Sunday, December 21, 2014

Yearly Overview and Happy Holidays!

christmas tree 1

Winter is here, or it should be, since it’s the 21st, although it has been snowless so far where I live.

However, since Christmas is coming, I decided to do a somewhat early overview of my reading and blogging and what not in 2014.

Reading-wise this year has been much better than 2013. I have not only completed my Goodreads challenge to read 20 books but surpassed it and am currently reading book 24, though I don’t think I will finish it this year with all the holiday things to do and all.

I am 5 books behind on my reviews, because I have been busy with other things. (Read: I hammered out 21,000 words in the last month or so. Which makes me feel very accomplished, since my writing was rather sparse in the first part of the year.) But that is okay, if nothing else, I will have something to blog about in 2015, for a start.

I have also watched a lot of films and reviewed some of them, which you have probably seen. Basically, I have fallen in love with Marvel’s cinematic universe, albeit late – I only saw both Thor films and The Avengers before this summer and then I suddenly discovered there are a lot of other awesome things out there. ;)

So, there is that, and now I’m hard-core fan-girling Agents of Shield and I am super excited for Agent Carter to start in January.

Her Majesty the Cat was a little sick in November and got me worried and consult a vet, but after a few days of listlessness, she got back on her feet on her own and is now okay. She still rules the place as well as ever. ;)

I am, unfortunately, still hunting for a regular job while taking on what I can to get by. But hopefully, a new year will bring new opportunities and a brighter future and that is what I wish for myself and for each and everyone of you. May good luck, health and prosperity be with you wherever you are!

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Book Thief (2013)

the book thiefDIRECTOR: Brian Percival; WRITERS: Markus Zusak (based on the novel by), Michael Petroni (screenplay); CAST: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson…

SUMMARY (from IMDB): While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. In the basement of her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.

MY THOUGHTS:

I’m always wary of films based on books, but The Book Thief was a good one. Of course they changed a few things, but only small details, which didn’t make a difference on the story as a whole.

Casting department did a great job with Liesl – she was just as I had imagined her. The other characters were a little different from what I had had in mind, but that didn’t bother me either. And the actors did their jobs splendidly.

The story itself overwhelmed me once more with so much emotion and perspective, as it included all the important bits from the book, with both the dialogues and the narration largely unchanged.

All in all, The Book Thief is a superb adaptation of the same-titled book, and I liked it very much. 4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Despite the fact that the film is very much faithful to the book, I would still recommend you to read the book first. Above all, read the book. In that way, you will take away more than from just watching the film.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor TDRDIRECTOR: Alan Taylor; CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston…

SUMMARY (adapted from IMDB): When Jane Foster gets cursed with a powerful object, Thor must protect it before an army and it's ruthless leader try to get their hands on it to take over the remains of Earth.

MY THOUGHTS:

How does one review a spectacle like Thor: The Dark World anyway?

Someone on Tumblr said they could have watched the entire film only of Agardian landscape and I can’t help but agree. What an amazing job the CGI department has done, creating such an astonishing scenery, not to mention other special effects.

Then, of course, there are our favourite characters, humans and Asgardians, involved in a yet another race to save the Earth and Asgard from destruction, each contributing what they can, and, naturally (it is a film, after all), through their joined forces defeating the enemy.

Loki, who has been facing the consequences of his past actions, is responsible for some twists and turns, and I’m still in awe of the final one. But that’s Loki, always with mischief up his sleeve, and one rarely sees it coming.

All in all, Thor: The Dark World is an suspenseful, entertaining and visually stunning film, which tackles a few serious topics along the way. And not a minute of it is boring.

4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Does it really need a recommendation? It’s Marvel. Thor. Loki. Asgard. Badass ladies. Pretty things. Emotions and such. And anyway, everyone has seen it already.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Prince of Darkness (Plantagenet Saga #4) by Jean Plaidy

Prince of DarknessSUMMARY (from Goodreads): The untimely death of Richard the Lionheart left his nephew Arthur and his younger brother John in contest for the throne of England. Reluctantly the barons chose John, and so began years of rule by a ruthless and greedy tyrant. Yet despite his reputation, John, still manages to seduce the young and beautiful Isabella of Angeloume. But in taking her as his bride he makes an enemy for life. And in the tempestuous years that follow many men come to believe that the House of Anjou was tainted by the Devil's blood, the loathsome monarch was himself Evil Incarnate, the very Prince of Darkness...

MY OPINION:

I assume everyone has in one way or another heard about King John of England, whose life this book focuses on. His story is what one would expect: full of debauchery, murder, and tyranny… So, one can’t actually like him, I think, though he is an intriguing character.

However, I liked Isabella. Though she is self-centred and likes to enjoy things life has to offer, she doesn’t want people to suffer (that is, if their comfort doesn’t cause her discomfort) and, even more, she empathises with their suffering. She is clever and thinks for herself and even manages to trick John into doing things her way a few times.

The writing is as usually unsophisticated and at times a bit dry, simply recounting historical events, especially when dealing with with the eternal struggles between the State and the Church and England and France.

Nevertheless, The Prince of Darkness, a story of one of the most notorious kings of England, gives us a glimpse into the mentality behind his atrocious behaviour and at the larger context of his era and is as such an interesting read.

3 stars

RECOMMENDATION: The Prince of Darkness is an easy and fast read, fictionalised just enough as to not be tedious, but still largely true to historical facts, and I would definitely recommend it to history lovers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Memory Challenge Meme

I found this on my friend’’s Agnes’ blog and I thought it could be a cute post. The rules: answer the questions without searching the Internet or looking at your bookshelves and tag five bloggers.

memory challenge

Indeed, what a challenge for me, with my bad memory! I tried my best.

1. A book written by an author called Michael:

Und Morgen die ganze Welt by Michael Burk. I don’t think it is translated into English; I read it in Slovene.

2. A book with a dragon on the cover: 

This couldn't be easier: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

hobbit

3. A book about a character called George:

Does George (aka Georgina, but she hated that name) from Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series count? Because I can’t think of anyone else. (And I’ve been mulling over it for days. Really. No cheating.)

4. A book written by an author by the surname Smith.

Again, piece of cake: The Vampire Diaries series by L. J. Smith.

5. A book set in Australia:

This is easy, too, as it’s one of my favourites: Eucalyptus by Murray Bail.

6. A book with a name of a month in a title:

This is the question I had to cheat at, at least as far as by searching Goodreads for the authors’ name, although I’ve heard of Paris in April by Allan Dare Pierce before, I have yet to read it, though.

7. A book with a knife in the cover:

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2) by Philipp Pullman.

the subtle knife

8. A book with the word “one” in the title:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my to-read list.

9. A book with an eponymous title:

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

10. A book turned into a movie:

Well, I could go with five of them, not one. One of the better and fairly recent examples: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

***

Wow, this was actually easier that I thought, with the exception of number 6. And oops, there are a lot of WW II themed books in my answers. I guess the era & genre are simply a lot on my mind lately.

Tagging: Sarah of Sarah Says Read, Celine of Nyx Book Reviews, Freda of Freda’s Voice and if anyone else want to join the fun, I’m sure you’re welcome to as well.

P.S.: Since I’ve been a terribly unsocial blogger for a while now, I won’t hold a grudge if you just ignore me. ;)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

CatwsDIRECTOR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; CAST: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson …

SUMMARY (from IMDB): Steve Rogers, now finding difficult to fit in to the era of today then leads an assault against a friend turned rival from World War II, a Soviet emissary known as "The Winter Soldier" and his lead of a precarious uprising.

MY THOUGHTS:

I watched this sometime in July and it took me till October to get to writing a review. That’s how I am nowadays.

However, one of reasons for me stalling with reviewing was definitely the emotional turmoil caused by Captain America: The Winter Soldier which still makes it hard to find the right words to describe my feelings about this film.

I can’t think of anything I didn’t like in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as there were so many thing I loved:

  • the overarching theme of the evil rooted at the very core of the good as Steve stumbles upon a terrible conspiracy against humanity,
  • the incredibly developed characters and in-depth explored relationships, even minor ones, despite the turbulent pace of all the action scenes
  • and, yes, the spectacular fighting choreographies and special effects.

In conclusion to my sort-of review, I’m pretty sure everyone but me had seen and fallen in love with this franchise ages ago, but if you haven't: what are you waiting for?

5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an action-packed but heartfelt film about the struggle against evil found in the very pores of what was supposed to be good; a tale of not just one hero, but many; and, of course, a story of a long lost friend who may yet be found again. No need to say I’m excited for Captain America 3.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron man 3DIRECTOR: Shane Black; CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce…

SUMMARY (from IMDB): When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

MY THOUGHTS:

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark continues to struggle with who he is both as Iron Man and as a person as his past comes back to haunt him in the form of an adversary who feels wronged by him in the past.

On a personal level, Tony’s preoccupation with his so-called hobby - that is, working on constant development and improvement of the Iron Man technology - interferes with his personal life, in particularly with his relationship with Pepper.

However, the Mandarin puts in danger not only Pepper’s life, but the world, and Tony must figure out how to save both. Fortunately, he finds not only strength within, but also outside help in likely (Captain Rhodes) and unlikely places (Harley Keener, and does just that.

While the film’s central themes are fighting evil and not being able to escape one’s past, Iron Man 3 also addresses the issue of genetic engineering and provides some food for thought on that topic.

Finally, the film has quite a few stunning scenes, mostly of fight and destruction. Curiously though, I found that this fearful imagery, such as the fall of the Malibu compound, can also be beautiful, in a way.
3-stars_thumb2
 
RECOMMENDATION: Obviously, if you have watched the first two Iron Man films and are a fan of Marvel cinematic universe, you won’t want to skip Iron Man 3.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

DeathlessSUMMARY (from Goodreads): A glorious retelling of the Russian folktale Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, set in a mysterious version of St. Petersburg during the first half of the 20th century. A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and he is Marya's fate. For years she follows him in love and in war, and bears the scars. But eventually Marya returns to her birthplace - only to discover a starveling city, haunted by death. Deathless is a fierce story of life and death, love and power, old memories, deep myth and dark magic, set against the history of Russia in the twentieth century. It is, quite simply, unforgettable.

MY OPINION:

Deathless is quite a depressing book, in a way, but nonetheless a fantastic read.

The story is mainly set in St. Petersburg, the city with ever-changing name, in one of the darkest (if not the darkest) periods of Russian history, spanning the time from the pre-Revolutionary era to the aftermath of the Second World War. That said, the plot takes the reader across Russia, to its farthest hidden corners, both the tangible and the intangible, in space and in time.

Catherynne M. Valente perfectly captures the Slavic soul – which may feel exotic to some people, but is so much a part of me – with its pessimistic worldview with and a penchant for tragedy, finding beauty in dark things and sadness, interspersed with tiny bits of humour, or rather, typical sarcasm, even cynicism.

Valente combines myth and folklore with historical allusions, which stay almost unobtrusively in the background of the story. Between the lines one can discern insightful yet subtle social commentary/criticism, applicable both to historical and contemporary circumstances.

Everything is wrapped in a beautiful, highly metaphorical, yet easily readable language. The magic, myth and folklore at the forefront are, for one who wants to see beyond them, filled with an overwhelming symbolism, a study of humanity on the level of an individual and the society in general.

All that said, I have no idea why I had had the impression Deathless would be a YA book prior to reading it, for it is certainly not, at least in my opinion. It is, however, an amazing read, though dark, and I enjoyed it very much.

5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you love the darker side of myth, folklore and humanity, Deathless could be excellent read for you.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron man 2DIRECTOR: John Favreau; CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke…

SUMMARY (from IMDB): With the world now aware of his identity as Iron Man, Tony Stark must contend with both his declining health and a vengeful mad man with ties to his father's legacy.

MY THOUGHTS:

Iron Man 2 has a bit of a mid-life crisis as a film, or maybe it is going through puberty.

While it is still rather watchable and adds important elements both to Tony Stark’s story and to the Marvel cinematic universe, it would probably be better if it was shorter. Some action parts, in particularly, are too long and dragged out to my taste.

Talking about mid-life crisis, Tony Stark is definitely going through one, reverting to his old self-centred, partying, extravagant behaviour as he faces his existential issues. Absorbed in self-pity while searching a means for self-preservation, he neglects his company and the conspiracies of his competitor, so much so that his best friend turns against him, prompted by the government, and his faithful assistant almost gives up on him.

It takes SHIELD stepping in, forcing him to face his father’s legacy to find a solution to his problem – resolving his misguided resentment against Howard Stark on the way – for Tony to get himself together and save himself and the world, sort of, in the process. 

While Tony’s so-called mid-life crisis was somewhat irritating, it was great seeing his genius at work again. And I loved the appearances of agent Coulson and Natasha Romanoff. And Pepper. Everything would have gone (even more) awry for Tony without Pepper.

In conclusion, Iron Man 2 doesn’t quite reach the quality of its predecessor, but it is still a good film. 3 stars 
RECOMMENDATION: If you loved Iron Man, the sequel is almost a must watch.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man 1DIRECTOR: John Favreau; CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard…

SUMMARY (from IMDB): When wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is forced to build an armoured suit after a life-threatening incident, he ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against evil.

MY THOUGHTS:

The reason I didn’t watch Iron Man films before was that I thought they were full of senseless action. Obviously, I was wrong.

Iron Man is so much more than an action/science-fiction film. It starts as a story about a rather arrogant heir to an empire, a playboy flying on the wings of success, a not particularly likeable character, for all the dazzle surrounding him.

However, Tony Stark is not just some spoiled rich guy, he is a genius inventor, who has earned his own success, and he can very well roll his sleeves up, which is what saves him when he finds himself in a precarious situation. Once he realises the people closest to him have been lying and his company, a weapon industry giant, has been selling arms under the table, he decides to set things right, and thus becomes Iron Man.

The slow uncovering of the intrigues behind Stark Industries is what keeps up the suspense throughout the film, but what I loved most was the gradual peeling of the layers off of Tony’s character and getting to know him.

All in all, Iron Man is not just an action film, but also a character and a relationship study with a hint of criticism of modern warfare and weapon industry.

4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Iron Man is a film both for those who like action and fights and those who like an insight in the characters, relationships and some general world issues.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Loki by Mike Vasich

LokiSUMMARY (from Goodreads): God of Mischief. Father of Lies. Harbinger of Destruction. Exiled and tortured by the gods, Loki swears vengeance. He will summon the mighty Fenris Wolf and the legendary Midgard Serpent, and they will lead an army of giants and all the dead in Niflheim. Brimming with the power of the most destructive being in the Nine Worlds, he will not rest till Asgard is in ashes and all the gods are dead under his heel.

MY OPINION:

I enjoyed Vasich’s retelling of Norse myths with their entangled web of inevitability, for even though Odin, all-knowing as he is, can foresee the future events, he does nothing to stop them. On the contrary, he makes sure they come to pass.

While such behaviour is contradictory to every living creature’s inherent drive for self-preservation, this willing surrender to fate is, paradoxically, while a total renouncement of free will at the same time its ultimate embodiment and thus exactly what keeps the Norse gods alive, if only in myth.

Loki ends with a powerful message: that even in a total destruction, something may survive. Even more: that the destruction of old is necessary for something new, something better to be born. Hence, as the world of gods falls to ruin, a new world arises, a world of Men, in which, however, the old world is not forgotten, but lives on in the form of a myth.

Nevertheless, while all of the above is highly interesting and worth exploring, the writing in Loki was basically dry. Vasich writes from multiple characters’ POVs. However, he only seems to have a good grasp on one character, Loki, who truly comes alive trough his words, while the others appear rather mechanical, unable to provoke emotion in a reader.

Therefore, I must admit that after the first 40 pages and a few other sections further along the story, I more or less skimmed most of the book.

All in all, Loki does have some intriguing aspects, but the writing just wasn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps I should find another author for fictionalised Norse mythology.

2 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Loki is not actually a book about Loki, at least not for the most part. What it is is a basic retelling of Norse myths, and a rather dryly written at that.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cat Diary (26): Nicknames

This is an occasional Sunday feature where my cat, pardon, Her Majesty the Cat, offers her more or less gracious insight into my (and her) life.

Did you know that Jo loves nicknames? As in, she loves giving me nicknames, instead of addressing me properly.

Some aren’t that bad, however the others…

My favourite three are:

  • Mini,
  • Mitzi,
  • Little Tiger,

My least favourite ones:

  • little thing (Really!?),
  • little naughty thing (even worse),
  • little beast,
  • little dwarf (Do I look like a dwarf?),
  • little rascal…

Do you see the pattern here? I’m a big cunning majestic cat! Rawr! Not something little. (In Jo’s defence, all those terms are one-word diminutive endearments in Slovene.)

Oh, oh, and the insult of all insults: mousey. Mousey! *hisses* I won’t say anything else.

Till next time,

Friday, August 29, 2014

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

CA - The First AvengerDIRECTOR: Joe Johnston; CAST: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson…

SUMMARY (from IMDB): After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending USA ideals.

MY THOUGHTS:

Why on Earth have I not watched this before?

‘This’ as in not just this film but most of the Marvel things (apart from both Thors and The Avengers which I have watched.) I mean, I am fantasy/sci-fi kind of gal. 

There are special effects and things blasting off. But there is also WWII. And good winning vs. evil. And a little guy becoming a hero, saving the world, and making the ultimate sacrifice.

There are thought-provoking issues, heartbreak, and a little romance, and it is beautiful and painful and amazing. And I’ve used way too many and-s in one post.

Overall, I loved watching the co-called making of Captain America, a growth of a hero. I say growth, because one doesn’t become a hero from nothing, not if they don’t already have something heroic in them already. And Captain America: The First Avenger presents that very well.

5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Captain America: The First Avenger is a wonderful mix of sci-fi with a historical background and the fight of the good against evil. Since probably everyone but me saw this long ago, I don’t think I have anything else to say to recommend it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bout of Books 11.0 Wrap Up

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

How it went:

I was trying to not over-stress myself since this is supposed to be fun, so I didn’t set up any big goals. But something happened on Wednesday and I was super stressed out for the rest of the week. So I didn’t do much reading. I mean, I did, but I didn’t.

Let’s se how I did with my goals:

  • read every day & finish/read 1 book

Well, I have read every day. However… considering things I’ve been dealing with in RL, I found Deathless too depressing (although so very beautiful, I’ll definitely continue reading it, just slowly) and none of the other books seemed enticing enough, so I read copious amounts of fanfiction instead, because that helped me relax.

So, page count *cough*: 36 pages (of Loki, by Mike Vasich), BUT add roughly 70,000 words of very good fanfic to that. So, I guess i did read a novel, in a way. ;)

  • participate in at least one challenge

I participated in the Book Scavenger Hunt, hosted by The Book Monsters.

  • maybe participate in one twitter chat (hopefully)

I joined the Monday twitter chat. It was great.

  • try to be a little social either on twitter or visiting & commenting on other blogs

*blushes* Nope. Socializing was not my thing last week.

“Anything of the above will be a success.”

Well, I did (sort of) accomplish more than half of my goals, so it’s a success, right?

How was your Bout of Books 11.0? Is there anything special you will remember it by?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Hunting

Bout of Books
 
It’s the first day of Bout of Books 11.0 and The Book Monsters is hosting Book Scavenger Hunt.

1. A Book that begins with “B”  (for Bout of Books!): Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

Ballad

2. A book that has been made into a movie/tv show: Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks, but I liked the film better. (What? I know!)

Charlotte Gray

3. A series you love: Immortals After Dark by Kresley Cole

IAD collage

And, that’s it. All god things are three, so let’s stop there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Heart of the Lion (Plantagenet Saga #3) by Jean Plaidy

The Heart of the Lion (Plantagenet Saga, #3)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): At the age of thirty-two, Richard the Lionheart has finally succeeded Henry II to the English throne. And, against his father's wishes, he intends to make Berengaria, daughter of the King of Navarre, his Queen. But first he must fulfil his vow to his country to win back Jerusalem for the Christian world. Leaving England to begin his crusade, Richard's kingdom is left in the hands of his brother, John, who casts covetous eyes on the crown, and his sister, Joanna, who is willing to defy even a king.

MY OPINION:

Richard the Lionhearted is often romanticised in fiction. However, Plaidy portrays him in a much more realistic way, with his good and bad qualities. The latter are above all his naivety and the notorious Plantagenet temper and are to blame for some of his mistakes that ultimately lead to his downfall.

Richard begins his reign by setting off on a crusade, the hardships and trials of which Plaidy leaves to a great extent unembellished. For his good looks, charm, bravery, justice and integrity he is loved by everyone – that is, everyone except Leopold of Austria.

Yet, what permeates his entire story is a great friendship (or, dare I say, epic love) between him and Philip the II of France, always mixed with hatred between the two rival kings.

Plaidy presents all points of views, even those of yet again pushed aside women: most importantly, Richard’s wife and Queen Berengaria and his sister Joanna.

The book, of course, ends in tragedy and death (which I don’t believe is a spoiler), not just for Richard, but for England, left at the mercy of his brother John, as Richard’s preoccupation with wars and male friendships and his neglect of poor Berengaria has left him heirless.

Thus, what I have to look forward in Book 4 is the rein of violence and oppression of the erratic, self-serving, profligate king John.

4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: The Heart of the Lion is a well fictionalised tale of one of the most renown kings in the English history, Richard the I.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Bout of Books 11.0 Sign Up & Goals

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

It’s almost Bout of Books time again!

MY GOALS:

I’m still trying to not over-stress myself since this is supposed to be fun, so my goals are once again minimalistic:

  • read every day & finish/read 1 book
  • participate in at least one challenge
  • maybe participate in one twitter chat (hopefully)
  • try to be a little social either on twitter or visiting & commenting on other blogs

Anything of this will be a success.

Books to select from:

  • The Prince of Darkness by Jean Plaidy
  • Grave Suprise by Charlaine Harris
  • Deathless by Catharine M. Valente
  • Loki by Mike Vasich
  • and a few more

I’ll be updating on Twitter (@StrangeNewWords), since that is less time-consuming and I’ll write a wrap-up posts in the end.

Are you in? What are your goals?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grave Sight (Harper Connelly #1) by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Harper Connolly is honest, ethical and loyal - and ever since a bolt of lightening zapped her on the head, she's had an extra-special talent: she can find dead people. It's not a common-or-garden job. Some people find Harper's talent useful and fascinating, but she's getting used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. She's become an expert at getting in, getting paid and getting out, fast.

When Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver, travel to the Ozarks to find a local teenager, missing, believed dead, they discover that someone is willing to go to great lengths to bury a secret. Before long Tolliver's locked away on trumped-up charges and Harper's fighting for her own life.

MY OPINION:

I read Grave Sight very fast, so it must have been good. It definitely held my attention, probably because there was always something about to happen next and I was hardly able to put it down.

Most of the characters are sort-of roughly sketched, enough to give them personality and distinction, but not exploring them in-depth.

Harper, the main protagonist, is an exception. She is quite well explored, so the reader gets a good understanding of what shaped her and how she has been dealing with her past as well as  the present. I didn’t love her, but I liked her. Perhaps it was because she doesn’t let her issues defeat her, she struggles through them and – for the lack of a better word – lives.

Harper’s brother Tolliver is mostly just a shell, an extension of Harper, and their co-dependent relationship is somewhat annoying. I understand why it is the way it is, but still something was missing, some bit of information or evolvement. Perhaps we will get that in the second book.

The book is written in the first person point of view, which tends to be melodramatic, but that is not the case in Grave Sight. The only thing bothering me was the frequent repetition of how much people frown upon Harper’s way of earning her living.

Therefore, looking at the individual elements, Grave Sight feels like a 3-star book, but taking into account how much it hooked me, it deserves 4 stars. Especially because I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series.

3,5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you like a suspenseful story, with elements of crime novel mixed with a touch of paranormal, this fast and easy read is worth trying. Actually, I think Grave Sight is a perfect summer read.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Revolt of the Eaglets (Plantagenet Saga #2) by Jean Plaidy

The Revolt of the Eaglets (Plantagenet Saga, #2)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): News of Thomas a Becket's martyrdom has spread throughout Christendom and the blame is laid at the feet of Henry Plantagenet, King of England. Two years later, with Becket canonised, Henry's position is precarious: punished at the Pope's insistence for his part in Becket's death, he now also has an enemy in his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, after her discovery of his longstanding infidelity with Rosamund Clifford. Eleanor is determined to seek vengeance, so, with King Philip of France, she encourages her sons to conspire, both against their father and each other. Much embattled, the old eagle Henry struggles to fend off both rebellion and the plots of his aggressively circling offspring...

MY OPINION:

There are several reasons I liked The Revolt of the Eaglets better than The Plantagenet Prelude. 

Firstly, it seemed better written to me, or maybe I just got used to Plaidy’s simplistic style for this saga.

Secondly, as much as I usually root for female characters’ presence in fiction, I think Eleanor’s absence for the most part of the book turned out for the good. When she did appear I liked her better, perhaps because we could then really see the gist of her character. I disapproved of her pitting her sons against Henry and each other, but on the other hand I understood her reasons for acting in such way, and I couldn’t help but admire her resilience and ability to adapt to circumstances and make the best out of them and still find a way to scheme and try to get her way (and succeed).

Thirdly, despite Henry’s many faults, it was captivating to watch him manoeuver between various sides and demands and most of the time manage to get himself out of precarious positions, even if by questionable means (lying, going back on his word, manipulating, etc.) And I felt a little sorry for him wanting to be loved by the sons who hated him, though he had kind of brought that hatred upon himself and though he was a fool (and a willing one at that) to turn a blind eye where John was concerned due to that longing of his for the love of at least one of his sons.

At least Henry’s daughters seemed all right, although the book barely mentioned them, apart from Matilda and Joanna. After all, women were a lot of times only chess pieces, means for making alliances, expanding territories and buying peace. Sad and frustrating, but historically accurate.

Finally, I liked the sense of the author’s sarcastic opinion about the historical events and figures she presents. It appears in subtle, faint undertones in many spots, and I may have just imagined it, but I it gave the book a bit of a special flavour.

Overall, The Revolt of the Eaglets was a gripping historical read, and it convinced me to read more of The Plantagenet Saga. Actually, I can’t wait to start next book, The Heart of the Lion.

4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you are looking for an unembellished presentation of history, Plaidy’s works definitely qualify as such, and The Revolt of the Eaglets is no exception.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cat Diary (25): Conquests, Idleness and Supreme Reign

This is an occasional Sunday feature where my cat, pardon, Her Majesty the Cat, offers her more or less gracious insight into my (and her) life.

Hello, dear blogging friends of my maid, whom you know as Jo,

Have you missed me?

I have decided to bestow on you the honour of explaining to you the reasons for my lengthy absence. As you may know, ruling is a hard and time-consuming job. It has especially been so, since I had had it and decided that it was high time to take a complete and irrefutable control of my kingdom, that is, the palace we live in, also known as “Jo’s” apartment. (Jo will lie and say I have always been fully in charge, don’t listen to her.)

Thus, I have little by little conquered all the last spots I had graciously let Jo “ban” me from. Of course, after all that conquering I deserved to rest a little on my conquests and ascertain my rights to them.

Resting

And Jo calls this me being lazy. Lazy! I beg your pardon, who do you think watches over her laptop when she leaves it just about anywhere (on the couch), or keeps company to her books, or checks the underside of the dining table in case it would need some repairs, or regularly inspects all the nooks and crannies for dust? Without my supervision this place would fall apart.

Baby sitting Jo's writing things(Apparently this is the only proof of my good deeds, because I am supposedly not still enough to take good pictures most of the time. Hmm.)

Phew!

Now all this bragging has tired me out. I think I need another rest. Have one yourselves as well, or even better, a vacation, and enjoy it.

I’ll update soon (or when Jo feels like it).

Until then,

P.S.: Jo says this whole post is an excuse to show off my prettiness. She might be right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Second Sight (The Arcane Society #1) by Amanda Quick

Second Sight (Arcane Society, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Her career as a fashionable photographer catering to society's elite has enabled Venetia Jones to provide a comfortable living for her brother, sister and elderly aunt. But, thanks to her psychic ability, disaster looms around the corner.

MY OPINION:

All of Amanda Quick’s romances follow basically the same pattern, which gets tedious. However, since I hadn’t read one of her books in a long time, I enjoyed this one more than I had expected.

Second Sight is no exception to Quick’s trademark writing as far as romance is concerned – by the way, intimate scenes are not her strong point – as it is quite clichéd and predictable, both plot- and characters-wise.

Yet, with a touch of suspense, mystery and sort-of paranormal, the story kept me intrigued throughout the book and I liked the characters well enough, though my favourite was, rather than one of the main protagonists, Edward, Venetia’s younger brother, who unwittingly spilled family secrets and thus prevented those silly misunderstandings between ‘fated’ lovers which tend to occur in romance and which I detest.

Hence, Second Sight was a fast and easy read: something entertaining (I laughed a few times), undemanding and not-upsetting, but still interesting – just what I needed at the time.

3 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you are looking for a nice light summer read you can relax with and rest your mind, Second Sight might just be it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Fall of Arthur by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fall of ArthurSUMMARY (from Goodreads): The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere's infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred's rebels and foreign mercenaries.

Powerful, passionate and filled with vivid imagery, The Fall of Arthurreveals Tolkien's gift for storytelling at its brilliant best. Originally composed by J.R.R. Tolkien in the 1930s, this work was set aside for The Hobbit and lay untouched for 80 years.

Now it has been edited for publication by Tolkien's son, Christopher, who contributes three illuminating essays that explore the literary world of King Arthur, reveal the deeper meaning of the verses and the painstaking work that his father applied to bring it to a finished form, and the intriguing links between The Fall of Arthur and his greatest creation, Middle-earth.

MY OPINION:

Anyone expecting The Fall of Arthur to be an epic story dealing with Arthurian legends, would be disappointed, as The Fall of Arthur is only Tolkien’s unfinished attempt at his own retelling of the legend of King Arthur.

Tolkien’s poem, written in a form that more or less resembles the Old English alliterative verse, is only about 40 pages long. The rest belongs to Christopher Tolkien’s explanation of his father’s possible sources for the poem as well as his writing process and finally an excerpt from Tolkien's lecture on alliterative verse.

The poem itself, though beautifully crafted, is a clear evidence of Tolkien’s dwindling interest in it, or perhaps running out of time for finishing and editing it, as the beginning is clearly better done, especially in terms of the rules of alliterative verse, than the end. Yet, even in such an unfinished state, the poem is still another proof of Tolkien’s genius.

The rest of the book, with speculations on sourcing and development of the poem, may be of no interest to people only looking for a story, or may seem boring, as its value is above all meta-linguistic and meta-literary. However, to me – from a writer’s point of view – it was not only interesting, but also inspiring to see a glimpse of Tolkien’s writing process and his approach to it, both concerning this particular work as writing in general.

Hence, The Fall of Arthur was a fascinating read, and I enjoyed it very much.

4 stars
RECOMMENDATION:
The Fall of Arthur is largely a non-fictional, analytical read, and as such quite demanding but intriguing. However, it might be a disappointment if you just want a good story.  

Monday, June 09, 2014

Lothaire (Immortals After Dark #12) by Kresley Cole

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18.

SUMMARY (from Goodreads): All Fear The Enemy Of Old
Driven by his insatiable need for revenge, Lothaire, the Lore’s most ruthless vampire, plots to seize the Horde’s crown. But bloodlust and torture have left him on the brink of madness – until he finds Elizabeth Peirce, the key to his victory. He captures the unique young mortal, intending to offer up her very soul in exchange for power, yet Elizabeth soothes his tormented mind and awakens within him emotions Lothaire believed he could no longer experience.

A Deadly Force Dwells Within Her
Growing up in desperate poverty, Ellie Peirce yearned for a better life, never imagining she’d be convicted of murder – or that an evil immortal would abduct her from death row. But Lothaire is no savior, as he himself plans to sacrifice Ellie in one month’s time. And yet the vampire seems to ache for her touch, showering her with wealth and sexual pleasure. In a bid to save her soul, Ellie surrenders her body to the wicked vampire, while vowing to protect her heart.

Centuries Of Cold Indifference Shattered
Elizabeth tempts Lothaire beyond reason, as only his fated mate could. As the month draws to a close, he must choose between a millennia-old blood vendetta and his irresistible prisoner. Will Lothaire succumb to the miseries of his past . . . or risk everything for a future with her

MY OPINION:

Lothaire, whom we have met in the IAD series time and again since the very beginning, is certainly an intriguing character, and I had been looking forward to his story very much.

What I liked:

The Enemy of Old: although he is a protagonist about whom I had mixed feelings; he is after all for the major part of the series what we would consider a villain, or at least an anti-hero, a character whose actions and way of thinking I often disapproved of. Yet, Kresley Cole presents him in a way I could also understand him and even sympathise with him. There were times I wanted to give him a hug and times when I had an urge to smack his thick skull with a mallet, sometimes both at the same time. However, that kind of complexity is what I appreciate in a fictional character.

