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#Bookreview GIRL WITH A SNIPER RIFLE: AN EASTERN FRONT MEMOIR by Yulia Zhukova (@penswordbooks) An ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances #WWII

Hi all:

I bring you a book I mentioned a while back, and here it is, finally.

Girl With A Sniper Rifle: An Eastern Front Memoir by Yulia Zhukova

Girl With A Sniper Rifle: An Eastern Front Memoir by Yulia Zhukova

In this vivid first-hand account we gain unique access to the inner workings of Stalin’s Central Women’s Sniper School, near Podolsk in Western Russia.

Luliia was a dedicated member of the Komsomol (the Soviet communist youth organization) and her parents worked for the NKVD. She started at the sniper school and eventually became a valued member of her battalion during operations against Prussia.

She persevered through eight months of training before leaving for the Front on 24th November 1944 just days after qualifying. Joining the third Belorussian Front her battalion endured rounds of German mortar as well as loudspeaker announcements beckoning them to come over to the German side.

Luliia recounts how they would be in the field for days, regularly facing the enemy in terrifying one-on-one encounters. She sets down the euphoria of her first hit and starting her “battle count” but her reflection on how it was also the ending of a life.

These feelings fade as she recounts the barbarous actions of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. She recalls how the women were once nearly overrun by Germans at their house when other Red Army formations had moved off and failed to tell them. She also details a nine-day standoff they endured encircled by Germans in Landsberg.

Regularly suffering ill-health, she took a shrapnel injury to her knee and had to be operated on without an anaesthetic. She would eventually see the end of the war in Köngsberg.

Like her famous counterpart Pavlichenko, she gained recognition but struggled to come to terms with war service. Haunted by flashbacks she burned the letters she sent home from the Front. She later discovered that of the 1885 graduates of her sniper school only 250 had died in the war.

In this powerful first-hand account, we come up close to the machinations of the NKVD (the secret police) as well as the gruelling toll of war and the breathtaking bravery of this female sniper.

Additional material includes notes by John Walter and an introduction by Martin Pegler.

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Sniper-Rifle-Eastern-Memoir/dp/1784383988/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Sniper-Rifle-Eastern-Memoir/dp/1784383988/

https://www.amazon.es/Girl-Sniper-Rifle-Eastern-Memoir/dp/1784383988/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Girl-With-a-Sniper-Rifle-Hardback/p/15806

 

About the author:

Luliia Konstantinovna Zhukova spent her early years in Uralsk but her parents moved from city to city through their work for the secret police, the NKVD. Despite suffering from ill-health in her youth she eventually enlisted and trained to be a sniper. After the war she finished her studies at Moscow University Pedagogical Institute and worked as a Komsomol secretary in Moscow. She then became a school director of a school and worked for the Communist Party.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me an early hardback copy of this non-fiction title that I freely chose to review.

I reviewed The Sniper Encyclopedia a while back and I became fascinated by the data about female snipers, so I was happy to have this opportunity to review a personal account by one of them.

As the description explains, Luliia (or Yulia, depending on the spelling) Zhukova was one of many girls who fought during WWII as part of the USSR forces. She wrote this book in her 90s (she was 92 when the original version was published), and it is clear from her introduction that she was somewhat reluctant to write a memoir, as she, like many others, thought that only people who’d led extraordinary lives should write such accounts. But she changed her mind as she realised that all lives reflect their historical era, and she also felt that the young generations should have access to different, personal, and alternative accounts to the official narrative of the war in her country (that is not particularly enamoured by). This reflects a major turning point for her, because as we learn when we progress through the book, for many years she wished to bury all memories of that period, suffered terrible nightmares, and made a concerted effort to get rid of any reminders (including burning correspondence, documents, pictures, etc.). Despite all that, there are a handful of photographs, some from her time as a soldier, some from the seventies, when she started attending reunions of veterans of the war, and some more recent, of her with her daughter and granddaughter, which help put a face to the story, and also to some of the other people she mentions. There is also an insert talking about the weapons, and an appendix at the end listing the graduates of the Central Women’s Sniping School who were awarded the Order of Glory 2nd and 3rd class.

Although she does not consider herself extraordinary in any way, she was a determined young woman, and a brave and eager one, as she has always suffered from ill health but that did not prevent her from enrolling into a course to become a sniper, even before she was 18, and then going to war, despite that going against the wishes of her mother and her step-father. Luliia does not describe her life before the war in a lot of detail, but there is enough to give a good understanding of what kind of family she grew up in (she was an only child, so her parents would have been even more reluctant), and it provides us with some understanding of the dynamics of the era (her step-father had been imprisoned once even though he held an official position).

