Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

32454291In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.


Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Fantasy/Mythology/Retelling
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Rating: ★★★★

I was hesitant to review this book, only because I wasn’t sure if I had everything to add to what’s already been said. I also don’t feel like I could ever do Circe justice, but I’ll try.

This book drew my eye very early on. I love Greek mythology and retellings, and Circe is such a fascinating character to me. I’ll admit, this book took me a long time to read. Three months, to be exact. I kept finding myself putting it down and moving on to other books, then coming back to it. It wasn’t because it didn’t interest me, but rather that it is a very character-driven, inner-monologue focused, slow-burn story. I couldn’t skim or speed-read; I needed to absorb every single word on the pages.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

A majority of this book is spent on the island of Aiaia where the goddess Circe is exiled. If you are unfamiliar with Greek mythology and the Odyssey, like I was, much of the content in this book will be new for you. Centuries and generations of Greek myths are folded into this book, but they are told in stories by visiting characters. We don’t actually see any of the action, but action and adventure is not what this story is about.

“My divinity shines in me like the last rays of the sun before they drown in the sea. I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now that they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

This is the origin story of Circe and her development over centuries of love and loss. She is a goddess with the voice of a mortal, who empathizes with mortals and loathes the ways of all other self-serving gods and goddesses. This is not a happy story. She suffers greatly, but everything that happens to her helps shape her into the strong, powerful, and somewhat jaded witch that she is. She isn’t perfect; at times she is a villain, at times she is a heroine, but it’s interesting to see how she grows from these experiences.

“Her eyes held mine, gray and steady. It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

The underlying theme in Circe is how the stories of men are often glorified, while the heroines are undermined no matter how prominent their own role was. This is a very women-empowering, sex-positive book about finding yourself in a world where men are given agency, and women are reduced to being in the background.

“The thought was this: that all my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.”

Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

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A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.


Title: Legendary
Author: Stephanie Garber
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Source: eBook
Release Date: May 29th, 2018
Rating: ★★★★

This book was so, so fun!

I adored the first book, Caraval, and this book definitely exceeded my expectations as a sequel. It was such a magical, whimsical ride, and I couldn’t put it down. I loved returning to this world.

The writing is poetic and sucks you right in:

“The air tasted like wonder. Like candied butterfly wings caught in sugared spiderwebs, and drunken peaches coated in luck.”

Donatella Dragna is everything I want in a main character. She is strong, brave, and levelheaded. She likes attention, flirting with men, and knows that she’s pretty, but above all else, she isn’t ashamed to admit it.

“One look at her honey-blond curls, her girlish smile, and her pretty dresses, coupled with the fact that she liked to enjoy herself, and people dismissed her as a silly girl. Tella might have been many things, but she was far from silly or worthless or whatever labels people liked to affix because a person was young and female. Tella liked to think that was where much of her strength came from. She was bold. She was brave. She was cunning. And she was going to come out of this triumphant – no matter the cost.

I enjoyed being in her head more than her sister Scarlett’s, who was the main character and point of view of Caraval. I also enjoyed the romantic aspects a little more than Caraval. This book certainly had enough steamy scenes to satisfy my immoral soul.

“Good was the word people used to describe how they slept at night and bread fresh out of the fire. But Dante was more like the fire. No one called a fire good. Fires were hot, burning things children were warned not play with.”

I absolutely adored Dante.

(Side note and potential spoiler: I see hints at a future love triangle which is usually a huge nope from me, but in this case I’m actually okay with it slash completely living for it).

Legendary messed with my head. I was second-guessing and third-guessing until my head was spinning in circles and I couldn’t even read the words anymore. There were so many possibilities and so many potential outcomes, that I can’t even say if any of my predictions came true. Legendary will do it’s best to mislead you, so I eventually gave up guessing and just went along for the ride.

I loved the morally grey, semi-villainous actions of each of the main characters. No one is really the hero and no one is really the villain; everyone has their own agenda. Even Tella admits that she might be the villain in her own story.

Scarlett was kind of a mess. I liked her perspective in Caraval, but there wasn’t much of her in this book and what I did see was just confusing and kind of obnoxious. There wasn’t as much as a sibling emphasis in Legendary as there was in Caraval, and I hope that changes in the next book. Scarlett’s actions in this one just really bothered me, so I think I would be completely okay if the third book is once more from Tella’s perspective, or even a dual POV.

