7 War Books You Must Read

7 war books you must read

If for each war victim would a war book written, then each one of these books would be a must read, in their honor, don’t you think? War stories, as we remember them told by grandparents, always had something nostalgic about them, although the brutality of war, in its essence, was remembered as a traumatic experience. Perhaps the nostalgia came from the people caught in battles, the friendship,the humanity that united them.

The richness of emotions that both warrior and narrator go through when dealing with this subject has fascinated plenty of authors throughout time. Perhaps for an author another intriguing aspect is the location, as war novels generally take place in territories far away, if not geographically then through their descriptions, full of blood and pain, love, loss and hope. Time frame presents an alluring aspect as well, a war story will have a before and an after, while characters don’t have to have come with a pedigree to be memorable. In a war story anyone can be a hero,a soldier, a child, a dog. War stories also stir issues connected with spiritual inheritance, loss of memory (spiritual or factual) and, last but not least, identity and humanity.

Essential in all the novels below is the viscerality of writing and the relentless way in which a war changes a man forever. Reading such a type of novel will raise many questions about our condition as people and will make you aware that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to an extreme experience, one having the potential for total transformation.

7 War Books You Must Read:

1 – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

7 War Books You Must Read, Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

A book just as popular nearly one hundred years after publication, to me the main theme in Gone with the Wind is that of survival.

The novel combines several genres (psychological, buildungsroman, romance, historical ) and manages to create an unforgettable story, perhaps the most beloved story about the Confederate States of America. and it does this by the use of its main characters, especially Scarlett O’Hara.

The theme of survival and the reason for the courage that derives from it, the power to never give up as well as the unbridled passion of a young soul, the love for money and the saying “Tomorrow is another day”, plus the ability to identify, to some extent , with the characters of the novel, still make Gone with the Wind a modern work, although the historical background belongs to the American Civil War era of the United States history.

Do you know what inspired the title? It was a line from the poem Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson; the poem’s most famous line is: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind.”

“If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.’

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

2 -War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy

War and Peace, Lev Tolstoi, Napolon's invasion in Russia 1812

Praised for being very much in line with the reality, the events of War and Peace take place in 1812, during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and were rendered with force and expressiveness by Lev Tolstoy, especially because the author already lived the experience of war, fighting in the Crimean War. It is recommended to read in episodes, taking into account the fact that the novel has over 1000 pages.

The novel is the chronicle of three families from the high Russian aristocracy of beginning of the 19th century, Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov, whose joys, love stories and dramas take place during the Napoleonic Wars, especially the Austerlitz and Borodino battles. The book raises questions about survival and death during peace and war, as well as the necessity of war. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia destroyed million of lives on both sides, and worth mentioning is that, beside he Russian lives lost, the French army lost about half a million of soldiers of French, Italian, Belgian, German and Austrian nationalities.

A definite whirlwind of love, loss, and war.

3 – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

7 War Books You Must Read, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway

Hemingway’s short semi-autobiographical novel takes place on the Italian front during the First World War and describes a man’s struggles with two experiences that altered his existence in one way or another: the experience of war and that of love.

But war offers fake hopes of glory and is a lover that does not accept sharing – only by turning into a deserter can the hero hope to find true love.

It is a manifesto against the absurdity called war; it is the story of an logical man who understands that his fulfillment as a human being stands above the ambitions of those who incite towards unnecessary battles, a fulfillment that can be achieved peacefully, without weapons and without sacrificing human lives.

4 – King Rat by James Clavell

7 War Books You Must Read, James Clavell, King Rat, WWII, Singapore death camp

Believe it or not, this was the author’s literary debut. Set during World War II, the novel describes the struggle for survival of American, Australian, British, Dutch, and New Zealander prisoners of war in a Japanese death camp in Singapore. Clavell himself was a prisoner in the notorious Changi Prison camp, where the novel is set. One of the three major characters, Peter Marlowe, is based upon Clavell.

Clavell’s King Rat is a story about the struggle for survival, about friendship and hatred, in an extremely harsh, dehumanized world, in which only the strongest resist.

5 – Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell

7 War Books You Must Read, A Bridge of Spies, Giles Whittell

This is actually a 2010 nonfiction book documenting the spy prisoner exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tom Hanks does a magnificent job as James B. Donovan under Spielberg’s direction in the 2015 movie with the same title.

Bridge of Spies, remarkably researched, tells the true story of three incredible characters and those who cross their paths: William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot captured during a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified by Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, as spy, arrested and held without charge. 

Bridge of Spies is a lesson on humanity tinged by the sour taste of pathological mistrust that fuels the arms race and the political espionage.

6 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, Russia invadin Afghanistan, 1979

This contemporary novel exploring the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the years-long struggle the Afghan people was faced with, resulting in the flight of refugees to Pakistan, Iran or America. Told through the voices of two mercenaries, the book demonstrates that although conflicts and wars change over time, carnage and destruction always remain the same.

7 – Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for by Patricia Furstenberg

7 War Books You Must Read, Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for Patricia Furstenberg

Silent Heroes looks at the War in Afghanistan through the eyes of those caught in it: US Marines, local population, and even the Taliban.

