5 Stars, Book review, Fantasy, Historical fiction, Katherine Arden

Bee Reviews: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

- the bear and the nightingaleFormat: Paperback, 430 pages

Published: 5th October 2017 by Del Rey

Genres: Fantasy, historical fiction, fairy tales

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Wordery | Waterstones


Synopsis

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…


Review

So, this book was bought for me as a gift. And what a GREAT gift it was. I’ll explain in this review exactly why this book was perfect for me, and why you should read it too.

Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.

So, I’m a Psychology student, and something that we have touched on in class is the concept of a “collective unconscious”. This is basically a part of the unconscious mind that is shared with pretty much everyone in any given circle. Arguably, folk stories, fairy tales – these all contribute to the collective unconscious. If you spoke to any random person in the streets of Britain and started talking to them about, say, Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, they would know exactly what you’re talking about. You’re on the same wavelength. Magical stories like The Bear and the Nightingale also contribute to the collective unconscious, by weaving together beloved Russian folk stories to make the most magnificent fantasy novel.

“All my life,” she said, “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.”

The only thing that tops a fairy tale for me, is a fairy tale from a different culture – it’s fascinating getting an insight into a whole world I didn’t know existed. I’m thrilled to find out this book is part of a trilogy and I can’t wait to read the second installment!

Sleep is cousin to death, Vasya. And both are mine.

I don’t know how Katherine Arden manages to write a fantasy novel that is also so relatable. Although she can see things no one else can, Vasya is just like us. She is spirited, she is headstrong, she is both troubling and troublesome. Although her trials and tribulations are as different as can be from the average person, Vasya is an entirely wholesome protagonist.

It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.

It’s not just Vasya – I could read a whole novel about any one of the characters. Lovely Olga, sweet Irina, Marina and Pyotr’s backstory, Dushya, Sasha – Arden could release a trilogy on one or all of these characters and I’d pick it up in a heartbeat.

There is magic in your bones. You must reckon with it.

Fair warning: tears *might* be shed. The story has twists and turns, and there’s a lot of love and laughter, but also some loss. More than anything, this is a heart-warming fantasy that anyone can sink right into. I don’t normally compare authors to authors or books to books, but if you loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik, or anything by Eva Ibbotson, you will for sure love The Bear and the Nightingale.

But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing. We have never needed saving before.

Tip: there’s a glossary of words at the end of the book. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise this until I got to the end.

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5 Stars, Book review, Contemporary, Gail Honeyman

Bee Reviews: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

oliphantFormat: Kindle edition, 336 pages

Published: 9th May 2017 by Pamela Dorman Books

Genres: Fiction, adult, contemporary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Wordery | Waterstones


Synopsis

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of a quirky yet lonely woman whose social misunderstandings and deeply ingrained routines could be changed forever—if she can bear to confront the secrets she has avoided all her life. But if she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

I thought this book was a rom-com. I thought this was going to be another Bridget Jones. I was wrong: it’s so much bigger and better than that.

If the book has one failing, it’s that there is insufficient mention of Pilot. You can’t have too much dog in a book.

I struggled to believe that this was a debut novel. It was so well-written, not a single word was out of place; so well-crafted, you might well believe at first that it was based on a true story (and you might have to keep reminding yourself that it’s not!).

I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor!

My favourite thing about this novel is nothing is as you might expect. While reading this novel, I would constantly guess what was going to happen next – and I always got it wrong. The twists and turns through Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine will definitely keep you on edge! You will cry your eyes out – from laughter, and from sadness.

There are so many books in the world – how do you tell them all apart? How do you know which one will match your tastes and interests? That’s why I just pick the first book I see. There’s no point in trying to choose. The covers are of very little help, because they always say only good things, and I’ve found out to my cost that they’re rarely accurate. “Exhilarating” “Dazzling” “Hilarious”. No.

Women are almost always written into one of two categories; they are either the girl everyone clambers to be friends with, or the girl who is too good to be like other girls. Eleanor isn’t either of these. As a protagonist, she is unlikely, unfathomable, and yet somehow a character everyone can, in some way, relate to. She is witty and insightful, and watching her grow throughout the novel made me feel like a proud mother (unlike Mummy).

There are all kinds of reasons why they might not look like the kind of person you’d want to sit next to on a bus, but you can’t sum someone up in a ten-second glance. That’s simply not enough time. The way you try not to sit next to fat people, for example. There’s nothing wrong with being overweight, is there?

Eleanor provides a wonderful, filter-free insight into our world. This covers everything from weird “human mating rituals” like dancing, to the importance of even the briefest of encounters with strangers. Eleanor is an empty vessel just waiting to be filled up with love. No, not love from a romantic partner, as the synopsis might insinuate. She is waiting to be filled up with love for herself.

