The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a beautiful retelling that struggles with ideas of identity, destiny, relationships, and integrity. It was a heartbreaking tapestry of heroism and bravery, from military prowess to human morality. I absolutely adored this read and happily gave it five stars!

Synopsis:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

My Thoughts:

For me, the shining star in this read is the relationships. At the core of this novel is a heartbreaking queer relationship of utter devotion and a determination to be tied together despite external forces. However, it was the relationships around each of the characters that I found truly astounding. In a legend that is famous for supposed loyalty and devotation, you see the hypocrisy in public images that many of the Greek Kings and Lords display, strongly contrasted with the honesty presented in personal, intimate relationships, between friends and new found family. This read, for me, and for both Achilles and Patroclus, is about finding where you belong, and who you belong there was. Through the beautifully crafted relatioships, I found myself utterly devoted to the characters and the story line, the conclusion which is imfamous becoming one that I dreaded.

I found Achilles a particularly compelling character, largely because he is so continually affected by the infection of glory. At the beginning of the two Princes’ relationships, there is an innocence that accompanies childhood, where Achilles knows what is expected of him, but it seems more like a far off dream than something that should affect his everyday life. However, as time go on, Achilles cannot escape the plague of prophesy, and he becomes so absorbed with the glory he is expected to inhabit that you have to watch, helpless and heartbroken, as the compassionate, idealistic boy you fell in love with forcibly mutates into a hungry warrior consumed by his reputation.

Whilst I was reading this, it was very clear on social media that I adored it. I pushed and pushed and pushed for others to read it, and am still doing so to this day! One of the main things people asked me though was whether they needed to know a lot about Greek Mythology to understand what was happening. And I completely understand. I have read other books where you feel like you need a character list at the beginning just to work out who everyone is! However, one of the wonderful things about Miller’s writing is that it is so inclusive and assumes no prior knowledge. Miller introduces characters as you meet them, carefully crafting their introductions to show both their reputation in legend and the truth of who they are. I found this when I read Circe too and at no point did either books leave me feeling left in the dark. The world building also aids this greatly, and it spends great time explaining the history before Achilles and how it impacts the journey of Troy that you are reading about. The complicated political histories are laid bare in front of you, criticised by Patroclus honest narrative.

This book was such a gorgeous read. I happily devoured it and have felt like it has stayed with me since – which is always the good marking of a book I think! Determined to reread Circe this month – which happily coincides with a readalong TeaBooksAndTazmyn is running on her Patreon, but I would desperately like more Greek retellings to dive into, so make sure to leave your recommendations below!

Books You Can’t Wait to Read – Sunday Stack #6

Happy Sunday my lovelies and welcome to the last Sunday Stack of May. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this little series I’ve started over here and on my bookstagram. It has been absolutely wonderful to see other people taking part as well.

Today’s prompt is ‘Books you cannot wait to read’ and, considering Lockdown means that I have done nothing but buy books, I had a wonderful collection to choose from! I picked out some of the most captivating reads from my recent additions to share with you and, I have to say, I think they are all absolutely wonderful.

Sunday Stack #6 – Books you cannot wait to read

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I picked up this read after devouring ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ and being eager for more.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire

Winter wood by Shea Ernshaw.

If I’m being brutally honest, this one was completely a cover buy. The book is gorgeous inside and out. I have just started it and have to say it is completely intriguing.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel

This is a read is one that has taken the book world by storm and the moment I heard about it, I was instantly intrigued. Utterly scandalous and perfectly topical for the ‘Me too’ generation, I am determined to read this soon.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher. 

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

I am determined to add more diversity into my reading thus year and this one was definitely bought to achieve this goal. This novel that has been liked to the works of Orwell and the terrors of state surveillance.

Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed.

When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

I picked this read up because it was shortlisted for the international Booker prize for 2020. It is also a translated read and therefore all adds to diversifying my collection.

He’s a trickster, a player, a jester. His handshake’s like a pact with the devil, his smile like a crack in the clouds; he’s watching you now and he’s gone when you turn. Tyll Ulenspiegel is here!

In a village like every other village in Germany, a scrawny boy balances on a rope between two trees. He’s practising. He practises by the mill, by the blacksmiths; he practises in the forest at night, where the Cold Woman whispers and goblins roam. When he comes out, he will never be the same.