If in other novels that talk about war the collective drama is the main focus, which seems to crush the small pains of the individual, Furstenberg focuses on human interactions, placing great emphasis on the turmoil the heroes go through, be it US Marines or the Afghan populace. Silent Heroes underlines how family ties and love are the reality that will never be obliterated by war and it will always stand, no mater what forces will try to overpower life on earth.

A book not to be missed, Silent Heroes is masterfully researched and punctuated with epic description that offer a respire from the harsh realities of war. A story about humans, but about dogs too, especially the military dogs taking part in wars.

Chose as one of the 5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.

5 books everyone should read in their lifetime
5 books everyone should read in their lifetime, Jodi Picoult, Ken Follett, Patricia Furstenberg, Victor Hugo, Shantaram

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Why Do People Write?

why do people write

The vast majority write out of a desire to share their experience with other people. Sharing something imparts a feeling of usefulness. Some people say they write for pleasure, others that say they write out of a desire to inform their peers. Others say they write for the sake of competition.

Nothing in this world is done without a reason because in addition to existential needs, people need much more.

But can literature change people, providing that people want to change?

We are rational beings, we socialize and we need to express our feelings and to see them echoed in others. We need to leave a mark behind us, footprints in the sand. So we write. Some of us.

Perhaps all the reasons why people write are based on the simple pleasure of writing.

Why Do People Write?

So, why do people write?

Writing is therapeutic. The white paper listens to you and does not judge you. It accepts everything you want to give, the countless revisions too, without getting upset. It doesn’t matter if you write well or bad, the simple fact of putting your thoughts on paper frees you and gives you clarity and peace of mind. At least during the present moment. When it counts.

Writing clarifies the mind. If you can’t explain something to others, then you don’t understand it very well either. As you write, you reveal the knots in your thinking and force yourself to untangle them. I know I do.

Writing helps you learn. When I research for a book I need information in addition to what I already know. I have to document myself on so many levels, setting, politics, weather, customs, folklore, lifestyle, language, so I write everything down. Doesn’t all research go like this?

Writing helps one become more creative. As I try to express myself better I think of metaphors, comparisons or examples that sometimes link different ideas, feelings or situations. An exercise such as this, done for years, helps creativity, because it becomes easier to make unexpected connections.

Writing improves the memory and sprouts new ideas and thoughts. If I go back to stories I wrote five, ten years ago, I recognize the seed of an idea I developed only recently. But also anxieties I put out of my mind, because I wrote about them. Or events that I remember differently now, in a somehow detached way.

Writing urges you to read. As Stephen King said,’ If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.’ And reading comes with its long list of benefits.     

Writing teaches you to receive criticism. From mischievous comments to justified feedback, I got used to digesting everything and taking the essentials. While keeping some thoughts (and a smile) to myself.

Writing helps one become more empathetic. When I write something, anything, I have to put myself in the character’s skin, be it human or a doggo. It’s experiencing a second life while, at the same time, teaching me to take a step back and see things into perspective, while in my own skin.

Silent Heroes of war, empathy

Why do I write?

Writing bought me a cup of coffee, although I traded the security of a medical career for it. But it gives me the satisfaction of creating something with my own two hands (and with my mind and soul). Like baking or carpentry. Like architecture (my first love). Writing has never disappointed me and I have never felt drained, used up in an emotional way after writing. Exhausted, but energized at the same time. Okay, there are moments of despair here and now.

I write about people so as not to forget them, so as not to forget the good vibes they made me feel.

I write about people just to keep those parts of them that have managed to change certain parts of me or that have made me feel more than I thought I could feel.

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5 Incredible Animals Friendships Now as Story Books

animals friendsip books

If we needed more proof that animals feel empathy, these five incredible friendships between animals are the living proof and sure to melt your heart, do enjoy their story books with your child.

Human beings may be the most intelligent of all the species, but nothing beats a child’s emotional connection with a pet. So, where do animals stand when it comes to emotional intelligence?

Do animals experience emotions, do they show this by spontaneous changes in their behavior? And, as a result of the emotions they experience, do they have feelings?

The Incredible Friendship Between a BEAR, a LION and a TIGER

It was the beginning of the 21st century when three cubs were rescued from the home of a drug dealer where they were kept illegally as pets. Severely malnourished and scared, the salvation for an American Black bear cub, an African lion cub and a Bengal tiger cub came through Noah’s Ark Animal sanctuary.

This is when the cubs’ true friendship revealed itself. As the bear required an emergency operation, the lion and tiger cubs became agitated while their friend was gone. They refused food, paced their enclosure, vocalized and only stopped when the bear was safely returned to them. After this, the three cubs spent their entire time close together, clinging to one another for comfort and safety. They were named Baloo, Leo, and Shere Khan.

The bear, the lion and the tiger soon matured, yet they continued sharing the same habitat, playing, eating together and grooming one another. And they did so for 17 years. Sadly, Leo and Shere Khan passed away in 2016 and 2018 respectively, and Baloo was there for them in their final hours.

In the wild, Asian black bears and tigers do share the same territory in the Far East, but when they do meet, one of them is sure to be badly injured.

