On Challenges and Reading Lists

I can’t believe it’s already January 2015.

Last year I reached my reading goal of reading 90 books, that’s 26268 pages. I did listen to some audio books, but last year was truly a year I was reading physical books. Most of them I got form the library. You can have a look at the books I’ve read here.

I have a big goal for 2015 already – I want to read most of the fiction books I own. I have the largest Expedit bookcase half full with books and most of them remain unread. Lately I have bought a lot of new books and I haven’t had a chance to read them because I always have a stack of library books I want to read first (mostly because I have to bring them back in a short while). So no more hoarding without reading! I understand, that reading all the books from my personal collection in just one year would be unrealistic and I definitely will read some library books, e-books, and listen to some audio books in between, but I will try to put much more of my own in the mix. I also want to read more non-fiction books this year as I usually don’t have the patience and enough enthusiasm to read more than 20 pages. But I will try my best this year.

My TBR list is very long and it gets longer all the time at Goodreads. If I wouldn’t add anything to it, it would take me 3/4 years with my regular speed to read them all. Not too bad, I would say, but I know that there are more treasures to find and add to that list. Even finishing good books I already started reading gets hard sometimes – I’ve been reading A Clash of Kings since March of 2013 and just can’t force myself to finish it. One day I will, but not today.

Another challenge for this year is to get rid of the junk I have accumulated in the last 5 years since I moved to UK. I could not imagine that I am capable of having so much stuff and I tend to buy more and more. OK, most books I bought are for keeping and I do a revision of my clothes every season, but I still have too much stuff that can’t be categorised and I can’t figure out a way to get rid of it. I know I won’t miss it, when it’s gone, but I still struggle to make that step. Hoarding runs in my family and I can’t do anything about it – collecting stuff is so much fun and there is a story behind almost every single thing I own. Since I discovered British Heart Foundation shops and cheap shops like The Works, I can’t go to the city centre without buying something. So for this year I want to challenge myself to get rid of some stuff – sell it, give it away, donate it to charity or simply toss it, if it’s not good any more. Also, buying things should be more rational and less emotional. A very hard thing to do. Probably, the hardest part will be to stop buying craft supplies and stationery. I have bough so much of it but still can’t resits getting more. On the other hand – having everything at hand makes the creative process much easier when you have all the stuff right at your fingertips when you need it. I want to challenge myself to make more projects and use the supplies I already have.

I have some big plans for the summer but I don’t want to reveal them at this stage. I won’t challenge myself to lose weight, travel more, learn a language or do any other things I have on my goals list every year. I will try to enjoy myself and take the best this year can give me.

Do you challenge yourself in any way? And how do you deal with clutter? Is it easy for you to part with things? Comments are more than welcome.

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2015 – Year of Bookish Anticipation on Screen

2015 seems very promising in terms of new movies (some of them I have mentioned in my previous post) and Tv. I would especially want to emphasize the series based on books that we will see this year.

Some of the favourites are coming back – Sherlock (starting season 4 in December) and Game of Thrones (starting season 5 in April).

But there are also 2 BBC series I want to see even more, both based on amazing books:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell based on the book by Susanna Clarke  is about true magicians in time of the Napoleonic Wars.

The Casual Vacancy based on the book by J.K. Rowling is a story of a small town after the death of very important and beloved man.

I really hope they will be as good as they seem and won’t disappoint us.

Also we will see the second movie in the Divergent Series: Insurgent

The last movie in the Hunger Games series: Mockingjay Part II

New version of Cinderella

For some people, Fifty Shades of Grey might be interesting

Seventh Son, which is vaguely based on The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney

Pan is interesting, as it is supposed to show the beginning of the story of Neverland

All these seem very promising and I hope that 2015 will bring more surprises and new book adaptations for us to see and enjoy. If I missed anything important, please leave a comment below.

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Happy New Year!

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Dear reader,

Thank you very much for reading my blog and following my posts. I wish you all the best in 2015!!! I have big plans for the next year in terms of books I want to read and movies I want to watch, and I hope you will share my passion for stories and new adventures.

Thank you!

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Movie Review

Went to see the last Hobbit movie in cinema and it was spectacular. Remember the fight scenes form LOTR? Well, this might not be as massive but not less impressive. A lot of emotions, perfect frames and nice special effects. There are still a lot of Peter Jacksons additional events and details, but this time it is closer to the book as I remember it.

