Fantasy

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch

I’ve taken a week to formulate my thoughts about the mesmerising finale of Arden‘s Winternight Trilogy. I’m afraid my emotions are still all over the place and I do apologise in advance for extensive gushing.

Let’s first back up a bit. The Winter of the Witch is the third book in the series and I do not recommend reading it as a standalone book as it heavily leans into its previous instalments. On the flip side, if you haven’t read any of these books yet, you have quite a treat waiting for you. There are full of magic, highly atmospheric and I do dare to agree with Amalia and her beautiful review of this book – I also think this trilogy is ‘making its way to be a classic‘.

The Bear and the Nightingale started this magical series with a highly atmospheric, coming of age story. I got to meet Vasya and I immediately fell in love with Arden‘s writing, her clever story telling and all that Slavic folklore, which always screams ‘HOME‘ to me whenever I am exposed to it.

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, turns darker. The innocence of youth is long gone and Vasya, a young adult, is determined to travel the world. Its tone is different – it’s not only that darkness but also its faster pace that contrasts the first book. It’s a roller coaster of events and I could not put it down.

The Winter of the Witch starts exactly where The Girl in the Tower ended. You can sense the torment medieval Moscow is experiencing, you can feel the fear her people are immersed in. The beginning is DARK…. and it gets darker, much much darker.

It’s rare to be amazed by all books in a series but that is the case of Winternight Trilogy – I do not know how it’s possible that every book makes me so sad when it’s over and every time I read those books I keep on thinking ‘this is why I read‘. It makes my heart sing, it makes me happy on so many levels. Arden‘s characters are believable and complex. Vasya is not beautiful and her appearance is utterly irrelevant. It is who she is as a person that counts. She is set on a quest, makes mistakes, asks for help, admits her flaws and owns all of it.

The Winter of the Witch explores Vasya‘s dark side. What I enjoyed in particular was her interaction with Medved (the Bear). Medved is a clear antagonist. In a perfect hero / anti-hero tradition, Medved almost completes Vasya and despite him behaving terribly and doing unacceptable things, you almost get to like him. Something I always appreciate when reading about villains.

And then there is Morozko (Frost Demon). Not portrayed as a monster but rather as someone, who can feel human emotions and who can care despite being terrified of it. A very minor spoiler ahead: yes, he is featured in this book and yes, Vasya doesn’t forget him. 😊

‘’I am a witch’’, said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. ‘’I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.’’ She caught his knife on the crosspiece of hers, hilt to hilt. ‘’I have crossed three times nine realms to find you, my lord. And I find you at play, forgetful.’’

This book is full of action, features battles, moments of sadness when lives are lost, moments of hope when Vasya steps into her power and utterly charming moments of magic when Vasya travels the Midnight road to start her new quest.

I appreciate how Arden mixes old and new beliefs together. How this book is not just about what you believe in but how strongly you believe it. Fans of Gaiman‘s American Gods will enjoy this messaging for sure!

I also enjoyed reading Arden‘s parting comments, in which she shares Russian history and explains how some of her characters got to be. Some of them are based on real historical figures. I do recommend reading this section as it is a fascinating read.

I loved everything about this book, its pace, well developed characters, that feeling of bittersweetness and Arden‘s gorgeous writing. Russian folklore, medieval setting, atmospheric descriptions… it will all steal your hearts.

To me, it’s an utter perfection. I could have easily read it in a day but forced myself to read it over seven days to prolong this magical journey. I cherished those evenings I could read yet another chapter of this book.

I’ll leave you with a question: “if someone lives in our thoughts, does it mean that person still exists”?

I firmly believe so.

I would like to thank both the publisher, Penguin Random House UK as well as the author, for proving me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ❤️


Over to you: have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, are you planning on doing so?

Happy reading and thanks for stopping by. 📚❤️

 

Fantasy

Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

Wolf Speaker

Do you remember how much I enjoyed Wild Magic – aka Book 1 in The Immortals series? Just in case, your memory is as good as mine, you can check it out here.

Wolf-Speaker is Book 2 in the series. Before we dive in, let’s take a look at Goodreads’ take on it:

Diane has wild magic: the ability to talk to and sway the actions of animals. When Daine is summoned to help a pack of wolves – friends from her old village – she and her mentor, the legendary mage Numair, travel to Dunlath Valley to answer the call. But when they arrive, Daine learns that it’s not only animals whose lives are threatened; people are in danger, too.

