Author: elenasquareeyes

REVIEW: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch is the final book in the Winternight trilogy so there may be vague spoilers for the previous books, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, in this review.

After Moscow survives the flames and an attack from an enemy, it leaves its people searching for answers and someone to blame. Vasya, a girl with extraordinary gifts, must flee for her life, pursued by those who blame their misfortune on her magic. When a vengeful demon returns, stronger than ever, he finds allies among men and spirits and Vasya must do the impossible and unite the worlds of men and magic.

The Winter of the Witch is such an exciting and satisfying conclusion. It’s one of those perfect books where you can see how story and character points were deliberate and how though some unexpected things happen, with hindsight they make perfect sense with the themes that are in these novels. It’s like how the first book is more focused on the magic and spirits while the second book is more focused on the religion and politics of the human world and then The Winter of the Witch is the perfect balance between these two worlds and combines these elements in a really clever and satisfying way.

The worldbuilding is still wonderful and rich and it’s great that there’s still elements of the magical world that Vasya doesn’t know about. While she’s still learning about certain characters or rules when it comes to magic, she’s more sure of herself than ever and it’s really enjoyable to see her stand up for and believe in herself and her magic. How she starts to get respect from both magical creatures and powerful men is so gratifying.

At this point Vasya has gone through a ridiculous amount of trauma and hardship and while she’s still suffering from that, she’s also using the pain to fuel her in her quest to save both worlds that she’s a part of. Her family becoming more understanding of her abilities and nature while also still caring about her and wanting to protect her as she’s their younger sibling is really nice to see too. The relationships Vasya has forged are strong in The Winter of the Witch whether that’s her family or Morozko.

The Winter of the Witch is an epic and satisfying conclusion to a wonderfully magical and atmospheric story. A lot happens in this book and it’s more continuously action-packed compare to the previous books but it’s all held together by wonderful writing and memorable characters. 5/5.

REVIEW: Plane (2023)

After a terrible storm forces commercial airline pilot captain Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) to land, he has to fight to save his crew and passengers after realising they’ve landed on an island run by militia.

Plane is a proper 90s throwback action movie that does a simple premise well and has a lot of fun while doing it. A film being called a “90s throwback” may be deemed an insult but honestly with Plane it’s a compliment. It’s a solid action film done well with a great couple of lead characters.

Gerard Butler is probably a bit underappreciated for what he can do in an action film because he’s been playing this kind of charismatic but tough guy for years now but that doesn’t mean what he does isn’t good. Butler is allowed to be Scottish in Plane and naturally one of the first things his character does is be insulted someone thought he was English. Butler’s captain is just a good buy, he’s a reassuring presence for his crew and passengers and he is good at his job. Shoutout to his co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) who is also pretty great and the two of the make a good team. Not going to lie, Dele is the kind of nice secondary character that you fear for because he’s so likeable and not a big name so could potentially be expendable.

Butler also makes a good team with Mike Colter’s Louis Gaspare, a prisoner who was being transported on the plane. The two characters compliment each other well and become reluctant allies as Gaspare is more of a military-mind and a planer while Torrance wants to go in all guns blazing to save his passengers.

The bad guys as a group are pretty intimidating and there is a lot of blood spilt when they are around but there isn’t really a memorable villain leading them. In Plane the gunshots and stabbings are visceral and the sound effects on some of the killings do make you wince.

Overall Plane is a really good time. It’s a simple action film that’s very enjoyable with a group of leading characters that are easy to like and feel for. 4/5.

Books of 2023

New year, new ongoing list of books I read this year. Now my Read the World Project is complete, 2023 is going to be the year of mood reading and probably reading a whole lot of backlist books as I’ve got my TBR to get through. I don’t have big reading goals, just want to read at least 52 books and complete the Magical Readathon: Year in Aeldia which I will make a note of what books I read for it at the bottom of this post. You can find out more about what I’m reading on my Twitter, Goodreads and Storygragh.

Without further ado, here’s what I read in 2023! Any titles with asterisks are rereads and if it has a link, that goes to my review.

January:
– Making a Scene – Constance Wu
– One of Us is Next – Karen M. McManus
The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
The Girl in the Tower – Katherine Arden
– The Winter of the Witch – Katherine Arden
– Maybe I Don’t Belong Here: A Memoir of Race, Identity, Breakdown and Recovery – David Harewood

Currently reading:
???

Magical Readathon: Year in Aeldia
January – start a series: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
February – trees on the cover: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
March – book over 500 pages: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
April – Magical Readathon Spring Equinox
May – book finishes on an even number: ???
June – book you already own: ???
July – read when it’s dark: ???
August – Magical Readathon Autumn Equinox
September – dark academia book: Babel by R.F. Kuang
October – chapters are only numbers: ???
November – random number generator: ???
December – fox on the cover/title: Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

REVIEW: Rocky II (1979)

After Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) goes the distance with champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he retires from boxing and plans to get an everyday job and settle down with the love of his life Adrian (Talia Shire). But when Creed wants a rematch in order to restore his reputation, he begins to insistently goad Rocky to accept the challenge.

