Fiction

The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

The Christmas Lights

Let’s first appreciate the book’s gorgeous cover, shall we? I must admit I am usually immune (read utterly oblivious) to books’ covers but this one really appealed to me and drew me in.

Maybe it’s the festive period, maybe it’s the stars or the northern lights… or maybe it’s the recent trip to Canadian Rockies.. who knows, I love this cover. 😊 What do you think?

Let’s start with the GoodReads blurb:

December 2018, and free-spirited influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.

June 1936, and fourteen-year old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .

The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

I was intrigued by both the book’s premise as well as its settings. I am slightly curious about social media ‘influencers’ and wanted to hear Swan‘s take on them. That as well as me being able to read endless books featuring Norwegian fjords! 😉

Let’s first talk about the pace. I must admit, I found the book’s beginning slightly on the slow side and it took me a while to get into it. Once I got involved though, I could not put it down. I read and read and then read some more. And yes, I was utterly bleary-eyed the next day, courtesy of The Christmas Lights. Sadly, I found the ending slightly disappointing, mainly due to being able to guess what was about to happen. It did not spoil the overall impact the book left though as it was an entertaining ride!

There are two story-lines that intertwine throughout the book. There is the present narrative told by Bo, a social media influencer. The second story-line is set in 1936 and is voiced by Signy, a young shepherd girl. Both female protagonists have to face danger – Bo is facing an online stalker whilst Signy is on a lookout for a dangerous animal.

It took me a while to warm up to Bo. It becomes quite clear from the beginning, that Bo has a lot of unresolved issues, some of which include dealing with a terrible loss. Her solution is to get distracted by escaping to new places. Bo is a part of a couple called The Wanderlusters – the ‘action’ duo that travels the world whilst embracing daring adventures, as well as promoting products from their sponsors on the way. I found her character self-indulgent, sometimes borderline annoying… yet also vulnerable and kind. There was definitely a mixture of emotions Bo triggered in me and I appreciated that she was complex and not entirely likeable as that made her feel more real.

I also enjoyed how Swan touched on what gets presented on some Instagram feeds and how reality vs. what is shown on social media, can sometimes be two very different things.

Signy‘s story appealed to me as her character is both feisty as well as modest. Signy is a fourteen year old girl, who learned very early in life, how to live in austere conditions and who loves animals she is in charge of. I found her story very poetic but also raw and brutal at times. It’s not just the wilderness that brings danger and Signy needs to learn very quickly whom to trust.

I thought the atmosphere was excellent.  I especially loved the harshness of wintery Norwegian fjords, full of serene solidarity as well as hidden dangers.

I also started feeling quite giddy about the upcoming festive period. I dreamt about lights that shine through those dark nights as well as those delightful smells of mulled wine and gingerbread that usually surround Christmas markets, and all those wonderful feelings that come with this time of year.

I recommend this book to those, who are after an adventure, who appreciate a little bit of a love story and who want to get into a festive mood. It is a charming holiday read that may just keep you awake at night as you may want to read that next page! 😊

I would like to thank to both the publisher, Pan Macmillan as well as the author, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.


Now over to you! Do you enjoy festive reads? And is The Christmas Lights something that appeals to you? 

As always, I really want to know. 😊

Nonfiction November

NONFICTION NOVEMBER: Week 2 – Nonfiction Book Pairing

Welcome to another post in the Nonfiction November series. For those of you new to this, Nonfiction November is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves.

If you haven’t read my previous post in the series yet, you can find it here.

Today’s topic is fiction/nonfiction book pairings and is hosted at Sarah’s Book Shelves blog.

For my nonfiction picks, I decided to stick to memoirs and mythology as these particular nonfiction genres tend to relate to fiction really well, are full of wonderful stories. They can be a great introduction to nonfiction for those, who are reluctant to read this genre.

Let’s take a look at my picks:

1. Stories about Survival

“We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.” ~ Isabel Allende

Kristin Hannah’s Great Alone is quite a well-known fiction (my review here). It is a beautiful haunting coming-of-age story, which takes us to hostile Alaska during the 70’s. It’s a story about survival – not just the environmental one, but the domestic one as well.

If you have enjoyed it or think you could enjoy it, then I highly recommend The Educated by Tara Westhover (my review here). It’s a powerful memoir, which covers coming-of-age story, features survival and openly talks about mental health issues, whilst drawing us in and keeping us engaged via a compelling story-telling.