Once Luliia gets to sniper school, her life changes drastically. The narration comes to life with stories of comradery, of life in a group of women, of living away from home for the first time, having to wear strange uniforms, having to follow a harsh discipline, missing her mother but becoming much more independent and proud of her achievements. By the time she goes to war, Luliia has grown up, although nothing has quite prepared all of them for what is to come.

The author acknowledges that she might misremember things (and recounts her memory of her first kill and compares it to the account of another woman in her regiment, and there are significant differences), and she does not always recall all dates and locations, but she is excellent at recreating the atmosphere, the smells, the bodily sensations, the fear, the anxiety, and the brief moments of joy (having a bath after days in the trenches, sleeping in a proper bed, receiving any kind of good news…). This is not a list of battles and skirmishes, but a personal account of what it felt to be there, especially as a woman, and the instances of what nowadays would be classed as harassment (almost a way of life) but also of kindness and support. She got separated from the rest of her regiment and ended up joining a male unit, with the difficulties you can imagine. So, although she is not well-known, her experiences deserve to be told, read, and remembered.

There are many moments that give one pause when reading the book, and not because the author goes out of her way to overdramatise things. If anything, her style is matter-of-fact and understated. Often, what is not said is as poignant as what she does say. There are no complaints and the only bitterness she expresses is towards accounts of the war that she feels have robbed those who took part in it of their pride, making them feel ashamed, and some being abused and harassed because of it (to the point where she mentions some veterans who took their own lives because of it). Her opinions will not be to everybody’s taste, but when she mentions an incident when a veteran attended a school and a youth asked him why they had fought so hard in the war and told him that if they hadn’t, Germany would have conquered them and now they would have as good a life as the Germans did, her upset is understandable. We might agree or not with the politics that brought the conflict into being, but the people who got caught in it and put their lives at risk deserve respect.

She shares a poem from Nikolai Berezovsky’s “The Last Front Line Veteran” that I found quite moving and thought I’d share with you:

When out last front-line veteran

Shuts his eyes and lies in peace,

Doubtless, at that moment

We’ll all feel a great unease.

The heart of every Russian

Will be struck by a strange malaise.

If the sun’s out brightly shining,

It will yield to a darkening haze.

We’ll feel an untimely shudder,

We’ll sense a feverish glow,

And the maple in mother’s garden

Will suddenly bow down low.

I think this is an important book that I recommend to those interested in WWII, especially in personal accounts, and more particularly those looking for Eastern Front memoirs. Also, to historians or readers eager to learn more about women’s involvement in WWII, and, in general, to anybody keen to read a memoir from an era we should never forget.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, smile, and keep safe!

 

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#Bookreview THE WHITE CRUCIFIXION: A NOVEL ABOUT MARC CHAGALL by Michael Dean (@HollandParkPres) An inside look into the early life and creative process of Marc Chagall that goes well beyond a standard biography #arthistory

Hi all:

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, know that I am a bit of a disaster with visuals and even taking digital pictures is a challenge. Despite that, or perhaps, because of it, I love the visual arts: painting, sculpture, photography, and I’m fascinated by the lives of the artists, the classics as well as more recent ones. I remember reading with fascination The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein where she talks about the writers and artists that visited her and the fascinating conversations and exchange of ideas that took place. (Although her writing style is peculiar, I love that book and I recommend it).

So, when I got offered this book, I had to read it. And here it is:

Book review of The White Crucifixion: A novel about Marc Chagall by Michael Dean
The White Crucifixion: A novel about Marc Chagall by Michael Dean

The White Crucifixion: A novel about Marc Chagall by Michael Dean

The White Crucifixion starts with Chagall’s difficult birth in Vitebsk 1887, in the present-day Belarus, and tells the surprising story of how the eldest son of a herring schlepper became enrolled in art school where he quickly gained a reputation as ‘Moyshe, the painting wonder’.

The novel paints a vivid picture of a Russian town divided by belief and wealth, rumours of pogroms never far away, yet bustling with talented young artists.

In 1913 Chagall relished the opportunity to move to Paris to take up residence in the artist colony ‘The Hive’ (La Ruche). The Yiddish-speaking artists (École Juive) living there were all poor. The Hive had no electric light or running water and yet many of its artists were to become famous, among them Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, and Osip Zadkine.

The novel vividly portrays the dynamics of an artist colony, its pettiness, friendships and the constant battle to find the peace and quiet to work.

In 1914 Chagall and his wife Bella made what was supposed to be a fleeting visit to his beloved Vitebsk, only to be trapped there by the outbreak of the First World War, the subsequent Russian revolution and the establishment of the communist regime, which was increasingly hostile towards artists like Chagall.

Yet Chagall kept on painting, and the novel provides a fascinating account of what inspired some of his greatest work. He eventually managed to return to France, only to be thwarted by another world war, which proved disastrous for the people he knew in Vitebsk, the people in his paintings, including his uncle Neuch, the original ‘Fiddler on the roof’.

