Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | A Series of Failures

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 Series I've Been Meaning To Start But Haven't', which is essentially the story of my life. I'm a bad finisher and I'm impatient, so I'm much better at reading standalones than series because I can't bear the wait. A series has to be very special to captivate me. That being said, I miss that feeling of being captivated by a series and a huge cast of characters the way I was when I was younger, from Harry Potter to The Old Kingdom to Twilight (yep, I went through that phase, too), so here are ten series I'd really like to get to at some point.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan: If I'm being honest I don't know if I ever will read this series now, I feel like I should have read them when I was a bit younger because I'm not sure I'll get the sense of humour now that I'm 25 (oh god I'm 25), but I still love the idea of the series. I may get around to it one of these days, maybe it'd be a fun, quick series to blast through over the summer months.

The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan: I actually tried reading A Natural History of Dragons a few years ago but ended up DNFing it, I just wasn't feeling it at the time, but I've heard so many people raving about the series and it ticks so many of my boxes (I love books about ladies in science) that I think I have to give it another chance. I'm going to give the audiobooks a try.

The Bel Dame Apocrypha series by Kameron Hurley: This sounds violent and gritty and so fun. I recently read Hurley's essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, and it's made me want to read her fiction even more. This sci-fi series is set in a world where insects play a large role, I believe, and where the society is inspired by Islam rather than Christianity which sounds super interesting to me.

The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley: I love me some historical crime, and this series set in the 1950s has a child protagonist who loves science. All the yes. I'm always interested by books written for adults with child protagonists because children can be so difficult to write, so I'm hoping this series will be a good one when I get to it.

The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo: I should have read this by now, especially as it's only two books long. I've heard fairly mixed things about Six of Crows, but my friend Natalie @ A Sea Change loved it and I really enjoyed Bardugo's story in Summer Days and Summer Nights, so I'm looking forward to getting to it at some point this year.

The Gold Seer Trilogy by Rae Carson: The covers of these books are beautiful and I love the concept, so hopefully I'll at least give the first book a go soon after I received it the Christmas before last from the lovely Mikayla @ Mikayla's Bookshelf.

The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik: This series is essentially the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. What's not to like? Admittedly I'm not actually the biggest dragon fan, I'm much more of a unicorn girl, but I love the idea of including dragons in a well-known historical setting. I struggled a bit with Novik's writing when I read Uprooted (reviewed here) which is why I haven't started this series yet, but I'm hoping I enjoy it.

The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon: I really want to watch the series but I want to read the books first, only there's so many of them and they're all HUGE. It's pretty intimidating.

The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire: Seanan McGuire (also known as Mira Grant) is one of my favourites, and though I'm not the biggest fan of faeries I do really like the sound of this urban fantasy series. There are already ten books in the series, though, so I have some catching up to do!

The Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal: Similar to Temeraire, this series involves slipping something fantastical into Georgian/Regency history. These books are essentially Jane Austen with magic and considering I own the first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, I'd like to start the series this year.

I actually own all but one of these books, The Lightning Thief being the only one I don't have a copy of, so perhaps I should set myself the challenge of reading the first book in the nine other series by the end of 2017...

Which series made your list this week?

Monday, 19 June 2017

Review | Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

by Tiffany D. Jackson

My Rating: 

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

I'd seen this book around at the beginning of this year, that simplistic cover kept catching my eye on Goodreads, but it wasn't until I saw Cait @ Paper Fury's review that I actually let myself look into what Allegedly is about. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I don't tend to read much YA these days, not by choice but simply because a lot of the books I love to read don't fall into that category, but whenever I do read it I usually really enjoy it and I'm always interested in YA that covers dark topics like this one.

When Mary was a little girl, she was found guilty of killing a baby. When Mary was a little girl, she was found guilty of killing a white baby, and when Mary herself is black that makes all the difference. Now a teenager and unexpectedly pregnant herself, Mary has to try to prove her innocence before her baby is taken away from her.

I think it's safe to say that if you're not a fan of dark books with upsetting themes, then this book isn't for you because Jackson is not at all afraid to shy away from the gritty, grotesque side of human nature. The world Mary inhabits is unfair and has always treated her unfairly, I think it's the unfairness of her story, more than anything else, that really got to me. Particularly because it's quite clear that if certain things were different - if Mary's upbringing had been different or her mother had been different or her skin colour had been different - she'd be living a much better life than the one she's been dealt. She's a bright young girl with a lot of potential, but that potential has been stripped away by things out of her control; by a society that chose to ignore her when she was most in need and only pay her any attention when they could blame her for the death of a child who was more worthy of their time.

Mary was the strongest part of this book for me; I'm not sure I've ever wanted to hug a character more, I felt so strongly for her and I was desperate for her story to be revealed and told and believed. It reminded me a little of Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, actually, so if you've read and enjoyed this book and are looking for something else to read I'd recommend picking that one up.

I was ready to give Allegedly five stars and then the final chapter came along. I'm not going to spoil anything, but for me the final chapter felt like a final 'dun dun duuuun!' moment from the author that didn't need to be there and actually weakened a lot of the points she'd made so well throughout the rest of the novel about racism and classism. Did it ruin the novel for me? No. Did it need to be there? Also no. It bothered me a little, but the majority of this book is so well done and dark, without being gratuitous, that I simply have to recommend it. It's a very strong debut and I can't wait to see what Tiffany D. Jackson does next.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Review | Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

My Rating: 

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.

This debut was one of my most anticipated releases of this year after I came across an article about it in an issue of The Bookseller, and now that I've read it I can confirm it definitely deserved a spot on that list. If there's something I've discovered about myself this year, it's that I really enjoy stories set in Nigeria; I loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck (reviewed here) and I loved this debut.

Simon @ Savidge Reads (a booktuber you should all be watching if you aren't already) described this book as a thriller about a marriage and I completely agree with him. What I love most about this book is that you read the blurb and think you know what the book's going to be about, and when you finish it there's no way you could have possibly guessed the twists and turns the novel takes; it reminded me of the way I felt while reading Sarah Waters' Fingersmith (reviewed here), constantly being surprised and thinking I knew a character only to be proven wrong. It's such a joy to read!

At times it can be quite a dark, emotional book, don't go into Stay With Me thinking it's going to be fairly tame simply because it's about a marriage, but nothing feels gratuitous and, despite everything that happens, at no point did I feel as though Adébáyọ̀ was trying to deliberately shock me for the sake of it. Her characters are so real and fleshed out, particularly Yejide and Akin, and she explores the intricacies of their relationship and what their culture expects from them so skilfully and respectfully.

In a culture where it isn't considered unusual for a man to take more than one wife, Yejide and Akin are unusual in that they've chosen to be monogamous, so you can imagine Yejide's heartbreak and surprise when, right at the beginning of the novel, she discovers Akin has taken a second wife. It would have been so easy to make this a story in which Akin is a villain, but Adébáyọ̀ doesn't treat any of her characters as stereotypes; just as she explores the strain of their culture on Yejide and what is expected of her, we're also shown what's expected of Akin as the man of the house and how traditional masculinity can be just as toxic as traditional femininity when it's forced upon a person. I didn't expect to go through this book liking Akin as much as I liked Yejide, but by the end of it I really did love them both and felt as though I'd been on a real rollercoaster ride with them. I sat down with this book one evening after work and read it in one sitting, that's how much I loved it. It just pulled me through.

Initially I gave it four stars, but the more I thought about it, and the more I realised how often I was thinking about it, I knew I had to bump it up to a five star read. Please, please go out and read this book this summer, I think it's a fantastic debut and I can't wait to see what Adébáyọ̀ brings out next - whatever it is, I'll be eagerly awaiting to get my hands on a copy.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

This Week in Books | 14/06/17

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

Now: Considering I loved The Fifth Season earlier this year and the final book in this trilogy, The Stone Sky, is due to be released in August, I figured it was about time I finished The Obelisk Gate which I started a while ago. I am really enjoying it and the only reason I seemed to stop reading it is because I'm so terrible at finishing series, but I'm determined to finish this one this year!

Then: As promised, last week I did go home and start Stay With Me and I ended up finishing it in one sitting. I absolutely devoured this book, I loved it, and I can't wait to see what Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ writes next. Look out for my review soon!

Next: Once I finish The Obelisk Gate I really am going to read The Beautiful Ones - I'm looking forward to it!

What are you reading?

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Daddy, Daddy Cool

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 a Father's Day freebie, so I figured I'd talk about some of my favourite father/father figure-daughter relationships in fiction!

Hans Hubermann and Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I'm not such a good reader myself, you know. We'll have to help each other out.’

Will I ever be over The Book Thief? Probably not, no. It's not everyone's cup of tea but the book made me bawl like a baby and the relationship between Hans and Liesel has to be one of the purest, most loving relationships in fiction. I love Rosa, too - as a mother figure she has a brash charm all her own - but Hans is too sweet a man to leave off this list.

Atticus and Jean Louise Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’

Atticus Finch is the original DILF and I love his relationship with Scout. He has to be one of the most soothing, comforting fathers in fiction and I adore him. I've chosen to ignore the existence of Go Set a Watchman because I'm still not certain Harper Lee really wanted that book to be published.

Theoden and Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Duty? No... I would have you smile again, not grieve for those whose time has come. You shall live to see these days renewed.’

I haven't read the books - sorry! - but I adore the films and I love the relationship between Eowyn and her uncle. He could have been a better guardian but he could have been a hell of a lot worse - looking at you, Denethor - and there's no denying there's a genuine love and affection between them. Eowyn loves him enough to stay by him and protect him even when Rohan was a dangerous place for her and her brother, so there's clearly a strong bond there.

Mo and Meggie Folchart from the Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke

‘I don't know any father who's more besotted with his daughter than yours.

I loved the Inkworld books when I was younger and it's such a shame the 2008 adaptation of Inkheart was pretty poor because Brendan Fraser was a great choice for Mo. To be completely honest with you Meggie started to irritate me as the books went along, I do think it's a shame her story became more along the lines of choosing which boy she loved more while Mo got all of the action, but their relationship is a lovely one and they're clearly very close.

Mr. and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

‘Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.

It's so hard to find gifs of these two! Also yes, I prefer the 2005 version to the 1995 version. Come at me, bro. Mr. Bennet is probably my least favourite on this list, on account of him not being a very good father. His relationship with Elizabeth is lovely, but he doesn't hide it from his four other daughters that she's his favourite and therefore the one most worthy of his time. Mrs. Bennet is often seen as a silly woman there for comedic effect and while the woman is pretty insufferable, she's actually the better parent when we consider the Bennets' situation; should Mr. Bennet die their house will no longer be theirs, and Mrs. Bennet wants her daughters to be provided for and safe in a society that won't let them inherit their father's house because they don't have a penis. That they might marry someone wealthy is a bonus and isn't unusual for the time - a big part of marriage was the chance to climb up the social ladder. So Mr. Bennet's relationship with Elizabeth is a lovely one, but he's not the best parent and I think Elizabeth knows that, too.

Belle and Maurice from Beauty and the Beast (1991)

‘My daughter? Odd? Where did you get an idea like that?

Maurice is a bit of a ditz, clearly intelligent but not so people smart, but it's clear he thinks Belle is the best thing since sliced bread (and so he should). Their relationship is clearly a close one considering Belle literally gives up her freedom to set her father free, something I'm sure she would have done whether he was sick or not. The Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast added an extra song for Belle and her father, 'No Matter What', and it's one of my favourites.

Sara and Captain Crewe from A Little Princess (1995)

‘I believe that you are, and always will be, my little princess.

This is one of those occasions where I prefer an adaptation to the original book; Frances Hodgson Burnett's book is lovely, and I recommend reading it, but I grew up with the 1995 adaptation and I'm so fond of it. It still makes me cry. Captain Crewe (played by Liam Cunningham, aka Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones if, like me, you've been trying to figure out where you've seen him before) is a doting father and and all-round very nice chap and his relationship with Sara makes me feel feelings.

Annie and Mr. Warbucks from Annie (1982)

‘Absolutely not! I'm a businessman. I love money, I love power, I love capitalism. I do not now and never will love children.

Unfortunately the gif is from the 1999 adaptation, which isn't a bad adaptation but isn't the one I grew up with, as yet again the gifs are scarce. Yes it's corny, but I love Annie and I love the way that it encourages the idea that children are allowed to love their birth parents and their adopted parents.

King Mongkut and Princess Fa-Ying from Anna and the King (1999)

‘I will be there in your dreams, as you will be in mine.

Really, internet? Not a single gif?! Oh well. Anna and the King is essentially a more serious version of The King and I without any of the sing-a-longs, and it's probably one of my favourite movies. It's not perfect, but I get swept away by it every time I watch it. The relationship between King Mongkut and his monkey-obsessed daughter, Princess Fa-Ying, is so sweet and if you watch the film you'll probably cry.

Fa Zhou and Fa Mulan from Mulan (1998)

‘The greatest gift and honour is having you for a daughter.

Fa Zhou says some things at the beginning of this movie that certainly hurt his daughter's feelings, but it's clear the two of them are close: Mulan literally risks death, by execution or warfare, by posing as a man and taking his place in the army so he doesn't have to go to what's likely to be his certain death now that he is old and fairly frail.

What did you talk about this week?

Monday, 12 June 2017

My 2017 Resolutions | An Update

Back in January I shared a list of six resolutions I had for 2017, and now that it's June (HOW IS IT JUNE?) I thought I'd do an update to share how I'm doing so far this year!

1) Read AT LEAST twelve poc authors

Technically I've surpassed this already as, back in January, I read The Good Immigrant (reviewed here) which is full of essays all written by poc. However, in total I've only read seven books authored by poc so far this year and I'd definitely like to increase that number, but so far I've read:

I'm on track to read twelve by the end of this year, but I'd really like to read more than that.

2) Read a series

I haven't managed this one yet, but I read The Fifth Season earlier this year, I'm currently reading The Obelisk Gate and I'm planning to read The Stone Sky when it's released in August. I'd also like to get to the Six of Crows duology and I'd like to finish The Girl from Everywhere duology, so I'm determined to have crossed this one off my list by the end of the year!

3) Read the rest of Shirley Jackson's novels

Sadly I haven't read any more as of yet, I haven't been in the mood to pick them up and I'm very much a mood reader, but I'm hoping that when autumn rolls around and Halloween draws near I'll read some more of her work. It won't be the end of the world if I don't complete this challenge, I'm not going to beat myself up about it, but I'd definitely like to read some more of hers after Muriel Spark reignited my love of modern classics earlier this year.

4) Don't buy any books that aren't published in 2017

HA of course I have, though I did say this was going to be my most lax resolution and I do think I've definitely cut down on the book buying this year compared to what I bought last year.

5) Have a better work/play balance

I've definitely gotten better at that this year, I haven't been letting work take over my life and I've really noticed the difference. I work in academic publishing and the summer is very busy for the department I work in because it's conference season and we have a lot of events to prepare for, but I'm definitely far less stressed than I was this time last year.

6) Go cruelty-free

Yep, I've done this! I haven't bought any makeup, shower gels, shampoos etc. this year that aren't cruelty-free and I'm very proud of it.

Did you make any resolutions this year? How have yours been going?

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Hogwarts Tag

I saw Catherine @ We'll Meet it When it Does do this tag and had to have a go at it myself!

Am I pure-blood, half-blood or muggle born?


Which wand chose me?

10" Beech wood with Unicorn hair core. Aw yeah.