The Heartwarming Friendship Between a CHIMPANZEE and a DOG

There are quite a few cute chimps that struck lovely friendship with dogs, an undeniable proof that social connections between animals do mimic those between humans and their pets.

Often, when a chimp and a dog became friends it was the puppy who came to the baby chimp’s emotional rescue. Too many chimps are slaves of the illegal pet trade, and when they are finally rescued are found to be orphans.

What would happen, I asked myself, if a dog and a chimp met in the wild? Would they still play? Would they play fetch, perhaps? Pull faces at each other? Share naps?

The Unbelievable Friendship Between a CHEETAH and a DOG

Yes, cats and dogs can be friends. What about a wild cat and a canine? One such incredible pair were Kasi the cheetah and Mtani the Labrador. Mtani means “close friend” in Swahili.

What if the cheetah and the dog would meet in the wild, on the African planes? Would the mama-cheetah allow? Would the dog have human friends who would interfere with their unusual friendship?

The Amazing Friendship Between a LION and a DOG

A cute, brown Dachshund dog called Milo struck a remarkable friendship with a massive lion named Bonedigger when the latter became disabled due to illness. Somehow, the canine made its way to the sad lion’s heart and took the beast under his wing and the two remained the best of friends, even five years later. None of them cared that one weighs 11 pounds, while the other 500 pounds.

5 Incredible Animals Friendships Now as Story Books, the lion and the dog

Enjoy their beautiful friendship evolving throughout the seasons:

The Loving Friendship Between an ELEPHANT and a SHEEP

Albert the sheep and Themba the elephant live in Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa. Sadly, the elephant calf became an orphan after his mother died falling down a cliff. After a rocky start… the pair’s relationship blossomed, and they became the best of friends and Themba the elephant calf blossomed.

You can follow and enjoy their adventures in this book:

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Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

monters of folk tales

Fairy tales and folklore are abundant in stories about beasts and are wide spread in cultures all over the world, depicting the past and sometimes the present by the use of monsters that, thus, have entered history through the secret door of folk tales….

Such narrative often shares a story that teaches a moral lesson or emphasize the importance of kindness and bravery no matter what. They mostly make use of a mean character, a monster that instills fear. It is through this fear that the message is remembered. Because fear shapes the mind and gives the memory a kick and, sometimes, a beast does not need a hero to be just that, freak.

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list, but one to inspire future reading, writing, and further work as I do intent to update it regularly.

Greek Monsters

Cerberus, the Hound of Hades in Greek mythology

Is being the son of monsters making one a beast? Cerberus, hound of Hades, certainly looked like one with his 3 heads (or 50, or 100), a serpent tail and extra snakes protruding from his body. Often a symbol for an impossible task (Heracles) and gluttony (Dante).

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

Medusa, the only mortal of the Gorgon sisters from Greek legends

Medusa is described as a winged human female. She has living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those who gazed into her eye’s will certainly turn to stone, an ability her head retained even after her death and decapitation. Interesting is that it appears there are no records of Medusa turning women to stone. Of course, related to this observation there is a fascinating Freudian interpretation.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

The Minotaur

Anyone who read ‘The Legends of Olympus’ in childhood, will probably remember that the Minotaur was a fantastic creature, half human, half bull. Because the Minotaur liked to devour people he is locked in a labyrinth built by Daedalus from which the creature could not escape. In order to prevent him from trying to find his way out, King Minos sacrificed seven men and seven women a year to quench the hunger of the monster. Eventually the Minotaur is killed by Theseus who manages to get out of the maze with the help of the invisible thread of the Ariadne (which was in love with him). Alas, Theseus shows no gratitude towards her. One would say his negligence was punished by Gods as Theseus fails to put up the white sail on his return home (something he promised his father to do if he was victorious). Seeing the black sail his father, in desperation, kills himself by drowning in the sea that now carries his name.

The Mermaid and the Siren

In Greek mythology Sirens were believed to combine women and birds in various ways. In early Greek art, Sirens were represented as birds with large women’s heads, bird feathers and scaly feet, ‘Winged maidens, daughters of the Earth.’ Later, sirens are depicted as female figures with legs of birds, with or without wings, often playing a musical instrument especially the harp. Perhaps where the arm movement of a harpist looks like the flapping of a bird’s wings.

Odysseus and the Sirens, Roman mosaic, second century AD
Odysseus and the Sirens, depicted as women-birds, Roman mosaic

According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Sirens were the companions of young Persephone and were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone when she was abducted. Their song is continually calling for her.
According to Latin author Hyginus, sirens were fated to live only until the mortals who heard their songs were able to pass them by.
The term “siren song” refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad result.
By the Middle Ages, the figure of the siren has shifted to the more enduring mermaid.
Part female and part fish, literature shows us that not all mermaids are as gentle as Ariel. In Odyssey, Homer frighteningly illustrates how sirens drown those who listen to their song. Greek legends speak of mermaids who love consuming human flesh, being surrounded by decomposed corpses. Far from being a romantic character, a siren would lure you in the depths of her aquatic world, functioning as a character of horror for anyone who fails to follow their charming song.

