#RIPXII The Bear and the Nightingale

 

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From the very start of the book, I am hooked.

And that is not a usual thing. I am a reader of many books. By that I mean that I tend to read several things at once. So it can sometimes take me several tries to get into a book.

(You might just wonder then, why not just concentrate and read that one book, finish it, and then move on to another? Well, that’s just not the way I work. I just like multiple books going on!)

First of all, I love that it’s a fairytale. And more than that, that it’s a snowy, wintry kind of read. I have lived most of my life near the equator – where the only seasons are hot and dry or hot and rainy. And I now live in Northern California where winters are, at the most, rainy, although we could easily drive a few hours to find snow. So I’ve never really been in that kind of dense and intense winters that  the north of Russia must have.

Vasilisa is the youngest child of a wealthy lord of a northern Russian village. She can see  the spirits of the house, forest, river, the spirits that protect them from evil, like the domovoi, which lives in the oven. Her new stepmother can see these spirits too, but she calls them demons and seeks refuge in the church. She soon forbids the household from honoring these spirits with offerings. But Vasya tries to continue this ritual when she can, fearing that something bad is about to happen.

“The domovoi was small and squat and brown. He had a long beard and brilliant eyes. At night he crept out of the oven to wipe the plates and scour away the soot. He used to do mending, too, when people left it out, but Anna would shriek if she saw a stray shirt, and few of the servants would risk her anger. Before Vasya’s stepmother arrived, they had left offerings for him: a bowl of milk or a bit of bread. But Anna shrieked then, too. Dunya and the serving-maids had begun hiding their offerings in odd corners where Anna rarely came.”

Things get even more interesting when Father Konstantin is sent to their village and the villagers grow more fearful, and so is bold and brave Vasya.

“No, Vasya was frightened of her own people. They did not joke on the way to church anymore; they listened to Father Konstantin in heavy, hungry silence. And even when they were not in church, the people made excuses to visit his room.”

Something is waking, something evil. And without these spirits’ protection, crops start failing, the creatures of the forest roam closer, danger lurks.

The Bear and the Nightingale was an absolute charmer of a book. I loved all the Russian folklore throughout and the rural setting. Perhaps the only part that didn’t sit too well with me was the last act, which seemed a bit rushed.

 

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This is my fourth read for RIP XII

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Everything We Lost

 

Sometimes I join a book tour having already read an author’s work, or sometimes it’s because I’ve heard of the author and want to read her books. Occasionally, it’s a completely new-to-me author and I’m just intrigued by the premise of the book. Other times, I haven’t the faintest idea why I decided to join the tour.

And this is one of those times.

 

When the package arrived, I was actually out of the country, so when I returned, I had to scramble and read this book with my jet-lagged brain (I was in Singapore, 15 hours ahead of California). So maybe I hadn’t been concentrating hard enough but suddenly I realized that this book wasn’t quite what I had imagined it to be.

There were UFOs. Or rather, the possibility of UFOs. And conspiracies.

This was rather unexpected.

And at first, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not.

Everything We Lost is best described as a coming-of-age although it’s touted as a “psychological thriller”.

In 1999, 16-year-old Nolan disappears.

It is ten years later, and his younger sister Lucy returns to Bishop, California, where their mother still lives, in search of answers.

She starts to have some memories of the lead up to his disappearance. And begins to uncover more about the truth of what really happened.

We learn that Nolan and his obsession with all things UFO has made him an outcast among his peers – and an embarrassment to Lucy. But what really happened to him and what was Lucy’s role?

As I wondered what I had gotten myself into with this book, I realized that I was actually kind of hooked. And I had to force myself to put the book down and go to sleep that night. That is, after all, the sign of a good read, isn’t it?

Geary does a fantastic job with the storyline, as we see it from both Lucy and Nolan’s points of view, throwing up more and more questions about a variety of things like extraterrestrials and mental illness.

Perhaps it is the books that defy categorization that are the ones that provide the best fodder for thought.

It definitely was in the case of Everything We Lost. 

 

I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.

Check out the other tour stops here

 

Pick up a copy of the book: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 
Connect with the author: WebsiteFacebook, and Instagram

TLC Book Tours: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

 

 

I would like to know – is there anything that Neil Gaiman cannot write?

From fantasy to fairytale retellings to children’s to bestselling novels and comics. He seems to have done it all. Even Dr Who episodes. And he’s got the awards to prove it!

He has written one of my all-time favourite comic series, Sandman, but I believe the very first book of his that I read was Stardust.

And here he is with a collection of non-fiction writing, from introductions to speeches to tributes. Some are insightful, such as his  “All Books Have Genders,” others are just simply inspiring, like “Telling Lies for a Living… And Why We Do It: The Newberry Medal Speech 2009”. Others are very specific, such as his thoughts on Doctor Who or G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown – and may require some previous knowledge on said topics.

The best of his pieces are the more personal ones, like when he talks about how libraries were his second home when he was a kid. Or when he writes about his dear friend Terry Pratchett, whom he interviewed in 1985 – Pratchett’s first ever interview. Or those words he wrote for Tori Amos’ tour book:

“Tori is wise and witchy and wickedly innocent. What you see is what you get: a little delirium, a lot of delight. There’s fairy blood inside her, and a sense of humor that shimmers and illuminates and turns the world upside down.”

