Non Fiction

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythology

I was a bit of an odd child. I used to live in imaginary worlds full of fairies and other mythical creatures to whom I would serve tea.

I remember playing in my native woods with them, making houses for them and also having some heated arguments with them when they didn’t do what I wanted them to do.

I also remember Thor, Loki and Odin featuring in some of my encounters from time to time.

I was fascinated by mythology as a child. I would read anything I could get my hands on that was written on Greek / Norse / South American / Egyptian / Slavic etc. myths and tales.

The Norse myths were amongst my favourite ones. I am more of a winter rather than a summer person and I have always been interested in Scandinavia; its beautiful nature, architecture that compliments it and its people. Stories full of frost giants really are my thing. 🙂

Retellings of classical myths can be a bit of a hit or miss in my case. Sometimes I love them and sometimes, they are just not for me. I’m happy to report that Gaiman’s Norse Mythology was clearly written for me… 😉

But before I review this book, let’s have a look at GoodReads blurb first:

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.


Norse Mythology is a collection of stories. Because of that, it could be easily read (or listened to) whilst reading other books or being short on time.

I absolutely adored this collection. Gaiman’s spin on Norse myths is a brilliant example how we can use something old and make it work. Not every work we crate must be ‘original‘, in fact telling something familiar whilst using our own voices and experiences can be extremely powerful.

Those stories feel modern, Gaiman’s sharp writing gives them a nice punch. They are fast paced and full of action. There is also a lot of humour involved – I chuckled many times. And they brought me back my childhood memories and that bittersweet feeling of nostalgia.

I listened to this collection of stories as an audiobook narrated by the author himself.

Gaiman is not only a skilled writer, but he also is an excellent narrator.

I found his voice splendidly adjusting to different characters – it would become loud and booming whenever Thor entered a scene and softer with hints of cunningness / slyness whenever Loki would show up. His accent adjusted well to dwarfs and giants and I honestly had a blast. I am likely to re-listen to these stories again as I loved them so much.

Side note: I did laugh-out-loud a few times whilst listening to this audiobook on a busy London tube. I got a few weird stares, but it did make my usually unpleasant tube experience quite bearable! I also nearly missed my stop a few times… so beware! 😉

Parting comments: I’ve always been fascinated how people across different geographies created myths that had so many similarities. Our need to explain our world via story telling is something that has always captivated me. If you are familiar with Greek myths, you may find many alike sounding themes in those Norse myths as well. Our vivid imagination, and how we can perceive nature and everything that is happening around us, without having to dip into scientific explanations, is something I have appreciated, and it is probably the main reason why I love mythology in general.


Over to you! 🙂

  • Have you read this book?
  • Do you read myths in general? And if so, what is your ‘favourite’ geography?

Verdict:  Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple (5/5)

Mystery

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

tangerine

Just over 6 years ago, I went with three of my girlfriends to Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains.

Morocco with its vibrant colours, air full of spices and snow-covered mountains is deeply ingrained in my memory.

We met local women that produced tapestries of striking colours, speckles of brightness in their modest living conditions.

Here’s my attempt at making a tapestry. I was hopeless, but it was a lot of fun! 😊

I loved wondering around the markets whilst smelling cinnamon, cardamom and other spices.

Morocco viciously attacked my senses of smell and vision and Tangerine brought some of those memories back.

Before we start, here’s what GoodReads say about this book:

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country. 

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Tangerine is a sharp dagger of a book—a debut so tightly wound, so replete with exotic imagery and charm, so full of precise details and extraordinary craftsmanship, it will leave you absolutely breathless.


Tangerine is set in the 50’s predominantly in Moroccan Tangier and is narrated from two perspectives:

  • Alice – a fragile protagonist, who is full of anxiety and is slowly losing her mind.
  • Lucy – a manipulative character skilled at playing shrewd mind games.

Those voices are different: Alice’s is frail; Lucy’s is angry and calculating.

“She was put together nicely, with the intention of others not noticing. There was nothing about her that clamored for attention, nothing that demanded to be seen, and yet, everything was done exactly in anticipation of such notice.” 

