The Secret History by Donna Tartt

It really goes to show that sometimes when your friends recommend you something, it ends up being one of the best things you’ve read in a long while – and also helps to increase your trust in your friends’ tastes. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of those books for me, as almost everyone at work – and a few outside of work – have told me for ages that I would adore it. Every time I mentioned that I hadn’t read it, I would receive a gasp from my audience which would be immediately followed by something along the lines of ‘But you have to read it, you’re going to love it’. They were right.

*This is a spoiler free review*

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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

This book is narrated by Richard, a young man from California who moves to a university/college to study Classics (and this is where I do a mini dance for the glory of study Classics, but a word of warning: if you study Classics you will not do what these students do. Or at least I bloody well hope not). On arrival at his new college, he discovers that there is an elite group of students who study with one particular teacher, who is known for refusing to take on anyone else. When Richard manages to be accepted into the fold, he discovers that there are many secrets within this group, ones that he is desperate to discover.

What is immediately enticing about this book is that it does not start with Richard moving to this new school. No, instead this book starts with the murder of one of these students, a young man nicknamed Bunny, at the hands of his classmates. Now before you start declaring me as your spoiler enemy, relax – this is said on the blurb and on the opening page. You go into this book knowing that somehow, and for some reason, Richard and these other elite students decide to murder Bunny. You only get a few pages in this opening before it jumps back to when Richard joins the college, and he narrates from some distant time that you’re not exactly aware of. I worried that I would grow bored of a book knowing this climax, but I was entirely wrong. There are so many other events that take place, and experiencing a book knowing that one of the main characters will be murdered is unlike any other. You’re constantly trying to connect the dots to various secrets and see how they all add up, and you’re questioning every tiny detail. I was desperate to keep reading only so I could find out what was going on, and once you know the secrets it feels like you as a reader are included in this elitist group.

I enjoyed the Classics references for obvious reasons, and all I can say is that after reading several books recently that made me feel slightly stupid for not getting the references (looking at you Chris Kraus), I was overjoyed to understand the finer details of this book. You grow to love these strange characters, and equally fall out of love with them. Tartt’s writing is beautiful and elegant, her sentences almost like poetry at times with the lyrical, whimsical nature. Storytelling at its finest, and it has to be when you know about Bunny’s murder from the get-go.

Overall, this book was an easy five stars for me. I’d recommend it to everyone, especially classics lovers, as it blends literary fiction with murder mystery with thriller. Just brilliant.

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July Reading Wrap Up

It is past the halfway point for 2017, and I know that each one of these Wrap Up posts are sounding a bit repetitive now as in every single one, I think I’ve hardly read anything – and then I get to writing this update and realise that, hang on, I’ve actually done well. I’ll do my best next time to not mention it, but honestly it’s surprising how quickly you can read something and then completely forget about it if it didn’t make you feel something strongly – be that love or hate. I tend to remember books I hate far more than many of the books I love, instead of remembering all those mediocre books that probably deserve more love than I gave them.

Right, that’s enough blabbing, onto the wrap up.

First off was This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay, a non-fiction book that is out later this year that I have honestly not stopped talking about since finishing. Adam Kay is a comedian, but used to be a junior doctor – and was one for many years. This book is an amalgamation of the diaries he kept as a junior doctor, and let me tell you the entries are heartwarming, hilarious, charming, gripping, and will make you cry with genuine despair and utter delight. This had me laughing out loud on the tube as well as sniffling on the bus, but I was unable to put it down. It is definitely a favourite for this year, and I can’t wait until everyone has a chance to read it – fingers crossed that it will help change minds and demonstrate just how much love we should be giving to the NHS (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Hunt).

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Next up is something that has been on my TBR for a long time, and that was The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye. Ever since I finished The Crown’s Game, I have been desperate to pick this one up. I enjoyed it and am so glad I got my hands on a copy, but have to admit that it didn’t quite have the same gripping, out-of-this-world feel to it as the first. Definitely a series to pick up if you’re a fan of CaravalThe Night Circus, or anything that involves magic, duels, or a fantasy reimagining of the past.

