Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights

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Deathless (Leningrad Diptych #1) – Catherynne M. Valente

Published October 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A glorious retelling of the Russian folktale Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, set in a mysterious version of St. Petersburg during the first half of the 20th century. A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and he is Marya’s fate. For years she follows him in love and in war, and bears the scars. But eventually Marya returns to her birthplace – only to discover a starveling city, haunted by death. Deathless is a fierce story of life and death, love and power, old memories, deep myth and dark magic, set against the history of Russia in the twentieth century. It is, quite simply, unforgettable.

What did I think?:

Here’s the thing – I’ve always tried to be completely honest in my reviews over the past few years. No, we’re not all going to like the same things but I do try not to be overly negative just for the sake of it and to find something positive or constructive to say about every book or short story I write about and I hope that comes across. Deathless was recommended to me by one of my favourite bookshops, Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights where I’ve had two reading spas with my sister, Chrissi Reads. As soon as the bookseller mentioned it, I knew I had to have it, it sounded like such a “me” book. Based on Russian folklore and sprinkled with magical realism but intertwined with the horrors of Leningrad in the Second World War….these are pretty much some of my top buzz words to get me interested and excited about a book. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been absolutely dreading writing this review and have put it off for a couple of days now. By and large, I can appreciate what a gorgeous writer Catherynne M. Valente is and some of her prose is truly exquisite BUT I had a few problems with this novel that makes me struggle in my rating of it and I find myself quite torn about whether I liked it or not in the end.

It’s quite hard to describe what Deathless is about but I’ll do my best. Generally, it takes the old Russian folk tale of Marya Morevna and Koschei The Deathless, focusing on their love affair which is set around the time of the Second World War in Russia. Now I’m not familiar with the original tale so don’t profess to being an expert in the slightest but from what I’ve read around the novel, the author has almost developed her own fairy tale around these characters. When Marya becomes a young woman and is living in a house with many other families she sees her older sisters married off one by one as a bird falls from the trees outside and turns into a young man. Eventually, a man of her own comes for her and it is Koschei the Tsar of Life who takes her away, treats her a bit mean and after a while, persuades her to fall in love with him. As well as this story we have a magical quest that Marya has to go on, some interesting magical creatures that she befriends and a young man called Ivan who attempts to take her away and show her that there is a life available to her without Koschei.

I think that’s all I want to really say about the plot as, speaking frankly, there is a lot more that happens in the novel and considerably more content and symbolism connected to the war that makes this a heady mixture between fairy tale, magical realism and historical fiction. There were some parts of the narrative (particularly the fantastical elements) that I adored and I found myself nodding, thinking: “Yes, THIS is why I picked up this book!.” Then there were other things. A horny pestle and mortar (yes, you read that right), disjointed parts of the story that jumped around and just did not make any sense to me and worse of all, the relationship between Marya and Koschei which isn’t your best advertisement for a nice, healthy partnership. Unless you’re into sadomasochism, that is.

I didn’t feel like I connected with any of the characters – in fact, some of the decisions and the actions Marya takes me had me feeling rather disdainful and wondering what exactly her role in the whole novel was meant to be. I love a character with quirkiness, with darkness and with flaws don’t get me wrong, but everything about these characters just fell so flat, I couldn’t fathom how anyone could enjoy reading about them. I’m also not sure how well the author managed to pull off the connections with the atrocities happening in Leningrad in 1942. There is one particular chapter that almost broke my heart and it made such a compelling section of the novel but sadly, I felt like stellar sections like these were few and far between and I would have loved to have seen more passages like these. It did have those beautiful fairy tale qualities at many points and generally, I did enjoy these sections but when it came to the relationship between Marya and Koschei I’m afraid it just became too much for me, I didn’t like the way it was portrayed at all. Dominating her, force-feeding her until she vomits, beating her? Nah, that’s not my kind of fairy tale. Saying all this, Deathless has some stupendous reviews on GoodReads with an average rating of 4.05. If you’re at all intrigued maybe you should check it out for yourself as obviously a lot of people are seeing something I’m not. If you have read it though, I’d love to talk about it with you in the comments!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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The Immortals – S.E. Lister

Published September 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Rosa Hyde is the daughter of a time-traveller, stuck in the year 1945. Forced to live through it again, and again, and again. All she ever wanted was to be free from that year, and from the family who keep her there.

She breaks out at last and falls through time, slipping from one century to another, unable to choose where she goes. And she is not alone. Wandering with her is Tommy Rust, time-gypsy and daredevil, certain in his heart of hearts that he will live forever.

Their journeys take them from the ancient shores of forming continents to the bright lights of future cities. They tell themselves that they need no kind of home. That they are anything but lost.

