Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Beautifully written, every sentence is infused with magic and enchantment. Highly recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

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.

Favourite Quote

We are sorry, we are sorry.

Sorry you were caught, I said. Sorry that you thought I was weak, but you were wrong.

(From Circe by Madeline Miller, page 171)

Review

I read Song of Achilles and was blown away by Madeline Miller’s writing.  So I knew I was going to enjoy this book, and I did.  But do I think it’s better than Song of Achilles?  That’s a tough question.  What I can say is that I came at these two books with quite a different mindset.  I didn’t like Achilles as I started SoA but that book transformed how I thought of him (I wouldn’t go as far as saying rehabilitated him in my mind, but he certainly became a little more sympathetic).  Conversely, with an interest (read: obsession) in paganism, witchcraft, ancient history and mythology, Circe had always been one of those figures I felt drawn to.  So in this instance, the question is: was the Circe of the book the same as the Circe I had imagined myself.  And the answer to that would be no?  Did I like the book any less because of it?  Certainly not!

This book is a masterpiece.  Beautifully written, every sentence is infused with magic and enchantment.  It is a tale of transformation, and a tale of power.  It is also a tale of loneliness and isolation (quite a fitting read during lockdown, don’t you think…)  It is a tale of love and loss, a tale of motherhood, a tale of witchcraft.  It is worth pointing out that the book is a retelling of Circe’s story as it is found in mythology, rather than an reimagining.

The island of Aiaia was evocatively brought to life with rich and vivid descriptions of the landscape and the fauna and flora.  It was certainly my favourite location of the book, though I enjoyed the trip to the palace of Knossos on Crete.

If you know the story of Circe, you will not be surprised by the cast of characters we meet as her tale unfolds.  Even though she is only a nymph, considered to be the lowliest of immortals, her life spans generations. Mortals, immortals and monsters…she encounters them all. But it is Circe herself who unremittingly captures the attention.  As a character, she is not perfect, far from it.  She can be benevolent, loving and kind, not to mention is resilient and shows us how to be self-reliant and independent.  Yet she can also be cruel and harsh and is responsible for terrible things, but she also is forced to endure terrible things too.  For a divine being, she is unquestionably human.

As I mentioned, this is a story of transformation where Circe becomes so much more than anyone expected and it terrifies those around her.  It is this, most of all, that I will take away from the book.  Our power, our witchcraft, is our own and with it we can find the strength and determination to achieve more than anyone else, or even ourselves, believe possible.  It won’t be easy.  As Circe says, witchcraft is drudgery, it’s dirty work, and it won’t always succeed at the first attempt, but that doesn’t mean it won’t ever work…

Highly recommended!

Rating

Book Review: Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

Quick review (read on for full review)

A richly described setting and an almost whimsically enchanting tale combine to create this gentle, charming read. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from inside cover)

To Gilly Ramsey, during her lonely childhood, the occasional brief visits of her mother’s cousin Geillis were a delight, appearing to the unhappy child like the visits of a fairy godmother. Years later, when Cousin Geillis was dead, and had willed her house, Thornyhold, to Gilly, the latter discovered that ‘fairy godmother’ was close enough to the truth. For Cousin Geillis, with her still-room, and her herbalist’s practice – and her undoubted powers – had long been known to the locals as a witch. And Gilly, inheriting ‘the witch’s house’, inherits, too, in spite of herself, her cousin’s reputation. She is approached by neighbours, some innocent, some not so innocent, but all assuming that she, too, is a witch, and a possible addition to the local coven. There is some truth in this, for Gilly, to her own surprise and discomfort, finds that in difficult moments she can call on power of a kind; it is as if Cousin Geillis is still somewhere in house and garden, weaving her own spells.

Gilly, once so shy and insecure, is gradually forced, by the very real powers at work in Thornyhold, to choose her own path through the enchanted woods. This, with the aid of an engaging small boy with a sick ferret, and then of his father, and even of her too-helpful nearest neighbour, Agnes, she finally does. Thornyhold, with its enchanted defences against evil, puts an end to loneliness and insecurity, and allows Gilly to move forward with confidence towards a new and satisfying life.

Favourite Quote

I suppose my mother could have been a witch if she had chosen to. But she met my father, who was a rather saintly clergyman, and he cancelled her out.

(From Thornyhold by Mary Stewart, page 7)

Review

Set during the years following World War II, this book is made up of a little bit of everything: a journey of self-discovery, witchcraft, fantasy, romance, suspense, sadness and even comedy, and that makes it quite a difficult book to place, I think.  What I can say, is that I enjoyed it.