Dunlath’s rulers have discovered black opals in their valley. They’re dead set on mining the opals and using the magic contained in the stones to overthrow King Jonathan. Even if it means irreversibly damaging the land – and killing their workers. Daine must master her wild magic if she is to save the ones she loves – both human and animal . . .

I love Tamora Pierce’s books. They tend to consist of a strong moral message and there is this sense of wholesomeness about them that just makes me so happy.

I enjoyed Wolf-Speaker but didn’t love it as much as I did its predecessor.

I think the main reason is that it felt somehow slow. I sadly found some of its parts quite repetitive, purely because our main character Daine is learning about her powers and the same scene is repeated over and over as she practices her new skill on various animals.

With that said, there was enough sensory information included that kept me engaged. I got to become a bat, a cat, an eagle, a wolf and much more. I felt Pierce really researched various animals and wrote about them very vividly at times. That was the reason why the repetitiveness didn’t feel perhaps as tedious as it could have felt had such sensual information been omitted from the book.

I also felt that villains were not developed. They got introduced but we didn’t get to know them. That made them a little bit one dimensional. I like well-developed villains to understand their motives. To see what drives them, why they became that way. Sadly, I felt this was a little bit of a let-down for me.

Let’s take a look at what worked for me:

I appreciated that this book challenged our perception of good vs. evil. Daine grows in this book again. Not only is she developing her new magical skills but her beliefs about what is good or wrong get challenged on a regular basis.

The messaging is that just because someone behaves questionably, that doesn’t necessary make them bad. And the same applies to the entire group of species, let it be humans, immortals or animals. The so called ‘goodies’ get also questioned – nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes and that’s OK. Given this is a MG book, I think there could be a very powerful lesson for our youngsters to experience.

I also enjoyed the environmental aspect of this book. We only have one planet to look after. Daine cares about the environment and the impact of a possible destruction of wolves’ habitat was explained extremely well. Again, another great learning point, to which I applaud from my end.

Despite some of the points above, I still enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading book three in the series.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves animals as they are pretty much the main characters in this book. 

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.

Have you read anything by Tamora Pierce yet?

Thanks for reading and for being here! ❤️❤️❤️

Fiction

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Wild Magic

Let’s start with GoodReads‘ summary:

Wildness is a kind of magic

Discover a land of enchantment, legend, and adventure in this first book of The Immortals series, featuring an updated cover – perfect for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Daine has always had a special connection with animals, but only when she’s forced to leave home does she realize it’s more than a knack . . . it’s magic. With this wild magic, not only can Daine speak to animals, but she can also make them obey her. Daine takes a job handling horses for the Queen’s Riders, where she meets the master mage Numair and becomes his apprentice.

Under Numair’s guidance, Daine explores the scope of her magic. But she encounters other beings, too, who are not so gentle. These terrifying creatures, called Immortals, have been imprisoned in the Divine Realms for the past four hundred years – but now someone has broken the barrier. And it’s up to Daine and her friends to defend their world from an Immortal attack.


Do you remember that time when you read a book and it made your heart sing? That’s what Wild Magic did to me. I felt so wonderfully absorbed whilst reading it and all I wanted to know was what was going to happen next.

I fully agree with Saraj J Maas’ statement of Tamora Pierce‘s work: “Tamora is a pillar, an icon, and as inspiration“. There is something about Pierce‘s books that just makes me so happy.

I’ll start with a caveat– Wild Magic is not a Young Adult (YA) book anymore. It was written when YA was slightly differently classified than how it is today. I would classify it as Middle Grade (MG) as there’s a lot of innocence in it and it’s that coming-of-age story that grabbed me and stole my heart. The content is much less mature than what YA is these days but please don’t be put off by that by any means!

Wild Magic is wonderfully charming and utterly warmed my soul. For starters, our main character Daine talks to animals. How cool is that? Ever since I was a little child, I have always pretended I could understand animals and have always ‘voiced’ their opinions.

I notice a trend in YA fiction these days that delivers those ‘I can kick anyone’s butt and I don’t need anybody’s help’ heroines, which can become after a while rather tedious and bland. I suppose they are the response to those traditional damsels in distress and frankly, I am rather fed up with both of those types.