But then comes Harding, the soldier who has fought for a thousand years, and everything changes. Could Harding hold the key to staying in one place, one time? Or will the centuries continue to slip through Rosa’s fingers, as the tides take her further and further away from everything she has grown to love?

What did I think?:

First of all, can I just talk about this gorgeous cover? I posted a photo of it on my Instagram as I was reading it and it seriously does not do justice to how stunning the cover art actually is. I was recommended this book on a reading spa I went to with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. If you haven’t been there before, I highly highly recommend it. Not just for the reading spa which was amazing (and the second one that we’ve actually had there!) but the bookshop itself is just beautiful and the staff so knowledgeable and friendly. Check out their website HERE and my post about our first reading spa HERE. Anyway, back to the book! I was so sure this was going to be a five star read for me, purely from the synopsis. It came ever so close in the end but didn’t quite make it. However, I urge you with every fibre of my being to read this book as everything from the writing, setting and characters is all kinds of fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent reading it – it’s truly a story to be savoured.

In a similar manner to The Time Traveller’s Wife (another of my all time favourite reads) The Immortals follows a young woman called Rosa who is forced to travel forwards and backwards in time without much control. Her father was a time traveller himself although he became stuck in one particular year, 1945 which he is obliged to re-live again and again every New Years’s Eve when he travels right back to the beginning of the year with his wife, Rosa and her younger sister. Rosa is aware that her father is re-living this nightmare year because of a traumatic event in his past that he refuses to come to terms with but she is getting fed up of it so decides to run away and live her own life, flitting from decade to decade and embarking on crazy, wonderful and in some cases, not so wonderful adventures. She meets a host of interesting people, including Tommy Rust who becomes her time-travelling buddy for many years but it isn’t until she meets a distressed soldier called Harding that she begins to realise the nature of time and the effect it could be having on her body.

Can I just say – what an imagination this author has to be able to write a fantastical time-travel novel such as this? It’s beautifully layered, complex yet easy to read at the same time and filled with some brilliant, wonderfully drawn characters that instantly pull you into their lives and make you care about them, even if you might question some of their actions at times. I had an especially hard time with Rosa. Some of her motives and decisions are incredibly selfish and questionable as she jumps backward and forward in time yet still she seems to learn from her experiences and I felt a strange sort of affection for her as the novel progressed. The only thing I’m in a bit of a muddle about is the character of Harding. He appears relatively late on in the narrative and, on reflection, I think it would have been a slightly stronger story if he had appeared earlier and we had learned more about him as a character as I was infinitely more interested in his past than I was in Tommy Rust’s. That’s probably the only reason I haven’t given this novel a higher rating. Otherwise, this is everything I could ever want from a novel – captivating writing, magical elements, amazing world-building….go and read it!!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

August 2017 – Real Book Month

Published August 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

It’s time for one of my favourite months – real book month! This is where I try to bring down that pesky TBR as much as I can. I try to focus on books I’m really excited about and roll my eyes that I haven’t managed to get to them before now. I normally have a list of about ten I want to read, however, because I also participate in Banned Books and Kid-Lit with my sister as well as reading the Richard and Judy book club titles, I’ve felt under too much pressure lately so am just easing that slightly. This month I want to focus on some of the titles my sister Chrissi Reads and I bought recently on our trip to the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. This is what I’ll be reading:

The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist #1) – Brandon Sanderson

What’s it all about?:

The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson’s New York Times bestselling epic teen adventure is now available in paperback.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2013.

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) – Becky Chambers

What’s it all about?:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime, tunneling through space to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the trip.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

The Immortals – S.E. Lister

What’s it all about?:

Rosa Hyde is the daughter of a time-traveller, stuck in the year 1945. Forced to live through it again, and again, and again. The same bulletins, the same bombs, the same raucous victory celebrations. All Rosa has ever wanted is to be free from that year — and from the family who keep her there. 
At last she breaks out and falls through time, slipping from one century to another, unable to choose where she goes. And she is not alone. Wandering with her is Tommy Rust, time-gypsy and daredevil, certain in the depths of his being that he will live forever.
Their journeys take them from the ancient shores of forming continents to the bright lights of future cities. They find that there are others like them. They tell themselves that they need no home; that they are anything but lost.
But then comes Harding, the soldier who has fought for a thousand years, and everything changes. Could Harding hold the key to staying in one place, one time? Or will the centuries continue to slip through Rosa’s fingers, as the tides take her further and further away from everything she has grown to love?
The Immortals is at once a captivating adventure story and a profound, beautiful meditation on the need to belong. It is a startlingly original and satisfying work of fiction.

Deathless (Leningrad Diptych #1) – Catherynne M. Valente

What’s it all about?:

A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and he is Marya’s fate. For years she follows him in love and in war, and bears the scars. But eventually Marya returns to her birthplace – only to discover a starveling city, haunted by death. Deathless is a fierce story of life and death, love and power, old memories, deep myth and dark magic, set against the history of Russia in the twentieth century. It is, quite simply, unforgettable.

Dreamwalker (Ballad Of Sir Benfro #1) – James Oswald

What’s it all about?:

The dragons of Glwad are dying. Persecuted for over two millennia, they’re a shrunken echo of the proud creatures they once were. And yet in new life springs hope: Benfro, son of Morgwm the Green, the first male kitling in a thousand years. Long ago dragons wrought a terrible wrong to the land, and now is the time for redemption.

Every young boy in the Twin Kingdoms dreams of being chosen for one of the great orders, and Errol Ramsbottom is no different. He longs to be a Warrior Priest of the High Ffrydd, riding to glorious victory in battle. But you should be careful what you wish for; it might just come to pass.

For almost a century there has been an uneasy truce between the Twin Kingdoms and the godless Llanwennogs to the north, but as King Diseverin descends ever further into drunken madness, his ruthless daughter Beulah takes up the reins of power. A time of war looks set to descend upon Gwlad, and it will surely draw everyone, man and dragon both, into its cruel game.

The booksellers in Mr B’s Emporium are so fantastic that they sold every single book to us, I honestly am looking forward to each and every one of them. I’m probably most excited for The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers as it has been absolutely everywhere and I’ve been meaning to get to it for the longest time but I’m also quite excited to read some Brandon Sanderson after seeing some book tubers raving about him. Also, Deathless is based on a Russian fairy tale…yep, sold sold sold! Have you read any of these? I’d love to know what you think!

 

August 2016 – Real Book Month

Published August 6, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Every other month I set myself a little challenge to complete which alternates depending on the month from Chrissi Cupboard Month and Real Book Month to Kindle/NetGalley/Review Copy Month. This August it is the turn for real books, which is one of my favourite months. I have a HUGE backlog of books just itching to be read and its a way of trying to get that pesky TBR and my own book collection down to er…more manageable levels, if at all possible! This August I shall mostly be reading :

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane – Neil Gaiman

The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie – Alan Bradley

I Am The Messenger – Markus Zusak

Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer

The Moth – Catherine Burns

Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion and Betrayal – Mal Peet

Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman

The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood

1222 – Anne Holt

The Panda Theory – Pascal Garnier

All these books have a bit of a theme through them – they are the books I have (shamefully) still to read from the wonderful reading spa I went to with my sister, Chrissi quite a while ago now. We recently went again to Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights for another spa and it reminded me I really had to finish what we had last time! So now… I will! Looking forward to all of these beauties.

Dreams & Shadows – C. Robert Cargill

Published December 8, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

It begins with a love story. A love that is almost too sweet, too perfect. From that love comes a child. Love is wonderful.
Until someone unspeakably vile scuttles out of the shadows and steals the child away. Leaving a changeling in its place.
But this is no ordinary fairy tale…
C. Robert Cargill has written a modern American tale. A tale that twines the real world with the supernatural. A tale of faerie changed. Faerie that has danced alongside our world.
It is a realm that we visit with two boys. It is a dark, dark place to grow up.

What did I think?:

I had never heard of this book until I visited the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium in Bath and it was one of the recommendations as part of my Reading Spa. As soon as I saw the cover I was instantly excited, ever more so when I read the synopsis of the novel. There are many weird and wonderful fairy-tale and magical characters but beware, this is definitely not a story for younger readers. The book maps the journey of two young boys, Ewan and Colby from their childhood where the magic first begins to an incredibly messed up adulthood, where the magic just won’t stay away.

The book begins “once upon a time,” as all good fairy tales should, however, I’ve already mentioned that this story is a bit different compared to your average fairy story and the author proceeds  to shatter a family’s life by replacing baby Ewan, (who makes his parents deliriously happy by the way) with a Changeling – the work of some very naughty fairies. The eight year old Colby in contrast, first comes across this strange world on one of his jaunts into the woods when his mother is having (ahem!) “visitors.” He is given strict orders not to come back before a certain time and in general, is largely ignored and emotionally abused. Meeting a djinn (genie) called Yashar seems like the perfect opportunity to turn his life around for the better, especially as Yashar is obliged to give him three wishes. One of his wishes is to be able to see everything supernatural in the faerie kingdom and beyond, one wish that he may live to regret.

On entering the kingdom, Colby meets Ewan who has been raised by the fairies after being snatched from his family. The two children, along with a faerie called Mallaidh soon become fast friends and enjoy many happy hours playing within the kingdom. All this jollity cannot last long in a tale as dark as this, and Ewan soon relies on Colby to save his life, returning him to the world of man. In the second half of the book, we meet Colby in adulthood, who has become disenchanted and world-weary. He is struggling to make a career as a musician without much luck and is tired of the supernatural world that he encounters on a daily basis. It soon becomes clear that what happened between Ewan and Colby in childhood has affected the faerie kingdom permanently. War looms, violence is plotted and Colby is soon in grave danger of losing his life. This is where some of the more dark and twisted elements of the story come into play. First of all, we have Knocks the changeling who was the substitution for Ewan when the faeries came to take him away. Believe me, Knocks is not impressed with being removed from the faeries and makes it his mission to destroy Ewan in whatever way possible. You think faeries are lovely? Think again. These faeries are ruthless, tricky, blood-thirsty, always with a hidden agenda. If Ewan is going to fight against the faerie kingdom, he has to use all his strength and cunning (and maybe a few supernatural friends of his own) otherwise things could go very badly, very quickly.

I really loved this book and found myself caught up in the author’s obviously vivid and superb imagination in creating this dark fairy tale world. The monsters and beastly creatures are amazing but my favourite character was probably Yashar the genie as we got to hear a lot of his back story making it almost like a fairy tale within a fairy tale if that makes any sense! Some of the scenes in the book wouldn’t be out of place on the big screen, and as there is quite a lot of violence and gore, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to those of us who have a weak stomach. I’m very excited also to learn that this book will be part of a series and on the strength of this book, I’ve already got the paperback pre-ordered and ready to go. A big thank you has to go to Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath for recommending me this fabulous read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

A Visit to Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights with Chrissi

Published September 4, 2014 by bibliobeth

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Photo’s of Mr B’s from the website, click on the image to get there!

Ah, you can’t beat a good bookshop. And without a doubt, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in the centre of Bath, UK is one of the best bookshops I have ever been to. And I’m a bookshop fiend. I was over the moon when my sister found out about the bookshop and took me there as a treat for a “Reading Spa.” More about that later…

Mr B’s Emporium is an independent book shop set over three floors which was founded by Nic and Juliette Bottomley who left their jobs as lawyers to open the bookshop in 2006 (Thanks, guys!). The shop has done so well since it opened that it has twice won independent bookshop of the year in 2008 and 2011 where judges admired their “palpable passion” for books and their “compelling blend of traditional and modern bookselling methods.”

On entering the shop, I wasn’t quite sure where to start! There is so much to admire, look at, and touch for bibliophiles like ourselves that we felt quite overwhelmed. In a happy way, of course! The range of books is incredible and there always seems to be something different around every corner. For example, comic strips across walls, comfy chairs to sit on, free tea and coffee for customers and a fantastic concept where you can rent your own private reading booth, complete with headphones, biscuits and tea/coffee to shut out the world and just get reading! Not only this, but Mr B’s provides reading events with top authors such as Jeff Vandermeer, Sarah Waters and David Mitchell, book groups and ultimate gifts for book lovers like the Reading Spa or Mr B’s Reading Year. The latter involves eleven books being sent out a year (in paperback or hardback) based on a consultation with a biblio-therapist for your reading needs.

Reading Spa Room

Mr B’s Bibliotherapy Room courtesy of website, please click the image for more information on the Reading Spa

So, after being matched with a biblio-therapist (the lovely Emma) whose favourite books include The Time Traveller’s Wife and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Chrissi and I were taken to the beautiful Bibliotherapy Room where we had a cup of tea and a chat to Emma so she could get an idea of what to bring us. These were very basic questions such as: What are you reading at the moment? What was the last book you loved? Who are your favourite authors? Is there any genre you really dislike? (ME: “Chick-lit!” CHRISSI: “Really scary horror!”). Emma scribbled some notes, went away and came back with a towering mountain of books which she told us about one by one. I was really impressed with her bookish knowledge and it was so informal, it was like chatting to a friend. I was also really pleased about her choices, as they weren’t necessarily books that I would have been drawn to, but she sold them so well by the end we wanted the whole pile.

Emma left us in the comfy chairs with more tea and we discussed which of the beauties we just had to take away with us and which ones had to stay behind. It was a tough choice, but in the end we had it cut down to thirteen, and here they are!

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The Ocean At The End Of The Lane – Neil Gaiman

Dreams & Shadows – C. Robert Cargill

The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie – Alan Bradley

I Am The Messenger – Markus Zusak

Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer

The Name Of The Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

The Moth – Catherine Burns

Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion and Betrayal – Mal Peet

Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman

City of Thieves – David Benioff

The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood

1222 – Anne Holt

The Panda Theory – Pascal Garnier

Quite a nice haul, don’t you think? Please click on each link to get to the book description at GoodReads. Armed with a free bookmark and Mr B’s mug to go along with our pile of books, we headed off, DEFINITELY to return again.

Huge thanks to Emma and all the staff at Mr B’s for making our day such a wonderful experience.