It has also taken me this long to realise that even short reads count towards the book goal, which is why I was very glad that a friend gave me Chess by Stefan Zweig for my birthday. Not only was it short, but it was a classic – that I loved! A rare find indeed, and I’d recommend this little treasure to anyone who wants to read more classic literature but either doesn’t have the time, dedication, or willpower to invest in a longer tome.

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After that I read Hold Your Own, a poetry collection by Kate Tempest – and let me tell you, I have a new love for poetry. After my struggles with milk and honey (see here for more details), I was worried that maybe poetry was not my thing – but then of course I would think of sonnets and Shakespeare and epic and think surely not. The same wonderful friend who gifted me Chess also gave me this delight from Tempest, a collection that is framed around the mythology of Tiresias. Not only was the Classics student and mythology enthusiast inside me satisfied, but the whimsical, creative part of me was overjoyed. This collection is raw, honest, and does everything I had hoped milk and honey would do, seemingly effortless.

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Next up is the book that had me delighted as well as terrified every time I brought it out of my bag in public, and that was I Love Dick by Chris Kraus. Honestly? I don’t even know what to say. Definitely not what I expected, as it is part memoir and part fiction. Whilst there have been books to genre blend fiction and non-fiction in the past that I’ve loved (looking at you Lincoln in the Bardo), this one was just not quite my cup of tea. I found myself skimming passages and then re-reading the same line over and over. Honestly, it made me feel quite inadequate and stupid, so I’m hoping my book club can enlighten me to all I missed when I was reading this.

Then, finally, we have Franny & Zooey by J.D Salinger, yet another short, delightful classic. It’s made me want to pick up The Catcher in the Rye as soon as I can, just because of the beautiful language. Each sentence is perfectly crafted and I can honestly say, as someone who isn’t a fan of classics, I enjoyed every moment. It didn’t feel like I was forcing myself to read an older piece of literature, but closer to just sitting back and simply relishing in brilliant writing that had me grinning every now and again. A brilliant portrayal of family relationships and our own relationships with religion.

And that is it! Six books this month and whilst two were short and one was a poetry collection, they all still count towards my reading challenge. Hurrah!

  1. ***4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. *A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. **‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. ***Finish a series you’ve started
  9. A friend’s favourite book
  10. **Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. ***A book from your TBR
  17. *******Book published in 2017

So I now have two more notches for my ‘4 classics’ challenge, which means just one more to go thanks to Chess and Franny & ZooeyCrown’s Fate has another notch for the TBR challenge, Hold Your Own has another for poetry, and This is Going to Hurt gives yet another for the 2017 challenge. When I started these challenges this year, I originally had a book picked out for each category, but as I’ve gone along I’ve found it so much better to read whatever picks my fancy. I’m currently reading something for an uncompleted challenge, which makes me very happy, so here’s hoping August lets me tick a few more things off. So here’s to good books and talented authors, because who knows where I’d be without them.

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June Book Haul

It’s been a while since I’ve let myself go crazy with buying books, but after my birthday last month I not only received money to buy some books, but also received plenty of actual books from friends. It seemed apt to have a little post to commemorate the 21st birthday book haul, and maybe introduce you to some books you may not have seen.

First: the stack.

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This, ladies and gentleman, is the mighty stack of books that make up this haul post. Seven of them were gifts and the rest were picked up by me, so we’ll go from top to bottom.

You can see that the first four books are much smaller that the others, and these are from the new Vintage Minis series from Penguin. The series is made up of books on subjects, everything from Babies and Swimming to Drugs and Death. They look beautiful as a collection and each one is written by an incredible author – and they’re all £3.50 each, so win-win. The ones that I decided to pick up were Liberty by Virginia Woolf, Desire by Haruki Murakami, Love by Jeanette Winterson, and Death by Julian Barnes. These are perfect insights to an array of subjects and will also give you a taste for the writing from these unbelievable authors. I’m especially interested in reading Winterson’s Mini, as I’m a fan of her Weight which I did for my dissertation, as well as reading something from Murakami, a very popular author who I’ve yet to read anything from.

