Monthly Archives: March 2018

RTY: The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

Hey Everyone!

I hope you’re all well and getting excited for Easter. As we are approaching the end of March, I am well aware I haven’t posted about my choice of book for March’s instalment of Read The Year. The criteria for March was: Read a book about a woman you hadn’t previously heard of. The suggestions were all non fiction. However, I was inspired by a fellow blogging friends review of The Bear and the Nightingale. Thank you so much Orangutan Librarian! I’ve never heard of it, didn’t know about the characters and I didn’t know the writer. Without you, I probably wouldn’t have known about it. The author is female as is the protagonist. Therefore, it fits the criteria perfectly.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel opens in the middle of a cold night in the home of Marina and Pyotr Vladimirovich. The setting made me feel incredibly cold (helped by the description and the snow on the ground here whilst I was reading it!)

The family’s Nurse, Dunya, is telling the children a tale about a girl sent to marry the frost demon (Morozko). The tale shows how the girl was incredibly brave when the frost demon came to her. He rewards this by sending her back to her family with a large dowry.

The reader also learns that Marina is frail and pregnant once again. Whilst this causes concern, she decides she will have the baby as she knows this daughter will be special. Sadly, Marina dies in childbirth. As prophesied, Vasya is a special girl and she has the ability to see and speak to a number of spirits who live in her house and the surrounding forest. My favourite is the spirit who lives in the oven. These sprints embody helpfulness, mischievousness and also danger. For example, the water nymph likes to lure men to their death so she can feast on their death.

Vasya is a wild girl who lives to run away from her chores to be outside. When she is a child of 6 years, she gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon a sleeping man. She awakes him and asks for help. Whilst doing this she notices he only has one eye. She is naturally quite frightened. To save her, another man appears on a white horse.

“Wild birds die in cages.”

Pyotr knows he needs someone to bring his daughter into line; she needs a mother figure. He travels to Moscow to find another bride for himself and a husband for his daughter, Olga.

More descriptions of a freezing, bitterly cold Russia envelope Pyotr’s time there. The current Prince wants to make sure his son, who is still a child, will be safe to rule the land when he dies and that no one will try and derail him. He decides to marry off one such potential to Olga. After a scuffle. Pyotr returns with a necklace.

“I do not understand “damned.” You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.”

The prince also decides to marry off his daughter Anna. She is a slightly obscure character who comes across as quite cold. It is revealed that she is considered mad. She can also see the spirits but she’s convinced they are demons. By marrying Anna off, she will be hidden away.

Pyotr marries Anna and they return home. But, Anna is much worse because there are even more spirits there. She spends most of her time crying and alone. She is constantly seen praying or looking for the church. Olga is married off and goes to Moscow. Anna decides that Vasya can join her when she’s grown up, something that Vasya takes great comfort from.

The necklace from before is given from Pyotr to Dunya, to pass onto Vasya. Dunya recognises it as a talisman and is immediately afraid. She decides to keep it hidden. Yet in her dream, the strange man, we later learn to be Frost (or the frost demon) comes to her quite upset. She bargains with him to wait for the necklace to be passed on.

Much to Anna’s distaste, life continues as it was. Vasya continues to give offerings to the spirits and communicate with them. She continued to be happier outside exploring, rather than inside.

There is a new visitor to the community, a priest, Konstantin. His deployment at first bothers him as he views it as being dumped in the middle of nowhere. When he meets Anna, she reveals all about seeing demons. Konstantin decides God has sent him there to save everyone from their wicked ways. He feeds off their fears to convince and persuade them to give up the offerings to the sprints.

As a result of the decline in offerings, they start to weaken and call on Vasya to help feed them. There are much larger problems though. The weather is colder, the logs are burning faster and people are seriously struggling. Many beasts start to roam the village and people die in mysterious ways.

Vasya is warned by the spirits that there are vague evils that are coming because people have ceased to leave the offerings. The dead are signs of how it is worsening.

