Author Archives: Kaja

Having Kids in the 21st Century

Hello and welcome! It’s time for another discussion, we haven’t had any of these in a while, so I really need to get moving if I want to complete my Discussion Challenge (I’m participating again and if you want some really great discussions, head on over and click around a bit).

I normally only discuss bookish things around here – and while this discussion will touch on books, it’s of a more personal nature. Not that books aren’t personal to me, it’s just that my kids are more personal if you get me. If you’re new here, I have two kids, aged 2.5 years and 6 months (they share a birthday).

I was scrolling through the absolutely beautiful photos in this post the other day when it struck me how spoiled (or maybe just protected?) my kid was. It’s a sobering moment for any parent to realize their child isn’t the perfect little angel they thought s/he was, but I’m trying to go a bit deeper here.

Now, Kiddo is a great little person. He’s compassionate, kind, and very smart, and his temper tantrums can be chalked up to the fact that he’s 2.5 years old and it’s normal for kids that age to have temper tantrums.

But as I was looking through the photos of this Pakistani mining community, something jumped out at me. Now, I don’t know whether the kids in these photos are happy or not (I’m going to assume they are because my hormones are currently preventing me from imagining anything bad happening to kids), but they’re clearly not enjoying the same benefits of being middle-class citizens as my kid.

My kid, however, dissolved into tears last week because he wanted the orange jam on his toast, not the red one. We have daily battles on which t-shirt he’ll wear to kindergarten (because the stripy one from H&M is clearly inferior, Mom) and last night, he cried for a full five minutes because I wouldn’t let him eat double his usual dinner because I was afraid his tummy would hurt during the night.

What I’m getting at here is this: my kid’s troubles are superficial (aka First World Problems) because he’s never experienced what it’s like to really not have something. And thank whatever power there is out there for that. I’m grateful for our life every day.

But now I’m wondering how to instill some sense of worth in the (material and emotional) goods he has access to on a daily basis. How do you explain to a very young child that he should value his clean, dry, warm clothes because there are kids who don’t have the same privilege? How do I make him understand that turning up his nose at a perfectly good dinner is bad? How do I tell him that while my cuddles, love, and support are unconditional, not all children grow up in such an environment? And most of all (and this is the over-protective mother speaking), how do I do this while still protecting him?

Bookish person that I am, my first thought was to turn to books. I’m in search of picture books that feature diversity of this specific kind (we’ll tackle race and gender issues another day) without being over-the-top didactic. I know our local libraries and the Slovenian section of IBBY are preparing a list of children’s books that deal with the topic of immigrants, so I’ll definitely be making use of those, but I’d love more general suggestions.

I know that not many of my followers have children but in this day and age, social sensitivity is something we should all work towards, and where better to start than with our kids, right?

What’s your take on this? Do you have kids? How do you face similar problems?

Do you have any bookish recs for me?

I’l love to hear from you! :)

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Shifty Characters

It’s time for some discussing and some list making (because have you met me? I always make lists). I’m participating in the 2017 edition of the fabulous Discussion Challenge, which is a fantastic place to find more bookish discussions. The participants always have something interesting to say!

Today, I thought I’d say a word or two about my love for shifty characters: thieves, assassins, pirates, and so on.

It’s weird that I enjoy reading about these people so much when in real life, my worst “crime” was getting fined for jaywalking in high school (seriously, I’ve never even gotten a parking ticket, I’m distressingly honest and law-abiding. Okay, so there might have been some underage drinking and pot smoking but I’m a responsible adult now. *cough*). I can’t even say that I know any criminals – at any rate, I would do my best to avoid real-life hustlers and con (wo)men, let alone assassins, because they prey on innocent people and kill and engage in really bad behavior.

So why is it that I am so drawn to any book that has a morally questionable protagonist? I’m not even talking about villains here. It’s the main characters with shifty lifestyles that I love. The redeemable bad guys.

Probably it’s because I hate characters who are too good and pure to be true. I mean, I consider myself to be a fairly honest, good person, but I still get jealous, petty, and downright nasty (only when I’m hungry, though, promise).

