The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley

I switched off the light, and lay there thinking how all my sisters teased me about being the spiritual snowflake of the family. I couldn’t really blame them, because when I was young I didn’t understand that I was ‘different’, so I’d just speak about the things that I saw or felt.

I don’t remember exactly how I discovered The Seven Sisters books by Lucinda Riley – the cover of the first one might have been popping up in various social media feeds until I read about it and got curious, but a few months later here I am, finished reading book five, The Moon Sister, in this absorbing, detailed series with a myriad of stories about six sisters separately adopted and lovingly raised by a mysterious man in a beautiful Swiss mansion. The women are all named after the the Seven Sisters constellation and The Moon Sister is about the second youngest, Taygete, or Tiggy d’Aplièse.

It’s Christmas shortly into the novel, and it was also Christmas when I opened the book, which strengthened the feeling of being immersed in Tiggy’s experiences early on. The story sweeps between rural Scotland in the winter and sun-drenched Spain (both past and present), two contrasting countries, but with common themes of second sight and intuition coming alive through the characters living there. Tiggy is open to what comes her way, all the while listening to her instincts with quiet acceptance. She’s calmly assured in her introversion, yet she’s sociable and empathetic at the same time.

Like her other sisters, Tiggy is not only discovering the (as always mesmerizing and rooted in exciting history) truth of her parentage and heritage, but also learning to be truly independent while remaining connected to the people she grew up with as a family. She has a distinctive voice and it’s easy to hear. Tiggy’s book is satisfyingly thick, like the other novels in the series, and I asked myself why it reads so quickly, besides obviously being a very engaging and well written story. The answer is, perhaps, that the novel is not overdone with length in individual scenes, even when we think there could be more said – this works with packing in multiple storylines and timelines in one book. The history in the novel is not heavy, while based on fact and clearly excellent research, it conveys what it was, namely a real life lived by Tiggy’s ancestor at the time.

The landscapes in Scotland and the views from Granada in Spain, as we see the city through Tiggy’s eyes, come alive with the same exhiliration that she feels. It’s easy to imagine walking down paths and streets with her as she comes closer to uncovering the story of her birth, and there’s a disarming quality about her kindness and introspective connection to the world around her. As with the previous books, I might just have to go back and re-read after a while.

 

 

 

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Swimming Snippets: Pool Ponderings

Soooo… I was swimming today and arrived at the thought that there seem to be two types of lap swimmers.

Type number one acts like they own the pool. People wade in and throw themselves into swimming laps without a glance in any direction, because the idea of other swimmers in the vicinity is just ludicrous, I guess. Preferred swimming styles include backstroke or the front crawl, and of course goggles and swimming caps add to the feeling that it’s just you in the pool. Get out of the way, all you other peasants with your heads above water!

Type number two carefully steps in, moves to the side so as not to be in the way of anyone reaching the end of their lap, then spends a few seconds looking around, picking a lane. They then elegantly lower their body into the water and strike out, taking care to keep enough distance between themselves and the feet and hands of other swimmers. If, God forbid, they do end up brushing limbs with someone passing by, they actually take the time to turn their head and at least mouth “Sorry”.

Type number one are also frequently noisy swimmers. You might not see them once you’re in the water and focusing on your own stroke, but you’ll hear them. I understand there’s a lot of action involved in what they do, there’s water around and that certain physical manifestations in the form of sounds escaping them is unavoidable. But blowing your nose, sniffing and clearing your throat with unrestrained relish that carries perfectly thanks to pool acoustics, and all this while swimming, seems a bit much.

Meanwhile, type twos are basically this:

I have picked my side…

 

As We Say Farewell to 2018…

I find myself thinking even more of not only the things I did, but what I felt at various times of the year following events and experiences.

I shed way more happy tears than sad ones and that was reassuring, so the acceptance that I weep when something good happens in life definitely stays with me, as does not holding those tears back. In most of these situations it’s OK to cry, after all. Don’t apologize for happy tears. And there’s still the convenience of crying in the cinema (I’m easily moved, even if it’s a film I’ve seen before – go, art!) if I’ve had a shortage of waterworks.

Among the things that made me weep was kindness towards me, genuine, pure, from the heart, unconditional kindness, especially in hard moments I kept to myself, when people were still not obliged to be kind and were so without knowing.

That’s enough tears!

There were many solutions to what I thought were tangled problems, and the solutions were there all along, mostly contained in, as always, facing facts, and then, sometimes, writing them down. Notebooks are the best.

Other philosophical moments include many confirmations in various situations of this too shall pass, realizations we weren’t lacking something when we thought we were, what drained my inner peace and what replenished it – it’s vital to keep learning how to feed your energy, mental and physical.

I am and always will be a family person.

I want to grab the moments that feel like they define me (again and again) and register that which resonates with me because it’s closest to who I am.

I want to be brave.

I want many things that I feel I’ve had a test run of in 2018, things I hadn’t even expected, and can now proceed with “for real” in 2019.