The White Crucifixion is a fictionalised account of the rollercoaster life in terrible times of one of the most enigmatic artists of the twentieth century.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/White-Crucifixion-novel-about-Chagall-ebook/dp/B079YX4JQM/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/White-Crucifixion-novel-about-Chagall-ebook/dp/B079YX4JQM/

Author Michael Dean
Author Michael Dean

About the author:

Michael Dean has a history degree from Worcester College, Oxford, an MSc in Applied Linguistics from Edinburgh University and a translator’s qualification (AIL) in German.

His novels are The Crooked Cross (Endeavour Press, new edition 2018) about Hitler and art; Thorn, (Bluemoose Books, 2011) about Spinoza and Rembrandt; Magic City, (Odyssey Press new edition 2017) a Bildungsroman; and I, Hogarth (Duckworth-Overlook, 2012), which set out to unify Hogarth’s life with his art.

He has also written three e-book novels for Endeavour Press: The Enemy Within (2013), about Jewish resistance in the Netherlands in World War II; Hour Zero (2014), about Germany in 1946; and Before the Darkness (2015), about Walther Rathenau and the Weimar Republic.

His non-fiction includes a book about Chomsky and many educational publications.

His latest novel The White Crucifixion, a novel about Marc Chagall, will be published by Holland Park Press on February 2018.

Michael says: ‘The White Crucifixion intends to unify Marc Chagall’s life, painting and the Jewish experience in the twentieth century. In some ways, I see it as a follow-up to my previous novel, I, Hogarth. The two novels are, however, very different because the two artists painted very differently and I try to reflect that (‘Dean writes as Hogarth paints,’ Andrea Wulf, New York Times). Nevertheless, you could see this as a kind of Jewish I, Hogarth.’

Enjoy Artist’s White Crucifixion Made a Marc on Novelist a profile of Michael Dean which was published in the Jewish Telegraph on 19 January 2018.

‘The priority for me is always to write a novel but at the same time stay true to real life.’ – From an interview with Michael Dean in The Gazette

https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B003CGUP9A/

https://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk//dean

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this novel from the publisher, and I freely chose to review it.

Although I am not sure I would say I’m a big fan of Chagall’s paintings, I’ve always been intrigued by them and drawn to them, even when I didn’t know much about the author or what was behind them. I’ve seen several exhibitions of his work and have also visited the wonderful Chagall National Museum in Nice, France (I recommend it to anybody wishing to learn more about the painter and his works, particularly those with a religious focus). When I was offered the opportunity to read this novel, written by an author with a particular affinity for the art-world, it was an opportunity too good to miss.

The book is not a full biography. It follows Marc Chagall (born Moyshe Shagal) from his birth in the pre-revolutionary Russian town of Vitebsk (now in Belarus) until he paints the White Crucifixion of the title. We accompany Chagall through his childhood (hard and difficult conditions, but not for lack of affection or care), his early studies and his interactions with his peers (many of whom became well-known artists in their own right), his love story with Bella (fraught as it was at times), his first stay in Paris, in the Hive (a fabulous-sounding place, and a glorious and chaotic Petri dish where many great artists, especially from Jewish origin, lived and created), his return to Russia and his encounter with the Russian revolution (full of hopes and ideals for a better future at first, hopes and ideals that are soon trashed by the brutality of the new regime), and finally his escape and return to France.

Throughout it all, we learn about his passion for painting, his creative self-assurance and fascination for Jewish life and traditions,  his peculiar creative methods and routine (he wears makeup to paint and prefers to paint at night), his visitations by the prophet Elijah and how that is reflected in his paintings, his pettiness and jealousy (he is forever suspicious of other pupils and fellow painters, of his wife and her friends), and how he can be truly oblivious to practical matters and always depends on others to manage the everyday details of life (like food, money, etc.). He is surrounded by tragedy and disaster (from the death of his young sister to the many deaths caused by the destruction of Vitebsk at the hands of the revolutionaries) although he is lucky in comparison to many of his contemporaries, and lived to a very ripe old age.

The book is a fictionalization of the early years of Marc Chagall’s life (with a very brief mention of his end), but it is backed up by a good deal of research that is seamlessly threaded into the story. We read about the art movements of the time and Chagall’s opinion of them, about other famous painters (I love the portrayal of Modigliani, a favourite among all his peers), about the historical events of the time, all from a unique perspective, that of the self-absorbed Chagall. He is not a particularly sympathetic character. Despite his protestations of love, he is more interested in painting than in his wife and daughter, although he states that he feels guilty for some of the tragedies that happen to those around him, he pays little heed to them all and does not change his selfish behaviour, and he is far from modest (he feels he has nothing to learn from anybody, is clearly superior to most, if not all, his colleagues and he often talks about how attractive he is). He is unashamed and unapologetic, as he would have to be to succeed in the circumstances he had to live through. But, no matter what we might feel about the man, the book excels at explaining the genesis of some of his best-known early paintings, and all readers will leave with a better understanding of the man and his art.