‘The true match for a beech wand will be, if young, wise beyond his or her years, and if full-grown, rich in understanding and experience. Beech wands perform very weakly for the narrow-minded and intolerant. Such wizards and witches, having obtained a beech wand without having been suitably matched (yet coveting this most desirable, richly hued and highly prized wand wood), have often presented themselves at the homes of learned wandmakers such as myself, demanding to know the reason for their handsome wand’s lack of power. When properly matched, the beech wand is capable of a subtlety and artistry rarely seen in any other wood, hence its lustrous reputation.’

Did I take an owl, a cat, a rat or a toad?

It has to be an owl. Especially if I could have an eagle owl; I'd call him Apollo.

Where did the sorting hat put me?


What house did I want to be in?

Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff.

What lessons are my favourite and least favourite?

I'm a huge history nerd so I think History of Magic would probably be one of my favourite subjects, and I think Divination taught by Firenze would be quite interesting (sorry Professor Trelawney). I was quite good at baking at school, so I think I could transfer those skills to Potions and I hope I wouldn't find DADA or Charms too difficult. Care of Magical Creatures sounds so fun, too, and I'd be great at Muggle Studies! I have a feeling Transfiguration is what I'd struggle with most on the basis that I was never very good at languages at school, so trying to transform something I know into something completely different is something I struggle with.

The form my patronus takes:

A snowy owl.

What does a Boggart look like for me?

I don't know and I don't think I want to know. I'm terrified of spiders, but I don't know if they'd be my Boggart considering Boggarts play on a person's biggest fear - for me that's probably more along the lines of failure.

Do I partake in any magical hobbies or school sports?

I've never been a big sports fan, but considering I'm a muggle-born and this is a sport that involves flying on broomsticks I'd have to give Quidditch a try - I was pretty good at badminton and tennis, so maybe I'd be a good beater.

Where would I find myself hanging in my free time?

The Ravenclaw Common Room's in the Astronomy Tower, so I'd have to try my hand at some star-gazing in my free time. Other than that I'd probably spend time reading in that cool library, hanging out with friends and exploring the school. I wouldn't mind heading into Hogsmeade for some butterbeer, either! I joke, we all know if I went to Hogsmeade I'd spend the day in Flourish & Blotts.

What would I most likely get detention for?

Probably not getting homework done - but I really would try!

What career do I want after leaving Hogwarts?

I mean if you're a muggle-born pretty much any magical career is going to be cool, right? I think I'd have to be a Historian of Magic, though, with my particular focus on the history of European witch trials.

If you want to have a go at this, consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

This Week in Books | 07/06/17

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

Now: I'm in one of those moods at the moment where there's so much I want to read and so little time (work's very busy at the moment, so I'm not finding much time to just read one book) but as the winner of the Baileys Prize is being announced today and Stay With Me is on the shortlist, I'm really in the mood to pick it up when I get home this evening. I've heard amazing things about it and I know it's a lot of people's favourite to win the Baileys Prize, but whether it wins or not I'll be starting it tonight.

Then: I finished My Cousin Rachel at the weekend in anticipation of the new adaptation, starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin, which I'm going to see on Friday. Sadly it's probably the du Maurier novel I've enjoyed the least so far, but I did still like it. I reviewed it here if you'd like to know my thoughts on it!

Next: This book is proof of how busy I've been, as I received this via NetGalley around a week ago now and I still haven't started it, which is ridiculous considering I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia's work. To me The Beautiful Ones sounds like a Jane Austen novel with magic set in Mexico. What's not to love? I'll definitely be getting to this one soon, but I'd like to read Stay With Me first.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Ancient History

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 '10 Books From X Genre That I've Recently Added To My TBR List'. If you saw my Summer TBR you'll know Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles is on there and that the warmer weather always puts me in an Ancient mood, but, however much I might enjoy historical fiction, I've read basically no historical fiction set in the Ancient world - it's a sub-genre of historical fiction I've only just begun to be interested in, just as I've only really become interested in Ancient history in recent years. 