Mangan‘s writing is impressive. It can be slow at times but I didn’t mind. Via her words, I was transported back to Morocco, saw all those dazzling colours again and even smelled some of those spices (nothing to do with my obsession with cinnamon tea, promise!). 🙂

Tangerine is a psychological thriller and I had to pause sometimes to fully digest what I just read. The relationship between Alice and Lucy is highly toxic and reading about it was unsettling. There are many mind games involved and I was engaged till the end.

There were a few plot holes that Norrie @ Reading Under the Blankie pointed out in her blog here. They are craftily hidden and I did not see them before I read Tangerine, only afterwards. I do agree with all of them. The last one irritated me probably the most.

Side note: I don’t know how to hide spoilers yet and Norrie’s review inspired me to pick this book so there you go. 🙂

Despite of that, I recommend this book. It is beautifully written, atmospheric and can be disturbing at times.

Have you read this book or planning on reading it? Let me know in the comments below. 😊🙏

Many thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple  (4/5)

Monthly Wrap Up

March Wrap Up

I’m still processing the fact that we are in April. How did that happen? 😀

March went by so quickly. I worked longer hours, went outside with my dog more often and didn’t feel like reading a lot.

I also went to the Czech Republic to see my family and then escaped it all whilst visiting a mountain cottage with my boyfriend in Snowdonia, Wales.

This was our morning view:

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No internet, no central heating, nothing luxurious… just a simple retreat in nature that recharged me after long working weeks. I learned that I love the board game Scrabble. And that Google is overrated… 😉

My critical self wanted to immediately start apologising that I ‘only’ read four books in March and that I haven’t been writing that much or commenting on other blogs recently.

Then I reminded myself why I started this blog and why I want to write this blog.

You see, one of my core values is Creativity.

It’s this wonderfully playful need to make something that keeps me content and brings me a lot of joy.

All those creative souls out there know that creativity is a process and sometimes, doesn’t happen on a whim.

On certain days, I can stare at my blank screen screaming as words just don’t want to come out. Then there are days when I could write for hours.

March was the month of the ‘I don’t feel it’ and ‘even if I feel like it, I can’t write about it’ themes. And that’s OK. 😊

I reflected a lot, connected with a lot of people face to face, day dreamed for hours as I didn’t want to read.. I’m sure you are getting the picture… 😉

I am desperately itching to write and read again. And I am so happy you are here with me. 😊

After a lengthy intro, let’s have a look at March reads, shall we:

  • The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan, 3 stars

Slightly disturbing crime debut set in Irish Galway. I read it during St. Patrick’s day and it was a fairly fast paced and enjoyable read.

My full review can be found here.

  • Sticks and Stones by Jo Jakeman, 4 stars

Another crime read. This one was about head games, revenge and explored how we can forgive.

My review can be found here.

  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, 4 stars

March was the month when I discovered Liane Moriarty. 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of amnesia / time travel whilst reading What Alice Forgot. Thanks Norrie for introducing me to this wonderful writer! 🙂

My review can be also found here.

  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, 5 stars

Yep, definitely the book of March. Wholly cow, I loved this book. I am still organising my scattered thoughts but its full review will be coming up shortly.

It’s a book about friendship but is also very heavy on shame. My favourite psychological topic. Please stay tuned for this one. 🙂


So that’s March in a nutshell.

Now over to you my friends.

What was your favourite March book?

Fantasy

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The wonderful Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I think her wisdom can also be applied to books.

I have a memory of a goldfish and hardly ever remember what I just read. But I never, ever forget how I felt when I read a certain book.

Why am I telling you this?

The Bear and the Nightingale triggered an emotion in me I cannot forget.

It brought me nostalgia, that bittersweet feeling of sadness mixed with longing and laughter.

It transported me back to my childhood. Back to when my grandma would tuck me underneath a blanket whilst reading me stories of Rusalka. Back to when she would tell me about Mrazík (Morozko) before she would kiss me goodnight. I terribly miss her, and I would give anything to hear her reading me one more tale. Seeing those old folk stories in The Bear and the Nightingale brought me my nana back.

 

bear and nightingaleLet’s get the summary of the book from GoodReads first:

A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

It’s not a fast-paced story at all. To me, The Bear and the Nightingale was all about its atmosphere.

There is a poetic feel to it. The slow pace of its story reminded me of sitting in the woods whilst watching a river go slowly by, enjoying the warmth of sun on my face.