Dunya is visited again by the strange man (Morozko) pushing for the talisman to be given to Vasya. As before, Dunya bargains for one more year as she believes Vasya isn’t ready yet. Meanwhile, Anna believes and decides that all these problems are caused by Vasya. She is aware that she still speaks to the spirits and is stubborn and will not give up the old ways. Anna wants to marry her off to rid them of this problem. Both Pyotr and Dunya are fretful about the talisman and what it means. They know from the tales of the frost demon are always centred about maidens. Therefore, if she is married, he will lose interest in her.

Pyotr finds a suitable match for his daughter, in his opinion, and celebrations start in preparation for the wedding. However, Vasya doesn’t trust her fiancée because she can tell her horse does not like him and is scared of him. Trouble is foreshadowed as following this, Vasya’s nephew tries to ride her pony. The pony gets spooked when she sees a demon shadow and bolts. Vasya jumps onto the nearest gore and goes after them, saving the nephew. Despite, or because of her valiant efforts, her fiancée is embarrassed, sees that all is not what it seems (after all she isn’t your bog standard woman) and calls off the wedding. The only other option for women at this time was to be sent to a convent. Anna is all for this! She wishes she herself had been so lucky…

“Married! Not to retreat, but to be the mistress of a lord’s domain; not to be safe in a convent, but to live as some lord’s breeding sow.”

Once again Dunya is visited by another time, however this time it is Pyotr’s dead children because she continues to not give the talisman to Vasya. Her hand freezes when she wakes up and she grabs the necklace. She begins to die. She protects Vasya until the end. Just before she passes, she passes the talisman to her. Little does Vasya know what it holds for her.

Konstantin becomes besotted, almost obsessed with Vasya. It is his belief that she is a temptress, sent to seduce him from his holy art. He’s attacked several times by the spirits by Vasya saves him. He’s under the impression that this was her fault anyway.

He then starts to hear a voice quite frequently; his belief being that it is God. He urges all villagers to fear and despise Vasya in the hope that she is driven away. Konstantin convinces Anna to send Vasya to a convent now, her father can wait and will understand. Vasya obviously doesn’t wish to go. They have to tie her up ready for the departure the next day.

But Vasya is wise and is able to escape. She flees to the woods and ends up lost, exhausted and freezing. She stumbles again onto the one eyed man from her childhood (Medved) and is almost attacked by Dunya whom has been turned into a vampire. Morozko shows up just in the crack of time to save her and take her to his magical abode.

Vasya slowly recovers and she is told by Morozko that his brother needs her in order to escape the bounds placed upon him. The consequences would be disastrous if he ever did become free as he would cause war and feed on people’s fear. Vasya is given her own magical horse, Solovey, who follows her around. It is clear that these two care for each other. But, she wants to return home, despite how they behaved towards her.

“You are too attached to things as they are,” said Morozko, combing the mare’s withers. He glanced down idly. “You must allow things to be what best suits your purpose. And then they will.”

Konstantin discovers that the voice talking to him isn’t God but it is Medved. He is told that the voice will leave him in peace if he brings him someone who can hear the spirits. He realises that Anna would be perfect so he ticks her. Anna goes into the forest to meet her demise.

It is for the best was on the tip of the priest’s tongue. But he thought again of years, of childbearing and exhaustion. The wildness gone, the hawk’s grace chained up… He swallowed. It is for the best. The wildness was sinful.”

Vasya returns in the nick of time to discover that Anna is missing. She enlists the help of her brother Alyosha to help. Vasya knows that Medved can use Anna to free himself. When she finds Anna, she sees a zombie attacking her. Anna dies and a battle breaks out between the spirits. They each take sides between Morozko and his brother, who has now turned into a bear.

Amazingly, Vasya is able to speak to the actual Dunya. She gets her to remember her past life and asks Morozko is take her to die properly. He does so, leaving the battle. This leads Vasya and her brother to fight the bear on their own. Her father turns up to save the day. Medved says if Pyotr let’s him have Vasya, he will leave everyone else alone but her father will not and can not do it. He sacrifices himself for his daughter. He does this without fear meaning Medved becomes bound once again and transforms back to the one eyed man.

