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There’s something about winter that puts me on a big fantasy kick. Part of it is wanting the comfort of familiar stories and characters when I get sick, I’m sure. And maybe I associate fantasy with winter because characters are always traipsing through snow at some point in their journeys. Or maybe I just need more pages to read, as I spend more time in bubble baths and curled up under blankets with a hot beverage when the cold rolls in. Whatever the reason, I welcome a bit of magic in my life this time of year.

Also, I’m working on 34 or so of my favorite books, but I can’t re-read a book in a series without re-reading the whole series, apparently.

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Here are the books I read in November:

His Dark Materials Omnibus (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) (1995, 1997, 2000) by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is a coming-of-age trilogy of fantasy novels set in a parallel world. Young Lyra is untamable in her world at Jorden College with her daemon Pantalaimon by her side, but after the children she plays with on the streets begin disappearing, she must set off on a long journey into the wild frozen North in a world of armored bears and witches. When her world opens up, she questions the theocratic rule of the land to find the truth about the nature of good and evil, innocence, knowledge, and growing up.

This is a young adult series I deeply wish I had found as a young adult, though I loved it the first time I read it when I was 20 and I love it even more now. The books are fascinating in concept, and lovers of fantasy will appreciate fantastic takes on the genre, which can only be derived from Pullman’s interest in philosophy and science in addition to fantasy. What I love most about them, even more than the deeply flawed lovable characters and the beautiful descriptive language, is that these three books force you to think. Unlike most fantasy novels, which center around black and white divisions of good and evil, the motivations of the factions in this book are complicated with many facets. It’s not always easy to tell what is right, which makes following the characters’ moral decisions so much more interesting. The result is a book that haunts my thoughts when I’m through. And that’s the hallmark of something wonderful.

Mixed Media Masterpieces (2013) by Jenny Heid and Aaron Nieradka

Mixed Media Masterpieces is an amazing craft book filled with unique mixed media projects and art journaling techniques. The over 20 projects inside include skills in papercrafting, painting, sculpting, and jewelry making and are sure to get you familiar with all sorts of new-to-you mediums whether you are a beginner or a seasoned crafter. Jenny’s and Aaron’s expertise in their artistry shows through in every word, photograph, and project–it is really no wonder that their art designs are so popular and widely sold. If you want to know just how big a deal these two are, just pop over to their about page.

I already reviewed this book when we did a giveaway, so I’ll just copy that over again:

We bought the book on pre-order and it was love at first flip-through. Just a quick pass through the pages gave me a ton of ideas, and I loved it just as much reading it cover to cover… which I could only do when Jonas was sleeping, because everyone had to be “hands off” of his “cupcake book.” We have already done a few of the projects with Eliza and Jonas. The detailed instructions, including photos taking you through the steps, were easy enough to follow that seven year old Eliza could follow along reading without our help! If it passed the kid test, you know the instructions are thorough.

The thing I love most about this book is that it is full of techniques translatable into any style. Jenny’s and Aaron’s style is distinct: pink and teal, cupcakes, bunnies, and vintage photos and imagery are the pillars of their art. I love their work and am excited to replicate some of the projects in the book exactly (the step-by-step instructions make that SO EASY), but I’m also so happy that the techniques taught in the book can easily be translated into other projects that are fitting to my style! I can’t wait to get my hands dirty creating my own patterned papers using the art journaling techniques!

Of note: We totally have failed at sharing the projects we (and by we I mean Eliza and I) have made from the book so far, but they’re coming soonish, I promise. It’s really hard to set aside time to photograph the stuff with her when it gets dark so very early!

A Feast for Crows (2005) by George R. R. Martin

In the fourth book of the epic fantasy Song of Ice and Fire series, a kingdom ravaged by war finally reaches an uneasy peace from the battlefield, but the aftermath of war leaves the kingdom wounded, with those left squabbling over the crumbs.

I had a hard time loving this book the first time I read it because I didn’t know what I was in for. Book 3 ended with some pretty major twists, and I was longing to see those stories furthered. The novels in this series switch character perspective each chapter, and I read almost half of the book waiting for certain lovable characters to appear before I realized it just wasn’t going to happen. This is because George R. R. Martin decided to have the fourth and fifth books follow the same timeline, while splitting them geographically. It was originally one book that just got too long to handle. Knowing all of that made this a much more enjoyable to read through a second time. I love that this book really focuses on the stories of the women of Westeros.

Of note: It is impossible to really talk much more about the book here, because even naming the characters in it gives things away due to Martin’s propensity to brutally kill of characters you think have to live until the end thanks to the unspoken rules of literature.

Here are the books I read in December:

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5) (2011) by George R. R. Martin

The fifth book of the epic fantasy Song of Ice and Fire series.

I’m going to have a hard time waiting for what I know will be YEARS before the final two novels in the series come out.

Of note: I know it is ridiculously nerdy to re-read this series after I just read them last year, but a second read through helped me to catch a few more things and helped me to confirm my elaborate theories about what’s going to happen next.

The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again (1937) by J. R. R. Tolkien

In this children’s fantasy novel, Bilbo Baggins, a quiet and respectable hobbit who loves the simple things in life, is thrown into a quest with thirteen dwarves seeking to rescue their homeland from a dragon thanks to the wizard Gandalf.

I re-read this after seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I forgot how action packed it is! There’s something crazy every chapter. Mostly, I love the humor in the narration (something that is much less prominent in The Lord of the Rings). I can’t wait to read it aloud to Eliza sometime this year.

The Fellowship of the Ring (1954) by J. R. R. Tolkien

This epic high fantasy novel is the first of three parts to the novel The Lord of the Rings. An ordinary hobbit, Frodo, is given a task on which the fate of the word rests. He joins with an unlikely fellowship to aid him in his quest.

This is where my obsessive love of fantasy began (though I had read and loved children’s fantasy novels before reading this in my early teenage years).

Of note: I believe that you either have to really love fantasy or like classics to stick it through with these books. Many of my friends (and many modern readers) don’t love the chapters full of rich descriptions of walking through the woods.

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Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What have you been reading lately?

P.S. I’ve signed myself up for a few book clubs, so that will be fun! In person, one of my friends invited me to join in on her club. I’m jumping in with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Online, I’m participating in the L&R Book Club, brought to life by my friend Amy. This club is a little different, though! It’s a “Non-fiction, leadership/business/self-helpy/personal development book club.” Bring it on. Have you ever been in a book club? What was the experience like for you?

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