I don’t know how controversial this may be but I preferred Rocky II to the original. One of the fun things about watching these films for the first time is that while I’ve been aware of them though pop culture osmosis, I don’t know what happens in each film nor do I really know which films are considered to be the best/worst.

Everything in Rocky II just clicked better for me. Perhaps it helps that now I know these characters so I’m not starting from scratch and am more invested in their relationships. Rocky II follows a similar format to the first in the sense the first half is Rocky trying to live a life away from boxing before getting pulled back into it again and then the second half is the training montages with the boxing match at the end. There’s a surprisingly emotional hurdle for Rocky in that second half though and Stallone really brought a level of sincerity to this character/story that I wasn’t expecting.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve often thought of Stallone as more of just an action star rather than a proper actor, at least when he was young (I have seen Creed and admit he deserved a load of awards for his performance there). Seeing how Stallone portrays the love he has for Adrian and the life he’s trying to build makes me think there was always a great actor in this action hero stereotype. Knowing also how this character/story was created by him, makes this franchise feel like a real labour of love and I’m already looking forward to revisiting Creed once I’ve seen Rocky’s story in full.

One thing I really enjoyed was Rocky’s relationship with his coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith). Their dynamic was excellent and while Mickey was no nonsense and gave Rocky tough love when training him, he also was ready and willing to be by his side when Rocky needed it the most. Mickey’s monologue to Rocky in the church was excellent and possible one of my favourite moments in the film – alongside the training montage where hundreds of schoolkids though the streets of Philadelphia with Rocky. Both scenes got me emotional for different reasons.

Rocky II provides a great rematch for these two larger than life characters and it was good to see more of Creed’s home life to as it made him more sympathetic and it was a good juxtaposition with Rocky’s situation. The final boxing match was really engaging and all the character elements came together really well. A very worthy sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower is the second book in the Winternight trilogy so there may be vague spoilers for the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, in this review.

Vasya has left her village and sets out to be free and discover the wide world. Soon though she encounters the Grand Prince of Moscow and his men, which includes her older brother Sasha, a monk, as they’re on the trial of the rumoured bandits that roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping young girls. Being disguised as a boy, Vasya soon proves herself in battle and gets the respect of the Prince and Sasha reluctantly keeps her secret though danger lurks in Moscow as there are power struggles and it might not just be human but fantastical dangers the city faces as well.

While there is still fantastical elements in The Girl in the Tower with Vasya’s talking horse and the various creatures from folklore Vasya encounters in different peoples homes, the political machinations really takes the forefront in this book compared to the first. Vasya is still headstrong and brave but she is unused to the way people act in court and the double meanings and alliances that can form. Plus, as she’s pretending to be her sibling’s younger brother, there’s always a sense of danger as in this world women should not act as Vasya does. It’s a patriarchal society and women and girls are judged by their looks and presumed virtue and nothing more, Vasya is opinionated and smart and finds a freedom in pretending to be a boy as well as the danger.

The sibling relationships in The Girl in the Tower are really interesting. Vasya is in her late teens and her older brother and sister, Sasha and Olga, are in their twenties and haven’t seen her for at least ten years. Both younger and older siblings struggle to understand and connect with the version of their sibling that’s in front of them when they’re so different to who they remember. It’s an interesting dynamic as Sasha and Olga aren’t who Vasya remembers from her childhood but equally, Vasya perplexes them both as she refuses to be confined and do what is expected of a young woman of her age – marry a man and bear children, or join a convent. Vasya’s wildness grates against Sasha and Olga’s propriety and their understanding of the political and social standings they have in Moscow clashes with her dreams.

The connection Vasya has with Morozko, the Winter King or Frost Demon, continues to be really intriguing. It has the start of romance but at the same time there’s a lot of half truths between them, and how can an immortal demon love a mortal girl without it being the undoing of either of them?

Unlike The Bear and the Nightingale where the first half was slower and more character-driven and then things picked up in the second half, The Girl in the Tower has a lot more action throughout. Though the political plotting can drag a little bit in the middle and there’s a thread of tension through most of the book because you’re waiting to see if/when Vasya’s deception is discovered and if it is, just how bad the consequences will be. The writing in The Girl in the Tower is still excellent though and even odd moments or throwaway lines are purposeful as everything builds to a thrilling ending.

I’m both excited and kind of nervous about what the third and final book of this trilogy will bring. There are prophesies still to be fulfilled for Vasya and for other characters, so The Girl in the Tower has done that wonderful thing of leaving some mysteries and plot threads hanging. Hopefully everything will wrap up nicely as at the moment it looks like The Winter of the Witch has the potential to be an epic conclusion. 4/5.

