Book review: Circe by Madeline Miller


Book Cover

Title: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 19th April 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.
There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Breathing life into the ancient world, Madeline Miller weaves an intoxicating tale of gods and heroes, magic and monsters, survival and transformation. “

My review:

There are no words to truly describe just how wonderful this book is but I will try to pull my thoughts together and explain why this book is so special to me.

Putting aside the Greek mythology aspect, this story is an accurate reflection of the struggles that many of us face even today in the 21st century. I was pleasantly surprised that the author decided to focus on Circe’s attitude towards her family which runs parallel to the disputes with family members we face in our every day life and the need to often justify our actions or even break free from the negative surroundings, just like Circe is forced to do when she is exiled to a deserted island. Right from the first chapter I began to connect with Circe and supported her in her attempt to escape from the abuse she was subject to at home. Despite the battles she faces and the struggles to live in isolation, her desire to strive for the best for her son’s future with few complaints does not go unnoticed and is a reflection and celebration of many independent women’s lives today.

I must admit that I was not too keen on the fantasy or mythology element before I started the book but the storytelling factor is so effortless that it plays little significance to the greatness of this story. If Greek mythology is not your preferred choice of reading, don’t be discouraged after reading the blurb because the author does a brilliant job of introducing all the main characters and linking them to each other so the story is easy to follow without any necessary background knowledge. In fact, I firmly believe that the storytelling is the main reason for the success of this book; the language, eloquent sentences and retelling of all the adventures from Circe’s point of view are the key elements of the magical universe that the author has created, one which I almost didn’t want to leave after finishing the book.

Perhaps my review doesn’t do this book justice and you aren’t yet convinced on Circe. However, I want to assure those of you who have heard about this book and decided to pass on it, whether it’s due to the mythology or the genre, that we can all find an important message linked to our daily lives if we search hard enough. Although the initial story is a retelling of a Greek mythology, the deep-rooted prejudices and thoughts are what make this story so special and simply for this reason, I believe that Circe should be high up on everyone’s list of books to be read.

Studious Saturday: Why I rarely reread books

studious saturdays

This week I’ve been thinking about my reading tastes and style compared to other friends and bloggers which made me realise that, unlike many others, I tend to dislike rereading books. I decided to share my thoughts with you briefly on why I prefer to only read books that I haven’t read before, which I also believe may be a slightly unpopular opinion but could produce an interesting discussion.

  1. Time, time time!

My main reason not to reread books, which I think many others can probably relate to, is due to time related constraints. Most of us are already struggling to juggle our social, family and work life while also managing to find time to read so it’s no wonder that we often can’t find the time to return to our most loved books. I often feel guilty when I decide to pick up a book that I have already read instead of finishing off the various tasks I have pending or even starting a new book.

2. Too many books on the never ending TBR list

Also linked to the first point, the little time that I save for reading is usually spent catching up on my to-be-read list. Between a pile of backlist books waiting to be started and the constant stream of exciting new releases, books that I have already read somehow always tend to fall behind in my reading priorities.

3. Expectations

Most of us would understandably only go back to books that we have previously enjoyed and want to rediscover, I also fall into this category. However, I cannot imagine visiting any of my favourite books and feeling disappointed that they didn’t live up to my expectations as I reread them for the second time. Even if I did have enough time and a visibly reduced to-be-read list, I still don’t think that I would reread some of my favourite books because I would feel worried that I wouldn’t like them as much.

Those are my main reasons for not re-reading books and although I realise that they may feel strange to many in the bookish community, I have come to understand that my reading habits are somewhat peculiar and many others may not understand them.

Question time

Do you ever reread books and if so why? What are some of your favourite books that you like to revisit?

Book review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain


Book Cover

Title: Dirty Little Secrets

Author: Jo Spain

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date: 7th February 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Death stalked the Vale.
In every corner, every whisper.
They just didn’t know it yet.
Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”

My review:

It had been a while since I had last read a dark and gripping psychological thriller before I stumbled upon this book on Netgalley. The synopsis had me intrigued and I was hooked right from the first chapter. The characters were delightfully complex yet the plot seemed so simple that I was expecting the typical psychological thriller with drastic and somewhat far-fetched revelations of the characters’ lives. I was pleasantly surprised that the plot developed in unexpected ways, luring us to believe that Olive had nothing to hide yet swiftly transforming into a much more complicated story.

Completely unaware of each other’s struggles, the neighbours at Withered Vale are shocked to find out about Olive’s death but do not appear too troubled when the police focus their search for the perpetrator inside the community. Each chapter focuses on the owners of each house and Olive’s attitude towards them. I particularly enjoyed the back and forth game of figuring out if Olive was within reason to dislike her neighbours based on certain attributes they presented, or if they really did have a solid argument to keep away from her while she was alive. It was captivating and I was constantly wanting to learn more about the background of all the characters, desperate to find out who killed Olive.