Next on my pile is American Gods by Neil Gaiman which, spoiler, is not the only book that I’ve picked up from him. I absolutely adored Neverwhere, and have been thinking about reading something else from Neil Gaiman for a while. As there is now a TV show on the book, one that everyone adores, I figure that American Gods should be the next one I try to delve into – despite it being one hell of a chunky book.

I then picked up two books from J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny & Zooey. I’ve never read the first, a classic that everyone has heard of, and the latter has been recommended to me by some colleagues who say it is one of their favourite classics. As someone who is trying to read more classics, I thought these two would be good to pick up and have a try.

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Moving on to the books that were gifts by my brilliant friends who have excellent tastes (which is to be expected, as most of them are also booksellers). I received Hotel World by Ali Smith, an author I have been desperate to read something from for ages, so couldn’t be happier with this pick. The same friend also bought be Chess by Stefan Zweig and Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest, both of which I have already finished. Coming from someone who sometimes struggles with ‘classics’, which for me is not the same as ancient classics which I adore, Chess was perfect. As a novella, it was easy to digest and get through without feeling bogged down at any moment, but it by no means lacked in description or character development. Exquisitely crafted, this is definitely one I’ll be recommending to others in the future. If you read this blog, you’ll know that I recently tried milk and honey and didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Reading a poetry collection from Kate Tempest, however, showed me everything that I wanted from poetry and more. Especially considering that I adore ancient mythology, this collection is framed around Tiresias, a character from Greek mythology, and the messages and themes that it depicts were just stunning and perfect. I have definitely been won over.

Then we have How To Be Parisian, the perfect coffee-table book which I received, and I’m hoping it will make me more stylish (though I’m not holding my breath). I was then given another clothbound classic, which was Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys to add to my ever-growing collection.

After that, something I’m very excited about, is The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which was given to me – pretty much all of my colleagues and friends outside of the book industry have told me how amazing this book is and how much I’m going to love it, so I’m at once excited and nervous about picking it up. The final book I was given was Insomniac City by Bill Hayes, and whilst I’m usually not too good with non-fiction I have heard nothing but good things about this one, so I cannot wait.

Then, last but not least, I bought Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. As we all know, I absolutely adore all things mythology, but I haven’t had a chance to delve into norse mythology – until now. Considering how much of a fantastic writer Neil Gaiman is anyway, I’m sure that this book will be as entertaining as it is informative, so I can’t wait to start it.

And that brings me to the end of my June book haul! Let me know if you’ve read anything in this pile, or even if you have any more recommendations (preferably for books, but I’ll take what I can get).

If you haven’t already, you can always follow me on Goodreads if you’re interested to see what I’m reading (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/25185380-eleanor). Currently, I’m reading I Love Dick by Chris Kraus and the novelty has worn off, so I now feel very anxious reading it on public transport.

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May Fairyloot Unboxing

It comes as no surprise that book subscription boxes are my vice, and every month if I have saved enough money and can come up with a good enough excuse why I should treat myself (this month’s excuse was exams, in case you were curious), I ordered myself one. Fairyloot has definitely become my go-to for subscription boxes, as not only are they a UK based company, but also for the fact that every single one I’ve had in the past I loved. It also helps that the May theme was ‘Warriors & Legends’, and as a Classics student who is a huge fan of epic and wrote her dissertation on heroes, this was definitely going to be a box for me.

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Featured above is the design for this month, which was also included on a book mark – and, again, I’m a girl who is a big fan of all things dogs so clearly we’re onto a winner already.

The first two items were a tin of green tea named after the box from The Tea Leaf co and an exclusive candle titled ‘Mist’ to fit the theme of the book for this month’s box from In the Wick of Time. Two really lovely items, both of which I’ve already used (and, obviously, loved).

These next two are perhaps my favourite items in the whole box. The first is a pair of Celtic Socks, I believe from Fairyloot themselves, which are as comfortable as they are pretty. Then, as if this box was directly aimed at me, someone who basically tailored their degree into one on Ancient mythology, they included the book World Mythology in Bite-sized Chunks by Mark Daniels. Both items are just so well thought out and definitely work with the theme – and did I mention how much I love it? Yes? Oh.

Then we have a stunning bookmark from Ink and Wonder with a quote from The Lord of the Rings, ‘One ring to rule them all’. Apparently their bookmarks are made from sustainably sourced wood, so how can you not love it? Then there is the brilliant Metallic Feather Pen from Flora’s Wonder Emporium which, as you can probably guess from my reactions to everything else in this box, I absolutely adore.

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And finally, the beautiful book of this month is Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. Described as a retelling of Mulan set in feudal Japan, I am so onboard and definitely ready to bump it up on my TBR list – not to mention that it’s just such a beautiful book.

And so I come to the not-really-surprising conclusion that this box was everything I wanted and more, so I would highly recommend to any fantasy booklovers who are interested in trying out a subscription box to look into Fairyloot. Their boxes usually run out pretty quickly every month, so definitely keep an eye out for when they next go on sale as I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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(Still trying to improve my book-taking photos, and was actually pretty proud of how this turned out. You can however see that the book is balancing on something else, which I’m unashamed to admit is a copy of A Conjuring of Light by V.E Schwab because, honestly, there’s nothing stronger or more stable than that.)

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Most of my comments about this book stem from a discussion we had in a book club meeting last week – something which I want to talk of in itself as it’s such a great experience, but will do that in it’s own post. One thing the group definitely helped with was developing my thoughts and feelings about this specific book, and hearing the varied responses from everyone.

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In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

The Power is a very, very interesting book to read. Looking at a reversal in the ‘power dynamic’ between genders, it explores what would happen if teenage girls everywhere woke up one day with immense physical power and how it would change our world. Overall, I gave this book 3.5 stars because, looking back, it is a very clever book and what the author was trying to achieve was indeed very good. It explored several various issues and topics and dealt with most of them well, but there are definitely some areas in which it lacks. This discussion I will keep as spoiler free as possible for those of you wishing to read it in the future.

First off, there are four main characters we follow: a man called Tunde from Nigeria who chooses a career in journalism to document the changes in the world, a foster girl called Allie whose religious parents abuse her, a local American politician who wishes to advance in her career, and a girl from London who belongs to a family on the wrong side of the law. We follow these characters and watch as each of them are changed and affected by this phenomenon. It turns out that, whilst initially being interested in all of them, I ended up only really caring about the narrative of one towards the end. Whilst it depends on what interests you, I personally struggled to keep interested in certain character plot developments.

The opening and first third of this book is brilliant, and I devoured it rather quickly. It’s dealt with very well, from initial reactions that really don’t surprise you (the overwhelming response from some of the male population to section off these girls from the rest of society) to the small details of how boys are told not to be out too late or go out on their own. This initial section is what I found really gripping, and it is very striking in how society is presented – mainly due to the fact that the usual, commonplace phrases that girls hear all the time are switched to boys.

Yet, I find that I kept thinking – in the narratives that followed – that this book would work far better as a collection of short stories. It felt like the author was taking on far too much, and it would be better to have more focused individual stories, as there are moments when some things are mentioned in passing to the point of being worryingly underdeveloped. A few of these instances was brought up in our discussion, and one that I want to mention is the discussion on sexuality – or lack of. There is a character within the novel whose power is noted to be ‘defective’, and it just so happens that she is also mentioned to be one of the few queer characters. It also just so happens that, for a time, she dates a boy who has a chromosome deformity, which grants him the use of this power. On top of that, they meet online in a group for delinquents and, in it’s name, it uses two derogatory words that were closely associated with the gay community. Unfortunately, comments on people’s sexuality are not developed, which leaves us with evidence for anti-LGBTQ thought. For the only character who is said to be specifically queer to be ‘defective’ and not develop that sentiment sets a very dangerous precedent, and one that we overall could not support without further knowledge of the author’s intentions.