REVIEW: Rocky (1976)

When world heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) needs a competitor for an exhibition match, he chooses to go for an underdog. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a small-time Philadelphia boxer making his living working for a loan shark, but when he gets the opportunity of a lifetime, he strives to go the distance.

On run up to Creed III I thought I’d re/watch the series. I’ve seen (and loved) the Creed films before and I had watched Rocky a good 6+ years ago but hadn’t seen the many sequels so thought it’d be fun to get all the backstory and references and see what all the fuss is about with this franchise. As I said, I had seen Rocky before, but as it’d been so long ago I remembered next to nothing about it so this was like a first time watch.

I kind of find Rocky fascinating. This little film started a whole franchise and while we all love an underdog story, it’s kind of unbelievable that it grew from this film which feels so incredibly small and indie. Also, where is “Eye of the Tiger”?! I’m guessing it’s in one of the many sequels but it’s kind of wild that the song that’s so synonymous with the Rocky franchise and character isn’t even in the first film. The actual Rocky theme is pretty great though and does suit the characters underdog origins.

I prefer the latter half of Rocky, after he’s invited to compete against Apollo Creed and then starts training and his relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire) develops, as the first half is a lot slower and is more of his everyday life which isn’t really that great. However, I don’t think the latter would be half as impactful if we didn’t see where Rocky came from. Honestly the ending and how Rocky slowly opens up to Adrian before the fight makes me appreciate the first half more with hindsight. You need to see how Rocky is kind of coasting through life and not really believing in himself, so when he does start to really work for his dream it’s all the more impactful.

The start of Rocky and Adrian’s romance does make me a bit uncomfortable as her shyness/hesitancy and Rocky’s persistence does feel a bit like he’s stomping all over her boundaries. I know this sort of thing was pretty normal in the 70s (and even today in rom-coms the (often male) love interests persistence tends to be rewarded) but the way it’s shot and Shire’s performance does make Adrian and Rocky’s first kiss feel a bit off to me. As their relationship evolves and the balance they find in each other, it does become a sweet romance – Rocky saying “she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps” is one of the most romantic things I’ve heard in a film in a while. Was such a unique way of saying the usual “she completes me” line.

Rocky is a pretty great underdog story and, for a sports movie, features very little boxing. It’s more about Rocky as a character and the connections he has with his friends, trainer, and girlfriend. The slow and meandering first half is worth it as the final act is pretty great. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church. But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

I loved this book. Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to begin with as it’s the first book in a trilogy that has so much hype but the writing and atmosphere pulled me in really quickly. The first part is a lot slower paced than I was expecting but it’s never not interesting and all of the family dynamics and the background political rumblings it sets up come into play later on. Spending the time with the characters and their relationships to begin with allowed them time to grow and really deepen. Vasya’s relationship with her older brother Alyosha (who is closest to her in age) was especially great and relatable as while he didn’t necessarily believe in the stories and magic, he believed in his sister.

The Bear and the Nightingale is set in a medieval Russia where the folktales, magic and old religions are real but most people treat them as superstitions. Vasya though, has always been able to see the creatures and spirits that protect her home and the surrounding countryside while others could not. She talks to them and they talk back and as she grows older, they teach her things while she learns to keep what she can see and sense a secret because the villagers may call her a witch.

I really liked how the old religions came into conflict with the “new” religion when Konstantin, a Christian priest, arrives and starts to push the word of God. He is a character I loved to hate. Though there was the odd moment where he was so pathetic that he became almost sympathetic, he was so frustratingly righteous and stubborn that I relished in every moment where things did not go his way. He’s almost unwanted obsession with Vasya as she becomes a young woman was uncomfortable at times and their verbal sparring battles just made me like Vaya more.

Vasya is a wonderful character. The Bear and the Nightingale follows her from her birth until she is a teenager and you see from the outset, she’s been a wild child who doesn’t often do what’s expected of a girl her age. This does make her come into conflict with her family, especially her father, who wants to protect her, and her stepmother, who can’t stand her actions most of the time. Vasya can make impulsive decisions but she’s very loyal and caring and as she respects the creatures and guardians from tales, she can tell when bad things are about to happen and do her best to prepare her family for it.

The writing in The Bear and the Nightingale is excellent and often painted a vivid picture of the cold, harsh world Vasya grows up in and all the creatures are larger than life. I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long and while I’m not usually a seasonal mood reader, I’m glad I picked it up during winter when it’s cold and dark and frosty as it really added to the reading experience.

I really enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so enthralled by a story and I’m looking forward to continuing on with the trilogy. 5/5.