So let’s consider the loveable bad guys and get some recommendations! Note that some of them fall into multiple categories (I mean, as if stealing wasn’t enough. Let’s add murder to the mix, right?).

Have you read any of these? Did you like the shifty characters?

What do you think makes them so great?

And do you have any recommendations for me?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published in January 2017 by Del Rey.

Links: Author. Goodreads. Amazon.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Del Rey for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: historical fantasy.

My rating:

‘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…

It’s been three weeks since my last post and I kind of wanted to do the whole Adele routine by giving you all sorts of reasons for my absence, but I’ll do that in the February recap post. Today, I just want to talk to you about The Bear and the Nightingale.

The Bear and the Nightingale is Arden’s debut and it’s a rich, powerful story. It’s heavily based on Russian folklore and I liked it a lot. To be honest, the only two things that bothered me were the relatively slow beginning (it takes the story a while to get going, but once it does, it really pulls you in) and the fact that it is not a standalone, which is what I thought it was when I started reading it.

Now, I’ve been known to start series left and right and I have about 40 going right at this moment (it’s a problem, I’m working on it), but Goodreads didn’t list it as a series when I started it and it wasn’t until after I’d finished it and was completely satisfied with the ending that I learned Arden was writing books 2 and 3. And while I loved the setting and would love to read more stories in that same world, I’m not sure how Vasya’s story will continue. Anyway, I’ll let the author surprise me.

But let’s talk about the good stuff instead. As I said, the worldbuilding was great. I’m always up for a fantasy story with a non-Western setting and Russian folklore is somewhat familiar to me (not in the sense that Slovenian folklore is similar but I’ve read a lot of Russian folk and fairy tales and I loved them), so I had a fun time recognizing the creatures and features of the world.

Arden’s writing is also rich and powerful, she paints the scenery with great attention to detail but I didn’t feel it bogged down the narrative, which was great. She’s a master at writing atmosphere, I think The Bear and the Nightingale should really be read in wintertime. It’s the perfect book for when it’s cold outside and you’re somewhere warm.

I liked Vasya, the girl protagonist, a lot. She’s a wild child with one foot firmly in the fairy world, misunderstood by her relatives and restricted by tradition. While she’s a young child, this wild streak is tolerable, but as she becomes a young woman, the society starts boxing her in. Her character development was great and it’s one of the reasons I’ll be continuing with the series – I’m curious to know more about the adult Vasya. I’m hoping she’ll be more proactive about her fate – it was hard for her to do anything drastic while she was a very young child but I sometimes felt she was a pawn on the chessboard of other, bigger forces, pushed around as they saw fit.

But Arden really writes great villains. Her antagonists (and yes, there’s more than one) are well-rounded personalities with motives that are never purely black, so it’s hard to hate them, even when they are absolutely loathsome. I’m not going to go into details and names here because it’s sort of spoilery, but let’s say I enjoyed them very much.

All in all, The Bear and the Nightingale was a very good historical fantasy, so if that’s your cup of tea, go for it. I’m hoping the sequel(s) will do it justice and I’m looking forward to exploring the world some more.

Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? What did you think?

What’s your favourite historical fantasy?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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My January

Oy, where has January disappeared to? Seriously, this month… it’s been a bit rough for me.

We started the year being sick. After the craziness that was December, we were all tired. My husband and mom got pneumonia, Baby had an ear infection and I had a sinus infection (all with a fever and antibiotics and feeling like we were run over by monster trucks). It took us two weeks to really kick the bastard bacteria’s ass and by then, we were behind with everything in life. We haven’t even sent Christmas cards yet. *hangs head in shame*

So we’ve basically been playing catch-up and trying to get our life in order. And now I have another cold that has me wondering whether we were really rid of the sickness at all. My voice is gone and I want to sleep all day but I have so much work to do. It’s not even all work-work, it’s just the general household chores that come with having two small kids. It’s kind of overwhelming at times. But we’ll push through this, just like we always do.