Because of Arden’s skilled writing, you can feel being cold in the Russian winter woods. You can also experience that creepy anticipation of terror as something bad is hiding in the dark corner of your room.

 

The narrator is Vasya / Vasilisa and we follow her a coming-of-age story. There is a powerful sense of innocence mixed with ancient wisdom as she learns to trust her intuition whilst honouring her traditions. There is also a sense of uncertainty as old beliefs are disappearing and new ones are becoming ‘the truth’. That reminded of Neil Gaiman’s American Goods.

“It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.” 

I liked Vasya for her feistiness as well as for her values. It is a fierce character that can be stubborn and sometimes hasty. But she evolves and that’s why I cared about her.

Side note: I would recommend reading the glossary in the back of the book first to anyone without any Slavic language knowledge. It can be utterly confusing seeing several, sometimes very differently sounding names, being referred to the same person. For example Sasha (Saša) is the shortened version of Alexander and Alexandra. I can see how that could put someone off this book.

To her credit, Arden remained true to how Russians would call each other, and I really appreciate it. It wasn’t just a book set in ‘Old Russia’, I felt I was there because it seemed authentic. (Cough cough, still can’t get over Daughter of Smoke & Bone and how ‘un-Czech’ most of those Czech characters felt…. sorry, just saying…).

I highly recommend The Bear and the Nightingale to anyone who enjoys atmospheric books as well as Slavic fairy tales.

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple 5/5

Random facts about my name: My name is Vera. In Czech it is Věra. The Russian meaning of my name is faith (вера). My name can be softened to show an affection to Věruška. My Czech family and friends also call me VěrkaVěrča or Věruš. 🙂

Contemporary

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

1000perfectnotesI will start with a caveat : I don’t tend to read contemporary books.

Had it not been for the author, I would have probably not picked this book.

I am so glad I got to read it though and I am reminding myself to start expanding my reading horizons as I may find more gems such as this one.

So what is A Thousand Perfect Notes about you may ask. Let’s consult GoodReads first:

 


An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?


A Ten Thousand Perfect Notes includes some harrowing scenes of domestic abuse. It is a fairly brutal and dark story. But it is also a tale of hope. And that is what I loved about it. That contrast of light and darkness.  If I had to describe this book in a sentence, I would use a saying of: “the darkest hour is just before dawn”.

The book starts with Beck telling us about all of his fears. I would perhaps personally preferred less information at the beginning to have a chance to slowly start working out the trauma of Beck’s situation throughout the book but it’s a personal preference and it did not impact how much I enjoyed the book in general at all.

Let’s have a look at the characters:

  • Beck is a 15 year old pianist who doesn’t think he deserves a better life and who stays away from making any friends. He is also fiercely protective of his little 5 year old sister Joey. It would be easy to scream at him to change his situation. Fortunately, I never had to walk in his shoes and I feel so privileged because of that. The emotions Beck triggered in my were empathy and deep sorrow.
  • Joey is a confident brave little sister. When we start getting glimpses of her character, we start appreciating what Beck has been doing for her and how strong he actually is.
  • August is another 15 year old who cares about animals as well as the environment, and who likes to see the good in others and likes to help. She is kind, caring and compassionate.

And then there is Maestro.

A very important disclosure: by no means am I condoning any form of abuse. I feel very strongly against any form of violence and I want to make it crystal clear that I am not rooting for a character that is inflicting any sort of harm onto others.

With that said, I must admit I found her character interesting.  She is this broken woman that had all her dreams shattered and who never got over that disappointment and is severely hurt. She is volatile, unpredictable and highly abusive.

Hurt people hurt people.

I did not cheer for her but I sort of felt almost sorry for her. Cait, you little devil!

Key messages I saw in this book are:

  • Privilege. Not everyone has a privilege of growing up surrounded by loving families.
  • Hope. It is possible to overcome abusive and difficult situations.
  • Bravery. Being brave doesn’t always mean hitting back but rather keep on going with the mindset of: “I’ll try again tomorrow“.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes character driven books.

Young people should definitely read it as it may inspire them to overcome difficult situations as well as shed light on what privilege is about.

A terrific debut novel by C. G. Drews, I cannot wait to read her the next book already!

Possible triggers: domestic abuse and abuse in general.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, C. G. Drews, and the publisher, Hachette Children’s Group.

Verdict:  Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple (4.5/5)