Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

We all know I’m a fan of a pretty book, but Strange the Dreamer was at a whole other level on the scale of book porn. My specific edition is a gorgeous hardcover with these beautiful illustrations on the title page, signed, and has blue-sprayed edges. And to top it all off? It was a fantastic book as well.

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photo credit to my own instagram (plug plug) as I’m usually terrible at taking pretty book photos

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

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I knew almost nothing before going into this book, but had seen a lot of hype about it on social media. All I knew was that it was a beautiful book that was fantasy, so imagine my sheer delight at finding it was about gods, goddesses, magic, and a protagonist who is a hardcore bookworm. I imagine most of us who like to think themselves bookaholics and writers would proudly accept the epithet of ‘the dreamer’, so to have your main hero be a lover of books and fairy tales? A joy to read.

‘His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales on the first day of the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange:head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy’ 

High fantasy at its best, this is a book that I just didn’t really expect. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now. Her writing flows so beautifully, and her descriptions are inspiring, poetic, and, without doubt, pretty darn magical. I didn’t expect to get invested so quickly, and as a wannabe fantasy writer myself I kept on thinking “How can this be so good?”. I kept on having to put it down and sigh, wondering why I even allow myself to fantasise about writing something myself, but then had to pick the book back up again because I really needed to know what happens.

A great start to a new series, and although there was some serious world-building that Taylor included, I can only hope she was just laying the foundations of what is to come as there is so much more of that world that needs exploring. It’s the kind of book that completely transports you into a different world and you soon forget that you’re reading, devouring word after word until you’re on the edge of your seat because of the drama going on. There were several plot points and ‘twists’ that I personally found slightly predictable, but the only reason they were predictable was because the author gave you the hints to reach that conclusion only moments before the other characters did.

Enjoyable, fun, endearing characters, and a fantastic, fantasy tale that will leave you ready to read the sequel as soon as you finish it – and once you do, you can join the rest of us in the waiting game, which I’m sure will be the best kind of agony.

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November Wrap Up

It happened – I finally hit 50 books. This means that although 2016 was a complete mess in general, at least I was successful when it came to reading. Thank God.

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First up was Throne of Jade, the second book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. Just like the first one, I absolutely adored the main characters – the relationship between Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, is just perfect. However it took my a long time to get through this book, only partly due to university obligations. I just found that although I adored the characters, I didn’t need to know anything more. The plot isn’t exactly fast paced, and with a multiple book series I think it could have benefitted with a more gripping narrative. So although I did like it, I’m not incited to read the rest of the series.

Then I had the true joy of reading Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, a childhood book that I had never read before and it’s been on my list for years. Unexpectedly, it was even better than I imagined it could be – and has definitely inspired an upcoming post about children’s books. A lovely story, a sarky narrator, and magical realism alongside the real magic. Sweet, charming, and just a brilliant read – helped greatly by a great edition with gorgeous pictures.

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Then I read Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, which I ended up giving three stars. Based on a Russian folklore, this story is crazy beyond belief without much clarity. If you ever pick it up, I’d highly recommend reading up on the folklore beforehand, as the story makes very little sense without it – unlike other modern takes on fairytales, such as Novik’s Uprooted. I didn’t anticipate one of the twists at the end which was a great surprise that I enjoyed, but overall I think the book could have benefitted with some more character work as I didn’t actually like the two main characters, Vassa and Erg.

I then read a YA book about witches, called The Graces. Very easy to read, I finished it in a few short days and, although it was intended to be YA, it read more like teenage fiction. However the final twist at the end was also hugely unexpected, and I loved it once I realised all the clues that had been dropped through the narrative. Apart from that, the overall story was a bit simplistic and it was like Twilight but with witches. Essentially, the setting is a new girl in town at a school where there is this family rumoured to be witches that always hang out together and are super popular and everyone adores them. Every girl in school is in love with the boy character, including the protagonist, but she gets close to them and pretends that she isn’t in love with him, whereas she’s completely obsessed. Thought it would have been brilliant if this was played up a bit more, so the reader is completely turned off and even concerned about the main character and her obsession, but that doesn’t come to pass. Still, a fun, easy read.

