Review-ish: Circe by Madeline Miller

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

< There are so, so many beautiful passages in this book that I could have used, have a look here for some examples> Strap yourselves in, this is going to be one of those gushingly positive posts, where I offer very little literary criticism.

I have been eyeing up Circe in book shops ever since it was published in 2018, but a 5 hour wait at Edinburgh airport broke my resolve to get through my to-buy list in order. Circe is Madeline Millers second novel, following her debut novel, The Song of Achilles, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction back in 2012.

This book is so stunningly written that it will make me incoherent. Not only is the narrative fascinating, tracing Circe’s journey from childhood to adulthood (can a demi-god be a child??) intersecting with characters from well-known Greek myths, but it is also stunningly poetic.

“But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.” 

Case in point. Oh how its flows.

The way that Miller introduces these ancient stories is really remarkable. And surprisingly modern-feeling. The mythical characters were bought to life in a way that they never really had been for me before (save for a GCSE Drama class exploring Orpheus and Disney’s Hercules) All were 3D and complicated, and the Gods in particular were nuanced whilst, I believe, staying true to their origin stories.

I fell in love with Circe’s internal transformation, her strength and her flaws, in the way I would with a dear friend. She is complex, burdened with struggling to find her place in the world. No wonder so many of us related to her so deeply (it has a 4.3 rating on Goodreads at time of writing). This is without a doubt, one of my top reads of 2019 so far.

Thanks to some further-reading recommendations from Offbeat Book Club pals, I have become obsessed with these feminist re-tellings of stories that we have heard our entire lives. So further Reviews to follow. And please keep up your recommendations. Already on the list or already read: Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. Obviously I will also HAVE to read A Song for Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Anyone else fallen in love with this? And dare I ask, did anyone hate it?

Kelly

Review-ish: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

‘Mademoiselle, I speak as a friend. Bury your dead! … Give up the past! Turn to the future! What is done is done. Bitterness will not undo it.’

I am mightily ashamed to say that this is my very first Agatha Christie novel. I couldn’t begin to give you a reason for it, I like a good murder mystery Agatha and I share a birth-place, so I have been surrounded by her presence my entire life. Big thanks to Amy G for encouraging me to have a go and for kindly lending me this copy from her precious (and impressive) collection.

Accepting that you have to look past language that wouldn’t be appropriate if it was written today, Death on the Nile is a good ol’ romp. I loved it. It is a comfortable read. The characters are mainly ghastly (thank you Agatha, for making me want to talk like a 1920’s It girl) but are very fun in their despicable-ness. I enjoy the clashes between the different classes (which are pretty polarising) and the way that Poirot breezes past them all to wrap it all up beautifully.

This book forced me to avoid skim-reading, although not entirely. I still had to go back and re-read bits, and also read an online synopsis to write this review as I read this a while back now and have read another Poirot novel since!

With 66 novels and 14 short stories under her belt and well as two characters that are house-hold names, Poirot and Mrs Marple, Christie truly is the Mother of Murder Mystery. Her impact on story-telling, and more specifically on female writers cannot be denied. I’m aware that the majority of readers of this blog will be more than familiar with these works and I’m stating the very obvious, but just on the smallest of off-chances that someone out there hasn’t read any before, then I highly recommend dipping into a Poirot. And Death on the Nile is an excellent place to start. Bon voyage!

Review-ish: Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

I can’t find a quote for this book so that might suggest how little I enjoyed it. Plus the fact that it has taken me WEEKS to get around to writing it up. I just couldn’t think of enough to say about it.

I guess what made me pick it up was the name of the author, as I was looking for more of a variety of voices to read. And I have since realised that I have read one of her books before, The Forty Rules of Love, which was a book club read from many a moon ago. The Forty Rules focused on Rumi the poet and although I found that slightly interesting, the writing left me cold then. And this was more of the same.

Although the subject matter was different, and on paper, it should be right up my street (feminism, friendship, travel) I just found it very dull and a bit of a slog. The characters weren’t just unlikeable (I can get around that if they are written well) but they were caricatures; there was the timid one, the sexy one and the righteous one. Maybe I liked Peri’s Dad? But I genuinely can’t remember.

Shahaf must be doing something right as Goodreads shows huge numbers of 5 star reviews, and I am very respectful of her ability to write in both Turkish and English, but I don’t think I’ll be actively seeking out any more of her books, they’re just not for me. And that’s fine!

So I’ll keep it short and slightly-less-than-sweet on this glorious Bank Holiday Monday and focus on catching up with the rest of my reviews!

Have a good one!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White

‘The more environments that say yes to feminist, female and other marginalised voices, the bolder those voices will become and the louder and clearer they will ring out into the wider world.’

Firstly, I have to thank Dai Brows and Anna for introducing me to The Guilty Feminist pod-cast in the first instance, and to my step-mum for buying me this book for Xmas. Nailed it. Pretty on-brand.

For those that are already fans of The Guilty Feminist in its pod-cast form, you will be pretty familiar with DFW’s style of writing and presenting, which is both warm and inviting. She has, along with Sofie Hagan and other incredible guests and guest hosts, made it ok to be a less-than perfect feminist, as long as you have good intentions. It’s been a breath of fresh air, and has brought much-needed lightness to what has become such a contentious issue.

Much of what is discussed in this book has been examined in great depth on the podcast and but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading it in a new form. It’s a really easy read, even when the subject matter isn’t, and is such an effective how-to guide for all humans, on how to be better humans, not just better feminists.

The important point that the podcast and the book raise, is how vital it is to learn and listen to those different from ourselves. Part of the guilty part of The Guilty Feminist is not always recognising where our privilege allows us to act in a way that isn’t respectful of the intersectionality of feminism. By reading and listening to The Guilty Feminist, and by hearing new voices and learning about the guests varied experiences, I feel confident to admit when I’ve messed up but also to always be open to learning.

I have a shelf full of books considered to be ‘must read feminist texts’ and as much as it pains me to admit it, I haven’t always gotten on all that well with them. This doesn’t mean that I don’t absolutely recognise their importance and the massive impact they often had but we will always need books like this that can cut through some of the noise and just celebrate being perfectly imperfect.

This really is a joy and can and should be read by everyone.

Feminist book recommendations always appreciated, just commend below!

Happy Sunday.

Kelly

Review-ish: The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall

electric

‘People went through life like well handled jugs, collecting chips and scrapes and stains from wear and tear, from holding and pouring life.’

The above isn’t even my favourite passage from this beautifully written book, but I was just keen to not give too much of the story away through my eagerness to share. This book was found during the same charity-shop binge of a few months ago, which has provided some real treats. Yet again, this isn’t something that I would normally have picked up, but the bloke-at-home found it, and raved about it so much (he’d be pretty excited to learn that Hall is an Aberystwyth Uni alum) that I had to give it a go.

It’s not often that you read a book with pretty-much perfect pacing. That grabs you from the first word and ensures that you finish it with a satisfied sigh. I so rarely get to the end of a book and feel like it was the ideal length but I really felt this with The Electric Michelangelo. 

Hall creates such evocative scenes, from Morecombe Bay to Coney Island and through the most complex, complicated but often-times loveable characters. Grace is one of the most exquisitely written characters that I have encountered for a while, and even with my limited imagination, I felt like I knew her.

The book explores themes of family, the family you’re born into and the family you choose, peoples desire to re-invent themselves, the traditional sea-side town on both sides of the Atlantic, and migration. All through the microcosm of tattoo.

I can only speak for The Electric Michelangelo, as I haven’t read any of her other books, but in this, Hall’s writing is never over-done. I don’t want to say much more as its just going to be general gushing and I really don’t want to give away too much of the story-line. Its too beautiful. Go. Read. Come back and tell me how much you adored it.

Kelly

 

Review-ish: The Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb (#1 of the Farseer Triology)

apprentice

‘Most prisons are of our own making. A man makes his own freedom too.’

I fought my corner on this one for awhile, despite the live-in boyfriend wanging on about how good it was, purely because I had wrongly assumed that it was written by a British male, and therefore counter to this blog. So I am quite ashamed at my own unconscious biases and will dig deeper before entirely judging a book by its cover. Lesson learnt.

Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden writes under the pseudonym of Robin Hobb and this is the first novel in her Farseer Triology. She’s a prolific writer and it seems that there are several more series set in this world. Her most recent book was only published in 2017.

I love a good fantasy novel, I really do. And I am intrigued to see where this one goes and learn more about Hobb’s world. However, it was slow in places and wouldn’t have suffered from losing some chunks. As the first in a series, I think that The Assassins Apprentice does a good job of introducing the characters, the laws and the environment, and the characters are fairly typical of this sort of book. Which offers comfortable reading, with the odd twist and turn to keep things interesting.

I enjoyed Burrich’s character immensely. I love a gristled, grumpy, father-figure role. I have such a clear image of him in my mind. There’s a couple of interesting female characters, which I hope will be further developed in the next book.

We are introduced to the concepts of The Wit and The Skill at this stage, although not a deeply as I would have liked. But this could be my impatience.

For me, it offered exactly what I look for in fantasy novels; escapism and an opportunity for compulsive reading. I will pick up the next book, but can already tell that if the pace isn’t quick enough, I probably won’t pick up the third. I’d be really interested to hear what other people think. Sometimes can read a good book at a bad time and this could have been one of those situations.

This is not going to be one of longest reviews because, in all honesty, I read it months ago, and am only now getting around to writing it up. I’ve been focusing on advance reading for the book club. Naughty me. So I have dropped the ball on this one. But we’ve got some really good book club reads coming up that we’ll be discussing very soon.

I’ll give myself a C+ for this effort, with a promise to try harder next time!

Kelly

review-ish: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

marvellous

“It was as if a blade had shucked his heart like an oyster and stolen the beauty within. He said his heart never started beating again, it just started working and I never understood the difference, not until I was much older anyway, when I learnt that coming back from the dead is not quite the same as coming back to life.”

I love Sarah Winman’s writing so much. I read When God Was A Rabbit, Winman’s debut novel, many, many moons ago and just couldn’t believe how much it stayed with me. Not specific plot points but the magic and the feelings that she evoked. I highly recommend it as a quick read with depth. So when I saw A Year of Marvellous Ways in a charity shop, without even knowing that she had published other books, I did a little squeal and took it home with me.

Maybe it’s that I work with older people in my day job. Maybe it’s the writing.  Either way, Marvellous is a corker of a woman that I wanted to know, live with and go on adventures with. She’s such an incredible character and presents an unusual and very positive view of ageing well and challenging stereotypes. She is written to have a different view of the world, and seeing things through her eyes, just for a little time, was deeply moving. The other characters are also well developed and  naturally contradictory, and didn’t suffer when compared to the marvellous Marvellous.

I don’t think you need to have lived in the West Country to see the Cornish landscape that Winman paints because her writing is so poetic. She could describe the centre of the Earth to you and you’d feel like you had grown up there. But I did have such vivid images in my head of the South Hams in Devon when reading this book, (limited imagination of mine…) but that was lovely as it reminded me of many a happy time. Particularly when reading it in the middle of that endless grey that we have lived through in Wales recently.

I’m currently reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende for the Insole Court Book Club, and when I mentioned this to a friend, she described Allende’s work as magical-realism and something clicked. So many books that I adore are like this. Sarah Winman’s work, The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and Murakami. Now I have discovered another vice of mine I will actively try to read outside of this genre, but it’s nice to know that its always within reach when I need to feeling something to the point of emotional exhaustion.

Love having a little cry.

Anyone wanna recommend some magical-realism? Not for me I’m trying to diversify, but for other followers.

Kelly