North European Monsters

Fenris or Hróðvitnir from Norse Mythology

Fenris or Fenriror Hróðvitnir is a monster with a wolf’s appearance encountered in Norse mythology. He is one of the sosn of Loki and of giant Angrboda. Fenris is encaged because of a prophecy announcing that a wolf and his family will one day destroy the world. Eventually, Fenris will fulfill the prophecy by killing Odin, the emperor of the gods, during the Viking Armageddon, Ragnarok. Fenrir appears in the Poetic Edda, a 13th century compilation of Norse poems based on earlier traditional sources.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Talesy, Odin and Fenris (1909) by Dorothy Hardy
Odin and Fenris (1909) by Dorothy Hardy

Kraken or Hafgufa (sea mist)

A mythical cephalopod-monster of Scandinavian sea-tales (“krake” means twisted in Swedish), Kraken it traditionally figured as malign, and better re-imagined embodying the mystery of the ocean.

Kraken monster by Édouard Riou
Kraken by Édouard Riou

Hafgufa (Icelandic, haf “sea” + gufa “steam”) is the massive sea monster depicted in the Örvar-Odds saga. It lived in the Greenland Sea and was said to disguise itself as an island or pair of rocks rising from the sea.

“Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth (…)
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.”
(The Kraken by Alfred Tennyson, 1830)

English Monsters

Grendel from Boewulf

One of the monsters described in the epic poem Boewulf, Grendel is a descendant of Cain, perhaps humankind’s first killer. Like all of Cain’s descendants Grendel is cursed to have a hideous appearance due to his physical deformities. Never described in detail, Grendel is presented as ‘a creature of darkness, exiled from happiness and accursed of God, the destroyer and devourer of our human kind.’

An illustration of Grendel by J. R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as "Very terrible to look upon."
An illustration of Grendel by J. R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as “Very terrible to look upon.”

The Dragon

Dragons have an extensive history, being widespread throughout folktales and legends since ancient times. They are depicted as flying monsters, often so big that they could easily be compared with elephants.
Tolkien’s Smaug Dragon (from The Hobbit) is ruthless and greedy, a trait expected to be found in such a beast. As a visual representation of his evil spirit Smaug spits fire to make sure that the mountain and the treasure belong exclusively to him. He can also stir hurricanes with his wings, earthquakes with his tail, while his teeth are like swords, and his breath spits death.

Beast of Bodmin Moor

If you live in Cornwall, watch out for the Beast of Bodmin Moor, a mysterious cat blamed for mutilating local livestock. This could very well be considered as one of the ABCs (Alien, or Anomalous, Big Cats), the British big cats, phantom cats and mystery cats often reported as “panthers”, “pumas”, or “black cats”.

Other European Monsters

The Ogre from Puss in Boots

Do you remember him? The fairy tale is of Italian origin, Il gatto con gli stivali.

While representing the Marquis of Carabas, the cat happens upon a castle inhabited by an ogre who is capable of transforming himself into a number of creatures. The ogre displays his ability by changing into a lion, frightening the cat, who then tricks the ogre into changing into a mouse. The cat then pounces upon the mouse and devours it.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales, Puss meets the ogre in a nineteenth-century illustration by Gustave Doré
Puss in Boots meets the ogre…

Monster of Ravenna

Most probably an omen regarding the outcome of the 1512 Battle of Ravenna it was fir recorded by diarist Sebastiano di Branca Tedallini on March 8. A child was born to a nun and a friar, and thus he was marked by a horned head, the letters YXV on its chest, and with one leg hairy and cloven-hoofed while the other leg’s midsection grew a human eye.

“The horn [indicates] pride; the wings, mental frivolity and inconstancy; the lack of arms, a lack of good works; the raptor’s foot, rapaciousness, usury, and every sort of avarice; the eye on the knee, a mental orientation solely toward earthly things; the double sex, sodomy. And on account of these vices, Italy is shattered by the sufferings of war, which the King of France has not accomplished by his own power, but only as the scourge of God.” (Johannes Multivallis, 1512)

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales, Monster of Ravenna as depicted in the publication Curious Creatures, John Ashton, 1890.
Monster of Ravenna as depicted in the publication Curious Creatures, John Ashton, 1890.

With time, the description of the Ravenna monster evolved, being tied with the image of Frau Welt and her seductive powers (a beautiful, beguiling woman when viewed the front, while her back is full of pus and hideous vermin). Thus way, the monster of Ravenna and Frau Welt become educational tools during the Middle Ages.
Note: do not confuse Frau Welt with Mutter Courage.

