The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Published: September, 2011
Winner of the Orange Prize, 2012

From Goodreads:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

My thoughts:

I don’t quite know where to begin with this book. When I finished it I wanted to talk about it immediately, but I refrained because I was too overwhelmed and I wanted to distance myself enough to look at it objectively.

Tried. Failed. Can’t. It’s been over a week and I’m still overwhelmed by it and I can’t keep myself from talking about it anymore.

I LOVED THIS BOOK.

It destroyed me and I loved it. 

When I was in school, I was obsessed with the Trojan war and when Brad Pitt and Eric Bana came together to play Achilles and Hector in that terrible movie, my teenage hormones went into overdrive. Back then I used to read up every book I could find on the Trojan war. 

Which makes you wonder what new thing could anyone offer on the Trojan war. It’s been told and re-told and dealt with and done with. What else? Well, a love story maybe. And not the Helen-Paris kind which, honestly, makes me roll my eyes too much. But, hello, Achilles and Patroclus! Madeline Miller hits it just right. Of all the things that somebody dealing with an epic retelling could try to take up, this love story is the crux of this story. This is no Trojan war retelling. The Trojan war is just a by-the-way detour (albeit the most important one) of the many detours that come in the way of Achilles and Patroclus’ story.

And.

This is quite possibly the greatest and most beautiful love story I’ve ever read. Madeline Miller has a way with words. She hits the right balance between literary and commercial. An epic setting and a glorious story of two boys from childhood to adulthood and thereafter. Of course, since I was familiar with the detailed story of the Trojan War, I knew where the book was heading and what would happen but that did not stop me, rather could not stop me, from reading this in one sitting. My housemate was appalled seeing that I had very conveniently skipped lunch and a bath and every other essential everyday thing for the book. When I finished the book at about 1 a.m. in the morning, in tears, right before the power went off for the next three hours, she was even further appalled. 
‘I’ve never seen or heard you cry over a real person before,’ she said. Oh, and she has known me for the last eight years.

Anywho. The point is, this book is going straight into my forever-favourites list. A week since reading it, just looking at the book on my shelf makes my heart all tight and big and it’s funny how it does both those things at once but THIS BOOK IS SO BEAUTIFUL I WANT TO CRY WHENEVER I TALK ABOUT IT.

AND I WANT TO TATTOO SOME OF THOSE LINES BECAUSE OMG SO GORGEOUS –

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.” “Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this. “I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.” “Why me?” “Because you’re the reason. Swear it.”

“This, I say. This and this. The way his hair looked in summer sun. His face when he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.”

If you read only one book this year, let it be this.

Do you like historical fiction?

 

May B.

May B.
by Caroline Starr Rose
Released: January, 2012.
From Goodreads:

May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

My Thoughts:
 
Verse is the most beautiful form of writing EVER. Seriously. Prose can be made beautiful but anything that verse touches is instantly beautified.  It’s easy to go wrong with verse, but if you get it right, the result is nothing short of dazzling.
 
Caroline Starr Rose’s May B. is one such beautiful novel. The verse is stylistic, yet simplistic and makes for a read that is oh-so-compelling, it begs to be completed quickly. And that’s easy, because it is fast paced and May’s voice is very engaging.
 
May’s resilience is arguably the best thing about this novel. She is so young and it hurts to read about her struggles. Her struggle with her reading disability that brings out her insecurities before sniggering classmates and a very discouraging teacher. Her struggles with the downsides of being a girl in the 19th century, witnessing her brother get the little privileges she is denied. Struggles with being separated from her family, then being abandoned in the midst of nowhere and having to face nature’s fury by herself. Her struggle for survival. 
 
Most of the time I just wanted to give her a hug. And it broke my heart that there wasn’t anyone to give her that. Seriously, this girl needed it. But the thing about May B. is that in spite of being severed off from known civilisation and having to do without any human companionship, she has a quiet strength, a fighting spirit that manifests itself against all odds. It’s empowering and it unfurls itself not dramatically, but gradually.
 
I liked how the author juxtaposes May’s struggle with dyslexia with the challenges imposed by the approaching winter. The setting, infact, is brilliant. I could literally hear the blizzard. And it terrified me. That says a lot about the author’s skill, doesn’t it?
 
Caroline Starr Rose’s May B. could be called an adventure tale featuring a very brave and unusual heroine, that makes for a heartwarming and enduring read. Whether verse is your thing or not, I recommend this.
 
How often do you pick up a verse novel?

DARKER STILL: Magic Most Foul #1

The Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

New York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart’s latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing…
Jonathan Denbury’s soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.