Daine is different because she fits neither category. I so wish I read this book whilst growing up as she could have been a brilliant role model for me then. I immediately warmed to Daine as she is my definition of strength. She is happy to think for herself, decides to face her fears, asks for help when needed and is also shy and modest. Her strength is this quiet quality that doesn’t scream ‘look at me, I’m so awesome’ but rather says ‘that didn’t work, I’ll try again tomorrow’. She grows and her, sometimes naïve opinions, get slowly questioned and shaped whilst she still stays in charge of those final decisions. She decides what she will think but is also willing to listen and learn. How beautiful would that be to share such message with our youngsters?

I also appreciate how Pierce dives into breaking stereotypes – her characters teach us that it’s absolutely OK not to be able to fit in. That belonging is much more than ticking certain boxes and that family, regardless if it’s our blood one or a chosen one, doesn’t care about what we are but rather who we are as people.

Daine is flawed but also likeable. She goes through many lessons – my favourite one was what to do, when someone wants to help us but we don’t want them to as ‘they may get hurt’. The lesson from this book tells us that it is the decision for them to make, not us, despite of how much that may pain us.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a charming and well-written story. There is so much wisdom and soul in Wild Magic. It’s a wonderful story full of magic that features brave and likeable characters, varying from humans, horses, dogs, cats, whales, dragons and many more.

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.

Have you read Wild Magic?

If so, what did you think?

If not, have you read anything by Tamora Pierce yet?

As always, the fun part is the one when I get to talk to you. Thanks for being here! ❤️❤️❤️

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. 😊

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?
Fiction

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoI have to admit that I do not love the cover of this book and had it not been for all those excellent reviews, I would have probably not picked it up. I am so glad I gave this book a chance despite of that cover… 🙂

So what is this book all about?

There are two fictional story-lines. One is told by Evelyn, a famous Hollywood actress that takes us back to the 50’s Hollywood and tells us her story about her husbands. Another is told by Monique, who is writing Evelyn’s memoir. Monique is a reporter, who is hoping to make a name for herself one day and is eagerly awaiting her lucky break. As Evelyn shares more of her past with her, we start seeing Monique‘s growth, something I always appreciate when reading about a character.

What are the book’s main themes?

I saw behind it a manifesto of how important is to have courage to be true to who we are. To have courage to be judged, ridiculed, outcast even, and to still stand holding our heads high despite all of that.

I also saw there a question about what a true freedom actually really is.

We are never truly free until we can admit, in front of everyone, who we are. When we stop playing it safe and let others see the real us.

“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.” 

Then there is a feminist theme present throughout the entire book. Evelyn belongs to her husbands before she can belong to herself. She gets abused by men, has to behave certain way, must ask for permissions.

We know from the book’s title that Evelyn has had seven husbands. The story explores, who was the love of her life. We get to hear the answer quite early on in the book but still, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, who hasn’t read it yet so I will not talk too much about it.

The revelation is then, what the entire story centres around.

Imagine you found the love of your life. Imagine your perception of being with that person was skewed by how the society would perceive you, should you decide to follow your heart. Would you follow your heart?

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”

There are many moral dilemmas and many philosophical questions presented. Something I immensely appreciated.

This book made me think. And I loved it.

Evelyn is a very complex character. She sometimes uses people; she takes her chances whenever she can. And she is utterly unapologetic about it, saying she would happily do it again. She accepts herself for who she is…. yet.. there are subtle regrets. Regrets about wasted years, regrets about certain decisions.

“If I want things to change, I have to change how I do things. And probably drastically.” 

I saw a woman, who grew up poor, who was abused and who was highly driven to succeed. And sometimes she would walk over whoever would stand in her way. I disliked her for that, but her ability to admit it and to own it, made me interested in her. She is not likeable but that’s what I actually liked about her.

I also saw a lot of irony behind some of Evelyn‘s decisions. She was driven to succeed but her definition of success may have not necessarily made her happy. She later on admitted that her regrets were not related to money but rather to people.

Another message that resonated with me as I think it’s really important to define what our own definitions of success are.

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a highly atmospheric read. We are thrown into the lush and vibrant world of glamorous Hollywood during 50’s. There is also a lot of diversity involved, its pace is quick and it is a character driven story that reads fairly easily and could still be a great summer read.

Recommended: YES! This book will make you think. 🙂

Trigger warnings: domestic abuse, child abuse


  • Have you read Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo?
  • What is your favourite summer 2018 read so far? Fancy sharing that with me? 🙂
Fantasy, Fiction

Circe by Madeline Miller

I discovered the magical world of Greek mythology during my childhood. I talked about it a little bit here.  I must admit that the Norse myths have always been my favourite ones but the Greek ones have followed very closely behind. Stories featuring Athena, Heracles, Prometheus, Minotaur and others are something I could re-read on a regular basis.

Reading Circe was like re-discovering my favourite soft and cosy blanket. Its story soothed my soul and brought me lots of nostalgia.

Side note: you don’t have to be familiar with Greek myths to enjoy this story by the way. It’s written in a way that no prior knowledge is required whatsoever.

I saw behind Circe a search for belonging.

The wise and wonderful Maya Angelou once famously said: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high, the reward is great. I belong to Maya.” And to me, that’s Circe’s story in a nutshell.

“When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist.” 

I also sensed a very strong feminist undercurrent. The main protagonist faces a lot of discrimination because of her gender and I thought the book managed to address gender issues quite well.

But it’s the writing that really stood out for me. It is truly exquisite. It’s lyrical, extremely quotable and brought me so much joy. The pace is slow. I enjoy gently-paced stories but even I found this a tad too slow at times. If you prefer action, bear that in mind as this book may not be for everyone.

The story follows a nymph called Circe throughout her journey of solitude, explores her dysfunctional family dynamics, and shows her immortal imperfections. All sprinkled with a dash of a romance on the top.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” 

Ever since Circe was born, she hasn’t fitted in. Her voice is weak and her appearance is strange. Everyone from her family makes fun out of her and doesn’t take her seriously. She is not perfect despite being an immortal goddess. I think it’s her flaws and complexity that make her so relatable. She craves to be loved and accepted. As we all do. And she also wants to belong.

Circe, very early on in the book, falls in love and commits an offence, which gets her sentenced into living on her own on an isolated island. There, she starts her journey of healing and self-discovery.

There was definitely lots of loneliness involved but I also saw that Circe, despite being alone didn’t always feel lonely. You see we could be surrounded by people and still feel lonely at times. That’s something I quite appreciated about her story. How she embraces her newly discovered power and decides to follow her own dreams despite her solitude, or maybe because of it.

What’s really wonderful about this story is also how it explores mother / child relationship. How do we let go and let our children roam free? How do we accept that they may get hurt? How do we give them freedom they need, without the ability to shield them from the evil in this world? I thought that was explored beautifully via exposing mother’s fears and seeing her inner torment.

“But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.” 

There is also a little bit of romance involved. It’s not the book’s main focus but it is there.

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

The philosophical questions such as ‘what does it mean to be alive’ and ‘what can we ask for in a relationship’ are imposed and Circe ponders about them a lot. She is an immortal with the strength to stay vulnerable. She is scared because the outcome of her actions is uncertain yet she follows through with them anyway.

She gets laughed at, ridiculed, is told she is an abomination… yet she remains gentle, kind and her spine doesn’t bend. She is a goddess with a very mortal heart.

I could go on, Circe definitely captured my heart and her ability to stand her ground, despite knowing nobody else will be standing there with her, truly impressed me.

Recommended? Yes. The ending is likely to melt your heart.

Possible triggers: Rape, domestic violence

Health

Whole30 Recap

Those, who have followed my journey, know that I started Whole30 protocol on June, 1st this year, to improve my overall health. I talked about it here and here.

whole30 book

Recently, my health started deteriorating. I started suffering with fatigue so bad, that getting out of bed after 8-9 hour long sleep was a struggle. I’m someone who likes to be active and all of sudden, I was out of breath just walking a little bit faster. I had zero energy, felt a lot of apathy, had problems concentrating, experienced digestive problems as well painful stomach cramps. I felt like I was having a flu without actually having flu. Everything in my body ached.

I hope you are getting the picture. Experiencing symptoms like this all at once can be overwhelming, and if you have identified with some of them, please feel free to reach out. Sometimes knowing that someone else is going through something similar does give us hope to persist and can help as we could share our experience.

I believe in natural medicine and decided to address my symptoms via looking at my diet first to see if that would help.