The final few chapters were especially interesting as more hints were revealed that seriously made me doubt their intentions towards Olive. Unfortunately the final chapter where we understand what happened to Olive hours before her death was slightly disappointing and I felt that after so much speculation the reveal would be more explosive. Nevertheless, it did not distract from the brilliant story line and the intricate puzzle that the author created. I highly recommend this book to all lovers of dark psychological thrillers.

Dirty Little Secrets is out to buy tomorrow!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Studious Saturday: The Out of My Comfort Zone Book Tag

studious saturdays

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a beautiful weekend and have been able to fit in some reading. I was recently tagged by Stephen in the Out of my comfort zone book tag which looks super fun. I am generally open to reading new genres and authors but I’m sure that I’ll surprise myself with some of my answers.

Rule:

You have to pick ONE GENRE that you frequently read about… and then, you can’t use ANY books from that genre while answering the questions!

I usually lean towards books in the Mystery/Thriller genre but I am not sure that I would typically choose any books of this genre as my answer to these questions. Therefore I have decided to extend the rule out to include Contemporary Fiction too which will make it even more interesting and difficult!

1. A Book That Is An Exception When It Comes To Genres Or Elements You Don’t Typically Like


I don’t usually read Fantasy but I decided to read this as part of the book club that I recently attended and I was astounded by the unique storytelling and even more surprised by how much I enjoyed the book!

2. A Book You Enjoyed From A Genre You Previously Held Some Stigma Against


This book was everywhere a few years ago and I still remember all my friends discussing districts, characters and other elements completely unknown to me so I ultimately agreed to borrow it from my flatmate and read it in one sitting.

3. A Book You Didn’t Know Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Until You Started Reading It


I am a huge fan of Dystopian Fiction but I honestly did not expect such a hard-hitting story and I definitely didn’t think that it would affect me as much as it did. Nevertheless, this is still one of the most memorable books I have read and I recommend it to everyone (or at least try it even if you don’t manage to finish it).

4. Pick A Friend Who Motivates You To Pick Up Books You Might Not Normally Be Interested In – Is There A Book They Convinced You To Give A Try?


Another one of my flatmates convinced me to read The Martian (and watch it afterwards too). Unfortunately we don’t have the same tastes in books or movies but I did listen to his suggestion and was glad to read something different.

5. A Book That Is Out of Your Comfort Zone, But You Would Like to Read


Although I love suspenseful thrillers, I am not a huge fan of blood and gore but I have heard so much praise for Hunter Shea’s Creature that I have decided that it’s going straight to my TBR list.

6. A Book/Genre So Outside Of Your Comfort Zone That You’ll Probably Never Give It A Chance

Although I am open to many genres I don’t expect to read any Christian Fiction any time soon.

So those are my diverse and somewhat random answers to this tag. It’s been fun looking back at some of my odd choices and although I won’t tag anyone this time around, I hope those of you that decide to do the tag enjoy it!

 

Studious Saturday: My reading and blogging goals for 2019

studious saturdays

Welcome to the first Studious Saturday post of 2019 on Facing the Story! I hope that you have enjoyed the holiday season (I certainly did!) and are feeling refreshed and ready to start the new year. After a short social media and blogging break at the beginning of January, I decided to finally revive my blog again with a burning topic that I think many other book bloggers are currently discussing, namely their goals for the year. Mine are to…

Read 55 books

I have set my Goodreads challenge for 2019 on 55 books which is only 5 more than last year. I surpassed my goal of 50 books in 2019 by finishing one exciting thriller on New Year’s Eve so I feel that this goal is achievable based on my usual reading speed.

Branch out to other genres

It’s no secret that I usually lean towards the Mystery/Thriller, Contemporary Fiction and Historical Fiction genres, however I tried some Science Fiction last year which I enjoyed and I am hoping to carry on exploring the genre. I am also currently reading my first Fantasy novel and loving how different it is to my usual choice of books. This will definitely be one of my reading priorities for the year.

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature

Living in Spain has its perks and one of them is the huge selection of novels by acclaimed Spanish and Latin American authors. Unfortunately I didn’t plan out my reading for 2018 so well and I only read one book in Spanish. I hope to correct this in 2019 and finally start on the never ending list of Spanish literature that my colleagues have recommended.

Schedule my posts in advance

This will be my main blogging goal for this year, especially as I have many other personal goals which mean that I will have less free time during the week to write and blog hop. I struggled with planning several times last year and I could tell the difference in the quality of my writing between the periods where several posts were scheduled in my queue and those where I was hastily proofreading and editing a post right before publishing it. Essentially, I am hoping to use Kaleena’s 2019 book blogger spreadsheet template to plan out my month in advance so I can fit enough time to blog hop, write out my posts and read ARCs with plenty of time to spare.

Design a new look for my blog

Although I am pleased and proud of my content, a fresh and clean design can really make a difference to a blog as a whole and I admit that my current design is not particularly eye-catching or satisfying. I am a huge lover of a minimalist look but I think the current design is a bit of an overstatement in this category. At some point this year I hope to create a new logo and background and also choose a new theme.