The writing combines the first person narrative with the historical detail and loving descriptions of places and people, giving Chagall a unique and distinctive voice and turning him into a real person, with defects and qualities, with his pettiness and his peculiar sense of humour. Although we might not like him or fully understand him, we get to walk in his shoes and to share in his sense of wonder and in his urgency to create.

I wanted to share some quotations from the book, so you can get some sense of the style and decide if it suits your taste:

When I work, I feel as if my father and my mother are peering over my shoulder — and behind them Jews, millions of vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago. They are all in my paintings.

Here he talks about Modigliani and one of his lovers, Beatrice Hastings:

They had some of the most erudite fights in Paris. They used to fight in verse. He would yell Dante at her. She would scream back Dante Gabriel Rossetti or Milton, who Modi especially detested.

Modi once said ‘The human face is the supreme creation of nature. Paint it and you paint life.’

All my life I have blamed myself for whatever it was I was doing, but all my life I have gone on doing it.

So much for the revolution freeing the Jews from oppression. They had ended the ghettos, the Pales of Settlement, but the ghettos had at least afforded us a protective fence, of sorts, to huddle behind. Now we were like clucking chickens out in the open, waiting to be picked off one by one for counter-revolutionary activity.

As other reviewers have noted, the book will be enjoyed more fully if readers can access images of Chagall’s paintings and be able to check them as they are discussed. I only had access to the e-book version and I don’t know if the paper copies contain illustrations, but it would enhance the experience.

I recommend the book to art lovers, fans of Marc Chagall and painters of the period, people interested in that historical period, studious of the Russian Revolution interested in a different perspective, and people intrigued by Jewish life in pre- and early-revolutionary Russia. I have read great reviews about the author’s book on another painter, Hogarth, and I’ll be keeping track of his new books.

Thanks to the author and the publisher for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to keep smiling! ♥

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#Bookreview UNSTOPPABLE: MY LIFE SO FAR by Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) (@@PenguinUKBooks) Not only for tennis lovers. A gripping story, of single-mindedness, determination, hard-work and love for the game.

Hi all:

Yes, this review is for a book that’s quite different from what I usually read but I enjoyed it.

Unstoppable: My Story So Far by Maria Sharapova
Unstoppable: My Story So Far by Maria Sharapova

Unstoppable: My Life So Far by Maria Sharapova

From Maria Sharapova, one of our fiercest female athletes, the captivating―and candid―story of her rise from nowhere to tennis stardom, and the unending fight to stay on top.

In 2004, in a stunning upset against the two-time defending champion Serena Williams, seventeen-year-old Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon, becoming an overnight sensation. Out of virtual anonymity, she launched herself onto the international stage. “Maria Mania” was born. Sharapova became a name and face recognizable worldwide. Her success would last: she went on to hold the number-one WTA ranking multiple times, to win four more Grand Slam tournaments, and to become one of the highest-grossing female athletes in the world.

And then―at perhaps the peak of her career―Sharapova came up against the toughest challenge yet: during the 2016 Australian Open, she was charged by the ITF with taking the banned substance meldonium, only recently added to the ITF’s list. The resulting suspension would keep her off the professional courts for fifteen months―a frighteningly long time for any athlete. The media suggested it might be fateful.

But Sharapova’s career has always been driven by her determination and by her dedication to hard work. Her story doesn’t begin with the 2004 Wimbledon championship, but years before, in a small Russian town, where as a five-year-old she played on drab neighborhood courts with precocious concentration. It begins when her father, convinced his daughter could be a star, risked everything to get them to Florida, that sacred land of tennis academies. It begins when the two arrived with only seven hundred dollars and knowing only a few words of English. From that, Sharapova scraped together one of the most influential sports careers in history.

Here, for the first time, is the whole story, and in her own words. Sharapova’s is an unforgettable saga of dedication and fortune. She brings us inside her pivotal matches and illuminates the relationships that have shaped her―with coaches, best friends, boyfriends, and Yuri, her coach, manager, father, and most dedicated fan, describing with honesty and affection their oft-scrutinized relationship. She writes frankly about the suspension. As Sharapova returns to the professional circuit, one thing is clear: the ambition to win that drove her from the public courts of Russia to the manicured lawns of Wimbledon has not diminished.

