Books to Help You Through Brexit

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Now I know we are all sick to death of Brexit so I wondered what could help us all to weather the inevitable shitshow *ahem* adjustment period that is nearly upon us… and as always, the answer is BOOKS! No, not any of the plethora of highly biased texts that either drone on about MAKING BRITAIN GREAT AGAIN or EVERYONE IS GOING TO HELL IN A HANDCART but some lovely novels that will distract, amuse or come in handy.

So, whatever happens: keep calm, brew some tea and check out my book recommendations!

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Read something to take your mind off it…

If you feel like you see more of Laura Kuenssberg in her lovely pink coat than you do of your immediate family then it’s probably time to turn off the TV and lose yourself in a great book. I recently read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton and it was sooooo addictive I couldn’t put it down. It’s so intricately layered that it should distract you from whatever excruciatingly dull bit of legislative change has been painfully negotiated with the EU. There’s also any number of thrillers out there that would also serve to provide a bit of distraction from the political chaos – my favourites include The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn and Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.

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Read something funny

If the merest suggestion of the Question Time music raises your blood pressure several millimetres of mercury (no, I didn’t know that was the unit of measurement either) then why not turn that frown upside down with some comedic books instead. I will never stop recommending The Tent, The Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy which is properly laugh-out-loud hilarious or Bad Science by Ben Goldacre which is similarly spit-out-your-tea amusing. Or, if you’re a pervert, there’s always good old Belinda Blinked by Rocky Flinstone – the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno (where Rocky’s son reads out his Dad’s erotic literature to his friends) is incredible and the books are so-bad-they’re-good comedy gold.

Read something boring

If you’re lying down at night with the sound of John Bercow shouting “ORDERRRRR” ringing in your ears and all the sheep you’re trying to count are bleating “will of the peeeeeple” then try reading something boring to get you off to the land of nod. There’s tons of books out there that seem to have been published sans storyline – I personally found Atonement by Ian McEwen extremely dull; ditto The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

Who Moved My Cheese?

Read something inspiring

Whatever happens with Brexit, change is a-coming and with any change, inevitably, comes opportunity. There are lots of books that can help you to deal with tumultuous situations but a classic (and one I’ve read several times) is Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.

(answer:

a) no-one, because all of the ferry ports are jammed or don’t actually have any ferries/ a usable dock/ terms and conditions that haven’t been stolen from a local takeaway

b) Bloody *choose one* David Cameron/ Theresa May/ Jean-Claude Juncker/ Boris Johnson/ Jeremy Corbyn/ Anna Soubry/ Nigel Farrage/ whoever wrote £350 million on the side of a bus etc.

c) Young people who don’t know what they’re talking about/ old people who don’t know what they’re talking about

d) It hasn’t moved it’s been BANNED by VEGANS

e) IMMIGRANTS

Take your pick depending on how left-wing/right-wing/prejudiced/racist you might be.)

How To Stop Brexit - And Make Britain Great Again

Read (or not) something practical

I hesitate to recommend books that I haven’t yet read, but The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is literally everywhere right now, looks like an amazing read and judging by the sheer size of the thing could also come in handy as a weapon, should things take a turn for the worse in your local Wetherspoons.

Also, I see Nick Clegg has published a long-awaited book called (I’m not kidding) “How to Stop Brexit and Make Britain Great Again” which looks like it could have a variety of uses – TV prop, cat litter tray liner, kindling… obviously I’m joking, I haven’t read it but I thought it was a bit rich coming from a man who couldn’t even deliver his key election pledge!

 

So, what will you be reading over the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

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Genre: Fantasy

Similar to: Well, it’s a retelling, so…

Could be enjoyed by: Greek myth nerds (there seems to be a lot of you out there)

Publication date: 10th April 2018

 

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #15 Read a book of mythology or folklore

These are my uneducated thoughts on Greek Myths:

The Minotaur (big scary sheep thing that lives in a maze)… Poseidon (was he in the Little Mermaid? God of the sea, held a big fork)… Morpheus (know him from Neil Gaiman’s  Sandman)… the muses (Salma Hayek in Dogma). Ummmm…

So, I’m probably not the ideal target audience for a Greek myth retelling.