In Baby news: he’s grown so much. One of the best things is seeing his round little face light up when he wakes up from his nap and I come into his field of vision. I think he’s teething, which means he’s not sleeping well (cue tired laughter). He’s been going to bed at 10.30 pm this past week instead of at 8.00 as was our habit a month ago. We’ve started trying some solid food (carrot, potato, and rice cereal), and he’s really excited about it, even though he sometimes still chokes on it and scares the crap out of us (seriously, babies are scary).

In Kiddo news: I think he’s really smart, this one. It’s impossible to tell with really young kids because the differences always level themselves out by the time they get to school but he’s curious and happy and bright, which is everything. Current obsessions include breakfast cereal (similar to cocoa puffs) that turn his milk to cocoa, T-Rex, and combine harvesters. Last night, I heard him talking in his sleep – I couldn’t understand what he was saying but it sounded really important. Kids are awesome.

In personal news: I just want to sleep. Honestly, that’s all I’m asking for. :) You can probably guess that all this craziness means I’m in a major blogging slump right now. I’m not going anywhere but neither will I force myself to blog when there are a million other things that need my attention first. I promised myself I’d stress less this year, so this is me working on that. Honestly, just writing all of this down has been a major help. Ahh, the power of words…

I’ve been on a bread-making kick lately. Yes, I baked the bread in the photo up there. And it was really good! I’ve been baking both white and whole wheat/spelt breads and it’s been really soothing. There’s something relaxing in watching flour and water turn into something yummy. Does anyone have any favorite bread recipes? I’d love to try new ones.

Reading

I am sadly out of date with my book reviews. I have books I read in November and December that I really want to review but I haven’t had the time or motivation to do so. It doesn’t help that so far, none of the books I’ve read this year have been 5-star reads. Slumpity  slump.

My January books include The Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, which is probably the best book I read this month but still not as good as Six of Crows. Speaking of sequels, Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton has been such a disappointment! I got to read the ARC and could hardly make my way through it. I’m so sad, I liked Rebel of the Sands a lot. I read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, probably one of the most hyped-up January fantasy releases. It was good, really good, but I thought it would be a standalone (hint: it’s not).

I discovered Julie James, whose romances came highly recommended by Quinn, and I loved both It Happened One Wedding and Suddenly One Summer. I’ll definitely be mining her backlist for feel-good romances with lots of banter and mature characters (seriously, I love NA but sometimes I just can’t deal with all the angst). I also read Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, the sequel to a m/m hockey romance, Him, and it was better than the first part, which is always a bonus.

You know I very rarely speak about non-fiction here, but if you can get your hands on the January issue of the US edition of National Geographic, please do. It’s all about gender and it’s incredibly interesting. I didn’t know so many of those things and the topic is so important. As a bonus, the portraits are heartbreakingly beautiful. If you can’t get the physical copy, lots of stuff is here.

A winter selfie because it’s been a while since you’ve seen my face around here.

What I wrote this month:

Blogging Resolutions 2017 – The One Memory of Flora Banks review – The Republic of Thieves review (finally!) – How Not to Fall series review. Not a lot, but more than I thought I did.

How have you been lately? Is 2017 kicking your ass or has it been smooth sailing so far? 

Do you have any good pick-me-up 5-star books to recommend?

I’d love to hear from you, as always. I appreciate you all being here. *hug*

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Blogging Resolutions 2017

Wow, the beginning of 2017 has been crazy around here, we’ve all gone through a serious combination of illnesses (including pneumonia) but we’re okay now. This is why I’m only posting these today. Better late than never, eh?

My blogging resolutions for 2017

  • Complete my challenges.
  • Comment back more (and keep up to date on my own comments).
  • Not stress as much – this one is a must.
  • Read 3 classics, 3 French books, 3 Slovenian books, and 3 translations.
  • Keep my NetGalley ratio at 80% or higher – I did really well last year and I don’t want to do worse this year.
  • Stick to 3-to-1 rule for buying books and 2-to-1 rule for starting new series.
  • Review ARCs within the week of their publication date.
  • Review all old (read in 2016) books by the end of January (this is going to be hard, so let’s say February 15).
  • Finish at least 7 series.
  • Blog twice a week.
  • Read more diverse books.
  • Have 3 posts written as a buffer at all times – this is hard but takes off so much pressure!
  • Allow myself to DNF more – because life’s too short to read books I don’t like.

