Reads – The Winter of the Witch

Right. I think I can do this.

I can totally do this.

*breaks down*

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The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Okay, so this is going to be harder to write than I thought when I first started reading the book.

The Winter of the Witch is the final novel in the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. The trilogy follows Vasya as she grows from a headstrong and away-with-the-fairies girl into a powerful young woman. You can read about my love for The Bear and the Nightingale here and my love for The Girl in the Tower here. There’s a lotta lot of love there.

There is slightly – emphasis is really important on the slightly – less love here.

*closes eyes, scrunches up face, and waits for boos and hisses*

Most of my lack of love is for the first half of the book, which I found (and I will go ahead and use this word, because I am apparently a hundred and fifty years old) befuddling. I’m perfectly happy to accept that my beffudlement might be due to a combination of January brain, juggling five books (not a good move), a cold, and my aforementioned a hundred and fifty year oldedness*, but I felt like there was a lotta lot of story stuff going on and it seemed *scrunches up face again* more melodramatic than dramatic to me.

The book came into its own, though, in the second half and things began to make more sense to my old and withered January brain.

Here are just a few of my favourite things:

  • The Bear – is it bad that I was actually a little bit in love with Medved by the end? Well, if it is then all I can do is apologise. Obvsiously, I wasn’t a fan of the whole raising the dead thing (because that’s really not a very nice thing to inflict on the living or the dead) but I was a fan of all the mischief. He was endearing, if twisted. All I’m saying is that I think he would make for interesting company at a dinner party. Don’t judge me.
  • Sasha – he’s a legend and I think we can all agree that this time my love needs no apology.
  • It’s a twin thing – as one half of a set of twins (not sure if that’s the best way to put it, but it’s what I’m going with), my attention is always grabbed by a twin story-line. I love (or am amused by) all the clichés associated with us and I love the almost mystical qualities people who happen to have shared a womb at the same time are sometimes given by people who got a womb all to themselves for nine months. We’re not that interesting, I promise. In this case, though, the mystical qualities were obviously more than fair enough. Yin and yang, good and evil, light and dark, life and death, love and hate, summer and winter. The balancing act was nice to watch unfold.
  • The writing – Katherine Arden’s writing is beautiful. Her descriptions are rich but never heavy handed, and the world she’s made is mesmerising.
  • The ending – it’s bittersweet because the trilogy is over, but it’s also goldilocks-right.
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden, UK hardback cover. Winternight trilogy, book review.
Poppy thinks you should read this book

The last seventy five or so pages disappeared in a blur and flurry of paper for me. Everything converged into a perfect story-storm, and I was actually left shaking and holding back tears by a certain… goodbye.

It’s hard not to write about it, but I won’t.

*breaks down again*

I really do wish I’d loved the first half of the book more.

But I loved The Winter of the Witch by the end and that’s more than good enough for me.

*note to self – must stop ruining the English language.

Reads – The Revenant

*sighs a long sigh and looks to the sky for help from the universe*

I’m really not sure where to start with The Revenant by Michael Punke.

For anyone who doesn’t know *scans the horizon with binoculars, waves at the stragglers in the distance*, The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman, and his quest for revenge on the men who robbed and abandoned him after he was attacked by a big, angry, and extremely bitey bear.

Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it?

Famously, it was adapted – adapted being the very, very key word – into a film, with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as Hugh Glass and a big, angry, extremely bitey CGI bear starring as the actual-bitey bear. (I watched it for the first time a few days ago on BBC iPlayer – the book is better, although it tragically lacks Leonardo DiCaprio.)

I’ll admit, I knew before I started reading that The Revenant wasn’t going to be a favourite – I just wanted to try it.

It was certainly an experience. At times, an ordeal. It took me over a month to finish it.

But there were positives.

  • The writing – it was excellent and evocative, even if it strayed into survival manual territory on occasion.
  • The characterisation (well, the characterisation of the men in the book) – I had no trouble picturing, liking, admiring, or loathing any of the main characters. They were a rich tapestry of lives-lived-so-far, motives, and emotions. But I wanted to throw the book out of the nearest window anytime a woman happened to appear in the story. Hysteric who has nothing to do with the plot? Check. Prostitute who has nothing to do with the plot? Check. OId, haggard lady who has nothing to do with the plot? Check. Wife who has nothing to do with the plot? Check. Dreamy, lovely, pure fiancé who’s been dead for years and has nothing to do with the plot? Check. I get that The Revenant is a raw egg drinkin’, 72oz steak eatin’, manly man adventure book, but c’mon. (Side note – if you find yourself getting annoyed and angry at the stereotypes in the last sentence, then please, please, please imagine how annoying a whole books worth of them would be.)
  • The things I learned – I genuinely think I could trap a rabbit after reading this book. I mean, I wouldn’t because I’m a vegetarian and think they’re adorable, but it’s nice to know I could if I needed to.

So, as you might have guessed, I’m not a super-fan. I do have a weird, grudging respect for it, but I’m looking forward to reading something a bit less rugged and grim.

I think I’m in need of some January book-sunshine.

therevenant
The Revenant by Michael Punke

Reads – Fevre Dream

FevreDreamCover

Christmas time is a time for traditions – conventional plus the weird, wacky, and wonderful.

My weird Christmas tradition (that is a grand total of, ahem, four years old) is to read about vampires. Nothing says twinkly, tinselly, merry Christmas like a big ol’ vampire novel.

This year I chose Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin because George R. R. Martin plus vampires sounded like too good a combination to resist.

The story follows Abner Marsh – a struggling, no nonsense, honest through-and-through steamboat businessman who receives an offer he can’t refuse from the mysterious, nocturnal Joshua York – and charts his adventures along the vampire-flooded banks of the Mississippi.

The first half of the story had me firmly under its toothy spell. I loved to love/hate all of the characters in their own special way and the Victorian South bled straight from the page into my brain. But somewhere in the middle of the book the story fell flat for me. Not completely flat, not flat-as-a-pancake flat, but flat like a cake that doesn’t rise as much as you were expecting. I can’t really explain why or how – helpful, I know – all I can say is it left me feeling like a passenger pacing the deck, waiting impatiently for my stop so I could get off. Which was a surprise.

At least I got my Christmas vampire fix.

I hope you’ve had a good Christmas, however you’ve celebrated it. Do you have any weird and wonderful Christmas reading habits? I’d love to know I’m not the only one if you do!

My Favourite Reads of 2018

Ah, December. We meet again.

I’ve spent most of this month eating dangerous levels of junk food (thank you for the excuse, Christmas), avoiding tinsel like the sparkly plague, and resisting – but only just – sabotaging the sound system at work.

Did you know that you should never do a tango with an eskimo? I didn’t until a few weeks ago.

My brain. It hurts from the music. *cries glitter-tainted tears*

Aaaanyway. When I’ve not been thinking about the weather outside being frightful or how I want a hippotamus for Christmas (I’m not even sorry if that song gets stuck in your head too), I’ve been thinking about some of my favourite books from the last twelve months.

So, in no particular order, these are they.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I wasn’t expecting to love it, but I really did. The writing is exquisite, the story is glitzy and sumptuous and fabulous, and it’s beautifully bittersweet.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – this was another unexpected love. It was so heartwarming and funny, and I got completely lost (the good kind of lost) in Eleanor’s story.
  • The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – I wrote about it very enthusiastically at the time (here), so I guess it’s really not a surprise that it made the list! I was expecting to love this book, and I wasn’t disappointed. My heart gets all fluttery and woozy knowing the final book is only a few weeks away from publication – I cannot wait to read it.
  • The Invisible Child by Tove Jansson – the Moomins just make me happy, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt more than anything this year it’s that happiness and fluffiness and goodness are things worth cherishing when you can. I don’t care that the Moomins are technically for children, their stories are perfect for everybody, everyday.
The Invisible Child and The Fir Tree by Tove Jansson, special Oxfam edition. Moomin short stories.
The Invisible Child and The Fir Tree by Tove Jansson.
  • Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman – body image worries are my horrible obssession, and 2018 has seen me really, truly scraping the bottom of that particular barrel. But rock bottom means the only way is up, and although it’s messy and painful I feel less in thrall with the Gollum in my brain everyday. Books like this – toe-curlingly honest, laugh out loud funny, super duper gross – are so important for normalising these strange fleshy things we call home. Really, I needed a book like this ten years ago but c’est la vie. Bodies are 100% weird and 100% wonderful. We should look after them.
Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman.
Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman
  • The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – I ummed and ahhed about having this one on the list, but it was such a memorable and absorbing read, even if it did wind itself in knots that it couldn’t entirely escape from. It kept me hooked and it still pops into my head every now and again – which is always a sign a story has done its job.
  • Moondust by Andrew Smith – this exploration of the lives of the astronauts behind the moonlandings was fascinating and had me daydreaming about space travel for weeks (though not daydreaming about all the hard work and science and maths behind it).
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge – I can’t really say anything other than I think everyone should read this book. This isn’t a book about guilt, it’s about being aware of the things that have happened – and the things that are still happening – in Britain and not letting these issues get swept under the carpet. There’s still so much work to do.
  • The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang – a short, sad, and sweet story that was weird but wonderful all at the same time.
  • Mort by Terry Pratchett – I don’t remember the last quarter of the book being as good as the first three-quarters, but I do remember laughing a lot a lot a lot.

I could probably go on and on and on, and just end up listing all of the books I’ve read this year, but these particular books just stood out for me – both at the time and after the time.

And you never know… seeing as there’s still a week and a bit left of 2018, there’s still technically time to add to that list (although technical time does seem to be completely different to my actual experience of time).

Happy Christmas and happy reading!

Reads – The Haunted Coast

The Haunted Coast by Michael Wray, published by the Caedman Storytellers.

Ghosts and the sea.

The only four words in the whole wide world that can guarantee I will read a book – no other information needed, no questions asked.

The Haunted Coast by Michael Wray was the perfect November-Sunday read for me, curled up by the woodburner, snuggled inside a big woolly jumper, toasty warm but full of a horrible cold that just won’t go away and leave me alone to breathe like a normal human being. The book was forty-six pages of spooks and Yorkshire legends that whisked me away from my runny nose and aching sinuses into a world of ghosts and ghouls, mermaids and monsters, and a howling, churning, wild North Sea.

The perfect getaway.

Reads – This Is Going To Hurt

Book review of This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay.

I was not expecting to love this book.

I was not expecting it to make me feel angry, and upset, and like I needed to paint a placard and find a protest march.

I was not expecting to laugh and chuckle and wonder at the weirdness of humanity.

But I should have believed the title, because This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay made me feel all of those things.

It’s a brilliant, funny, and poignant insight into his six years as a junior doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology that will make you hurt. It’ll make you hurt with sadness and amusement and fury. And – though maybe this is just because I’m a woman – it’ll make you hurt with horror.

I mean, jeez. Childbirth sounds like an absolute warzone.

All I can really say is: do not read this book if you’re pregnant. Seriously, truly. I genuinely found myself halfway through reading it trying to understand how we’ve survived long enough as a species to invent modern medicine.

If, however, you’re not pregnant, have easy access to placard-making craft materials and a protest march, and want to marvel at the strange ideas people get into their heads (and their… erm, I’m just going to leave that bit blank)?

Well, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Moomin Medicine

Last night, five minutes after turning out the light, I started to cry.

Not a delicate, ethereal, movie-style cry, but a full on ugly and snotty cry that made me feel like all the water in my body was cascading out of my eyes and nose.