Sharapova’s Unstoppable is a powerful memoir, resonant in its depiction of the will to win―whatever the odds.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Unstoppable-My-Life-So-Far/dp/1846149843/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unstoppable-My-Life-So-Far-ebook/dp/B073W2TXJ4/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“’Maria Sharapova’s Unstoppable May Just Be the Best Part of Her Comeback Tour.’ . . . This is the bildungsroman of a controversial champion, a portrait of the athlete as an uncommonly driven young woman . . . It’s also a Horatio Alger–worthy tale of rags to riches, with a slightly nihilistic Russian twist. . . . Sharapova’s a careful observer, and Unstoppable is full of astute psychological insights.” ―Julia Felsenthal, Vogue

“Everybody ought to read it.” ―Pam Shriver, tennis champion and ESPN commentator

“A fascinating and well-written (with the help of Vanity Fair journalist Rich Cohen) insight into her struggles, triumphs, obsession with Williams, Russian pessimism and the roots of that famous haughtiness.” ―Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian

“Fiercely honest . . . a refreshing look at the tennis superstar’s rags-to-riches story.” ―Hamptons

“The surprisingly compelling Unstoppable is at its best when recounting Sharapova’s fraught early life . . . It’s apt that Sharapova recruited non-fiction master Rich Cohen as her collaborator here. It’s Cohen’s polish that elevates Unstoppable.” ―David Shaftel, The Financial Times

“A determined journey from the bitter cold and desolation of Siberia to the warm (at times burning) glow of international superstardom . . . All the big matches are relived in a speedy, engaging way, and her prose exudes confidence as she describes her ability to dominate her peers on the tour and how she came to be considered one of the greatest female players of the game. Her writing becomes more vulnerable, frustrated, and interesting when she explores her struggles with Serena

About the author:

Born in Nyagan, Russia, Maria Sharapova moved to the United States when she was seven years old. At seventeen, Sharapova beat Serena Williams to win Wimbledon. She reached the number-one world ranking at eighteen, and has held that ranking a number of times since. To date, she has won five Grand Slams. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I am not a big tennis fan. I was when I was much younger, for a number of years, but then most of the players I followed moved on, I was busy with other things, and although I’ve watched the odd match here and there, I don’t follow it closely any longer. When NetGalley suggested this book and I read the comments I was intrigued. And, from my reading experience, I’d say you don’t need to be a big tennis fan to enjoy this book, although I suspect it might be quite a different experience for those who love tennis more than I do.

Maria (Masha) Sharapova’s autobiography is the story of her rise to success (not quite a rag to riches story, but not far from it either), and one that stresses the importance of hard-work, determination, and single-mindedness. And yes, she does talk about the doping and the ban too. In fact, the book starts briefly with that and then goes back to the very beginning, when she started hitting balls with her father, Yuri, when she was four. The way she talks about hitting a ball and how it makes her feel calm and in control reminded me of meditation techniques. The adventures of little Maria (nobody could pronounce her Russian name in the USA) and her father once he decides she must train in the United States to become the best in the world are horrifying at times and they seem to have often been lucky coming across people who helped them for no reason at all (although perhaps seeing a little girl and her strange father lost in America might have moved people to offer some assistance).

Maria’s writing style is very matter-of-fact and she does not delve on feelings or personal matters too much. (Yes, she does talk about her life, she talks about her mother trying to get to America, and mention that she would talk to her on the phone once a week, but she does not elaborate on how she felt spending years away from her, other than to say how much better she felt when she finally joined them and reflection on the fact that you don’t realise how much you’ve missed somebody until you are reunited with them. Interestingly enough, in her acknowledgments, she thanks her mother first). She mentions friends every so often, but she’s very clear that she’s never wanted to make friends with anybody in the tennis circuit as that would have interfered with her performance when she faced them on the court. This seems to have been her attitude from very early on, and she reflects on how even when she was a pupil at a tennis academy she knew these girls would end up being her opponents in the future. She finds it impossible to believe that other players might have real friends in the tennis world, and it is difficult to know if she cannot believe anybody could see things differently, or perhaps she closed off her emotions to protect herself from a very young age and although it has helped her get where she wanted, there was a price to be paid. (She does write about being the odd one out in the tennis academy, having nothing, living hand-to-mouth and also about her wonder and amazement when she was invited to a big house for the first time. Yes, she talks about a tough life and it is not surprising she wanted to win and make things better).

There isn’t a lot of gossip either. She does talk about other tennis players, but mostly about the characteristics of their game and what that meant for her. Some of her descriptions are funny, bordering on the unkind, and she is very observant, at least when it comes to tennis. She does talk about a couple of boyfriends and some early crushes, but you won’t learn much about her romantic life from this book (it seems she’s been far too busy with her career, and she makes some interesting comments about genre and men finding it difficult to not be the most important thing in a woman’s life, that are hardly surprising but help give an insight into the life of female elite athletes). And then, she talks about Serena Williams. I’ve read quite a few reviews that comment on her attitude towards Serena. As mentioned above, I wonder if she sometimes ascribes to other people her own motivations. I am sure Serena was surprised and upset when she beat her at Wimbledon when she was only seventeen, but their record since has been pretty impressive for Serena (she’s won 17 out of the 19 matches they have played) and I’m sure Maria must have thought about this long and hard. I suspect if you’re a big fan of Serena Williams you might take issue with this book, but I think she’s trying to make sense of the results of their confrontations and to find some justification that does not involve only their respective playing styles.