Gilly Ramsey’s early life is bleak and lonely due in no small part to her parents.  Her mother comes across as cold and distant and her father is preoccupied with his duties as a clergyman.  I couldn’t help but wonder as I read, if either had really wanted a child.  The only glimmer’s of light the young Gilly receives come in the form of her mother’s cousin, Geillis, after who she is named.  She appears, often out of the blue, and comes across as if not a little strange, at least a little unusual, and naturally, she is.  Gilly’s life is influenced and shaped greatly by these three people, and it rather sadly, takes the death of them all to come into her own.

The witchcraft described in the story is of the hedgewitch variety – country herbalism, folklore and low magic.  I could read endless passages on the magical and medicinal properties of growing things.  The English countryside is richly described: flora and fauna, Stonehenge, the ruins of an old house, villages and hamlets, farms, fields and woodlands.  But it is Thornyhold that captures the attention and the heart: an old cottage (though fairly sizeable in dimension) surrounded by forest and wildlife.

The pace felt quite slow to begin with, and reading about Gilly’s childhood was not particularly fun, but as the years moved on and she arrives at Thornyhold, Gilly not only discovers who she really is – compared with who she has had to be her whole life – but learns about the strange and mysterious Cousin Geillis.

I would love to have had more information about Cousin Geillis’ relationship to Gilly’s mother, and even how her mother felt about her cousin.  Did she envy her life and freedom? Was she jealous of Geillis’ apparent closeness to her daughter?  As I moved through the story, I thought there might be more to this storyline than kindred spirits, but if there was, it never materialised.  And, as I wasn’t completely convinced by the romantic element to the story, or how the suspense element was resolved, yet overall enjoyed reading the book, 3.5 stars sounded like a fair rating.

Rating

3.5 / 5

 

ARC Book Review: The Spinner’s Child by Crispina Kemp

The Spinner’s Child is the first book in the soon-to-be-released series The Spinner’s Game by Crispina Kemp.

My thanks to Crispina Kemp for the ARC of this book in return for an honest review. The Spinner’s Child, and the rest of The Spinner’s Game, will be available from 21st March 2020 from Amazon, and is currently available for pre-order.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

The Spinner’s Child is a fantastic, enchanting read. Wonderfully written, it’s a highly imaginative historical fantasy, filled with engaging characters, captivating locations and a gripping storyline. Recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Spliced with dark material, sprinkled with the mystical. Join Kerrid’s journey through the timeless first days… and into the Spinner’s Web

Cursed, friendless and shunned, fraudulent seer Kerrid, born of a fisher-hunter clan, holds two beliefs. That in her psychic abilities and exuded light she is unique, and as Voice of the Lady she’s exempt from an arranged marriage. Both convictions are shattered when nine boats arrive from the east carrying the ancient Chief Uissinir who wants her for his wife, and five of his sons who emit lights and share tricks like her own. Forced to make an unwise judgement, a trail of death follows.

Questions plague her. Why does she dream of babies dying? Why does a voice in her head taunt her: Suffer the loss, suffer the pain? And what is she that no matter how lethal the wound, she does not die?

What is she to kill with a thought?

Favourite Quote

She prayed to the Lady of the Hills, to her sons and First Woman too, She prayed for deliverance from the end envisaged by Breathman Bargli. Any decision, please; any doom other than eaten by cats.

(From The Spinner’s Child by Crispina Kemp, Chapter 3)

Review

I was lucky enough to beta-read this book (the whole series, in fact) and instantly fell in love with the characters, the story and the setting.  So, naturally, I was keen to read and review the ARC when given the opportunity to do so.

The Spinner’s Child is the first instalment in a five book historical fantasy series. Highly imaginative and epic in every sense, it tells the story of Kerrid.  This first book covers her childhood through to the first years of her becoming a woman.

Kerrid is a wonderful main character.  I connected to her very quickly, and at times, was brought to tears by things that go on around her.  My! Things are not easy for her. Her relationships, even to her mother and father, are never straightforward.  As her journey of self-discovery progresses, she is faced with ever more complex issues and her fate isn’t often in her own hands.

Then there are the questions to which she must find the answers.  Who is she? What is she? Why is she different?  It is this search for answers that motivates her, even when things seem bleak, showing a strength of character I greatly admire.

Other characters I liked were Sarat – of course!  I can see how his crafting abilities must have seemed like magic to those uninitiated in their process and his interactions with Kerrid were sweet. There was also Breathman Bargli…a wise and sensible man with such a kind heart.

The world-building is fantastic.  You can clearly see where the author has researched meticulously.  The knowledge and descriptions of cultures and societies, settlements, handicrafts and textiles are rich and detailed, but there is no overloading of information.  The language and terminology adds an extra layer of authenticity and helps to bring this vibrant setting to life.

However, it is the mythologies and spirituality, but especially the “feast fables” that captivated me the most. These stories within the story are really interesting, and harken back to a time when lore and explanations of what was, what is and what will be, were to be found in easily recognisable tales, ones that were simple to recall and to repeat. These are the first stories and those that told them, the first storytellers.