Tyll will escape the ordinary villages. In the mines he will defy death. On the battlefield he will run faster than cannonballs. In the courts he will trick the heads of state. As a travelling entertainer, his journey will take him across the land and into the heart of a never-ending war.

A prince’s doomed acceptance of the Bohemian throne has European armies lurching brutally for dominion and now the Winter King casts a sunless pall. Between the quests of fat counts, witch-hunters and scheming queens, Tyll dances his mocking fugue; exposing the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools.

So there you have it! I didn’t get round to writing a book haul for this month but I guess this is one of sorts. I cannot wait to dive into these reads and I hope I get to next month, readathons and all.

Because I had so much fun with this series in May, I have designed another one for June! I have already seen so many lovely and excited comments on Instagram and I cannot wait to get started. Don’t forget, if you take part make sure you tag me because I would love to see your stacks.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Trigger Warnings: drug abuse; sexual exploitation; abuse (physical; emotional; sexual); violence.

I stumbled across The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis when perusing my recommendations on Amazon and it instantly caught my eye. This YA dystopia deals with concepts such a slavery, sexual persecuation, prejudice, exploitation, trauma, and much more. It promised to be more than just a sweet YA but to shock and intrigue, promises it more than fulfilled. I was completely captivated by this story, so invested in the characters, and catapulted along with the plot that I just HAD to write a review. This debut novel left me completely mesmerized and anxious for more.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Synopsis:

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls–they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen. When Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive

My Thoughts:

I have to say I was shocked by just how dark this novel was, especially for a YA fantasy. It dealt with themes that I have seen adult reads shy away from, and did so in an incredibly mature way so that it didn’t feel like these brutal topics were being exploitated for entertainment but were representative of more real world issues in our own society. I have attached trigger warnings to the beginning of this review, especially as these topics are discussed in such a brutal way in this read that I felt myself getting uncomfortable despite not really having heard them being discussed before in relation to this book before. The novel is set against a backdrop where girls from infancy are sold into what are essentially brothels, branded so that they may never leave but are instantly recognisable, all justified due to the idea that they are being ‘saved’ from a life of poverty. No longer will they have to worry about food, because it is readily available along with drugs that they are forced to take to be made compliant. No longer will they have to worry about shelter, because they can never leave. No longer will they have to worry about protection – the Raveners, bodyguards with the ability to torment other people’s minds, will punish those who try to harm, including the girls themselves if need be. The whole process is justified due to the girls’ identities as ‘dustblood’, meaning they are a race who ‘should be punished’. This world is brutal and horrific, and a lump was in my throat the entire time I read it because I was so disgusted.

Much as the brutality of the world isn’t a cardboard cutout dystopian backdrop I expected, neither are the characters you meet along the way. Each of the five girls who escape – Aster, Violet, Tansy, Mallow, and Clementine – are so distinct and separate from each other that I felt completely immersed in their pursuit for freedom and survival. Each responds to her exploitation and trauma in an individualised way, highlighting that true violence of their experience as it cannot just be swept aside, my main complaint of a lot of books in this genre. For Clementine, her way of surviving is to find the potential for goodness in everyone. For Violet, she has learnt that everyone will try to use you, so try to use them before they can. For Aster, an unexplainable rage seems to consume her and leave her a stranger to her own body.

Their unity and determination in the face of an utter desertion of hope, for me, was what made this book so special and unique. Despite everything they have been through, there is something so inherently human about them that at no point can you forget that they are five teenagers running away from death. Yet, they still manage to hold onto some kind of optimism, some certainity that they won’t turn into the monster that are following and hunting them, even if it means placing themselves in danger along the way.

The novel also contains a huge amount of represetation within its pages, from LGBT to black representation. For something that manages so well to do something that so many do so terribly, I do not know why we are not raving about this more!

This was such a compelling read, and the journey the girls are forced to undertake is so uncertain that I felt myself tearing through each of the pages and every chapter. I was determined to find out what would happen to them, whether justice would happen, and was left vulnerable to every betrayal and deception that occured along the way. I expected a simple, straight forward story, but that is most certainly not what I got!