The Tarasque

A French monster from Provence, the Tarasque looked like a dragon with lion’s head, had an ox’s body with a turtle shell on top. He was tamed by Saint Martha in the Golden Legend.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

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Monsters from Middle East and Asia

Al, the Afghan monster

With fiery eyes, horns, iron teeth, talons for fingernails & floating appearance, living in damp corners and swamps, comes the Al, a monster from the Afghanistan folklore. Attacking women and children, Al prefers the liver, but eats any corpses.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

The Futakuchi-Onna

A futakuchi-onna (二口女, lit. “two-mouthed woman”) is a Japanese mythological monster depicted as having two mouths, basically a woman with a toothy mouth hidden on the backside of her head.

futakuchi-onna,  a Japanese mythological monster depicted as having two mouths

Hone-Onna

The skeleton woman’ is a Yōkai, a Japanese demon, often depicted as an aged female that carries a lantern decorated with botan flowers and visit the house of a man she loved back when she was still alive. Of course he sees her as the young woman she used to be, but if anyone else catches a glimpse of her they will see her at the skeleton she actually is.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales, Hone Onna by Anna Astrid
Hone Onna by Anna Astrid

The Gashadokuro

Also from Japanese Folklore comes the story of a a giant skeleton made up of the bones of people who have died from starvation. If Gashadokuro sees you, it will bite your head off and drink the blood that drains out of your decapitated body. Sweet dreams.

Oni

An Oni is a kind of, ogre, or troll in Japanese folklore. They are strong and large build, with one or more horns growing out of their heads, wearing loincloths of tiger skin, and carrying a typical iron spiked club. Their skin is usually red, blue or green.

Japanese Oni monster

Onis are popular characters in Japanese art, literature (the 14th century fairytale of Momotaro, Peach Boy), and theatre.

Jiangshi

The jiangshi is a Chinese hopping vampire known as phi dip chin in Thai, hantu pocong in Malay, and vampir cina in Indonesia. It is depicted as a corpse dressed in clothes from the Qing Dynasty era that moves around by hopping. It kills living creatures to absorb their qi, “life force”, usually at night, while during daytime it rests in a coffin or hides in dark places.

ArtStation - Jiangshi, Jean Vervelle

Jiangshifrom originates in the folk practice of “transporting a corpse over a thousand li“. The relatives of a person who died far away from home could not afford vehicles to bring the deceased’s body home for burial, so they would hire a Taoist priest to reanimate the dead person and teach him to “hop” home. The transport happened only at night and would ring bells to notify others in the vicinity of their presence because it was considered bad luck for a living person to set eyes upon a jiangshi.

American Monsters

The Hidebehind

Have you ever felt watched while out in the forest? It is the hidebehind. This a nocturnal creature from American folklore that preys upon the humans who wander the woods. He is blamed for the disappearances of any loggers who failed to return to camp. It is believed he has the ability to conceal itself, mostly often behind trees, ‘hidebehind‘.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

Jersey Devil

This is a kangaroo-like / dragon-like creature with a goat or horse-like head, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, legs with cloven hooves, and a forked tail. It has been reported to move quickly and is often described as emitting a high-pitched “blood-curdling scream”

According to folklore, the Jersey Devil originates Mother Leeds in 1735. The legend says that Mother Leeds had 12 children and when she fell pregnant with her 13th she cursed the baby. It was a stormy night when the baby was born, a normal child who soon changed his appearance developing hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings, and a forked tail. He flew up the chimney and head for the pine forest.

Yes, there is a NHL hockey team named after this creature – perhaps due to their speed?

Modern Monsters

Jabberwocky from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

Lewis Carroll’s character is all the more formidable as he goes beyond everything I knew about monsters. It is a new appearance, presented by the author through a playful and absurd poem. The lack of information about the bizarre creature, along with the uncertain and fantastic description increases the fear of the unseen character. Our fear grows as we decipher the language. We learn that Jabberwocky is like a beast galloping towards its prey. He salivates at the thought of snatching someone’s flesh from the bones, devouring with his jaws anyone who gets in his way. The fact that his eyes are on fire makes him terribly frightening, even if only seen in the dark.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

The Nothing from The Neverending Story

In order for a monster to be scary, it does not have to look like a beast. The more mysterious it is, the more it overcomes our fears.

The Nothing… By the mere fact that there is nothing in its presence, that is to say, of the unknown, its force is both evil and darkness and it seems unable to be defeated or controlled. The Nothing is all that humanity would never have imagined, namely the supreme evil and the most destructive power shed to mortals. Some even let themselves fall inside willingly because they get too close to the Nothing. The Nothing that exerts an irresistible power of attraction and thus it grows.

The Nothing, what is it? where it comes from? How it became to be just that, Nothing?

The Clown

Pennywise, Stephen King’s character in IT, is one of the creepiest literary monsters by far. Speaking of coulrophobia. But just as a (giant) spider, Pennywise is the nightmare in itself.

Cryptozoology and its Monsters

Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience and subculture that aims to prove the existence of entities from the folklore record, such as Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, the Loch Ness monster, the Yeti or Mokele-mbembe. Cryptozoologists refer to these entities as cryptids, a term coined by the subculture.

Perhaps our interest and fascination with monsters does not lie in the love of the macabre, but in an evolutionary need to learn about them, their stories, habits, diet and all, in order to recognize them, fight them, and annihilate them as well as what they symbolize.

You were probably expecting some Romanian Folk Monsters too. Coming soon… Meanwhile you might enjoy reading about:

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

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Therapy through Books. Bibliotherapy. Reading to stay Happy

Therapy through Books. Bibliotherapy. Reading to stay Happy

I turned to books and reading, as well as writing, many times over in my life, yet only lately have I thought about the idea of therapy through books and reading to stay happy.