HOWEVER

If you’re like me, don’t be put off from reading Circe. Sure, it would have added to my reading experience if I’d been familiar with some of the characters who popped up in the book (I occasionally had trouble keeping track of who was who – Telemachus and Telegonus, come on…) but it’s a great book nevertheless.

Circe is a kind of neglected middle child (despite being first-born), standing in the shadows of her cleverer, more beautiful siblings. After a few hundred years of largely avoiding her family, being ignored and low-key bullied in her father Helios’ halls, she engages in a spot of rule breaking, gets herself banished to a remote island and starts working on finding her own power. After several mortal lifetimes worth of quietly observing the Gods, Circe realises that it is their vanity, their deceptions and their dismissal of her as nothing more than an irritating child that she can use to her advantage. She explores the land that will hold her captive and uses her infinite exile to enhance her burgeoning skills in witchcraft, finding her power in the lowly domestic setting to which she has been relegated. Along the way, Circe encounters a range of other Gods and powerful mortals, plays them at their own games and forges a life for herself, despite their incessant power plays.

I loved seeing Circe coming into her own. At first, she’s a clueless child, quietly trying to fit in with the other Gods and desperate to find her place within the family. Very slowly, she begins to wake up to her family’s scheming ways and starts to question their behaviour. But it’s her discovery of witchcraft that really sees Circe finally obtain some power. As a gardening nerd I was familiar with many of the plants that she used in her potions and was pleased to see the level of research that Madeline Miller had put into discovering their natural properties.

I was really pleased to see a female protagonist who wasn’t perfect – despite being a Goddess Circe was seen by the Gods as ugly, with a high thin voice and very little power. I loved seeing her find her strength in areas other than her looks and forging ahead with her own plans. However, I did find that the middle of the book rambled a bit. I felt like there was a very loose narrative arc and honestly, in some places I got a bit bored. But then the storyline picked back up and I was a happy little reader again.

Overall, I really enjoyed Circe. I loved the beautifully written prose, the flawed main character and the cleverly interwoven myths. I just wish she had found something more interesting to do than have a casual love affair for 100 pages!

Four “THAT’S why it’s called Hermes!” out of five.

Epic, meticulously researched fantasy. Highly recommended!

 

Mid Month Mini-Reviews – March

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Hello bookworms!

Due to the success of my last post, I’m going to keep going with a few more mini-reviews. Look, I even made a graphic! I had no idea how fun these things were to write so I think they might become a monthly feature. Woo hoo! No more trying to drag out interesting comments about dull 2.5 star books.

Today, I’m focusing on clearing out some of my NetGalley backlog, Marie Kondo style. That “older than three months” tab does not spark joy.

 

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

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I quite liked this book – it was proper old-fashioned science fiction along the lines of Philip K. Dick and reminded me very much of Minority Report. The story centered around Lazlo Ratesic, a citizen of the Golden State and member of the Speculative Service whose job it was to enforce the Objectively So: the criminal offense of lying. The upholding of the truth requires Lazlo’s special sixth sense combined with the constant surveillance of all Golden State citizens but absolute power corrupts absolutely and when he stumbles across previously unknown truths, his reality unravels.

I really enjoyed the Big Brother overtones within the novel and it was interesting to read from the point of view of the enforcers, not the average dissenting citizen. The world building was great, very cohesive for such a bold idea and held together well. I enjoyed the questions that the book raised around morality – is it possible to be completely honest all of the time? Is freedom always such a good thing or should we appreciate the use of CCTV etc. as a protectionist measure? However, as the book went on it became a bit absurd, then a lot absurd, then descended into an ending that came so far out of left field that it could have belonged to another novel entirely. Still, I enjoyed the majority of the book very much so I gave it:

Three and a half “is honesty always the best policy?” out of five.

 

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett

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I have to say that I really, really tried with this book but unfortunately I had to DNF it at 60% (see, I told you I gave it a good go). It’s well written but, frankly, dull. Cass is  a singer-songwriter re-launching her career after years of shying away from the public and the book flips between her life now and her back story. I initially enjoyed reading about Cass’ early life and relationship with her family but as the book progressed I felt like the action was sorely missing. Cass has a horrible relationship with her jealous boyfriend (another member of the band) but this point is so laboured and the endless chapters about yet another gig, yet another argument, yet another London flat were so repetitive and dull that I lost interest.

I feel like there’s a good story within the novel but to stretch it out over 400 pages was too much for me. When my Kindle estimated that it would still take over three hours for me to finish I made the decision that life was too short and gave up on it.

Two “MY GOD WHEN WILL IT END” out of five.

 

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

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This book is a collection of personal essays focusing on a number of taboo subjects – the alcohol addiction of Emilie Pine’s father, her own problems with fertility, the loss of children, of miscarriage, of regret and death and guilt. Whilst the book is brutally honest, it’s just… a lot. That doesn’t make it bad exactly but it does make it a difficult read. Everything is laid bare in quite a matter-of-fact way and whilst I was glad that Pine never wallowed in self-pity it was the lack of personal reflection that left me feeling a little cold. I struggled to get a handle on who she was and her lack of empathy for others or consideration of the wider issues that impacted upon her life meant that in turn I struggled to empathise with her.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that this book was enjoyable, it was a powerful read containing beautifully written prose. I appreciated the honesty of the author in tackling such difficult subjects but I struggled to connect emotionally.

Three “check your privilege” out of five

 

So, have you read any of these books? Is 60% a ridiculously long way into a book before DNFing it? Let me know in the comments!

 

Sorting Out the Shelves #4

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Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of sorting out the shelves! Today, I’m looking at my “popular” books from the 90’s/00’s

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(I imagine this is how I would look if I won some kind of popularity contest)

So, lets begin by looking at some of the most popular books of all time and then move on to some pop psychology/sociology…

It’s time for Own or Re-Home!

Own

Harry Potter. Need I say more?

You might recognise these covers…

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I have a complete set of the paperback versions of the HP books, some of which are first editions (but worth precisely zilch because the print run will have been so huge). This took supreme effort from me – when the final book was released I waited a whole year to read the paperback so that I didn’t mess up my bookshelves with a random hardback. They take pride of place in the middle of my bookshelves along with some other HP paraphernalia (like my picture of me on a broomstick flying over Hogwarts). I love these books so much that I’ll never part with them.

Re-home

A selection of pop psychology/sociology/anthropology mostly written by TV media types…

It was just a phase…

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I still love books that teach me about other cultures (including my own) or people, especially if they’re written in a humorous way. There seemed to be loads of them out in the mid 2000’s  – I bought most of these for my train journey to and from work from WHSmiths on New Street Station. However, as interesting as they were I don’t treasure them or feel like I’ll ever return to reading them again (I can still pretty much remember what they said) so off to the library used bookshop they go!

Do you have a selection of similar books from a specific period in your life? Do you have any bookish phases that you’ve been through? What do your Harry Potter books look like? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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Genre: Complicated Murder Mystery

Similar to: A gothic version of “Clue”

Could be enjoyed by: Anyone who really wants something to sink their teeth into

Publication date: 8th February 2018

 

Picture the scene…

Publisher (P): Ok, tell me about this idea that you have for a book

Stuart Turton (ST): Well, it’s a Victorian murder mystery. It’s set in a crumbling gothic mansion where there’s a party taking place and the reader knows that one of the guests is the killer.

P: Pretty standard stuff.

ST: Weeeeellll… not really. I added a twist.

P: What kind of twist?

ST: The same day gets lived out over and over again, so that the reader gets to see the murder from different angles.

P: How?

ST: Well, for each day that passes, the protagonist wakes up in a different body.

P: Riiiiggghht…

ST: So they collect information from each of their host bodies.

P: Ok. That sounds a bit complicated, but as long as it’s a linear progression…

ST: It’s not a linear progression.

P: But you said…

ST: Each time one of the hosts goes to sleep, or gets knocked out, or killed, the protagonist jumps to a different host. So the timeline kind of moves back and forth.

P: But no-one knows about the hosts, so doing things out of sequence…

ST: No, there’s other characters who are stuck in the same time loop.

P: And presumably they have different host bodies too?

ST: No, I wouldn’t want to make it complicated.

P: Hmmm.

ST: Of course, the hosts know about the hosts so they can give each other information. Oh, and did I mention the plague doctor? And the footman? He’s trying to murder the protagonist by hunting him down. And when I said this was a murder mystery… there’s more than one murder. A lot more. And when I said the same day gets lived out, the hosts do have the ability to alter the timeline for future hosts.

Are you still with me?

P:…

ST…

P: You’d have to a genius to write something that complicated.

ST: BEHOLD MY GENIUS!!!

P: Ok, well as long as you don’t give it a confusing title…

So yes, anyway…

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (not to be confused with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which is an entirely different book, or The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle which is the same book but with a different title for US audiences) is complicated. As someone who regularly reads multiple books at once, even I had to dedicate myself solely to the novel, reading it in big chunks over a period of a few days (otherwise I kept forgetting who everyone was). Its genius is it’s intricacy though, pulling you into a web of lies, betrayal and secrets that reveal themselves slowly – sometimes even frustratingly slowly – to finally build a picture of the truth.

I loved how the book was written – the sheer scope of the thing, the numerous characters, the plotline that took so many twists and turns I had virtual whiplash. I loved the gothic sensibilities, the utterly unreliable cast of characters and the sense of tension that started on the first page and built momentum as the book progressed. I was utterly engrossed…for about 80% of the novel.

You see, whilst it would be completely honest to say that I got lost in the book, I literally mean that I got lost. The book is so complex, the storyline so fragmented and the characters so unreliable that any sense of playing detective as a reader was utterly pointless. To me, the whole point of a mystery book is to try to work out what’s going on before you’re told by picking up on the clues and red herrings scattered throughout the text. There was none of that here. Even if I wrote the ending here now it wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference because not in a million years would you get anywhere close to being able to work it out.

I think that part of the problem was the idea of inhabiting different hosts (all male, all seemingly middle class/upper working class) with little knowledge or memories of who the host actually was. That meant that the protagonist was endlessly jumping between bodies who all seemed pretty similar, but who all had predefined parts to play. You had no idea of what each host knew, where their loyalties lay or even what their relationships were with other characters. Add to that the few breadcrumbs of plot that jumped out as clues/things to remember and it was all just a bit too much. So by the time I was nearing the ending, I realised that I didn’t have any theories as to what might happen and I was passively watching the action.

Ending notwithstanding, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredible, absorbing book. I loved how engrossed I became in it, how inventive and original the storyline was and joyously, unashamedly complicated it became. I would have loved a few more clues, a viable chance at guessing the ending and an easier way of telling the characters apart but I still give it:

Four and a half “not a single non-alcoholic drink throughout”s out of five..

Inventive, original and complex – make sure you keep a notebook handy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TL;DR January Review

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Hello Bookworms!

One word you guys – SNOW! It’s been trying to snow for a few days now (on and off) but nothing has stuck. However, we’re due more tomorrow so I’m excited!

January, as always, has been a month of sorting things out, making plans, buying new stationary and Taking Care of Business. I wrapped up my 2018 and even wrote a New Year’s Resolution post! I got a laptop for Christmas so I’m slowly making changes to my blog to make it prettier and more diverse. I’ve literally just learnt what a Gravatar is so with any luck next month you’ll all be able to see what I look like (unless you follow me on Twitter, in which case you already know).

Speaking of Twitter, I was Blog of the Day on The Write Reads Twitter feed which was very exciting and earned me a load of new followers (welcome!). It’s a great site for finding new book blogs and making bookish friends ☺

Our house project is coming along nicely – we have PAINT ON A WALL! OK it’s a ceiling but same difference. Thanks to my cousin, we also have skirting boards and we’ve done lots of boring fiddly jobs like sealing the kitchen top to the new tiles, filling in a gap next to the toilet (with a bit of windowsill – sounds bodged but you can’t tell) and sticking on approx one billion bits of plastic trim. Everywhere. Not fun in a house with no boiler but it feels like we’re getting there now.

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I’m on a roll with the 2019 Read Harder Challenge and I’m pretty much up to date with my Chapter-a-Day Read-Along, yay! I took part in the first Calendar Girls meme of 2019 where I chose The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden as my most anticipated book of the new year. I also introduced a new feature called Sorting Out the Shelves where I posted about getting rid of some books and keeping others. I’ve done this twice now (second post here) so hopefully I’ll be able to make this a regular feature.

I posted five reviews this month:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden: A beautiful novel that went far deeper than I thought it would and created a fabulous ending to the trilogy. Five out of five.

Good Samaritans by Will Carver: A brilliantly twisted, darkly comedic novel about lies, relationships and murder. A total page turner! Four out of five. 

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J Harris: An interesting novel about a child with synaesthesia, autism and a love of parakeets that could have been amazing but got a bit tedious. Three and a half out of five. 

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield: A fantastic beginning that meandered about and in doing so lost all of it’s tension. Three out of five. 

The Map of Us by Jules Preston: Cute but quirky for the sake of it, I struggled to fully engage with this book. Two and a half out of five.

So that’s January wrapped up! Do you have snow? What plans have you made? Follow the links or let me know in the comments!

 

Nick’s Chapter-a-Day Read-Along – Join Us!

Last year, I took part in Nick’s Chapter-a-day read-along of Les Miserables and enjoyed it so much that I’ve signed up to his 2019 challenge! I know that I would never have had the patience to get through Les Miserables without the read-along and I enjoyed seeing everyone else’s thoughts as we were working our way through the novel. This year, I’m hoping to expand my horizons even further!

So, by popular demand, Nick has chosen four books to read in 2019 which in total have 365 chapters. They are:

 

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes #quixotereadalong
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas #montecristoreadalong
  • Lillith by George McDonald #lilithreadalong
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens #curiosityshopreadalong

Although the idea is obviously to read one chapter a day, last year I found it easier to read in larger chunks. The beauty of this challenge is that you can structure it to whatever suits you – you can read on ahead or catch up whenever you get the chance!

I’ve copied the below from Nick’s original post about the read along, so if you want to join in you’ve got all the information that you need:

How to Participate in the 2019 Chapter-a-Day Read-Along

  1. Get a copy of each of the four books.
  2. If you have your own blog, write a welcome post explaining why you are joining the read-along and what you hope to gain from it. Leave a link to your post in the comments section on Nick’s original blog post. If you don’t have a blog, you can leave your information in the comments section as well.
  3. Download the daily schedule: Nick’s Chapter a Day Reading Schedule 2019
  4. Commit to reading a chapter a day. If you get behind or race ahead, no worries. Life happens.
  5. If you feel like it, post a line a day from the current chapter on social media, using the hashtags listed above. Nick will be posting to Twitter and Facebook each day and would love to read your thoughts, too. When you post, please respect the reading experience of those who may not know the full story. In other words, no spoilers!
  6. Be sure to subscribe to Nick’s blog to receive any read-along updates.

The 2019 Chapter-a-Day Reading Schedule

Here is the broad outline of the year:

  • Don Quixote: January 1 to May 8 (126 chapters plus 2 prologues = 128 days)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: May 9 to September 2 (117 chapters = 117 days)
  • Lilith: September 3 to October 19 (47 chapters = 47 days)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop: October 20 to December 31 (73 chapters = 73 days)

Nick’s blog has more information including sign up information, graphics and links to where you can get hold of copies of all the books listed so please check it out – and join us!

Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

 

Genre: Literary fiction

Similar to: A slower version of The Essex Serpent

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of literary fiction who don’t mind a dash of magical realism

Publication date: 17th January 2018

 

This is an awkward post to write. Initially, I LOVED Once Upon A River – like, sent out a tweet that the author liked about how much I was enjoying it – but once I got into the book…well… I got a little bogged down.

Let me explain…

It’s midwinter in England, in the old Swan Inn on the banks of the Thames. Stories are being told by candlelight by the village locals. Suddenly, a man bursts through the doors, heavily beaten and holding what appears to be a doll. But when the villagers try to help him, they realise that he’s holding the body of a drowned girl. They lay her to rest in a room on her own but hours later – a miracle! – she stirs and seems to come back to life. So starts a tale of intrigue, deception and magic, heavily laden with folklore.

So far so good.

But when the entire book is based around who is the girl  in an age when no-one could tell for sure, I felt like I was literally getting caught in the weeds.