2. Stories about Self-Discovery

“The longest journey is the journey inward.” ~ Dag Hannarskjold

I’m sure some of you heard of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Some of you may have seen its movie version featuring Reese Witherspoon. Wild is a memoir that deals with loss but also is a journey of discovering one’s identity. It takes us to the challenging Pacific Crest Trail, where Strayed not only started her trail, but also her journey inward.

I would pair Wild with Katherine Center’s Happiness for Beginners. Center‘s story pulled me in as the main character’s search for meaning as well as her discovering of who she was and what she stood for, really appealed to me. Plus the setting was in the mountain wilderness of Wyoming, something I found highly alluring.

3. Stories about Mythical Creatures

My last pairing is hopefully appropriate for the upcoming time of year. I am a winter person and can not tell you how excited I am about this approaching season. Winter’s coming my friends!

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” ~ Albert Einstein

If you enjoy J.R.R Tolkien‘s stories, especially The Lord of the Rings, I really recommend Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (my review here).

Gaiman‘s retelling of Norse myths takes us to the land of Frost Giants, lets us be crossed with the manipulate and always speculating Locki, and delivers not only the seasonal frost but also the beautiful land of fjords and northern lights.

Tolkien was highly influenced by these myths. For example Gandalf was Tolkien‘s version of Odin, he even referred to him as an “Odinic wanderer“. Tolkien‘s references to elves, Middle Earth, Balrog and much more are all his tributes to those powerfully raw and dark myths.

Both of these books are highly atmospheric reads and could be great companions in the upcoming festive period.


Now over to you.

What would be your nonfiction with fiction pairing?

Fantasy

The Lost Sisters by Holly Black

The Lost Sisters

I am a completely whimsical reader – I tend to read in line with how I feel. For example I craved a lot of escapist fantasy early this year, then moved to nonfiction, then had a serious romance / women fiction / contemporary YA stages. I tend to get impacted by how I feel a lot, and my choice of books usually reflects this.

Why am I telling you this?

Fantasy was on hold for a while – I just did not feel like reading about mythical creatures. However I’m happy to report that this particular phase has past and that my fantasy obsession has been renewed.

And I have Holly Black‘s The Lost Sisters to thank this for.

Remember how much I enjoyed The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (review here)?

The Cruel Prince enchanted me with its complex, not entirely likeable characters as well as the exquisite world Black so craftily created. I appreciated how easy it was to dislike all her characters, how their flaws made them relatable on so many levels. And of course how our need to belong was explored.

“I have lied and I have betrayed and I have triumphed. If only there was someone to congratulate me.”  ~ The Cruel Prince

I’ll start with a caveat – The Lost Sisters is a short story and I was a little disappointed, when I realised a chunk of the novella actually belonged to The Wicked King‘s introduction. Don’t take me wrong, I loved reading the beginning of The Wicked King but it was a bit of a let down to realise this book was even shorter than originally anticipated.

The format of the story is an apology Taryn is practising for her twin sister Jude and despite its length, it was marvellous to be transported back to the darkly lush and decadent High Court of Faerie.  I must admit I now crave more Faerie wickedness than ever before! 😊

“Fairy tales are full of girls who wait, who endure, who suffer. Good girls. Obedient girls. Girls who crush nettles until their hands bleed. Girls who haul water for witches. Girls who wander through deserts or sleep in ashes or make homes for transformed brothers in the woods. Girls without hands, without eyes, without the power of speech, without any power at all. But then a prince rides up and sees the girl and finds her beautiful. Beautiful, not despite her suffering, but because of it.” 

The Cruel Prince is narrated by Jude and Taryn‘s actions are described via Jude‘s interpretation of them. Let’s say Taryn did something rather questionable and I did wonder about her motives when reading The Cruel Prince. Reading Taryn‘s side of the story in The Lost Sisters was a very welcome addition to the previous book.

Did I like Taryn‘s apology? Nope, I sort of hated it as it was along the lines of  love lust made me do it’.

What I appreciated though is how complex and flawed Taryn is and how skilfully  can Black dive deep into our souls to draw those little dark demons out and let us face them via her characters.