This is the last part – The Battle of Five Armies. The name sums it up pretty well. I will assume that you are familiar with the book, if not, SPOILER ALERT. In the beginning Smaug burns the Lake Town to the ground (or water would be more precise). Then Bard saves everyone by shooting him down (Sorry, Smaug, Peter Jackson decided not to change this part). The Lake Town people are seeking refuge in the old ruins of Dale and hope to get the help from the dwarves. But Thorin’s  mind has been poisoned by all the gold and missing Arkenstone. He is not going to share any wealth with anyone, not even when the elves arrive to claim some of their old treasure (shiny elvish trinkets) and declare war, if the dwarves will not consent. Dwarves lock themselves behind the walls and Bilbo tries to save the situation by betraying Thorin. Parallel to this there are not less important things happening in Dol Guldur. The Necromancer (aka Sauron) gets banished, but not defeated. Saruman ensures Elrond and Galadriel that he will take care of it (and we know how that ends, old fool). Gandalf gets rescued and tries to warn the men and elves about the dangers, but would they ever listen? So they decide to attack the dwarves anyway. Surprise, surprise, dwarves have their cousins on their way and they are ready to fight for the gold (and judging by the accent they come from Scotland, riding on boars and goats). They are just about to fight, but then the orcs show up with their enormous army. So all the good folk go into battle against them. Spectacular battle scenes and orks are winning purely because of the numbers and a bunch of trolls they have with them. Of course, at one pint Thorin comes to his senses and the outcome of the battle is changed for good. Also, eagles show up as usual to save the day. The orcs are defeated and some of the good folks stay alive to rebuild their lives after this short but very live-costly battle. Some of the main characters die too. Bilbo gets a small chest of treasures and a mithril shirt and returns to the Shire to find out that most of his possessions have been sold in an auction. Movie ends with the perfect moment – tying the end of The Hobbit with the beginning of The Lord of The Rings.

This part is very emotional and full of hard decisions. What is important – gold, honour, family, your people? Bilbo’s betrayal is very important in the books but is a bit diminished in the movie. Nevertheless, all relationships in this part are under question. I still think that the elf-dwarf love was a huge mistake and I’m honestly glad that ended. I am OK with most of the other changes, but this is simply ridiculous. Just, NO! I was impressed by the battle scenes and Legolas has the best fight moves, as usual. Also, I liked Alfrid as the perfect selfish bastard character. He is so pathetic but at the same time he has great self-preservation instincts. I enjoyed the small details, like the battle boar and armoured ram (very convenient for mountain regions). I was a bit disappointed to see so little of Beorn, he is one of my favourites in the book. Hopefully the DVD extended version will have some more. Visual and sound effects are exceptional, as usual.  Very good acting and costumes. In the very end the credits have beautiful sketches. Every detail is worked through to perfection. I rate this movie by 10 out of 10. This will become another movie to re-watch every year around Christmas time.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Book Review

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Some people say you should not judge the book by its cover, I disagree. I picked this book at the charity shop purely because of the cover and was not disappointed. The Night Circus is a very enchanting book with interesting fantasy elements and it creates a small pocket-world within our reality. It is full of magic, romance and imagination in the Victorian times.

The story is quite simple in main lines – two powerful magicians enter their students into a binding competition, where they have to prove their abilities. To make this competition more challenging than ever before, they chose the Night Circus to become the arena for presenting competitors’ skills. The students, Celia and Marco, are trained very differently, but non of them fully understands the rules of the game. They just have to do their best to impress their masters. With time, “Le Cirque des Reves” becomes very special for both of them and for many other people who are involved with the circus or have become true admirers. The circus is only opened at the nigh time and travels around the world unannounced – one day there is an empty field, the next – there is the circus. The circus has very special way of entertaining the customers – everything is black and white, and each tent is incredibly special. It is like a love letter between the competitors. But is it all just a game that will end one day? Who will be the victor?

I love the ideas in this book, like, that people are not recognising magic even when they see it – they will rather deceive themselves by thinking it is all just a clever trick. I really like the ideas for the tents and performances. I would really love to visit  a circus like this. The book is written in present tense all the way through. Also, the time of the chapters is a mix of events in different years. It is not linear. Not sure, if I like this style or not, but it worked for this particular book. I think that the characters could be developed better and have a little bit more revealed about them. There is not much going on, but the descriptive parts work well with imagination. I find some characters quite interesting, but I can’t say that Marco and Celia are my favourites. I prefer Poppet and Widget. I like the surrealism of this book, but I find it lacking in action and interesting personal developments. I certainly hope there will be a movie, it should be very spectacular. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and rate it by 8 out of 10. It reminded me a lot of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke in the feeling and boundaries of magic. I guess the masters could be very similar to Mr. Norrel and Jonatan Strange in their characters and approach to things. I would definitely recommend The Night Circus to anyone, who wants to be taken on a magical journey.

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The Librarians – TV show review

Last week the new show started on TNT – The Librarians. No, it’s not a show about working in the library and serving the customers. It is a show of adventure, knowledge, and magic.