I was on the cheering squad for this book even before I’d read it, when only the title, the cover and the summary had been released. I felt a kinship with it. Because –
  • Dorian Gray! That’s the first thing that crossed my mind. And I’m so fascinated with anything and everything to do with/related to Dorian Gray, I HAD to read this. And this clearly had the Dorian Gray concept going for it. Suffice to say, Oscar Wilde (that man I LOVE!) is right on top of the author, Leanna Renne Hieber’s acknowledgment list.
  • I have a thing for the Gothic. So naturally, Gothic romance appeals to me greatly. See that summary above? Perfect Gothic romance fodder for me.
  • Magic Most Foul. That’s the tagline for this new series. What’s not to love? Magic (um, ghosts, too) is the thing I love above all fantastical or paranormal elements. It has my heart. So this book had it, too.
  • Dude, cover love!
I have to say, right from the beginning, I’ve thought this book has a very clever concept. And Leanna Renne Hieber works on that well. The book starts off as very, very intriguing. It’s in epistolary format, and while the majority of it is written as part of Natalie’s diary entries, there are a few excerpts from the New York City Police Record Case Files and letters exchanged between the characters.
A mysterious – and delicious – new portrait of a handsome young Lord moves into town (actually, into the Art Association on Twenty Third street, New York) and catches the fascination of many, including Natalie, thus triggering off a series of unexpected happenings involving magic most foul.
I like Natalie. A trauma at a young age took away her speech, rendering her mute. She is gutsy (remember this is the 19th century we are talking about, so gutsy now is different from gutsy then, but gutsy nevertheless), thoughtful and a heroine to commend.

And Lord Denbury? (I prefer calling him that than by his first name) He is delicious. For some reason, I kept picturing him as Ben Barnes. I’m guessing its the Dorian Gray effect.

Except for the fact, you know, Denbury lives in a portrait. I wasn’t really crushing on him (as much as I was on my fantasy Barnes) but I think the author does a good job of putting across to the reader why Natalie was so taken by him. Fact is Denbury is delicious in his own way.
Darker Still is well-written and the author does a good job of capturing the 19th century suitably. And the added magic bit to it does wonders.
However, while the book got off to an exciting start, it was, well, kinda bland in the middle. Not to say there weren’t things going on. There were. Secrets were being discovered and all that jazz, but for some reason, it left me feeling a little underwhelmed. I’m thinking that while the diary format is an interesting addition, the book could have done with being written in the present tense. It could have added an immediacy to the action. Thing is, the middle made me stall. It almost made me give up reading (although I blame that on the fact that this was on netgalley and I HATE e-reading).
Fortunately, I didn’t. Because hells yeah, the last quarter’s a romping ride of excitement. I really liked how Darker Still ended. It didn’t leave me with a cliffhanger but it left me with the possibility of a lot more exciting and magical stuff to come.
Although it has its ups and downs, Darker Still is intriguing with a magical mystery at its core that will keep you on its pages. I’d say you give this book a chance. It’s the new Dorian Gray on the block. And a pretty cool homage-of-sorts to Wilde.
I’m already looking forward to the next installment 🙂
What classic story would you like to see given a new twist?

Why I just had to read MONTACUTE HOUSE

So basically I read all genres, although it does depend on my mood and and if I’ve had anything to eat or not (which is when I hate reading about blood and gore and bloody-gory vampires and all). However, contemporaries are my favourites.
Contemporary = ETERNAL LOVE.
But like I said, I’m open to all genres, although the one I’m kinda lacking in is sci-fi, which can be blamed on the fact that science and I were mutual enemies back in school. Hmm…
So, anyway. The thing about books is that I pick them up at random. Like, I don’t decide okay, I’m gonna read about a beautiful marble vampire now, or time to read about murder. I don’t. Books interest me. I pick them up.
And when I read the Bookseller preview of Montacute House, I knew I had to get my hands on this book. Even though it was historical. And I haven’t read much historical except the Luxe books and Celia Rees.
I JUST HAD TO READ THIS BOOK.
 
So what is Montacute House about?
Here’s the book jacket blurp: A boy is found dead, his body blackened and blistered as if the devil himself had danced upon it! Then Cess’ friend goes missing and she realises that the death of the boy and her  nected.she becomes involved in a terrible intrigue that involves more than just the inhabitants of Montacute House and stretches right out into the whole of society. Soon Cess herself is in real danger as she threatens to uncover secrets people would kill to keep hidden.
 
Lets start with the cover. I think it perfectly captures the eerie atmosphere of the book. I love how the book jacket has a deliberate rusty feel to it because it only makes the book seem even more authentic. The girl’s face, the mansion, the leaves..PERFECT.
 
And the book? Well, it’s quite simply, outstanding. This is Lucy Jago’s first attempt at teen fiction. She had previously written an adult non-fiction title, but she nails it with her YA debut.
At first, things might seem confusing because a lot of unexpected things happen simultaneously and I was wondering how Ms. Jago would pull it off, tying all this together. However, before the first chapter was over, my worry and confusion were packed away into a little box in my brain, because I was racing through the story. The suspense and tension that pervades through this book is terrific. Generally, it takes me time to relate to protagonists who are as young as 13 but the surprising thing is, kid protagonist or not, this book will pull in anyone of any age.
 
Ms. Jago’s research is extensive (do you know there really is a Montacute House in Somerset today?) and her writing, in spite of this being historical fiction, is easy and quick, yet, so very, very authentic. What starts off with poultry farm girl, Cess, coming across a precious pendant in the chicken coop soon turns into a fight for survival. A skillful blend of witchcraft and politics this is a rather ambitious novel, and one that Lucy Jago pulls off with aplomb. The 1590s Somerset setting has just the right feel and ring to it, which makes Montacute House not just extraordinary, but original and imaginative and a fantastic blend of fact and fiction.
 
Whether or not historical fiction is your thing, you won’t be able to put this down.
I stayed up last night to finish this. And I loved it.
I bet you will too.
 
Meanwhile,visit Montacute House with Lucy Jago: