Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | My Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR' - hooray for themed TBRs which, if you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know I love! 

I love reading books set in cold landscapes during the winter, such as Hannah Kent's Burial Rites and Stef Penney's The Tenderness of Wolves, but I also love trying to tackle high fantasy and fat, epic novels that I can totally escape to in the winter, when the nights are dark and the candles are lit.

The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin: I'm half way through The Obelisk Gate at the moment but my reading year's been so poor I've accidentally left it despite having pre-ordered, and now also owning, a copy of The Stone Sky. I'd love to get this trilogy finished because I really enjoyed The Fifth Season and I want to know where this story's going!

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb: Frankly it's criminal that I haven't read any Robin Hobb and I've owned my copy of Assassin's Apprentice for a while now, so it's about time I got to it. I'm looking forward to (hopefully) enjoying a long series in which I can follow one character from childhood through to adulthood.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: My lovely friend Natalie @ A Sea Change really enjoyed this book and it sounds like a lot of fun - I'm all for a heist story, and I liked Bardugo's story in Summer Days and Summer Nights so I'm interested in reading one of her novels.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence: I tried reading this one earlier this year and, sadly, couldn't get into it, but I want to give it another chance. I've heard such wonderful things about Lawrence as a fantasy writer and I'm always drawn to stories set in nunneries so I'm hoping to, if not love, then at least like this one the second time around.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: Natalie @ A Sea Change also loves this one and I still haven't read it because it's such a beast, but I think it'd be the ideal book to curl up with over winter and experience.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: I don't know why I didn't realise it sooner, but over the past year or so I've really begun to notice just how European the high fantasy I'm familiar with is. I'd like to discover more Asian and African-inspired fantasy realms and this series sounds very intriguing - I've heard very good things thus far!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: This is one of my favourite books of all time and I haven't reread it yet this year, so I think it'll be fun to curl up with it over Christmas. I love Maia so much.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: I've been meaning to start this series for a few years now, but there are almost ten books in the series now and each one is huge. So many people I know love this series, however, and I'd really like to watch the TV adaptation - I just want to read the book(s) first!

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Another chunky book and one that I think at least begins around Christmas time, so it's a fitting read for the winter. This is about a history student who time travels back to the Middle Ages during the outbreak of the Black Death, only to get stuck there. I've heard it's amazing so I'm looking forward to picking it up (hopefully) soon!

Which books made your list this week?

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Review | The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

by Madeline Miller

My Rating: 

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. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, 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's mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

I'm not okay.

The Song of Achilles has been on my radar for a while now, I've seen so many readers from all over the world sing its praises while also warning that it's utterly heart-wrenching. They weren't wrong. I'm writing this review having only finished the book about an hour ago, so I'm a complete emotional mess and I can already feel the book hangover that's about to overtake me. I'm going to be thinking about this book for a long time - it's one of the best books I've read this year, and quite possibly one of the best books I've read period.

In this book Madeline Miller tells her interpretation of the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles leading up to and during the Trojan War. Greek Myth is so much fun because there are so many different versions of every legend that there's plenty of room for an author to play around with, and in Miller's tale she portrays Patroclus and Achilles not as cousins, as they sometimes are, but as friends-turned-lovers. That doesn't seem to do their relationship justice, however; put simply, these two are everything to each other.

The gentle and timid son of a harsh king, Patroclus is exiled from his kingdom to the court of King Peleus after he accidentally kills another boy. There Patroclus befriends the king's half-immortal son, Achilles, and a close bond develops between them which, over the years, gradually grows into something more than friendship. I'm not sure how to put into words how much I loved Miller's interpretation of their relationship - it blossoms so naturally throughout the book. Achilles is the first person to give Patroclus the time of day and appreciate his quiet qualities and Patroclus is the only person who sees Achilles as a person rather than a ready-made legend.

What makes their relationship work is Miller's fantastic interpretation of these two figures from Greek Myth as individuals. I loved her Achilles from the moment we meet him, a little aloof and self-assured yet curious, and her Patroclus, whose point of view the book is from, grew on me throughout the story. I was a little unsure of him at first, but by the end of the book I absolutely adored him and it was really interesting to see the kind of all-consuming love we so often see women experiencing in these kind of epic stories being experienced by a man.

With the Trojan War as the eventual backdrop of the novel there are plenty of other famous figures from Greek Myth who grace the pages of this book, from Hector to Odysseus to Apollo himself, and Miller writes each of them wonderfully. It was so easy to tell while reading this story that Miller poured everything she had into it, the research she undertook to write it the way she has written it must been immense and I really admire her for it.

The women, too, are wonderfully realised. Achilles' mother Thetis is so easy to dislike, and yet while she is one of the more villainous characters in the book - but not the villain, in my eyes - we also learn to understand her. Miller doesn't shy away from the often horrific way women were treated in the ancient world, particularly during times of war, and while Thetis is immortal even she has suffered at the hands of men. We also have Miller's interpretation of Briseis, whose tender friendship with Patroclus I loved, and I adored her almost as much as I did Patroclus.

Throughout the story, Miller doesn't try to romanticise Greek Myth; war is portrayed as the horrible thing that it is and she doesn't attempt to 'fix' the strangeness of these legends. Greek Mythology is weird, the Gods play around with mortals as easily as we might play a game of The Sims, but Miller is a wonderful storyteller. Her writing is rich and sumptuous, but easy to follow, and I was swallowed into the world of Ancient Greece in the most wonderful way while reading this book. 

And the ending? I sobbed. I need to take some time to just sit with my grief before I move on to another book. It sounds dramatic, I know, but we follow these characters from childhood through to adulthood and watch them grow and change, it's difficult to watch them running towards the inevitable end of the Trojan War without secretly hoping that things won't go the way you know they're going to. If you're familiar with the story of the Trojan War this story is full of the most heart-wrenching foreshadowing. Read it and weep.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's instantly being added to my list of favourite all-time books and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Circe.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Most Disappointing Reads of 2017

I'm stealing borrowing from Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight today after reading her post about her most disappointing reads of this year. You've probably guessed by how few and far between my blog posts have been this year that it hasn't been the best reading year, which is a shame considering 2016 wasn't the best reading year either, but I feel a little better knowing that a lot of other people haven't read many amazing books this year either. Is it 2017? Probably not, I think I just need to get back into the swing of reading regularly which is something I know I haven't been doing well this year.

These aren't necessarily the worst books I've ever read - if I'm really not enjoying a book I'll DNF it, and it didn't seem fair to include DNFs here - but they're books I was hoping and expecting to enjoy a lot more than I did. These also aren't necessarily books published in 2017, but books I read in 2017 - read on to find out my most disappointing reads listed in the order I read them!

Now to be fair to it, As I Descended is probably the book I enjoyed most of the three on this list - I did give it three stars, after all - but I was hoping to love it. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play, so to find out that Robin Talley, whose debut Lies We Tell Ourselves I loved, was writing a YA lesbian retelling of it incited so much excitement in me. I'd yet to come across any lesbian retelling of Shakespeare (though I'm sure there are more out there) and I've never seen an adaptation of Shakespeare in which Macbeth is a woman (though, again, I'm sure there are more out there). It wasn't terrible but it wasn't as good as it could have been and sometimes that's more disappointing than a book that's simply terrible. Check out my review here!

Another book that didn't meet my expectations after enjoying previous work from this author. Seanan McGuire also writes as Mira Grant and if you've been following my blog for a while you'll know Feed is one of my favourite books ever, and I also really enjoyed her horror novella Rolling in the Deep - I'm looking forward to reading the novel-length sequel, Into the Drowning Deep, hopefully soon! I adore the concept of Every Heart a Doorway but sadly this novella didn't work for me. The story became something of a murder mystery that isn't particularly difficult to solve and I didn't think it needed to be taken over by that story when the characters themselves were interesting enough to follow without an overarching plot. Not for me sadly - check out my review here!

Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the UK and I love fairy tales, folklore and mythology, so when I discovered Lucy Wood's debut collection, Diving Belles, was a collection entirely inspired by Cornish folklore I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Unfortunately I didn't like it anywhere near as much as I'd hoped. To me the stories often felt like they weren't really going anywhere and, had I not known Cornwall was the inspiration, I don't think I would have picked up on that while reading it. The folkloric creatures Wood chose to feature in her stories are the kind of creatures I do associate with Cornish folklore, but she didn't play around with Cornish dialect or the Cornish language and there was no mention of Cornish place names. It felt a little like she'd been inspired by Cornwall but didn't want to make it too Cornish in case people couldn't relate to it, but it was the promise of that Cornishness that made me want to read it most. Sadly I only gave this one two stars in the end and you can check out my review here!

Now that I've got that off my chest, hopefully the rest of 2017 and all of 2018 will be full of amazing books that stay with me. What have been some of your most disappointing reads this year?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Give Me Some Space, Man

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Books I Want My Future Children to Read (Or nieces and nephews, Godchildren, etc.)' - I actually kind of did this topic back in May and I don't really want to repeat myself, but I also didn't want to miss another week of TTT!

I have a nephew and four nieces - yes, four! Christmas shopping is a nightmare! - and my oldest niece is a bookworm, too, which is lovely, but there are some things I still definitely need to teach her. I live in South Wales while my older sister lives in North England so I don't see my oldest niece or her brother and sister that often, and when I saw her a few months ago I just so happened to be wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. She told me I shouldn't be wearing it because, and I quote, 'Star Wars is for boys'.

I'm sure you can imagine my horror.

So today I'm going to talk about the sci-fi books I'd like my niece to read when she's a little older to help her learn that Star Wars, and science fiction, is for everyone. She doesn't have to like science fiction, but I don't want her thinking it's a genre she's not allowed to participate in.

(Just as a sidenote, I don't tend to read as much sci-fi as I'd like to so the sci-fi experts amongst you probably have even better recommendations than I do - please feel free to leave them down below!)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: When eighteen year old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley penned this haunting tale she set up the foundations for the genre we now know as science fiction. What better way to realise it's a genre that was never meant for boys alone?

Feed by Mira Grant: One of my favourite books of all time, this book broke my heart into teeny tiny pieces and made me sob. I love this one because it's a zombie story that isn't really about zombies in the way traditional zombie stories are, and when my niece is older I hope she'll enjoy its commentary on politics and the media as much as I did.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Another one of my favourite books of all time and one I can't praise highly enough. Its discussions of gender, sexuality, race relations, family units and what it means to be human will stay with me for the rest of my life and I think anyone who reads this novel can learn something from it while also enjoying a beautiful story.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: I still haven't read this one myself (I know, I know, the shame!) but I swear I'm going to get to it soon and I think a book like this one would be the ideal story to get my niece thinking about feminism when she's a bit older.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: Another sci-fi story that discusses race relations and the validity of cultures both familiar and alien (hurr hurr) to us. As my niece will sadly be growing up in post-Brexit Britain, I hope she reads lots and lots of stories about why it's important not to dismiss another culture simply because it's different to her own.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: As much as I got sick of the genre, YA dystopian fiction is such a good starting point into science fiction, at least one strand of science fiction, especially for people like myself and my niece who aren't huge sci-fi people. Katniss Everdeen is one of the fiercest heroines around; my niece will be able to learn a lot from her, I think.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver: On the other end of the scale is a quieter dystopian tale, but an equally powerful one. One of the things I loved most about this book is that the heroine, Lena, is more traditionally feminine than a lot of the YA dystopian heroines out there, and unfortunately I think a lot of heroines were distanced from traditionally feminine things because how can a girl possibly be feminine and kick-ass? Thankfully there are different ways to be 'kick-ass' and Lena and Katniss are both prime examples of that.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer: I think this could be a particularly good starting point for my niece when she's old enough to start reading YA. I love this series, and the fact that all of the books in the series are retellings of fairy tales means that they're accessible for readers who might be familiar with the fairy tales but find sci-fi a little intimidating. It worked for me! (Also can I take the moment to have a mini rant and say that it really annoys me when I see this series being described as a dystopian series - not every YA sci-fi book is dystopian!)

Blood Red Road by Moira Young: More post-apocalyptic than dystopian, this book is just so much fun and yet another book with a very interesting heroine; Saba's even fiercer than Katniss, I think, and I hope it would show my niece just how fun and versatile this genre is.

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Various Artists: Because let's face it, if my niece thinks Star Wars is for boys she probably thinks that about Marvel, too. Who better than Ms. Marvel herself to show her otherwise?

Which books made your list this week?