Lothaire’s backstory: tragic and violent and, hence, making him full of vengeful plans which blindside him to the point he almost endangers his future. His Endgame revealed was simple, yet required a lot of dedication which is a good example to follow – of course when applied to non-evil goals.

Ellie: she is smart, fierce, strong, persistent, and she holds her own against Lothaire. She doesn’t give up, even though she comes close a few times, and she gets what she wants.

Nix: she played a big role in Lothaire, and we get more hints of her past and possibly future. I loved the history between her and Lothaire and their black king/white queen dynamics with a twist I didn’t see coming. And I loved how Nix once more confirmed her nickname – Nix the Ever Knowing.

Some revelations about Lothaire’s relations to some other characters, such as Kristoff and Emma. Or maybe I shouldn’t say revelations, since we had known some of it before, but in Lothaire the connections become clearer.

Other characters and things mentioned in the previous books: Thaddeus, Hag, Ellie’s family, Regin, La Dorada, Webb, etc. all added their own flavour to the book.

The contrast between attraction vs. love: while it is present throughout the IAD series, it is even more striking in Lothaire. On principle, I don’t like fate taking the choice away from people. 

However, I like Kresley Cole’s concept of fated mates: at first, it’s a physical attraction/bond, which is not enough for a relationship to work, so the pair needs to work through their issues, falling in love in the process, and that is what finally brings them together. With Ellie being possessed by Soraya, this was particularly obvious in Lothaire.

Things I found frustrating, though they made the book what it is, that is: amazingly complex:

Do I need to say they all have to do with Lothaire?

Firstly, it takes him ages to figure it out that his Bride is Ellie, not Soraya. Understandably so, as he is blindsided with his preconceptions what his Bride should be like and his hatred and despise towards humans.

Lothaire is quite a bit sexist in his belief about women having to adapt to men, thus he doesn’t listen to Ellie’s opinion.

Also, he is not familiar with the concepts of discussion and compromise. As I said above, sometimes he deserves a smack round his head for just doing things Ellie doesn’t want, instead of waiting and talking to her first.

Mostly, he lacks communication and relationship skills – he acts first and then deals with consequences and tries to make things right. As per his own admission, it is the easier way of doing things for him, because he doesn’t know anything about relationships and women, since he has never had to deal with them before.

However, he is aware of his shortcomings and once he realises his mistakes, he tries to improve and change his ways, which somewhat redeems him.

I loved to hate: Soraya. I hated her; nevertheless, she was actually a formidable villain, as purely evil as she was.

Overall, despite Lothaire’s chauvinism and arrogance at times sorely trying my patience, Cole’s story-telling in Lothaire is yet again brilliant, especially with (sort of) resolution of the mess with La Dorada and Nix’s flawless millennia-long play to nudge Lothaire in the right direction.

Therefore, in spite of being frustrated by some things, I enjoyed this book. We are talking about Lothaire here, so this uneasy, gory, and yet beautiful story was fitting for him and it has more than met my expectations.
4,5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: As the entire IAD series, Lothaire is an amazing instalment and I can’t wait for more. If you’ve read the series to this point, you probably feel the same and I don’t need to tell you to stick with it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster by Mike Vasich

Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the TricksterSUMMARY (from Goodreads): He is called the Trickster, the Sly One. For eons, he has manipulated and played the gods against each other. Now the time has come to go beyond petty schemes and seize the most powerful throne in existence.

Based on the classic tales, Mike Vasich breathes new life into the most complex god in the Norse mythos.

MY OPINION:

I probably should have read the book Loki by Mike Vasich first, before dabbling into this one, but I needed a short and easy read and this was exactly it.

I expected to get nine thematically related but not closely-knit short stories. However, the nine stories in this book from some sort of a novella, retelling Norse and Christian mythology with some new twists.

The stories range from humorous to grotesque, sometimes with a palpable Nordic feel, and at other times diverging from it quite a bit into the area of perhaps self-mocking.

I am on the fence about how to feel about the part where Vasich stories overlaps Nordic and Christian tradition: on one hand, Vasich’s version is logical; but on the other hand, I simply dislike his idea.

SPOILER (highlight to read): In Vasich’s version, Loki, pretending to be Jesus, convinces Judas to betray the real Jesus, and after Jesus’ death, he steals Jesus’ body and fakes resurrection. Obviously, as a Christian, I have a problem with this. However, I agree with the idea that Judas’ betrayal was a part of God’s plan and he was actually doing God’s will – without it, Jesus’ sacrifice and salvation wouldn’t be possible. END OF SPOILER

Although I said the stories form a unit, some of the timeline is jumbled and inconsistent, which, as per author's note, was done on purpose, because he didn’t want to divert too far from the original tales while still giving them his own spin.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but imagine the characters as the Marvel universe characters, so I had to put some effort into re-adjusting my visual idea of them.

Overall, Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster is an interesting spin on Norse mythology, in particularly Loki.3 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster might be a good book for those interested in Nordic mythology.

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