If you are looking for a read that will leave you at the edge of your seat, with fantastic writing and representation, and featuring characters with astounding heroism, this is definitely the pick for you.

Favourite Genre – Sunday Stack #5

Happy Sunday Lovelies! I hope this week was alright. I have been balancing planning lessons with reading in the sun and I am loving that it is getting lighter in the evenings now. Today I have another Sunday Stack post for you, with this week’s prompt being Favourite Genres.

A reminder that this is a weekly challenge I am running over on my Instagram, each week with a different sunday stack. There are no rules to take part and it has been lovely to see so many people getting involved! I’ll leave the prompts at the end of this post incase you want to take part.

But let’s get on with it and talk books!

My favourite genre is, without a doubt, historical fiction. As an avid history fanatic myself, I love new interpretations of historical periods, learning about new areas of history I didn’t know about before, and the absolute creativity that accompanies this genre. I’ve picked four of my absolute favourites to share with you today and I know you will thoroughly enjoy them if you choose to pick them up.

The Ship of Brides by JoJo Moyes

This fantastic historical fiction is set just after the end of The Second World War and follows four Austrialian brides as they travel to England to be reunited with their husbands, many of whom they haven’t seen since the wedding. It is a beautiful story dealing with some truly difficult themes, such as trauma, prejudice, and sexual inequality. I have written a review for this read here and I cannot recommend it enough. This was an area of history I wasn’t aware of myself but Moyes writing style is completely mesmerizing.

Last Letter Home – Rachel Hore

Continuing with the War trend, with have another book set around The Second World War. I wrote a review for this book which you can read here, but it follows a woman as she tries to uncover the hidden mysteries surrounding her family and their lives in the war. It is a tale of two times lines and centres around sacrifice and absolute devotion. It is a completely heartbreaking read that I cannot recommend enough.

The Corset – Laura Purcell

Oh my goodness, can I rave about this book enough? It is my worst kept secret that I am absolutely obsessed with Laura Purcell, and her reimagining of the Victorian period is completely captivating and fascinating. I have written a review of this read here and I have to say it is my favourite of her books so far. This read follows a Prisoner ‘Ruth Butterman’ who is on trial for murder, however we are left wondering if she is truly murderous or simply mad. Ruth is convinced that she committed her murder through supernatural powers gifted to her needle, thread, and stitches. In a chilling Gothic tale of betrayal and bittereness, absolutely nothing is certain.

The Familiars – Stacey Halls

I have seen this book resurfacing in the bookish-verse recently and I absolutely love that. I found this read really interesting, set in the period of the witch trials. Our main character, Fleetwood Shuttleworth (worst name ever), is determined to protect her midwife Alice Grey, but finds herself thrown into a world of terror, persecution and witchcraft. I have written a review for this read here and cannot wait to pick up her latest.

And there you have it! I hope you find some interesting new reads thorugh these recommednations and I’d love to know what your favourite historical reads are.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“But it hasn’t gotten me very far, that type of kindness. The world respects people who think they should be running it.”

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid seems to have taken the world by storm, much like the titular actress did in her fictional world. I picked this read up as part of my work book club and can totally see why it is such a success. I recently read Daisy Jones and the Six, Reid’s documentary style novel about a fictional band, and can definitely see elements that I loved in that novel at work here, which I why I think I enjoyed it so much. I gave this read five stars, and I have to say it took me completely by surprise. But I’m getting ahead of myself here – something that always happens when I try to write a review for a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Synopsis:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Thoughts:

For me, major success of this novel has to come from Evelyn herself. In her we have a protagonist who at times seems to be her own antagonist. She is utterly fierce, unbelievably strong, and undeniably tenacious. I loved that her confidence meant that she said what ‘shouldn’t’ be said, presenting the world as it truly was, never mind how horrible and cruel that was or the social taboos that people like to cower behind. Evelyn is under no misconceptions about the world, and sees it for how truly exploitative it is. But rather than weep and crumble in the presence of this, she is determined to get everything out of this world that she can. Knowing that the world will just see her as ‘a piece of ass’, Evelyn manipulates her appearance, the media’s fascination with her, and even the men who want to own her, simply to progress her career and protect those she loves. In many ways this is admirable, which causes you to hestitate when you realise how undeniably cruel and manipulative she can be. But Evelyn sees the world as a place where everything is a facade … so why not continue that facade to survive?

