The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – Book Review.

Title: The Girl in the Tower

Author: Katherine Arden

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Russian Literature, Fairytale.


This is the promised follow up of my The Bear and the Nightingale book review, as I look into its sequel, The Girl in the Tower. If you haven’t checked out my first review, it would be wise too. I’ll link to it here.

As I stated in my Bear and the Nightingale book review, the first novel of the Winternight trilogy did leave me feeling quite disappointed. Despite the novel being a fairly enjoyable read, I felt like the hype had been built up for the Bear and the Nightingale far too much, and upon my first reading, it left me feeling deflated. Nevertheless, my interest was piqued, and I left my local independent bookshop with Arden’s sequel wrapped in a paper bag.

Set just after the events of the first novel, Vasilia Petrovna (Vasya) is forced to go on the run after being accused of witchcraft thanks to mysterious deaths of her father and stepmother.

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After roaming the wilds of Russia (known as Rus in this context, as the title Russia wasn’t coined until hundreds of years later) on her stallion Solovey and having near-death experiences, Vasya stumbles upon a series of villages that have been burned and pillaged. Survivors tell Vasya – who has disguised herself as a man after realising how dangerous it is to travel alone as a woman during this time – that all the young girls have been kidnapped by a host of blood-thirsty bandits.

But after a bloody encounter, Vasya is soon welcomed into the court of the Grand Prince of Moscow, and she soon discovers that not all is well within this secretive world. And it is up to Vasya to discover whether she has the true strength to save the city and inhabitants from a fate worse than a band of bloodthirsty mercenaries.

For this novel, I think it’s safe to say that Arden’s writing really come into its own. I think reviewer Alex Brown (on Tor.com) states rather succinctly in her review of this book:

If The Bear and the Nightingale was a fairytale about a girl caught in the middle of a battle between two old gods, The Girl in the Tower is a coming-of-age story about a young woman figuring out what she wants from life.

The character of Vasya, who we read about her birth and growing into a fairly precocious and fiery little girl through the first book, has matured into a young woman whose position in this medieval country is balancing on a knife-edge. However, we don’t initially get to see Vasya, but get to read about her sister Olga and brother Sasha.

Having the first few chapters dedicated to Olga was a pleasant surprise, as Olga leaves the narrative halfway through the first book, and we don’t get to hear about her marriage or life as a Princess in Moscow at all. So to read all about what she had been doing was a refreshing change in my mind.

The second book deals less with magic (unless you could the chapters with Morozo and the very last half of the book) but more about the politics of this civilisation. To read about a fantastical Russia during the mid-14th century was a treat for a Russian historian like myself, and I found myself googling things long after reading it to sate my interest. I really enjoyed reading about the dynamics and scheming between the higher classes of society.

The book also has touches of romance in it, as a strange sort of love blossoms between Vasya and the frost-demon Morozo which, in theory, shouldn’t be considered but Arden has written is so well, that you do sort of wish they end up together.

I feel like the story progressed in a much easier way this time. Maybe it was due to the number of characters Arden has added in this novel, as within the first book, things tended to get muddier towards the end. Or it could be just due to the fact everything fell together a lot neater and the story came together well at the end.

I am curious to see what Arden will do for the last book in this trilogy however, as I believe she tied everything up well here. I will probably end of buying it, as I felt that this novel really did redeem itself from its predecessor.

The Good People by Hannah Kent – Book Review.

Title: The Good People

Author: Hannah Kent

Rating: 4/5

Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Gothic, Literary, Irish Fiction


As a reviewer with Irish roots, I’ve always been drawn to tales set in the Emerald Isle. After visiting Ireland a few times, and exploring the Ring of Kerry and the mountains around Dingle, there is a clear sense of ancient magic and wilderness that just oozes from this beautiful country.

So when I was skipping through my Kindle feed (yes I read on the Kindle half the time. With my newest handbag being a Chanel Jumbo, I find it much easier to carry a small Kindle around rather than a beefy paperback), I stumbled upon The Good People by Hannah Kent and immediately got sucked into the story.

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Set in a valley in County Kerry, Ireland, The Good People intertwines folklore, religion, and science in this female-led narrative which is heavily based on their belief of ‘The Good People’ – fairies and creatures that live and cause illness/misfortune to people.

When Nóra’s husband Martin dies and leaves her a bereft widow in the rural community of Crohane, misfortune seems to fall across the valley like a toxin. The cows don’t milk, the crops keep failing and a stillborn baby is delivered, all to the horror of the local population. And fingers and rumours are drawn towards Nóra’s house, as she hides a terrible secret. Her grandson, Micheál – a once thriving boy – has been delivered back to Nóra after the death of her daughter. But much has changed with the boy. The child is unable to walk, speak or even properly communicate, which baffles Nóra as she struggles to bond or care for the boy that was apparently her grandson. However, it is soon suggested that the real Micheál was stolen away by ‘The Good People’, who left a fairy-child – a changling – in their midst. So, it is up to Nóra, her hired help Mary, and the local wisewoman Nance Roche, to sort out the changling child once and for all. But with a new priest in town who disapproves of this so-called heresy over the plight of what he considers to be an ill child, time is running out for these three women.

I’ve found with Kent’s writing that she enjoys writing about female-led stories in which turmoil is mixed in with a dose of reality, as this and her other novel Burial Rites, all deal with stories that have a basis in fact. The worries about ‘The Good People’ were held by Irish people at this time, as were the conflicts that the Church had with these almost pagan ideas. For me as a reader, I enjoyed the sense that what I reading wasn’t all fantasy and from the author’s imagination. It gave it a sense of realism.

What I enjoyed about The Good People was the feeling that Kent managed to draw upon. As the village is set in a closeted community in a rural area of Ireland, there is a real sense of isolation and claustrophobia throughout the text. It felt as though the reader was invading upon something that was very private. With the use of Gaelic words too, and a very apt vocabulary, Kent really goes that extra mile to bring the reader deeper into the Irish landscape.

The characters were all well-written too. The women all had deep layers of conflict, personal history, and individuality that made them all very unique to the story. I enjoyed how radically different some characters felt from the others too, as it presented each situation in a unique way as we read it. What Kent also doesn’t do – a strength here – is give a clear answer to the riddle of Micheál. The reader is left wondering whether a priest, a doctor or Nance’s influence would’ve solved the riddle, or what he actually is. This leaves a good ambiguity to the text which makes it memorable after the first read.

This novel was my first introduction to Kent as a writer, and I’ve happily purchased the rest of her books.

A fast-paced, enjoyable dive into the world of rural, pagan Ireland.

The Book of Dust (La Belle Sauvage) by Philip Pullman – Book Review.

Title: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust Volume One)

Author: Philip Pullman

Rating: 4.5/5

Genre: High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult


It has been decades in the making and has garnered legions and legions of new fans every week. In the world of YA fiction, this was going to be a revolutionary event. One that we, as readers of the original trilogy, had grown up adoring and clamouring for. And finally, a  few weeks ago, Philip Pullman’s long-awaited addition to His Dark Materials world was finally published, and I jumped at the chance to get it a day before the actual publication date (it’s handy to know people in the publishing industry).

And here is my official review for La Belle Sauvage: Volume One of The Book of Dust. 

Set 10 years before the start of Northern Lights, La Belle Sauvage follows the tale of the incredibly likable Malcolm Polstead and his daemon Asta and how he came to become acquainted with the heroic Lord Asriel, a baby Lyra Belacqua and help set the course of His Dark Materials. After living a quiet and relatively peaceful life in his parents’ pub, The Trout, on the outskirts of Oxford, Malcolm’s life soon turns upside down when a baby is snuck into the convent and put into the care of the nuns. It is then up to Malcolm to help shield this baby from the nefarious powers which want to cause harm to the child, and the lengths that he will go to protect Lyra.

Like with its predecessors, La Belle Sauvage is heavily influenced by Christian ideology and Biblical stories. Towards the end of the novel, there is an event that is very reminiscent of the Great Flood, and there is also an overlying story arc where the world that Malcolm lives in is controlled by ‘The Magisterium’ – known commonly as The Church. Fans of Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy will be familiar with this type of world-building, but I also don’t think it provides too much confusion for standalone reading. That is one thing I must stress about this book. La Belle Sauvage (despite being another piece of the world of Lyra’s world) doesn’t need the contextual read of Pullman’s other novels. It has strength and understanding on its own. The novel also deals with bigotry, persecution and the League of St Alexander – a group that is remarkably similar to the Hitler Youth and Orwell’s 1984. 

