind. Stories featuring Athena, Heracles, Prometheus, Minotaur and others are something I could re-read on a regular basis.

Reading Circe was like re-discovering my favourite soft and cosy blanket. Its story soothed my soul and brought me lots of nostalgia.

Side note: you don’t have to be familiar with Greek myths to enjoy this story by the way. It’s written in a way that no prior knowledge is required whatsoever.

I saw behind Circe a search for belonging.

The wise and wonderful Maya Angelou once famously said: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high, the reward is great. I belong to Maya.” And to me, that’s Circe’s story in a nutshell.

“When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist.” 

I also sensed a very strong feminist undercurrent. The main protagonist faces a lot of discrimination because of her gender and I thought the book managed to address gender issues quite well.

But it’s the writing that really stood out for me. It is truly exquisite. It’s lyrical, extremely quotable and brought me so much joy. The pace is slow. I enjoy gently-paced stories but even I found this a tad too slow at times. If you prefer action, bear that in mind as this book may not be for everyone.

The story follows a nymph called Circe throughout her journey of solitude, explores her dysfunctional family dynamics, and shows her immortal imperfections. All sprinkled with a dash of a romance on the top.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” 

Ever since Circe was born, she hasn’t fitted in. Her voice is weak and her appearance is strange. Everyone from her family makes fun out of her and doesn’t take her seriously. She is not perfect despite being an immortal goddess. I think it’s her flaws and complexity that make her so relatable. She craves to be loved and accepted. As we all do. And she also wants to belong.

Circe, very early on in the book, falls in love and commits an offence, which gets her sentenced into living on her own on an isolated island. There, she starts her journey of healing and self-discovery.

There was definitely lots of loneliness involved but I also saw that Circe, despite being alone didn’t always feel lonely. You see we could be surrounded by people and still feel lonely at times. That’s something I quite appreciated about her story. How she embraces her newly discovered power and decides to follow her own dreams despite her solitude, or maybe because of it.

What’s really wonderful about this story is also how it explores mother / child relationship. How do we let go and let our children roam free? How do we accept that they may get hurt? How do we give them freedom they need, without the ability to shield them from the evil in this world? I thought that was explored beautifully via exposing mother’s fears and seeing her inner torment.

“But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.” 

There is also a little bit of romance involved. It’s not the book’s main focus but it is there.

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

The philosophical questions such as ‘what does it mean to be alive’ and ‘what can we ask for in a relationship’ are imposed and Circe ponders about them a lot. She is an immortal with the strength to stay vulnerable. She is scared because the outcome of her actions is uncertain yet she follows through with them anyway.

She gets laughed at, ridiculed, is told she is an abomination… yet she remains gentle, kind and her spine doesn’t bend. She is a goddess with a very mortal heart.

I could go on, Circe definitely captured my heart and her ability to stand her ground, despite knowing nobody else will be standing there with her, truly impressed me.

Recommended? Yes. The ending is likely to melt your heart.

Possible triggers: Rape, domestic violence