All of the characters we know are still around, as well as some new ones. Scarlett and Julian’s story continues in the background from where the first book left off, and I’m interested to see how it continues for these two in the third one.

I gave this book four stars out of five, because I thought the ending was a little predictable. Still, Legendary was the most enjoyable read for me so far this year, and I can’t wait to see what Stephanie Garber has in store for us with Finale!

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Worlds I Would and Wouldn’t Want to Live In

img_2469*Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl to bring bookish friends together. A new topic is posted each week.

This weeks topic is about book worlds that you would or wouldn’t want to live in. Since world-building is my favorite aspect of any novel (especially fantasy), this was a really fun topic for me!

Worlds I Want to Live In:

  1. Red London

    Shades of Magic (series) by V.E. Schwab

    This magical alternate version of London sounds like an amazing place to live.

  2. Prythian (Winter & Summer Courts)

    A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

    Sarah J. Maas has been very descriptive with these two courts of Prythian in the ACOTAR books. I belong somewhere warm and near the ocean, but the Winter Court sounds like a wonderful world to live in, with towering palaces, roaring hearths, and tall evergreens. The main method of transport is reindeer-pulled sleighs, plus they have polar bears! And their celebration of the winter solstice sounds like my kind of party.

  3. Hogwarts

    Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

    I’m still waiting on my letter. I would be in Slytherin for sure.

  4. Wonderland

    Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    Alice in Wonderland was my favorite Disney movie growing up. This is a world where nothing makes sense and everything talks. What more could you want?

  5. Narnia

    The Chronicles of Narnia (series) by C.S. Lewis

    Did anyone else try to find Narnia in the back of their closet as a child, or was that just me?

 

Worlds I Wouldn’t Want to Live In:

  1. White London

    Shades of Magic (series) by V.E. Schwab

    This alternate London is a chilling, cutthroat world where no one is safe.

  2. Prythian (Spring Court)

    A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

    Tamlin. Need I say more?

  3. Verity

    This Savage Song/Our Dark Duet by V.E. Schwab

    Verity is a city in which sins committed by humans create monsters.

  4. The Martial Empire

    An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

    This is a brutal world inspired by Ancient Rome. It’s citizens are oppressed and the government resorts to violent and terrifying acts to keep the people in check.

  5. Panem

    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    If picked for the Hunger Games, I would 100% be the first to die.

Review: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

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Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.


Title: The Wicked Deep
Author: Shea Ernshaw
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Rating: ★★★

“From the black waters of the harbor, their song sinks into dreams, permeates the brittle grass that grows along steep cliffs and rotting homes. It settles into the stones that hold up the lighthouse; it floats and swirls in the air until it’s all you can taste and breathe.”

The Wicked Deep is a dark, magical, atmospheric read. I enjoyed it, but there were a few things that bugged me.

This book is about a small coastal town in Oregon called Sparrow. This town is cursed by three witchy sisters who were drowned by the town’s residents two hundred years ago. Every year, the Swan sisters return to inhabit the bodies of girls and lure boys out to the ocean where they drown to death.

“It’s as predictable as the tide and the moon. It ebbs and flows. Death comes and it goes.”

I guessed the twists pretty early on, but the writing was compelling enough to keep me interested until the end. I really liked that each chapter was separated by short chapters (usually only a page or two long) of flashbacks from when the Swan sisters were still alive. These mini-chapters added to the dark, mysterious atmosphere of the book.

One thing that really bothered me was the fact that there were basically no adults in this book. Throughout the whole thing I just kept thinking, where tf are your parents? All the teenagers aside from Bo and Penny were insufferable and shallow. Despite the death that occurs every year, none of the townsfolk seemed to have any real sense of danger. In fact, they throw parties and celebrate the “Swan season” like its all just a big spectacle, or just a quirky facet of their town. With a population of 2000 people and multiple boys dying every summer, you would think that people would be a little more devastated. After all, in a town that small, everyone knows everyone. Instead, they throw parties, get drunk, and dare each other to go into the water for fun, even though most people believe in the sisters and are aware of the danger.

“For in a place like Sparrow, rumors spread quickly, like small pox or cholera, confusing the mind, rooting itself into the fabric of a town until there’s no telling truth from speculation.”

I never became invested in the insta-love romance, which was a pretty big part of this book, but it didn’t really bother me. I actually like the way the romantic aspects were handled (SPOILER SPOILER highlight at your own risk: Although Bo and Penny have sex, which is all fine and good except for the fact that Penny is actually Hazel? So she’s having sex with someone else’s body? A little icky and a lot wrong.) So yeah.

There were some things that weren’t really answered, but maybe its better off that way. There were also some weird punctuation mishaps, which most people probably won’t care about or even notice, but its something I’m a huge stickler for.

With all that being said, The Wicked Deep was an enjoyable read. The writing was good and the concept was unique. I would recommend this to anyone in the mood for a mysterious, romantic, atmospheric book about witches and revenge.

Review: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

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Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?


Title: To Kill a Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Rating: ★★★★★

This book is The Little Mermaid, if The Little Mermaid was darker, grittier, nastier, and spent more time aboard a pirate ship than on land. In short, it’s actually nothing like The Little Mermaid. The basic premise is the same, but Alexandra Christo has taken a fluffy fairy tale and made it so much more. As much as I love the original story, I love this twisted version even more.

I adore Lira and Elian. The characters are all so well-developed, even the secondary characters. The witty banter between everyone is just so fun, and I couldn’t help but find all their little quirks endearing, from the arrogant Kye to the strong-minded Madrid to the quiet but fierce Torik. To Kill a Kingdom is split between the perspectives of Elian and Lira, and they both have their own distinct voices and unique personalities. They’re both arrogant, sharp-tongued, and ruthless, but underneath it all, they are caring and good-hearted. Lira especially goes through a huge transformation, from a murderous and cold-hearted siren princess to someone who cares and empathizes with humans.

“His face is roguish when I sneer up at him, nothing like the sweet and gentle princes I’ve taken before. The ones whose hearts are buried beneath my bed.”

The word-building in this book is very well done. You have the cruel and nasty world under the sea where kindness is seen as weakness and savagery is strength. Sirens steal the hearts of their victims and keep them as trophies, while mermaids and mermen are more fish than human and are just as cruel. Above ground, we see many different kingdoms and languages. There’s political intrigue, as everyone seems to scheme for their own benefit and use each other as means to an end.

I loved To Kill a Kingdom. It’s dark, twisted, and witty. There was romance, but it was secondary to the main story, and seeing the build-up and the character development was way more fun, anyway. As much as I would love to see more from these characters, I appreciate the fact that it’s a standalone because I thought the story wrapped up perfectly. I can’t wait to read more from this author!

“We continue on that way, swords arcing through the air, our breath ragged. Soon there’s sun in the distance, or perhaps even moonlight. Everything is muted and as Lira swoops her blade down on mine once more, I let it all fall away. My mission, my kingdom. The world. They exist somewhere other than in this moment, and now there is only this. Me, my ship, and a girl with oceans in her eyes.”

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

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In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.


Title: Everless
Author: Sara Holland
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: eBook (Kindle)
Release Date: January 2nd, 2018
Rating: ★★★

I really wanted to love this book, really. The premise sounded so interesting! Everless takes place in a world where time is currency and people bleed years of their lives to pay for basic necessities, like food and rent. Unfortunately, it just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it… not the characters, the plot, and especially the cardboard romance. Seriously, I was about as invested in the romance as I was in the pizza box that I threw in the trash bin this morning.

That isn’t to say that this book is poorly written, or even that it isn’t good. This rating is entirely subjective, and I know that there are a lot of people out there who loved this book. Personally, I found the plot to be formulaic and the romance to be very predictable and unnecessary. You really mean for me to believe that Jules held onto a childhood crush for a decade? That’s not a thing. I’m sorry. I also feel like there are a lot of conflicts that could have been easily solved (spoiler: when Jules’ dad came to warn her and she was concerned about how much time he had left, why couldn’t she have just given him some of those time coins that she carried around with her literally everywhere and had absolutely no use for??)

Some positives to note: The writing was good, the world-building was well done, and there were some moments that had me genuinely intrigued. Still, I found myself speed-reading toward the end just to get through the book since it wasn’t holding my interest.

Take this review with a grain of salt, because I know that there were a lot of reviewers whose opinions I admire that adored this book. This is a book with a very interesting premise and characters that some may find endearing, but it adds nothing new to the fantasy genre.

 

Waiting on a Wednesday: Circe by Madeline Miller

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*Waiting on a Wednesday is a weekly feature in which I spotlight upcoming releases that I can’t wait to read!

This week, I’m waiting on Circe by Madeline Miller.

I’ve had The Song of Achilles (also by Madeline Miller) on my TBR for a while now. I already own it, so I’m hoping to get to it before Circe comes out!

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In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time! What’s not to love about Greek mythology and witches? This book is a retelling of The Odyssey from Circe’s perspective. Advanced reader reviews have been very positive, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this when it comes out in April!

Sunday Spent in Bed With…Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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It’s cold and rainy outside and I’m curled up in my warm bed with a cup of coffee, and the only way I would leave it is if my apartment were to suddenly catch on fire. Or if I wanted to get another cup of coffee.

I’ve heard so much about Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, so I decided to pick it up. I’m going on four (or maybe five?) days of reading this book now, which is a long time for me. Even with working two jobs, I’m usually able to finish a book in two to three days.

Laini Taylor’s writing is absolutely phenomenal. I feel like I could quote every single sentence of Strange the Dreamer, because everything is just so beautiful and her analogies and descriptions are flawless. You can’t help but care deeply for the characters, which really twists the knife when bad things happen to them. Also, the level of creativity is out of this world and I’m pretty sure that this author is a magician for being able to craft such a magical and unique story.

“He had loved the library, and had felt, as a boy, as though it had a kind of sentience, and perhaps loved him back. But even if it was just walls and a roof with papers inside, it had bewitched him, and drawn him in, and given him everything he needed to become himself.”

I don’t know why it’s taking me so long to read this one, because I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. I had the same problem with Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (which I never actually finished). It’s like, even though I love the story, I have no desire to actually keep reading it and have to force myself through the pages. It’s a paradox. I don’t understand it.

I’m hoping to finish Strange the Dreamer sometime this weekend! In the meantime, I’m just gonna act like a burrito in my heated blanket and ignore the world for awhile.

Three of a Theme: Russia-Inspired Fairy Tale Retellings

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This week, I’ll be discussing a trend in my favorites shelf: Russia-inspired fantasy novels!

  1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  2. Uprooted by Naomi Novak
  3. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Russia is a fascinating country, and I love the blend of Russian history with fantasy elements.

Read:

In The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, it is very apparent how much research has been conducted by Katherine Arden on a period in Russian history that is little-known and poorly documented. She blends this historical context with Russian fairytales and the folklore of the time, to create a magical and believable world.

Uprooted is a fairytale version of Poland and Russia. It has a twist of Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel, as well as hints of Slavic folklore. Naomi Novik has built a wonderful world through this clever mix of origin stories and has managed to make it feel like her own creation.

To Read:

I have yet to read Deathless, but I own a paperback copy and fully plan on reading this one over the next couple of weeks. This book mixes the Russian folklore story of Koschei the Deathless with historical events in the twentieth century. I’ve been told that this book contains some heavy topics, so I’m likely to wait until I’ve read something a little lighter (I’m still reeling from The Secret History).

 

 

Waiting on a Wednesday: Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

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*Waiting on a Wednesday is a weekly feature in which I spotlight upcoming releases that I can’t wait to read!

This week, I am waiting on Vengeful by V.E. Schwab.

Vicious came out in 2013 and was originally written as a stand-alone with possible sequels. Recently, Victoria/V.E. Schwab, my favorite author, announced that she was writing the sequel, Vengeful, to be released in the fall of 2018. It will be followed by Victorious.

Vicious is a delightful little monster of a book, with villain/anti-hero protagonists and an interesting multiple-timeline story structure. It captivated me from beginning to end, and I am so excited to see what these wonderful/horrible characters will do next in Vengeful!

Before the sequel is released, a new cover of Vicious will be available in May. Can we all just take a moment to admire how cool this cover is?! Apparently, the rest of the series will match this cover, rather than the old one. I read Vicious on my Kindle, but fully intend to buy this one in hardcover once it’s released.

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Victoria Schwab is very honest and open when it comes to the difficulties of writing, and frequently expresses these troubles on social media. This is one of the reasons that she’s my favorite author. Instead of sugar-coating or glamorizing the entire writing/publishing process, she shows it for everything that it is: scary, difficult, exciting, and rewarding. She has been very candid about her troubles with writing Vengeful on Twitter (recently, she scrapped the entire first draft and started over again!) but that just makes me all the more excited to read it. She has exposed her readers to the inner-workings of her brain while she writes a book that we all know is going to be absolutely amazing once it hits shelves.

I seriously cannot wait for this book. I may just hibernate for the summer, to be honest.

Wake me up when I can read Vengeful.