The author has a striking writing style, which I enjoyed.  The story is superbly crafted and perfectly paced, and I must mention the book cover: it captures the essence of the tale perfectly. And, a note on the formatting: the book is nicely laid out, includes a beautiful map of the area in which the story is set, and there are lovely graphics to be found on the title pages. Ebooks can often look plain and functional compared to print books, their only nod to aesthetics being drop caps at the beginning of chapters, so in comparison, this comes across as beautifully presented.

All-in-all, a splendid, enchanting read.  The second book in the series is Lake of Dreams, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it.  Highly recommended, especially to those who enjoy historical fantasy.

Rating

Book Review: Dawnthief by James Barclay

Dawnthief is the first book in The Chronicles of The Raven by James Barclay.

Quick review (read on for full review)

A solid, engaging start to a fantasy series, with a fresh take on magic, a fast pace and a cast of characters that is both varied and interesting.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Raven: six men and an elf, sword for hire in the wars that have torn apart Balaia. For years their loyalty has been only to themselves and their code.

But, that time is over. The Wytch Lords have escaped and The Raven find themselves fighting for the Dark College of magic, searching for the location of Dawnthief. It is a spell created to end the world, and it must be cast if any of them are to survive.

Favourite Quote

They didn’t take a contract because they believed in the cause.  In fact the cause was largely irrelevant.  The job had to be made worth their while, worth their reputation and worth their attendance. Worth the risk.

(From Dawnthief by James Barclay, page 50)

Review

I had tried to read this book once before, but for some reason really struggled to get into it.  However, I always try to give books a second chance if they sound like books I should love, and I’m so glad I did.  Although I found the start a bit of a slow burn as I tried to get acquainted with the world, characters and storyline, I did find the book engaging once I got into it.

There’s plenty of action and adventure to be found in the story.  In that respect, it reminded me a little of Stan Nicholl’s ‘Orcs’ series which I read last year, in as much as fantasy plus action equals a fast and energetic pace.

I enjoyed the world-building.  It mixed simple geography – the world is divided into two, with the “goodies” on one side of a mountain chain and the “baddies” on the other – with a more complex structure because of the magical colleges and the fractious relationship between other cities.  I also liked how magic worked in this world and how it differed between the colleges.

It’s a big book – my copy was over 500 pages – and in the beginning, when I was trying to get into the story, it felt a little overwhelming, but that was quickly replaced with eagerness to discover what was coming next, which to me often felt unpredictable and unexpected.

A couple of things didn’t make sense to me.  One was a strategy that seemed a little counter-intuitive in certain situations, and the other, which I won’t mention for fear of spoilers, I hope will make better sense as I read subsequent books in the series.  That being said, these two thins were not enough to severely limit my enjoyment of the book.

On the whole, I liked the characters and found them engaging with interesting back stories. The concept of The Raven was a good one, and as the theme of brotherhood runs through the book, you can see how it affects the characters and their motivations.

Overall, I’m looking forward to reading book two in the series, Noonshade.

Rating

3.5 / 5


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #16 in the list: a book you didn’t finish on your previous attempt to read it

Book Review: The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

The Magician’s Apprentice is the prequel to The Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A perfect prequel for fans of The Black Magician trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed The Magician’s Apprentice especially learning more about the history of this fantasy world and exploring its geography.  The cast of characters is extensive and engaging, and the storyline captivating.  Great stuff!  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

In the remote village of Mandryn, Tessia serves as assistant to her father, the village Healer. Her mother would rather she found a husband. But her life is about to take a very unexpected turn.

When the advances of a visiting Sachakan mage get violent, Tessia unconsciously taps unknown reserves of magic to defend herself. Lord Dakon, the local magician, takes Tessia under his wing as an apprentice.

The hours are long and the work arduous, but soon and exciting new world opens up to her. There are fine clothes and servants – and, to Tessia’s delight – regular trips to the great city of Imardin.

However, Tessia is about to discover that her magical gifts bring with them a great deal of responsibility. For a storm is approaching that threatens to tear her world apart.

Favourite Quote

It’s going to come at a cost.  It’s going to change the way we see ourselves…If we justify this, then how much easier will it be to justify worse?  If Kyralians believe a little wrongdoing is excusable for the right reason, what else will we excuse, or assume others will excuse?

(The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan, pg 596)

Review

I have enjoyed all the stories I have read in this world – I’m captivated by the people, places, the world-building, but especially the main characters.  The Black Magician trilogy is one of my favourite fantasy series, and so I was certain I would not only enjoy but love The Magician’s Apprentice.

