Book Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite quotes:

“We tell stories to strangers to ingratiate ourselves, stories to lovers to better adhere us skin to skin, stories in our heads to banish the demons. When we tell the truth, often we are callous; when we tell lies, often we are kind. Through it all, we tell stories, and we own an uncanny knack for the task”.

(About London) “It’s filthy and wet and hides a brutal soul behind majestic walls. Its people are alternatively snobbish or base, and if I didn’t come from a culture of warriors, I’d say it was the most savage city I’d ever seen. I thought it glorious, of course, from the instant it sullied my boots”.

“Grief is a strange passenger; it rides on one’s shoulder quiet as a guardian angel one moment, then sinks razor talons into one’s collarbones the next”.

 

Jane Steele is a Victorian Jane Eyre fan whose fate is, so far, remarkably like her beloved heroine’s. Her parents are dead, and she’s living with her dreadful aunt and a slimeball of a cousin. Since her mother has committed suicide, Jane has few chances of succeeding, so she is sent away to a boarding school, just like Jane Eyre. She befriends a girl named Clarke but soon learns that even the strongest of friendships can perish – that’s how cruel Headmaster Munt is. And Jane’s string of murders begin. Or perhaps they’ve begun even earlier? Was her cousin really in an accident?

After Jane and Clarke flee the school, they find temporary employment with a writer, that also ends soon. Desperate to make a living, Jane penetrates the London underbelly – “London blazes and incinerates. London is the wolf’s maw”. Murder and prostitution become her constant companions. Until one day she sees an advertisement in the paper for a governess for the master of her old home. She takes the position, hoping to secure the home for herself, and find herself enchanted by its new inhabitants – Mr. Charles Thornfield and his ward Sahjara. But they are surrounded by mysteries and, as their sinister past lets itself be known, Jane begins to lose hope and to fear that they’ll discover her own wicked secrets. Will Jane ever find a home and leave her past behind, or is she doomed to be a murderer forever? And will she find peace and figure out her feelings for Charles and her attraction to Clarke that never wavered?

 

As you’ve probably gathered, “Jane Steele” is a retelling of everyone’s favourite feminist classic “Jane Eyre” – with a murderous twist. As fond as I am of original Victorian feminist survival stories like Louisa Cosgrove’s, I love good retellings of classics just as much. “Jane Steele” is a well-told story of survival, and endurance. Ultimately, it’s a story of a woman who takes charge of her own life, despite the constraints of the times and the horrors bestowed upon her by men. Men in this book are quite vile, in fact – except Charles Thornfield and his very endearing and badass “butler”. Jane Steele has plenty of badassery of her own and takes care of the ones she loves – just like the two decent guys in the book. The characters don’t know that until the end, but their methods of “caring” about their loved ones are more similar than either of them suspect.

One of my few issues with the book is the language. I get that the author was trying to “old-fashion” the text as much as possible. And it worked, to an extend. The descriptions of London and Highgate (Jane’s old home) are quite atmospheric, but at times I felt that overusage of Victorian language was a little excessive. It doesn’t distract much from the overall plot, but those of you who love Jane Eyre like I do might not appreciate it.

Jane Steele is, an essence, a bisexual vigilante. As there are so few of those in literature, I of course appreciate the representation. As a bisexual person, I felt that the author has definitely painted Jane’s sexuality well, given the constraints of the time. And given the Londoners’ classic habit of really not caring about the passersby, they probably wouldn’t have cared even back then about a woman kissing another woman on the street. And kudos to the author for showing that a bisexual person can have a fulfilling relationship with a man.

In general, I enjoyed “Jane Steele” – it is a decent retelling, which I’m happy to give 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “Jane Steele” if you liked:

“The Fair Fight” by Anna Freeman;

“The Flight of Gemma Hardy” by Margot Livesey;

“Re Jane” by Patricia Park.

 

Have you read “Jane Steele”? What are your favourite Jane Eyre retellings? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to stop by my Etsy charity shop!

 

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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Favourite Quotes:

“See, anxiety doesn’t just stop. You can have nice moments, minutes where it shrinks, but it doesn’t leave. It lurks in the background like a shadow, like that important assignment you have to do but keep putting off or the dull ache that follows a three-day migraine. The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding”.

“Beauty comes from how you treat people and how you behave. But if a little lipstick make you smile, then you should wear it and forget what anyone else thinks”.

“Social Convention dictates that I must deny being pretty, but I am… pretty. It’s one of the only things I have that makes me feel normal. Of course, I pervert that normality by embracing my looks. <..> This is mine, one of the only things about me that I actually like. I own it. And Social Convention will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before I ever give it up”.

 

Norah Dean lives with agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder. She is homeschooled and spends most of her time at home with her loving mother. For her, even a walk to the car can cause a panic attack. Her illness might not be visible, and the media might make people believe that she doesn’t look “mentally ill”, but Norah is sick. And a new boy-next-door isn’t a cure.

But Norah’s chance encounter with the new neighbour is not something she can ignore. Luke is a sweet kid with an air of mystery around him and he seems to be interested in Norah. She is keen, too. And if she were a “normal” kid…

 

I’m sorry. I seem to be unable to write a decent summary for “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”. And I’m not too fond of the Goodreads summary either. It’s making it seem as though romance is the solution to mental health issues. It is NOT. And the book makes it abundantly clear. In fact, I see the Goodreads summary as a disservice to this amazing novel – it is not a “romantic” story. It’s more of a character study that features some romance.

And I can’t emphasise enough how important this book is. How it can help young people understand mental health and its impact on one’s everyday life. “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” is brutally honest, doesn’t beat around the bush or shy away from heavy topics (TW: self-harm). Norah’s daily struggles felt incredibly real – not least because the book is told from her point of view and a lot of it is her thought process. These kinds of introspective books are what the world needs in order to smash stereotypes about mental illnesses. Norah makes a reference at some point to one such stereotype – “People always seem to be expecting wide eyes and a kitchen knife dripping with blood”. Thing is, most people who suffer from mental health issues are not like that. Norah isn’t like that – she is a conventionally pretty girl who is an overachiever. However, the fact that her OCD and agoraphobia can’t be seen with a naked eye – just because she doesn’t “look mentally ill”, doesn’t mean that she isn’t struggling with them on a daily basis.

I cannot speak for people who suffer from OCD or agoraphobia. But I have been treated for depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder in the past, and to this day I struggle with anxiety. Fortunately, I have more Good Days than Bad Days now, but, as Norah said, “anxiety doesn’t just stop. It lurks in the background like a shadow <…>, and the best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive”. I was first diagnosed during my second year of University which is when I was first prescribed medication and CBT. They did help me get through exams, and little by little, I learned to somewhat cope with my anxiety. It has reared its ugly head again when I was in law school – a very stressful time for me, for many reasons. I did seek help again, but I wish I had done so months earlier. Years earlier, even.

Why didn’t I? Well, like many other millennials, I had fed into the narrative offered by the media that stigmatised mentally ill people as “weak”. Plus, I was an only child and was brought up to believe that you only do enough if you get the best grade, or get promoted. A lot of my anxiety struggles did have to do with my envrionment and background, and not to mention the lack of a support system. I was living 2,000 miles away from my family, my low moods and anxiety made me pull away from friends, and while I was in a relationship, it wasn’t the best one. Besides, relationships aren’t a cure to mental illness, as I’ve already pointed out. Unfortunately, the society where I currently am doesn’t buy that and most people believe that getting married and starting a family is all a woman can ever need. Not a helpful narrative, AT ALL.

So I do wish, as I’ve said, that I’ve gotten the help I needed earlier. The UK university that I was at had an excellent mental health center, and the counsellor had a daughter studying to be a lawyer, so she understood and was able to help. I believe that, if “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” had been released in 2009, I would’ve asked for help much earlier. And I genuinely believe that others like me would also have done so.

Everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. Perhaps you can relate to Norah’s experience, or maybe yours are vastly different. Whatever the case might be, DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE. ASK FOR HELP. IT’S OK TO DO SO. Books like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”, “Cracked Up to Be”, “Speak” – hell, even the classic “The Bell Jar” – aren’t just useful – they’re mandatory for everyone who wants to learn more about mental health, people’s experiences with it, or just needs someone to relate to. And if we get more books like that, I believe we can, slowly but surely, smash the stereotypes about mental health altogether and help more people get the help they need.

Well, this review has turned into a personal essay, hasn’t it? I’ll finish with this – buy/borrow “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” and educate yourself. You won’t regret it.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” if you liked:

Cracked Up To Be” by Courtney Summers;

“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath;

“Paper Butterflies” by Lisa Heathfield

 

Have you read “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”? Do you have favourite books that depict mental illness realistically and not just use it as a plot device? Drop me a comment and don’t forget to visit my Etsy charity shop before you go! 🙂

Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

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Favourite quotes:

“My old art teacher told me I draw like a man. I’ve never forgiven him. I don’t draw like anything, I draw like everything. I draw like me”.

“I’m a fingerprint, an anomaly, a snowflake. Indian, Deaf, girl, two moms. You couldn’t make this shit fit in the pages of those glossy mags”.

“My life has to be about more than the Refresh button. <…> I want to make art that makes my heart race. Art that demands to be felt, even if that feeling is terror”.

 

Julia is an artist and like all artists, she wants her art to have an impact. That is why she painted over a slur about her best friend scribbled on school property. Sadly, said friend snitches and Julia is expelled from Kingston School for the Deaf and has to transfer to a regular public school. Her two moms impose more boundaries on her life than ever. Life isn’t easy when you’re sixteen, and it’s even harder when you’re a brown deaf girl who needs an ASL interpreter with her at all times. Especially if that interpreter is one nosy woman.

On top of all that, the art class that Julia wants to be so badly in is full. So since her moms pretty much put a stop to her graffiti activities, she has few opportunities to draw. Julia is a smart girl, though, and quickly figures out a way. She tags landmarks all over town with her signature – “HERE”. However, she’s not the only notorious graffiti artist in town. Someone else is making additions to her work and while they look amazing and provocative, Julia has no desire to be involved in some kind of a “turf war”. She just wants to make amazing art. So who is the other “vandal” in town? Is it Julia’s former crush and coworker Donovan? The charismatic art teacher? Or someone else entirely, like her new clueless friend YP? Can Julia figure it out and not get arrested for vandalism in the process?

 

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I’m twenty-five years old. And this seems to be the year where I finally feel too “old” for YA books. Not all YA books, obviously – I’m never gonna be too old for Harry Potter, for instance. But lately, I just seem to rush through young adult novels and find myself unable to care for teenage characters as much as I used to, even a year ago.

Despite that, I definitely recommend “You’re Welcome, Universe”! Julia is a deaf Indian girl living with two mothers, which is not something you see often in young adult fiction. She is not very “likeable” – the betrayal of her supposed best friend makes her driven to isolate herself from people in the new school, she has an attitude and she’s spunky. In other words, she feels real. The author has really fleshed out her character, and not least because of the absolutely amazing illustrations of Julia’s art that are featured in almost every chapter. I haven’t really read anything like that before (with the exception of Cat Winters’ books), and I loved it.

I also loved the novel’s approach towards ASL (American Sign Language). I don’t know it unfortunately (although I know the alphabet of British Sign Language – not the same thing!), but “You’re Welcome, Universe” definitely made me interested. Julia’s new friend YP is trying to learn it too, and I felt that it was really important that the author has shown how people communicate in ASL – both through text and illustrations of the novel. At one point, Julia describes ASL to a useless adult – “English is my second language. I speak American Sign Language. It’s not English. It’s not charades, not miming. It’s a language”. Smashing misconceptions like Julia does in that scene is the best reason for YA literature to be gaining momentum as it currently is.

Books like “You’re Welcome, Universe” are important, not least BECAUSE they’re marketed towards younger audience. When young people read, they want to relate to the characters – they want to see themselves in them. And if all protagonsits are the same straight white able-bodied men, it’s hard for people who don’t fit into that mold (such as myself) to relate to them. Julia’s story feels real; since I’m not deaf, I cannot presume what people like her go through every day, but according to acknowledgments, the author has employed sensitivity readers to make Julia’s experiences as truthful as possible. I can only hope that more authors follow Gardner’s example!

I’m certainly going to read more of Whitney Gardner’s books! My rating for “You’re Welcome, Universe” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “You’re Welcome, Universe” if you liked:

“Of Pens and Swords” by Rena Rocford;

“#famous” by Jilly Gagnon;

“It Started with Goodbye” by Christina June

 

Have you read “You’re Welcome, Universe”? What are your favourite books released so far this year? Let me know in the comments:)

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: Tattletale by Sarah J. Naughton

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite quotes:

Whatever you may have read in the tabloid press, those suffering from mental health difficulties are far more likely to be a danger to themselves than others”.

“This is why I don’t have relationships. Even if you’re lucky enough to meet someone you genuinely care about, someone who feels the same and isn’t a complete asshole, as soon as you let your guard down and start to rely on them, bang! Some deus ex machina comes down and blows them up or gives them a tumour or pushes them over a stairwell. It’s not worth it. You can’t miss it if it was never there”.

“A whole industry based on schadenfreude, making their inadequate readers feel smug about their drab little lives and relationships. Celebreties break up because their egos are solid enough not to put up with other people’s bullshit. The rest of us don’t have the balls, because we’re too insecure to be alone”.

 

What happens when two women with troubled pasts are connected by death of someone they both loved at one point? How far will one go to prove the other did it? And how much the other can take before she finally breaks?

A hotshot Vegas lawyer Mags receives news from London that her brother Abe tried to kill himself and is in a coma. When she flies up to England to see him, she meets his fiancee Jody and a cast of characters who were Abe’s neighbours. As a lawyer, Mags knows that nothing is ever what it seems. As she gets to know Jody and the neighbours, a lot of facts about her brother come to light. And little by little, they begin to make sense. But nobody is prepared to learn the full truth about their family, and to confront their past. Least of all Mags and Jody.

The paths of the two women would have never crossed if not for Abe. Neither of them trusts the other. Can they build a relationship based on lies, delusions and madness? Or will their histories destroy them completely?

 

 

“Tattletale” is a multiple PoV story, and no narrator is a reliable one. We don’t know which of the women we should trust – in fact, we don’t know until we’re well into the book who the devastating flashbacks are all about. That, admittedly, made the narrative a little harder to follow, but after a few chapters, everything became much clearer and I was able to enjoy this book for what it is. A decent pscyhological thriller that keeps you guessing until the very last page.

Psychological thrillers aren’t “light”, and “Tattletale” certainly wasn’t. It dealt with very heavy topics like rape, depression and suicide, addiction and bigotry. The book features a couple of graphic descriptions of sexual assault (trigger warning), and some scenes make the reader’s skin crawl. Mental illness was a very important plot point in “Tattletale”, as was victim-blaming, but I thought that the author dealt with the topics quite well. We do see through other characters’ eyes that there is still a big stigma surrounding people with mental illnesses and sexual assault survivors. I am glad that it wasn’t swept under the rug but was addressed and explored. Although I could’ve done without usage of death of a marginalized person as a central plot point.

“Tattletale” is a debut novel, and it’s written in a simple language with very little purple prose. It does show a lot of promise and gives us a glimpse into the author’s writing talent. I’m sure we’ll see several new good thrillers in the future from Sarah J. Naughton. “Tattletale” certainly made train journeys to and from work a lot more interesting!

 

Recommendations

You might like “Tattletale” if you liked:

“The Good Lawyer” by Thomas Benigno

“Disclaimer” by Renee Knight

“Last Seen Leaving” by Caleb Roehrig

 

Have you read “Tattletale”? What are your favourite psychological thrillers? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop!

Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

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Favourite quotes:

“Old houses catch threads of the people who have lived them in the same way a piece of lace does. For the most part, those threads stay quietly in place until someone disturbs them. An old cleaning woman reaching for cobwebs reveals the dreamy dance of a girl home from a first cotillion. Dance card still dangling from her wrist, the girl closes her eyes and twirls, trying to hold the moment, the memory of first love. The old cleaning woman knows the vision better than the girl herself does. It’s the one she has longed for but never lived”.

“There is a point where the life force overcomes the will and the body simply breathes itself. It just happens. It hurts like hell when you take a breath of seawater, but the hurt goes away quickly, and then you feel the flow of water and hear the music of the spheres”.

“And we are back in history in the days whern they came to get you because you were a woman alone in the world, or because you were different, because your hair was red, or because you had no children of your own and no husband to protect you. Or maybe even because you owned property that one f them wanted”.

 

Towner Whitney doesn’t remember why she left Salem all those years ago, when her name was still Sophya. Accordingto her, she’s crazy. Indeed, in Salem, the Whitneys are known as “quirky”. Especially Towner’s great-aunt Eva, who runs a tearoom and is a renowned lace reader. Lace reading is a form of fortune-telling – a gift that most Whitney women have, to an excent. But Towner is back now. Her great-aunt Eva is missing.

Forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed all those years ago and faced with the possibility that her great-aunt might be dead, Towner tries to get answers from Eva’s friends and the rest of her family. When Detective Rafferty appears in Towner’s life, things get even murkier. He is determined to get the answers as to Eva’s disappearance, and to put away the leader of the Calvinists. The Calvinists are an ultraconservative Christian cult named after their leader Cal Boynton who used to be part of Towner’s family. Rafferty believes Cal to be behind Eva’s disappearance, and also behind the murder of Angela Rickey, a former member of his cult who is also missing.

As Towner’s relationship with Rafferty develops, he grows increasingly concerned about her and the town and digs deeper into Towner’s past that she’s forgotten. Or tried to bury deep down. Will his findings confirm what he’s suspected a long time ago? Or will his perception of reality be completely shattered, destroying himself and Towner in the process?

 

When I read a mystery novel, I like to be engaged from the beginning until the very end. And I like to not be able to guess the ending until the last page. “The Lace Reader” definitely delivered on the latter. The plot twists were quite unexpected, and not in a “plot holey, out of nowhere” way at all. However, I can’t say that this novel has kept my attention the whole time. This is primarily because of the narration.

Towner is the primary narrator, and an extremely unreliable one, who narrates in first-person present tense. However, we also have another narrator – Detective Rafferty. His narration is third-person past tense. I honestly didn’t get why that plot device was necessary. Towner’s unreliability as a narrator could’ve been done just as well in the past tense. Perhaps the narration of what was happening presently was done in the present tense to distinguish it from Towner’s journals written when she was 17 in the past tense. That didn’t help though – I kept forgetting what was happening when through most of the second half of the book. Unless that was the intended effect, it wasn’t the best mystery novel technique.

Confusing the reader can work, to an extent. It worked in “Gone Girl”, somewhat worked in “Pretty Little Liars”, and it was done really well in the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. However, it was very over-the-top in “The Lae Reader”. I finished the book two days ago and I’m just now putting the pieces together. And not all of them, even – I still have so many questions. I’m still unclear as to what really had happened to Towner during the times she wrote about in her journals. I still don’t get whether she knew that what she was writing about didn’t really happen or whether she really was as mentally unstable as she claimed. And – perhaps that’s just me – but I’m still figuring out what actually happened to Eva. Perhaps I’ll understand the book better once I read the companion novel. There is one thing I am certain of – Cal Boynton deserved what he got.

My other issue is that how sexual assault and its aftermath were handled in the book. It’s not glorified – quite the contrary. But it is made into a plot point that’s never fully explored and a lot is left up to the reader’s interpretation. It was also used for shock value. If one chooses to tackle such an intense subject, I believe that they should deal with it fully and thoroughly. “The Lace Reader” doesn’t exactly brush off over the mental anguish that follows sexual assault. However, the mental health issues are also used as a plot point and a trigger for many things. I for one felt that it wasn’t done as well as it could have been.

Towner says she is a liar at the start. The book seemed to heavily imply that she couldn’t be trusted because of what had happened to her in the past. I, for one, was quite bemused by that. Maybe that’s because my interpretation is incorrect – and I do encourage readers of this blog to send me theirs in the comments! Nevertheless, it wasn’t my favourite aspect of an otherwise very atmospheric and unique novel. My rating for “The Lace Reader” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Lace Reader” if you enjoyed:

“The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield

“The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes

“The Returned” TV series

 

Have you read “The Lace Reader”? Do you have different interpretations of the events that transpired in the book? I look forward to reading your comments! 🙂

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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Favourite quotes:

“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives”.

“All my life, I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me”.

“They smelled the city long before they saw it, hazed as it was with the smoke of ten thousand fires, and then the brilliant domes – green and scarlet and cobalt – showed dimly through the vapor. At last they saw the city itself, lusty and squalid, like a far woman with feet caked and filth. The high golden towers rose proudly above the desperate poor, and the gold-fretted icons watched, inscrutable, while princes and farmers’ wives came to kiss their stiff faces and pray”.

 

Vasilisa, or Vasya, loves a good story, a good fairytale. Especially those her nurse Dunya tells her and her brothers on a cold winter night – which is almost every night if one lives at the edge of Russian wilderness, beyond the Arctic Circle. Her favourite is that of Morozko (Frost) – a winter demon that claims the souls of the unworthy and rewards those who display courage in the face of the lethal cold. She loves fairytales and stories because she knows them to be real. The spirits that inhibits them are real – Vasya has seen them. Others in her household might not see them, but they honour them nonetheless, despite Christianity rapidly taking over and replacing the pagan beliefs in the old gods.

Soon, however, Vasya’s harmless stories and games aren’t so harmless anymore. Some years after her mother – daughter of a vedma (witch) dies, her father goes to Moscow to introduce her brothers to the Tsar and to find himself another wife. Vasya’s new stepmother is Anna, and she sees what Vasya sees. But she is afraid. She sees the household spirits as demons, devils. Throwing herself completely into Christianity, Anna and the new priest Konstantin, sent by the Tsar to Vasya’s village, forbid the people from worshipping the old gods, honouring the old ways. Vasya is the only one who sees, who understands the disasters that are arising as a result. The weather becomes worse, the crops fail, the wolves come closer and closer to the village, and Vasya is powerless to stop it. Or is she?

Can Vasya – a fourteen-year-old maiden now – defy her stepmother and make sure that the people remember the old ways and save them? Or will Anna and Konstantin send her to convent before she manages to do anything? And what if Frost isn’t real after all and Anna’s demand for snowdrops in midwinter make Vasya freeze to death – a fate fitting for a vedma?

 

Most of you know that I have Russian family and am fluent in the language. This is why I have such ambivalent attitude towards books based on Russian culture written by non-Russian authors. Some of those authors, like Catherynne Valente, get it so right that my heart weeps with nostalgia for childhood. Others, like Leigh Bardugo in the Grisha Trilogy, are talented in their own way, but fail to grasp the nuances of the culture and the history. Thus I was apprehensive when I picked up “The Bear and the Nightingale”.

