UK royal crown jewels

Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it’s Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain’s future king. And when Bex can’t resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Kate Middleton fanfiction, with references to Downton Abbey and Harry Potter in the very first chapter… The Royal We is just that – and so much more. Rebecca Porter is the Great American Pretender who is set to shake the foundations of the British monarchy.She sets off for Oxford and finds herself drawn into the life she could never imagine. Her newest dorm mates are members of the English aristocracy and the future sovereign, is the dashing, movie-star-good-looking guy who helped drag her luggage up the stairs while she unknowingly joked about his ancestors’ syphilis….Okay, I’m an absolute sucker for unusual introductions (confession)… Nick, Prince Nicholas that is, he’s Mr. Perfect, but he’s also taken and his princeliness comes with a lot of baggage – dark family secret and nosy paparazzi included. As Bex and Nick grow closer, things slowly start to apart.

The Royal We is not the kind of book that I would normally pick up. Epic adventure, gut-wretching drama with an occasional dash of fantasy, psychological or historical non-fiction that would make a lot of my friends say “Why???”. The Royal We is not my typical read, but it is one that I devoured and craved for more in my book hangover.There simply is nothing better than a well-written and well-plotted novel.

The Royal We has a score of complex characters, who are more than the usual background noise so many novels make them to be. Secondary characters compliment Bex’ and Nick’s development, but they also are intelligent, fun and possessing distinct traits. Bex that arrives in Oxford is a somewhat shy and retiring type. Her twin sister Lacy always was the one aiming for fame spotlight, but Bex ended-up being the one forced out into the public. This creates points of tension and conflict throughout the novel, however, I should say that the development of the sisterly relationship is one of the highlights of The Royal We. Prince Freddie is an absolute gem. Cilla, Gaz, Lacy and even the haughty Lady Bollocks are a team of loyal friends anyone would wish they had… “They believed that I was brave. They believed I was tough. They believed in me, period.”

Yes, The Royal We is all about romance, but it also is a novel about friendship, personal growth and sacrifices you are willing to make for your loved ones. It’s fun, captivating and just deliciously good.

Overall: 4,5*


Victory day in Chisinau

Each return to the Memorial in Chisinau is a a very emotional occasion. I still remember the solemn excitement of going there with my grandfather, I must have been about four or five. Victory Day, the 9th of May has always been special, this year – even more so. My great grandfather, as I discovered yesterday, may have been a prisoner of war. My other great grandfather survived Stalingrad and Koenigsberg…

Sadly, the numbers of the veterans are dwindling with each year…. Today, thousands honored their 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in Chisinau.

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Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

The character development throughout the first half of the novel is almost entirely one-dimensional. The Dragon, the love-intrest/antagonist remains a grumpy wizard, irritated by whatever his young protégée would do. The readers get only a slight glimpse of his real character, and the overall impression is that the only thing he can do is sulk.

 The protégée in question ends up taking one reckless decision after another and her relationship and worry about Kasia seems, at a lot of points, very forced. Kasia is the pretty-girl best friend, all too perfect to be really likable at the very beginning, Kasia and Agnieszka share a very strong bond – which is inadequately introduced and is seemingly one-sided. Agnieszka cares about her friend deeply, but unfortunately I didn’t get to see where the strength of attachment was even coming from.

Some reviewers have mentioned the Agnieszka’s very touching growth throughout the book and called her a relatable protagonist. She stubbornly kept avoiding reasonable arguments, making one mistake after another… Her power grew, and yet her character growth avoided me almost entirely.  With 367 Goodreads ratings, Naomi Novik’s soon to be released novel currently stands at 4.40* average. Just as in the case of the Red Queen I got a feeling that me and the other reviewers were reading two different books.

The original idea is brilliant, the execution – not so much. Character development is lacking, some plot points drone on and on, while others would have sufficed for 3-4 end-of-the-novel cliffhangers… Uprooted is a vivid and would surely look great on the big screen, it is a dark, twisted and very original tale, however, in it’s novel form it left me disappointed.

Release date: May 21.

Overall note: 3*

Screenshot 2015-04-20 21.55.39

Review: Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge”

More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura’s mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal…

The Blind Assassin opens with one of the most memorable first lines in literary history. Laura Chase, tragic, strange and famous Laura Chase drove her car off a bridge.In her twilight years, Iris Chase is living on her own, her estranged daughter is dead, her husband too, her granddaughter is somewhere in Africa and wants nothing to do with her grandmother. How did it come to this?