The book is very good at illustrating what it takes to get to the top, even if you have the talent, how hard it is, and also, how difficult it is to remain there. As these elite athletes must start at a very young age, it is not only the individuals who work hard but also their parents. What effect that has on the child is a good question, and one without an easy answer. The writing style is conversational and one gets the feeling that this is probably how Maria writes and talks (she does quote from her diary at times). A word of warning. There are some swear words scattered around the pages, although I did not find it excessive (but I’ve read reviews mentioning it, so I guess I’m not as shockable as others).

I found it a compelling read, especially the early part of the book, and very difficult to put down. A fascinating story that makes for a great read, even if you’re not big tennis fans, and an intriguing woman I’m sure we’ll keep hearing about.

Some quotes from the book. (No spoiler, but the last one is the ending of the book).

Anyone can be composed and cool while winning, when everything is going according to plan. But how do you deal with a losing streak? That’s the big question —that’s what separates the professionals from the cautionary tales.

Because no one can be great every day. Can you get it done on the ugly days, when you feel like garbage and the tank is empty? That’s the question.

That’s how it has to be when you get a little older. You need to go twice as hard to look half as natural. You need to double your effort to get the same result. In other words, practice is everything.

Before all this happened I was thinking only about the finish line. How it would end, how I would make my exit. But I don’t think about that anymore. Now I think only about playing. As long as I can. As hard as I can. Until they take down the nets. Until they burn my rackets. Until they stop me…

From checking some of the reviews I’m aware the paper copies of the book include some pictures, but the ARC copy I got didn’t, so I can’t comment on those. Ah, I almost forgot, she believes in retail therapy as the answer to upsets and problems. Just in case you were wondering.

Thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Books UK, and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’0307388409,0316324892,030738330X,0735234175,0241969425,1607749785,B002UGU36I,0761386661′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ff945ff7-b839-11e7-b899-2d1a556ea729′]

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#Bookreview THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden (@arden_katherine) A magical fairy-tale with a touch of the classics

Hi all:

I thought we could finish the week with a bit of magic. I’ve noticed that some readers find the book depressing, but I love fairy tales and the best are a bit dark….

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’

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…

Atmospheric and enchanting, with an engrossing adventure at its core, The Bear and the Nightingale is perfect for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman.

Editorial Reviews

Advance praise for The Bear and the Nightingale

“Stunning . . . will enchant readers from the first page. . . . with an irresistible heroine who wants only to be free of the bonds placed on her gender and claim her own fate.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Utterly bewitching . . . a lush narrative . . . an immersive, earthy story of folk magic, faith, and hubris, peopled with vivid, dynamic characters, particularly clever, brave Vasya, who outsmarts men and demons alike to save her family.”Booklist (starred review)

“Arden’s supple, sumptuous first novel transports the reader to a version of medieval Russia where history and myth coexist.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Radiant . . . a darkly magical fairy tale for adults, [but] not just for those who love magic.”—Library Journal

“An extraordinary retelling of a very old tale . . . A Russian setting adds unfamiliar spice to the story of a young woman who does not rebel against the limits of her role in her culture so much as transcend them. The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderfully layered novel of family and the harsh wonders of deep winter magic.”—Robin Hobb

“A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up.”—Naomi Novik

“Haunting and lyrical, The Bear and the Nightingale tugs at the heart and quickens the pulse. I can’t wait for Katherine Arden’s next book.”—Terry Brooks

The Bear and the Nightingale is a marvelous trip into an ancient Russia where magic is a part of everyday life.”—Todd McCaffrey

“Enthralling and enchanting—I couldn’t put it down. This is a wondrous book!”—Tamora Pierce

https://www.amazon.com/Bear-Nightingale-Katherine-Arden-ebook/dp/B01ESFW7F8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bear-Nightingale-Katherine-Arden-ebook/dp/B01ESFW7F8/

About the author:

Author Katherine Arden and her book

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Here a link to the author on the publisher’s page:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/2100493/katherine-arden

And an interview:

http://uk.monsoon.co.uk/view/blog/author-qa-katherine-arden-929

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK/Ebury Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

I’m a big fan of fairy tales and I’m always happy to discover new tales and stories that fit in that category, or that retell some old classics. And I love the stories based on old folktales that capture the beauty of old language, customs and the historical times and places long gone. The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me how much I like these stories and how the best of them are irresistible, at least for me.

