Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and our next Book Club pick.

Hello everyone, I hope you have had a wonderful weekend and have been out enjoying the summer sun! ¬†For the UK, this is a bank holiday weekend, so you guys should kick your feet up and enjoy the long weekend! ¬†For everyone else, commiserations on work tomorrow, but the good news is, I am here to cheer you up with a book review and our next book club pick! ¬†If you haven’t joined my book club already, then you should definitely give it a go! ¬†Just buy this months book, read along and let me know your thoughts! ¬†It’s that easy.

Bear nightingale pic

Last months book was ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden. ¬†For those of you unfamiliar with this book, the blurb reads:¬†In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift- a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. ¬†Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, wilful girl, to the chagrin of her family. ¬†But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

As blurbs go, this promised a lot, and the book itself did not fail to disappoint.  On the surface, this is a good old fashioned adventure story.  A young girl facing unimaginable odds and unsurmountable danger, must face her fears and fight to save her family.  The tale has been told dozens of times, in various forms, but with the addition of mythical creatures, Russian folklore and classic fantasy, this book rises head and shoulders above the rest, to produce an exciting and entertaining read.  It takes those traditional tales, and turns them on their head, spins them around, and pushes them over.  In a word, it is magical.

Peel back a layer, and the story is about so much more. ¬†The main character’s struggle for independence and power over her own life in a Patriarchal society, provides a classic tale of feminism and female strength. ¬†Indeed, Vasya is told repeatedly throughout the book that a woman’s ‘place’ and ‘lot in life’ is marriage and children, or the convent. ¬†Those are her only two options. ¬†Both, to Vasya, are worse than death, and so she fights her family, her village, even society itself, for the ownership over her body and her future. ¬†Her refusal to submit to such overwhelming pressure from all directions, makes her all the more heroic to me as a female reader. ¬†Too many fairy tales present the concept of a princess who needs to be rescued, or who gives up everything she is to marry her beloved prince. ¬†Indeed, most of the stories I grew up with as a child, seem to give the distinct impression that finding your ‘Prince Charming’ is the be all and end all. ¬†This story certainly does not read like that, and Vasya is a strong and independent female character. I will definitely be reading this book to my daughter.

On another level, it is about a girl who does not fit in.  She is strange and odd, and as a result, she is ostracised and bullied.  But again, in the face of name calling and isolation, she remains determined to be herself.  She is happy knowing that the people who are most important to her, like her family and nanny, love her just as she is.  Again, this presents such a positive role model for younger readers, and makes Vasya all the more loveable as a main character.

Finally, and more controversially, the book is a damning indictment of organised religion and indeed modern politics. ¬†Vasya’s village once believed in the old ways, leaving food and offerings to the many spirits which occupy their home and the neighbouring woods, and who watch over them and their animals. ¬†When a new priest comes to town, Father Konstantin, an arrogant man who yearns to be loved, he brings with him his charming way with words and his striking good looks, both weapons in his arsenal, which he uses to sway the people towards the ‘New God’ with surprising effectiveness. ¬†He wants to be loved, and to have power, so he terrifies the ignorant villagers, with his warnings of the fiery inferno and eternal damnation awaiting them all in the afterlife, if they do not repent and submit to him. ¬†The villagers change, blindly following him, whatever he says, out of pure fear. ¬†In a society where politicians also wield fear as a weapon, this makes for incredibly relevant reading. ¬†Even as the villagers die, the crops fail and the dead walk, Father Konstantin is unwavering in his faith, simply telling the villagers to pray. ¬†Again, I am struck by similarities to our modern day politics, where people in positions of power, positions where they can make real change, merely offer prayers and empty promises.

In short, this book is simply wonderful, and I found myself, on several occasions, unable and unwilling to put it down. ¬†I can’t find any fault with it and I thoroughly recommend it to all of you! ¬†Have you read ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’? ¬†Let me know your thoughts.

