Fantasy

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

spinning silverSummer is coming my friends. As a winter person, I’m trying to survive it with books that will make me feel cold. I recently finished Norse Mythology and now I am about to tell you about another cold tale of winter in the wonderful story of Spinning Silver.

Before I tell you my thoughts, here’s what Goodreads have to say:


Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.


Novik stays true to her Uprooted’s Slavic theme. Spinning Silver craftily mixes Slavic folk stories with a hint of Rumpelstiltskin retelling. In case you are wondering: Uprooted is not related to Spinning Silver. These are two standalone books.

Spinning Silver takes us to wintery Lithuania. Frost covered wings of cruel winter bring mysterious riders to its villages. They travel to the human world via their winter road; steal people’s gold and kill whoever / whatever gets in their way. They are called Staryk (the ancient / old ones). And people fear and hate them equally.

Meet Miryem – our first protagonist, a moneylender’s daughter trying to revive her father’s dying business to save her ill mother. She is smart but is starting to close herself off emotionally to do what is ‘necessary’.

Then there is Wanda, a servant girl who is trying to get by. Her future is looking bleak as her abusive drunken father has one thing on his mind: how to sell her off so he can get more money for his alcohol.

The third protagonist, Irina is smart and scheming, but also compassionate and protective. She would do anything to save people from Winter’s reign. Will she succeed?

All these there females have following in common: they are happy to think for themselves and to make their own destinies. Their actions are not full off ‘roaring and screaming’ but are rather more subtle – their bravery is demonstrated by them showing up. They follow through with their smart but also uncertain plans whilst forming unlikely alliance. Novik’s beautifully crafted females are brave whilst remaining vulnerable, smart but also afraid. They show range of emotions that deeply resonated with me.

What is slightly unusual about Spinning Silver is that there are three supporting characters as well which we get to hear talking now and again. They are added gradually and because of that, they don’t overpower the narrative. They only add their unique perspectives from time to time.

There is always an element of danger whenever introducing multiple POVs. That is that us, readers, may prefer some over others. I did struggle connecting with these three characters but appreciated the part they played. Spinning Silver is narrated in first person and using this technique gave me an additional insight into the storyline.

There is a touch of slow burning romance (‘kindling’ kind of slow), which is weaved in extremely carefully. I enjoyed the main focus being on both characters’ motives as well as their mission without them being distracted by romance thoughts. Also, the slow burn is something I personally take over instalove any day.

Novik’s language is exquisite – deliberately chosen words, eerie mood, skilfully built tension. It’s all there. I was pulled into the story from the beginning, it’s a fairly slow paced one but it’s extremely atmospheric and you will appreciate it either whilst curled under a warm blanket on a cold winter day or like me, craving some cold shade on a hot day whilst dreaming of icy winter roads…

I saw in Spinning Silver a story of underdogs and a strong message of brain over brawn. 

I also thought Novik‘s exploration of Rumpelstiltskin being portrayed via a Jewish moneylender, as well as being a woman, was intriguing. I am trying not to reveal too much as spoilers are my major pet peeve. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts though if you read this book.

Recommended? Yes!!! Especially if you have enjoyed Uprooted! Also, if you have enjoyed other Slavic themes books such as Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale or Bardugo’s The Grishaverse Series.

Possible triggers: child abuse and antisemitism

Many thanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan 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)


What do you think? Do you want to read Spinning Silver or have you read it already?

And do you like Slavic folk tales?

Bookish

T5W – Auto-Buy Sci-fi & Fantasy Authors

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam@Thoughts on Tomes over on Goodreads.

In this week’s topic, let’s talk about my auto-buy Scifi and Fantasy Authors.


Firstly, let’s start with a caveat:

I tend not to auto-buy much these days. 🙂 I am quite a moody reader and like to choose / pick books depending on the mood I am currently experiencing.

With that said, there are a few fantasy writers, whose books I would gladly auto-buy.

Leigh Bardugo

six of crowsOh Leigh, her books really speak to me.

I enjoy both her skilled writing as well as her deep understanding of human nature.

She creates complex characters and certainly knows how to spin a highly addictive story whilst building wonderful worlds.

I also appreciate her Russian spin on most of her books even though I also loved her take on Wonderwoman.

Her books are my auto-buy books without a shadow of a doubt.

Katherine Arden

bear and nightingaleI discovered her books during the end of last year and promptly declared her one of my favourite authors.

Her writing is poetic and I need more of it. 😊

Her books are inspired by Russian folklore and have a medieval feel to them.

I enjoy her story telling, world building and that her focus is on the plot rather than romance.

Sarah J Maas

empire of stormFast-paced stories, many complex, not entirely likable characters and lots of humour = I am a fan of this author.

One second, I am laughing out loud whilst reading some banter between characters and the next one I am biting my nails as suspense is building up.

Holly Black

cruel princeAfter I finished The Cruel Prince, I started reading the Curse Workers series and found another favourite author.

Again, her characters are complex, not entirely likeable and I enjoy her writing style as well as her craftily built worlds full of scheming and politics.


I am aware that those are four, not five authors.

As this topic relates to fantasy and sci-fi, that’s it my friends.

There are many other fantasy writers, whose books I enjoy, but equally, whose books I would never auto-buy.

I would gladly auto-buy anything from Brené Brown but that’s non-fiction.

After discovering Liane Moriarty last month, I would also consider buying anything from her but that’s fiction.

Tolkien or Pratchett no longer write so I am sticking with my list of four my friends.


What about you?

Are you a loyal fan and auto-buy or do you prefer to do a bit of research first?

And if you do auto-buy, who is your favourite author?

 

 

 

Bookish

T5W – Favourite Science Fiction / Fantasy in Other Media

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam@Thoughts on Tomes over on Goodreads.

This week’s topic is: Favourite Science Fiction / Fantasy in Other Media

All five of the movies / TV series below have something in common:

  • Complex, flawed characters that grow
  • A quest
  • Intriguing antagonists that almost complete our protagonists
  • Atmosphere
  • I can not stop thinking about what I just saw for a long time

Side note: I am currently reading Into the Woods by John Yorke. Hence the story decomposing attempt. 🙂 There is an excellent review of this book @ Baking Thad’s blog which made me interested in it in the first place.

Anyhow, back to the movies. Without further ado, let me tell you about my favourite Science Fiction / Fantasy films:

The Lord of the Rings

lotr.jpg

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 
― Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings, ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Because of the quest Frodo undertakes, that journey he is on that changes him. He grows but he also starts becoming darker.

Because of that relationship between Frodo and Gollum as they can relate to another due to the Ring’s corruption.

Because of all those wonderful friendships, especially the one between Frodo and Sam.

Game of Thrones

GOT

“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” 
― Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones,  ~ George R.R. Martin

Because of all of those complex female protagonists.

Because of the lack of goodbad characters’ labels. Seemingly ‘good’ characters make terrible mistakes / ‘bad’ characters do something selfless and we have to pause and notice them from a new perspective and rethink how we feel about them.

Because it is complicated, unpredictable, tactical and I just love guessing what will happen next. Can we have the next season NOW please!!!

Stranger Things

stranger things

“You shouldn’t like things because people tell you you are supposed to.” 
― Jonathan Byers

Because I am the 80’s kid.

Because a group of 12-year-old kids on bikes fighting a monster = nostalgia.

Because of its darkness, its friendships, its underdogs going on a quest story.

Because of extremely well-built tension resulting in me biting my nails and screaming. Side note: hiding behind a pillow is a favourite back up option of mine.

Star Wars 

star wars

“Do, or Do Not; there is no Try.” 
― Yoda

Because every hero has a strong villain potential.

Because there is a lot of wisdom in it.

Because of a cute R2D2 and all that humour it brings.

Because of the unexpected Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker revelation.

Because of courage, hope and memorable characters.

Black Mirror

black mirror

“How did he die then?

Oh, they cut him open to see if he was okay.”

Because it’s completely fucked up.

Because it makes me think. It provokes me to ask questions I may not ask otherwise.

Because of not so distant future and possibilities technology may bring us.

Because each episode has a unique and remarkable story line.

Because it’s relatable and dark with glimpses of hope now and again.


Now over to you my friends:

  • Which Science Fiction / Fantasy  movies / TV series do you enjoy?
  • And do they have a common theme?
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. 🙂

Fantasy

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

I have a confession to make. I want to be liked. I can be whoever I need to be for you to like me.

Why am I telling you this?

I don’t enjoy criticising. Trust me, the irony of starting a critical book review blog is not lost on me. I did it on purpose though. I want to push myself whilst battling those inner demons of mine. 🙂

With that said: DING DONG, DING DONG, a not so popular review coming your way.


wintersongWintersong is narrated by Liesl and follows her quest to save her sister Käthe, who is taken underground by the Goblin King.

“There is a law that for spring to begin, a life of a maiden must be given to the land. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth.”

If you are thinking of the film Labyrinth, you are on the right track.

It is a retelling of Labyrinth that was also inspired by the poem Erlkönig by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.
“My son, wherefore seek’st thou thy face thus to hide?”
“Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our side!

~ Erlkönig translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring

Initially, I picked Wintersong because of its haunting writing. But sadly, this book was not meant to be. Don’t be put off by what I am about to say. This book has received many five star reviews and maybe I was just not its target audience.

Let’s break it down. I felt the entire book could have been summarised in a page. I felt, not much happened throughout the story.

Then there was Liesel, whom I found exasperating. She would fulfil her dreams via her younger, ‘gifted’ brother, whilst being envious of her ‘beautiful’ sister. She would not honour her own gift of music composing as she was afraid to be judged.

She was described as ‘plain’ – seemingly having a ‘character’ was not something she would recognise as necessary.

I guess I was supposed to like her as she ‘sacrificed’ herself to stay underground instead of her sister. Regrettably, I did not see her offering as a true sacrifice as she fancied the Goblin King and had an inner motive to stay.

She was jealous, judgemental, insecure and full of self-loathing. I would consider a character experiencing all of those traits intriguing as long as there was a growth potential. Liesel did not evolve, a missed opportunity perhaps, and for that, I found her tedious and annoying.

