Monday, January 04, 2021

Bout-of-Books 30

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in YOUR time zone. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are daily challenges, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional. For Bout of Books 30 information and updates, visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team


I'm participating on Twitter (@strangenewwords), but I decided to have a summary-of-everything post on this blog after all.

Monday, 4/1/2021

Reading: The Idea of You by Robinne Lee (finished) and A Winter Symphony by Tiffany Reisz 
Pages/words: 39 + 81 = 120
Challenges/other: 
Tuesday, 5/1/2021

Reading: The Star of Lancaster (Plantagenet Saga #11) by Jean Plaidy, Poly by Lesli Richardson
Pages/words: 12 + 68 = 80
Challenges/other: /

Wednesday, 6/1/2021
Reading: Poly by Lesli Richardson
Pages/words: 99
Challenges/other: 

Thursday, 7/1/2021

Reading: The Star of Lancaster (Plantagenet Saga #11) by Jean Plaidy
Pages/words: 64
Challenges/other: /

Friday, 8/1/2021

Reading: The Star of Lancaster (Plantagenet Saga #11) by Jean Plaidy (finished), Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life by Gary John Bishop
Pages/words: 33 + 31 = 64
Challenges/other: /

Saturday, 9/1/2021

Reading: /
Pages/words: 0
Challenges/other: I participated in the twitter chat! 

Sunday, 10/1/2021

Reading: Angel's Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh, Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life by Gary John Bishop
Pages/words: 31 + 24 = 55
Challenges/other: /

Wrap-up:

What I read: 

I finished four books! That is, the following:
  • The Star of Lancaster (Plantagenet Saga #11) by Jean Plaidy, 
  • Poly by Lesli Richardson, 
  • The Idea of You by Robinne Lee,
  • A Winter Symphony by Tiffany Reisz,
and I made a dent in: 
  • Angel's Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh and
  • Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life by Gary John Bishop
Pages/words: 482
Challenges/other: Current Reads on Day 1, and I also participated in always great Saturday Twitterchat. 

All in all, another successful Bout-of Books! These are such a great way to make a head-start into the reading year. 

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee

A cover of The Idea of You with a face of woman with large tinted glasses
The Idea of You
 drew me in with the premise of a reverse age gap trope with having an older heroine and a younger hero. 

I basically devoured it in one day – I started with a few chapters on Saturday and couldn't stop reading on Sunday and I was going to give it 5 stars up until about 50 pages before the end when I started suspecting that it wouldn't have a happy ending. 

Which it didn't. And it is such a shame, because otherwise it is such an excellently written story, full of emotion, and the author really makes these two characters work. 

I love the age gap trope, but even in older-man-younger-woman version it is a hit-and-miss to find a story that really works out emotionally and shows the compatibility between the characters, much less in the reverse case of older-woman-younger-man, which there are also fewer books about. 

But Robinne Lee, despite the age difference, establishes the connection between her protagonists and makes us see the things they have in common that make them fall in love with each other. And then she ruins it.

What grates is that throughout the book the author pontificates on the invisibility of women above a certain age, with them and their work being underappreciated and undervalued, and emphasises the benefits of knowing oneself that aging brings. 

And all of that is great and necessary to be pointed out more often in our day and time, be it in everyday life or fiction, because it is the truth: women of certain age do not stop living and mattering. 

However, as nice and fine as the author putting all these notions in the story is, it is completely negated by the unhappy ending, which slams the point straight back into the stereotype: that an older woman can only find happiness within conforming to the role of a mother, putting her child and other people first, with perhaps a bit of a career on the side, but she most certainly cannot find happiness in an unconventional relationship, or, god forbid, define herself and her happiness on her own terms.

And that is highly ironic, considering that earlier in the book  the author explicitly points out the hypocrisy of people not batting an eye at all the 40-and-older-something men dating and marrying 20-somethings, but condemning a woman for it. Yet, Robinne Lee does the same to her own character in the end. 

So, I am mad at this book. It could have been everything, but with that ending it is a huge disappointment. 

All in the name of being realistic, I suppose. But, guess what? A 20-year-old boy band star falling in love with a twice-as-old, even if (or even more so if) sophisticated, art-gallery owner, is in itself unrealistic. It is all fantasy. That is why we have fiction. F*ck realistic. 

And now I need to find – which is so hard to do – another one with a similar premise but an actual happy ending to make myself feel better. See, that is how my TBR grows. BTW, recommendations welcome. ;)

Saturday, January 02, 2021

New Year, A New Tradition?

Maybe. 

I read 48 books in 2020 and I set the same goal for me in 2021, but as in the last few years, I'm taking it very flexibly with potential adjustments as the year progresses. 

Nevertheless, I am very much in the reading mood right now, so much so I want to read ALL the books at once. 