Like most children I grew up fascinated by Ancient Egypt, The Mummy is one of my favourite films, and I had several holidays to Crete as a child that definitely stirred an interest in Ancient Greece, as did Disney's Hercules. I've become fascinated by Italian history since my trip to Rome in 2015, and I've since visited Florence and Bologna too, and I've always found the story of Pompeii really interesting. I love Mary Beard, too, and I've enjoyed every single one of her documentaries I've watched.

Basically, my interest in the Ancient world has always been buried somewhere under the surface, but it's only in the past year or so I've had an active interest in it in terms of doing my own research. So this week I'm sharing a list of books, mostly fiction but there is some non-fiction in there too, that are all set in or are about Ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome. If you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them!

Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore by Bettany Hughes: This piece of non-fiction sounds super interesting; not only is Bettany Hughes discussing what the real Helen of Troy would have been like, discussing the period of history in which she was said to live, but she's also looking into how Helen has been portrayed over the years, from royal beauty to promiscuous whore. I really enjoyed Susan Bordo's The Creation of Anne Boleyn, which looked at the cultural history and impact of Anne Boleyn, and I'm hoping this book will do the same for Helen of Troy.

Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault: I know basically nothing about Alexander the Great, other than that he did an awful lot for someone who died fairly young, but I've heard brilliant things about Mary Renault's novelisations of his life. One of my friends is a huge Alexander the Great nerd and she loves these books, so I have high hopes!

Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott: Okay so I lied a little, this book isn't set in Ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome, instead it's the first in a fictionalised series of the life of Celtic queen Boudica. I remember learning about Boudica in primary school, when I was about 8 or 9, and I've always thought she was a pretty cool lady. This is the start of a series about her life that has very good reviews on Goodreads, so onto my TBR it goes!

Troy by Adèle Geras: I met Adèle Geras while I was at university at a Litfest event; she was on a panel with Celia Rees, one of my favourite childhood authors and the author who first got me into historical fiction, but I never went on to read any of Geras's work. I remember her discussing this book in particular because an Ancient Greek scholar told her off for including lemons in the book when the Ancient Greeks didn't have lemons. I'm all for historical accuracy, but even I can't help wondering if that's going too far...

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon: This one doesn't really have very good reviews, but I'm intrigued all the same; I read Lyon's Imagining Ancient Women last year where she discussed the research she did to write this book, so it'd be interesting to read the novel, too.

Pompeii by Mary Beard: Mary Beard is one of my favourite historians and the Classicist Queen. I watched her documentary on Pompeii last year, or possibly the year before, and really enjoyed it because she didn't discuss Pompeii's demise, but instead showed the kind of town Pompeii was before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. I'd love to learn more!

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran: I haven't read a single book set in Ancient Egypt and my knowledge of Ancient Egypt is pretty dire to be honest with you. This novelisation of Nefertari's rise to power has me intrigued - especially as I know practically nothing about Nefertari.

Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery by Judith Harris: This book isn't about Ancient Rome exactly, but it is about Pompeii's rediscovery from the 18th century onwards which fascinates me just as much as Ancient Pompeii itself. An awful lot of Ancient art was rediscovered and then hidden away in a secret museum, where only certain people were allowed to look at it because it was deemed as vulgar, and I find the idea of rediscovering an Ancient civilisation only to hide it away again really interesting.

Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton: This is another book with great ratings on Goodreads and another book set in Ancient Egypt, this time a novelisation of the life of Hatshepsut. According to Egyptologists Hatshepsut was one Ancient Egypt's most successful pharoahs and I'd like to learn more about her - or at least a version of her in fiction.

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn: I get the feeling that whoever designed the cover of Daughter of the Gods also designed this one. Yet again, this book has great ratings on Goodreads and Kate Quinn seems to be a very respected author in the world of fiction set in Ancient Rome. Plus it has a gladiator in it. I like gladiators.

Which books made your list this week?

Monday, 5 June 2017

Review | My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

by Daphne du Maurier

My Rating: 

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. In almost no time at all, the new widow—Philip's cousin Rachel—turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet…might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?

Daphne du Maurier's become one of my favourite authors in recent years, and after I read and enjoyed Frenchman's Creek, Rebecca and Jamaica Inn it was only natural that I was eventually going to pick up My Cousin Rachel, especially with the forthcoming adaptation starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin. Unfortunately this is probably the du Maurier novel I've enjoyed the least so far, which isn't to say I didn't like it, but I've definitely enjoyed her other work much more.

When Philip Ashley becomes a very young orphan, he is taken in by his much older cousin, Ambrose Ashley, a proud bachelor who adopts Philip as his heir knowing he has no intention to marry and have children of his own. The two live together harmoniously, Philip idolising his cousin in an almost unhealthy manner, until Ambrose takes off to Europe for his usual annual holiday only to never return. Philip receives letter after letter revealing his cousin has fallen madly in love with a half Italian, half British widow, Rachel, and the two of them marry. Months later Ambrose dies, his last letter to Philip seeming to apply his new wife has had something to do with it. When Philip has the chance to meet his cousin's bride he's determined to make her admit her guilt, but finds himself being enchanted by her himself.

We'll start with what I liked, because what I really didn't like about this book is sitting at the back of my throat like a foul taste.

As always, du Maurier's writing didn't fail to sweep me away. I love the way she writes; I'm not even sure that I'd describe du Maurier as the world's greatest writer, though of course she certainly isn't bad, but what she is is a fantastic storyteller. She sets a scene and weaves a tale that's so engrossing, with characters who are so well realised, that I'm baffled there was room for all of the characters she created during her career in her head.

My Cousin Rachel can certainly be described as a Gothic novel; there's a real sense of uncertainty throughout the book that I really enjoyed as du Maurier plays around with the possibility of Ambrose's death being a deliberate murder or simply the mental unravelling of a man who has a history of mental illness in the family, as does Philip. In fact Philip seems to take on the stereotypical role of the Gothic heroine, an unworldly, virginal man isolated in a country estate and at the mercy of a potentially dangerous outsider.

Speaking of potentially dangerous outsiders, I liked Rachel a lot, she was probably my favourite character in the novel. I'm always intrigued by characters who are complex, so complex that you like and dislike them in equal measure and are never quite sure which side of them you should trust more, particularly when the story is being told by a person who both loves and despises that character. I spent most of the novel unsure as to what the outcome was going to be (although I'm a tad annoyed that the trailer for the new adaptation, which I'd been avoiding, popped up on the tv one evening and revealed a huge plot point just before I got to it in the book) and while I did enjoy that suspense, I do also think the book could have been shorter than it is. Then again, that's probably because it would have meant spending less time with my main problem with the novel: the main character.

Philip is so, so irritating. He's misogynistic, ignorant, brooding, sulky and, on one occasion, quite violent, all while feeling terribly sorry for himself and pining for his cousin. I don't doubt for a minute that Philip would love his cousin, the man essentially raised him, but there's something almost homoerotic about his jealousy towards his cousin's wife, and when he wasn't trying to be with his cousin he was trying to be his cousin. From an English graduate's perspective Philip would be a great character to write an essay about, but he wasn't fun to read about for pure enjoyment. I found him childish and whiny, and it's all down to him that, so far, this has been my least favourite du Maurier novel. I didn't care what happened to him and I'd've much rather read a story about Rachel, particularly as she has spent most of her life in Florence which just so happens to my favourite European city. I'm a little bit obsessed with Italy, so it's a shame a du Maurier book with so much of Italy in it didn't quite tick all my boxes.

So would I recommend My Cousin Rachel? Yes, especially if you're already a du Maurier fan, but I do think it's longer than it needs to be and that it has an exceptionally irritating hero. If those kinds of things don't bother you I'm sure you'll enjoy this novel even more than I did, and if they do I promise you'll still love du Maurier's raw talent for storytelling.