For a long time now I’ve been making decisions and setting goals instead of resolutions. New Year’s Eve isn’t the only time of year I do this, by the way, I also like to do this for my birthdays. But there’s still something uniquely monumental about the approaching new year, because it affects everyone, I guess. Goals and decisions feel like a better internal setting for me than resolutions, maybe because they can be adapted or changed depending on how the year unfolds, and I do like to leave room for life to work its own magic, despite my extensive list-making.

So, as we say farewell to 2018, I will add thanks for all that has been given to me, hope that I have given back, quietly and sincerely acknowledge all those who have added to the size of my heart, and leave that which has played its part in moving forward, but which I don’t need to take with me into 2019.

For auld lang syne…

 

Once a YA Reader…

I happened on a Goodreads post about ways to know you’re a YA reader, and felt inspired to make my own notes, because, yeeees, I belong to that tribe (among other genres that I pursue). My thoughts tended to drift in the direction of asking why one might remain a YA reader even after (possibly) exiting the general target audience.Young, frequently teenage characters arrive at decisions and gain insights we’re still glad about at our age (whichever that may be), with the advantage of settling crucial life lessons way before their 30s and often in a short period of time jam-packed with social activities or even supernatural events.If it’s fantasy, characters might be of age earlier than us, or age might not be a determining factor at all, otherwise circumstances are introduced which render the character able to do all sorts of things that wouldn’t have been possible if every single law and reality check went through. But that’s why it’s fiction!

Unlike for your own adolescence or early 20s, there’s actually a script for this one.

YA characters are always on the cusp of something breathtaking, dramatic or even life-changing in any setting – bring it on.

 

 

 

Santa Baby covered by Lindsey Stirling

Both the song and the music video have been up for a while, but I’ve been listening and watching on repeat, that’s how much I love how this cover by Lindsey Stirling turned out! And now it’s time to pour out my feelings. My favourite line is I want a yacht and, really, that’s not a lot, just the way she says it with that saucy look, and the dance moves match it perfectly. It might become a daily quote. Oh, and I want that shower cap with sequins on it and, really, that’s not a lot. Of sequins. I just love how they catch the light…

Focus!

Since being uploaded on November 29 the music video has already had almost 2.4 million views at the time of writing this blog post, way to go Lindsey! There are so many things I love about the video, where to start…

Lindsey co-directed and her trademark attention to detail and concepting, not to mention her individuality, are all immediately obvious. From the colour palette switching between pinks, lilacs, whites and blues in various intensity, to the nods to her inspiration sources which she talks about in this behind the scenes video, it’s three and a half minutes packed with gorgeous, fun images.

The opening notes that repeat themselves throughout the song click at once with the imagery of  floating soap bubbles, balloons and lights and lend a modern touch to a classic. And then Lindsey sings! She does, and what a great job. In this inspiring interview on the Build series she talks about her vocal work in particular, saying that she ended up liking her voice on the demos she recorded at first and sticking with it.

I love her confidence as well as the whole tone of her singing, how it ties with the music in her interpretation, the balanced execution and the coquettish, feminine vibe. The fact that she went on to do her own vocals also makes me incredibly excited for what she will produce in the future. In addition, she spoke about the challenge of covering a beloved Christmas classic that many others have covered before as well and coming up with a way to do it that had her mark on it.

Just when you’ve managed to digest it is indeed Lindsey singing Santa Baby, she makes my jaw drop even more by dancing en pointe in ballet shoes! She’s been known not just for her mind-blowing simultaneous violin playing and dancing, but also as an amazingly talented, sharp dancer, especially after her season on Dancing with the Stars in 2017. Her movements are precise and beautiful, you can tell she’s trained, but at the same time the choreography doesn’t look studied or mechanical. Her enjoyment of what she is doing shines through in the scenes, which I’m in awe of even more now that I have a (very) slight inkling of how hard ballet sequences can actually be.

Been an angel all year… Merry Christmas!

 

The Nutcracker Ballet: Timeless Magic

So the reason I’m including this in the Hamburg section is because my beloved city has a beautiful cinema, the Passage Kino, and for a few years now they have been showing live broadcasts of selected ballets performed by the Bolshoi Theater ensemble in Moscow. I have increasingly enjoyed going to ballet performances as I grew up, but since childhood I have deeply loved three of Tchaikovsky’s ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and, a special favourite, The Nutcracker.

These live broadcasts are a fantastic option for those of us who might not always make it to a live performance on stage, but are dying to get their classical Russian ballet fix AND like a good bargain, because obviously prices for the cinema tickets differ considerably from theater ones. AND you can see everything. AND I love going to the movies as well. THOUGH I would also love to one day see a performance in the Bolshoi Theater itself. BUT I also feel patriotic about the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater, where I saw all those ballets first, and they remain the most beautiful performances I have ever been to.

Anyway, I just went to a live Bolshoi broadcast of The Nutcracker, ’tis the season, and here’s a trailer.

