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.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

The cover of The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat, featuring a little girl on a boat deck facing the sea and cloudy sky with a bird flying up.The Lost Blackbird is a story about two sisters shipped from a London orphanage to Australia, where they are promised a better life awaits them.

Separated upon arrival, despite having been promised that they would be able to stay together, they are both thrown in their own set of hardships. The older sister has to endure harrowing circumstances of child labour on a faraway farm. The younger is adopted into a loving, well-off family, but her life comes with its own kind of trauma.

The story is told alternately from both girls’ perspectives, proving once more Liza Perrat’s masterful ability to convey children’s voices from a very young age into adulthood, enabling the reader to not only see but feel them grow up as well as witness the world and people around them in vivid, palpable detail.

Hence, The Lost Blackbird was a fast and utterly absorbing read that taught me something new, as I had no knowledge of child migration from the UK to the other parts of the former British empire (or perhaps I had forgotten about it.)

On the whole, this story sucked me up into its world and still didn’t quite let me go, and certainly left me with a good feeling.  

Monday, August 17, 2020

Bout-of-Books 29

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins Monday, through Sunday, 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 29 information and updates, visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Bout of Books

I will be participating on Twitter (@strangenewwords), but I thought it would also be handy to have a summary-of-everything post on this blog (so it gets used at least a little once in a while.)

Monday, 17/8/2020

Reading: The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat, The Old Guard fanfiction
Pages/words: 24 pages of The Lost Blackbird, ~14K fanfic
Instagram challenges/other: Currently reading

A display of book covers for Midnight Sun, The Lost Blackbird, Poems of William Blake and fan-made (by me) covers for The Old Guard and Agents of Shield Daisy and Daniel Fanfiction on light blue background titled Currently Reading in black font

Tuesday, 18/8/2020

Reading: The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat, The Old Guard fanfiction
Pages/words: 123 pages of The Lost Blackbird, ~13K of fanfic
Instagram challenges/other: 

Cover of The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat on light blue background showing a girl on a ship facing stormy sky and a bird flying up

Wednesday, 19/8/2020

Reading: The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat
Pages/words: 83 pages of The Lost Blackbird, ~1.5K of Revolution fanfic (reread)
Instagram challenges/other: 

A cover of A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles featuring a young man lying on a bed on light blue background.

Thursday, 20/8/2020

Reading: The Poems of William Blake
Pages/words: 9 pages of The Poems of William Blake
Instagram challenges/other: /

Friday, 21/8/2020

Reading: The Poems of William Blake
Pages/words: 6 pages of The Poems of William Blake
Instagram challenges/other: Wrote reviews for both The Lost Blackbird and Poems of William Blake (GR-only).
Saturday, 22/8/2020

Reading: The Old Guard & AoS fanfiction
Pages/words: ~15K of fanfic
Instagram challenges/other: I had a blast participating in the Twitter chat! 

Covers of The Engineer by C.S. Poe, King's Crown by Maire Johnston, and Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo on a light blue background.

Sunday, 23/8/2020

Reading: AoS fanfiction
Pages/words: ~4.5K of fanfic
Instagram challenges/other: /


What I read: Finished The Lost Blackbird and Poems of William Blake
Pages/words: 245 pages +48K words
Instagram challenges/other: I participated in 5 challenges, but on Twitter and also on Saturday's twitter chat.

This was another great Bout-of-Books, I had a blast and certainly read more than I would have otherwise! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A Seditious Affair (Society of Gentlemen #2) by K. J. Charles
I have had A Seditious Affair on my to-read list for far too long, because I wasn’t in the mood for the level of angst and the type of characters I expected to encounter in it – and then my expectations turned out to be completely wrong.

Set against the tumultuous end of 1820s London, A Seditious Affair turned out to be an utterly absorbing with just the right pace and the level of suspense that kept me reading and reading, so I could barely put down and finished it in only a couple of days.

The main characters grew on me quickly and I was rooting for them throughout the story as they were such a fascinating pair of contrasts that complement each other. Most importantly, however, they were actually my age (why on Earth I expected them to be much younger, I don’t know, but this age worked extremely well), and I loved that!

On top of everything, the writing was not just good, but beautiful – and I may have to go (re)read some darn romantics now (even though immersing too much the concepts of romanticism are not good for my mental well-being, precisely because I find them so very relatable.)