While, at times, the story may be slow – after all, it’s almost a century of family life we’re talking about – Margaret Atwood’s writing is simply divine.   The narrative structure is strange and extraordinary at the same time. The timeline jumps from present-day Iris to the glory days of her family and the tragic years leading up to Laura’s death. Some parts of the story are told through newspaper clippings, others – through a novel inside a novel, written by Laura and published by Iris after her suicide.

We are left to assume that the main characters of the novel in question, called the Blind Assassin, are Laura and Alex Thomas. We are left to assume a lot of things. Without venturing into the spoiler zone, I should say that the ending of the novel is one of the most fulfilling plot twists that I’ve ever read. It radically changed my perception of the main characters and made me fall ardently in love with Margaret Atwood’s writing.

The Blind Assassin is the winner the 2000 Booker Prize.

Suite Francaise flight from Paris

Review: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.

Suite Francaise is an astonishing masterpiece, its rich and exquisite prose is perfect in its unfinished beauty. The circumstances of its creation and publication are truly remarkable, this is no overstatement. Written under the Nazi occupation by a Jewish-Ukrainian author Irene Nemirovsky, it was discovered more than half a century after her death in Auschwitz. Suite Francaise is, in fact, one of the earliest works of fiction about the occupation of France.

Born in Kiev, Irene Nemirovsky fled the Russian Revolution with her family, settling in France at the age of 16. Nemirovsky started writing in French and published a total of nine novels. A Storm in June and Suite Francaise were passed on to Nemirovsky’s daughters after the arrest of her husband Michael Epstein. Denise Nemirovsky discovered that her mother’s battered notebook contained a novel only in the 1990s.

It is a strange feeling, the realization that you’re reading a novel written almost at the time as the historical events unfolded. I couldn’t help but wonder that Irene Nemirovsky might have known some of the book characters, or rather the real people that could have inspired them, that some of the scenes from Suite Francaise may have happened around her.

The characters of Suite Francaise are connected by an intricate thread, their paths cross and collide, as the war and Nazi presence provide the perfect setting for the reveal of their true character. A Storm in June captures the flight from Paris. As the Nazis advance on the French capital, Parisian residents scramble to get out of the city. Fear, lies, petrol stealing, worries about personal goods and status while the enemy is knocking on their doors… Dolce covers the year in the life of an occupied town called Bussy. The residents are forced to host a German regiment, they learn to co-exist, accept and in some cases, see the enemy as mere men. The story of Lucille and German officer Bruno is beautifully heartbreaking. The recently-released Suite Francaise film follows the events recounted in Dolce. It is a pleasure to say that the adaptation turned out brilliantly, despite some minor plot changes.

A reviewer has once compared Suite Francaise to a bombed cathedral. There are no truer words to describe a book of such magnitude: “The ruined shell still soars to heaven, a reminder of the human spirit triumphing despite human destructiveness.”


Review: Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel

War’s mess and muddle, the brutality and the inanity of fighting few have better captured this than Isaac Babel, who was a journalist with the Soviet First Cavalry Army. His unflinching portrayal of the murderous havoc of battle is offset by an unexpected and wry humour: having seen the fighting up close, Babel is able to find the funny side of war while depicting its bloody side in all its mesmerising and casual violence. The lyricism and bitterness that characterise the thirty-five short stories of Red Cavalry are stunningly reproduced in this new translation by the award-winning Boris Dralyuk.

Written in the 1920s, and based on his personal diaries and experiences during the Polish-Soviet war, Red Cavalry almost cost Isaac Babel his life. This is one of the most important things the reader should learn about the Red Cavalry.In Soviet Russia, literature could, in fact, kill… Isaac Babel’s short stories painted a great war far different from the propaganda reels of the Soviet regime and this made Red Cavalry undesirable. Legendary Soviet marshall Budyonny, under whom Babel served during the war and whose army was described on the pages of Red Cavalry, demanded the author’s execution.

Good deeds are done by good men. The revolution is the good deed of good men. But good men do not kill. So the revolution is the work of bad men. But the Poles, too, are bad men. So who will tell Gedali where’s the revolution and where’s the counter revolution?

Brutal cossacks, desecrated churches, Polish peasants hiding their horses in the forests, impoverished jews, acts of cowardice and senseless atrocities… Red Cavalry is a haunting account of a conflict that is oftentimes overlooked and largely unknown to those living beyond Eastern Europe. Babel’s majestic prose paints the wartime violence with a truly poetic beauty.

Red Cavalry was graciously provided by Steerforth Press through NetGalley. 

Overall rating : 4*