And that rather awesome piece for Time Out (‘Six to Six’) where he just wanders the streets of London late at night, writing about whatever happened (hint: not very much – but because it is Neil Gaiman I will still read it). This is the guy after all, whom people will pay money (specifically, donate to a good cause) to hear read the Cheesecake Factory menu out loud. His piece on attending the Oscars is another fun one.

I love reading all those bits and pieces about his life, and especially the way libraries and librarians were such a big part of his world.

The thing with a smorgasbord like this is it’s not meant to be read in one gulp. It is a book that takes time – and with 502 pages (not counting the index), a good amount of time. It’s a good palate cleanser – for those days when you’ve finished an intense (or agonizing or just plain unforgettable) book that you cannot let go of, and you are in a book hangover and feel unable to pick up anything new. Read one of Gaiman’s essays, especially one of those that talks about writing or a writer or reading or libraries, and I think it would inspire you to read again. 

Neil Gaiman – curing book hangovers one essay at a time. 

 


 

I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour here. 

You can purchase this book via HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on FacebooktumblrTwitterInstagram, and his blog.

#AsianLitBingo: The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig 

I am not fond of “girl” titles. 

But I am very fond of this book. 

If there’s a map, Captain Slate can sail to any destination, even if it is mythical. He’s taken his ship and crew (which includes his teenaged daughter Nix) to 19th century Hawaii, the land from 1001 Arabian Nights. He sure has a fancy ship to do all this time traveling in:

She was a striking caravel, her black hull copper clad below the waterline to keep out works (and worse, depending on what waters we traveled). She rode on a keel fashioned from what looked like the rib of a leviathan, carved with labyrinthine runes from stem to stern, and at the prow, a red-haired mermaid bared her breasts to calm the sea. 

Nix is 16. Her parents met in an opium den in Honolulu and her mother, a Chinese immigrant, died the day she was born. In 1868. Oh and her father is actually from modern day New York. He uses his special time-traveling Navigation skills to make money, which is why he was in Hawaii at that time – and also away when she gave birth. 

(Yeah I was kinda confused in the beginning…)

Slate was at sea when Nix was born and when her mother died. And always, he is trying to find a way back to 1868, to find the right map to take them there, to save his love from death. 

So they’ve been traveling the world, traveling across time, to find the map that would bring them back to 1868 Hawaii. And when that perfect map does come along, it brings with it some devastating consequences. 

Reading The Girl from Everywhere is a truly immersive experience. The research that went into this book is astounding. I felt like I was walking into 1868 Honolulu. Heilig does such a beautiful job with her worldbuilding. 

I was especially intrigued to learn about the mercury “rivers” that supposedly surround the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (the action takes them there for a bit). The belief at the time was that mercury would make one immortal. Emperor Qin took mercury pills – which was probably what killed him at age 50. 

(I later went to look up more about the emperor’s tomb – it’s still unexcavated as they fear that current technology may be unable to fully preserve what is inside. The mausoleum itself was only discovered in 1974 and it’s a sprawling necropolis with terra-cotta warriors. And although the tomb is still unopened, the ground above it has been found to have unusually high levels of mercury.)

The one thing I didn’t really enjoy was the possible love interests. It’s probably just me but I don’t think the book really needed it. Is it because it’s marketed as YA that this is seen as a requirement? But I did like both fellas very much though. Also I am so not a “YA” reader, both in terms of being a fan of YA or in the right age group. So it’s probably just me. 

Also hey, I just discovered that part two of this… series? trilogy? was published this year. Definitely looking forward to that! 


I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Multiethnic Asian MC (Nix is half-Chinese)

#AsianLitBingo Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah 

So when you’re a non-pork eating, Eid-celebrating Mossie (as in taunting nickname for Muslim, not mosquito) with an unpronounceable last name and a mother who picks you up from school wearing a hijab and Gucci shades, and drives a car with an “Islam means peace” bumper sticker, a quiet existence is impossible.”

16-year-old Amal is Australian-Muslim-Palestinian: “That means I was born an Aussie and whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens.” 

She decides to wear the hijab full-time. It’s her decision, not something her parents or relatives or friends made her do. She’s ready but she’s nervous because she’s recently started at McCleans, a prep school where she’s pretty much the only Muslim student. She wants to prove to herself that she’s strong enough to wear a badge of faith and she believes it will make her feel close to God. 

The hijab was part of her school uniform when she had attended Hidaya Islamic College although Amal would take it off as soon as she left school because “man oh man do you need guts to get on public transportation with it on”. 

Even her parents are worried and wonder if this is the right move at first. Her friends are supportive but it takes her classmates a few days before they confront her. Of course her mortal enemy Tia continues to insinuate things about her. And then there’s Adam, fun, funny and kinda cute. What does he think about her hijab? 

Amal’s got some great friends. Some of them are her McCleans classmates and there’s also Leila and Yasmeen from her old school. 