No one had ever shown me the right way to live a life, and although I’d tried my best over the years, I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.

Seldom do I find a novel that I truly can’t put down. But I managed to finish this book in about six days, which is a testimony of how great this novel is. Honeyman has really done a number on the world with this debut novel, and I can’t wait to read more of her work when it comes. I would highly recommend this novel to absolutely everyone and anyone under the sun.

5 Stars, Book review, Contemporary, John Green, Young Adult

Bee Reviews: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtles

Format: Hardback

Published: 10th October 2017 by Penguin

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Wordery | Waterstones


Synopsis

It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.


Review

Where do I start with this novel? I wasn’t entirely sure at first where it was going – all I knew was that I was glad not to be Aza. Aza really struggles against her compulsions, and does all the right things but faces all the wrong outcomes in her battle against herself. Aza is a wonderful example of when thinking becomes overthinking, which becomes nothing short of a curse.

This term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify.

But Aza is also just like everyone else: she has to keep up with work in school, she does everything to appease her best friend, she has an overbearing mother to reassure. Throw a little OCD into the mix and, suddenly, everything is even more chaotic. And to make things worse, her potential lover’s father goes missing, and Aza takes it upon herself to solve this mystery.

The whole problem with boys is that ninety-nine percent of them are, like, okay. If you could dress and hygiene them properly, and make them stand up straight and listen to you and not be dumbasses, they’d be totally acceptable.

I cannot put into words how accurately Green portrays the mental health experience; the inescapable thoughts, the constant feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness, and, most of all, the way everyone says they will be there for you and everyone gets fed up. My favourite thing about this novel was how it was all show, not tell. Aza never once spoke about her symptoms: she just felt. The reader gets to see everything first-hand, everything from how Aza’s spirals begin, to exactly how a person with mental health problems can both isolate themselves, and also feel isolated (which are often two separate, although sometimes related, occurrences).

[…] she told me that beauty was mostly a matter of attention. “The river is beautiful because you are look at it,” she said.

I would definitely say this is my favourite John Green book to date. It is raw, emotional, and I didn’t even realise I had a heart until it got broken and remade by this book. It is bursting with Greenesque quotes that will make you laugh, think, and, of course, roll your eyes. I’ve never read another book like this before, and I have certainly not read a book in a while that has made me question whether I really do know it all. This book is filled with love and laughter and, above all, hope. The kind of hope everyone needs. Not the hope that things will get better, because oftentimes that hope is an illusion, but the hope that things will still be okay.

Your now is not your forever.

I would recommend this book for people who fall under the following categories:

  • People experiencing mental health problems (warning: may be triggering as Aza’s compulsions are quite severe)
  • People who have never experienced mental health problems
  • People who think OCD is “cute” or “quirky”
  • Everyone else
  • Turtles

Have you read this book? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

5 Stars, Book review, Historical fiction, Ian Mortimer, Sci-Fi

Bee Reviews: The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

theoutcastsoftime coverFormat: Kindle edition

Publication: 15th June 2017 by Simon & Schuster UK

Genres: Historical fiction, Sci-Fi

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery


Synopsis

December 1348. With the country in the grip of the Black Death, brothers John and William fear that they will shortly die and go to Hell. But as the end draws near, they are given an unexpected choice: either to go home and spend their last six days in their familiar world, or to search for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last.

John and William choose the future and find themselves in 1447, ignorant of almost everything going on around them. The year 1546 brings no more comfort, and 1645 challenges them still further. It is not just that technology is changing: things they have taken for granted all their lives prove to be short-lived.

As they find themselves in stranger and stranger times, the reader travels with them, seeing the world through their eyes as it shifts through disease, progress, enlightenment and war. But their time is running out – can they do something to redeem themselves before the six days are up?


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

This is by far the most quotable novel I have ever read. Mortimer is definitely one of the most skilled writers of our time, in language and through his imagination. His ability to manipulate the reader to feel exactly how he wants them to feel is to be admired.

To hate yourself is to squander the privilege of being alive.

So this poignant story follows two men faced with purgatory if, in the next six days of their lives, they’re unable to perform a pure good deed. The trick is, for each of the six days they live, they’ll be ninety-nine years in the future. Aside from the barrier this presents in terms of language, fashion and technology, good deeds somehow become harder to achieve through the centuries.

There’s so much beauty in the world, don’t close your eyes to it just because you’ve lost your own small patch of happiness.

This is an excellent piece of historical fiction that highlights the changes, both small and substantial, that have taken place over the last few centuries. Funny and factual, I would definitely recommend this novel to people who enjoy reading historical fiction.

People need a common enemy. War is one of those things that binds us together. You could say that men need someone to oppose – otherwise we start fighting among ourselves.