Set in Russia (before it was Russia, as the author explains in her notes), the novel creates a great cast of characters, those “real” (princes and princesses, labourers, farmers, villagers, a landed family with food connections), others with a touch of the paranormal, like the protective spirits (of the house, the door, the stables, the forest, the lakes) that might turn nasty if not fed or treated kindly by human beings, the horrific ones (Death, The Bear, vampires), and animals, like the magical nightingale/horse of the title.

The character at the centre of the story, Vasilisa (Vasya), is the youngest child of her mother, Marina, who wanted to have a girl who would be like her. Marina had the ability to see things others couldn’t (the spirits of the forest, of the house, and she could also talk to animals) and she wants to pass her ability on. She dies when her daughter is born, and young Vasya grows among a family who loves her but doesn’t fully understand her. She can talk to horses, they teach her how to ride, and she can talk to the spirits others believe in but can’t see. She loves the old fairy tales and later realises they’re not only fantasy and old-wives tales. As is still the case, people fear what they can’t understand, and a newcomer, a priest, tries to change things by getting rid of old beliefs and putting the fear of God into people’s hearts. This can only lead to disaster.

The descriptions of the landscapes, the houses, the creatures, the atmosphere and the weather are beautifully achieved, in a style reminiscent of classical fairy-tales. The characters are also fascinating and we get a good understanding of their psychological make-up and of what moves them. Particularly interesting are the priest and Vasya’s stepmother, who try as they might, can’t reconcile their wishes with what is expected of them, but Dunya, the housemaid and ersatz mother to Vasya is a touching character, the family relations are heart-warming and even the animals have their own personalities. The author explains that she has tried to adapt the Russian names to make them easier for English-speaking audiences, and in my opinions she succeeds in both, maintaining the particular characteristics of Russian names, whilst not making it confusing or disorienting. The poetry of the language is another great success and I found the book impossible to put down.

There are many moments of sadness, scary moments, and also moments of the story that will make us think (Vasya is different and misunderstood, accused of being a witch despite her efforts to save her village and her people, the weight of custom and the role of men and women in traditional societies are also subject to discussion, family ties and religious thoughts…), but it is a magical story that will make us remember the child we once were. A word of warning, this is not a story for young children, and although some of the imagery is familiar as is the case with many of the classics, there are cruel and terrifying moments as well.

As an example of the writing, I wanted to share some of the passages I highlighted:

At last, they saw the city itself (Moscow), lusty and squalid, like a fair woman with feet caked in filth.

“In Moscow, priests are in love with their standing and think overmuch of the gold in their churches. They eat fat meat and preach poverty to the miserable.” (This is Sasha, one of Vasya’s brothers, who later becomes a monk).

Here, Vasya complaining of her lot in life:

“I am foolish. I was born for a cage, after all: convent of house, what else is there?”

“All of 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….”

Just in case I didn’t make myself clear, I love this book, and although I know it’s not the type of book that everybody will like, I’d recommend that you check a sample or the read inside feature and see what you think. You might be rewarded with a magical reading.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publishers and to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And have a great weekend!

Categories
Guest author post

Guest authors: Viv Drewa, the Owl Lady and her novels.

Hi all:

As you know on Fridays I bring you guest authors and recently also new books. I met today’s author, Viv Drewa, through a group of authors I belong too, and especially through her efforts blogging and sharing the work of other writers and bloggers. If that wasn’t enough, she loves owls (so do I) and one of her blogs is called ‘The Owl Lady‘. She also has owls in her books, so, how could I resist?

Here with you, Viv Drewa!

Author and blogger Viv Drewa
Author and blogger Viv Drewa

Viv is a Michigan native who has enjoyed reading and writing since 1963. Though she studied medicinal chemistry at the University of Michigan her passion has always been writing.

She was awarded third place for her nonfiction short story about her grandfather’s escape from Poland. Later, she rewrote this story and was published in the “Polish American Journal” as “”From the Pages of Grandfather’s Life” and recently had it published again on Amazon.com

Viv took creative and journalism courses to help in her transition to fulfill her dream of becoming a writer. She worked as an intern for Port Huron’s ‘The Times Herald”, and also wrote, edited and did the layout or the Blue Water Multiple Sclerosis newsletter “Thumb Prints.”

She teaches sewing to physically and mentally disabled adults, a cause close to her heart.

Viv also writes for two blogs.

Here is her Amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Viv-Drewa/e/B00J1PTJ20/

And here the Owl Lady Blog:

http://theowlladyblog.wordpress.com/

Viv has written two novels and a book where she talks about her grandfather’s experiences:

The Owl of the Sipan Lord by Viv Drewa
The Owl of the Sipan Lord by Viv Drewa

The Owl of the Sipan Lord

Rather than the brief description of the book I decided to leave you some detailed reviews to wet your appetite.