Vasya realises she is now completely isolated and alone and that she must leave the village. No one trusts her, they all think she is still a witch. She decides she must leave but before she does she goes and warns Konstantin. She flies away on her horse with plans to see the world. Her first visit: Morozko’s house, where she is welcomed in from the relentless cold.

“Solovey will take me to the ends of the earth if I ask it. I am going into the world, Alyosha. I will be no one’s bride, neither of man nor of God. I am going to Kiev and Sarai and Tsargrad, and I will look upon the sun on the sea.”

 

 

Overview

I really enjoyed this book. It was magical on every page, but an adult magic. The characters are compelling. I loved the little spirits, especially the one who lived in the oven. I could feel the cold from the descriptions and I could feel the fear from the villagers when things were going wrong. At the back of my copy is a little sample from the next novel. More magic awaits.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge

Macbeth – William Shakespeare

Hey lovelies!

Hope you’re all well and enjoying the spring sunshine which has decided to appear today. It’s been a glorious day!

Today, I wanted to take this opportunity to review one of my favourite Shakespeare plays: Macbeth. I’ve had the opportunity to teach this a lot over the years which is quite a privilege, opening the doors one of Shakespeare’s most popular psychological thrillers to the next generation.

Also, this post was prompted by managing to get my hands on a ticket to see the RSC’s new production staring Christopher Ecclestone and Niamh Cusack. It’s sold out until July so I’ve been quite lucky really. I’m so looking forward to seeing this! (Information about this production and tickets here. )

 

What’s it all about?

Set in Scotland, the play opens with three witches planning to meet Macbeth after he has finished fighting in a great battle on behalf of King and country. The audience hear how amazing and heroic Macbeth is through the Captain.

‘For brave Macbeth!’

Once the battle has finished, Macbeth and his best friend Banquo come across the witches. They offer Macbeth three predictions: that Macbeth will become Thane of Glamis, Cawdor and King of Scotland. They predict that Banquo’s sons will become king. Whilst Banquo is very suspicious about this, Macbeth is completely enraptured. He lies when Banquo later asks him about them.

‘I think not of them.’

King Duncan decides to reward Macbeth for his bravery in battle and gives him the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth writes a letter to his wife, Lady Macbeth to tell her the good news. She’s just as pleased as he is. After all, it means she will get a crown too.

‘They met me in the day of success: and I have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in them than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire to question them further, they made themselves air, into which they vanished.’

A messenger then tells Lady Macbeth that King Duncan is on his way to their castle for a banquet to celebrate. Lady Macbeth calls on the evil spirits to help her kill King Duncan. After all, that title has been promised to her husband and he is in the way!

‘Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.’

Macbeth, however, doesn’t seem convinced. Nevertheless, he is talked into it by his wife. Alas, Duncan is killed and Macbeth is crowned king. Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donaldbain, flee in fear.

‘Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it.’

There is a great sense of unease within Scottish society. No one quite feels safe. Yet, now that Macbeth is king, he knows that his predictions have come true. This evokes a ringing in his ears (metaphorically) about Banquo’s prediction for his sons.

Surely Macbeth hasn’t done all this work for Banquo’s children to become king? He decides that Banquo is the enemy and decides to kill him and his son Fleance. He hires murderers who successfully kill Banquo but his son escapes.

‘Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold.’

At another banquet, Macbeth believes he is going mad as, in his eyes, he sees the ghost of Banquo. He shouts out and creates a scene in which Lady Macbeth has to cover for him and smooth over alarm from the guests.

Lady Macbeth is furious. Macbeth decides to call upon and visit the witches. After all, they will tell him what happens next. Three new prophecies follow, mainly focusing around Macduff. Macbeth sinks deeper and decides to kill Macduff’s wife and children.

‘Blood will have blood.’

What is fascinating is Macbeth still believes he is safe despite the fact that the witches prophecies come true, one by one. It is Lady Macbeth who struggles immensely with guilt. She can’t stop thinking about Duncan and the other murders her husband is involved in. She sleep walks, confessing everything and dies.

‘Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

This is the beginning of the end for Macbeth. Macduff is absolutely furious and gathers an army together to fight Macbeth. They use the branches of Birnam Wood to disguise themselves and approach Macbeth’s castle. The play ends with Macduff killing Macbeth, bringing his head in on a spear and Malcolm being crowned king. Harmony in Scotland is restored.

 

Overview

This play is awesome. It’s full of ambition and tension. The rise and fall of a character. The circular structure leads us to know that Macbeth is doomed as he is given the title of Thane of Cawdor – the original Cawdor is killed for treason. Lady Macbeth is my favourite character. She’s just incredible. She persuades and charms her husband but inevitably the guilt destroys her. I’m genuinely so excited to see this on stage. Bring. It. On.

Big loves all xx

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Filed under Book review, Play, RSC, William Shakespeare

Treasurer’s House, York

Hey guys!

Happy March! Just when I thought spring was fast approaching, more snow came. However, that did not stop me exploring this weekend in York.

I absolutely love York; it’s such a beautiful place. The shops are quirky and there is something interesting around every corner. (Not forgetting the Harry Potter shop which I did of course visit!)

I braved the snow and the biting cold to visit Treasurer’s House. I didn’t even know it was there. From the outside, it looks like quite a humble home. I didn’t quite realise what massive surprise lay behind these doors.

Purchased in 1897 by Frank Green, this property became a lavish show home, filled with antiques, art and furniture that he loved.

The house was so impressive that Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (the Prince and Princess of Wales at this point) requested to come and visit and stay. That’s saying something!

The rooms are incredible and eclectic. The size is quite overwhelming. Each room showing a different period of time; a different idea and perspective. My favourite was the rather amazing Blue Drawing Room.

The Tapestry Room was also just awe inspiring. I loved learning about how some tapestries were found behind the walls by pure chance. I find it incredible that tapestries can survive hundreds of years. It’s amazing.

This may sound strange but whilst I was there, I felt completely hidden. Despite being in the centre of York, surrounded by the Minster and many many people, I felt like I was just at peace really. I loved it.

If you’d like more information, look here. It’s definitely worth a visit. There’s a cute little cafe there too and a ghost tour!

I’ve also had chance to finish reading this months Read The Year Book too, so stay tuned for that post!

Sending you all my warm thoughts!

Big love xx

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Filed under Days Out, National Trust, Photography, Places

Professor Stephen Hawking

Hey Everyone!

I hope you’re doing well and enjoying March. Spring is certainly on its way.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the news about the passing of Professor Stephen Hawking. I wanted to take the time to reflect on the incredible work he has done in his lifetime.

I find it so hard to comprehend his intelligence and what he discovered. His knowledge and findings have shaped our world today. I can appreciate so much what he has done, despite Science not being my calling.

We’ve lost a treasure but we will always have his teachings and his famous speeches. I’ve attached my favourite quote below. We all could do with remembering this at times.

Despite finding the universe quite incomprehensible, we all have people in our lives that feel like our universe. I know for a fact I certainly do. His children quoted their father today. Personally, I love this quote even more. The value of family is so important.

‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’

Thanks for all the lessons Professor, science and life. We are at a loss without you.

Big love all xx

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The Toy Makers – Robert Dinsdale

Hi Everyone!

Happy 1st March and World Book Day! Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve just finished reading. I have to say, I absolutely loved it. I cannot emphasise that enough. It was just so magical, so gripping, so enchanting. It’s become one of my favourite books ever. Therefore, I absolutely had to share this with you. A bonus: the cover is absolutely beautiful too.

What’s it all about?

Set in the early 1900s in London, this book is told mainly through the eyes of 15 year old Cathy Wray. It centres around a magical Emporium, owned by Papa Jack, which opens at the first frost and closes on the appearance of snowdrops. The toys are magical and awe inspiring. It’s a place where children’s dreams are fulfilled.

‘Come, go in after him. You would not be the first. Children are already tugging on their parents’ hands; a pair of young lovers hurry to make secrets of their gifts to one another; an old man unwinds his scarf as he hobbled in, if only to feel like a boy again.’