The magical, familiar score of the ballet carried me home and I found myself thinking of The Nutcracker‘s timeless appeal. What made this particular ballet such a hit, year after year? Why did I still feel a strong pull to see it whenever December rolled around?

There is a lot to say about this, without getting technical, and I couldn’t get technical anyway, because I’m not a ballerina or a choreographer, despite my ballet workout confidence.

Everything starts with the story, and I was fortunate enough not only to read the book in different translations, but also to see two lovely animated adaptations that closely followed both E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella and the musical sequence of the ballet. If you’re curious, one was Russian from 1973 (45 years ago?!) and the other was Canadian from 1990 (that 90s nostalgia…) The Russian version was without words, with the ballet’s music being the narrator, while the 90s adaptation had dialogue.

Of course it was inevitable that at some point both book and ballet fused in my imagination, since the music captures everything about the story that draws you in: the joy of celebrating (not just Christmas), the magic and mystery of a winter night, the underlying fear of what lurks in the darkness, growing up, romance, dreams and reality – there’s a lot!

The ballet is a masterpiece of dancing, and I can tell you this as well: even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of my ballet workouts, I can now actually spot some of the movements we learned, compared to just watching and marveling, and therefore imagine JUST HOW DAMN SKILLED all those dancers are. General tip, if you’re watching or reading something where the characters are doing stuff that awakens your interest, maybe try out a course that teaches it or something related. You might gain valuable insight.

The enduring, exquisite choreography by Marius Petipa seamlessly matches the music of the ballet and I never tire of watching the group dances, especially the airy, joyful Waltz of the Flowers (also a wonderful springtime tune, thus making The Nutcracker music suitable not only for the winter season).

The ballet, in its stunning visual representation, also cleverly leaves plenty of questions unanswered, and that might be another reason for its timeless appeal, because we keep coming back to interpret anew. At the center of the story is the experience of a young girl, Marie, who blooms into a young woman, but how does that work with the timeline (one night)? Of course, logically only adult ballerinas can dance the role, which automatically influences our perspective. Is the godfather a magician? Whose side is he on? Did Marie become the Sugarplum Fairy?

I don’t need to know, because I love the continued delight, wonder and charm of the ballet, and it’s fascinating that music and a performance put together some 125 years ago are still very much alive…

 

Of Grandmothers

It was a sunny summer day after a wedding in the family and a few of us were invited to have lunch at the house of the groom’s grandparents in the countryside. A short drive later we stopped in front of a pretty building and as I got out I saw a smiling old lady with an unmistakably regal posture, despite the cane she was leaning on, waiting in the courtyard. Something jingled at the back of my mind, either a memory or a sense of vague recognition, I couldn’t be sure.

She first embraced the newly married couple, and proudly kissed her grandson, then turned to each of us as we patiently approached her one by one. When my turn came, I looked down from my height into a lined, kind face which was still beautiful. She laughed and asked me to bend down a little, then placed her hands on my cheeks, studying me up close.

As soon as she did that, my heart trembled with the memory of my own beloved grandmother’s hands, and in the space of seconds the residual sadness I had carried with me after she had passed away some two years before disappeared. It was the first time that beyond talking to my mother, my grandmother’s daughter, anyone else had tapped in some way into what I had felt about her. I knew exactly who this woman was, and I remembered my grandmother clearly, but I was somehow reassured of my connection to someone I had loved dearly through the lady in front of me.

We saw each other again several years later for another family event, and I sent a thank you card afterwards for the hospitality I had experienced. In a few weeks I retrieved an envelope from my mailbox with handwriting that was both new and seemed familiar. I opened it, read the first few lines of the message inside and began to cry. It was a thank you card responding to my thank you card, and both the handwriting and the content reminded me of the cards my grandmother used to send me when her eyesight was failing, writing in green and red ink so she could see better, doodling pictures of the potted flowers on her balcony.

I’ve never talked to this other grandmother about my feelings. They are enough for me by themselves, and I am grateful for this gift of sorts that she has given me simply through meeting her. She has her own grandchildren, and for some time now she has been a great-grandmother as well.

My own parents became grandparents, and as a first-time aunt I’ve experienced a particular kind of joy from watching them, because in essence I was getting a peek at what they were like with my siblings and I at that very age before we were able to remember, but already knew we were cared about deeply. It is a bit like going back in time but moving forward in the same moment. And I find it incredibly humbling and inspiring.

In the first months after my grandmother had passed away the loss part of what happened naturally gripped me harder, perhaps because the feeling that she was still close hadn’t left me either, nor has it today. My mind knew what had happened, but all the things that had previously reminded me of her on a daily basis still did, just the same, and they were real. And then I saw other people, both in my family and outside of it, being what she had been to me. They were doing it on their own terms, of their own free will, not asking anything in return.

Of course it’s important and comforting that there are enough people I can ask, on any given day, “Do you remember how Granny…” But I am thankful for those sometimes unexpected moments of connection, reassurance, maybe peace, and I think that my grandmother would have understood.