books · features · shanti

The Bookish Planet: The Castle

it’s time for another installment of The Bookish Planet, the feature where we give a guided tour of settings seen in a lot of books. Today, the feature is The Castle. They are often found in Magical Forests, within fantasy kingdoms. The Castle is exciting, magnificent, sometimes crumbling, sometimes lavish. No matter which castle you end up in, something exciting will be going on.

Continue reading “The Bookish Planet: The Castle”

shanti · writing

Beautiful Books: Writing progress

Hi Virtually Readers! The end of November, and hence NaNoWriMo, is approaching. I have been writing…despite the fact that my laptop died and all I had to write on for three weeks was my phone or that laptop I borrowed at work. Yes, I have become the person who works on her novel instead of doing work, and I don’t feel at all guilty about it. Anyway, I FINALLY got a wireless keyboard, and then I arrived home and have a new laptop, and so I have definitely upped my productivity on my novel. I’m feeling…okay about it. So I’m linking up with Sky @ Further Up and Further In  and Cait @ Paper Fury for their Beautiful Books feature, where you talk about a novel you’re writing. You can see my post for last month here. Oh, and I thought of a title, or at least a working title: it’s called Skies Contained!
Continue reading “Beautiful Books: Writing progress”

shanti · writing


Hey Virtually Readers! As you may know I do some creative writing from time to time and I do so love it. (I also suck). I turned eighteen a few weeks ago, and among several goals for this year, I want to write two first drafts and edit two more manuscripts. Let’s see how that goes. I want to get Entreaty to a place where I’m happy to get feedback from people, and after visiting Thailand I feel all inspired to rewrite Lighter Places with a better setting and stronger characters (though I don’t think the plot will need such big changes). Anyway, I’m writing something totally different, an as-of-yet unnamed fantasy novel that will be part of a trilogy, for NaNoWriMo this year so I thought I’d link up with Beautiful Books, hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further up and Further in, to talk about it. Continue reading “Beautiful Books: NANOWRIMO IS WAY TOO SOON”

book review · books

The Bear and the what now?

A few months ago, I read The Bear and the Nightingale, a story completely saturated in Russian myth, so much that it forms its own kind of myth. The details that the author put in as an expert–she has a degree in Russian studies–formed a nuanced picture of medieval Russia. However, I wasn’t that invested in the story or the perspective.

31344916‘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. blurb from goodreads

The pacing of the narrative is such that the action is focused really on the last third of the book, so the first two thirds merely detail the world in which Vasya, the heroine, grows up. Along the way, we’re treated to a close third for a variety of perspectives, which humanizes all secondary characters (other than Mozorko, perhaps) I love how the pieces of Vasya’s life added together to her narrative arc, but I struggled with her character. TBatN is a chosen one story: evil rising, magic birthed, trials, tribulations, friends, enemies, and obviously, a bittersweet sacrifice oriented ending. A good story; a formula which works for a reason. But Vasya is an uncompelling heroine—in fact, I found Konstantin, Anna, and Pyotr more interesting than her. Maybe I’m growing up, or maybe Vasya, a cardboard cutout, far-too-perfect Strong Female heroine is too bland. I completely failed to identify with her.
I’ve read several stories of Russia in the last few weeks, and it seems to me that Russia is the setting for more stories written by non-Russians than, say, Uganda, Malaysia, or Vanuatu. The Bear and the Nightingale exemplifies why (according to me), its such a popular setting. For one thing, Russia is an ‘East meets West’ place (and I know those dichotomies are Eurocentric). It’s not the US or Western Europe—it’s a little bit exotic, but similar enough to still be recognizable to the average media consumer, and it has myths that the West does not share, and medieval Russians wear dresses, but they’re called sarafans! How strange, but not weird, right? The endless, mostly empty plains, and the frosty forests add to the appeal too—the blank space is unexplored! (not really) but it practically begs for a story. Russian history is rich, too, and it has enough connections to the familiar Western European history that it turns up in lots of accessible Western TV shows and educational sources (including, say, degree programs at universities). TBatN, in rural medieval Russia, with a forest to explore and myths and details to pop out, along with mentions of Khans, totally shows my theory (which is right, obviously). And it’s not that I mind—Russia is fascinating—but food for thought.
TBatN is heavily critical of religion, particularly the abstract forced kind, which it implies much of Eastern Orthodox was at the time of the story (which to be fair, considering historical context and the devastation that Christianiy has wreaked on fold cultures worldwide is probably true). However, I hope religion and its role in daily life get a bit more nuance in the next bok. (which had an intriguing extract at the end of my copy).
tl;dr: The Bear and the Nightgale: Russia cold. Vasya boring. Story obvious (but still appealing.)

Have you read this? What’s a story you enjoyed that is set in Russia? tell me in the comments!

books · discussions · features · shanti

Setting in Stone 5: Devilish Details

Welcome back, Virtually Readers, to Setting in Stone, the best discussion series ever probably. Some months ago, I read a fantasy book with four states explicitly named: a fantasy equivalent Russia, where the book was set, a fantasy equivalent France, Persia, and China. In terms of technology which the characters had, this was probably in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Then, a character drank rum. Rum is made from sugar, and at the time (as far as I know) was grown in the Caribbean, by slaves. (and if you want to know more about this, read a Tom Standage book). I did not like said book, for a whole host of reasons (and if you want to know which book it is, go stalk my ‘meh’ shelf on goodreads), but one of the reasons was the author’s ignorance of detail. Continue reading “Setting in Stone 5: Devilish Details”

books · features · Shar

The Bookish Planet: Magical Forests

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s time for another Bookish Planet, your guide to literary locales. Today, inspired by my love of Into the Woods (seriously, Into the Woods is ridiculously good and you should watch/listen to it if you at all get the chance), I’m giving a brief introduction to an excellent setting for books, the Magical Forest. The Magical Forest is known for having trees and magic. Basically it’s like its name. All sorts of dodgy and wonderful stuff can happen inside. bookish planet


Description: You’ll know you’re in a magical forest when there are trees and there is magic. It’s not too hard to work out. You may also find magical beings, like fairies or witches; plot creators, like trolls or evil queens; magic sources; magic portals; swords; unsolved mysteries; fairy tales; and, most dangerous of all, potions. You may be in the Magical Forest because you’re participating in a plot, or else perhaps an innocent bystander who thought it would be a nice place for a holiday. Either way, you’ll probably end up in a story. The forest is, in a word, atmospheric; there are shafts of light filtering through ancient trees, thick undergrowth, old paths, beautiful maidens and so on. Within your literary explorations, you’re probably more likely to find a Magical Forest in European based fantasy books, but it can be part of other traditions too. The best things about Magical Forests is that they can be anywhere where there are both trees and magic, an easy criteria to fill in fantasy stories. There are always new places to explore; you can never fully know the Magical Forest, and that is one of the most enchanting reasons to visit. Continue reading “The Bookish Planet: Magical Forests”

books · discussions · Shar

Books and Series I don’t Ever Plan to Read

There are obviously plenty of books in the world I’m never going to read—for example, medical textbooks or random erotica books or biographies of Abraham Lincoln—but that’s fairly obvious. This post isn’t about these books. This post is about YA books, most of which I think are popular, but I will not read. Because I like to be controversial like that.


  1. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

I actually read the first book about two years ago and mainly liked it. But it’s a really long series and I don’t want to commit, plus I’ve already been spoiled about Aelin. For some reason I just don’t want to read it?


  1. A Court of Thorns and Rose series by Sarah J. Maas

I know a lot of people really love this, but I just don’t want to read it. One of my friends said all the sex made her kind of uncomfortable and I’d rather not read that, plus it’s actually NA and not YA, and for ever post on instagram I’ve seen about how good these are, there’s another one talking about bad representation and erasure. So, no.


  1. Magnus Chase series by Rick Riordan

I just don’t want to commit to this series, basically. (Apparently, I have commitment issues). I liked Percy Jackson when I read it, I liked The Heroes of Olympus, I liked The Red Pyramid (although I don’t plan on finishing that series either), I liked the Trials of Apollo and I do want to finish it, but I guess I’m kind of growing out of Rick Riordan. (I mean, my eight year old sister loves him). And there are just books I’d rather read.


  1. Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater

You can read my full rant review here, but I think it is NEVER, NEVER a good idea to give someone meningitis. Even if you have a good reason for it. Even if you think it’s a good idea. It’s not.

Shanti tells me the series improves in subsequent books, but I just don’t want to find out. I liked The Raven Cycle, and I LOVED The Scorpio Races, but I just don’t want to read this one.


  1. Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

This is, in all probability, a perfectly good book. But I just don’t want to read it. I really like the songs from Hamilton, and I think it deserves a lot of its success but I feel like this book is basically only going to sell because of people liking Hamilton. Like, the author probably wouldn’t have thought of writing it if Hamilton wasn’t that successful. And it just kind of seems like the book is making money because of Hamilton, and that it wouldn’t if Hamilton didn’t exist. And for some reason, this really puts me off a YA version of Alexander and Eliza Schulyer’s love story. Go figure.


  1. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (because Atticus is racist + it might not have been obtained very ethically?), the rest of the Skullduggery Pleasant series by Derek Land (too long, not interested enough), the second half of the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson (I was willingly spoiled).


What are some books you don’t ever plan on reading? Why? Do you disagree with any on my list?





books · discussions · shanti

Moving on Companionably; on companion novels

Hello Virtually Readers! So in the last few weeks I’ve read several sets of companion novels. The first was the Six Impossiverse series by Fiona Wood, three contemporary stories featuring Australians. The second was Dramatically Ever After, the sequel to Bookishly Ever After, which I liked even more than the first book. I’m also partway through What I Thought Was True, a companion novel to My Life Next Door and the Boy Most Likely To. These are all companion novels, so I thought I’d talk a little more about what companion novels are and are not today. Yay!


So what is a companion novel? Without any research, I can tell you that it’s a book that’s in the same universe as other books by the same author, but usually featuring different characters and different themes. Some series do have changing protagonists, so what makes companion series different from normal series is that a companion novel does not continue the overarching plot of the main series.

The Six Impossiverse and the Ever After books are two examples of how companion series can work. The Six Impossiverse has three books, so far. The first one focuses on themes of family and friendship, the second on ideas of identity and loss, the third on identity, but in a much more specific way, poverty, and belief. Each book has a similar format, though, focusing on one or two characters struggles over about a term in the Australian school system, leading up to some ‘big event’ or ‘realisation’ at the end (which is pretty typical for stories anyway). There is one character who appears in all three books, and quite a few who appear in the second and third book (by publication order). Basically, the themes and characters are different, but the format and content are the same.


In the Ever After books, only two of which are out so far, the themes of identity, new relationships, and confidence in yourself remain between the two books. They have a similar ‘feel’ of coziness and fun, but the characters are different. In Bookishly Ever After, the story is set partially during the term and then during a summer camp, with excerpts from various (fake) YA novels. Dramatically Ever After is set a few months later, focusing on Phoebe’s best friend, and set (mostly) over the course of a week at a conference which Em is attending, with excerpts from emails and social media chats.

These are two ways to write companion novels, and both make quite a lot of sense. One is to keep the themes the same but vary the characters, content, and format. The other is to have similar formats but to make the style and themes quite different. There are probably other ways to do it—for example with companion series like Cassandra Clare or Tamora Pierce’s books, the idea of becoming yourself and conquering a war or evil remains, but in totally different ways.

I like reading companion novels for a lot of reason. For one, it’s really nice to get ‘updates’ on where your characters are. With contemporary novels, authors often feel compelled to create ‘drama’ in sequels, break up friendships and couples for the sake of plot, and that’s kind of irritating if you ask me. So I like the this way, that doesn’t have to happen. In fantasy books, or even contemporary, it’s interesting to see a different perspective on the same events, or a different part or time of the world. Contemporary novels make all the other books in the series richer. But because there are often big shifts in characters, content matter, or themes, and each novel can stand by itself, I don’t feel like I have to read the whole series to know how the story goes.


The lines can get a bit blurred—for example, Morgan Matson’s books contain cameos from her other series but I’m not sure if that is enough to count as companion novels, because those easter eggs don’t necessarily make a story richer. In the same way, with My Life Next Door and The Boy Most Likely To, the two books have basically the same set of characters and are set very closely in time and place, but with different key characters and themes—TBMLT is ultimately a lot grittier. And so far, What I Thought Was True seems to be almost totally separate. Gemina and Illuminae are companions in the sense that the main characters change, but the overarching plot of evil BeiTech remains. So the line can blur quite easily. Companion novels are interesting for this reason, and as such, and integral part of the discussion about series and why they’re good and why they’re irritating (the story just goes on!)

What do you think of companion novels? What are some of your favourite ones? Tell me in the comments.

shanti · tags

Beauty and the Beast tag

Hi Virtually Readers! The lovely Holly at Nut Free Nerd tagged us for the Beauty and the Beast book tag (thanks, Holly–you can read her post here ) and so that is what you get to read today. I watched the movie when it came out and mostly liked it and OH MY GOSH the music. I found that it was very visually saturated but overall enjoyable and Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are cool.

Look at my ugly handwriting but also the beautiful Laini Taylor books

Oh What a Guy, Gaston (a villain you can’t help but love)

I don’t really go for villains. But I thought Declan, from Letters to the Lost, was really interesting, because he was seen as a villain, and he really struggled not to fit those stereotypes, which took a lot of effort. He’s a wonderfully complex, imperfect character who I loved reading about.

Here’s Where She Meets Prince Charming (your OTP)

If myself with Nealan of Queenscove doesn’t count (it doesn’t), I would have to say that Puck and Sean from The Scorpio Races are great. They’re so silent but also they neeeeed each other.

I Want Much More Than This Provincial Life (a character destined for bigger things)

Princess Anya, from Frogkisser! is just an ordinary Princess ina tiny kingdom. But as she enters her quest, she ends up being involved in a whole lot of things she didn’t expect. This book is really fun, and if you like middle-grade quirky fantasy, read it.

Be Our Guest (a book that makes you hungry)

I’ve only just started it, but North of Happy begins each chapter with the ingredients of a recipe and I love that a lot, and it makes me long for all sorts of food that often I haven’t even heard of before.

Beauty and the Beast (Opposites attract)

This one, to me, is really obvious: Karou and Akiva from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I’m not going to say why they’re opposites, because it’s a spoiler, but they come from totally different worlds and their relation is adorable.

I’m taking a break from tagging people, but if you want to do this, go for it. Have you watched Beauty and the Beast? What’s your favourite song? Pair it with a book in the comments!

book review · books · shanti

Review: Nemesis

Anna Banks convinced me to read this by tweeting ‘If you like feisty runaway princesses who enchant and fluster a boy king to no end, you should check out NEMESIS.’ It sounded like my thing, I was in the mood for fantasy, and there was a silver girl on the cover. The library delivered it to me in a few days, and I really liked it. The tension between the different characters was brilliant, the fantasy didn’t waste it’s time explaining, and there were discussions of power and fighting and equality. Continue reading “Review: Nemesis”