Side note: I have the utmost respect for our modern medicine. I am extremely grateful that we have it and that it saves lives… but… I do have a slight issue with how some of these health symptoms get addressed. What personally bothers me a bit is that quite often, symptoms rather that root causes get treated. And I think that our lifestyle choices can sometimes be healing as well.

With that said, I am not a licensed doctor nor a medical professional. If you suffer with poor health, the best way is to talk to someone who is; please consider consulting your medical professional.

My first step on my journey to health was to address what I eat. I chose to do an elimination eating phase called Whole30.


What is the Whole30?

Paragraphs below are taken from Whole30 website: https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/ )

Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it. Are your energy levels inconsistent or non-existent? Do you have aches and pains that can’t be explained by over-use or injury? Are you having a hard time losing weight no matter how hard you try? Do you have some sort of condition, like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies, or chronic pain, that medication hasn’t helped? These symptoms are often directly related to the foods you eat—even the “healthy” stuff. So how do you know if (and how) these foods are affecting you?

Strip them from your diet completely. Eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with food, and the downstream physical and psychological effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day-to-day life, long term health, body composition, and feelings around food.

 What do you eat whilst on Whole30?

Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.

Avoid for 30 days.

  1. Do not consume added sugar, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, etc.
  2. Do not consume alcohol, in any form, not even for cooking. (And ideally, no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
  3. Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, and all gluten-free pseudo-cereals like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn, and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch, and so on.
  4. Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
  5. Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat, or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.
  6. Do not consume carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
  7. Do not consume baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients. 

If you are considering giving this plan a go, I recommend checking this site out: https://whole30.com/pdf-downloads/

It has lots of useful information and those downloadable documents can be handy.


How did I do?

I’m not going to lie to you. It was hard.

I travel a bit with work and do spend a few days a week ‘on the road’. Carrying food with me is logistically OK for a day, but it did not work out for two consecutive days in this current heat. Eating out was challenging. Buying breakfast on the go usually meant trying to get some hard-boiled eggs with some salad on the side covered with olive oil. Lunch was usually some sort of steam veggies and oven cooked meat. Butter and margarine are in everything, so are vegetable oils – so checking labels, talking to people about their cooking processes… it was all needed and quite frankly, I felt exhausted and the last thing I wanted to do was to talk to someone and having to think too much about it. But it was still do-able despite of me moaning about it. 😊

My thoughts during those five weeks were following:

Week 1 – I felt irritable. My patience levels were low, I felt like snapping at people and all I wanted to do was to dig a hole and hide there…

Week 2 – I felt really tired. Irritability persisted. During this week, I seriously felt like giving up. I was fed up with eating vegetables, eggs and meat and pretty much nothing else. I was cranky. I also realised I could be an emotional eater and really questioned why I was doing this to myself.

Week 3 – I felt even more tired than I was before I started this diet. This week is when I had to stop climbing and doing yoga as my energy levels got super low. My journey with food continued. I discovered how I would sometimes use food or alcohol to make myself feel better or to ‘unwind’.

End of week 3 – I started taking digestive enzymes as my digestion was still poor. I would feel bloated after most meals (clothes didn’t fit anymore) and I decided to use them to help me with digesting meals. I also started using collagen, l-glutamine and probiotics. It was right after I finished reading Eat Dirt by Dr Josh Axe. I will be reviewing it shortly.

In case you are interested in why I have been using these supplements, here are some useful articles by Dr Axe that explain how these may help:

Long story short – I identified with most of the of ‘leaky gut’ syndrome symptoms and I started using these supplements to heal my gut.

Week 4 – I was still not feeling much of a difference. Energy levels felt still low, digestion was mildly better but I had a few nasty digestive flare ups. I felt very discouraged at that point – everyone on Whole30 forums was celebrating their successes at that point and I felt like I was failing. Comparison is never a way forward, I know… 🙂

Week 5 – I started working on my mind management. I also managed to detach myself from food. I ate when I was hungry but mostly did not think about food at all. I also completed Whole30 during that week and I started feeling a little bit more energetic. It was enough to keep me going.


I am still following Whole30 protocol and my energy levels are slowly improving.  I’ve noticed a difference in my concentration levels. It has improved significantly. I feel more alert and the brain fog is gone. My skin has improved a lot as well. Digestion is still not great, but I have accepted that this will be a long journey rather than a short sprint.