Junes Book Club pick is ‘The 9th life of Louis Drax’ by Liz Jensen. ¬†This isn’t a long one, so we may have two book club picks for this month, I will let you know! ¬†So what is this book about? ¬†Nine-year-old Louis Drax is a problem child: bright, precocious, deceitful- and dangerously, disturbingly, disaster prone. ¬†When he falls off a cliff into a ravine, the accident seems almost predestined. ¬†Louis miraculously survives- but the family has been shattered. ¬†Louis’ father has vanished, his mother is paralysed by shock, and Louis lies in a deep coma from which he may never emerge. ¬†In a clinic in Provence, Dr Pascal Dannachet tries to coax Louis back to consciousness. ¬†But the boy defies medical logic, startling Dannachet out of his safe preconceptions, and drawing him inexorably into the¬†dark heart of Louis’ buried world. ¬†Only Louis holds the key to the mystery surrounding his fall- and he can’t communicate. ¬†Or can he?

If you fancy joining my book club, buy a copy as well, and read along! ¬†Don’t forget to follow my blog for updates on this series of posts, along with many others and happy reading!

Fancy joining my Book Club?

It’s the 1st of the month, and you know what that means! ¬†It’s time to review last month’s book club book, and announce this months. ¬†If you are new to my blog, the premise for these posts are simple…I want you to join my book club, and read along with me. ¬†Are you in?

April’s book was ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. ¬†So, first of all, what was it about? ¬†Time to read the blurb:

The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed. ¬†If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged on the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. ¬†But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire- neither¬†Offered’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs. ¬†

handmaid's tale

This book offers a terrifying glimpse at a not so unlikely future, of oppressive regimes and corporal punishment.  I found it horrifying, mostly because I can in fact, see it happening, perhaps not exactly like this, but another form of  it.  It describes the drip drip drip effect of a government, slowly closing in, and eroding your rights, until you are surprised to find yourself no longer considered a full person, and sadly I can see such erosions all around.

Atwood’s chaotic form of writing, perfectly captures the confusion and confliction of the main character Offred. ¬†It is told from her perspective, and you truly grow to connect and feel for her. ¬†As a new Mother, I found in particularly difficult to read about her child being taken. ¬†I could genuinely feel her heart break, and admire her determination to continue on, to survive. ¬†Despite the situation being hopeless, Offred never seems to completely surrender hope. ¬†Despite her desire, whether drug induced or indoctrinated, to conform, you still sense her determination to be true to herself. ¬†In short, she is a beautifully formed character, with an emotive and interesting story to tell.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that the way in which the story ends is as brutal and mysterious as the regime in which it is set, and it’s perfect.

I honestly cannot recommend this book enough.  It has instantly become one of my all time favourites, and I plan on buying a lot more work by Atwood, and I will be binge watching the TV series this week.  Buy it, read it, and let me know your thoughts!

book club pic

For May, the book club will be reading ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden. ¬†With a tagline like, “Beware the evil in the woods…” How could I resist?

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow¬†falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift- a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. ¬†Uncertain of it’s meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, wilful girl, to the chagrin of her family. ¬†

But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.  

Sounds amazing right?  Join my club and read along with me.  If you have already read it, let me know your thoughts!  Happy reading!

April’s Book club pick!

handmaid's tale

In my March 22nd post, I invited you to join my book club and reviewed last month’s book (if you haven’t read it already, check it out via the blog calendar). ¬†Each month, I will select a book for us to read together and review it when we are done. ¬†Just subscribe to my blog to keep updated, and don’t forget to let me know your thoughts on each month’s pick in the comments section below! ¬†Already read it? ¬†Let me know what you thought.

Given the upcoming TV adaptation, and the relevance today, I have picked the novel, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. ¬†So, for those of you who have never heard of it, what is it about?:

The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed. ¬†If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. ¬†But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire- neither Offred’s nor that of the¬†two men on¬†which her future hangs…”

Given the unpredictability of today’s political climate, the rise in terrorism, and the constant threat of everything from war to global warming, novel’s like these, set in dystopian futures, are more relevant than ever. ¬†George Orwell’s classic ‘1984’ has had a sudden boost in sales, for example, and the movie adaptations of ‘The Hunger Games’ series made millions at the box office. ¬†Now it’s this book’s turn to be adapted for the screen, and I for one am excited to view it. ¬†But, if you’re a purist like me, you will insist on having read the book before watching a single episode. ¬†So pick up a copy and join me in Gilead!