“Oh, I know the whole world prefers a woman who doesn’t know her power, but I’m sick of all that.”

Relationships play a pivotal role in this novel, romantic and otherwise. I fell in love with the connections Evelyn made with those around her, and cried my eyes out in her moments of pure vulnerability. For all her ferocity, Evelyn seems to be a character who is simply longing for some place to belong, and some people to belong with. It’s easy to get sucked into the glamour and scandal that accompanies her, but the moments of heartbreaking honesty surrounding her relationships with others truly presents Evelyn as the multi-layered and complex character that has suddenly taken the bookish world by storm.

I also loved that novel covered such a wide range of hard hitting topics. I will put some trigger warnings here for abuse (emotional and physical), death, and alcoholism, just so you are aware if these affect you. I will say, however, that these events are presenting in a way where the reader is left to face the reality of the situation rather than the semantics of them. Evelyn seems to have removed the emotions from such events, for example her early sexualisation in her teens, viewing them in a rational and calculating way which I found quite unsettling. Whilst I didn’t quite agree with her justifications in the face of such horrible events, her determination somehow makes some sort of success out of them, despite the brutality presented. I thought the discussions surrounding social stigma, inquality, and prejudice was particularly interesting and insightful.

You cannot talk about this book without discussing representation. What I found particularly interesting were the layers of representation within this novel. Before reading it, I knew that Evelyn was a bisexual woman and I knew there would be LGBTQ+ representation in the novel, however when reading it I was impressed by the representation of race within the novel, especially towards how it is viewed through a largely white society. Most of the women in the ‘present’ are strong and not of white ethicity, which I found incredibly important. However, what I find interesting is the irony that the representation is so prevalent in this novel, but completely separate to the perception of the celebrity ‘Evelyn Hugo’ in the novel’s media and public consciousness. We, as readers, know Evelyn as this strong queer woman, however she spends the majority of her life crushing any aspect of her that could be ‘different’. She even dyes her hair blonde to not be erronously seen as ‘mexican’, and refuses to speak anything other than English. The only ‘controversial’ aspect of herself that she will allow to exist is her scandalous and sexualised identity, which is as fake as her hair in truth. The autobiography itself is only to be written because Evelyn now views it as ‘safe’ to be seen as anything different, and is only to be published once she has died, and is therefore ‘free’ from being seen in this way, at least knowingly. I thought this was really interesting because I think it defintely makes us think about what the media prioritises and allows, which parts of us it wants to consume and which it wants to reject. When I read this novel, especially Evelyn’s manipulation and persecuation from the media, I couldn’t help but think about how it applies to our own media, and the tragedies that have come from this savagery.

For most of this review I have spoken about Evelyn and those connected to her. For me, she is the reason I found this novel so enjoyable. The second lead, Monique, I found quite clunky and irritating, longing simply to hear from Evelyn instead. I understand why she was there, and also why she was presented in this way, but my-oh-my I did not enjoy her. I also found the big reveal about her character and why she was there quite underwhelming, but I think that’s because it was very Daisy Jones and the Six-y but not as impactful.

Overall, I absolutely adored this read. It is clear to see the Reid has found her niche with this style of writing and I can’t wait to see what she delivers next. A wonderful five star rating from me!

Beautiful Spines – Sunday Stack #4

Hello and happy weekend! Today I have another Sunday Stack post for you, and the prompt for this week was ‘Beautiful Spines’. I am definitely a sucker for a beautiful book so picking which ones to single out was definitely a difficult task. This is from a Sunday Stack challenge I am running over on my bookstagram, and I’ll leave a picture of the prompts at the bottom if you want to take part. I’m currently trying to plan out more fun topics for June! However, these books aren’t just beautiful – they have fantastic stories within them too. From retellings to historical fiction to fantasy, there should be a little something for everyone in this stack.

Book stack: The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; The Ten Thousand Doors of Janurary by Alix E. Harrow; The Familiars by Stacey Halls; The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon; Little women by Louisa May Alcott; The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; Fairy lights.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

Isn’t this spine just beautiful? And the story inside is just as wonderful. This is a creative retelling of Dracula, focusing on Dracula’s wives. Combining elements of the gothic, folklore, and fantasy, this read left me completely astounded. I read it in one sitting and am definitely due a reread. I love that the heroines in this novel are completely tenacious and relentless. This novel also features as gorgeous f/f romance.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Now this is a book I bought solely for the cover, and I have absolutely no regrets. I haven’t read this yet but I have heard wonderful things about it.

“In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place. Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.” – Good Reads

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

This is a wonderful historical fiction, set in the time of witch trials, and you can read my review here. It deals with themes of deception and betrayal in a beautifully intriguing plot that will leave you guessing at every page.

“Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft. Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other. ” – Good Reads

The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon.

Everything about this book is gorgeous, its spine no less so. This wonderful high fantasy is a true treat, and I loved listening to it on audiobook last year. I’m hoping to reread it soon and can’t wait to dive back in. This also features queer representation.

“The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic. Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.” – Good Reads

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

This beautiful children’s classic has inspired and captured the hearts of many, and I can’t believe I still haven’t read it yet! In light of the recent film adaption that should be out on DVD soon, I need to read this book as I can’t believe I haven’t got round to it yet. Hopefully this gorgeous cover will inspire me to!

The Mercies – Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

This is a very interesting book with a very beautiful spine – and it even has sprayed edges! This is a historical fiction based on a true event where a storm left the entire island of Vardø is left almost entirely ran by women. Having made the Norweigen King anxious by simply being women, a witch finder for Scotland is sent to interrogate them, bringing with him his timid wife who does not know how to adjust to life on the island, or with the man she has married. The relationship that blossoms within this novel between the women backs this novel truly unique, even if I did find that the plot was somewhat lacking, just because they were so beautiful. If you are looking for complex characters but not an over-complicated plot, I would recommend this.

And there you have it! I am absolutely loving compiling these lists and I hope you are enjoying them too. I will leave the prompts below incase you would like to take part too.

What beautiful spines do you love?

#MakeYourMythTaker TBR

Today I thought I would share my #MakeYourMythTaker TBR, the readathon run by Ashleigh from AFrolicThroughFiction and Charlotte from beigepages . This is a readathon that is taking part during the month of June, where there is a series of book prompts based on the character that you want to be. You follow the path set out by the book prompts in order to become a particular character. You can watch the full video explaining this here, but the main path I will be following is the monarch path, with the plan to move over to the Goddess path for my final read.

When I did the OWLsreadathon in April, I could basically challenge myself to read as much as I could, what with my circumstances changing and working significantly reduced hours. The readathon actually gave me a wonderful opportunity to distract myself and fill my time with something I love, especially as I can’t stand having nothing to do. However, I’m not sure where I stand in June, especially as no one is sure when (or if) schools will be coming back or what this means for teachers like myself, so I’ve tried to be practical with my TBR and pick books I know I should be able to finish … which definitely meant I had to put beasts like Priory to the side – no matter how heavy my heart was in the process!

TBR book pile for the #makeyoumythtaker readathon: 
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
Rival Queens by Kate Williams 
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
#MakeYourMythTaker TBR

Prompt 1: A book with a Queen as the Main Character

For this I have picked Rival Queens by Kate Williams, which has Mary Queen of Scots as its main character. I’m fairly sure this is a fiction, largely because it has a prologue, but I’m going to count it anyway even if it’s a non-fiction. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between Mary and Queen Elizabeth, something I thought I knew a lot about but, having visited Edinburgh in December 2019, I’ve learnt I know only the bare minimum. I picked this up at Edinburgh Castle and I can’t wait to dive into it and discover more. I thoroughly enjoy Kate William’s writing too, with her English Mistress being one of my favourite non-fictions of all time, so I can’t wait to see what she does with this.

Prompt 2: Read a book with royal colours on the cover (red, purple, or gold)

For this prompt, I have picked The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, which has a wealth of gold on the cover. I know I am incredibly late to the hype over this series, but I recently bought it after hearing the love for it over on twitter. I was planning on reading it this month but, firstly Shadowhunters has taken over my life, and secondly I would sooner save it for something special like this. I actually don’t know anything about the plot for this read, and am planning to go into it fairly in the dark, but I do know that a lot of people are in love with it. I have also heard that a lot of people preferred reading this with the audiobook to be more immersed so that may be something to consider.