 

Those are my main reading and blogging goals of the year which I hope to achieve, although I know that sometimes life gets in the way and it is not always possible to achieve them all. Nevertheless, I plan to work hard on my blog this year and to enjoy the books I am planning to read. I also wanted to take some time to thank you all for staying with me during my blogging journey – I never believed that so many people would read my reviews and thoughts on books when I created Facing the Story last year and I am extremely grateful for your kind words and support.

Question time

What are your reading and blogging goals for 2019?

Studious Saturday: My Top Books of 2018

studious saturdays

It’s almost 2019 and time to reflect back on some of the best books I have read this year. As I am writing this I have read 48 books out of my goal of 50 (still 2 weeks to go so I know I can reach my goal!) and it has been incredibly difficult to narrow down my top reads. As I tend to read many backlist books due to my never ending TBR list, I decided to split my choices between the best 5 backlist book and the top 5 books published this year. You can find out my full thoughts on each one by clicking on the links below.

Top backlist books

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry  

4. We Were the Lucky Ones

3. Kane and Abel

2. The Travelling Cat Chronicles

1. Close to Home

Some of my top reads in this category were from the Historical Fiction and Contemporary Fiction genre and I was extremely pleased to find these four gems, some from recommendations and others at random. Cara Hunter has been my newfound top author in the Crime/Mystery/Thriller category this year. The ending of Close to Home was mind blowing and deserves the top spot here and the second book in the series, In the Dark, didn’t disappoint either.

Top books published in 2018

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

5. A Spark of Light

4. The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae

3. In the Dark

2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz

1. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

A mixture of books from character-driven stories to the poignant tales of A Spark of Light and The Tattooist of Auschwitz are included here. However, I already knew the winner straight after I had finished this book and it was a very clear choice for me. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is incredibly clever and captivating and deserves to win every possible award. I have been recommending this book to everyone around me (I think some people may be getting quite aggravated by now) and will continue to do so going into next year. No words can do this book justice so you will just have to trust me here and read it, you won’t be disappointed!

It seems that 2018 was a great reading year for me and I can only hope that 2019 continues this way too. I already have my eye on several 2019 releases although there is still a tall pile of books from this year on my TBR list which I hope to eventually get to.

Question time

Have you read any of these books and what did you think of them? What are your top picks of 2018?

Studious Saturday: What makes a Thriller truly thrilling

studious saturdays

Shortly after finishing From the Shadows by Neil White, I reflected on thrillers and the various techniques authors use to provoke a wide range of emotions on their readers. I have read some truly wonderful Thrillers this year and, after comparing the aspects that make them stand out to the rest, I decided to summarise my thoughts in this week’s Studious Saturday post.

A bold start

The first few chapters are without a doubt the most vital in engaging the reader and introducing the story line and main characters. In particular, thrillers need a strong start to excite the reader and encourage them to keep reading. Without this technique, the story already feels sluggish and the writing usually falls flat before the main events unfold.

Multi-layered characters

This often applies to all genres because we need to be able to relate to the characters, or at least find them likeable. However, it’s crucial that characters are complex and mysterious in Thrillers, especially murder mysteries, because often the story line rapidly changes to suggest that one character may be the culprit until another piece of evidence is discovered and we find out that another character could be the murderer. I also believe that it’s possible, although difficult, to build a successful character-driven thriller while not focusing as much on the plot, although I know that others may disagree with me here.

An unexpected plot twist

Perhaps the most “thrilling” aspect is a huge plot twist that we didn’t see coming. Without this, the story may feel incomplete and not as gripping. Many Thrillers build up in suspense and and tension slowly until the big reveal whereas others shock with an abrupt and unpredictable twist. Both techniques are incredibly powerful when used correctly and both have their place as the author may decide which to use depending on how they plan on developing the plot.

Pace

It is often difficult for many authors to achieve a good level of rhythm and it usually depends on many other factors – whether they are striving for a plot-driven rather than a character-driven book and if they wish to keep the reader guessing until the final chapter or rather focus on the events surrounding the mystery in a more reflective manner. Personally, I am a huge fan of fast-paced Thrillers as I am usually more eager to carry on reading until finishing the book in a few sittings. However, as pacing depends on other factors, I am open to reading slower-paced Thrillers or ones with a variety in rhythm if well executed.

An appropriate ending

The final chapters are essential for a hard-hitting and noteworthy Thriller and often this is the deciding factor for many readers on whether they found the book successful or not. I have read some brilliant Thrillers that have convinced me to read until the end to only find a disappointing and odd ending that doesn’t correspond to the rest of the story line and doesn’t provide a satisfying conclusion. An excellent Thriller requires an appropriate conclusion to tie up all lose ends and explain the mystery in a convincing manner. Of course, this would depend if the book is a standalone or a part of a series, in which case ending on a cliffhanger could work, but either way the author needs to find the right balance between a gripping final few chapters and the right pace to conclude the story.

Question time

What do you believe are the factors that make a thriller truly thrilling? Do you agree with my suggestions and would you add any other points?