For me, this novel had its strengths in the first two-thirds of the story. I feel that with the introduction of giants, river gods and fairies in the last third/flood scenes, it became a bit too ‘Studio Ghibli’ for me to digest. I felt that if he had introduced them earlier, it wouldn’t have been so jarring. (Side Note: I love Studio Ghibli, but I feel that it doesn’t blend well when you push them into Pullman’s world without any backstory.)

Once again, the character writing is fantastic. Malcolm is a singularly brilliant and complex character. One so driven by his need to protect Lyra, that he is willing to leave his family and deliver her back to her father. However, we do see moments of struggle with him, which the reader see him for what he is: a mature and conscientious eleven-year-old. The other characters, like the plucky Alice really come into their own as the novel progresses and Malcolm gets to know her. Fans of the original series will also be happy to see the return of Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter.

A return to the captivating world of His Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage feels a bit like coming home. We, as fans of the original series, will love the journey back into the world where humans have daemons (visceral pieces of their soul living as animals) and new readers will be transported to a universe that is so unlike anything they’ve ever read before. With a perfect blend of new material and old favourites, I can’t wait for the next installment!

To buy the book.

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Top 5 – Non-Fiction Books.

As a avid book lover, I’ve always got a book or some sort of reading material about my person. And despite being a huge fiction fanatic, I’ve found myself branching more and more into non-fiction literature. Whether it be self-help books, scientific theory, conspiracy novels or just autobiographies, I find it to be a welcome read when the world of fiction overwhelms me.

So inspired by Carrie Hope Fletcher’s recent ‘Books that have Changed my Life’ , I’ve decided to jot down my favourite non-fiction books.

1: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

A timeless book that deserves a reread throughout the years. Sensitively written, very descriptive and one of those books that just stays with you. Anne Frank is one of my personal heroes, and her story is not only timeless, but translateable across any age, gender and background. A story about survival, love, loss and growing up during Nazi Germany.61ekmew9gsl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

2: Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie.

This biography of the last Tsar of Russia and his family is easy to read, full of digestible information and good enough for any budding Russian historians, or modern history fans. Despite having a collection of over 100 books on the Romanovs, I always credit this book as being my favourite, and thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

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3: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

As one of my favourite authors, George Orwell’s way of writing will always hit a very personal vibe with me. His writing about experiencing the Spanish Civil War show the brutality of the war, along with the bravery of local people. A must read if you’re interested in war, politics, Stalinism or literature.9780141183053

4: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Known as the first ‘faction’/’non-fiction novel’, this story is Capote’s account of murder in a small town community, and the shockwaves it sends through the community. Highly researched and depicted through films like Capote and Infamous, this novel is very addictive, fairly sensitive and features backstories on the murderers unlike you’ve ever read before.

A brilliant, brilliant book.

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5: Hungry by Crystal Renn.

This is a must-have book for anyone who’s interested in the beauty/fashion industry, along with the very social media tag #effyourbeautystandards. Crystal Renn was cited as an up-and-coming supermodel, but told to lose weight. Due to the pressure of the job, Crystal soon developed a series of eating disorders.
This book is fascinating for any one who is struggling with their weight and being accepted into society. Despite Crystal no longer being the size 16 plus-size model she once was famed to be, I find it still very relevant as a memoir.

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Disclaimer – all opinions, favourites and views are my own.

So these are my favourite non-fiction books. I’ve been really enjoying doing these Top 5 posts. Let me know if you have any suggestions for the next load!

 

The Many by Wyl Menmuir – Book Review

Title: The Many

Author: Wyl Menmuir

Rating: 4/5

Fantasy: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Paranormal, Ghostly


As part of my job, I’m very lucky that I can go and interview authors and people of note. So when I was put onto contacting and reading The Many by Wyl Menmuir, I was not only excited to have some new reading material, but intrigued that this small publication (independently pushed and just over 130 pages long) has been long-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

So I picked up a copy from my local bookshop, and set about reading. It took me just over an hour to devour it, and I’m pleased to say I was hooked. The Many is worthy of the nomination, as the story is brilliantly woven, expertly told and with different voices and with a satisfying ending that will both leave questions unsolved, yet the reader entirely sated.

9781784630485_grandeSet in an unnamed fishing community on the North Cornish coast, the novel focuses around a new arrival to a very close-knit and closeted community. On paper, Timothy Bucchanan’s move from London to the village makes perfect sense. However, the narrative dives into a world that is completely isolated, mysterious and unfriendly to newcomers. With the ghost of a man that still holds sway over the locals, wasted fish being hauled from a contaminated sea, and unsettling dreams, Timothy soon gets swept up in village life, and with thousands of questions going unanswered, Timothy decides secrets must be unveiled, and the past has to be dug up.

The Many is rare in how it spans and encapulates different literary genres. With biological warfare and contaminated seas signalling science fiction, a world that is cut off and completely isolated being something out of dystopian literature, a murder mystery that has yet to be solved, and a touch of fantasy blending alongside magical realism, this novel feels a lot bigger than it physically is. Menmuir has given the readers enough of the characters to be interested by them, but not bog them down with unneccessary backstories. The figure of Perran, a character who died years before the narrative is set, is like a ghostly figure over the village, and his influence and story is hidden within plain sight. He is never properly physically described, nor do we properly hear him speak (apart from within flashback sequences) yet despite being dead, he is so present within the village conscious.

Timothy arrives at this village with his own issues. He has hopes and dreams of settling down and moving his wife away from the London rat-race, and in touching passages he can imagine himself through different social scenerios. However, this doesn’t happen. And Timothy is left constantly on the outside, yet being the most talked about man in the village.

The village dynamic is also very well written about. As I live on the Cornish coast, I know that there can be some animosity towards newcomers, yet this village certainly runs with it, and brings a Wickerman-esque feel to the narrative.

The novel has some interesting dream sequences, and moments of surrealism/magical realism, which reminds me of the writing styles of Alan Garner and Gabriel García Márquez. These sequences do have to be taken a face value, and towards the end of the novel, the world of the village and probably even Timothy’s own mental state does get a bit fractured, which just adds to the dynamic of the novel.

All in all, a great piece of literature. I’d thoroughly recommend it if you want to try a good read that will stick with you, yet isn’t too physically big.

The Many is out now!

Click here to buy the book.

Authors Website

Authors Twitter

Top 5 Books – Classic Literature.

 

Apologies for the lack of posting. My work has been hectic, and I’m taking a much deserved family holiday this week. A regular blogging schedule will resume soon.

To me, classic literature doesn’t mean it’s just old literature, but something that will echo for generations to come. Whether it be remarkably forward science fiction, or acts of romance that make people swoon, or just stories with morals, my top 5 list is my interpretation of literature that people should read in their lifetime.

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1: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

A personal favourite, this novel is grand and sweeping. A dazzling romance set in one of America’s most brutal and blood-thirsty periods, Gone with the Wind shows a civilisation and time that has now disappeared. It’s a tale of survival and new beginnings for one Southern Belle, who changes from being a pampered mistress to a fighter in the Deep South.

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2: 1984 by George Orwell

This novel is one I can read time over time over time again. An alternative yet familiar world, 1984 set the bar for dystopian literature. With forbidden romances, government control, cult leadership and surveillance taking over the world, 1984 is one of those novels that will broaden your mind forever, and make you realise that Big Brother really could be watching you.

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3: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Set in the sublime and wild Yorkshire Moors, Wuthuring Heights is a classic tale of revenge and obsession. With a multi-generational family, gothic overtones, physical and mental cruelty, Wuthering Heights tugs at the very extremes of nature vs nurture. A fantastic book.

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4: Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Another tale of revenge, tragedy and ghostly happenings. Hamlet is a classic for its use and portrayal of madness and murder, and with famous soliloquies surrounding dreams, death and life, Hamlet also offers an insight into the human condition.

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5: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Another personal favourite, and subject of my dissertation. Dracula has set standards for the vampire novel, as well as being a staple in the gothic genre. The novel also focuses on Victorian ideas of masculinity, femininity, religion, science and invasion from foreign shores, and with a host of excellent characters and bone-chilling moments, you won’t forget Dracula in a hurry.

 

These are my top 5 choices for Classic Literature, and if you have any personal choices/opinions, don’t hesitate in letting me know.