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book August 1, 2014

By Oliver

Format:Kindle Edition

The Owl of the Sipan Lord by Viv Drewa is a wonderful novel. The character of Clare Montgomery is woven with dexterity. The web of mystery, intrigue and murder lends additional charm to the work. The plot is gripping and beautifully presented. The narrative style is praiseworthy and establishes Viv Drewa as a master of this genre.Read it for a fine plot, gripping story and lifelike characters. Highly recommended.

5.0 out of 5 stars Shadows of El Brujo? June 23, 2014

By John R. Dizon

Format:Kindle Edition

The Owl of the Sipan Lord by Viv Drewa is an action-packed adventure novel centered on the exploits of Clare Montgomery, a widowed 52-year-old archaeologist. She goes on a vision quest to Peru along with Cord Willoughby, intent on discovering the secrets of La Senora de Cao. The mysterious death of Hans Windmueller leaves little doubt as to the presence of evil spirits along the trail. Upon arrival in El Brujo, they find themselves delving headlong into a web of mystery, intrigue and murder. It takes them to the ancient Temple of the Moon, where they enlist the aid of the Lord of Sipan, Cantunta. They find that his daughter Adelgonda awaits in the land of the dead, and only by overcoming the evil goddess can they rid the land of the curse of Cao.

The author develops her tale with artistic flair, bringing us into the storyline with authentic narratives of Peruvian society and culture. There is also the midlife element portrayed by Clare’s affair with Cord, leading to the possibility of a pregnancy that serves as a highly unexpected distraction. Yet the dream sequences force the reader to keep their eye on the ball as her visions reveal the imminent danger awaiting them. The theme of betrayal resonates throughout the novel as Adelgonda endangers not only the lives of her parents but her entire clan as her death cult endures. It brings us to a dramatic conclusion as Clare and Cord are brought face-to-face with the ancient demons in a final showdown.

For action/adventure fans as well as sorcery buffs, The Owl of the Sipan Lord by Viv Drewa is a worthy addition to your collection.

Link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HFDIXK4/

The Angler and the Owl by Viv Drewa
The Angler and the Owl by Viv Drewa

The Angler and the Owl

For 25 years France Hunter has been studying owls, and has discovered five new species around the world. Her work has kept her busy and she never had time for a relationship. She travels with Jason “Doc” Bradley, a former paramedic, and his cousins Tony and Andy Bradley. Now, on her last outing she is joined by a magazine writer, Cathy Birch, and a world famous angler, John Sinclair, who has also dedicated his life to his field.
As the small caravan travels to the Amazon river France falls and severely injures her left arm. Against Doc’s recommendation to turn back, she pushes on. This is her last trip and she wants to go to the place where she found her first new owl.
Once the caravan arrives by the water they are met by seven boatmen, hired by Sinclair, and their canoes. Here they continue on the river dropping France’s group at her location, and Sinclair continuing for two days to the area he wants to fish for his TV show.
John is immediately attracted to France, but all she notices is how handsome he is, not feeling anything else. It isn’t until later she discovers she has feeling for John.
After landing in his spot he can’t help but feel something is wrong with France’s group. His good friend Mark Ward tells him it’s just love talking and he’s sure they’re alright. John doesn’t buy it but they plan on fishing the next morning.
While fishing a blue-ringed owl lands on John’s canoe and looks down the river to where France’s group is, and then looks back at him. This alerts John. He gets the satellite phone and tries to reach her to no avail. He decides the fishing can wait and, with Mark in another canoe, begin the journey back to France.
At France’s camp two jaguars attack one of the boatmen severing his left leg. The other two boatmen, they all have rifles, shoot at the jaguars killing one. The other escapes with the boatman’s leg. Doc and the others wake to the noise and he and Tony go to where the boatmen are camping. In the ruckus the canoes become untied and go eastward down the shore and the sat phone is destroyed. Now they have no way to get help and will have to wait for John’s team to come back, which could take three or four more days.
Doc dresses the boatman’s leg and they bring him to their area. Safety in numbers. Doc’s supply of penicillin and IV dextrose is limited and he doesn’t think the boatman will make it if they can’t get help quickly. Only a two day supply.
As John and Mark head east the water carries them quickly. The get a distance from France’s group and hear gun shots. This makes John paddle faster convinced he was right about something being wrong.
John sees the lanterns and runs toward them; Mark follows quickly behind. The learn about the attack and Mark uses his satellite phone to call for help.
Will help get there in enough time?

Link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HQP60OW/

From the Pages of Grandfather's Life by Viv Drewa
From the Pages of Grandfather’s Life by Viv Drewa

Story of a young man’s escape from Russian ruled Poland in 1913.

Link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I3PNX76/

Thanks to Viv for her reblogs, for visiting and for her owls, to you all for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment, and of course CLICK!

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