REVIEW: Wildcat (2022)

Wildcat contains trigger warnings for PTSD, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and discussions of alcoholism and domestic abuse.

Back from war in Afghanistan Harry Turner, a young British soldier struggling with depression and PTSD, finds a second chance in the Amazon rainforest when he meets Samantha Zwicker, an American scientist and conservationist, and together they foster an orphaned baby ocelot.

What I really liked about Wildcat is that while the starting point is Harry’s relationship with the baby ocelot and how he learns to be a mother figure to it and teach it all it needs to know to survive in the wild, it branches out to being about Harry’s mental health and how putting all his love, focus and attention into this ocelot could be detrimental to him and the people around him.

Wildcat went into Harry’s mental health issues more than I was expecting and while it was a very open portrayal of his struggles, it also showed how loving someone who has such dark thoughts and can hurt themselves, is a struggle for the people around them too. The ocelot is like a lifeline to Harry and though he still cares about Samantha and his family, it’s like he is pinning all his happiness on the ocelot’s survival and success, which is not healthy for either of them.

The conversation work Samantha and her team do is invaluable, and Wildcat does a good job of going into the dangers the animals in the rainforest face. Plus it’s nice to see that she’s understanding of some of the locals actions as often the only way they can really earn money is through logging and mining – both of which is detrimental to the wildlife. It never comes across that Samantha knows best because she’s American compared to her Peruvian co-workers and locals who she often helps out and learns from. It’s clear that the logging and mining is part of a wider problem that people with more power and influence need to solve, not the people who are just trying to earn enough money for their families.

Wildcat shows the incredible bond humans can have with wild animals and Harry’s relationship with the ocelot is very sweet and it’s always lovely to see footage of cute animals that we don’t typically see. Wildcat is a really thoughtful and impactful documentary and one that’s incredibly honest. It’s both sad and hopeful and it truly gives you an unfiltered look into the life of someone struggling with depression and shows how there’s good days and bad days. 4/5.

My reading in 2022 and bookish goals for 2023

After a not great reading year in 2021, I was back on track in 2022. I made my Read the World Project my focus and I completed it before my self-imposed deadline! That’s novels/poetry/non-fiction/short stories from 205 different countries around the world. I’m so happy that I broadened my reading horizons that way and I really do feel a sense of accomplishment over it.

My goal in 2022 was to read 52 books and review half of them and I smashed that target – I read 79 books and reviewed 42 of them. I always want to have an equal split between male and female authors if possible, with the understanding that it’ll probably be leaning towards women which it was in 2022. “Both” got a decent sized chunk last year as I read The Old Guard comics and reread/caught up on the Saga comics series and both of them are written by both men and women writers and artists. When it comes to what genres I read in 2022, Sci-fi got a bit of a boost thanks to the Saga comics and because I reread the Hunger Games trilogy and then the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Horror definitely made an appearance thanks to the 12 Challenge as I’m normally a complete wuss. I started 2022 with 88 books on my physical/digital TBR and I ended it with 75 books on my TBR! That number has been the goal for my owned TBR for the past two years and I’ve finally done it. (more…)

My film year in review and my film-related goals of 2023

In 2022 I was very chill about film-watching and didn’t make myself watch things like the awards buzzy films just to keep in the loop (which was one of my goals last year!). I do think my whole procrastinating/mindless scrolling through social media did possibly have an affect on my film-watching like it did my reading at times though. I did also re/watch Doctor Who from Christopher Eccleston to the end of Jodie Whitaker’s era (I kind of stopped watching when the Ponds left and didn’t start again until the middle of Thirteen’s run) which took me six months so watching a couple of episodes of Doctor Who took the same time as watching a film might’ve.

In total I watched 177 different films, about 40 of which were rewatches. I said 2021 was the year I’d watched the least films but turns out 2022 now beats that which I’m OK with as I still watched a lot of good films, including these which made my Favourite Films of 2022 list. I still do enjoy watching films, whether they’re the latest blockbuster or something more obscure that I’m only watching because there’s an actor I like in it, but it’s nice not to put any pressure on myself to hit an arbitrary number or anything. I did see 45 different films at the cinema which was more than I expected because unlike previous years I didn’t really spend many Saturday’s at the cinema watching two or more films in a row like I used to. Again, I think this is a sign of me being choosier over what I want to watch rather than going to the cinema just for the sake of it. I did have an unlimited card which meant for about £16 a month I could see as many films as I like but I don’t think I was using it to its full potential as I used to so I cancelled it. I did get a similar card for a cinema that’s a lot closer to me (as in less than a 10-minute walk away) so I can go see a film at like 6pm after work and walk there rather than having a 30 minutes’ drive to the cinema.

I completed my 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and writers again this year which I’m always happy about. Though it wasn’t intentionally I did like how only one of the films directed by women was a rewatch – which was of course, Mamma Mia! (more…)