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Finally, I read Fire Inside You by Jennifer L Armentrout and, as I usually do with her books, read it in one sitting. There’s not much I really feel like I need to say – Armentrout has a great style of keeping you hooked, dropping lines at every chapter end that make you think ‘Ok, after the next chapter I’ll stop’. She makes her characters likeable and overall it’s just lovely to read.

That means I’m on 51 for the year! I’m so excited that I met the goal, and have already planned a new challenge for next year which I’ll announce with my December Wrap Up. I’m currently on book 52, but it’s not taking priority at the moment as I focus on getting my university work done and dusted before Christmas. Best of luck to any of you attempting a reading challenge, let’s do well in something this year.

March Wrap Up

It seems every month I have an excuse ready as to why I haven’t read so many books, but that just seems ridiculous – why should I apologise for reading less books one month to another? We all have lives outside of reading (as simple as they may or may not be) and it seems stupid to keep explaining why my life that doesn’t involve reading is taking priority, as much as I wish it didn’t sometimes. Despite all that, I think I did pretty well this month with maybe a few more Kindle reads than anticipated. I’ve got a busy few months ahead, what with exams and essays, but by June my university work will be over for another year and all I’ll have to do during the Summer is work at my job, try to get an internship, and do reading for my dissertation. Yeah, life isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

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First up this month is a book I’ve already sort-of reviewed, and that is A Gathering of Shadows by V.E Schwab. I literally finished it in one day, which happened on the first day of this month. Five stars without hesitation, a fantastic sequel and yet another book series that I would do almost anything to have the final book right now.

Next up is a book by an author who is always a one-click buy for me, and that is Jennifer L Armentrout’s The Power. I mean, come on, it’s a sequel in a spin-off series that’s all about the Greek Gods and Goddesses. I’m a Classics student who is currently planning a dissertation about ancient greek mythology – these books are my jam. Speaking of, that’s a pretty odd phrase – do people all have particular jams they like so much that this saying was born? Anyway, back to mythology – these books are so readable and you finish them without even realising how much you’ve already read. Action and adventure and drama on every page, no filler scenes whatsoever to bulk out the books. I’d recommend her books in a heartbeat to anyone who likes a bit of fantasy in a more YA setting with funny dialogue, lovable characters, and fast-paced reading. Her Lux series starting with Obsidian was one of the first I bought when I received my Kindle, and I’ve been buying all of her books since. Yes, it won’t win any literary prizes anytime soon, but they’re fun and enjoyable and isn’t that what we want to read?

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I wanted a short read next, so I picked up The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman, which was definitely short and sweet exactly. This is the point in the month where I think I was so fed up of doing reading for uni, that I just wanted some Kindle reads to breeze through and not have to focus on them. You’ve been warned, let the kindle read marathon begin.

There’s Beautiful Lies and Beautiful love by Kendall Ryan, which I actually gave one star to – very trashy book that brought mindless reading to it, but there was an offer on them to purchase. Then Fisher’s Light by Tara Sivec which I’d seen so many reviews for, but I only rated it two stars; it was a nice story I guess, but I couldn’t connect at all with the characters so I ended up just not caring at all about what happened. Then there’s Sparrow, which I rated half a star more than Fisher’s Light, by L.J Shen and the description I wrote in my little reading journal is ‘Not so fluffy, interesting idea, not such an obvious end’. I think that says it all really. Then we finally have Wall of Winnipeg by Mariana Zapata, which I rated three stars (highest rating so far) and I’m glad as it was in the top rankings for ebooks. Again, I have an illuminating description of ‘lovely read and thankfully long’ – clearly I’ve been upset too many times by kindle books being so short just so they can sell multiple books which really could easily be condensed into one.