Prompt 3: Highest Rated Book on my TBR

For this, I counted the books that I have recently been given and the books that I had taken with me to my parents’ pre-lockdown, largely because I am expecting to still be here in June. The highest book in that pile was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, which I was lucky enough to recieve for my birthday. I have heard so many wonderful things about this read and I cannot wait to dive in. As a literature grad and teacher, this book promises to satisfy all my Shakespearean desires so I.CANNOT.WAIT.

Prompt 4: Randomise your TBR

Again, based on the TBR shelf I created on GoodReads for the books that I currently have, I used a number generator to pick my read for this. The number is spat out was 25, which after a somewhat stressful count, came out as Agatha Christie’s Crooked House. I picked this up after I watched a recent adaptation and fell in love with the mystery. Since then I have completely forgotten what happens! I can’t wait to dive into this read, especially as I don’t usually read murder mysteries so it would be nice to try a new genre.

So, that’s my TBR! I’m so excited to see what the month of June holds in store for me in terms of reading, and I’m so excited to take part in this readathon. I’m also planning on taking part in the writing side of the readathon to, which I haven’t decided if I’m going to publish anywhere yet. It’s been such a long time since I’ve written creatively so fingers crossed this all goes in plan.

Heroes and Villains – Sunday Stack #3

Today I have another Sunday Stack blog post for you, this one based on ‘Heroes and Villians’. Everyone knows it is the making of a good novel for have a hero your heart goes out to, and villians that make your blood boil. We love to be reminded of ultimate bravery and ultimate treachery in whatever forms they take. Today, I have selected four reads that fulfill this for me, that leave me astounded and shocked at what I am reading.

For my first pick, I selected the phenomeanal ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. The world of Gilead is so monstrous that I cannot think of a better villain (or villains) to kick this post off. What always astounds me with this novel is how villainous the world painted is, how it feels like it could never exist but also feel like it is entirely possible. Hatred and pain lurks in every corner, feeding into every conversation, and every place Offred finds herself in seems overwhelmingly like a cage. When I read this book, I never expected to be as impressed with it as I was espeically as I have read so many books that are similar to it, but Atwood’s dystopian world is so unique because it seems so entirely possible. When I think back to books like ‘The Power’, I think there are always parts of me that, although obviously draw comparisions to the world we live in, am always aware that it is an interpretation of what could happen. Atwood creates something that truly feels like a chronicle, a haunting tableau of how horrific humans can be.

Next is a book that I love that I have been talking more about recently, and that is ‘Things Half in Shadow’ by Alan Finn. This is a book that will always have a special place in my heart because it was one of the central texts in my Masters in Literature dissertation, where I looked at neo-Victorian texts that feature spiritualism, which is why I think books that fit into these characteristics are always my absolute favourites. This book is set in post-civil-war Philedephia, and follows the journalist, Edward Clark, as he tries to uncover the dubious and criminal world of spirtualism in the city which is conning large numbers of the wealthy out of their money through a series of fake seances. However, as he is blackmailed by one fake medium, Lucy Collins, he discovers a sinister sequence of murders that seems to have been commited by ghosts. What I love about this novel is the central pair, Edward and Lucy. Both challenge many of the stereotypes thrusted upon them, whilst also being aware of what other characters expect of them. Edward is a veteran of the civil war and is traumatised by his experiences, having watched those he loved die in front of them and being unable to save them. Although he knows society would paint him as weak for feeling this, Edward somehow manages to maintain this and turn it into a strength, refusing to be hardened by the powers at be in this society. Lucy, similarly, knows that society would paint her in one particular way, that as a medium she is ultimately sexualised, however she uses this to as a power that she can fire back on others, bending them to her will and tricking them because they are determined to see her as weak. What I liked is that Finn didn’t try to challenge the stereotypes or make Lucy a hero by removing her sexuality, but instead insisting on it, showing that it didn’t paint her as the damsel in distress but instead the person in control.