Abdel-Fattah cleverly introduces us to a diverse group of Muslim families. Leila’s conservative mum wants to find her a good husband, although she’s just a teenager, and doesn’t allow her to go out even if it’s with girlfriends. Amal’s family, while religious, are more open-minded. Amal’s uncle takes a very different track in being Australian. He’s “Uncle Joe”, not Ismail, wants his children to “live as Aussies”, disdains fasting and halal food and even prayer time. 

I love how Randa Abdel-Fattah took what is a tough topic and made it a fun yet insightful read.   I tend not to read YA but I’m so thoroughly thrilled with this book. It was so real and down to earth, and filled with such fantastic characters. I look forward to reading more of her books!

I read this for #AsianLitBingo – Asian Muslim MC

#AsianLitBingo: Goat Days by Benyamin 


Yes there are goats in this story.

But first, we meet Najeeb, and he and a friend are trying their very best to get arrested. Life in prison is far better to what he has suffered through recently.

What could be worse than prison?

It is the 1990s. Najeeb is from Kerala, a state in India. He’s intrigued by all the stories of those working in the Gulf and thinks it a quick easy way to make some fast cash and take care of his pregnant wife and their future child. But things do not go the way he expects.

He is put to work with goats. He tended to goats, milked them, fed them, herded them. The goats were treated better than he was. He didn’t have a cot to sleep on, or shelter. And this is the desert, which means ridiculously hot days and freezing cold nights. The precious water was meant for the goats so he wasn’t allowed any water to wash up with. He is only given khubus (a kind of bread) to eat for lunch and dinner, and some raw goat’s milk in the morning for breakfast. And barely enough water to drink.

We follow him through his days. His hard, painful, extremely dirty days where the only other human he sees is his Arab owner, a mean man who watches him through binoculars to make sure he doesn’t run off while herding goats – and won’t hesitate to shoot. When finally Najeeb meets other people, two Sundanese men who come to shear the sheep, although they don’t have a common language, he is just thrilled to see different faces, to smell a different smell. 

“The sense of dejection that descended one me as they departed! I had been enjoying the scent of two humans till then. Now, there were only the animals and me. Grief came, like rain.”

He didn’t expect to be a goat herder. He just wanted to make easy money – his relative got him a work visa. And when he landed in Saudi Arabia, not speaking a word of Arabic, not knowing any details except a name. Someone comes to claim him and they drive far off into the desert where he begins work. There is no choice for there is nothing but sand around. Where can he go? He doesn’t know where he is. He can’t speak the language. And somehow he survives three years, barely human, treated worse than an animal. He is a slave.

“My thoughts were not of my home country, home, Sainu, Ummah, my unborn son/daughter, my sorrows and anxieties or my fate, as one would imagine. All such thoughts has become alien to me as they were to the dead who had reached the other world. So soon – you might wonder. My answer is yes. No use being bound by such thoughts. They only delay the process of realization that we’ve lost out to circumstances and there is no going back. I realized this within a day. Anxiety and worry were futile. That world had become alien to me. Now only my sad new world existed for me.”

What a painful  read, brutal even. It’s hard to attract people to read such a book, I know. But I am glad I read it. It is a short read, at just 255 pages, and essentially while it is a rather simple story, it is well portrayed, it is moving and a very unique look at life in Saudi Arabia, far from the towering skyscrapers and modern amenities, far from another human face. It is terrifying to think that this is happening out there. 

“Every experience in life has a climax, whether it be happiness, sorrow, sickness or hunger. When we reach the end, there are only two paths left for us: either we learn to live with our lives or protest and struggle in a final attempt to escape. If we choose the second path, we are safe if we win; if not, we end up in a mental asylum or kill ourselves.” 

I am using Goat Days for Asian Lit Bingo – Poor or working class  Asian MC

Back to the Classics: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

 

Ok I love coming into a cult classic like this without a clue of the horrors within.

I know that it’s more of a classic movie than a classic book. In fact, when I posted about the book on Litsy, there were a few people who commented that they didn’t know that it was based on a book. Perhaps the rivalry of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford made the movie even more of a cult classic – there’s a TV series on that now! It’s called The Feud.

This book was destined for the screen. Even from the opening scene, which describes the young Baby Jane, precious spoilt jerk of a child, it’s all laid out so plainly that a reader can easily picture it.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a thriller, a psychological horror story set in Hollywood, in an aging mansion with two aging sisters, one in a wheelchair dependent on the other.

Jane or “Baby Jane” was a vaudeville child star. A spoilt rotten child (also a spoilt, rotten child). But somehow, as they became adults, it was Blanche, the younger sister, who became a movie star. A runaway success. And poor Baby Jane fades away from collective memory.

Even in middle age, Jane still resents Blanche and her success, even though her sister is now wheelchair-bound after a rather mysterious car accident. Blanche is pretty much stuck upstairs on the second floor, fully dependent on Jane for, well, for everything. And recently, with Blanche’s movies being broadcasted on TV, it seems like Jane’s jealousy is raging. She serves up revenge – on a plate!

 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a rather fun read, albeit a bit of a disturbing one. I am really just dying to see the movie now….!

 

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I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 – A Gothic or horror classic