Again, without spoilers, the ending of the novel was hit and miss with us all – the general consensus being one of bewilderment and confusion. The final pages demonstrate exactly what the author is trying to do, and her final lines are brilliant, and it was those final few pages that bumped up my rating as it is a very clever idea, but perhaps one that is just not executed as well as you might want it to be.

There are a few other downfalls of the book – plenty of stereotypes of classes and accents, not to mention a main character who is said to be Nigerian at one stage but then there is no other mention of his background or culture, like he is a completely blank slate before the novel begins, and it feels as if the author had checklist with ‘black character’ on it. Besides these details, which really only stand out when you finish the book and discuss it in full detail with others, this is a very interesting and important book to read. Whilst I’m sure the author was trying to write a sort of feminist dystopian, much like the Handmaid’s Tale, it doesn’t quite come up to the expectation I held. There is also a worrying notion that this book could be used to support the argument for and against feminism, which I am 99.9% sure was not the author’s intention.

So really I leave it up to you to decide whether or not this book is one that you like. Again, overall, I did enjoy this book and would encourage others to read it – one thing’s for sure: you’ll have something to say about it. Whilst my review doesn’t sound particularly enticing, I do stress that I did end up giving it 3.5 stars, 4 on Goodreads, and there are more than plenty of people who absolutely loved this book. As always, these opinions are my own and they by no means dictate what you will or will not feel – and I’d love to hear what you think about this striking Baileys Prize nominee.

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

We all know I’m a fan of a pretty book, but Strange the Dreamer was at a whole other level on the scale of book porn. My specific edition is a gorgeous hardcover with these beautiful illustrations on the title page, signed, and has blue-sprayed edges. And to top it all off? It was a fantastic book as well.

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photo credit to my own instagram (plug plug) as I’m usually terrible at taking pretty book photos

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

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I knew almost nothing before going into this book, but had seen a lot of hype about it on social media. All I knew was that it was a beautiful book that was fantasy, so imagine my sheer delight at finding it was about gods, goddesses, magic, and a protagonist who is a hardcore bookworm. I imagine most of us who like to think themselves bookaholics and writers would proudly accept the epithet of ‘the dreamer’, so to have your main hero be a lover of books and fairy tales? A joy to read.

‘His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales on the first day of the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange:head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy’ 

High fantasy at its best, this is a book that I just didn’t really expect. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now. Her writing flows so beautifully, and her descriptions are inspiring, poetic, and, without doubt, pretty darn magical. I didn’t expect to get invested so quickly, and as a wannabe fantasy writer myself I kept on thinking “How can this be so good?”. I kept on having to put it down and sigh, wondering why I even allow myself to fantasise about writing something myself, but then had to pick the book back up again because I really needed to know what happens.

A great start to a new series, and although there was some serious world-building that Taylor included, I can only hope she was just laying the foundations of what is to come as there is so much more of that world that needs exploring. It’s the kind of book that completely transports you into a different world and you soon forget that you’re reading, devouring word after word until you’re on the edge of your seat because of the drama going on. There were several plot points and ‘twists’ that I personally found slightly predictable, but the only reason they were predictable was because the author gave you the hints to reach that conclusion only moments before the other characters did.

Enjoyable, fun, endearing characters, and a fantastic, fantasy tale that will leave you ready to read the sequel as soon as you finish it – and once you do, you can join the rest of us in the waiting game, which I’m sure will be the best kind of agony.