This is getting a bit personal…
There are not only words, but entire worlds, trapped inside the books we read. We need to set them all free, to make our world a better place with them in it.
Some books I read only for ‘the fun of it’, some others touch my heart deeply with their aching beauty.. But there are also stories that linger, stories that haunt me, characters that never want me to let go of them. And for some of those, there is -and it will always be- this article.
To be honest, it is a very tiny list – way too short for all my favourites books to fit in it. I could actually make 10 such lists with 10 different books on them and they would all still mean the world to me.
And maybe from time to time I should do just that – come up with some other 10 books, share a few other pieces of my soul. Because I think that the books we read & love are (for better or worse) a lot more about us, and less about the authors or the characters – there’s one book only, but a million readers and a million plus one ways to interpret it.
The ‘book bucket challenge’
– in no particular order-
1. On the Jellicoe Road – by Melina Marchetta
2. Golden – by Jessi Kirby
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – by Laini Taylor
4. Unwind – by Neal Shusterman
5. Feed / Newsflesh Series- by Mira Grant
6. The Lumatere Chronicles – by Melina Marchetta
7. Between Shades of Gray – by Ruta Sepetys
8. Cinder / Lunar Chronicles – by Marissa Meyer
9. Graffiti Moon – by Cath Crowley
10. Every Day – by David Levinthan
And because this is my list, what you will find below is the way I see these stories and the marks they’ve left on my heart.
So.. What’s so special about them all?
1. On the Jellicoe Road – My top favourite story in this world.
This book is like a roller coaster, a story meant to break hearts – one about true friendship and love, about forgiveness and salvation, about hope and disappointment, about life and death and everything in between.
It simply left me in awe because each tiny detail has an extraordinary meaning. Everything has value, all words have power – to make you laugh or cry, to dream and hope – and the real beauty of it is connecting all the threads in this fabulous piece of art. What will always stay with me is Taylor’s need to belong, to be loved, to find the pieces that will make her life whole again; she is one of my favourite characters and the one I can relate with the best.
Also, Melina Marchetta is the author I love the most and this is not the only book from her on my list.
“See, I remember love. That’s what people don’t understand.”
“And life goes on, which seems kind of strange and cruel when you’re watching someone die.”
“Is a person worth more because they have someone to grieve for them?”
“It’s funny how you can forget everything except people loving you. Maybe that’s why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs. It’s not the pain they’re getting over, it’s the love.”
“But grief makes a monster out of us sometimes . . . and sometimes you say and do things to the people you love that you can’t forgive yourself for.”
2. Golden – a reflection on present, future and past.
Sometimes it is not about the actual story, but the messages within.
Jessi Kirby doesn’t play with words, she plays with emotions. Her stories don’t have complicate plots, but subtle ones. Her prose is so beautiful that it leaves you breathless, the edge of her words cuts deep into your soul.. You can never have enough of her stories and I can never put into words how much I love everything written by her.
This question might not belong to her, but Jessi has a way to make her words linger, and I still hear these words like echoes on the back of my mind: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”. It made me think, it made me reconsider just how delicate the thread of life really is, how easily things may change in life, what paths we take and just how surprisingly different the destinations really can be.
“You know… sometimes we meet our destiny on the road we take to avoid it.”
“But sometimes life gives us those rare moments where we do see chance as it’s happening. And in those moments, we have a choice. And sometimes we have to take a risk. And it’s scary. It makes us vulnerable. But I know now it’s worth it.”
“But what I realize, here, now, is that it’s not actually making the choice that takes courage. It’s facing it afterward. Owning up to it, whether it’s good or bad.”
“I want this day to be my fresh start. I want this to be the day I step out of my comfort zone and go somewhere new.”
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on. — Robert Frost”
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Tell me.. do you really know who’s the ‘monster’ in your story?
We love to think that things are black or white. We like to think that things are either good or bad. But what about the gray shades, what about the in-betweens? What about the mistakes, what about the heartbreak, what about the happy endings?
No person is absolutely good or bad, no action can be seen from just one point of view, nothing can be defined in one way only, and nothing can be strictly categorised. Everything is relative in life, we live in the shades – not in the sunshine, not in the complete darkness, we make mistakes and we try to amend them. So… You might not be the monster in your story, but what about someone else’s?
Favourite quotes (+from the series):
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”
“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.”
“Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?”
“It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.”
“Was there any fate more bitter than to get what you long for most, when it’s too late?”
“Dead souls dream only of death. Small dreams for small men. It is life that expands to fill worlds. Life is your master, or death is” – Days of Blood & Starlight
“A dream dirty and bruised is better than no dream at all.” – Days of Blood & Starligh
“Soldiers and children do as they’re told. Children grow out of it, but soldiers just die.” – Dreams of Gods & Monsters
“People with secrets shouldn’t make enemies. People with destinies shouldn’t make plans.” – Dreams of Gods & Monsters
4. Unwind – Do you ever wonder what exactly makes you human?
What about how much is your life worth? And are you only the sum of your parts or are you something more? But just how much is that ‘more’ or how little?
With human beings thinking that they (we) are above everything else on Earth (even mother nature should bend to their wishes if they’d have a say on it) I always wondered how wrong that is. But I do read books that show me the opposite, I do love to find out what defines us, what makes us what we think we are. UNWIND (and the series as a whole) is not intended to give answers, but between the lines you do find amazing things, beautiful things and even heartbreaking things about the human nature.
Favourite quotes (+from the series):
“Stupid dreams. Even the good ones are bad, because they remind you how poorly reality measures up.”
“In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn’t a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is.”
“The sad truth about humanity…is that people believe what they’re told. Maybe not the first time, but by the hundredth time, the craziest of ideas just becomes a given.”
“The measure of a man is not how much he suffers in the test, but how he comes out at the end.” – UnWholly
“How do you judge the brightness of a light when you’re the source? A spotlight can never see the shadows it casts.” – UnWholly>
“She plays music to heal herself, but nothing can heal her brokenness.” – UnWholly
5. Feed – How far are you willing to go in your quest to find the truth?
Like with the previous 2 items on the list, FEED is the first book in an amazing series, and the story would not be complete without the rest of the books. There’s a lot packed into this series – there are politics, biological weapons, journalistic secrets, the search for an absolute truth that could break humanity apart and quite a lot more. But what I loved the most was the focus on the human nature – and you might notice a pattern right now, as all these books do have this in common. FEED questions friendship; it shows the struggle between what’s wrong and right, it shows that sometimes the gray shades are difficult to reach; it makes you wonder just how much are you willing to sacrifices for the truth and it also makes you wonder if it is all worth it after all.
Favourite quotes (+from the series):
“The difference between the truth and a lie is that both of them can hurt, but only one will take the time to heal you afterward.”
“If we didn’t fear the truths we didn’t hear, we’d lose the need to fear the ones we did.”
“I have to find the heart of every subject as fast as I can, pin it down on the page, and then cut it wide open for the audience to see.”
“And if there’s somebody you love, tell them. The world always needs more love.” – Deadline
“…Even saying good-bye isn’t enough. There’s always one more thing you should have had the time to say, or do, or ask. There’s always going to be that one missing piece.” – Deadline
“Given a choice between life and death, choose life. Given a choice between right and wrong, choose what’s right. And given a choice between a terrible truth and a beautiful lie, choose the truth every time.” – Blackout
“…a truth you don’t understand is more dangerous than a lie.” – Blackout
6. The Lumatere Chronicles – When the unspeakable happens, there are not enough soothing words in the whole world to heal the wounds left behind.
This is fantasy, but if you think that fantasy stories are all about sunshine and rainbows and knights in shining armours, your world is just about to crumble. Sit tight, put your heart on a silver plate and watch it break slowly.
Some stories can be dark and heart-breaking, but also beautiful and fun. They can show you how wonderful though also cruel a world can be, they can teach you a thing or two about compassion, about honour, about justice.. And just like before, about the in-betweens.
“Be prepared for the worst, my love, for it lives next door to the best.” – Finnikin of the Rock
“Because without our language, we have lost ourselves. Who are we without our words?” – Finnikin of the Rock
“There are worse things than a lie and there are better things than the truth!” – Finnikin of the Rock
“Somehow, even in the worst of times, the tiniest fragments of good survive. It was the grip in which one held those fragments that counted.” – Finnikin of the Rock
“If we forget who we lost, then we forget who we once were, and if we forget who we once were, we lose sight of who we are now.” – Froi of the Exiles
“If your people mean no offense, they should not speak their thoughts out loud in front of their children, Tesadora. Because it will be their children who come to slaughter us one day, all because of the careless words passed down by their elders who meant no harm. – Froi of the Exiles
But she stepped forward and placed a finger to his lips and there it was before him. The greatest prayer to the gods he could muster with a heart so broken. “Don’t let me outlive this woman. Don’t let me exist one moment without her” – Quintana of Charyn
7. Between Shades of Gray – There is always hope, even in the darkest places or times.
Quick note: Don’t you dare go thinking of all those shades of crap piling up on too many shelves on thousands and thousands of bookstores all over the world. Because simply put: this is not that story.
What we have here is a book that you can keep close to your heart, a story that can make you smile and also ache. A story that sits hard on our hearts because of all the history and horrors it is based on.
But there is always hope and there is always a tiny smile that finds a way to reach you, a tiny spark in the dark. I believe in the good side of human nature, and (unfortunately) we could not appreciate it fully without seeing its ugly side. But how I wish we could! Because our history is written in (innocent) blood, and we can only find forgiveness in a better, brighter future. And that’s what I hope for.
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”
“We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean.”
“Sometimes there is such beauty in awkwardness. There’s love and emotion trying to express itself, but at the time, it just ends up being awkward.”