Join my Book Club!

Join my Book Club!

I love to read, in fact it is one of my favourite things to do. Nothing makes me happier than a new book. A book, to me, is not just a collection of letters and pages. It is a portal to other dimensions and worlds, it’s a time machine, an emotional rollercoaster, a mirror. I could happily spend hours each day curled up with a good book. Alas, life has other plans. With a full time job, a house to clean and tidy, a seven month old baby, two dogs and a husband, I find I have less and less time for my favourite hobby. But, when something is really important to you, you find a way to make time.

That is the very reason why I set up this blog. I love to write even more than I love to read, but too often I found myself saying I would write tomorrow, and I quickly learned that if you put these things off, tomorrow never comes. By setting up this blog, I am making writing a priority, I am carving the time into my life. By the same token, with so many books being bought but left sitting on shelves, unread and unloved, I formed a book club with some friends. Each month, we pick a book. Sometimes they are dark and disturbing, sometimes they are lighthearted and funny, but they are always read and enjoyed. I try to read as often as I can, but if life does get on top of me, as it so often does with us all, at least I will always read that one book.

And so, fellow book worms, I am inviting you to join our little book club, to carve that time out of your month, and journey with us through the pages (get it? A journey through the pages?). What do you say?

Each month, I will let you know what we are reading, so you can buy it and read along with us. After a few weeks, I will post a review of the book we just read, letting you know what I thought of it, and if you want to, you can leave me a comment with your own rating.

I don’t have April’s title yet, but I thought I could review March’s book for you! If you have read it, let me know your own thoughts in the comment section below! Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook (the links are on my home page) so you can keep up to date with my blog and I!

This month’s book was ‘Fragile Things’ by Neil Gaiman. So what was it about? Well it was a collection of short stories, so it was about many things, but instead of doing a half-assed job of describing it to you, I shall just use the author’s own words:

Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartbreak, of dread and desire. Of after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls.

There are stories within stories, whispered in the quiet of the night, shouted above the roar of the day, and played out between lovers and enemies, strangers and friends. But all, all are fragile things made of just 26 letters arranged and rearranged to form takes and imaginings which will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul.

As blurbs go, it’s very enticing, and the book certainly lives up to the expectations it creates. If you have already read Neil Gaiman’s work, you will know that he has an amazing way of completely sucking you into his fantastical adventures. I find sometimes, particularly with fantasy and science fiction writers, they struggle to create that same feeling with a short story. Gaiman however lived up to all of my expectations, and created worlds within worlds with the same ease and vividness as he does with his novels. Each story is a great read as a stand alone piece of course, but he has also painstakingly arranged them in an order which makes it fun and easy to move from one story to the next. He even provides his inspiration behind and origin of each of the tales within the introduction, and explains why he chose them. A few members of my book club skipped this part, finding it dull, but as an aspiring writer, I really enjoyed the insight into Gaiman’s world and thought processes. In fact, I found myself re-reading the relevant passages of the introduction again, once I had read each story.

Of particular note amongst the many tales, are ‘A study in Emerald’, which Gaiman describes as ‘Sherlock Holmes meets H.P.Lovecraft.’ Need I say more? And ‘Other People’, Gaiman’s version of Hell. I adored both of these, and a little bit of me wishes he would write full novels of them, rather than just these short stories, but then I can be rather greedy.

Full disclosure: as a huge Neil Gaiman fan, it’s difficult for him to do wrong in my eyes. But even if I had never read any of his other work, I would rate this book highly. It’s an entertaining, easy read, and a great place to start if you are a newcomer to Gaiman’s work.

If you have read this title, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, this is my first book review, so let me know what you think of it! Happy reading!