Luckily, Once Upon A River is beautifully, magically written. The prose is lyrical, flowing, well… like a river. However, it also meanders about, with a huge cast of characters forming a number of slower moving tributaries that feed into the main narrative flow. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me but it took a while to understand. It also made the pace of the book s-l-o-w… really slow. Occasionally, the storyline was so stagnant I thought we’d veered off course into an oxbow lake. The gorgeous writing just about managed to pull me through the silt though.

The book is also incredibly atmospheric. I could literally see the characters (there’s pages and pages of descriptive text) even though they’re numerous and somewhat similar. Combined with the writing style this made the novel far more engaging but after a while, instead of gliding effortlessly through the prose I felt like I was drowning in it. I got somewhat swamped by the side stories and exhausted by the sense that I was treading water, waiting for the next thing to happen.

Oddly, the narrative picked up pace towards the end – to the point of feeling a little rushed – which I found quite jarring. I didn’t fully understand the ending (I sensed some kind of moral message but couldn’t quite decipher it) although I appreciated how the author tied all of the narrative threads together. I hated the idea that getting married and having a baby would make everything better though.

Overall, this was a very difficult book to review. I can completely see why some people (a lot of people) have given it five stars – it’s an easy book to immerse yourself in. However, I struggled with the slow pace and the lack of action. Whilst I quite enjoyed reading Once Upon A River, I didn’t love it – but I’m sure plenty of other people will.

Three “the words LITERALLY washed over me”s out of five.

Beautifully written and highly original but a little slow for my taste.

 

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

 

Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

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“I will ride the world, in between times, through the farthest countries of night and day”

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Similar to: Grimm’s Fairytales mixed with classic high fantasy

Could be enjoyed by: Those who like their YA fantasy with a darker edge

Publication date: 10th January 2019

 

I am starting 2019 with a bang!

The Winter of the Witch was my most anticipated reads of this year and I’ve already earmarked it as one of the best books of 2019.

Yes, during the second week of January.

It is that good.

I have ADORED the previous two instalments of the Winternight Trilogy and I was super-duper lucky to receive this book as a physical ARC (my first!) directly from the publishers. So, thank you to Tess Henderson at Penguin Random House for sending it to me. It holds a treasured place on my book blogging trolley.

I can’t quite put into words how gorgeous this book is – it is BEAUTIFUL and MAGICAL and ATMOSPHERIC and HISTORIC and ETHEREAL and I have made a Pinterest board to try to get across a little bit of the flavour of the novel because shouting at you in capitals simply won’t achieve it. If you’re so inclined, you can check it out here:

The Winter of the Witch follows on from The Girl in the Tower, with Vasya getting caught up, as usual, in the action and having to flee for her life. Moscow is burning and the people are in turmoil; a small, scruffy witch girl makes for an easy scapegoat. Vasya is tested to the extreme but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, what doesn’t kill her makes her stronger. Helped by the most unlikely of characters she travels through Midnight – a magical realm beyond mortal boundaries to explore her family legacy and realise her true potential. As she returns to the city she foolishly focuses on the battle but not the war and – drumroll – this is where the true scope of her quest is finally revealed.

If you’re expecting a classic tale of good vs evil, that’s not what happens next. Instead, The Winter of the Witch is far more complicated, more nuanced and has far greater scope than the usual trek-through-a-forest-and-one-final-battle fare that is so often recycled in fantasy novels. Tropes are turned on their heads – the princess not only has to save herself but everyone else (twice), the demons don’t get slain, and one of the starring characters…well, no spoilers but OH MY HEART!!!!

Of the three books in the series, I think this one is my favourite. It’s more similar in tone to The Girl in the Tower but less straightforward, more multi-layered, more grown-up. Vasya learns far more about herself and it’s wonderful to see her really coming into her own, mastering her true power and potential. The other characters are further developed too, with each of them showing both the light and shade of their true selves. New characters join the story (with one that could almost be described as cute – but don’t worry, he totally fits in) and there’s a welcome return of the Chyerti, who have a much bigger role than in The Girl in the Tower. Thank goodness there’s a family tree in the back of the book because there’s a lot of people, they’re all related and what with the Russian patronymic system varying by gender (not to mention the nicknames)… yeah, it gets complicated.