“I planted a seed of hatred in my heart. I swore it would grow to be a massive tree whose roots would strangle them all.”
“Sometimes kindness can be delivered in a clumsy way. But it’s far more sincere in its clumsiness than those distinguished men you read about in books. Your father was very clumsy.”
“I shut the bathroom door and caught sight of my face in the mirror. I had no idea how quickly it was to change, to fade. If I had, I would have stared at my reflection, memorizing it. It was the last time I would look into a real mirror for more than a decade.”
8. Cinder – Because every girl needs a fairytale.
…But I might like them with a spin-off.
To be honest, I am not into retellings, I even want to read the actual, original tales – before Disney came along and made them pretty, glittering and filled with happy endings. But the Lunar Chronicles (starting with Cinder, the first book in the series) are addictive, beautiful, original and the characters are absolutely adorable. It took me a while to decide to just dive into it, but afterwords I wondered why in the world didn’t I read this story sooner. Fresh, action-packed and with a touch of emotion (again making you wonder about the human nature, and what exactly makes you ‘human’), this story is a perfect addition to the list. Because fairytales give us hope, and hope makes us better as individuals.
Favourite quotes (+from the series):
“Even in the future the story begins with Once Upon a Time.”
“Vanity is a factor, but it is more a question of control. It is easier to trick others into perceiving you as beautiful if you can convince yourself you are beautiful. But mirrors have an uncanny way of telling the truth.”
“I lied to you about a lot of things….but I meant every apology.” – Scarlet
“Maybe there isn’t such a thing as fate. Maybe it’s just the opportunities we’re given, and what we do with them. I’m beginning to think that maybe great, epic romances don’t just happen. We have to make them ourselves.” – Cress
9. Graffiti Moon – Because art can be so beautiful it hurts.
We all have hopes, and dreams, and hidden wishes that would mean the world to us if only they would come true one day. They might be life-saving, important, or they might be silly, but they are part of us either way.
And then there is art, there is passion, there are the beautiful things we create, the way we see the world, the way we interpret everything around us. We can all take a look, we can all read a few words, but we can never feel the same. And I find this to be absolutely beautiful – that every book is unique as seen through our eyes, that every emotion belongs to each of us only and to no one else.
GRAFFITI MOON is a sweet story, a happy story, one full of hope and the magic one night can bring into one’s life, and Cath Crowley is great at painting words in such colourful, vivid ways.. It feels like you can almost touch them, taste them on your lips.
“I like that about art, that what you see is sometimes more about who you are than what’s on the wall. I look at this painting and think about how everyone has some secret inside, something sleeping like that yellow bird.”
“I escaped onto the wall, a painted ghost trapped in a jar. I stood back to look at it and I knew the sad thing wasn’t that the ghost was running out of air. The sad thing was that he had enough air in that small space to last him a lifetime. What were you thinking, little ghost? Letting yourself get trapped like that?”
“I guess love’s kind of like a marshmallow in a microwave on high. After it explodes it’s still a marshmallow, but you know, now it’s a complicated marshmallow.”
“It’s harder to make someone laugh than it is to make them cry.”
“If you don’t want a generation of robots, fund the arts!”
10. Every Day – Each day a different person, each time a different story.
And so, we come back to the human nature, we come back to our struggles and happiness, with the lows and the highs and everything in between. It is not the actual love story from the book that I hold close to my heart, but the stories told through each character that “A” impersonates (no, I am not lazy, “A” is a name). They are broken, they are misunderstood, they hurt and they need mending. They all have an emotional past that shapes their future and you can learn something from each and every one of them.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: We all want everything to be okay. We don’t even wish so much for fantastic or marvellous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.”
“I only have a day to give – so why can’t it be a good one?”
“This is what love does: It makes you want to rewrite the world. It makes you want to choose the characters, build the scenery, guide the plot. The person you love sits across from you, and you want to do everything in your power to make it possible, endlessly possible. And when it’s just the two of you, alone in a room, you can pretend that this is how it is, this is how it will be.”
“I want love to conquer all. But love can’t conquer anything. It can’t do anything on it’s own. It relies on us to do the conquering on its behalf.”
“People are rarely as attractive in reality as they are in the eyes of the people who are in love with them. Which is, I suppose, as it should be.”
“If you stare at the center of the universe, there is coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other.”
“When first love ends, most people eventually know there will be more to come. They are not through with love. Love is not through with them. It will never be the same as the first, but it will be better in different ways.”
“The clock always ticks. There are times you don’t hear it, and there are times that you do.”
Happy midnight reading!
PS: I didn’t actually intend to respond to this challenge, but I kept thinking of all the books that have left an imprint on me over the time – and I felt the need to put the list out, in the open.
I won’t challenge anyone in return, though I encourage each and all of you to share your favourite reads with your loved ones, or in the comments, or wherever you want to do it.
PSS: Thanks, Iulia, for making me come up with this list! Hugs!