Let’s talk ‘real problems’, shall we?

  1. The romance between Liesl and the Goblin King troubled me.

It is below par to portray dangerous ‘monster’ men as romantic heroes.

“I am” he whispers, “the monster I warned you against.”
“You are,” I say hoarsely. “the monster I claim.” 

It may appear ‘thrilling’ to some but I have enough drama in my life without having to invite a monster into it, thank you very much.

In my opinion, such messages may influence someone into tolerating an abusive behaviour whilst justifying it as ‘oh, he/she is a monster now but he/she is ‘my’ monster’.

  1. Liesel’s radical transformation after she had sex bothered me.

BOOM BOOM BANG BANG, a girl has sex for the first time and suddenly, all her misery disappears as she becomes a happy ray of sunshine.

Not only did Liesel Elisabeth start feeling like a new person, she also finally saw herself as a woman. Something that could be interpreted as sex being a ritual into one’s adulthood. Such message irritated me, especially as this genre targets young adults.

Maybe it was just me, maybe I was in a foul mood, who knows. Sadly, Wintersong was not my thing.

Verdict:  Hot Beverage on Apple  (1/5)

Monthly Wrap Up

February Wrap Up

MonthlyWrapUp @ UnfilteredTales

Hello fellow readers,

Can you believe it?

We are in March already!

I know, I know… how very observant of me…. 😉

Still, how is it possible that this year is literally flying by. 🙂

Hope you all had two wonderful winter months and that, like me, you are ready for the Spring. 🙂

“Dear Spring, whenever you are ready, I will really appreciate your warmth and sunshine!! Sun With Face on Samsung Experience 9.0

For those interested, here is what I read in February:

 

YA / Fantasy:

Crime / Thriller:

Non Fiction:

February was a busy reading month.

What definitely stood out for me was both Heartless and The Smoke Thieves.

Both very different yet utterly indulgent reads I did not want to put away.

Unfortunately Wintersong was a bit of a let down despite its gorgeous writing.

What stood out for you in February? And did something disappoint you?

Here’s to another great month of reading!Books on Apple iOS 11.2

 

Fantasy

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

Growing up in, then communist Czechoslovakia, my childhood memories are full of Russian and Slav folk stories and re-discovering some of them recently has been tremendous fun.

Side note: for Russian inspired fantasy novels, some of my favourites are:

How dare they to write such beautiful stories that caused me so many sleepless nights!! How dare they… 😊!!

Now without further ado, let’s have a look at Uprooted:

Uprooted is inspired by Polish fairy tales and it reminded me a bit of The Beauty and the Beast story.

The main character, Agnieszka (Nieszka), lives in a quiet village near the mysterious and highly corrupted Wood.

“There is something worse than monsters in that place. Something that makes monsters.”

The Wood is being kept in check by the Dragon, who is a wizard that demands a price for his service – a company of a village girl for ten years of her life since the age of 17.

The book begins with Dragon’s choosing ceremony held every 10 years. He happens to choose Agnieszka instead of her best friend, Kasia, rumoured to be taken instead. Agnieszka is then ‘trapped’ in the Dragon’s tower serving him and slowly learning magic.

I honestly loved most parts of this book. I thought the pace was wonderful, I loved that slow build up of dread and how wonderfully dark, borderline creepy, the atmosphere was. Battles were not romanticised and were described in a horrible, yet believable manner and Agnieszka’s character thoroughly suffered through them in a very realistic way.

“Yesterday, six thousand men had marched over this road; today, they were all gone.”

Agnieszka is this clumsy but clearly ‘special’ peasant girl that has intuitive magic inside of her that clashes with her teacher’s magic, which is based on studies and is backed up by science. I know this may annoy some, but I personally liked it. I rely on my Intuition (despite calling myself a scientist 😉) and I believe we all have a certain inner wisdom and letting it speak to us is not necessarily a bad thing….

Now let’s explore a few ‘problematic’ things:

•  Early on in this book, Agnieszka narrowly avoids being raped. This is when I started disliking the Dragon’s character. The way he suggested it could have been ‘her fault’ made me see red. I don’t mind twisted and torn characters, but I thought the Dragon was a real a$$hole and I just could not see anything likable about him…

.. which makes me move to my second point:

•  The romance part didn’t work for me. The teacher (moody, irritable, controlling) vs. his student (defiant, more talented and rebellious) dynamic was just… no thanks. Those two didn’t care for each other that much and the ending was just a bit weird.

What stood out for me was the Agnieszka and Kasia friendship. Those two were clearly in love with each other. Maybe, it was a platonic, fiercely strong friendship kind of love. But regardless of what kind of love it was, I really rooted for them. There was something special about them and I thought they complemented each other well and cared very deeply for each other.

Overall, I enjoyed this book despite those few points above.

It brought me back to my childhood and Novik’s skilful spread of dread was just phenomenal.

Verdict:  Hot Beverage on Apple   Hot Beverage on Apple   Hot Beverage on Apple   Hot Beverage on Apple    (3.5/5)