Not much about the story was predictable – except the romance.  The ending certainly came as a surprise, even though hints are given regarding it, (in this book and others set in the same world).  My favourite chapters focused on Tessia (who reminded me very much of Sonea from The Black Magician books), Dakon and Jayan.  I had more trouble connecting with Stara, but it was interesting to find out how the Traitors began.  The only criticism I have is that I would have liked to have read more about the characters after the war; the ending seemed a little abrupt, given how long was spent on other areas.  Yet, this hardly seems like any criticism at all, and it did not affect my overall enjoyment of story.  I’m probably only complaining because I didn’t want the story to end 😉

There is a lot of story in this one book: war, love, magic, action, adventure, politics, and more.  The cast of characters is also extensive to enable the story to cover more than one country and a number of storylines.

It is a big book – around 700 pages long – and the story is told from a number of different perspectives, which I enjoyed immensely.  I like knowing what is going on elsewhere, but more than that, when there are people from other lands and other cultures, we get to see what is normal for them, and understand why they react and behave in a certain way.  We wouldn’t get this without the bias of perspective if the whole story was told from a single viewpoint.

Whether I would have enjoyed this book as much if I hadn’t already read The Black Magician’s trilogy, I’m not sure.  There  are a number of events and a lot of information in The Magician’s Apprentice which set the foundations for aspects of the original stories, such as higher magic and the Magicians’ Guild.  There are also elements that link in with The Traitor Spy trilogy that comes after The Black Magician books, so there is clearly an aspect of interweaving between the books, which I also enjoy.  I would guess that if this is your first foray into Trudi Canavan’s books set in Kyralia, it might be too heavy on detail for it to be an entertaining, engaging read.  However, if like me you are familiar with the other stories, you will get a lot out of The Magician’s Apprentice.

Rating

 

 

Novella Review: Miss Kane’s Christmas by Caroline Mickelson

Miss Kane’s Christmas is the first book in the Christmas Central series by Caroline Mickelson.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A little twee and saccharine, perfect for a light-hearted, festive read.  A quick and uncomplicated story that’s certainly worth a read to get you ready for Christmas. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

With Christmas only three days away, Carol Claus agrees to her father’s request that she leave the North Pole on a mission to help save Christmas. Joining single father Ben Hanson and his children for the holidays seems an easy enough task until Santa informs her that Ben is the man behind the disturbing new book ‘Beyond Bah Humbug: Why Lying to Your Children about Santa Claus is a Bad Idea’.

Posing as Miss Kane, the children’s new nanny, Carol pulls out all the stops to show Ben how fun Christmas can be, all the while struggling to understand how one man could hate the holidays so much. How could she, Santa’s only daughter, be so attracted to a man who refuses to believe her father exists?

Favourite Quote

“Of course not, we’re not going to save Christmas by resorting to petty theft and destruction of another person’s property.”

Review

A romance story set at Christmas is always going to come across as a bit twee and saccharine, and perhaps even predictable, but I think that rather adds to the charm of a festive read.  This story was quite enchanting and I could easily imagine it adapted for the TV.

I liked all the characters.  Carol was perky and enthusiastic and refused to let anything dampen her spirit (even though she was a guest in somebody else’s home and she didn’t understand taking over everything might come across as a bit rude).  I understood where Ben was coming from; he didn’t like the idea of lying to and then subsequently disappointing his children with regards to a mythical figure he believed didn’t exist.  The children were adorable.

It lost a star for the crazy three day whirlwind romance – that was the most unbelievable, unrealistic aspect of the story, which is saying something when there are talking elves and flying sleighs.  It didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story though.

This was an entertaining, quick read.  The story was light-hearted, uncomplicated and fun, and certainly well worth a read in the run-up to Christmas.

Would I read any more of the series?  Good question.  I enjoyed what I read in Miss Kane’s Christmas, and I don’t feel that I have to read more.  The story is written as a standalone (as are the others in the series).  However, I liked the world-building and the characters, so it is possible that I will visit again for Festive Reads Fortnight 2019.

Rating

Oathbreaker

If you have a moment, please have a read of my latest novel.  It’s currently available to read for free via Wattpad…Click the book cover below for the link…Thank you so much for your support ♥

~ Oathbreaker is now available to read in full on Wattpad ~

Longlisted for The Wattys 2018

Summary

Eleri, priestess of the Green Lady, has waited for so long to marry her tribe’s champion, Celyn. Finally, the date is set for Midsummer’s Eve, when the tribes have gathered in the valley to celebrate the longest day at the stone circle perched up on the hill. But nothing is as it seems…

A glimpse of a bird circling over the stones foretells of doom…and maybe even death.

An oath is made. An oath is broken. And Eleri’s life changes forever…

*
Oathbreaker is a story inspired by ancient history, mythology, and the landscape. Set in the Iron Age, where there is no distinction between history and mythology, and where magic is as real as the ground beneath your feet, Oathbreaker charts the journey of Eleri, Priestess of the Green Lady, and the unusual quest she finds herself forced to make…

If you enjoy historical fiction, myths and legends, fantasy, adventure and romance, you might enjoy this too…