The writing, as always, is utterly spellbinding and I was completely drawn in to the mythical world of medieval Russia. The atmosphere is similar to The Bear and the Nightingale but it also holds a more ethereal air – Vasya wandering through Midnight is like the forest from the first book but seen through a veil: real but also not-real, cold and dangerous but also mystic and enchanted. There’s also more violence in this book: more bloodshed, more destruction, more tragedy. The sense of loss and despair is strong and quite visceral at times – I had huge empathy for Vasya and the difficult choices that she was forced to make.

The ending really is the endgame to end all endgames. It was just everything that I’d hoped for, with everything that had been hinted at in the previous two books coming to fruition – and so much more. The twists and turns that lead to the final conclusion were hard to spot in advance and I genuinely didn’t know how things were going to turn out – I was completely mesmerised up until the final page.

Overall – I just loved everything about The Winter of the Witch. The atmosphere, the characters, the plot – all were captivating and I literally devoured the novel in a couple of days. I was worried that the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations but it utterly surpassed them all.

Rating: Five “how can it be over?”s out of five stars.

One word: spellbinding. This is a beautiful, cleverly crafted novel that turns many tropes on their heads whilst retaining a sense of traditional classic storytelling.

A future classic. 

 

 

 

Discussion: Rating Systems for Books

Hello Bookworms!

I recently found a super interesting post (and subsequent Twitter thread) about star ratings for books. The original post was “Rating My Books” by Martjin Hartman (@MartjinHartman) on his blog thedaybeforeyoucame.com. The post really made me think about how I apply ratings to my own book reviews and how much use they really are. I hope Martjin doesn’t mind me using his blog as inspiration but I had quite a few thoughts of my own that I wanted to share…

In the original post, Martjin asked if there was a better system than a one to five number rating. Now, I’ve seen a lot of you use different ways to rate books – everything from breaking down the book into constituent parts (characters, plot etc.) then working out an average (3.7686543 out of 5!) to using letters (B+ etc.) to ignoring star (or heart, or bananas) ratings entirely. But which way is best? FIGHT!!! Let’s discuss…

If you use a rating system, they can be arbitrary, entirely dependant on your mood at the time and can seem crass if you’re talking about a book that covers a sensitive topic (these war poems were great! Five stars!). You also have the issue of interpretation, where you might see two stars as ok-ish but others may think that you mean terrible. One way round that could be to publish a disclaimer explaining your rating system but I don’t think many people will go searching for it before reading your review. 

Not using a rating system seems like an obvious solution but I quite like having a numeric distillation of my thoughts and feelings – not least because it allows me to easily identify which books I loved/hated for end of year stats!

Now, I don’t want to get too philosophical here but I do think there’s an overarching issue with rating systems that I’ve struggled to get my head around and that’s who is this rating actually for? Obviously, I’m going to rate a book based on my experience of it but because a numerical rating can be taken so out of context it does feel I’m saying 4/5 stars – read this book! or one star – this book is awful! when actually what I’m saying is I liked/disliked this book and if you’re like me, you might enjoy/not enjoy it too. That’s an incredibly difficult idea to convey using quantitative data.

For example, my last review (The Secret Loves of Geek Girls) was really difficult to write and score. I know that I’d absolutely recommend the book to certain people because it’s a well written, fun anthology but I personally failed to connect with it. I didn’t want to put anyone off reading it by giving a low rating, but equally to score it highly would be disingenuous. What number out of five can you give to reflect that? 

The answer is…I don’t know. There are so many problems with rating systems and yet I still kind of like them. Personally, I favour the use of half stars to give a bit more variance but I do tend to stick to the 1-5 rating system (1=terrible, 2.5=average, 3=good, 5=OMG-couldn’t-put-it-down-got-completely-lost-in-it-didn’t-realise-it’s-now-2am). However, I think that slapping a number on a book without somehow showing my working out is a bit, well, arbitrary so I also include a little summary passage explaining my reasons (including whether I think this is a great for you but not for me book). 

AND THAT’S THE BEST I’VE GOT. It’s not perfect (don’t get me started on whether to round up or down half stars for NetGalley/Goodreads or what to do with books I’ve DNF’d) but it seems to work for me.

So, what rating system do you use – if you use one at all? Have you encountered any of the problems that I’ve mentioned above? Let me know in the comments!