The ultimate villain for me is Queen Levana from Marissa Meyer’s ‘The Lunar Chronicles’. For this stack, I picked ‘Fairest’, the novella all about Levana, from when she was a young, naive, and tortured princess, to when she became the powerful, formidable Queen we see in the main four books. For me, this book truly painted a hyper-realistic image of Levana, meaning that she was a villain that left me completley captivated. Levana is such a complicated character, especially in the fact that she truly believes that she has a right to do what she does. Fear and insecurity dominates everything she does and she is as helpless to herself as she makes other people feel. Levana for me will be the ‘ultimate’ villain because when I read this series, she was the person I longed to see, just as much if not more than the main group of characters. She is just wonderuflly villainous.

My final pick is the series I am currently working through: The Dark Artifices. I picked ‘Lord of Shadows’ as I feel like it displays true heroism thorugh the conections between the characters and the sacrifices they make due to them. True love and devotion shapes the Blackthorns, as well as Emma Carstairs, and Cristina, and I felt that this is what has made me truly fall in love with these characters. Each character is unique yet their affection ties them together, especially in their determination to see their family safe. As I hurtle through the final book, having my heartbroken by these heroes, I can’t wait to see what else they have in store.

These four books are the ones that instantly come to mind when I think of ‘Heroes and Villian’s. Each holds a story whcih is simply fascinating and beautiful. Even writing this blog post now, I am itching to reread them!

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?”

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is, quite simply, a masterpiece. I came upon this book by accident and went into it without much prior knowledge and it simply blew me away. I actually mistakenly picked this up thinking it was my work’s book club pick of ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ and, honestly, the duality of those names adds to the creepy mindbending magic of Turton’s novel, not that it was obviously intended. From the very beginning it felt like I was being swept into the book with its own power, even by picking up by accident, and I never truly felt like I was anything other than under its spell. Far from the lighthearted fuzzy feel good I have been led to believe Evelyn Hugo is, this novel is all about dark twist plots, betrayal, deception, and the problematic blurring of redemption and vengence.

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem. ~ Good Reads

This synopsis, I believe, doesn’t do the intrigue and confusing magic of this novel justice. Our journey into this novel begins with a man who has no recollection of where he is, why he is outside in the woods with knife marks up his arms, or even who he is. Instead, the only thing he knows is the name on his lips: Anna. As he tries to convince his fellow party guests, all of whom seem to know who he is despite his complete ignorance to who they are, of the girl whose life he believes to be in danger, our main character experiences a day filled with trauma and distress, only to eventually pass out from exhaustion. This is to be expected, except when he wakes up, it is the same day again, and he is experiencing the day as a completely different person to who he was yesterday.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

“Who must I have been to assemble so many enemies?”

Needless to say, this read is completely thrilling. Intriguing doesn’t seem a strong enough word for how I felt reading this book, often feeling so immersed that saying I shared in the characters’ distress is not simply a throwaway cliche comment but a reality. For me, the main spectacle of this novel is how effectively Turton creates a main character who inherently changes every couple of chapters, whilst simultaneously staying the same person. Wrap your head around that one! Each ‘host’ as our narrator calls them is completely different but yet that narrator, the person inhabiting their bodies, stays the same. What you are left with is this fascinating struggle between the hosts’ instincts and personalities and our narrator’s determination to maintain control. What was interesting was that everytime our narrator inhabits each of the characters’ bodies, their bodies seem to ‘know’ things the mind would not, leaving our narrator at the mercy of each of his hosts, from their personality and their emotions towards others, and the painful memories they tended to invite to the surface. There was a real sense that he was losing himself to these hosts which added to the desperation our main character feels and the determination to uncover the true killer of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Turton’s writing style is heavily steeped in suspense and dramatic aciton and this is another massive selling point for the novel. I often found myself having to reread sections, almost saying to myself ‘hang on a minute …’, as you are left to see if your hunches add up, or because the action is so sudden you are left is disbelief and, if you’re like me, with your jaw thoroughly dropped. The narrative passages are also simply gorgeous and often highly metaphorical in order to truly paint a picture of the world and chaos in which Blackheath embodies.