Taryn desperately wishes to be seen and to belong. She is selfish, cruel even, but underneath her jealousy, we can see her desperate ache to be loved and accepted. Black also explores Taryn‘s fear of abandonment, to the point that I had tears in my eyes for most parts of the story.

I have to applaud Black for her ability to see our darkness and our fears and reflect them not only in the dark and manipulative Fae, but also in her human characters. It would be so easy to go down the ‘evil Fea, good humans’ route and I am so happy that Black continuously chooses not to.

I recommend this novella if you enjoyed The Cruel Prince and cannot wait to read The Wicked King as it is a lovely ‘waiting piece’ and will make the anticipation of the new release even sweeter.


Now over to you.

Can you please help me with my Fae obsession and could you recommend me some darkly delicious Fae reads please?

I loved Moning’s Darkfever as well as Kagawa’s Iron Fey books. Many thanks! 😊

Non Fiction

My Year in Non Fiction

I found out recently via Kristin’s post that there is such a thing as Non Fiction November, which is being hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves, Katie at Doing Dewey, and Rennie at What’s Nonfiction.

As I love reading nonfiction , I’ve decided to take part in this celebration.i heart nonfictionWeek 1 – My Year in Nonfiction – hosted by Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness

In this post, I would like to look back at my year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions:

  • What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

My picks are two books as both of them really touched me and left me with many thoughts that lingered for months after I finished reading those:

Educated by Tara Westover (my review here) for its testament of how we can choose not to be defined by our past and circumstances.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (review is currently being written) for Noah’s witty and extremely well articulated essays set in post-Apartheid South Africa, which cover feminism, racism and much more.

  • Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

This year, I have been drawn towards topics of feminism and racism. I really enjoyed reading We Should All Be Feminist by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (review here) and want to learn more about it in the upcoming months.

As a life coach in training, I have also been attracted towards topics that explore what makes us tick. I thoroughly enjoyed Jon Ronson’s So You Have Been Publicly Shamed (review here) and currently loving Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead as well as Seth Godin’s Linchpin.

  • What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Daring greatlyBrené Brown’ Daring Greatly because:

  • it’s not a boring factual book
  • it’s full of real stories of struggle
  • it gives me hope
  • it teaches me how to be brave
  • and because it shows me that I am not alone.

This book really speaks to my heart. Every time I hear Theodore Roosevelt’s quote below, which goes hand in hand with the book, I have tears in my eyes:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” —Theodore Roosevelt

  • What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I am hoping to discover more nonfiction as well as to connect with alike minded blogging community and to perhaps inspire some of my readers to give nonfiction a go.

There is still a common misconception out there that nonfiction is dry and… boring.

There are many nonfiction books that are full of stories of epic battles that feature both heroes and anti-heroes and I am hoping that by writing about them may pique some of your interest… yes, I do have a cunning plan!


What about you? Do you enjoy nonfiction?

If so, what nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 

Monthly Wrap Up

September & October Wrap Up

Hello my friends!

Can you believe we are in November? Less than eight weeks till Christmas. How did that happen? 😊 Not that I am complaining, I love Christmas and am already super excited about all that magical atmosphere that is coming our way.

By the way if the non-linearity of time puzzles you as much as it puzzles me, perhaps you could join the SciFiMonth that is currently happening across this lovely book community. I am looking forward to finding some inspiration there and exploring the sci-fi genre a little bit more.

Last couple of months have been – taking a big breath – busy. You see I dislike the word busy as I sometimes use it to justify not wanting to do certain things. 😉 And it sometimes makes me feel overwhelmed – hello ‘anxiety’ my friend. Me being ‘busy’ sometimes results in me lying on a sofa watching Netflix… so yes, busy is not my favourite word but nevertheless, that’s how the last couple of months felt. 😊

Apart from working a lot, I had heaps of fun travelling. I managed to travel with my sister for our ‘girls only’ extended weekend to the German Alps and then James and I took two weeks off work, hired a campervan and went to explore British Columbia and Canadian Rockies. Both of these trips were a lot of fun, required certain degree of planning and made me stop reading all together as I was fully present in those moments with my loved ones and just did not feel like reading at all.