I have relaxed the last point (7) of things to avoid a bit. I do make myself ‘no porridge’ porridge with coconut flour, ground flax, water and an egg. I also make ice lollies out of coconut milk and cherries and raw cocoa. I baked banana redcurrant bread using eggs, coconut flour and chia seeds. My reasoning is that as long as it doesn’t hurt my gut, it’s ‘allowed’. 😊

My next step alongside managing my diet is following: I want to learn how to manage my stress levels better.

As much as it pains me, I am weaning myself off of coffee. It also makes me jittery and that’s something I want to avoid.  I nowadays drink one coffee a day, which I am hoping to replace by matcha tea shortly.

I am slowing my eating process down as well. Concentrating on chewing food and not eating food on the go, is something I am embracing this month. 🙂

I have noticed that whenever I get anxious or I feel like I am failing at something (there goes the ‘recovering perfectionist’ again!), I start getting flare ups and my energy levels go down.

Because of this reason, I am reducing my time I spend online.

I love this blogging community and I appreciate all you lovely readers. I still want to carry on writing my blog. But I won’t be daily commenting or posting 3-4 posts a week. I need to slow down. Adding more to my day is currently not helping.

I am declaring July and Augusts my slow months full of deliberate choices and hopefully full of learning of how to say No.

I am saying No a lot these days and it does sometimes worry me. The fear of missing out is something I have to constantly keep at bay and sadly, me spending a lot of time online doesn’t help.

So this is not a goodbye, I’ll be still posting now and again. It’s probably just for me to manage my own expectations, nothing else. 😊

Hope you are all having a wonderful summer!🌞🌞🌞

Are you making any ‘deliberate’ choices this summer? As always, I’m dying to know. 😊

Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor

Today was meant to be my next Chitter-Chatter day. Today, I wanted to talk about books’ re-ratings.

Then I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and changed my mind. I must tell you about this book. I just have to get it out of my system before I forget… 🙂

I started reading it on Monday’s night this week and had it not been for that pesky thing called work, I would have read it till early hours of Tuesday morning.

I told you Educated was my book of 2018. Well, I’m not sure if it still holds. I really, really fell in love with Eleanor, who is completely fine by the way, thanks for asking.


I’ll start with a warning.

This book deals with some tough issues such as loneliness, social isolation, child abuse, shame as well as death. I will include trigger warnings at the end of my post but if you are sensitive to any of these, please proceed with care, it is a sad book.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant (Ms.). Our main protagonist. She is of course, as the title suggests, completely fine.

Or is she?

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” 

Eleanor is someone, you just cannot help falling in love with. She has no social skills, doesn’t understand emotions or relationships and likes to say it as it is. Whilst thinking she is doing everyone a favour of course.

She is a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t want to purposely hurt anyone but can not keep her mouth shut at times. She can be judgemental and even arrogant at times but as the story starts unfolding, we start glimpses of where that thinking is coming from. And she is willing to grow. Something I find fundamental when deciding whether to like a character or not. Her highly articulate and brilliantly descriptive thoughts made me laugh out loud so many times. This book strikes a lovely balance in bittersweetness. There are many extremely sad parts but there is also this warm undercurrent of human goodness.

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.” 

Eleanor likes her routine, which is an admin work from 9 to 5, combined with a meal-deal lunch and a crossword puzzle. She also enjoys a few bottles of vodka on weekends, which help her with her sleeping habits. Then there are those regular Wednesdays’ calls with Mummy… but Mummy is someone we don’t like to talk about a lot. And then there’s the man of her dreams. She finally found him. He doesn’t know it yet but it’s only a matter of time…

Eleanor is an extremely intelligent person. She likes order and logic. Here’s an example of what she thought of some of those warning signs we like to put onto everything these days. This is her first McDonalds’ coffee experience:

“There was nothing to tempt me from the choice of desserts, so I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor! I said to myself, laughing quietly. I began to suspect that Mr. McDonald was a very foolish man indeed, although, judging from the undiminished queue, a wealthy one.”

There is something raw and vulnerable about Eleanor. She never belonged anywhere. She had a challenging upbringing and also happens to suffer with acute shame, which makes her shy away from a human interaction. She is lonely and withdrawn. There is also that numbing part thanks to those bottles of vodka. I talked about numbing in this post. When we numb difficult emotions, we also numb those lovely emotions such as happiness and joy. They don’t stand a chance. And you can feel that in this book. You definitely can.

I loved everything about Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Its witty writing, consistent pacing and all those wonderful characters. Eleanor is the main protagonist but there are many supporting personalities that I enjoyed reading about as well. They are really what this book is all about. They are vivid, charming and you just want to know a little bit more of them and have to keep on reading.

Trigger warnings: child abuse, emotional and physical abuse, sexual assault, self-harm, suicide, depression and addiction. As said, it is not a light-hearted fun book, please take care if you are sensitive to these. ❤️

Recommended? Yes! Yes! Yes! Especially if you enjoy character driven books. It’s an utterly mesmerising book that will make you laugh whilst having tears in your eyes.


Over to you:

  • Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?
  • If you haven’t read this book, what do you think? Fancy reading it?
Non Fiction

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

you have been shamed

My boyfriend James likes to say rather sarcastically: “Good luck having Vera read something from one of your recommended authors”. Why? Well, I tend to possess the gift of ‘a zero attention span’. I get super excited about an author’s recommendation, and five seconds later, I forget all about it. Despite how much I would like to read something from that author and the fact that their books are added to my TBR list (which I tend to ignore completely these days).

Why am I telling you this?

About 6 years ago, James recommended Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test to me, telling me how brilliant Jon Ronson was and how much he enjoyed that book. I listened, got super excited … and still haven’t read that book to this day….

A few weeks ago, I happened to find out Jon Ronson wrote this book about shame. Shame is one of those topics I always want to know more of. My curiosity was immediately sparked, I had to read that book!

Well, I did. And I loved it and I promptly told James off for not telling me sooner how brilliant Jon Ronson was… true story. 😉

For those of you, who have recommended me authors or books so far: there is still hope that I may read them one day… it may be a convoluted and a long-winded process, but I may get there. Do not despair! 😉 And I do appreciate all of your recommendations, I promise. ❤️


Let’s have a look at what Goodreads’ says about this book first:

From the internationally bestselling author of The Psychopath Test, a captivating and brilliant exploration of one of our world’s most overlooked forces.

For the past three years, Jon Ronson has been immersing himself in the world of modern-day public shaming—meeting famous shamees, shamers, and bystanders who have been impacted.  This is the perfect time for a modern-day Scarlet Letter—a radically empathetic book about public shaming, and about shaming as a form of social control. It has become such a big part of our lives it has begun to feel weird and empty when there isn’t anyone to be furious about. Whole careers are being ruined by one mistake. A transgression is revealed. Our collective outrage at it has the force of a hurricane. Then we all quickly forget about it and move on to the next one, and it doesn’t cross our minds to wonder if the shamed person is okay or in ruins. What’s it doing to them? What’s it doing to us?

Ronson’s book is a powerful, funny, unique, and very humane dispatch from the frontline, in the escalating war on human nature and its flaws.


I listened to this book as an audiobook. It is narrated by the author himself. I enjoyed both Ronson’s musical Welsh accent as well as his narrative. If you enjoy listening to non-fiction podcasts, the audio version of this book may be a way to go.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed investigates, as the title suggests, public shaming. Shame is this corrosive feeling we may experience when we think we may just not be good enough. And we are worried that ‘they’ will find out one day. Public shaming is turning that fear of being found out, into a nightmare scenario of a roaring and upset crowd shouting at us ‘shame on you, what a terrible person you are’.

“We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside it.” 

Ronson’s book seriously played with my emotions. His curious and funny approach got him to meet people who, according to his words: ‘didn’t do that much wrong’. I could not stomach how torn apart those people got. Hearing about it was both chilling and utterly terrifying. Sadly, it was all believable as well. And I think that is what got me.

“There is nothing I dislike more in the world than people who care more about ideology than they do about people.” 

I personally enjoyed the first half of the book a little bit more than its latter part. That could have been me getting confused with names though. I do have a poor memory and perhaps reading this as a book, rather than listening to it,  would have helped me as I would have been able to reference names a bit better that way.

What I did enjoy was Ronson’s sharp writing style, his diverse spectre of cases as well as the thought provoking topic itself. I also appreciated Ronson sharing some of his own stories. And his use of humour sometimes helped, especially when thinking about such heavy topic as shame.

What’s Ronson’s answer to public shaming? I’ll let you read the book to find it. 😊

Recommended? Yes! It’s not a collection of boring facts but rather a vivid portrait of incidents that could have potentially happened to many of us.