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Then I finally picked up an actual book again, and it was The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry which was the book featured in last month’s Owlcrate. I gave it three and a half stars, which now looking back on all of those ebooks I think was maybe a bit too harsh. Let’s say 3.45 so it can be rounded up. I think it’s because it took me a while to get into so I spent a long time reading it, but it did really pick up the pace at about 65% of the way through. An, as far as I can tell, original idea and a fantastic debut novel. There was a ‘story’ element to it, in so far as many stories were told (good explaining there, Eleanor), and I loved that aspect far too much. There also seems to be a theme in what I liked this month with books, as another big ‘plus’ point for me was that I didn’t guess the ending or the twist or, well, anything really. Lovely writing and a beautiful note from the author – definite recommend for anyone looking out for new authors of a sci-fi nature with a love story that literally transcends time.

Next up is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, read on audible, and once again I loved it. Stephen Fry is by far the best narrator of the series without a doubt.I finished it alongside another Kindle buy, I’m afraid, and that was The Promise by Kristen Ashley who has a knack for writing long, drama-packed books and has a very typical style and format which just works for a quick flick with fun characters and witty passages.

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And finally for this month, I finished it with a proof copy of On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher. Such a cute book, very much like Andrew Kaufman with the magical elements, but had really fantastic moralising undertones. She has beautiful intentions with this fairytale-esque story with not over-emphasised discussions on sexuality and emotional manipulation – I wrote a mini review of it on my Instagram, but there should be a full review on another website which I’ll let you know about soon.

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https://www.instagram.com/stammydodger/

All in all, not a bad month. Six book-books for me, including The Power and the Harry Potter audible book, my reasoning for The Power being that it was long, great, and I always just buy her books on Kindle for price reasons. Then six ebooks on top of that, although they weren’t all so great. So for my reading challenge I’m on 17/50 and 26 in total! Although my Goodreads tells me that for book-books I’m on 18, but to be honest I can’t think what I’ve missed out. Oh well, that just sums me up really – good at reading, bad at maths. Here’s to March.

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I’ve found that I can finish the books I buy on my Kindle within a day, sometimes two if I really need to get some sleep. When it comes to ‘proper’ physical books, I find that it takes me a lot longer. Normally it can take me anything from one week to one month, depending on how much work I’ve got to do and whether or not I actually like the book. Although as well as reading the book, I’ll often have a couple books on my Kindle at the go. Then I discovered a beautiful book called Uprooted by Naomi Novik with an absolutely stunning cover, and luckily my Dad followed through and bought me a copy for Christmas. I picked it up towards the end of January, on a Thursday night, and by Saturday night (or, should I say, Sunday at 1am) I had finished it. Seeing as I had university on Friday and work all day Saturday, it was pretty impressive.

Agnieszka 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, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost 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 no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

One thing I have to say is that you can’t really tell how beautiful the cover of the book is from the above photo, as it has shiny bits which are really very underrated these days. I know everyone goes on about not judging a book by its cover, but when a book is this beautiful you just have to get it. It would be wrong not to.

Inspired by old legends and folk tales, this book is everything you could possibly wish for in a fantasy book. I knew almost nothing about this book outside of the blurb, but with a wizard called Dragon and an enemy in ‘The Wood’, how could I resist? Although I did have Meryl Streep’s voice saying ‘Into the Wood’ every time it was mentioned.

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Agnieszka is an interesting heroine, and we’re introduced to her with the belief that she isn’t the heroine, just the girl we follow. In her world, the wizard Dragon takes a girl every ten years to serve him – not that anyone knows what he truly needs from these girls or, shall I say, what he takes. Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia is the girl who everyone believes the Dragon will take this time around, but as is revealed in the blurb – and what you can probably guess without even starting the story – ‘it is not Kasia he will take with him’.

The concept of having the mysterious Wood as the enemy was fantastic and worked brilliantly, and having a kind of anti-heroine in Agnieszka was wonderful to read – she isn’t the most beautiful, or the most talented, but ends up being the ‘chosen one’. There’s not much more I can say without spoiling the book, but I will say that there is a reason I finished it in three nights – the combination of a brilliant, intricate plot, wonderfully dynamic characters, and a beautiful writing style made this one of my favourite books.

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SPOILER SECTION – I will not reveal the end, but there are a few topics I’d like to discuss which will spoil parts of the book. You have been warned.

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It’s safe to say that I adored this book, but there was a particular element that didn’t work for me. But let’s start with the positives first. Kasia easily became my favourite character, which was quite the surprise to how I felt at the beginning. Clearly Agnieszka is the one you prefer at the beginning, being the clutzy girl who isn’t all that interesting. After she’s chosen, she soon becomes this surprisingly powerful, but still stubborn, character that you still love, but Kasia’s development as a character was stunning to watch. She starts off as the ‘perfect’ one, but after the Wood takes her everything seems to change. Naomi Novik was very clever in revealing Kasia’s flaws, and I especially loved the jealousy of Agnieszka that is revealed. As the story goes on and Kasia has her new-found gift thanks to the Wood, she turns into this strong – physically and mentally – woman who is ready to fight for friendship and protect those she loves. In all honesty, I just want a Kasia side story to read, a novella will do – just something, please Naomi?

Now onto the part that I didn’t like. I do firmly give this book 5 stars, but in honesty I think I’d give it 4.8 stars if that was possible. Although I grew to love the moody Dragon, in no way did I enjoy the romance that was added between him and Agnieszka. Their first ‘romantic encounter’ was not even the slightest romantic, and felt entirely forced like it couldn’t be helped as they were consumed by their magic yada yada. I absolutely understand where Naomi was going with it, what with the connection formed by doing joint magic, but the relationship between these two characters didn’t need to progress to a romantic one. At no point did it feel natural or comfortable, and I would have far preferred it if the romance was left out entirely. Perhaps if there were a few softer moments, such as a calmer scene between the two, but all we have are a few scenes that don’t even escalate to being a romantic scene; one second they’re practising magic and the next they’re kissing and Dragon is playing out the standard mysterious love interest trope of saying that it’s not right, he’s not good for her, she needs to stay away from him, he’s trying to protect her blah blah, ok, right-o, we get it, move on.

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Apart from that, I stand by my opinion that this book was beautifully woven together and artfully told, with a new, interesting plot with legends and tale adaptations that were new to me and great to read.

The Princess Bride

Everyone always talks about how the book is ‘so much better’ than its film adaptation, but in all honesty I never realised that the iconic film The Princess Bride was a book. Originally written by Morgenstern, this text was later abridged by William Goldsmith and I have to say that seeing the film first didn’t spoil my reading of the book at all.

The Princess Bride is a satire, and a brilliant one at that. I seem to have entered a fairy-tale/fantasy splurge of reading, following on from The Night Circus and A Court of Thorns and Roses, so you can tell that they are my favourite genres.

Beautiful, flaxen-haired Buttercup has fallen for Westley, the farm boy, and when he departs to make his fortune, she vows never to love another. So when she hears that his ship has been captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts – who never leaves survivors – her heart is broken. But her charms draw the attention of the relentless Prince Humperdinck who wants a wife and will go to any lengths to have Buttercup. So starts a fairytale like no other, of fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passion and miracles.

I find it ridiculous that someone could read this book and not laugh, grow teary eyed or even a little nostalgic. A relative who hadn’t heard of this book or it’s film counterpart didn’t understand, their eyebrows practically merged with their hairline at the blurb depicting a tale about a girl called Buttercup in love with her farm boy whom she loses to a pirate. I mean, come on! This tale is just such a – excuse my French – piss-take of every fairy tale you’ve ever seen. Not only that, but it just has everything: romance, adventure, action, giants, fencing, torture-chambers, giant rodents and more.