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I will write a summary of our Canadian adventure in a separate post as it was such an amazing trip. I am still buzzing from it and feel so blessed to be able to experience it. If that’s something that would interest you, please stay tuned. 😊

Books

 

 

I read seven books in September and zero books in October. September was a light-hearted month full of short contemporary YA reads. October was a month of travels. 😊

I pick The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen as my book of the month. It was my first of Sarah Dessen‘s books and I enjoy both its emotional roller-coaster as well as Dessen’s story telling style. I am planning on checking more of her books soon.

Jenny Han’s:

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #1) – review here
  • S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #2)
  • Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #3)
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer, #1)
  • It’s Not Summer Without You (Summer, #2)
  • We’ll Always Have Summer (Summer, #3)

My favourite out of Jenny Han‘s six books was To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I did not enjoy her Summer trilogy as much as I did the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy. Han‘s books feature a lot of love triangles and I got tired of them after a while. Her sequels also slightly disappointed me as I expected more.

With that said, I finished all of those books and would recommend them for a quick and fun contemporary read.

Movies

 

 

 

Avengers – Infinity War – I finally got to watch it. I know, I sometimes do feel like I live under a rock. Anyhow, I have quite mixed feelings about it. I liked it and I didn’t. There was something about this movie that just made me left slightly disappointed. It may have been the ending… or the lack of chemistry between actors. I am glad I watched it but sadly I can not gush about it. Fingers crossed I enjoy its next instalment more.

I Feel Pretty – I watched it on a plane with a set of dodgy earphones. It may have been the plane’s environment but I pretty much forgot what it was all about right after I finished watching it…

I think it was more me rather than any of those two movies… !  😊

TV Shows

 

  • Outlander – I got back into watching Outlander and I am enjoying it. I am currently on season 2 and loving the lush and decadent atmosphere of the 18th century’s French court.
  • Mad Men – I am completely hooked on this show. I blame this show for my current lack of reading. It is just too good to resist. The characters are complex and well developed, all that drama and manipulation… oh, I’m loving it. And I can’t wait to finish it. I’m on season 5 right now so still plenty of episodes for me to watch.
  • Westworld – James and I got back into watching Westworld. I really enjoyed the season 1 but am slightly confused about season 2 so far. It could be that I have missed something … we are in the middle of this season so this ‘confusion’ may change shortly. 😊
  • Bodyguard – James and I also watched BBC’s Bodyguard. We both enjoyed this gripping show. It’s current, relevant and features a lot of tension and drama. Plus it features Richard Madden, aka the Game of Throne’s ‘King of North’ but this time, he is speaking in his native Scottish accent… what’s there not to like? 😉
  • The Apprentice – Lord Sugar’s Apprentice is back. I love watching this show with James and speculating who could win it and how contestants perform during those gruelling tasks. So much fun!

Bookish

I managed to visit a charming bookstore Café Books whilst vising Canmore in Alberta. Below are a few photos I took:

 

 

 

Of course that I could not resist and had to buy quite a few of their books. My bag’s allowance was nearly exceeded on our way back to the UK because of that. 😉

The café was really cosy and I found drinking coffee whilst being surrounded by books highly therapeutic. I need to find a place like this one near where I live. Mind you it could become rather dangerous for both my wallet as well as for our tiny house’s storage capacity!

Thanks for being here. I really, really appreciate everyone of you. ❤️ Hope you all had an amazing couple of months! ❤️

What have you been up to? Fancy sharing it with me. I love hearing from you. ❤️

Fiction

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved Before BookSeptember was full of contemporary YA novels. I found myself craving something to read that would relax me, bring me a bit of romance and take my mind away from work and doctor appointments.

Jenny Han’s books were a perfect fit. Side note: I read six of them in September. Clearly I was on a roll! 😊

I watched the movie version of ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ on Netflix in August (I talked about it a bit here) and become interested to learn more about Lara Jean.

What it this book about? According to Goodreads:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

The book version of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before did not disappoint. Despite thinking the movie was super cute, I preferred the book to its movie version as there is more of Lara Jean in it.

“Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That’s the part of the risk. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”

There is something about this book that made me happy. It might have been that that bittersweet struggle of being a teenager again, that uncertainty of who I was becoming, that obsession about certain boys and worrying about them not finding about my secret crushes… and that horror that my secret letters may have been posted to certain someone… it was a perfect emotional read.

What I liked:

Emotions!!!  Dear emotions, you are cordially invited to come to this party. 😊😊😊 There are plenty of those in this book. They range from laughter, joy, love, embarrassment, anxiety, sadness… it’s all there.

John Lennon once famously sang: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”. Lara Jean’s dreaming nature is something I definitely related to. I am a dreamer. I enjoy day dreaming, visualising, pretending.. you name it. And I really appreciated that side of Lara Jean’s character.😊

What I wasn’t so sure about:

There was a certain character maturity flag that I just cannot shake off. I felt Lara Jean’s character didn’t grow as much as I would have liked her to. That especially started irritating me during the second book and completely annoyed me by the end of the third book. I think this book would have been probably the best suited for a standalone book as somehow, those two follow up books didn’t resonate with me – mind you that’s my opinion only, others may wholeheartedly disagree! 😊

I also felt there was a certain lack of female friendships – I know that Lara Jean has an extremely close relationship with her sisters and has a female best friend called Chris but somehow, that relationship felt a bit off.

Overall, it was a fun and quick read and I would recommend it.

I enjoyed the emotional aspect of it and despite Lara Jean something acting quite childish for her age; I could relate to her and ended up reading the entire trilogy. 😊


Now over to you!

Have you read this book?

  • If so, what do you think?
  • If not, do you want to read it?
Chitter-chatter

Chitter-Chatter: Anticipated Releases

Before we dive into into today’s post, let me update you on my reviewing progress. 😉

Remember all those books I promised to review in my previous two posts? Well, it would honestly helped had I wrote notes whilst reading them as I am now desperately remembering what I wanted to actually write about. Mental note to self: “Please be a dear and write notes whilst reviewing books. Your future-self will thank you for that. Ta!” I haven’t given up yet, there is still hope … ! 😉


Now the review bit is over, welcome to the ‘Chitter-Chatter‘ series. I’m so glad you are here. ❤️

In case you have missed previous posts in this series, we are still talking about:


Let’s dive into today’s topic. Let’s talk about that deliciously sweet feeling of anticipation.

Why now? Firstly, I’m already kind of getting excited about Christmas and secondly, James and I have an epic, two week long road trip ahead of us, that I am have been anticipating for months, created a vision board for and just can not wait to tell you about at some point. 😊

Those two points made me think about the joy of anticipation and how it can be extended to books as well.

I love anticipating new book releases. Currently, I have three books I just can not wait to get my hands on:

  • Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch
  • Leigh Bardugo’s King of Scars
  • and Sarah J. Maas’ final book in the Throne of Glass series, Kingdom of Ash

I can not wait to read those but equally, I am really enjoying that feeling of anticipation. I am picturing how much I will be enjoying reading them and as I am thinking about that, I am actually creating a lot of enjoyment already for myself.

I was reading the other day a note that said that sometimes, it’s nice to have things lined up just for the sake of anticipation. Regardless of how those things actually turn out to be.

You can think about a vacation you’ll be taking. Planning it, dreaming about it, visualising who you will be spending it with, what you will be talking about, what you will be doing, how much fun it will be… and you know what? It actually doesn’t matter how that vacation turns out to be, because in your mind, you will be creating those feelings ahead of time. And will be enjoying them regardless if the ‘real deal’ delivers or not.

You can of course do the same thing with books – looking forward to reading a book yet to be written by one of your favourite authors can be extremely enjoyable regardless if you happen to enjoy that book in the end or not. It’s that long, excited and sweet feeling of anticipation you will be cultivating prior to the actual reading experience.

Yes, there is also a possibility of an anticipated event not turning up to be the way we envisioned it but that disappointment doesn’t take away those giddy months of anticipation. It may be a temporary downer, I agree, but it still doesn’t take away those feelings we felt beforehand.

Of course we can decide to play it safe and numb those excited feelings in order not to get disappointed… because you know, it may hurt a little. But if we decide to squash our anticipation, we will also numb the follow up enjoyment, should that event actually deliver.  Numbing emotions is not a selective process. Something I very vividly remember from my own past…

So here’s the deal.

Shall we make a pact to celebrate anticipation, look forward to all our eagerly awaited releases no matter what we think of them afterwards?

And let’s be bold, let’s extend that to other aspects of our lives, shall we?


Let’s chat!

Tell me what you are anticipating / are looking forward to at the moment?

As always, I love reading your comments and getting to know you. ❤️