This novel is unlike anything I have read before and the experience devouring it was truly unique. Clearly it is a mystery, yet that word seems so inadaquate as it was so much more than that. I was absolutely hooked onto every page and the uncertainity continues to the very last page and beyond. I loved that I was left completely at the mercy of the writing, truly feeling like a passager in the narrative. At no point could I guess what would happen, leaving me completely immersed and absolutely obsessed. I can already tell this will be a firm favourite of the year, if not beyond.

Worlds to Escape into – Sunday Stack #2

For me, my love for reading comes from the fact it gives me an opportunity to escape reality for a moment. Books allow you to step into a safe space of imagination, where all is possible and wonderful. I always love finding new worlds that I can immerse myself in, and thought that for today’s post I would share my favourite worlds. I’m sure many of you will share in my love for them, and it gives us a chance to squeal and discuss them to our hearts’ content.

Just a reminder that I am taking part in my #sundaystack instagram challenge this month, and this was the prompt for today. I’ve left the prompts below if you would like to take part, on whatever platform, and be sure to tag me in your posts if you do because I’d love to see them!

As you might be aware, I am currently staying at my parents’ for lockdown and so therefore am limited to the books that I have left behind in my childhood bedroom. I thought this would be a challenge, with my favourite books currently left at my house an hour away, but whilst I looked over my shelves, I realised that a lot of my series were actually tucked away here! I’m not a massive collector of books – or rather books that I have read … I definitely have a lot of books due to an uncontrollable buying habit!- and therefore tend to only keep books if I feel like they’ve impacted me massively, have sentimental value, or – and most predominantly- are part of a large and expansive series. Therefore, for my sunday stack I picked three of my favourite worlds that are so complex and intricate and that I regularly lose myself in, largely because they are part of a series.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The secretive, complex, and intricate wizarding world that JK Rowling created was one of the first worlds I lost myself in – something I sure many of you can relate to too. We worked out the other week that I first walked into this universe when I was six years old – 6! – and therefore this is literally a world I have grown up with. I can’t imagine life without this hidden society. What makes this world so special for me is because it is so developed, with multiple layers within the present society, past and future. I picked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to represent this series in this stack because I feel like people are sometimes unnecessarily harsh towards it. I get it to a certain extent, especially when we consider that the last book we had from Rowling was the Epic Deathly Hallows , but for me this script took me back to the wonder I felt when I read the earlier books for the first time. It was such a beautiful invitation to return back to the world that truly felt like home. I have also seen this play on stage twice and let me just tell you that it is a spectacle within itself. I loved the interesting topics, the complications with the past we lived through in the original series, and the new debates and questions that the play posed. For me, I do think this is a secret favourite – though nothing will beat Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for me!

The political landscape of the Shadowhunter Word

For my next expansive world , I have picked Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter collosus. This was probably the world I jumped into after Harry Potter, and I can remember picking up The City of Bones from my independant bookshop when I was like 13, just because the girl at the counter had heard it wasn’t ‘terrible’. Out of that impulsive decision, an obsession grew as I journeyed through each book. What I love about this world is that it is so big, that I genuinely feel like there is a book for every stage of my reading journey as it were. When I loved YA fantasy, there was the original series. When I fell in love with historical fiction, there were the Infernal Devices. I had kind of forgotten this world but, by coming home and seeing they were on my shelves, I knew I wanted to get lost in this world once more. I have the first two books of the Dark Artifices series but never read the finale, so have decided in May this is something I simply have to do! I can’t wait to lose myself in this universe once more and learn more about the intricate details of this hidden society. I also desperately want to read Chain of Gold but refuse to do so until I have finished Dark Artifices, as it seems ludicrous to start a new series when one is unfinished.

The futuristic phenomenon that is the Lunar Chronicles.

I always find retellings so fascinating because there is so much that is possible when you move away from the original text. When I first entered this world, I was blown away by how familiar but also innovative this world painted by Meyer was. I devoured each and every one of the books, especially Winter which I felt was the most satisfying conclusion to a series I have read so far. I have picked Stars Above to represent this series just because I loved it so much. I loved being able to revist the characters and learn more about their lives, whilst also having the opportunity to explore different aspects of this world, particularly in short stories like The Little Android which was one of my favourites.

So there you have it. Those are my top 3 favourite worlds to escape into. These are the worlds that give me instant joy, even to just think about and recollect on. What are your favourite worlds to get lost in?