Not many people know, but there are 3 movies before the TV show:

The TV show is a sequel to the movies with some new characters and some returning characters too. There is a secret underground library that contains magical artefacts, like Excalibur, and the Librarian is the protector of the Library. There can only be one Librarian and the next one is selected after the previous one has died. The Library is magical and chooses the candidates to become the new Librarian. They get a letter for an interview and the best of the best is selected. Working at the Library involves quests and fighting villains, who want to take the power of the magical artefacts. It is like Indiana Jones only on a smaller budget.

I must admit, the acting part is far from being great, but there is still something about the idea of a magical library that keeps me glued to the screen. The two first episodes are not telling much about the main idea, so I would suggest watching the movies first. TV show jumps straight into action – a Guardian is chosen and some of the potential candidate Librarians are in grave danger. The best part is that all candidates are very smart and they can achieve incredible things by working together. The series seem very promising in terms of promoting the power of knowledge.  I have not checked, if the information is accurate, but it will certainly be fun to find out something new about legendary artefacts from this interpretation.

I would recommend this show to anyone who likes magic, tales and smart people. It’s hard to tell by watching only 2 episodes, but I would rate it by 7 out of 10 at the moment. It’s witty and has some exciting adventures.

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Paddington – Movie Review

I was waiting for Paddington for a long time and went to see it in the cinema on the first day. Truly, this is a movie for anyone who likes adorable bears, values family and likes funny situation comedies, oh, and marmalade (this movie has lots and lots of it). I loved everything about it and hope they will make another part, as they could only include a small portion of Paddington’s adventures 95 minutes.

Are you familiar with Paddington? If not, let me introduce him. Paddington is a bear from the darkest Peru and he has come to London in search of a new life and a new family. He is kind and caring, only his understanding of modern big city life is a bit… different. He has no idea how to use tools and appliances, but he speaks English very well and has learned good manners from his aunty. He was created in the late 50s by Michael Bond and has been a beloved children’s book character ever since. This is not the first time Paddington has been animated, but this is the first movie on such scale.

One thing I absolutely love about the movie is the pre-story of how Paddington ended up at the train station. It is very emotional and beautifully made. The movie features some of the best moments form the books but has more to the story than you would expect, like a villain – crazy taxidermist, who wants to add Paddington to the collection of Natural History Museum (played by Nicole Kidman). To be honest, the movie has an excellent choice of actors – a good set of very British actors. Hugh Bonneville (Earl of Grantham from the Downton Abbey) is an excellent Mr. Brown and Sally Hawkins is a very nice Mrs Brown (I remember her from Happy-Go-Lucky). Julie Walters is a very fun Mrs Bird, but she still has that Mrs Weasley attitude. Also, Peter Capaldi (yes, the Doctor) appears as the grumpy neighbour Mr. Curry. A surprise for me was to find out that Ben Whishaw, who is the voice of the lovely bear, played the murderous Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Also, Jim Broadbent (you might remember him as Professor Horace Slughorn in Harry Potter movies) is a perfect Mr. Gruber (oh, this funny German accent) and Matt Lucas, who plays the taxi driver (but you might remember him as Tweedledee / Tweedledum in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland or Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows), has a small role, but you can recognise him instantly.

I really love how the animation is put together with live actors. It is very easy to believe that Paddington is real – he has facial (or should I say muzzle?) expressions, but they are very bear-like. The Peru scenes are beautiful and very imaginative in terms of creating intelligent bears in the middle of a jungle. The humour is simple but very funny, and the emotional moments are truly touching.  A bit of adventure, a bit of sadness and a pinch of danger makes Paddington a perfect holiday movie for the whole family. I rate this movie by 9 out of 10 (I would liked to see a bit more of the situations I remember from books). Don’t forget to keep a marmalade sandwich in your hat for emergencies!

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Mockingjay Part 1 – Movie review

We went to see the Mockingjay Part 1 on 22 November. It has been almost a week since then and I had some time to digest my impressions. I really liked the first two movies, and the first movie inspired me to read the book series. Mockingjay was darker in the global sense and had more political issues rather than personal drama. I read the books a couple years ago and don’t remember too much details, so I will not scrutinise the movie in comparison with the book. I did find some obvious differences, but they didn’t contradict with the plot too much, so I will leave them alone.

One thing I would like to say first – this movie would not work as a standalone. If you haven’t read the books or seen the previous two parts, you might get completely lost. The story is co-dependant with events in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Also, most of the characters are well known and don’t have significant clues about their identities or past. The only new character of importance is President Coin played by Julianne Moore.

Mockingjay is very political and shows the rebellion from the honest perspective – people die, places get bombed, propaganda from both sides is very strong, and no one is safe any more. There is tension between Katniss and President Coin, but mutual goal makes them work together as allies. The true geniuses behind the revolution are Plutarch, Haymitch and Beetee, who plan the propaganda and add fuel to the fire. Katniss is used as a propaganda tool, but she doesn’t mind as long as her goal of getting Peeta and other victors back is fulfilled. Finnick is too depressed to be of any true use and Gale has become a boring tool of the warfare.  I really enjoyed Effie as she remains herself even in a warehouse-like facilities, where everyone wears same clothes. To be honest, I can’t say that the characters got any significant development, except the aftershock from their traumatic experiences, which would be worth mentioning. Games changed the victors and the revolution will change everyone. Nothing will be the same any more.

District 13 really reminded me of life in  1984 by George Orwell – but that should be expected of most dystopia books that came after. This part was more emotional on a global scale and had some good scenes like:

  • Katniss finding out what President Snow has done to District 12
  • Katniss finding the fresh rose in her home
  • Cat related scenes
  • Bombings of the hospital and District 13

I particularly liked how Katniss sang The Hanging Tree song. I had no idea Jennifer Lawrence could sing so beautifully with a jazzy vibe in her voice.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It has a good plot and mostly plausible special effects (except Katniss’ hair not moving under the hovercraft in that one scene, and so few casualties during the battle scenes, but it’s a movie for the whole family, so it’s OK). The acting was convincing, especially Josh Hutcherson did a great job at playing Peeta, who changed a lot physically even within the few scenes he had. I didn’t pay too much attention to the music, but The Hanging Tree song and Yellow Flicker Beat by Lorde are very powerful.

 I am impressed and will definitely wait impatiently for Mockingjay Part 2 coming out next year. I rate this movie by 8 out of 10. Viva la revolucion!

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A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

12974372A Natural History of Dragons is a different dragon book than many others. In this book dragons are considered more from the biological perspective rather than as powerful and amazing creatures of fantasy and magic (you could pretty much guess it form the book cover).

It is the first book in the Memoir by Lady Trent series and introduces us to Isabella, who is a dragon enthusiast in times when women should not indulge in science. But it does not stop her. With some encouragement from her father Isabella finds the right husband who shares her passion for dragons. After a personal tragedy she starts to put her time in examining the local species of dragons and, eventually, her hard work pays off. She joins an expedition to Vystrana, and so her journey begins.  Vystrana holds many secrets, and is not the most welcoming place for strangers, but it has a huge impact on Isabellas life – adventures, solving mysteries and new scientific findings make this journey very dangerous and special.

The story is told from Isabella’s perspective as she tells about her childhood and youth. The language has interesting elements and the author has created a new world, where dragons are as common as many other animals in our world. Some parallels could be made to characteristics of Europe/Russia from the semantic likeliness. The dragons, which are creatures not very well known to human kind, play the key role in this book. The lack of knowledge about the species is clearly marked, and Lady Trent plays a significant role in filling in the gaps.

I liked the book mostly for it’s honesty and the strong female character, which is strong in a natural way – she is emotional and has weaknesses but puts a lot of effort to overcome them. The story is in retrospective and marks the flaws in actions as well as reveals the emotional struggles of being a woman in a strange land. I also like the language and style of this book. It was a relatively fast read. I did not really liked the ending. Actually, the last 50 pages or so were kind of a blur. It seemed hasty and I was not excited about killing off a character at the end. Nonetheless, I want to read the next book in the series and rate this book by 9 out of 10. I would recommend it to anyone, who likes dragons or adventure stories.

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer – Book Review

11235712I picked up Cinder by Marissa Meyer in the library, when the children’s/teenager section was closed for repairs and they had put a couple of shelves with selected literature for the time. I heard a lot good reviews about it and got intrigued by the hype. I’m very glad I did – this is truly a good book for all kinds of audiences.

The story is modernized version of Cinderella – only the girl is called Cinder, she is a cyborg, and everything is happening in futuristic Beijing. Cinder still has a stepmother (her legal guardian) and two stepsisters. People have long colonized the moon, and now the lunar people have special powers (something like magic). In this version, Cinder is a very skilled mechanic, the Earth suffers from plague, and there is going to be a huge ball at the palace. The prince is the next emperor of Commonwealth (China) and Earth is in very complicated political relationship with Luna (Moon). War can start any day. Not an easy time for people or cyborgs.

I really enjoyed this book. A very fast read. I like the characters – they are well developed and I could easily imagine them. I love the fantasy elements and even the incorporation of futuristic elements like androids and cyborgs. I am not a huge fan of futuristic Sci-Fi, but the background and development of these elements was very logical and organic in this book. I also enjoyed that Cinder is not a flawless good girl – she is a young lady with some stubbornness and anger issues. Prince Kai is charming and it is well described by the author. He wants to make the best decisions for his country. Background characters are interesting too. You can feel that each of them would have their own story to tell. I love that in books. The ending is pretty much clear from the very beginning, but it doesn’t spoil the story in the middle. I really liked this book and I will definitely read the sequels. I rate this book by 9 out of 10.

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