All in all, A Seditious Affair was a captivating and wonderfully spun story with tangible sentiment and vivid setting that engaged all senses and really brought the time, place, and people to life. It was my first, but not last book by this author. And really, why was I waiting so long? But better late than never.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Horror is far out of my comfort zone, but I felt like reading something different, specifically in this genre and Ararat had been on my to-read list long enough, so I did it and I am glad I did.

Maybe I've desensitised myself a little by occasional forays into the genre, because it has somehow turned out not to be as creepy as I had expected, but it was still creepy.

The creepiest parts are the first third of the book before the characters start realising what they unleashed (while the readers have more knowledge, or at least suspicions, than they) and, of course, the ending.

In between and throughout the book there was, however, plenty of gore which I tried not to imagine too vividly.

The story overall didn't offer anything new regarding concepts, but it was nevertheless compelling and well-written, and it definitely delivered enough material for a nightmare or two.

All in all, I now feel weirdly accomplished for having read it. ;)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Sins of the Angels (Grigori Legacy #1) by Linda Poitevin

The main culprit for the fact that this has only taken me almost four months to finish is that it employs a certain type of suspense that I find increasingly frustrating, namely, when the readers know something the characters don't and it takes them ages to get there.

I don't consider it a spoiler, because it is evident right from the beginning of the story if not from the title itself, but I'm putting it under the SPOILER tag anyway: Obviously (or not), Alex, the main protagonist, doesn't believe in angels, heaven, etc. and when she starts seeing wings, she fears she is going insane, especially due to her family history. END OF SPOILER

However, the very same thing is also one of the strongest points of Sins of the Angels, because such an attitude is rather more realistic than most books of the genre adopt, which is a quick and more or less easy acceptance.

Anyway, that piece of knowledge the readers have but that Alex keeps trying to remain in denial about for nearly 70% of the story was frustrating as hell for me; I could only bear to read a few chapters at a time.

And after that point, when Alex catches up with the facts, I finished the rest in one go, because Sins of the Angels is ultimately a compelling, well-written story that adds the previously explored concepts their own unique twists.

Therefore, I am, now that we got over with that discrepancy between the characters' and the readers' knowledge, definitely interested to see where the rest of the series takes us.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Bout-of-Books 27

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 6th and runs through Sunday, January 12th 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 27 information and updates, visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Consider this my sign-up and updates post.

I have no goals other than to read, because I haven't read anything (not even fanfic!) this year, yet (Can you believe it? Then again, I did read A LOT last year.), and what better way to finally kick it off than with Bout-of-Books? None, I say. And I'm doing updates on my blog this year to bring it out of neglect.

Monday, 6/1/2020

Reading: Sins of the Angels (Grigori Legacy #1) by Linda Poitevin
Pages/words: cca 66 pages or 20%
Challenges/other: /

Tuesday, 7/1/2020

Reading: The Dandelion Girl by Robert F. Young
Pages/words: 11 pages
Challenges/other: My 2020 reading goals, you ask? To read as much or as little as I want and whatever I want. That's it. (Tweet.)

Wednesday, 8/1/2020

Reading: Sins of the Angels (Grigori Legacy #1) by Linda Poitevin
Pages/words: cca 9 pages (3%)
Challenges/other: /

Thursday, 9/1/2020

Reading: Sins of the Angels (Grigori Legacy #1) by Linda Poitevin
Pages/words: 33 (10%)
Challenges/other: /

Friday, 10/1/2020

Reading: Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh
Pages/words: 18
Challenges/other: Why, yes, I can't committ to a book, so I started a new one. I also threw some book recs out on twitter for today's One with a Book in It challenge.

Saturday, 11/1/2020

Reading: Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh, and a lovely little fanfic (unrelated)
Pages/words: 57, 1+ K of fanfic
Challenges/other: I had a blast participating in the twitter chat!

Sunday, 12/1/2020

Reading: Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) and The Cannibal Princess (Psy-Changeling #1.1) by Nalini Singh
Pages/words: 284
Challenges/other: I guess I did stretch my non-existent goals!


What I read: I finished Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) and The Cannibal Princess (Psy-Changeling #1.1) by Nalini Singh, The Dandelion Girl by Robert F. Young, and I also read about a third of Sins of the Angels (Grigori Legacy #1) by Linda Poitevin
Pages/words: 417 pages + 1+K of fanfic
Challenges/other: I did two challenges and joined in Saturday's twitter chat.

All in all, that's a lot more than I'd expected going in and this has been a great readathon-ing week!