Spring Wrap Up

For 2019 we’re mixing up the standard monthly wrap ups and instead I’ll be posting four seasonal wrap ups for the books I read in Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. With each season I’m going to go through each book organised by my rating, and end with my top three books of the season. So without further ado, let’s jump into Spring (even though it’s felt like Winter…).

For the first three months of 2019, I’ve read a total of 13 books: 4 adult fantasy, 1 YA fantasy, 1 children’s fantasy, 4 fiction, 2 YA and 1 poetry collection. The children’s fantasy, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, was an audiobook, whilst the rest were physical books. The longest was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and the shortest was Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill. The book which was an unexpected favourite was On the Come Up by Angie Thomas.

The Three Stars

I think it’s a pretty good month where the lowest rating I gave a book was three out of five stars. The books that received this rating from me were Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst and Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill. Neither of these reads were bad, but nor were they stand out books for me. Fire and Heist is a YA fantasy where there are shapeshifting wyverns in the real world, living a socialite-style life. The book was great fun to read, and easy to finish within a couple of days, but for me it didn’t feel developed enough. When reading YA, it’s obvious that the characters will be young, but whilst I greatly enjoy plenty of YA, Fire and Heist came across as too young for me. There were funny moments and overall it was an easygoing, fantasy romp, but the predictable plot points and under-developed world made this a three stars for me. Fierce Fairytales, on the other hand, was a completely different experience. I went into this poetry collection expecting to really love it, and instead found it repetitive and in parts it felt as if it didn’t go far enough. Hugely quotable, the feminist retellings of classic fairytales had very strong ideas, but they were either not taken far enough – ie not much was actually being said – or they were completely overdone, where the author didn’t allow any room for interpretation as she spelled out exactly what she wanted the reader to take from it. Whilst there were certainly poems I thought were especially strong, as a whole collection I was left a bit uninspired and felt as if there were three or so motifs that were done at least 3 or 4 times each.

The Four Stars

I rated six books with four stars, and each of them are so different to each other. The YA contemporary The Truth About Keeping Secrets is a debut novel from Savannah Brown. It read like a thriller and touched on subjects of grief, love, bullying and LGBTQ+ issues, making it an ambitious, powerful read that I truly enjoyed. Spinning Silver is a fantasy written by Naomi Novik, whose Uprooted and His Majesty’s Dragon series were firm favourites of mine when I read them. Spinning Silver for me was a difficult one to place, as I personally found the beginning quite slow paced as Novik built the world and the various threads from all the different perspectives she delves into. Had the ending not been as perfectly woven together as it was, this book might have been three stars, but I was so happy with how she finished and tied everything off that it had to be four stars for me. The other four books are all fiction, and all vastly different. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson was so excellently written that I couldn’t read at my usual speed with how much I was concentrating – a powerful retelling of an intense Greek myth, told in Johnson’s wonderful style. My main taking from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was its sheer size, and whilst it was written with such fantastic prose, I found I was more relieved than anything else when I finished it and didn’t have to lug it around with me anymore. In contrast, If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin was as light as a feather, far shorter than I had expected it to be. A poignant story of love, hope, and the still-prevalent issue of race and discrimination, all framed around one family’s story, beautifully told. The Binding by Bridget Collins was another great read from this Spring. I definitely felt far more engaged halfway through after the slow start – overall an entertaining read, even though I found the plot predictable.

The Five Stars

Not including my top three, I had two other five star reads. The first of which, and the first book I finished in 2019, was The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. The second in her Winternight trilogy, I truly adored this book. Arden’s writing is so magical and sweeps you into the story so firmly that you won’t want the book to ever end, so tangible is the atmosphere and setting she creates with characters that tell such an incredible story. I could never tell where the plot was going, something which I appreciate greatly, and Arden’s ability to pick up the pace at such speed halfway through meant that I had several late nights unable to put the book down. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J K Rowling was a very different experience as I listened to Stephen Fry telling the story in the audiobook. As someone who has never read the books, getting to this one truly illuminated how much the films didn’t cover, and if anything only made my enjoyment of the series and franchise that much better.

The Top Three

As I previously mentioned, one of my unexpected favourites was On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. Powerful, inspiring, and so brilliant that I kept wanting to cheer whilst reading. We need this book not just for all YA readers to enjoy, but for everyone to pick up. I feel that I don’t have words adequate enough to describe how important this book is, so all I can reaffirm is that Angie Thomas is a brilliant author and you should all read it.

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What won’t be unexpected is my second top favourite of Spring, given how much I’ve shared by adoration for the rest of the series, and that is the final in Katherine Arden’s trilogy The Winter of the Witch. What more can I say about this series that I haven’t already? It’s one of my favourite ever fantasy series with its sweeping Russian landscape filled with fantastic characters, from a tormented priest to a frost demon and most importantly the heroine of the tale, an unassuming girl who is flawed enough that she isn’t boring to follow in her adventure. Arden’s captivating language and turns of phrase make this a series that anyone can enjoy and appreciate, whether they read historical fantasy or not.

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My final favourite of Spring was a book that I had on my list to pick up for several months, and boy was I glad that I did. The Poppy War by R F Kuang is an adult fantasy that reminded me of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir along with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. What I found wonderful about this book is that it felt like two different stories in one, so when I reached what I had assumed would be the end of the first book only halfway through I was overjoyed. The world Kuang creates is just fantastic and so immersive, touching on Chinese history to further develop the book. I did not for one second guess what would happen in the end, and I cannot wait for the sequel to publish. Could not recommend more highly for those who like fantasy, as The Poppy War is one of the very few in-depth adult fantasy books that had me hooked.

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The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

*This is a spoiler free review*

The vast majority of my all-time favourite books have various things in common. They’re likely to be classed as fantasy, and include some sort of fantastical creature. They’re likely to influenced my mythology, fairytales, and legends. Most will have incredible leading female characters that defy all expectations. Very rarely, they will encompass all of these things.

Allow me to introduce one of my new favourite series: The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden, an incredible historical fantasy. The series order is as follows: The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, and The Winter of the Witch.

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My first thought when I started The Bear and the Nightingale was that it was beautifully written. The prose is very lavish and poetic in its descriptions, making a wonderful sweeping rhythm as you read. I have heard from a few friends that they found it quite boring and too long in descriptions when they started reading, but personally I found the writing too lovely to care. It definitely does have a slower start, but as I’ve found with all three books the plot picks up. With the first in the series, this perhaps doesn’t happen until the latter half of the novel, which can be expected as Arden is slowly weaving together her world and its characters for the majority of the novel. With the second and third book however, the plot really takes off much sooner and meant that I preferred these over the first title just for the sheer pace they set.

The plots themselves are incredibly well crafted. For me, the first book definitely had that classic, fairytale vibe – you have the legends of Winter Kings, conflicting family dynamics including a new stepmother, a young girl who wants a life not permitted for young girls, and the struggle between old legends and new religion. It’s difficult to say too much about the plots of the following two books, but what I can say is that they both took me by surprise. In the second book, there were plot twists I hadn’t seen and an edge of anxiety throughout as you wait to see whether or not everything will come crashing down around the main protagonist. The third book actually had a huge plot twist that occurred around half way through – and it was here that I had believed the series would end, only to find that Arden reinvents the tropes and creates a far better, more imaginative, conclusive end to such a fantastic series.

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Next up: the characters. In the first book, we follow a family that live in Russian wilderness surrounded by forests and lying some distance from Moscow. In particular, we follow the young Vasilisa (Vasya) Petrovna, who is a strange child compared to her siblings. One of the main reasons she is her gift to see the old creatures of Russia, domovoi and other beings that live in houses, stables, woods, and more. When her mother dies, Vasya’s father ventures to Moscow and returns with a devout stepmother who is determined to bring in her new religion (a beloved priest alongside her) and cast out the old beings. When evil in the forest creeps nearer and the battle of new and old truly begins, Vasya must choose whether to obey by marrying or joining a convent, or go against them all and use her gifts to save her family.

Vasya is a fantastic character. Whilst she is very young in the first book, at no point does this diminish her incredible characterisation and Arden’s ability to make you root for her. She makes stupid mistakes through the whole series, but has brilliant growth from each one. In The Bear and the Nightingale, the perspective is mainly Vasya’s – when she is too young, we see Vasya through the eyes of her father and nurse – and the priest who is brought to her home. There is a frost demon (and who doesn’t love the odd frost demon thrown in) who has his own plans that as a reader you are unaware of, along with the smattering of household domovoi who pop up throughout the book. My favourite character is actually not introduced until toward the end of the first book, and just happens to be a horse (but of course).

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The atmosphere is just the best thing about this book, and if you like Naomi Novik’s Uprooted then I’m sure you’d adore this series. One of my favourite aspects is of course the various legends and fairytales throughout the books, but storytelling in general. Whether it’s a character telling a legend within the book or Arden herself telling the story of Vasya, the language and narrative are just so stunning that I couldn’t help but sink into the pages.

Originally I didn’t pick up this series as it was always on the romance table, and whilst I love a bit of romance every now and then it just didn’t seem to stand out to me. A colleague however told me that she adored it, and as soon as I knew it was a historical reimagining set in Russia with folklore and fairytales I was in. It was a relief that the third book came out so soon after I picked up the first one, as I’m not sure I could have waited for each new instalment.

So to all of you who are looking for a new series – this is the one to pick up, as the trilogy is completely published! Rejoice for not having to wait for the sequel! If you’re a fan of fantasy I’m sure you’d love it, and for those who are new to fantasy or who don’t read fantasy, this is the perfect book to dip your toes into the magical worlds. It’s a wonderful blend of historical fiction with fantastical elements, and the lush language and wintery atmosphere are ideal for this time of year. It’s enchanting, to put it simply. I can’t recommend it enough.

December Wrap Up and Favourite Books of 2018

It is mad that it’s already January 12th – I feel like New Year’s Eve was only yesterday, and I was planning to write about the books I read in December not that long ago. Yet, here we are, and I’m left having to do a great 2-in-1 deal of a post. First up: what I read in the month of December.

I read 4 books in December, which meant that I ended the year on 44 books out of my 45 goal – which I’m really happy about. I read Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a book that I felt was so poignant for the world we’re living in at the moment in terms of the attitudes that we have and that need to be changed, that I ended up buying it as a Christmas present for someone. A very quick read, you could definitely finish this one in a couple of sittings.

Then I read what ended up being my (spoiler) favourite book of 2018, which was Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton. This is a non-fiction memoir all about love, be that romantic love or familial or the love between friends. Dolly is an incredible writer, and managed to capture the atmosphere of the places she is in so well. In the opening chapters where she talks about relationships as a young girl, chatting on MSN and characteristics of her friends, had me laughing after only a few minutes reading. She writes with the relatable flair that feels like she’s talking directly to you, and it’s so easy to sink into her narrative. There are moments of harsh reality, devastating moments of pain and anguish alongside memories filled with laughter and fun. It’s a book I feel that I’ll need to reread over the years, and I desperately hope she writes more in the future.

Following this non-fiction marvel, I read the acclaimed, Waterstones book of the year Normal People by Sally Rooney. This is a book that I have seen everywhere, and have had friends raving about it. I struggle with books that are considered to be ‘literary’, especially when authors have an aversion to using speech marks. Rooney, however, has made me see that you don’t need to have a PhD to enjoy a book such as hers. It charts the relationship between two young people from very different backgrounds who grew up in the same town, and dip in and out of each other’s lives for various reasons. I definitely had a lot to say about this book, from some of its infuriating characters to scenes that really affected me. A great modern day classic.

The final book I read in 2018 was The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke. This is a fantasy that follows a group of girls who are paid to end the lives of those suffering, be it from incurable diseases to old age. It’s a reimagining of Beowulf, with the girls hearing about a monster plaguing lands, so they decide to go on a quest to fight the beast. On the way they meet witches and all manners of marvels. I enjoyed the novel, and thought the pace of the book worked well. It wasn’t my absolute favourite book, but I by no means disliked it. I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a fantasy novel that isn’t a behemoth, and plays around with characters and setting.

And so, this leads me to my favourite books of 2018. I decided to go for my favourite five, as it seems silly to list almost a quarter of the books I read in a Top 10.

As we know, Everything I Know About Love was my ultimate, but the others are in no particular order – and, no surprises here, they are all fantasy books.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor has to make the list. Laini’s imagination is unrivalled, and her stories never fail to fill me with awe and wonder. You could describe each of them as fun and fantastical, but at the same also heart-wrenching with moments of real poignancy. It’s everything I love about fantasy, and Muse of Nightmares was no different. Muse was one of my most anticipated sequels, with Strange the Dreamer one of my favourite books from previous years. I can only hope that one day I will have half the creative talent that Laini does.

Next up is of course The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, which publishes February 2019. This beast of a book has plenty of elements that I knew I was going to adore: strong leading female characters, retellings of legends (in this case of George and the Dragon) and, of course, dragons. A standalone fantasy, it’s no shock that this book is a giant, and I truly adored the escapism and sweeping epic of a tale it was.

There was also another book by one of my favourite authors, which ended up as a true favourite of 2018: Vengeful by V E Schwab. Another author I can only dream of emulating, Schwab has a way with words that is just unbeatable. Her characters all feel like they could have books just about them, and her plots are intricate, twisting, and perfect in every way. She has also written middle grade, along with adult fantasy and YA, and at this rate I think I just need to read everything she has ever written.

Finally, it’s Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. This. Book. I truly think Tomi has opened up fantasy to a whole new generation of readers, and simply from using characters that aren’t white – this shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is and I love her for it. This fast-paced, action-packed book had me turning pages so quickly that my hands ached by the end of it. She manages to have not one story climax, but five or more, so you’re never certain that there is ever a moment of calm in the story. She puts her characters through the hell, and her imagination and little details are wonderful. I cannot wait for the sequel, also out in 2019, to see what happens next.

And those are my favourite books of 2018. Do let me know what you read and loved last year, and especially what you’re looking forward to reading in 2019.

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while – or even if you’ve read one or two posts – will know that I love fantasy. The adventure, the different worlds, wonderful characters that have been imagined – but, above all, one of the main reasons I love fantasy is because I can read it so quickly. Not because the writing is easy to skim over or that i can rush through without needing to savour – the opposite, actually. Usually it’s the fantasy genre that has me hooked, has me reading late into the night, vowing to just read one more chapter, or even setting aside hours (or even a whole day) just so I can read it. The thrill, the excitement, the cliffhangers…those are things that I’ve usually only really felt with fantasy.

Then, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine came into my life.

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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than fine?

There has been a lot of hype around this book, especially from some of my friendship circles. I had wanted to read this book last year, simply because it would have worked with my challenge to read a book that has a character with my name in it. Then, this book completely blew up, winning prizes and adoration from all over the world. I decided to pick it up when I was in a bookstore last month, and last weekend thought it would be a good time to start it.

Honestly? When I started reading it, I wasn’t so sure that I’d like it. I didn’t really like the main character, couldn’t see myself connecting with her, and read the first few chapters very slowly over the course of three days. Then, it hit me. One evening, I decided to read for a bit, only to find that I wanted to keep reading and reading and reading. Soon enough, I was staying up late to read it, and cleared my Sunday of all plans so I could read all day.

Eleanor Oliphant, the character, first comes across as a pretentious, snobby arse, one that no one would like. She’s treated poorly by the people around her, which is the only thing I originally sympathised with. Then, she started talking about her damaging relationship with her mother, snippets of her upbringing, and the negativity she faces from her appearance as she has visible scars. Ever so slowly, I began to sympathise more and more. Her life is regimented; wake up, go to work, eat a meal deal for lunch, wait for work to finish, go home, drink, then sleep and repeat. The loneliness that echoed between the pages was too loud to ignore, and the more you lose yourself in the world of Eleanor Oliphant, the more you feel that suffocating sadness that she seems to perceive as normal, that that was her lot in life.

Eleanor, and the other characters you (and her) are introduced to over the course of the novel begin to steal your heart. I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion, and felt completely swept up in this world. With a deep discussion on mental illness and the effects loneliness can have on a person, never before have I realised how important basic human interaction is. Sure, I have fantasies of reading all day and not leaving my bed, but if I had no one to talk to? That would be crippling in a way I can’t really imagine, something I’ve never before thought about having to go through.

This book is so important, if just to show you how even a little bit of kindness can go such a long way in making someone’s day so much better. I loved this book, and would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone. Yes, it’s sad, but it also makes you feel so incredibly grateful – at least, that’s what it did for me. It made me grateful for the people in my life, the friends I see frequently, my flatmate, my family, even my dogs (although I’m always grateful when it comes to my dogs). It served as an important reminder about what truly matters in life, and all I want to do is return to the world of Eleanor Oliphant, if just for a few chapters to check in, and hope that she’s doing alright. I’d read a sequel in a heartbeat, so beautifully crafted were Gail Honeyman’s characters, and so great my love for them all.

Favourite Books of 2017

2017 was a brilliant year for me in reading terms, with only a few books that I didn’t give four or five stars. Still, there were a few that still shone out from the rest, so these are my Top 10 favourite books I read in 2017. First of all though, honourable mentions go to The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas, and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. All three fantasy books were definitely some of my favourites read this year, two of which were final instalments of trilogies I adored.

Moving on to the top 10, this ordering of the list is subject to change many times due to my inability to be decisive when it comes to things I love and choosing between them, as really there’s no comparing a few of them. Can anyone truly say that their adoration of an epic fantasy book is in any way comparable to a piece of emotive literary fiction that had their heart clenched within its grip from start to finish? I get very different versions of enjoyment and entertainment from different genres, so as much as I want to list my top three fantasy, top three fiction, top three non-fiction and so on, I’m just going to stick them in an order that works for me at this moment in time.

Who knew a top 10 needed such a preamble. ONTO THE LIST.

10. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I loved reading this book, but I’ve grown to love it even more since finishing it and discussing it with others. There was a lot of ‘hype’ and anticipation going into it, which is probably why I was so conflicted about my feelings of it, as although I thought it a brilliant piece of fiction it didn’t change my whole world. Yet, I admit, since discussing its nuances and clever points with friends, I can say that it deserves all of the praise it receives.

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9. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Perhaps one of my favourite fantasy authors, the Darker Shades of Magic trilogy was the first book of Schwab’s that I picked up. I finished the first two in as many days, and before the third was released I read several of her other books and equally adored them, so to finish the trilogy that started my love for this author was bittersweet. I’m so happy with how it ended, and can’t wait for what this author will bring in 2018.

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8. The Northern Lights series by Philip Pullman

Maybe cheating a little, but I’m listing the whole Northern Lights series as my number 8 for 2017. I read the whole series last year, a feat I’m rather proud of, and plan to read The Book of Dust sometime this year. The first instalment was my first read of 2017, and definitely set the standard for the books that I read afterwards. A brilliant series, one that took me by complete surprise, and I’m so grateful that I finally got a chance to read it for myself.

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7. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

I’ve been thinking about reading more poetry since finishing university, and after a friend highly recommended Kate Tempest I was so glad that a) my friend has good taste and b) Kate Tempest exists. A beautiful collection, one that is inspiring me to read more and more poetry (recommendations are more than welcome please and thank you).

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6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Damn, it’s hard to pick between your favourite reads – as if they’re all children who have fulfilled your every wish. The Secret History is a book that everyone and their mothers have been badgering at me to read and, finally, I can say that I fully understand why. Prose so eloquent and rich that I felt like I had to reread sentences, because I was pretty certain that just reading  them once wouldn’t be enough to fully appreciate the complexity of graceful talent that exists within every one.

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5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Ah, Pachinko, you still make my heart ache. Whilst it wasn’t as gutting and soul-destroying as A Little Life (in a good way), it was still emotive enough to have me texting friends at all hours with updates of where I was for emotional support. A beautiful piece of fiction, and a family-saga the likes of which I’ve never enjoyed more.

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4. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of non-fiction to read in 2017, and I hope that it’s one that everyone does read. Charming, hilarious, and moving, this has you crying from laughter one moment and just all out crying from despair the next. Brilliantly told, and its message is unmistakable; we need to help our NHS, and we need to do it now.

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3. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Ah, the top three. What a wonderful place to be – and in third Laini Taylor has more than earned her spot, her Strange the Dreamer winning my heart within mere pages. It was fantasy the likes of which I can’t ever remember reading before, the type that would make your heart feel full and send your spirit soaring. Strange the Dreamer felt like it was written just for me, for all those dreamers and book-lovers in the world who find solace within the written word and see stories and adventures where other people would see lines on pages. After reading this book, I bought the whole of her previously written trilogy without even reading the blurb of it, knowing that this author would not fail me – and having just finished the second in the series this afternoon, I’m pleased to say that this statement holds true.

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2. Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about this book since I finished it. I also have continued to recycle the same sentences when trying to describe it, telling everyone that it is a love letter to New York and captures Hayes’ life with partner Oliver Sacks. It’s filled with stories of his work as a photographer and the people he meets, and the love story between him and Sacks pretty much had me in a constant state of vulnerability and warring emotions as I tried not to descend into sobs. Truly beautiful, and it’s a book that has sparked a need inside me to read more and more non-fiction – I honestly feel like I owe so much to this one book. An incredible writer without doubt, and there is no reason that I could think of as to why someone wouldn’t like this book.

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And, finally, my number one.

1. Circe by Madeline Miller

This book hasn’t even been published yet, but it still remains as my favourite read of 2017. The Song of Achilles holds its spot at the top of my all-time favourite reads, and Circe joins it in the ranks. It’s everything I want from a book, with classical inspiration, beautiful prose, and characters that make me want to fling myself into the narrative just so I can spend some time in their company. Miller’s use of language is skilled and seemingly effortless, and the Classicist within me is so grateful and overjoyed to have her writing such excellent fiction based off of myths. She manages to rewrite them in ways that make them seem fresh and new, without changing anything fixed – she merely adds elements that, if you didn’t know any better, Homer must have just left out. She brings new life to these old characters, and even though you know how their stories end she still manages to keep you hooked, and also cruelly gives you a glimmer of hope that tragedy will not come their way. Just superb.

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And that, reader, is my list of my top 10 reads of 2017. Let me know your favourites and what you’ve read, or if you agree with any of my favourites. Go forth, read widely and diversely, and report back. I personally hope to gain even more from what I read in 2018, from reading more non-fiction to reading more from POC authors. It’s very apparent that I have hardly any POC authors near the top of my list, which definitely means that I’m not reading enough by them. If anything, reading opens up the world in a way that nothing else can, and it’s very clear that if I only read white authors, that’s the only view from which I’ll be able to understand the world around me – and I’m a girl who likes her varied vantage points.

So, once again, let’s smash 2018.

 

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.

August Reading Wrap Up

It’s that time of the month again – no, no, not that one, the one where I talk about books. (Sorry, that was terrible, let’s move swiftly on).

So this month I read three books, which isn’t as brilliant as I’ve done on previous months but I’m still pretty happy with it. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I moved flat and had my first official month of full-time work, so I’ve been a bit too exhausted to think about reading some days. Still, it isn’t a race I suppose at the end of the day, and rather about enjoying the activity. (At least that’s what I’ll tell myself when I stare at the three books as if they’ve personally offended me).

The first book that I read, and what a book it was, ended up being Insomniac City by Bill Hayes. This was a game changer for me for so many reasons, as it had me smiling and crying, filling me with hope, pain, excitement, loss, and so many other emotions I can’t even begin to describe. Non-fiction, this book is narrated by Bill Hayes and we follow his move to New York, along with his subsequent relationship with Oliver Sacks. It’s beautiful, to say the least, and made me look differently at the world around me. Hayes is a writer and photographer, and the book is filled with various photos he’s taken around New York, of people and places. It emphasises the notion that everyone has a story, and ever since finishing I’ve made an effort to look around a little more, something you truly forget to do sometimes after living in a city for a while. He so beautifully depicts so many different things, such as love and grief. Overall, this book made me pause and made me appreciate everything around me. A five star read, without a doubt.

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Making the most of the August weather. 

It was difficult to know what to follow Insomniac City with, as I certainly couldn’t read any other non-fiction or light fiction. It ended up, as always, with me going to something completely different, which was the fantastical Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. The only other books I’ve read from this author are the Illuminae Files series, which he writes alongside Amie Kaufman. I was interested to see what he writes like alone, and not targeted at Young Adult, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is a third person omniscient narrator, who has one hell of a voice with plenty of snarky asides and lecture-like footnotes detailing various things, and through this voice we follow the story of Mia, a young girl training to be an assassin. I struggled with the start of this book (it took me a while to navigate the narration as it opens with some very, shall I say, interesting scenes that run alongside each other. The two scenes correlate and mirror each other, but whereas one depicts a sexual encounter, the other involves a murder. It’s fun), but overall I truly enjoyed it. I’ve been sent a proof by the publishers, so I’m looking forward to delving back into that world soon.

My third and final book was Autumn by Ali Smith, which one of my best friends has been badgering me to read for almost a year now. I’ve been meaning to read something from Ali Smith for a long time now, and I’m glad I started with this. She writes poetically, but by no means superfluously, and the rhythm in her language and prose truly makes it feel like art. A reflection on Brexit, this novel is a perfect balance of tactful commentary and pointed musings. You follow two characters and their relationship with each other, along with the things that made them who they are and how their lives have been affected. It’s a novel about identity, a topic especially important when thinking about what Brexit means for national identity. A lovely read, and I look forward to the rest of the quartet.

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Which brings me to the end of this wrap up! I thoroughly enjoyed each book I read, and here’s hoping I’ll be able to read books that are just as good in September (though I don’t know how anything can beat Insomniac City at this stage). In terms of challenges, Autumn has ticked off the ‘friend’s favourite book’ goal, and IC was another friend’s favourite book (especially as she then bought it for me), so that’s an extra tick for number 9! Nevernight is not ticking anything off for this month, so it’s a good thing I enjoyed it immensely.

 

  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

September, bring it on.