Another dimension of this novel is that it is highly philosophical. John and William together embrace the prospect of dying while pondering the existence of humanity. I feel as though this dimension of the novel should have a whole genre of its own, a “books that make you think” genre, because that would suit this novel perfectly. Rarely do I come across a book that I read, and I feel a changed person afterwards. This is one of those books.

I finally understand the beautiful secret of dying. It is that one may, at last, escape the tyranny of time.

I’m exceptionally impressed by what a good read this book turned out to be and I hope to explore more of Mortimer’s work because if it’s anything like this novel, I’m sure it’ll turn out to be a great read.

5 Stars, Crime, Lauren Lee, Mystery

Bee Reviews: When Houses Burn by Laurèn Lee

whb1Format: Kindle edition

Expected publication: 15th August 2017 by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

Genres: Thriller, murder mystery

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | AmazonAuthor’s website


Synopsis

Dr. Delilah Hedley is a well-respected Doctor of Psychiatry in a small, affluent city on the East Coast. Despite her professional success, Delilah is physically unable to have children, causing increasing turmoil in her marriage.

When Delilah begins seeing a new patient, a man previously accused of murdering his parents, a woman is simultaneously found dead in the river. As the hunt for Jane Doe’s killer intensifies, Delilah falls deeper and deeper for her new patient, despite his dark past.

Will the doctor get a taste of her own medicine, or will she find an escape from the flame in time to save her own life?


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

It’s unbelievable to think there is this much talent in one author. This novel was so carefully crafted, and completely defied my own expectations – as Lee undoubtedly intended. Lee players on the readers’ assumptions really well to make the characters hugely complex and at the same time, suspiciously simple. I was caught out numerous times throughout this novel.

The plot is wild, which at first I wasn’t overly fond of, until I realised that this comes with the territory of writing a thriller, and the quickly-thickening plot is a sign of creativity more than anything else.

They say “Everything happens for a reason,” but what is the reason for this? Why has fate brought us here, to this place filled with doubt, misery, and unhappiness?

The way the novel is written was, at first, a tad confusing but this is mostly due to the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to chapter headings because I was so deeply engrossed in reading the novel. I hate to think how much time was spent writing it – and I managed to finish reading it in three hours.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of thriller/crime/murder mystery novels – and put all of your assumptions aside because things aren’t always as they seem, and people can surprise you.

5 Stars, Book review, Fantasy, Samantha Shannon, Sci-Fi

Bee Reviews: The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon (The Bone Season #3)

the song rising alternate cover

Format: Kindle edition, 384 pages

Published: March 7th 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre(s): Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery


Synopsis

Following a bloody battle against foes on every side, Paige Mahoney has risen to the dangerous position of Underqueen, ruling over London’s criminal population.

But, having turned her back on Jaxon Hall and with vengeful enemies still at large, the task of stabilising the fractured underworld has never seemed so challenging.

Little does Paige know that her reign may be cut short by the introduction of Senshield, a deadly technology that spells doom for the clairvoyant community and the world as they know it…


Review

I have to admit, I was anxious to read this book for the same reason the author was anxious to write it: the fear of being let down/letting people down. I thought back to all the TV shows I’ve ever watched where the first couple of series were amazing and then suddenly it went downhill and you wonder where it went wrong. But this? You can tell how in touch Shannon is with her characters and her world that she managed to produce another fabulous novel. There’s an art to writing a series, and much more so a septology (further reading: J. K. Rowling), that few writers can master – and Shannon is right up there with them.

The third book in the series is every bit action-packed as promised. I’ve been busted a few times by colleagues at work from where I’ve been unable to stow my Kindle away quick enough because this book is just that good. There’s a lot of world-expanding here as there have been in the first two books which some authors might find off-putting to write about but Shannon takes it in her stride.

I imagined, too. And so imagination became my nemesis; my mind created monsters out of nothing.

To put into perspective just how much I love this book: I rarely delve into the fantasy genre anymore. I’ve been let down time and time again by fantasy / YA authors (and you only have to scroll back a few posts for an example). But this is the one fantasy series I would recommend to anyone who’s never tried out the genre before. Everything is just extraordinarily thought out, you could almost believe it were real – and that’s before you compare the political agenda of Scion 2059 to real life 2017.

Another favourite about this novel is that Shannon doesn’t do the typical fantasy / YA thing and kill for shock value. Everything is calculated and you could almost believe Shannon cares as much about her characters’ welfare as the typical overly-emotional reader (such as myself). That said, I did nearly cry on the bus when a character died – as often is the case in war – but it would have been unrealistic if no one ever died.

What I will tell you is that you cannot force yourself to mourn. Sometimes, the best way to honour the dead is to simply keep living. In war, it is the only way.