So why read the abridged version some of you may ask? Well, for a start, it’s a hell of a lot shorter than the original. Goldsmith writes throughout the narrative in his own voice, marked by italics, to either comment on Morganstern’s technique or explain why he’s missed out a large chunk of the original. I found his side-notes and introduction actually quite wonderful, as if you were reading alongside someone who was ready to tell you some more of the context or say something witty. They were light interludes between action-packed scenes, and also incredibly interesting. For example, one comment explains that he doesn’t include pages and pages of the original due to reasons like it is all to do with packing. Can you imagine? Pages and pages of just reading someone packing every item they own and then unpacking it all again? As Vizzini might say, inconceivable!

For those who are more culturally aware of this book, you might be wondering what the point is of reading this abridged book when you’ve already seen – and adored – the film. Yes, there are scenes that are so recognisable such as the Cliffs of Insanity or the Fire Swamp, with the famous lines like ‘As you Wish’ or ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die’. I have to say, as a lover of the film, I didn’t think the book would top it – but it does. It has those fantastic lines and scenes, but it has even more! There are small context points that you never see in the film, for example you get the background tales from Fezzik and Inigo. If you didn’t think you could love these characters more, you’re completely wrong. I’d recommend this book in a heartbeat for lovers of the film and anyone up for a fantastic, hilarious fairy tale satire. The ridiculous lines, the exaggerated scenes and oversize rats just make this tale what it is: a beautiful piece of literature.

I just don’t understand how you can’t love it. Or that may be because you’re not the action, adventure, hilarious, awesome type. Please, just go read it!

So let me know what you think – whether you’ve read the book, the film or neither and if you plan to read it in the future! I’d love to hear your comments, and even recommendations for books to read (even though my to-be-read pile is growing every day).

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Fairytales. I love them. Why wouldn’t you love a place where if you somehow fit yourself into a rabbit hole, you end up in a new world or where it doesn’t matter if you die because some charming bloke might come along, give you a kiss and hey presto, you’re alive and now have a perfect boyfriend? Needless to say, I’ve always loved a good disney movie or magical tale where good (almost always) triumphs and everyone is happy happy happy.

There is, however, something I love even more – and that is modern adaptations and the retelling of fairytales. You recognise some of the elements, but only as a background thought because you truly have no idea how it’s going to end. Ok, so those films like Snow White and the Huntsman or Maleficent and the like are pretty standard in their adaptations, in the sense that you still know the characters and pretty much what’s going to happen. However, there are very few books that can do a fairytale retelling and make you forget that that’s what it is. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Written by the brilliant Sarah J. Maas, known for her fantastic Throne of Glass series, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast is fantastically brilliant. My favourite books that include faeries, or ‘The Fae’, still remain as the Iron King series by Julie Kagawa, most likely due to the fact that they were among the first I read so I have some nostalgia for them. Sarah J. Maas, however, has definitely claimed her place among my favourite reads, let alone favourite Fae reads. She has a perfect blend of fantasy and magic with action, adventure with that sprinkle of romance to whisk you away to another world. Her writing style is just beautiful with exquisite detail that maintains this fast pace into this new world. She builds up each scene until you’re flipping through the pages at the speed of light, devouring every word.

Feyre is a great lead character but clearly has a lot of room for development for the next books in the trilogy. Her circumstances force her to be a Katniss-like figure, hunting in the dangerous woods and providing for her family where there are other fairytale elements – for example, her two sisters almost act like the typical ‘evil stepsisters’ but in a much more realistic way. Instead of just insults and jeers, there is a complex background and history to their family relationships which only brings the story to life.

As said in the blurb, Feyre (I think it’s pronounced Fay-rah, but I’ll get back to you on that one) is taken to magical, yet sinister, Fae realm/territory and her captor’s face is covered by a strange mask. From here, you delve into a strange mystery with new plot twists at every chapter. Maas adds elements to the story like logs to a fire, so where you started with a small flame you’re left with a raging bonfire as the tale builds and builds.

I read this book in one sitting, unsurprisingly, and would definitely recommend to anyone interested in fantasy and mystery. It transforms any notions of faeries being small and sparkly people with wings and fairy dust into these terrifying, ruthless monsters that use trickery to cause pain for their viewing pleasure. A brilliant read and an easy five stars from me.