Yet I am not the only one, nor am I the first, as since ancient times people have noticed the amazing healing power of art. As if by magic, negative emotions, whoosh, evaporate to be replaced with a state of peace and harmony.

Catharsis. Coined by Aristotle in Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator, that of freeing the soul from suffering.

Bibliotherapy (book therapy, poetry therapy or therapeutic storytelling) uses creative arts as therapy. It involves storytelling, the reading of poetry or specific texts with the purpose of healing. It works by utilizing an individual’s relationship with the content of a text as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression.

You see, the concept that books, library therapy, bibliotherapy or reading can be used to stay happy started a few thousand years ago.

Therapy through Books Bibliotherapy Reading to stay Happy
Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul

The inscribed marble above reads Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul, and is found in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Patmos, in the wall over the entrance to the Monastery’s Library. The inscription goes millenniums back. The same phrase was inscribed above the entrance of the sacred library of the tomb of Ramses II at Thebes. A similar one decorated the vast library of Alexandria, the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.

A very quick look at books, reading and their use as therapy throughout the centuries

Fast forward a few hundred years and we find the majority of Medieval people (men, women and children, rich and poor) to be illiterate, yet storytelling prevailed as people loved to hear stories, enjoyed listening to historical, religious or local folktales being read to them or simply recounted. It taught them lessons and morals, it connected them with their ancestors.

Worth remembering is that while most women living between the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment could not write or sign their names, many could read, to some extent.

Then Gutenberg came, developing a press that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. Printing was easier, faster.

Therapy through Books Bibliotherapy Reading to stay Happy
The Magdalen Reading (1438) – Rogier van der Weyden

And humanity dipped its foot in the Renaissance, freighted with famous writers, treasured texts, and a general curiosity about humankind. The Renaissance Man. Highly skilled writers (who were readers too) emerged, yet none was just a writer if one wanted to make a living.

The Enlightenment brought along the development of the educational systems in Europe that continued into the French Revolution, so literacy and learning were gradually provided to rich and poor alike. But bear in mind that historians measured the literacy rate during the 17th and 18th century centuries by people’s ability to sign their names.

The increase in literacy rate was mostly influenced by the fact that most schools and colleges were organized by clergy, missionaries, or other religious organizations, as literacy was thought to be the key to understanding the word of God. The reason which motivated religions to help to increase the literacy rate among the general public was because the bible was being printed in more languages. By 1714 the proportion of women able to read was approximately 25%, and it rose again to 40% by 1750, with literacy rates raising more quickly in predominantly Protestant Northern Europe than predominately Catholic southern Europe.

It was the Kingdom of Prussia who introduced a modern public educational system that will reach the vast majority of population, a system copied across Europe and the United States in the 19th century.

19th century medics and nurses working England’s psychiatric hospitals used to read to patients anything from novels and travel journals to the Bible. This was because works of fiction lend a helping hand to the readers (listeners) by giving them the opportunity to escape into another universe, to identify with a favorite characters (outside their own skin) and to be inspired by them.

World War II veterans were also recommended books to help them cope with post-traumatic stress.

Therapy through Books Bibliotherapy  Reading to stay Happy
When Books Went to War cover.

Today, reading clubs are a real help to psychiatric institutions in improving the care for the elderly or for young people with disabilities or behavioral disorders.

What is the connection between books, therapy, bibliotherapy and that happy feeling?

A research done by the University of Sussex and quoted by The Telegraph showed that only six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress level with up to 68 %. Keeping an active mind proved protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.

Simply turning the pages of a book and immersing oneself in reading gives the brain a state of relaxation similar to that produced by meditation, providing our health system with the same benefits as those of achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner calm. It has been found that people who read regularly sleep better, have lower stress levels, a higher self-esteem and are less predisposed to depression than those who do not have this habit.

Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?

Reading is often associated only with relaxing activities, with spending time in a pleasant way. But, in reality, reading is a very complex activity.

The University of Liverpool conducted a study between reading and increasing the quality of life and found that reading is not only good for our health, but can make us happier and more empathetic. In addition, many of participants in the study confessed that certain books inspired them to make those changes in their lives that they had long wanted to make.

Psychologist Becca Levy, an associate professor at Yale University, published a study in the Social Science & Medicine journal on the benefits of reading observed over twelve years. The conclusion is impressive: people who read regularly live 23 months longer than those who do not. Although it is not yet clear how reading can actually increase life expectancy, Dr. Levy and other scientists who participated in the study believe that it is due to the cognitive benefits of this activity – from the simultaneous integration of several brain regions and increased ability to concentrate , to the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.

Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?
Carturesti Bookshop in Bucharest (one of them 🙂 )

How is all this possible?

Keith Oatley, a writer and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has led an extensive research on the psychology of fiction. “We started to show how identification with fictional characters appears, how literature can improve social skills, how it can move us emotionally and can quickly cause changes in the process of self-knowledge,” says Keith Oatley. After years of research and study on large groups of subjects, the Canadian psychologist concluded that reading fiction is “a simulation, but not on a computer, one that takes place in our minds – a simulation of our interaction with others, with the society, which implies the possibility to imagine our future under different variants.”