Needless to say, I can’t wait for the remaining four novels, and if there’s a two-year gap between each novel, then so be it. A masterpiece doesn’t happen overnight, and I’m glad to witness the creative journey that is The Bone Season series.

My only qualm with this novel is that everyone knows going from Folkestone to Calais is much better than going from Dover to Calais, but I might just be showing my roots here.

5 Stars, Ayisha Malik, Book review, Romance, Women's Fiction

Bee Reviews: The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik (Sofia Khan #2)

the other half of happiness coverFormat: Kindle edition, 448 pages

Released: April 6th 2017 by Zaffre

Genre(s): Women’s Fiction, Romance, Muslim Fiction

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery


Synopsis

Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way…

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can’t hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

A book to make you smile, laugh and cry, this is the story of a mixed-race marriage and a mixed-up family, for anyone who’s ever struggled to balance their pride with their principles, or stuck around to try to mend a broken heart.


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

I honestly don’t know where to start with this. To impress upon you just how much I enjoyed reading this book, I managed to finish it in five days, a record as of late. I was hooked from the very beginning, something I rarely find in books these days. I was actually constantly going on about it to my friends, another rare thing I get from books these days.

Note to self: Must not become person who pretends their life is perfect via the medium of social media.

Let’s start with the negatives: the book could have done with more editing, Sofia often contradicted herself in places, but this is only a minor detail I picked up on. I also picked up on some typoes but this could be exclusive to the ARC copy.

Everything else: now I really don’t know where to start. Sofia’s perspective was a wonder; she notices everything and points it out in a way you might not have thought of before. She’s by far the funniest protagonist I’ve read of so far, so if you’re looking for a laugh, please pick up this book right away! Sofia and her friends’ endless tales of mischief are hilarious, and her problems as a thirty-something-year-old struggling to make it in a hectic world are still as relatable as the problems of your average protagonist.

People don’t get what they deserve generally, do they?

Mum didn’t deserve to lose her husband. Auntie deserved one who appreciate her. Murderers don’t deserve freedom. But if we all began thinking about what we deserve and what life gives us, well: that way bitterness lies.

Another good reason to pick up the book? Connall O’Flynn. Aside from being Irish (which has its own attractiveness by itself), he’s the strangest, most enigmatic character I’ve come across recently, and this has little to do with the fact that he’s struggling to navigate his way through life as a Muslim convert.

On a slightly more serious note, this novel also touches on issues of perceptions of Islam, without being preach-y. If you’re curious about the end product of the mixing of two completely different cultures, I would certainly recommend this novel. It’s different, funny, insightful, and it will answer all of your basic questions about the religion that we see so much of in the news (for all the wrong reasons).

I told him that brown weddings tend to be less about the bride and groom bound to each other for eternity and more about three hundred guests, bound to the promise of biryani.

This novel is categorised as “Women’s Fiction”, but really, it can be enjoyed by anyone: woman, man, non-binary, Asian, white, Muslim, non-Muslim, etc. This is the first book I’ve ever read with a non-white protagonist and I’ve discovered a whole realm of underrated fiction.

The one thing I’m sad about is that the author is unlikely to write further books about Sofia Khan’s adventures, in favour of writing for a different sort of genre. Which is fair, but this book doesn’t feel like closure for Sofia’s fictional life; rather, the beginning of some new adventures!

5 Stars, Book review, Historical fiction, Kate Atkinson

Bee Reviews: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

kate atkinson life after lifeFormat: Paperback, 622 pages

Published: January 30th 2014 by Black Swan (first published March 14th 2013)

Genre(s): Historical fiction, Sci-Fi

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery


Synopsis

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.


Review

I had so many high hopes for this novel, I was worried Atkinson wouldn’t be able to meet my expectations. But every single hope was surpassed with flying colours.

“He was born a politician.”

No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become.

Let’s start with the negatives: some parts did drag. It wasn’t the number of times Ursula’s story was restarted, which was a necessity in a story as complex as this, but it was the ways the story would diverge from what the reader was led to believe was the centre of the story: Ursula. But really, this story was about something a lot bigger than the protagonist, only the reader wouldn’t know this from the first half of the novel.

Her heart swelled with the high holiness of it all. Imminence was all around. She was both warrior and shining spear. She was a sword glinting in the depths of night, a lance of light piercing the darkness. There would be no mistakes this time.

This book was full of wonders I’ve never previously experienced in a book. It brings up questions we don’t often ask, and bears answers we don’t expect. This novel is definitely one for the thoughtful, the ones who question if there’s really more. Heartwarming, tear-jerking and hilarious all at the same time, if this story and its infinite exquisite characters don’t touch you, nothing else will.