And that’s it! 

What are your resolutions for 2017? Do you even make them?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
Published in January 2017 by Penguin.

Links: Author. Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Penguin for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA contemporary.

My rating:

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a strange, claustrophobic story. Flora has a medical condition that prevents her new memories from sticking, so she forgets everything that happens to her almost instantly. Her overprotective parents understandably hover over her every move and her friends (especially her best friend Paige) help her by explaining things to her when she gets confused.

Flora writes everything in her journals, takes photos with her phone, and writes messages for herself on her arms so that when she finds herself lost and blank, she can read everything she’s written and find her way again. When you think about it, it’s a horrifying condition that makes me anxious just by thinking about it. I had a brief moment of unease when I was reading it because I imagined not remembering my kids – my mind is the most valuable thing I have and not being able to rely on it is deeply scary for me.

Flora’s last memories before the illness that caused her condition were of her being ten years old, so she’s basically a child in a young woman’s body. But she has wishes and thoughts of a teenager, too, and ends up kissing her friend’s ex-boyfriend on the night of his departure for Svalbard (he’s going to study there). The next morning, she wakes up and, inexplicably, remembers the kiss.

Convinced the boy will help her fix her memory and left alone in the house because her parents left to visit her older brother, whom she barely remembers, she packs up her things, buys a plane ticket, and travels right to Svalbard, though she has to keep checking her journal because she keeps forgetting what she’s doing. It’s a mad plan concocted by someone who is not thinking very clearly, but it’s also the bravest thing she could do, because she’s so very alone.

This is all I’m saying about the plot. I liked the story, I liked the plot twist, and even though the thought of being/becoming like Flora made my stomach clench painfully, I enjoyed reading about Flora’s thought processes. I’ve never read a story with a similar mental problem before – sure, you get amnesia, which is also scary AF, but is usually not permanent in the way Flora’s condition seems to be. Flora is also a cool young lady, though it was difficult to really get to know her, especially since she’s both a child and a young adult, and has very little sense of self apart from the journals she keeps.

The mystery surrounding Flora’s condition, her brother’s messages, hidden and confusing, the bright light of summertime Svalbard – all the elements are geared towards creating a slightly paranoid, claustrophobic environment that complements Flora’s sense of disorientation quite perfectly. I think Barr did very well with writing the right atmosphere for Flora’s story.

What bothered me is actually an inherent part of the story: the constant repetition of known facts. Every time Flora’s memory is lost, she goes over the basics – how old she is, what she’s doing, who she’s with, etc. As this happens multiple times a day, reading about it can become slightly tedious, though I then felt like an asshole for begrudging Flora her repetitions. I don’t know if the author could have done things differently without hammering home the effect of Flora’s memory loss, but I thought the constant litany of basic facts became too stretched out.

It’s also hard to imagine how this story would actually go down in real life. This is a contemporary story, which usually means: “Hey, this could happen any day, right around the corner.” I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean. I just think that overprotective parents would not leave such a confused child on her own (even if her best friend promised she’d check on her). She was still a minor and prone to wandering off. Also, how did nobody at the airport(s) notice her strange behaviour? How did she get all the way to Svalbard without attracting the attention of officials? Eh, I don’t know. I just had trouble believing everything.

All in all (wow, this review is longer than I thought, thanks for sticking with me!), this was a good contemporary story about disability, friendship, and bravery, with a twist of mystery thrown in. I’d recommend it if you’re intrigued by her condition, which was superbly rendered, and like a bit of ominous anticipation in your contemporaries.

Have you read The One Memory of Flora Banks? What did you think?

Can you recommend any books with similarly intriguing mental problems (OK I know that sounds horrible when I put it like that but you know what I mean)?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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