So, even if we do not realize this, when we read we experience hypothetical life situations that prepare us for the real ones. The advantage is that in the realm of fiction we do it without danger and without pain.

And so is writing.

I will leave you with Proust’s words:

“In reading, friendship is restored immediately to its original purity. With books there is no forced sociability. If we pass the evening with those friends—books—it’s because we really want to. When we leave them, we do so with regret and, when we have left them, there are none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: “What did they think of us?”—“Did we make a mistake and say something tactless?”—“Did they like us?”—nor is there the anxiety of being forgotten because of displacement by someone else. All such agitating thoughts expire as we enter the pure and calm friendship of reading.”

Marcel Proust

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On Dirty Dancing, The Singing Butler & Writing, Guest Post for ‘Swirl and Thread’

on Dirty Dancing, the Singing Butler and writing

It was a chat about a certain painting that led to ‘On Dirty Dancing, The Singing Butler and Writing‘ Guest Post I had the pleasure of writing for lovely Mairéad blogging at ‘Swirl and Thread.’

I have great admiration for Mairéad, both as a blogger and as a mother. So writing this piece for her, coming from the heart, was special.

It is a timeless subject, and I invite you to go over and read it. I talk about music, art and, you guessed it, writing. But mostly about dancing. So put on your dancing shoes and go see what everyone is talking about.

“Today it is with great pleasure to welcome back writer Patricia Furstenberg with a gorgeous post about how writing has helped her to discover her inner dance. Patricia and myself, through coincidence, discovered recently that we both share a passion for a particular painting thus inspiring her to write this piece. I really hope you enjoy.” Read on.

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Pairing Books with Chocolate

pairing books with chocolate

We’ve had a lovely summer here, with long and beautiful days and evenings ideal to read under the shade of a tree while enjoying a little treat, thus pairing books with chocolate sprang to life from the pages of many novels.

I’ve heard of pairing books with wine, so why not with chocolate? Books affect each reader in a different way; two people will describe the same chocolate in various ways. We understand and absorb a book through the perspective of our past experiences. We taste chocolate not only with our taste buds, but though all five senses: smell, sight, taste, touch, even by hearing.

‘We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Anaïs Nin

Take a break with me. Discover new reads or new flavors of chocolate. And if you don’t have any nearby, don’t worry. At the end of this blog post there is a 1 minute, tried and tested, no-egg microwave brownie recipe 🙂 Our favorite!

In no particular order I paired:

A Convenant of Spies – Daniel Kemp

Pairing Books Chocolate

Unexpectedly unbreakable, but giving in if you know how to take it. Definitely not what it reveals to the eye. Gentle browns of a hard milk chocolate with extra cocoa, spicy with a hint of spirits that reveals itself on the back of the tongue.

Much like Daniel Kemp’s A Covenant Of Spies deals with British Intelligence investigating Russian operative. But look beyond the cover, to a complex tale featuring a net of lies and political cover-ups that will make you doubt tomorrow’s news headlines. An entertaining story of 21st century spies and tales of the Cold War sprinkled with clues till the end, it reminded me of Bridge of Spies.
Book four in the ‘Lies and Consequences’ series, espionage, mystery thriller and crime. Daniel Kemp blogs here.

Life’s Rich Tapestry: Woven in Words by Sally Cronin

Mersi is an indulgent assortment of fine milk chocolate, nutty pralines, or bitter-sweet dark bites to spoil your taste buds with a new surprise in each tablet. Just like life itself.

I chose to pair Cronin’s Life’s Rich Tapestry with a selection of Merci chocolates because her book offers an indulgent collection of short stories, micro fiction and poetry that match so many of life’s moments. Her book made me smile and dream, it brought chuckles and it even made my eyes wet. Is a book you want to read on, as the author is a gifted writer, each chapter in her book a temptation, and so are the illustrations.
An appreciated work of literary fiction. Sally blogs here.

Vanished by Mark Bierman

Pairing Books Chocolate

Dark, strong, and intense, chocolate at its finest and not for the soft-hearted, yet with a subtle aroma of raspberries and a salty aftertaste that only accentuates the quality of its cocoa. This is a no-mess, straight forward taste that lingers long after you ate it. Memorable.

Bierman’s novel Vanished reminded me of James Clavell’s King Rat. Much like Clavell, Bierman reels in the reader from the first chapter. The book blends the reality of everyday life in Haiti with the race of finding a missing child believed to be abducted by slave traders. Bierman will not allow you to shield your eyes from the reality of human trafficking. What he does wonderfully and makes this book worth a read is getting the reader to root for the two main characters, as well as for those oppressed. You will be drawn into their lives and hold thumbs, prying for a happy ending.
Modern fiction at its best, shining a spotlight on the tragedy of child trafficking. A book with a powerful and important message. Mark Bierman blogs here.

Alfonso and the Monster (A Royal Tortoise Tale) by Susan Moffat

Imagine a cup of hot chocolate topped with tiny marshmallows. Soft and creamy, a joy to look at and a bliss in every sip. Marshmallows melting on the tongue, bringing back the cherished memory of camping fires and the tingling of Christmas.