The cry started for a lot a lot of reasons – and I came up with more and more reasons as I went along (thank you, brain!) – but somewhere down the melodramatic, tear sodden line I actually managed to have a good idea.

Read the Moomins.

So, in between disgustingly hideous sobs, I hauled myself back out of bed, switched back on the light, and found some Moomin medicine*.

It came in the form of Moominpappa at Sea, and in one chapter I was cured.

Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson.

First, I laughed.

“I’m going to stay here,” said Moominpappa. “I shall stand guard over it. I’ll stay here all night if necessary.”

“Do you really think,” Moominmamma began. Then she just said, “Yes. That’s very good of you. One never knows what will happen with moss.”

No. One never really does. Moss is tricky like that.

Then I nodded like a congregation at church.

“It can take a terrible long time before things sort themselves out.”

Hallelujah, praise be.

And then I found myself wondering if Tove Jansson had broken directly into my brain.

“…only nice thoughts came into his head, thoughts of islands in the sea, and great changes taking place in all their lives.”

It’s good to cry sometimes. All of us need a good old fashioned tear-fest every now and then. And maybe, seeing as last night was Halloween, I was simply exorcising a few emotional ghosts.

But I was certainly grateful for my Moomin medicine.

*side effects may include: laughing, smiling, marvelling, a warm happy feeling in your heart, and forgetting all your woes.

October Scares: Four

Ghost in the Great War, vintage Daily News book from 1927.

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I just thought you should know that it’s almost – very very nearly, so-close-you-could-touch-it – November.

November.

*flings hands into the air disbelievingly*

I don’t know how it happened either.

On the plus side, almost November equals almost Halloween, which equals time for another spooky read.

I found Ghosts in the Great War at a flea market a few years ago and it was love at first sight of the title. It was published in 1927, and is a collection of stories (or, ahem, “thrilling experiences”) sent in to the Daily News by its readers, detailing strange occurrences during the First World War. I did make the mistake on first reading of a). choosing a dark and stormy night to read it on, and b). being all alone in the house. It spooked me a lot more than it really should have. Rereading it threw the hyperbole and melodrama of some of the tales into much more stark light, although there were certainly a few stories that were quite moving and/or disturbing.

There’s a family woken by the sound of chains hauling across the ceilings and floors of their house on the night the Aboukir sank, taking with it their son-in-law. There’s an injured soldier who follows the vision of his wife to safety. And there are countless “goodbye” visits from the fallen.

It’s not the scariest book in the world, but it’s certainly choc-a-bloc full of ghosts and apparitions and things that go bump in the night.

Perfect for almost-November.

Unfrequently Asked Questions

Did you know that random question generators totally exist?

Because I didn’t until last week.

But it turns out that they totally – like actually totally – do and they’re quite a lot of fun, even if it’s purely for the novelty factor. I discovered their actual and total existence via the lovely blog Chrikaru Reads, and thought it would be nice to do a slightly less bookish post for what feels like the first time in a while.

There’s still a picture of a book along the way, though. Of course there is.

Here goes.

What is the first thing you notice when meeting someone new? Their eyes. I’m one of those creepy lock n’ stare types, don’t know why, just am (and I’d like to take this moment to apologise to anyone I might have freaked out with my eyeball-centric focus upon meeting them). Clichéd though it is, I really do believe that eyes are teeny-tiny windows to the soul that just happen to also come in a lovely array of colours. And what’s not to like about multicoloured teeny-tiny soul windows?

What is your favourite thing about winter? The moments when your hands are so cold you just have to put them on a loved ones face to let them experience the temperature for themselves. Don’t worry, I get as well as I give (equal and opposite reaction and all that universe karma jazz).

