Category Archives: Books

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

RTY: The Course of Love – Alain de Botton

Hey Everyone!

Happy February. Today’s post is part two of Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. The focus for February is: Get stuck into a story of obsessive love. Whilst researching different love stories, I stumbled across this. I’d never heard of the author before or the novel. Yet, I was intrigued by the fact that Botton’s work is regarded as ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ This clearly was going to be quite a real story; one that would evoke many emotions in me. I wasn’t wrong.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel follows the relationship of Rabih and Kirsten during their every day lives. The book is structured into 5 sections, each representing a stage in their relationship. Our eyes are opened to the philosophical teachings in italic, blurring emotion and rational thought. It appears to offer explanations to the behaviours displayed. As the novel starts we meet Rabih. He sees Kirsten and knows that she is the one.

“He has never felt anything remotely like this before. The sensation overwhelms him from the first. It isn’t dependent on words – which they will never exchange. It is as if he has in some way always known her, as if she holds out an answer to his very existence…”

However, this novel isn’t meant to be a fairy tale. They meet, fall in love and then real life begins. As a reader, we are with them every step of the way. Real life defines and shapes their relationship. Part one: Romanticism. This first stage of the novel shows their dates and the proposal of marriage. This initial stage of the relationship brings great excitement and wonder.

“He asks her to marry him because it feels like an extremely dangerous thing to do: if the marriage should fail, it would ruin both their lives.”

The second stage of the novel is Ever After. It is here where we would be likely to assume the end. We are all used to that cliche ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. But what happens after that? Well, we see an argument about glasses in IKEA, the proper way of how to tell a story and the matter of punctuality. Little strifes from every day life. Rabih and Kirsten have them all which means we all do.

“We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt.”

Along with squabbles, the novel explores the unpredictability of the world of work and the impact this has on relationships. Rabih experiences stresses at work with pay freezes and job changes. Also, anniversary trips abroad don’t go quite right with a misplaced phone. Each draw to the same conclusion: placing blame at one another and criticism. It is what they learn that matters.

“He isn’t angry with her; he is panicked and battered by events. To be a better husband, he recognizes, he will have to learn to place a little less of the wrong, destructive sort of hope in the woman who loves him.”

Children comes next and this in itself brings massive changes to the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. The time they have together is diminishing, priorities change and the focus becomes the child/ren (Esther and William in the case of Rabih and Kirsten.) They teach their children to be kind, always. Yet, this too causes conflict. How far is too far?

“The relationship nevertheless makes Kirsten worry a little for her daughter’s future. She wonders how other men will be able to measure up to such standards of tenderness and focused attention…”

The next part was a slightly uncomfortable part: adultery. It’s not the cheating that bothers me so much, it’s the fact that Rabih never tells her. To me this feels like a betrayal. I appreciate that he wanted to keep the peace, to not cause massive upset, which he knew it would. He appreciated the sense of closeness and needing to be wanted. Personally, I wasn’t completely convinced by this section. Possibly too much theory and not enough reality?

“Marriage: a deeply peculiar and ultimately unkind thing to inflict on anyone one claims to care for.”

The final part of the novel was Beyond Romanticism. It is here we see ‘real life’ as it were. With the help of a therapist, they’ve learnt the lessons of previous mistakes and can see the errors of their ways. The relationship seems healthier and more realistic. 16 years into their relationship they seem ready for marriage. This may seem like a bizarre concept but it is my interpretation that it is part of the learning process.

“We are ready for marriage when we accept that in a number of significant areas our partner will be wiser, more reasonable and more mature than we are. We should want to learn from them.”

 

Overview

This book is well written and filled with real life experiences that we can all relate to at some point or another. Whether it is my age or the fact that I’m not married or have children, there’s some parts that just feel like theory.

Penguin’s theme was obsessive love and I do believe this is shown. We obsess about being the best possible partner, we want the same in return. We love deeply and passionately. Every single one of us makes mistakes and causes hurt without meaning to.

I’m pleased I’ve read this book. I’ve never really read anything like this before so it was an eye opener. I know that one day the teachings will help me in any relationships I’m in. Basically, love really is an amazing, terrifying thing.

Big love all. Xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Read The Year With Penguin

Hello lovely people!!

As the end of December is fast approaching, I have turned my attention and thoughts to reading resolutions for next year. Whilst having a mooch about the sales online, I stumbled across Read The Year With Penguin Books. Naturally, I was curious. It looks awesome!

The aim of this reading challenge is to try something new, to experience new writers and genres. I try to branch out but I think this will really help me to continue the mission of finding more. I’m hoping you can all help me too!

The topics for each month are as follows:

January: Start the year with a book about new beginnings.

February: Get stuck into a story of obsessive love.

March: Read a book about a women you hadn’t previously heard of.

April: Grab a book that will help you explore your creativity.

May: Use a book to get closure to nature.

June: Pick up a book that delves into the experience of fatherhood.

July: Travel anywhere in (or out of) the world with a book.

August: Choose a book which tells a migration story.

September: Dive into a coming of age story you haven’t read before.

October: ‘Tis the season for spooky stories: take your pick.

November: Pick a book about the country you live in.

December: Finish the year with a book that embodies the festive spirit.

As you can see, this looks quite exciting. There’s areas here I haven’t considered before so I’m thinking I need to get planning what I’m going to read. Penguin do offer some suggestions here.

This is where I need you, my fellow lovely bloggers. Do you have suggestions for any of the months? Let me know. My plan is to review the book I’ve read each month for the challenge. I’ll try anyway! Maybe you could take part in this with me? That would be awesome too!

Big love xxx

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Filed under Books, New Year, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Sherlock Holmes: 130 Years

Hey guys! 

Hope you’re well and plodding through October soundly. I’m trying to have a restful Saturday, I have been exploring though! Nevertheless, the focus of this post is that today is the anniversary of the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in A Study In Scarlet. 130 years ago, Sherlock Holmes first appeared and the rest, as they say, was history. I wonder if Conan Doyle know that he had created an absolute literary legend?! 


As an avid Sherlock Holmes fan, it felt like the perfect opportunity to celebrate this occasion with you all. So, to celebrate this I wanted to share 5 awesome things about Sherlock Holmes (in my opinion!)
1. He has his own statue in London. Pretty cool. 

2. Queen Victoria was a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. It had royal approval! She invited Doyle to the palace for a private reading and gave him an emerald tie pin. 

3. Sherlock Holmes has been on film for over century. That’s a lot of variations to watch. 

4. Conan Doyle wanted to kill Holmes off out of boredom after two years. Can you imagine? 

5. 221B Baker Street did not exist in Doyle’s time. It wasn’t until 1930 when the houses were renumbered. It was knocked down the same year anyway. 

What would life be like without Sherlock Holmes? It’s a collection of novels that have changed me because they’re just so smart. After all: “To a great mind, nothing is little.” I refer to Sherlock Holmes in my teaching. Therefore, I can safely say, my life would be very different without him! 

Have a great weekend everyone. 

Big love xx

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Filed under Books, Classics, Victorian Lit

Illustrated Potter – Part 3!

Hey guys!

I can’t believe we are in October already. Time is moving rapidly and I can barely keep up! However, I did have a nice surprise today at work. Of course, I’m talking about Jim Kay’s illustrated Prisoner of Azkaban. Oh my it’s absolutely beautiful. (Why wouldn’t it be? The first two were just as stunning!) 



The second part of my surprise was a free tote bag with the book cover on. Bloomsbury absolutely ROCKS. 20 years and still going amazingly strong. My childhood being relived. A new generation of readers are embarking on this Harry Potter journey. It takes me back to that little girl who was lost in this magical world of wonder. I remember my very first reading. I love it just as much today. The illustrations bring the story to life in another way. 


Tuesday night for me is pjs, heating on, hot chocolate and my new lovely book. I wish you all a peaceful October! 

Big love xx

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Filed under Books, Harry Potter, New Books

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer


Hey guys! 

Hope you’re all well this beautiful August day. I’m back into the swing of things reading wise so I thought I would post a review of a book I’ve finished reading: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. This was quite a quick read as I managed to finish it in three days. I’ve surprised myself with that one. I was thinking that my brain wouldn’t let me read much! 


What’s it all about? 

The novel is narrated by nine year old protagonist, Oskar Schell. He is grieving the loss of his father, Thomas, who was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. The consequence of this for Oskar is that he feels angry and depressed as well as being distant with his mother. Essentially, Oskar is afraid of everything. 

“Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.” 

However, Oskar has a terrible secret that he shares with the reader. When he returned home from school on September 11th, he listened to the voicemails left by his father whilst he was inside the burning World Trade Center. On the final call, Oskar fails to pick up the phone as he was too afraid. The line goes dead. Oskar feels so guilty that he hid the answering machine and hasn’t told anyone about the messages. 

“My life story is the story of everyone I’ve ever met.” 

In the not too distant future, Oskar finds a key inside a vase within his father’s closet. Along with the key, there is a little envelope with the word ‘Black’ on it. Oskar deduces that this must be a name and he makes the decision to track down every person in New York with that last name, Black. 

It is whilst Oskar takes this mission that he meets a range of different characters e.g. Abby that I found quite relatable. Yet non of them know anything about the key. A Mr. Black, first name unknown, has not left his apartment for 24 years, agrees to help Oskar on his search. Over the course of eight months, he visits all of the Blacks in all the boroughs. 

Oskar visits his Grandma’s apartment and talks to her allusive renter, who unknown to Oskar, is his grandfather. We are told how years earlier, Oskar’s grandfather had abandoned his grandmother when she became pregnant with Oskar’s father. Following the events of WW2, where he consequently lost everyone he loved, he decided he couldn’t bear loving anyone again. He did write letters to his son throughout his life, yet never posted them. Sadly, he returned to America before September 11th to reunite with his family, but it was too late to meet his son, Oskar’s dad. As a result, he moves back in with his grandma; a relationship that appears as rather strange to Oskar. 

“I missed you even when I was with you. That’s been my problem. I miss what I already have, and I surround myself with things that are missing.” 

Oskar discloses his story about his dad and the search to the renter. Whilst this is ongoing, Oskar checks his phone and sees that he has a message from Abby Black, the second Black he spoke to. Abby knows who or what the key belongs to: her husband’s father’s safe deposit box. This is anticlimactic for Oskar and he is disappointed that the key had very little to do with his own dad. He decides to return the key to William. 

“So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!” 

Whilst this is happening and Oskar’s search is ongoing, his mother never asks where he is going. It is finally revealed at the end of the novel that she has known the whole time. Once she gained this knowledge, she called every person and explained what Oskar was up to, before he got there. 

When his search ended in bitter disappointment, Oskar decides to dig up his father’s empty coffin and asks the renter for help. Together, they go to the cemetery. The renter brings two suitcases with him filled with all the unsent letters he wrote to his son. The renter decides to fill the empty coffin with these letters. This seems to be a turning point for Oskar, who is now able to move forward from his grief and loss. Importantly, he reconnects with his mother. 

To conclude, in a long letter from Grandma to Oskar, we discover that Grandpa and Grandma grew up in Dresden, Germany and both survived the firebombing of the city. However, neither of their families did. Grandma knew deep down that Grandpa was in love with her sister, Anna, but she married him anyway. She accepts that fact when he comes back to her on September 11th because she doesn’t want to be alone. When he tries to leaves her again, they decide to live at the airport together. 

“There were things I wanted to tell him. But I knew they would hurt him. So I buried them, and let them hurt me.” 

Oskar is back to square one. He’s failed to find any conclusions about his Dad. The novel ends with a series of pictures of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center. Oskar decides to flip them so the man falls up the building. Therefore, imagining his Dad is safe. 

“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.” 

Overview:

I really enjoyed this book and I was surprised how quickly I managed to get through it. I had a tear at the end because I was incredibly moved by the content and plot. I tried to put myself in Oskar’s shoes; to feel what he felt throughout this novel. I am a firm believer that all novels have the ability to teach us something. This taught me that we can always feel pain and sometimes we are desperate for answers that just are not there. It’s really easy for us to look into things and make assumptions, like Oskar and the key. I’m not ashamed to say that this book broke my heart a little bit, possibly because of Oska’s narration and because I can remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the time. This gave me some form of personal response or relationship with this book. 
Keep reading guys! Enjoy August. 

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Reading

National Book Lovers Day 2017


Hey everyone!! 

Happy National Book Lovers Day! Being as so many of us on here are united by the love of books and reading, I wanted to send you my love and blessings for this wonderful day. To be honest, I didn’t actually know this existed until I saw something online. Nevertheless, we learn something new every day. Today I learnt this. 

According to the National Days Calendar, today is the day we are encouraged to spend the day with a good book. As if by fate, I finished my book yesterday which means that I can start a new book today, especially for this occasion. 

I did pick up some new books yesterday whilst on a day out. These miniature anthologies are super cute. As you know, I always keep my eyes open for new books. 


I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a Bibliophile. 

Bibliophile Definition: a person who has a great appreciation for or collects books. 

Hmm. This sounds about right! Not that I want to shoehorn myself into a stereotype…

To observe this day I am doing two things: look for new books and read. The rain has been pouring all day so it’s the perfect weather to snuggle down with a good book. My next read is In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut. Again, I picked this up in a second hand book shop knowing absolutely nothing about it. However, I was taken in my the blurb. I’ll let you all know how it goes. If anyone has read it, let me know what it’s like please! 

So, Happy National Book Lovers Day, to all of you wonderful people out there! I hope you have a lovely day reading and absorbing yourself into another world. 

Big love to you all! Xx

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Filed under Books, National Book Lovers Day, New Books