I read Susan’s previous two books featuring adorable Alfonso, a snail prince, and became attached to this sweet little guy. This time he’s in the Land of Garden (how adorable this sounds!) and he tries his best at fighting what he imagines to be a monster, and does so in a very entertaining way. My favorite part must have been Alfonso’s facial expressions, Susan is a gifted artist.

When my kids were young I always chose gentle books for bedtime and they loved stories about animals who could talk. I would have chosen this one for sure ad they would have loved it. Susan blogs here.

The Memories We Bury by H. A. Leuschel

Pairing Books Chocolate

Hand made chocolate confectionery is a lush decadence I rarely I indulge in. With an inviting, sweet, outer shell dripping with a bitter espresso syrup, it surprises by offering a third flavor once you sink your teeth in. A trio of sinful almond, sweet milk chocolate, and dark coffee syrup – which one will dominate?

I had to pair this chocolate with Leuschel’s latest release, The Memories We Bury. Alternating between the POVs of its two main characters, The Memories We Bury weaves an intricate story of trust and betrayal, of a past we cannot run away from, a story that balances on the thin line bordering the healthy from the ill mind. While a third character watches from the shadows. Which is friend and which is foe?
Highly recommend if you love books that delve into human psychology. Discover Helene here.

Academic Curveball: A Kellan Ayrwick Cozy Mystery (Braxton Campus Mysteries Book 1) by James J. Cudney

When I need comfort food or a pick-me-up desert, there is nothing like an old-fashioned chocolate fudge with its magical blend of aromas and textures. Slightly crunchy and chewy, salty, dark cocoa that turns into spice as it melts into a creamy dream. Pure indulgence.

So are classical cozy mysteries, like Cudney’s Academic Curveball, Braxton Campus Mysteries #1. This book is more than a mystery, it has a complex plot that reminded me of Christie’s writing (one of my all-time favorite authors), and plenty of intrigue too. You will discover a main character (a writer!) well penned, and on a mission amid old friends and new encounters, all in the world of academia. It is a book you will not want to put down till it’s end, a veritable a-ha moment.
Well worth it, from an author you will want to remember. Listed as teen and young adult detectives and humorous fiction. James Cudney blogs here.

Dead Dry Heart by Toni Pike

I always wanted to compare chocolates that are not displayed in an assortment box. Mahogany, autumn brown, creamy white, all shades feasting the eye. To have the luxury of listening to the sound each slab makes as I snap a piece. Piling the broken chocolate shards with their various bits of nuts exposed. The anticipation of the first crispy bite, melting in various aromas, an explosion of cool, acidic cocoa, milky vanilla, and earthly nuts.

Crime noir and psychological thrillers are very much like this. Similar, yet different reads.
Pike’s Dead Dry Heart is a crispy autumn brown fueled by the heat of an unforgiving Australian sun. When the past you want to forget comes back to haunt you at a time when, finally, all works out in your life, what is there to do? Stay on the side of the law or do anything to save your present life, the one you worked so hard towards? And, if someone helped you once, how much do you owe them? Decisions I surely don’t want to ever be faced with.
A book with unexpected turns that will keep you reading past your bedtime, a main character you will develop mixed feelings towards, and even a few four-legged furry friends 🙂 Toni Pike blogs here.

Just Her Poetry Seasons of a Soul by D. L. Finn

The creamy, delicate flavor, never the same, of a box of chocolate assortments is poetry on the tongue. Quality milk chocolate crisp on the bite, only to release rivulets of various experiences, sweet, then salty, fruity, then buttery, spicy or creamy.

They compliment perfectly the harmony of Finn’s poetry selection. I don’t know about you, but I always find a moment for poetry in a day. Just Her Poetry Seasons of a Soul meets you with poems abut the beauty of nature, but also about emotions and life’s encounters. Either section you choose, Finn’s poetry will sooth raw emotions, but raise questions as well, for isn’t this one of the reasons we return to poems? By reading of another human being’s experiences we can overcome our own sad moments. By allowing a poet to uplift us, we relive a joyful experience, perhaps long forgotten.
This is the magic of poetry and Finn is a master painter with her well chosen words. Highly recommended for your bedside table. Denise Finn blogs here.

The Orphans’ Plight: An African Adventure (Fauna Park Tales) by Maretha Botha

What can be sweeter than donuts glazed with chocolate? Crunchy when you bite, your teeth sinking in fluffy, heavenly soft doughnut. Pinks, stripes, stars, playful rings, bouncy shapes like a birthday jumping castle. No one can resist a doughnut!

Maretha Botha’s The Orphans’ Plight: An African Adventure is a wonderful addition to her Fauna Park Tales. Told through the eyes oh Hope the owl, it shows how dangerous life can be even in rural Africa. I liked the fact that animals could speak and we, as readers, could understand them. The illustrations are works of art on their own, created with such insight by the author herself. They compliment the story and are abundant in details. And, YAY, there is a dog too, Flame, and he has unusual sniffing abilities 🙂
Great read for smaller grades, lots to look at and plenty to learn, do allow your child to give it a try. Maretha blogs here.

1 minute Microwave, Egg-less Brownie – Tried and tested (and finished in under 1 minute)

Yes, I hear you, next time I’ll pair books with coffee 🙂

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