My #HarryPotter20

My, I do feel so old when I think it has been 20 years since I first laid my hands on Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. The first book, one that I borrowed from a childhood friend has changed the way I see the world, but that’s what J.K.Rowling’s books did for most of the readers.

Those days weren’t the brightest ones I could look back on. Book one was borrowed, books two and three were brought by my parents, who went to Moscow to earn some money. When the Goblet of Fire came out,  I had to sell my copies of the Chamber of Secrets and the Prizoner of Azkaban in order to be able to afford to buy the latest installment.  A penpal sent me her copy of the Order of the Phoenix. Another friend from England sent me the Half-Blood Prince.  The last chapter, the Deathly Hallows, became the one – the first book – that I could truly buy on my own…

One of my closest relative blamed all my faults and mistakes on that book series. I forgot something – Harry Potter was to blame, I never did something – it was all about Harry. The smallest of missteps oftentimes resulted in degrading words about the books that – I’m not afraid to say it – kept me sane and, however irrational it may have seemed at these points, they kept me hopeful. These books have also made me loyal to the ones I have let into my life till the last.

I speak/know/understand 7 languages. Going on 8 right now… When people hear this, they are almost always perplexed. How can this be possible? For those that do not know, I am from Moldova – a country which is not only bilingual, but is a country which brings together languages of two different groups. So, since childhood I have gradually gained understanding of languages of both Slavic and Latin origins. Russian and Romanian were the beginning. Harry Potter and J.K.Rowling taught me English. I have re-read the series in every language that followed. French, Spanish, Czech… Every line, every word in a language that I did not yet quite grasp was familiar and every time, I felt like I was reading the series for the first time. Just a little bit like that.

J.K.Rowling created a home for me, she created my friends, my escape and my consolation, her words stopped me from falling to pieces many, many times, she made me fall in love with English and helped me discover other languages. That is what she did for me and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Book recommendation: The Silence of the Sea by Vercors

This isn’t a review as such, because reviewing something that was written during the war by a member of the French Resistance is inappropriate. Imprinting your vision or opinion on something that was written by a witness is, in my view, utterly inappropriate.

The Silence of the Sea is exactly the story that would have been branded as inappropriate in our parts of the world. Some places in Eastern Europe are still obsessed by their vision of history, the glorified past washed to the shining bone… Germans were bad. The Soviets were victims. Sometimes the Soviets are branded as the only victims. A disdainful opinion “What do they, the Westerners, know of war?” is still heard all too often. Education is to blame, and not the lack thereof. The ones that are a decade older than myself have studied World War II in great many details during the history and literature classes. Instead of being taught reason – that war isn’t black and white, that the ones that are dragged into it aren’t always good or bad – many, many people from the former USSR were taught that the Germans were the big bad wolf. A short story about a good German is something too fantastical to be true for many conservative minds. This is what the Silence of the Sea is in fact.

It is a story about a girl and her elderly uncle, living in a small provincial town invaded by the Germans. Werner von Ebrennac is a German officer that they are forced to host in their own home. In an act of resistance, the French family treats the foreigner, the despicable Nazi with silence… Werner – the well-mannered, cultured and respectful officer does all the talking, and as his monologues unfold we learn that still and silent waters hold secrets…

I recommended this short story to a Ukrainian friend some years ago. When I saw her the next day, she said: “I hate you. I cried” 

Review: Tell the wolves I’m home by Carol Rifka Brunt

 12875258Two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life – someone who will help her to heal and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. 

As the events unravel, the reader begins to see that June’s love for her uncle has grown into an unhealthy obsession. Not in a maniacal sort of way, but still not quite right. Even her sister Greta used to tease June that she was in love with her gay uncle and by going through the first half of the book, it’s hard not to question whether in fact it was true. Sure thing, June grieves about the loss of her closest friend and confidant, but her loss becomes a sort of compulsion.

She gets jealous – four-year-old kind of jealous – of a life that Finn has led without her. The character is slow to realize that Finn was gay. As it turns out, Finn’s sister (June’s mother) put her brother before a choice – he could keep in touch with the girls only without the involvement of his boyfriend.   June questions why would Finn keep his boyfriend secret, and while the homophobic attitudes of the family the answer is quite obvious. At one point June even gloats that Finn did not take his boyfriend Toby to the Cloisters Museum, where Finn and June used to go on their Sundays together.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home touches on many topics, perhaps too many to make it likable. It’s slow, at some points quite painfully so. June’s journey of self-discovery drags on and on, and the things that happen to her and the other characters (unfairness of life, judgments, loneliness etc etc) are quite tragic and yet Tell the Wolves I’m Home is no first-class drama, it’s a “meh” kind of book that did not leave either a positive or negative impression. It’s not a book that I would recommend, re-read or go see in cinemas if it gets an adaptation.



Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler.

There are books that draw you in and weave magic between the lines, there are books that25907472 are good, just good – not stellar that is, and then there are books that have brilliant storylines but lackluster execution. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin is one of those.

Yael’s experiences in the concentration camp made her forget her face, but etched the pain and sacrifices on her soul, making her a loose the grip of her emotions. The life in hiding also made Yale forget what it’s like to deal with humans, the interactions and emotions that come with. While she has been preparing for her insurgency for years, her first mission, and the fact that she has to deal with the results of actions of Adele Wolfe, the young woman whom she is impersonating.


Review: Spinglish by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf

An all-you-need dictionary of “spin,” with new and useful words for everyday and special occasions, by bestselling humor writers Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf.

How to succeed in business and politics and everything else without really lying. Spinglish is all about the countless elaborate ways we can say things that you’re sort of not not saying at all.

Some expressions were old, some were entirely new, like for instance the dozens of ways to say you’re fired. Spinglish is a pertinent, well-researched, and thoroughly enjoyable read. What I particularly loved is the fact some of the expressions included in Spinglish are fairly new, having appeared over the last couple of years. Fresh, funny and at times, sarcastic, the vocabulary is a definite must-buy for anyone interested in media, communications and language studies.

Overall: 5*

Release date June 2, 2015.

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*

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*

Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say “Agnes” and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.”

Burial Rites Hannah Kent Book coverInspired by a true story, Burial Rites is a haunting account of the the last months of the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Accused of murder of her former master and lover Natan Ketilsson, Agnes is forced to live with the family of a local farmer and spend her final weeks before the execution working as their servant. At the time, real prisons simply did not exist on the island.


First read of the year: the Golden Son

Thrilling. Gripping. Jaw-droppingly good. Pierce Brown’s Golden Son is a deliciously wild ride.


In the second installment of Red Rising trilogy, Darrow is drawn further and further into the lies and cruelty that rules the solar system. He is destined to break the chains and free the reds, his kin toiling in the mines of Mars. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, hell-bent on revenge for the death of his wife and the torment of his family. The wolf that makes a mistake, leaving to his downfall in the eyes of the society and an army of Bellona vultures waiting to devour him whole. The Sons of Ares, the secretive organization working to bring the society down are in complete disarray, their leader sends Darrow on a suicide mission on Luna. Instead, Darrow ignites a civil war.


Grisha trilogy: lighting up the house

Tumblr book recommendations have recently become somewhat of a habit. After Deathless photosets brought me to one of my all-time favorite books and Code Name Verity became one of the books that made my reading year, it was the time to start the Grisha Trilogy. The series that looked quite promising, sported some of the most beautiful cover artwork around and for some reason was called just like a pet name for George, only in Russian. Okay, okay… I’ll contain my Russian-knowing snobbishness…