The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

It may well be still summer but I just spent three days under the snow covered trees in medieval Russia. This book tugged at my heart and took a huge chunk of it with it. It was beautiful. Katherine Arden’s writing is just so brilliant, she really puts effort into every single paragraph. I cried at mere sentences and marvelled at her skill as a writer. Her language is sophisticated and she manages to say so much with just a few words. It’s like poetry, really.

Rezultat iskanja slik za the girl in the tower

The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale ended, but it is much more action packed than the first book. That’s why I think it will appeal more to those who found the story a bit slow in The Bear and the Nightingale – here the pacing is fast and unexpected. I really loved the occasional references to the events that took place in the first book because they were there but the author didn’t summarise them fully which usually happens in series.

Morozko and Vasya are my dream team. I swooned over all their shared scenes and found them heart wrenching and at times almost unbearable. We get to see so much more of Morozko here, his story, his reasons for visiting Vasya, and Vasya herself has grown so much from the first book. She is a wonderful lead character and I adored her.

Arden’s characters are so well written, complex and fleshed out, full of flawes yet so lovable – in short they feel very realistic – it is a breeze of fresh air from the typical YA series where everyone is pretty much the same. Sasha and Olga were portrayed so intricately, I loved the way we got to see more of how and why they do the things that they do. This is character development at its highest.

Despite the fairy tale elements this book reads more like historical fiction than fantasy. Arden took great care to portray the medieval Russia properly; there is a mixture of politics, feminism, fairy tales, religion and the struggle for power. Vasya was trying to break free from the traditional role of women in Russian society and she deserves all the praise for that. The world building was just stunning.

Rezultat iskanja slik za the girl in the tower

The food! OMG, I loved the food descriptions. The writing in general was very atmospheric, it really transported me to that world despite the fact that I am currently on holiday and it’s hot outside – it felt chilly while reading the book. I really can’t tell you enough how much I adored this book. It got all the stars.

The trouble is, I’ll have to wait until January to read the next and final book in the series. How will I ever manage that?

Witch. The word drifted across his mind. We call such women so, because we have no other name.

Katherine Arden, The Girl in the Tower

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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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. (blurb taken from Goodreads)

After I finished reading Uprooted at the start of the year which instantly became one of my favourite fantasy standalones, I was so eager to get to this book. I just knew I would love it as much as Uprooted because Novik has a wonderful writing style, magical and fairy tale inspired and she crafts such detailed worlds in her books, you are immediately transported to them after reading just one chapter. I was a bit scared at first because I kept wondering: “What if I don’t like the book? How can it possibly be as good as Uprooted?” but all my fears were squashed to death in the first hundred or so pages. This story captured my heart and filled me with so much joy.

The book is told by three main protagonists but we also get individual chapters which are written from the POV of other characters so we really get a rounded story at the end of it. I was a bit confused about the different narrators at the beginning because the chapters are only marked with numbers so you don’t immediately tell there’s been a shift in narration but once I picked up on that, it was fairly easy to see the different writing styles that each girl used to tell her side of the story.

Image result for spinning silverThis book is the perfect balance of character and plot driven narrative. Miryem, Wanda and Irina are all so different from each other but interesting in their own way and I was blown away by how the author changed her writing according to whichever girl was telling the story. That shows real skill! My favourite character was Miryem and I loved reading about her ventures in the winter kingdom. I think she was insanely brave and determined and heart warmingly generous.

Novik spins such a wonderful web of different stories; we have the fairy tale element, the retelling of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, the historical background set around the Russian history and social injustice and religous prejudice towards the Jews, then we get to see some feminist ideas when Wanda refuses to marry the man her father picked for her. There is politics, the ever present battle for power, the good old darkness vs light power struggle, we have a bit of romance (although not enough for my taste, I have to admit) and at the center of it all is the friendship and love and compassion which holds us together.

I can’t say which book I loved more: Uprooted or Spinning Silver. They were both set in the same world and had elements of fairy tale and fantasy which were superbly portrayed and both books had such interesting female characters. I think I can honestly say that I love both books equally. Since I read Uprooted in Slovenian translation, it’s hard to compare the language but I can without doubt say that Novik’s writing style is rich and full of imagery, it fits so perfectly with the detailed world she has built.

The only thing that confused me in this book was the way the Staryk king spoke: I had to reread some of his paragraphs just to make sure I knew what he was saying because the language he uses is archaic. Still that adds to the experience and well done for thinking of it. Novik is without a doubt one of my favourite fantasy authors and I have yet to tackle her Temeraire series. I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it.

But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.” 

Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (part 2)

As promised, the second part of our book discussion. 🙂

7. Do you agree with Isola that “reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones”?      

I sure do! It often happens that when I read a book I really, really love, I can’t pick up a new one for a while. This also happened with this novel in fact. I was still thinking about the characters and living in Guernsey and I just couldn’t leave it and face the real world. And all the books I’ve read since, have been somewhat lacking. It’s gotten better now because a whole month has passed since I finished the book. But I do agree that reading great books, those that change you and stay with you, ruin you for the average story lines and you may even grow angry and impatient and even take it out on some harmless book from that decent authors that you used to kind of liked but now can’t bring yourself to even look at their books. I think this is the same with everything in life, for example great friendships ruin you for mere acquaintances because once you find that one person with whom you can talk effortlessly about anything, it’s hard to be patient and deal with boring people.

8. Guernsey book club brought different people together. Do you believe that books truly have the power to bring people together and in so help create a community?

Books are such a unique kind of art, they whisper different things to different people. A book is always being remade by the reader and it’s never the same for two people. So yes, I do agree that books have that magical quality about them that bring people together. I have a friend whose personality clashes with mine but one time, we both loved the same book and kept talking about it for hours even though we normally just chat about silly things!

9. There were many themes in the novel- war, love, books, and friendship to name a few. Which theme impacted you the most?

Friendship and the courage to stand up for what is right. Elizabeth’s bravery made such an impact on me and I felt crushed when I found out what happened to her and to Kit’s father. They seemed such good people and they should get their own happy ending but wars take all the happiness away and throw it in the ocean. What I found most endearing was how the book club took care of Kit without questioning what to do with her. They all shared their love and kindness with the child and that to me shows that love endures and friendships can extend even beyond one’s lifetime. I also loved the notion of books as this universal forces of friendship and bonding and how they read to keep boredom away and shared stories with each other in order to make their lives more tolerable.

 10. Through researching material for her book, Juliet got first-hand accounts of many Guernsey’s residence memories of the Occupation. Which memories or stories made an impact on you? Which one was the most memorable?

The most memorable were the terrible stories of Guernsey’s prisoners. How they were left to death, how they roamed the island searching for food. How they were basically treated like meat because they were expendable. What a horrific notion. I also took to heart the stories of evacuated children. I cannot even imagine how terrible it must’ve been, to not see your children or grandchildren for several years and to not know if they were all right. But what made me feel better is to hear the stories of German soldiers who shared their medicines with worried mothers, desperately trying to save their children. This showed such compassion and universal love, it made the unbearable war stories slightly less painful.

 

 

 

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (part 1)

My reading buddy @samyinbookworld (https://samyinbookworld.wordpress.com/) and I have started our very own book club! We named it “The Order of Fiction” book club thanks to our mutual love for Harry Potter. Each month we will be reading one book and then have a discussion about it. The first book we chose was Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and we both ADORED it and even shed some tears. We cannot wait for the film to come out so we can see how true it will stay to the book. I’ve probably watched the trailer more times than I’d cared to admit but I just love this story and these characters so much. Be sure to subscribe to both of our blogs to receive notifications on our next book.

  1. Why did you even decide to pick up this book?

There are two reasons; the first is that I saw the movie trailer and thought it was fantastic, the story seemed so compelling and I loved the idea behind the film, the fact that books saved a group of people who suffered under the German occupation. Just the overall love of reading is what drew me in. The second reason is that my favourite booktuber Jen Campbell talked about the book and how she found it just absolutely stunning and that was that final cherry on top – I immediately went to the library and started reading it. I think I read like a third of the book on that evening, it was just that good.

  1. What was it like to read a novel composed entirely of letters? What do letters offer that no other form of writing (not even emails) can convey? What is the role of handwritten letters today?

This wasn’t the first novel written in letters that I’ve read – I also read Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern and Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. I believe that novels written in letters offer an in-depth view into the souls and personalities of each character. Writing is such a personal act, it’s just you and that blank sheet of paper and it is completely different to writing emails or texting. It is a much more intimate gesture, to send someone a handwritten letter. So when you receive a letter and read it, it’s like you’re holding a piece of that person’s soul in your hands, an imprint of the person they were in that moment of writing. Unfortunately, letter writing lost its charm and very few people still exchange letters today. I myself am quite old-fashioned when it comes to this and I still exchange letters with friends I don’t see often. Receiving a handwritten letters for me is one of the greatest pleasures in life.

  1. Dawsey first wrote to Juliet because books, on Charles Lamb or otherwise, were so difficult to obtain on Guernsey in the aftermath of the war. What differences did you note between bookselling in the novel and bookselling in your world? What makes book lovers unique, across all generations?

There is one obvious difference and that is the shear availability of books. Nowadays almost everything is available to purchase by simply clicking on a few buttons and I think we can’t even imagine what it’s like to not be able to buy something. In the book, Dawsey received a letter from a bookseller who tried to find him a copy of a book and that to me sounds completely bizarre. All I have to do to buy a book today is go on book depository or amazon and there it is. But the personal touch gets lost in this process. I still prefer going to an actual bookshop to purchase books but the problem is that our local bookstores’ offer is very limited regarding books in English so often I just buy the books I want online.

I believe that what makes book lovers unique is their ability to see the myriad of stories which surround us. A reader lives a thousand lives and we get to experience so much: historical eras which are far away in the past, magical worlds with laws completely different to ours, and we can even glimpse into a potentially real version of the future. This ability to believe and to hold different stories, different possibilities in our mind are what separates a reader from a non-reader. The fact that we believe things can be different. Books also cause an irreparable damage if you ask me, because we are never quite satisfied with the world in which we are forced to live.

  1. Discuss the poets, novelists, biographers and other writers who capture the hearts of the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What does a reader’s taste in books say about his or her personality?

This can be a tricky question to answer. On one hand I don’t believe that someone’s taste determines their personality but it can show us some of the things that that person values and cherishes the most. For example those who love fantasy novels (myself included) tent to be more creative and open-minded. For me this also means that I can get melancholic because I find our lives to be quite boring when I compare them with books. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – thing would be so much easier and so much better if I were a witch. For example readers who “enjoy” just the classics and frown upon YA set my teeth on edge. Each genre offers so much variety, from shitty books which were probably written in a month and never edited to really terrific novels that crush your heart and leave you to pick up the pieces. And I really hate it when people, who often don’t even read YA, trash talk about it and make me feel inferior because of my reading tastes. Live and let live – the same can be said for books. Read what you love and don’t criticize other people’s tastes. For me, reading widely across different genres is the mark of true intelligence and curiosity.

  1. Juliet rejects marriage proposals from a man who is a stereotypical “great catch.” How would you have handled Juliet’s romantic entanglement? What truly makes someone a “great catch”?

I would most probably have acted the same. While Mark Reynolds sounded perfect on paper, in reality he got on my nerves A LOT. He was so full of himself and acted as though the war never happened and he just went on with his life but the war changed everything and everyone. Dawsey was such a better match for Juliet, he was kind and patient and I just loved his relationship with Kit. I’d like to think I would’ve done the same as Juliet though I would probably be less subtle about it and grew impatient and just started yelling at the poor man. For me, a “great catch” is such a constructed idea, it is completely bonkers. Yes, we all have our fantasies and ideal partners but in reality what matters the most is that you respect and love each other and have enough patience to stick through it even when the honeymoon phase is over. For me, a great catch is someone who is kind and respectful, someone who talks about a problem when they are faced with it and someone who is loyal to the bone and willing to put in that extra effort to make a relationship work.

  1. Which of the members of the Society is your favourite?

My favourite is probably Dawsey, I loved reading his letters. He just seemed to be such a rock solid kind of person, someone who stands firmly on the ground and is always there for you when you need him. My favourite moment of his was when the awful lady from the church came to his house and found him reading when he was supposed to be working. That pretty much sums up my life. And I also found it terribly endearing how kind he was with Kit and how she never ever bothered him. He just showered her with love but in his own quiet, unobtrusive way.

Wrap-up: April 2018

April was such a stressful month for me, I literally have no idea what happened during these 30 days. Since I had so much work to do for uni, I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted to but those books that I did manage to read, were absolutely wonderful, I think I gave five start to all of them. So these are the books I managed to read in April:

  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #1)
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Curse by Jina S. Bazaar (Roxanne Fosch #0.5)
  • Heir of Ashes by Jina S. Bazaar (Roxanne Fosch #1)
  • The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood & Co. #2)

I also managed to reread some of my feel-good novels from the lovely Joss Stirling and these two were the ones I picked:

  • Angel Dares by Joss Stirling (Benedicts #5)
  • Summer Shadows by Joss Stirling (Benedicts #6)

Since I wrote full reviews on most of these books, I won’t get into too much details. Besides all of the books listed above I also read some short stories from Unexpected Magic: Collected Stories by Diana Wynne Jones. Now, I started reading this collection at the beginning of the year but something just seems off about it, I honestly have to struggle to finish a story. I adored the Crestomanci short stories but these are just weird and not my cup of tea. I only have one left, but it’s a pretty long novella, so it will take me some time to finish.

My lovely Benedict brothers brightened my too-dark days and I’m really glad I bought the entire series. I just keep going back to them and when there’s nothing left, I read fanfiction. I normally don’t read fanfiction but this series is the exception and I even wrote two stories myself, about my favourite Benedict brother, Victor. Honestly I have no idea why I’m so obsessed with this series. *sigh*

May is going to be even busier than April so I probably won’t have time to read as much. That’s okay, though, I will catch up during the summer. Now if I had to pick my favourite book of last month, I’d probably pick Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society though I also adored The Bear and the Nightingale. But Guernsey just broke my heart and I know this book will always have a bit of my soul.

Speaking of this absolutely stunning novel, my bookish friend Samanta and I (https://samyinbookworld.wordpress.com/) started our very own book club! And this was the first book we read together. We’ll write a joined post on it somewhere in the (hopefully near) future. And we already decided on what our next read will be. Now we just need to find the time to start reading it.