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?

Chitter-chatter

Chitter-Chatter: Reading Challenges and the Art of Failing

 

 

Reading Challenge

As some of you know, I’ve created a ‘Chitter-Chatter‘ series where we can talk about book related topics and which I started with a TBR list discussion. If you haven’t read it, you can check it out here.

I’ve decided to talk about Reading Challenges as that’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately as well.


Early in January this year, I set my first reading challenge. I wanted to be pushed and to read a lot. I pledged 100 books in the GoodReads 2018 challenge. The main reason being that I somehow miscalculated the amount of weeks in a year. 😳 Side note: I have a Maths degree…

After I was reminded that 100 books is not 3-4 books a month…. I freaked out a little as reading a new book every three days or so seemed impossible. And I sort of felt I was signing up for a failure. Then I decided to tackle it head on and read and read.

I was on track until early March when my reading pace slowed down. April was even a slower month reading-wise and GoodReads now cheerily reminds me I am quite behind.

I thought for a second of changing those 100 books to something more ‘doable’… like halving them.. I reasoned with ‘nobody knows, nobody notices’. That thought of avoiding a potential reading failure brought me a sense of relief. Interesting, isn’t it?

And then I though: “hang on a second. Someone will know. I will know.” And I may use that in future against myself. I could be very crafty when needed.

So I took a deep breath and accepted that I am quite likely to fail. I may get close, I may not or I may even successfully complete it. What is the worst that will happen? Well, I won’t meet my own expectations, that’s all.

What’s interesting about us not meeting our expectations is usually what we make it mean. It’s the stories we spin, especially if we make them about us, not our efforts.

Have you ever beaten yourself up after a certain “failure“? Have you talked to yourself harshly and has it demotivated you? Have you played it safe for a bit afterwards? Been there, done that.. many times.

I just read an interesting article that we should aspire to fail daily. So we become “good at it” and are willing to grow even more as we are willing to get involved in uncertain, uncontrollable scenarios. I love control. As a “recovering perfectionist” I’m learning how to let go. And it’s sometimes tough as this particular challenge reminded me. I guess I can now appreciate the effort vs the outcome. And that’s progress. Even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it.

Do you have a reading challenge that is going breezily? How would you feel about doubling it?

You may say: come on, I won’t complete it then.

My answer? That’s exactly the point.

You don’t of course have to, especially if you are already being challenged with your current reading challenge as it is. I’m also not suggesting it so I am feeling better about my own challenge. It’s just a suggestion – what’s more interesting is to perhaps observe what thought popped in your head when I made that suggestion. That’s where the work usually starts..

I want us all to be comfortable with failing. I want to cheer each and every one of us when certain expectations of ours are not met. Let’s dare greatly and pick each other up when we fall.

Whatever you decide to do, I do wish you well in your challenge and sincerely hope you are having a very enjoyable reading year. 📚 💕


Chitter-Chatter Time

What do you think about Reading Challenges?

  • Do you have one?
  • If you do: how is it going?

And how do you feel about failing / not meeting your expectations about reading challenges or any other aspirations of yours?

Let me know in the comments below.

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. 🙂

Fiction

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

what alice forgotI didn’t know much about both the book and the writer beforehand. The lovely Norrie from Reading under the Blankie recommended me this book.

Before I tell you what I think of this book, let’s take a look at what GoodReads says about it first:

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. 

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over. 

Imagine waking up one day with no recollection whatsoever of your last 10 years.

Imagine finding out you have three children, who are strangers to you, and whose births you don’t remember.

Imagine the love of your love despises you and is divorcing you.

Imagine travelling to your future.

I was intrigued by the concept.

I don’t own many things but I love collecting experiences and memories. I cherish all adventures I have had with my loved ones.

I equally love learning and growing.

It would be devastating having the memory of my last 10 years wiped out in an accident. Yet unfortunate accidents happen and the book’s realistic premise was something that drove me to it.

What Alice Forgot is primary narrated from Alice’s third person perspective as she is trying to piece together the last 10 years of her life. I enjoyed the aspect of her self-discovery as she is forced to look at herself from another perspective. She is a fairly naïve time traveller, who just cannot comprehend why and how she has become the person everyone keeps on telling her about.

Apart from Alice’s voice, there are two other narratives that I enjoyed as well.

We get to know Alice’s sister, Elizabeth via her diary, which she writes as a part of her therapy assignment. Her voice is so different to Alice’s. It is sarcastic, dark and sometimes brutally raw. I could understand the walls she built around herself and how much pain she must have been in.

And then there is Frannie, Alice’s granny. I loved this character. She sort of reminded me of my witty ‘cool’ grandma. We get to hear her voice via her little blog entries, which ended up being one of my favourite parts of the book.

I love stories that made me think and this one did that job magnificently.

As I read What Alice Forgot I tried to look at my own life through the eyes of my younger self. I kept on asking myself: ‘what would my younger self think of this?’.

I had to pick one thing that I would personally prefer to be a bit different, it would probably be the ending. It was just a little ‘too neat’ for my liking.

Despite of that, I loved the book and would recommend it to everyone, who enjoys character driven books and who is fascinated by ‘time travel’.

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

Psychological Thriller

Sticks and Stones by Jo Jakeman

sticksstonesWithin a week, I have read two brilliant debut novels featuring violence and abuse.

I’m not going to lie, I need a break. If anyone can recommend me something light-hearted please, I am all ears. Thanks!

Without further ado, let’s have a look at Sticks and Stones.

Firstly, I would like to consult GoodReads for their quick summary of Sticks and Stones:

How far would you go for revenge on your ex?

Imogen’s husband is a bad man. His ex-wife and his new mistress might have different perspectives but Imogen thinks she knows the truth. And now he’s given her an ultimatum: get out of the family home in the next fortnight or I’ll fight you for custody of our son.

In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable. Something that puts her in control. But how far will she go to protect her son and punish her husband? And what will happen when his ex and his girlfriend get tangled up in her plans?

Sticks and Stones is a deliciously twisting psychological thriller from an exciting new voice.

Sticks and Stones starts with Philip’s funeral.

Amongst those paying their respects are Imogen, Philip’s estranged wife, Naomi, his girlfriend and Ruby, his ex-wife.

The plot is about how Philip happened to end up in a funeral casket. We know who died but we don’t know how and why.

Sticks and Stones is narrated by Imogen with occasional flashbacks from other two women. The beginning is on a slow side, but the story starts picking up around mid-way. I became extremely involved then and literally could not put this book down.

The gripping tension is skilfully sustained throughout certain parts of the story, and the outcome can go either way. I almost wish I didn’t know who was at the funeral! 🙂 Knowing about it though did not prevent me from enjoying the entire story!

What I loved about this book are those three female characters and the unlikely friendship they form.

They all endured some form of an abuse and could find a common ground whilst sharing their stories. Because of that, they can start letting go of their pasts and heal.

Then there is Philip’s character. A broken man full of anger, who is still living in some sort of an emotional childhood. A narcissistic master manipulator preying on those women, who don’t have anyone to turn towards to in times of distress.

I also saw in this book an anti-revenge message.

In all honesty, I am sick of books about revenge. Many books glorify revenge, yet they omit to deliver the after-revenge story. Revenge may certainly bring a temporary feeling of satisfaction but in the long run, it never heals the underlying problem. I’m not saying that justice cannot be served, all I’m saying is that forgiving someone is for our own sake to start the healing process, not for theirs to make them feel better. They even don’t have to know that we have forgiven them…

We can see how revenge starts destroying one character in the book. On the other hand, another character starts exploring forgiveness and starts healing.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to hold a grudge, but it takes a strong person to forgive.”

I hope you will enjoy Sticks and Stones as much as I did. It’s a wonderful psychological thriller and I will be on a lookout out for Jo Jakeman’s next book.

Possible triggers: domestic / partner abuse and abuse in general.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Jo Jakeman, and the publisher, Random House UK, Vintage Publishing.

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

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