Usually, when that happens, I can't decide which one to read, so I procrastinate and then choose a completely different one from those I initially crave and forget about them.

Hence, I though why not make a list? And why not make a list in a blog post on my book blog? Isn't it why it's here, even if little used in recent years? (Which would also take care of said little use.)

Therefore, this is not a January TBR, because that kind of pressure is usually counter-productive for me I'm posting a list of books I want to read, like, right now, but with no obligation or deadline of actually doing it, more like a checklist for myself. As if in a journal. Except that it's public. (For those 5 people that may still stalk this blog?)

I have The Star of Lancaster (Plantagenet Saga #11) by Jean Plaidy to finish.

Then there is the unholy trinity of smutty holiday novellas:

  • My Dad's Best Friend (A Touch of Taboo #3) by Katee Robert
  • A Winter Symphony by Tiffany Reisz
  • When She Was Naughty by Tessa Dare
I want to do some rereads:
  • Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness, which I planned to do before S2 of the TV show and then got distracted and the show is returning within the week, but I think I should be able to manage 1/8 a week to keep in step
  • I've been wanting to do an IAD series reread for a while now and what better time than a new year to start with A Hunger Like No Other (IAD #1) by Kresley Cole, although The Warlord Wants Forever is technically/chronologically the first, but I'll read that afterwards because it worked great in this order the first time around. 
  • Angel's Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh because after years of my incessant nagging my bestie is finally starting it (and I hope it lives up to my hyping it up) and I could use a refresher (not that it's any hardship ;))
I have two nonfiction/self-help books I want to slowly go through and hopefully find something useful for my depressed & anxious brain:
  • Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life by Gary John Bishop
  • Learn To Live: The Book That Can Change Your Life by Mats and Susan Billmark

And I also stumbled upon The Idea of You by Robinne Lee on New Year's Eve (because what else would I be doing then than adding new books to my TBR?) and it sounds so intriguing I want to start it right away.

I'll be crossing out the ones I finish (as you can see, I've already already done one since I started writing this post yesterday) and I might do more of this kind of posts when the need arises.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas is a collection of letters Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas aka Santa Claus in replies to their letters to Santa.

I decided to reread it this advent about a letter or 8 pages a day and, although I missed some days due to real life calamities, I did slowly make my way through it by and by just in the perfect time to finish it on Christmas day.

The letters are such a delight to read, showing Tolkien's craftsmanship not only through the stories he comes up about Father Christmas and his friends and the exciting fortunate and less fortunate events in the North Pole, but also in the intricate handwriting he invents for each of the characters he emulates and even lovely drawings he includes with the letters. 

From 1920 to 1943, the letters grow in number along with his growing family and diminish as the children grow up, all along hinting here at there at Tolkien's interests in his literary work as well as at the concerns of the real world, but most of all they give a testimony of his love for his children, thus making me admire him even more as a person rather than just an author. 

Letters from Father Christmas are a wonderful read for December and if you haven't read it yet, there is always next year.  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Virtual Advent Tour 2020: Favourite Holiday Songs Vol. 2

Virtual Advent Tour is hosted by Sprite Writes. Drop by her blog to see other stops on the tour with many interesting titbits about advent traditions. 

Music is an essential part of many if not most celebrations and that particularly holds true for Christmas time. 

In 2016, I shared my favourite English holiday songs

This year, however, as the only non-native English speaking country participant, I want to provide some 'exoticism' 😉 and share with you what we call folk church songs, that is, songs for church/Christian holidays (in this case, Christmas) that are widely known and sung among people.

We have a long, centuries-old tradition of folk church songs, many originating from unknown authors and spreading among the people, others being written for choir but becoming widely popular among everyone, and some imported and translated from other languages and being loved so much they are now considered our own. 

I will start with one of the latter, perhaps the most popular and most frequently translated Christmas song of all times across the world, Sveta noč, or, as you may have already guessed, Silent Night

Poslušajte, vsi ljudje (Listen, all people) is a personal favourite because it mentions St. Joseph; it talks about how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem where after looking for a place to stay they finally found it outside the town in a barn where Jesus was born.


Another few of my favourites are Glej, zvezdice božje (Look, heavenly stars), Rajske strune (Heavenly  Chords), and Kaj se vam zdi, pastirci vi (What do you think, o, shepherds ye').




As I said, these are all very popular and sung by everyone en masse at church, but of course the above examples are choir and bands recordings, because unsynchronised people's singing would have been unintelligible. Then again, all of these are probably unintelligible to you, but I hope you at least enjoyed the catchy melodies. The music of the last one is played on European zither, which has an especially apt sound for Christmas songs.

I will end with another version of Silent Night in honour of my uncle, because I learned halfway through writing this post (on Friday, and TBH continuing writing it in the breaks between crying kept me sane) that he had died. Lojze Slak, also deceased, is one of our most renowned musicians and my parents' favourite, he was from one of the neighbouring villages to that of my father and uncle's home village and my father – and, I think, also my uncle – knew him personally, so this is for him. At least they are all together now, I believe. 

I apologise for ending on a morose note. I wish you all happy holidays, even if you don't get to spend them with your loved ones due to Covid-19, I hope you are able to spend them at least with the knowledge that they are alive and well and that all of you stay that way!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Virtual Advent Tour 2020: St. Lucy

The Earth keeps making its way around the Sun even in 2020 and the time has come again for Virtual Advent Tour, organised by Sprite Writes.

Today is the name day of St. Lucy of Syracuse (283 – 304 AD). She is associated with light and brightness as her name comes from lux, the Latin word for light.

According to a legend, one of her suitors fell in love with her beautiful eyes, so she gouged them out and send them to him, but an angel came to her and restored them; therefore, she is a patron saint of the blind and a protector of sight.

A picture of a woman in mediaeval clothes with a pair of eyes on a brass platter.
Due to various legends telling of St. Lucy losing her eyes either by torture or her own hand, she is often depicted with a pair of eyes on a platter. (Image source.)

Before the Gregorian calendar reform, December 13th was considered the shortest day of the year, symbolising the return of light into long winter nights and thus rebirth and new life, similarly to the winter solstice.

We have a folk custom, especially in the countryside, of planting Christmas wheat on this day – it is believed that if it sprouts by Christmas, it will ensure a good harvest the following year. 

Christmas wheat in a small pot is a nice decorative element in a nativity scene or on its own. (Image source.)

Do you have any special traditions or celebrations on this day? If so, I would love to hear about them.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Midnight Sun (Twilight #5) by Stephenie Meyer

A cover of Midnight Sun showing a half of a pomegranate on black background.

Midnight Sun is a retelling of Twilight from Edward’s POV – and a retelling of only Twilight, which with roughly 700 pages makes up for a rather long book.

I found Edward’s POV highly interesting and up to halfway mark I was going to give it stars. However, around the time of their first date, Edward’s inner reflections become repetitive and between 50-70% the story is rather tedious.

Fortunately, after around 70% the pace picks up and the story brings up fresh elements from the time when Edward and Bella are separated.

And so, after about four months, I was able to finally finish it! And now I’m back to wishing what I wished in the beginning: to see Edward’s POV of the rest of the series, especially the beginning of New Moon, when he is yet again away from Bella. Although I can also guess how his agonising could once again turn boring.

On the other hand, I also want Stephenie Meyer to continue The Host. In any case, whatever she decides to write next, I will definitely give it a shot, because Midnight Sun
did reaffirm my impression that her books are, while not literary masterpieces, not half as bad as certain online/book community circles believe them to be.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I finally had to read Lord of the Flies for tutoring purposes, because it is a required reading for our national high school English finals, and at first it wasn’t as bad as I had expected from all the bad things I had heard about it. I thought that the boys’ behaviour wasn’t really any different from how contemporary kids would behave in a similar situation.

About two thirds in, however, I had to start agreeing: it was really that bad.

And in the end, I am not so sure the behaviour was just a result of the boys’ spoiled rich British origin. Perhaps any other group of people (children) in the same uncontrollable, helpless, and scary situation would eventually react similarly.

I will not even touch the issue of gender and the lack of girls in the book – I do wonder whether things would be worse or better if the group included girls – since Golding himself was unwilling to explore that and was only able to ask questions regarding that possibility himself.

My edition included study materials with useful chapter summaries and discussion/reflection questions and additional information on the issues connected with the novel, which were its saving grace.

It also included Golding’s essay on fables and his intentions regarding what he wanted to show about the human nature and how it is governed by nationalism and prejudice, especially in connection with Nazism and fascism, which are certainly important issues to consider (and beware of perpetuating) yet again nowadays.

Golding does manage to show the worst of human nature when unfettered by societal constraints and bolstered by fear (of the unknown, other) and I definitely agree with his notion that we are all capable of the same atrocities if we fail to check ourselves and each other to keep from succumbing to fear, prejudice, and other-ing specific groups people.

However, I believe that without accompanying materials and guidance the readers who are unaware of the story's connection to British exceptionalism and colonialism cannot really discern these themes and their messages, especially not ESL students who are struggling with understanding the language itself.

Even without language understanding issues, I could only see the aforementioned connotations while reading through the additional materials. Hence, I believe that among literally millions of books out there, our national board for HS English finals could have certainly found a better book to teach about such important topics as the dangers of nationalism and prejudice in present times.