What is something that makes you smile? Maybe it’s childish, but drawing hearts in condensation makes me smile. No mirror/window/cardoor/condensation-coated-surface is safe.

heart drawn in condensation with hand shadow

How did you get your name? Do you know the meaning behind it? Pippin is the nickname given to me by my mum – it’s after the blossom of an apple tree, not the hobbit (although I would be more than happy to be named after a hobbit). I have very fair and freckly skin, so in spring and summer I was mostly found in the shade under the trees in our garden.

LittlePippin

What was the last book you read? Ah, there had to be a book. I recently finished Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon. It’s such a scarily, refreshingly, and brutally honest book about a subject that I think is closer to a lot of people’s hearts than many realise. It’s certainly close to my heart (and head) and I wish I wish I wish I could have read it years ago. Currently, I’m reading and loving How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

What drink do you usually order with your food? You’ve probably realised by now that I’m not a very sophisticated and grown-up lady, so it’s more likely to be a vodka and cola than wine, or a gin and tonic if I’m feeling a bit more fancy.

What is the last dream you remember? I’m not great with dreams. They escape from me, spill out of my ears and nose and eyes and mouth as soon as I wake and leave me to fend for myself in cold, stark reality. I don’t remember them, don’t remember their colours, the people that filled them, or the feelings they invoked. All I tend to remember come morning is the back of my eyelids and the certainty that my alarm has gone off way way way too soon. So the last dream I remember with any clarity is from back in January. I dreamed there was a new room in my house – a very brightly lit bathroom with book-lined walls (of course) and a freshly run, steaming bath. I just stood at the doorway trying to understand how it had got there, afraid and sure something bad was going to happen. I walked round to the old room that the new room should have encroached on, but it was the same shape inside (because obviously dream-rooms don’t have to obey the annoying and kinda cumbersome laws of physics). I went and sat where the new room should have been and listened as someone – who, for some reason, I knew was my mum’s dad (he died twenty-two years before I was born) – climbed the stairs. And then I woke up, scared and sweaty (nice, I know), as the door to the room opened. WEIRD.

It still spooks me and it’s been ten months.

Do you like to sing out loud when no-one else is around? (operatically): YE-ES! *clears throat* Excuse me, sorry. But yes, yes I do. So much. It’s an awful, strange, and kind of alarming noise, but at least it’s only my ears that get hurt.

Do you believe in love at first sight? No, I believe in attraction at first sight.

What is your favourite candy? This is the one question in the universe I can answer with absolute certainty, and it’s also the most boring and predictable answer in the universe. Chocolate. I love it. Dairy Milk is my favourite, but pretty much anything goes (I am aware of how sad and hopeless this makes me sound) so long as it doesn’t have orange in it. Who would be so evil as to put orange in chocolate?

Phew. So there you have it. Random answers to random questions the internet asked me. God, I love the internet.

I used this generator if you want to have a go.

Happy questioning!

October Scares – Three

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman.

Halloween and Neil Gaiman. They just go.

Like Mc and Donalds. Like the stars and the moon. Like hot chocolate and cream and marshmallows. Like cats and crazy cat ladies. Like thorns and roses. Like Cadbury’s dairy milk and me (though this is a fraught and abusive relationship, so is perhaps not a great example).

Basically, I couldn’t do a series of posts about scary stories for Halloween and not include something by Neil Gaiman. It just wouldn’t be right. Especially as his short story collection Trigger Warning fits the Halloween book bill pretty darn perfectly.

I love all the worlds and characters he creates in these tales. I love the wackiness, the I-wasn’t-expecting-that-iness, the fantasticalness, the humaness and unhumaness.*

My favourites – picking one was too hard – are Click-Clack the Rattlebag and Feminine Endings. They’re super quick to read and just the right level of creepy (though I still wouldn’t risk reading them just before bed), plus Feminine Endings made me realise that my instinct to run and hide when I see human statues is not completely irrational.

Are you reading anything scary/ghostly/magicky in the run up to Halloween? I’d love to know if you are, and recommendations are always welcome!

*sorry for being so recklessness with my ruining of the Englishness languageness.