However, Cathy has a problem. She’s 15, pregnant and her parents are none too pleased. They arrange for her baby to be given away once it’s born. Until then, Cathy is kept in hiding at home. Her sister, Lizzy, brings her a newspaper as something to read and entertain herself with. Little did she know that this would be where her adventure begins.

‘Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we.’

When Cathy reaches the Emporium, she meets Papa Jack. It becomes clear he has a different name, a past life much more tragic than his life now. Papa Jack set up his extraordinary toyshop after arriving from Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. He is the father of two young boys he had not seen for many years. Originally a carpenter, Papa Jack crafts exquisite toys out of a variety of materials, such as pine cones and twigs.

‘The most terrible things can happen to a man, but he’ll never lose himself if he remembers he was once a child.’

His two sons, Kaspar and Emil, are also incredible toymakers. Each are thoughtful regarding the sibling rivalry about who will inherit the Emporium in the future. Each make amazing and magical toys; soldiers who battle, night lights with changeable scenes, toy boxes which deal with space, paper trees and my favourite in the Emporium, a complete Wendy House.

‘When you are young, what you want from toys is to feel grown up… Yet, when you are grown, that changes: now, what you want out of toys is to feel young again. You want to be back there, in a place that did not harm or hurt you in a pocket of time built out of memory and love.’

Both Emil and Kaspar take a keen interest in Cathy. When the end of the season arrives and Cathy has to leave, a decision is made for her to live in the Wendy house on the shop floor. Each realise that she’s getting bigger! Both brothers visit her as well as the patchwork dog (desperately wanting one of these now!) Cathy has her baby, a girl named Martha. Time to come clean. Papa Jack allows her to stay at the Emporium. He shows her, using the crank of a toy, the story of Jekabs Godman, his role in a war and how he survived. The tragic tale coming to life.

‘I’d found a kind of… a magic, if you will. A way of reaching the soul of a man.’

The next part of the book jumps to 1914 where the threat of war is more than possible. Cathy and Kaspar are the perfect parents to little Martha. The Emporium acts as a safety blanket for most. And yet, war is fast approaching. Emil tries and fails to sign up to serve his country but Kaspar succeeds. As promised, he writes to Cathy every day. However, the narrative is too positive and Cathy is suspicious. She speaks Papa Jack who reveals a magic book in which father and son have been communicating in. The harsh reality of war is revealed. The narrative here is tear jerking, heartbreaking with every description.

‘For the boys I travel with, tomorrow will be their first taste of foreign air. They ask me about the world as if I know anything of it, when the truth is, that, to me, those years before the Emporium are a dream.’

Rather accurately, Kaspar returns from war a changed man. He’s a ghost of his former self, rarely speaking. However, it is the change in the Emporium that bothers him most. The toys have lost a little magic, the shoppers are different, the men are broken in search of a simpler time. It is Emil’s soldiers that cause the biggest reaction in him.

‘And then he was back there. Back where his fingers were grimed in scarlet and black. Back in his uniform, with pieces of his second lieutenant’s brain smeared across his face. His ears were full of the sounds, his nose was full of the smells. He screamed and screamed.’

It was from this moment that the toys needed to change. The death of Papa Jack meant that there was no number one in charge. The sibling rivalry continued. Kaspar was working on something, something different, something big. Martha knew it too. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. Yet, when her father disappeared, more was left unanswered. All that remained were Emil’s toy soldiers, changed.

‘But Papa Jack’s Emporium must endure where I cannot, and so must you my darling.’

The novel ends with an older Cathy living with Martha as a nanny for her two children; the next generation of children to be wowed by tales from the Emporium. It’s pure magic to the last page. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But I completely didn’t expect it!

Overview:

Read it and love it. Experience your childhood again. Revel in the absolute joy of incredible toys. Worry and feel fear through the war years with the family. Feel like a child again. Dream in magic. I cannot praise or rate this book enough. I love it.

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Literature, Magic