I needn’t have been.

I’ve previously made dessert analogies in relation to reading books, and I must say that reading “The Bear and the Nightingale” was like eating a massive, decadent yet light and smooth, chocolate mousse. There were a lot of things packed in this page-turner, but they flowed so incredibly well that it was impossible to be overwhelved. And the writing was absolutely stunning.

The book strikes a perfect balance – just enough flowery prose, just enough descriptions and metaphors, and just enough references to history to satisfy the reader without overindulging them. And for me, it was a double treat – what with my Russian heritage and all! Although I should say – some of you might find a few “nuts” in the decadent “mousse” that is “The Bear and the Nightingale”. These “nuts” are Russian words that appear quite often throughout the text. Fortunately, there is a very helpful guide at the end of the book to help you figure out what the words mean.

I’m biased, as a Russian speaker, but I never get tired of seeing foreign words in an English text – especially those that fit! Some books, like “Black Widow” by M. Stohl were 90% hit, 10% obvious miss with the Russian vocabulary. “The Bear and the Nightingale” was a 100% hit. In fact, I’m not convinced that the book wasn’t originally written in Russian! It just flows so incredibly smoothly – I “translated” a little in my head and could see how well the grammar structures and sentences worked in both Russian and English narration. Miss Arden, I thus nominate thee an Honorary Russian! Although with the author’s background, it’s not surprising that she’s managed to craft such a beautiful, such a Russian masterpiece.

The book might technically be “fantasy” but it is also a terrific study of a little-known period of Russian history – post-Mongol invasion, pre-Peter the Great. It takes place a few years after the introduction of Orthodox Christianity to Russia (or Rus’, as it was known back then), and makes history and religion both important plot points and significant details of the overall atmosphere of the novel. And one thing “The Bear and the Nightingale” certainly doesn’t lack is atmosphere! I believe that one would enjoy reading this on a cold winter day/evening, curled up in a comfortable chair, under a warm blanket – that’s what I did. Best weekend in a while! I can’t really imagine rushing through a book like this one when you’re on a train, for example. No, these kinds of book demand being invested in them – both in terms of time and emotion. “The Bear and the Nightingale” is tricky to put down! Once you get pulled into it, only Solovey (Nightingale) himself can help you out of it! And that’s only because he would be exhausted of Vasya trying to braid his mane and need something to do.

Like I said above, this isn’t a quick book. But if you’re looking for a novel you could really get into, get invested in the plot and the characters (both the human heroes and the storybook villains), and enjoy the inevitable book hangover that follows, you need to pick up “The Bear and the Nightingale”. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I can wait too long for the sequel! Rating – 8.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You would enjoy “The Bear and the Nightingale” if you liked:

“Egg & Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

“Deathless” by Catherynne Valente

 

Have you read “The Bear and the Nightingale”? What are your favourite books inspired by Russian folklore and history? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

 

Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

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This is a review of a re-read.

 

Favourite quotes:

“But my heart isn’t simple or straightforward. It’s a complicated mess of wants and needs, boys and girls: soft, rough, and everything in between, an ever-shifting precipice from which to fall”.

“But this is the thing about struggling out of that hole you’ve put yourself in: the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall”.

“I want to keep my memory of her untainted, not polished by death nor shredded to pieces by words she meant only for herself. I want her to stay with me as she always was: strong and sure in everything but the one thing that mattered most, beautifully cruel and wonderfully sweet, too smart and inquisitive for her own good, and loving me like she didn’t want to believe it was a sin”.

 

Sophie Winters is an addict. She got hooked on painkillers after a car accident two years ago which wrecked her leg forever. But contrary to what her family, what the entire town believes, she’s been clean for over nine months now. And there was no relapse of any kind. Her best friend Mina wasn’t murdered because of a drug deal Sophie’s orchestrated. There was no drug deal at all, actually. But Sophie’s parents don’t believe her and send her to rehab anyway. Once she comes back four months later, she’s determined to find out who killed Mina and why.

However, very few people are keen to help her. The only one who seems to believe her is Rachel, the girl who found Sophie the night Mina died. Mina’s brother Trev has been in love with Sophie for the longest time, but he won’t speak to her. Her parents won’t believe her. And it goes without saying that Sophie’s time in rehab has done absolutely nothing to help her move on. Mina was her best friend – her other half, even. But some things, some secrets are buried so deep that unraveling them would send Sophie down a rabbit hole  which she has little chance of climbing out of. Can Sophie solve Mina’s murder and stay clean in the process? Or will the secrets they shared with each other, and things that Mina kept to herself and herself alone, wreck Sophie to the point of no return?

 

I first read “Far From You” in January 2015. I remember loving it and being heartbroken by it, and recently, I decided to re-read it. However, I was quite surprised by the fact that I haven’t written a review of this wonderful novel two years ago. So this review is based on both my initial impressions and what I’ve experienced during the re-read.

“Far From You” is both mystery-centric and protagonist-centric. Sophie Winters is a first-person narrator, so the story is shown from her perspective entirely. However, her voice is the kind that makes it clear for the reader the things that she doesn’t state explicitly. This is particularly true when she talks about Mina – Sophie’s pespective of the latter is skewed by many things revealed during the course of the story. However, the reader figures out several things about Mina that venture beyond Sophie’s somewhat romanticised notion of her. This is helped further by the “before” and “after” structure of the novel – flashbacks make up about 50% of the book, which worked brilliantly, even though they were slightly difficult to follow at first. Mostly because they weren’t in the order that you would expect. To reveal more about what the reader learns about Mina through Sophie’s narration and the things left unsaid by Sophie would be quite spoilery, though, so I’ll just say this – nothing in this book as it seems.

One would even argue that the mystery of Mina’s murder is as much of a core of “Far From You”, as it is a plot device. A lot of the book focuses on Sophie’s investigation, but just as much is centered around her relationship with Mina. Even her relationships with other people – Mina’s brother Trev, Mina’s boyfriend Kyle, the subjects of Mina’s newspaper article – they’re all somewhat related to what Sophie had had with Mina. And the way “Far From You” is written doesn’t let the reader forget that. It is also written in a way that makes the reader genuinely feel for both girls, and the words used by the author are weaved into sentences that made me weep both times I read the book. “Far From You” is definitely a story that got to me, made me truly care about the characters, despite their numerous flaws. These flaws are indeed what made them real – the author doesn’t skirt around them but turns them into character traits that make the actors genuinely relatable. And I’m not just referring to the LGBT+ aspects of the book, although books with LGBT+ protagonists are incredibly important today. The author doesn’t make the characters all about their sexual orientations – Far From It (sorry for the pun). All the characters – not just the protagonists – feel like real people, real teenagers with real struggles, their sexuality being one of them, but hardly overshadowing all of their other defining traits. I love books like that. And if they make me cry – well, that’s just a bonus, isn’t it? All stories matter, and stories featuring diverse characters especially. And if they get to the reader, if they make the reader experience strong emotions, that just makes them even more important. “Far From You” is one such story.

When I found out that “Far From You” was a debut novel, I was stunned. The author is incredibly talented with words and story-weaving, and I cannot wait for her next book! My rating for “Far From You” is 8/10.

 

Dreamcast

Sophie Winters – Eliza Taylor

Mina Bishop – Luisa D’Oliveira

 

Recommendations

You might like “Far From You” if you liked:

“Cam Girl” by Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake

“Complicit” by Stephanie Kuehn

“Pretty Little Liars” – Mina was no Alison DiLaurentis, yet one can’t help but draw Emison parallels.

 

Have you read “Far From You”? What is your favourite book with a bisexual protagonist? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop!