The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 by Jennifer M. Rampling
“Alchemy is the art of manipulating life, and consciousness in matter, to help it evolve, or to solve problems of inner disharmonies“. Jean Dubuis
“I had discovered, early in my researches, that [alchemists’] doctrine was no mere chemical fantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements, and to man himself”. William Butler Yeats, Rosa Alchemica
Alchemy, an ancient, mysterious practice of transmuting base metals and finding the Elixir of Life, is a fascinating subject to read about, and I previously talked about alchemy in art.This new book traces the history of alchemy in England from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, illuminating “the role of alchemical reading and experimental practice in the broader context of national and scientific history“. The great thing abut this book is that Jennifer Rampling uses “new manuscript sources” to support her arguments, and emphasises “how English alchemy was continually [reinventing itself] over the space of four centuries, resulting in changes to the science...”
I have been putting off reading this popular book for ages and this maybe because I have such high expectations of it. Unfortunately, it is now a “topical” book too since it deals with a plague spreading in the year 1666. We follow housemaid Anna Frith as she tries to come to grips with her town’s horrific situation and all the scapegoating and witch-hunts that are ongoing. The novel was inspired by a true case of the English village Eyamand boasts some 400 pages.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Perhaps I have not read this book yet because it is so popular and I am afraid to be disappointed. The premise appeals to me: “Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself?…Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision” (Goodreads). In the past, such “magical” books as The Night Circus and The Book of Flying also fell well below my expectations.
I previously wrote inone of my posts that F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to title his novel The Great Gatsby as Trimalchio in West Egg and that Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was originally titled First Impressions. In this post I look at ten other books that changed their original titles.
I. 1984 by George Orwell
Original Title:The Last Man in Europe
George Orwell titled his most famous book The Last Man in Europe before his publisher intervened and suggested 1984. Allegedly, the author also tweaked with the title for Animal Farm .
II. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Original Title: Catch-11orCatch-18
Heller seriously considered calling his satirical book either Catch-11 or Catch-18. However, because, in 1961, at the moment of the publication, there was already something titled Ocean’s 11 (the original heist film with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin), as well Leon Uris’ novel Mila 18 , Heller and his publisher finally settled for Catch-22. The reasoning was that, after all, 22 is simply 11 doubled.
I saw this meme at Golden Books Girl and the original author is The Broke and and the Bookish. It challenges one to name 10 favourite books from one’s childhood (I listed 12 because why not). Although my childhood was spent in Russia, I read a lot of books from foreign-language authors (translated to Russian, of course). I did not read Harry Potter as a child since when I finally got my hands on a translated-to-Russian edition of the first book (probably in the very early 2000s) I was already in the “middle adolescence” age group. My childhood and YA books were generally fairy-tales and adapted-to-a-young-reader stories of Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist), Jack London (The Sea-Wolf), Robert Louis Stevenson (The Black Arrow), Jules Verne (Journey to the Centre of the Earth) and Mayne Reid (Osceola the Seminole). I also read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was in middle school. So, in no particular order:
I. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
I had a very colourfully-illustrated version of this book, and though I don’t remember much of the plot now, I do recall its vivid characters: Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad & Mr. Badger, as well as a sense of adventure. The book has some moral messages (such as on the importance of friendship), and fosters a sense of wonder at nature (the setting is a riverbank).
This is a list of five books which I am eager to read in 2021. As usual, I am drawing attention to books from different genres: (i) literary fiction; (ii) non-fiction; (iii) thriller; (iv) dark mystery/horror; and (v) historical fiction.
I. Klara & The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he won his Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. The Penguin Random House says on its website that this new novel “tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?“. Obviously, my expectations are sky high regarding this book and I think Ishiguro can pull this one off beautifully since he previously distinguished himself as the author of a literary “dystopia” Never Let Me Go  and his books often emphasise the pains of love and missed opportunities. My only hope is that he would not follow the path of Ian McEwan and his Machines Like Me  and keep his narrative “grounded” and “subtle”.
I am continuing my contribution to the Non-Fiction November Initiative with the list below of seven most fascinating “history of medicine” non-fiction books.
I. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
Lindsey Fitzharris’s book on British surgeon Joseph Lister and the transformation of the Victorian medicine is an unputdownable book that introduces the reader to the astonishing medical practices that people expected in the 19th century. In times when the “germ” theory was deemed “implausible” and when hospitals were places with unsanitary conditions, one man challenged the traditional way of looking at operations and diseases that follow open wounds. I cannot praise this book highly enough.
I don’t review fantasy books often, but I do read and enjoy them (see my reviews of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Night Circus). I love fantasy novels that are well-written, characterised and that take me to magical places. Below I am sharing five fantasy books that are currently on my TBR list and that I am excited to read in the near future.
I. The Gray House  by Mariam Petrosyan
“Rowling meets Rushdie via Tartt…Nothing short of life-changing.”The Guardian
The Gray House is an Armenian author’s debut which she published in Russia in 2009 to a critical and popular acclaim. Translated from the Russian by Yuri Machkasov, this book has been described as a magical realist saga about disabled students who live in the House under the direction of the Outsiders. With references to Russian folklore (a house that is alive) and popular Soviet literature, the tale takes a sinister turn when students deaths pile up and the leaders of the House struggle to maintain their control and power.
Maybe because I have a twin brother myself I have always been fascinated by twins and especially how they are presented in literature. Some narratives focus on the differences between identical twins (one “evil” and another “good”) or on the infernal competition between them, while others are more realistic and emphasise brotherly love or the pain of separation. A pair of twins has always represented something mysterious, poorly understood, and even eerie and unsettling. The level of this close emotional bond between identical twins can hardly be comprehended for someone born without a twin. What is it really like growing up with another human being beside you who looks exactly like you? Below, in no particular order, are 7 fiction books that focus on identical twins or on the consequences of having an identical twin in one’ s life:
I. The Separation  by Christopher Priest
This book is the book about identical twins since every imaginable and unimaginable scenario involving them is explored, including mistaken identity and a battle for one girl. At the centre here are two brothers who find themselves on the eve of the WWII – one becomes a RAF pilot and another is a conscientious objector. Their destinies play out in a curious manner, and Priest employs sci-fi elements and the alternative history trope to make the story more intriguing. Continue reading ““Double Trouble”: 7 Books That Focus on Identical Twins”→
“If there is one sure thing about food, it is that it is never just food [in books]. Like the post-structuralist text, food is endlessly interpretable, as gift, threat, poison, recompense, barter, seduction, solidarity, suffocation” (Terry Eagleton). Below is the list of 10 fiction books that include food as part of their narrative/descriptions or revolve around food/its preparation. Food can play different roles in a book, such as emphasise the character’s belonging to a particular culture or simply be there to stress the coming of people together, such as at a dinner table, where they can form or cement their relationships.
Food/its preparation is everywhere in this heart-warming novel by Japanese author Durian Sukegawa. In this case, it is delicious home-made dorayaki (Japanese red-bean pancakes), which the main character decides to cook at his street stall and employs an elderly woman with a secret to help him. Both subtle and powerful, this short novel stresses the love for good food, as well as the importance of friendship and the fight against societal discrimination.
II. Chocolat  by Joanne Harris
This book is about Vianne Rocher, a single mother who arrives to one provincial French town and opens there a chocolaterie. The novel explores such themes as the mother-daughter relationship, discrimination and hypocrisy, and all in the background of sumptuous chocolate and chocolate-making descriptions. The film of 2000 with Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp and Judi Dench is a perfect companion to this book. Continue reading “10 Fiction Books Featuring Food”→
First, I would like to wish a Merry Christmas to all my followers and may the New Year bring happiness and only the best to you and your families! Here is the list of my 5 most anticipated books of 2020. I wanted to draw attention to a diverse range of books, so I am presenting a literary thriller, a fantasy, a family saga, a contemporary novel and a non-fiction book.
I.The Truants by Kate Weinberg (Release Date: 28 January 2020)
This book is supposed to have similarities with both Agatha Christie and Donna Tartt’s works, so it immediately shot to my list of anticipated books. I first spotted The Truants on Rachel’s site Pace, Amore, Libri, and this debut thriller is “set in an English [sic] university, [following] a group of friends as they become entangled under the influence of a mesmerizing professor” (Goodreads). The description hints at Tartt’s The Secret History, and I hope there will be more instances of originality in the book and maybe something unexpected even. I do not really want to see a second If We Were Villains , which, in my opinion, strayed too closely to Tartt’s novel. Maybe that is what I will get, but the mention of Agatha Christie keeps me hopeful.
II. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Release Date: 15 September 2020)
Words cannot describe my excitement for this book. I am a huge fan of Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I recommend to everyone, and Piranesi is a novel coming after the 15 years’ wait. I think it is unrelated to Jonathan Strange’s story and the summary is as following: “Piranesi has always lived in the House. It has hundreds if not thousands of rooms and corridors, imprisoning an ocean. A watery labyrinth. Once in a while he sees his friend, The Other, who needs Piranesi for his scientific research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi records his findings in his journal. Then messages begin to appear; all is not what it seems. A terrible truth unravels as evidence emerges of another person and perhaps even another world outside the House’s walls” (Bloomsbury). Continue reading “My 5 Most Anticipated Books of 2020”→
I do not read many graphic novels/comic books, but, once in awhile, I love reading thought-provoking or emotional graphic novels that introduce me to another culture, way of seeing the world, an interesting central character or to a mystery to consider and possibly solve. Below are ten comic books that I enjoyed reading in recent years (they are in no particular order).
The creators of this graphic novel are twin brothers from Brazil who were ambitious enough to make their graphic novel about life and what it means to live, hope, love and have no regrets in life. The opposite of this is to despair and not be brave enough to follow one’s dreams. The creators’ slightly transcendental journey centres on one obituary writer in Sao Paulo who learns his life lessons by experiencing his life in reverse or sometimes jumping through his life events. Emotional, with deep and important messages, Daytripper is a very memorable book that stays with you.
II. V for Vendetta [1982 – 1989] by Alan Moore & David Lloyd
I am not indifferent to the vision of Alan Moore, a British comic writer. His graphic novels are often very insightful and thought-provoking, grappling with interesting issues (such as personal revenge and redemption), and introducing intricate, often misunderstood and complex characters. They also provide for great film adaptations. V for Vendetta may now be better known as the 2005 film, but, in my opinion, the graphic novel has a subtler and more realistic vision, as well as more coherent picture in place, as it introduces a dystopian setting that can rival Orwell’s 1984 and – V, a mysterious character whose extreme methods at doing away with the unfair regime would push our sympathies for him and his cause to the very limit. Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Graphic Novels/Comic Books”→
I spotted this meme at Kath Reads(it was created by The Broke and the Bookish), and decided to also post my answers to it. We may be avoiding reading certain books on our TBR lists for a variety of (rational and not-so-rational) reasons. We may feel that we simply must be in the right mood for certain books or have enough time in our planners to finish really heavy tomes. Below are ten books from my TBR list which I have been avoiding reading because (i) they are too big and/or complex; or (ii) I receive conflicting messages whether I would love them; or (iii) I want to love them, but I am afraid I will not (for example, because I loved an author’s previous work), etc.
I. 2666  by Roberto Bolaño
The sheer size and complexity of 2666 mean that I keep avoiding reading it. Bolaño’s last book is 1126 pages’ long, and its themes are manifold. It talks about ongoing murders of women in one violent city, but also touches upon the World War II, mental illness, journalism and the breakdown of relationships and careers, among other themes – a monumental work, in many respects.
I think it is the perfect time in the year to get cosy in a warm place with one’s preferred hot beverage and read a novel by Ira Levin (1929-2007), an American master of psychological suspense, who was capable of expertly evoking the horror out of the mundane and everyday situations, providing thrills and surprises no one expects. I have always been a fan of his books, which also translate marvellously onto the screen (for example, see Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby  or Forbes’ film The Stepford Wives ). Below are Levin’s novels in the order of my enjoyment of them (meaning that the ranking is not based on any objective criteria, but on my own perception of their merit).
This is my favourite novel of Ira Levin. It is masterfully suspenseful and completely immersive. In this story, Rosemary Woodhouse is a happily married woman living in New York City with her husband Guy, who is an aspiring actor. Upon moving into a prestigious apartment block Bramford, the couple makes friends with their neighbours next door Minnie and Roman Castevet, an elderly couple. Soon after, Rosemary notices strange, overly-friendly behaviour of their neighbours, and Guy’s demeanour also changes. When Rosemary’s becomes pregnant with her first child, her suspicions escalate also because of her very unusual pregnancy; but are her suspicions simply the result of her active imagination or stem from some fact she simply finds hard to accept? Continue reading “Ira Levin’s Novels: Ranked”→
I love reading science-fiction – reading these books is like entering an exciting parallel universe where your imagination fires up (for example, see this list of My 10 Favourite Science-Fiction/Dystopian Books or my reviews of the work of Philip K. Dick – A Scanner Darkly, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch& A Maze of Death). However, for some reason, when I started reading (read) the sci-fi books below I either did not get far or did not particularly like them after I finished them. I realise that some of the books below are very popular and beloved by many and, therefore, I want to give them a second chance – either to re-read them or pick up where I left off and finish them.
I. Station Eleven  by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is a very popular dystopian book, but I did not progress far in it. The book’s beginning did not pull me in (and only made me want to re-watch Soderbergh’s film Contagion ). However, I realise it has much to offer, and I want to start it again. The synopsis to this book reads that it is “set in the days of civilisation’s collapse“…and “tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be saviour, and a nomadic group of actors“. The beginning is about the death of a Hollywood actor on stage, after which the story moves “back and forth in time“, becoming “a suspenseful, elegiac and spellbinding novel” (Goodreads).
Emily St. John Mandel has another novel coming in 2020 titled The Glass Hotel, and I am looking forward to reading it. The Glass Hotel is described as “a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York…” (Goodreads). Continue reading “5 Sci-Fi/Dystopian Books I Want to Give a Second Chance”→
It is hard to believe that this Booker Prize-winning novel is a debut of Arundhati Roy, but it is true. This book changed my perception of literature and what it can do. The tale of a pair of twins growing up in India in the late 1960s is a powerful and exceptionally beautifully account. Roy’s language is inventive as she explores in this book such themes as hope, love, loss and despair. A modern classic. Continue reading “10 Great Debut Novels”→
I started reading Agatha Christie’s detective novels when I was very young, and my passion for crime mysteries stems largely from my early literary acquaintance with the Queen of Crime. I believe that when you read Christie’s crime mysteries, you also pretty much read the best and certainly most influential murder/detective mysteries there are (apart from probably those of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe), and others either influenced Christie herself, see TheMystery of the Yellow Room, or are twisted imitations, seeThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle . Below are my ten favourite books from Agatha Christie (as you can see I prefer Hercule Poirot mysteries over those of Miss Marple, and also enjoy “exotic location” mysteries).
I. And Then There Were None 
Obviously,And Then There Were None leads my list since this is Christie’s detective masterpiece. In it, eight people arrive to an isolated island invited for different reasons (some with job prospects in mind). They do not find their host on the island, and, it turned out that the cause of their arrival is more sinister as one by one they die from unnatural causes, with their deaths eerily in line with one nursery rhyme. Full of twists, with one big unbelievable reveal towards the end, this book is Christie at her best, and the cleverness and originality of the plot design is still unsurpassed, even though widely imitated. Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Agatha Christie Novels”→
Shanah at Bionic Book Wormhas created this autumn-themed book tag, and I just could not resist doing another tag.
CRISP FALL AIR – A book that felt fresh and new: Christopher Priest’sThe Prestige
This book is far from perfect, but the idea behind seems original and the structure new. Most people will know the plot from Nolan’s film The Prestige (2006), but it is still an exciting read, even if you have seen the film (the book is different in its beginning and in its end). The plot mirrors the stages of a magician’s trick, and Christopher Priest provides the reader will all the hints to solve the mystery in the very beginning. There are a couple of surprises in the book, even though the story is also slightly predictable and goes into the direction of pure fantasy, which may not please everyone.
HOWLING WINDS – An ending that blew you away: Thomas P. Cullinan’s A Painted Devil/The Beguiled
I was impressed with Cullinan’s The Beguiled. It is so much more underneath than this simple tale of girls living in a boarding school during the Civil War and their interactions with a wounded soldier who comes to the school’s doorstep. The book is psychologically interesting because it contains multiple unreliable narrators who, throughout the novel, try to persuade the reader that their version of events is true. It is up to the reader to make his or her mind up in the end. The ending is well crafted and did surprise me. Also, the film by Sofia Coppola did not do justice to the book or its characters at all, even though it was spot on regarding the atmosphere. Continue reading “The Fall Book Tag”→