Sweet Home by Carys Bray

Moving to Edinburgh to study Publishing has changed my life. I’ve worked on so many exciting projects and one of those is launching a Literary Society at Edinburgh Napier University. Myself, Kellie Jones (check out her Booktube) and Sarah Barnard (a fellow book blogger) were surprised to discover that there wasn’t already a bookish society at the University so we teamed up to create one. Shameless plug: if you’re in Edinburgh and want to chat about books, you can join the society here. If you’re not, you can still check out our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages for more info.

We’ve been running monthly book clubs and for our January Book Club, we were reading Sweet Home by the talented Carys Bray. It’s a collection of short stories about family and home life. Here’s my review:

I voted to read Sweet Home for our January Book Club purely based on the cover. You might’ve guessed that I’m a sucker for all things pastel and the aesthetic for Sweet Home is very cute. It also sounded intriguing: a collection of short stories “with psychological insight and a lightness of touch frequently found in fairy tales” and an exploration of “loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret.” I mentioned in my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas that I’m a fan of fairytale retellings so Sweet Home captured my interest.

I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book. Magic and nostalgia are tangible in a way that reminds me of Jessie Burton‘s writing. Some of the stories pick away at the small and seemingly insignificant moments in life, like a mother taking her daughter to swimming lessons or a bereaving pensioner whose bra gets caught in the hedge. Carys Bray makes the mundane magical with her elegant prose. Certain phrases would just catch my breath: “tentative, slipper-finding feet.” How can someone make putting slippers on sound so delicate?

Other stories are truly fantastical, like the man who carves a baby out of ice, the supermarket that sells live babies in boxes (complete with a reduced section for the less appealing models) and the old woman living in a gingerbread house, a story which is a clear allegory for immigration in modern Britain. These magical tales have a hint of Angela Carter about them, only less sordid and more quaint. Nothing truly leaves the real world.

As the picture of the perfect dollhouse with a burnt roof on the cover suggests, “the real world” and family life are never as perfect as we would like them to be. In particular, many of the parents in this collection are trying to be the best or, at least, better than their own parents, but are continually failing to win the hearts of their children. There is an ocean of misunderstanding between children and their parents in many of these stories and a sense of I won’t turn out like my parents. These are feelings which I’m sure most readers can relate to from God, mum, you just don’t get it! all the way to Why can’t my child see how hard I’m trying? Why can’t I forgive myself for my imperfections? Nobody seems to be winning Mother of the Year award in Sweet Home but it’s the flaws which make these characters so relatable. I found myself nodding along with their struggles not because I know what it’s like to be a parent (not for a long time) or because I’ve ever carved a baby out of ice but because everyone has their own experiences of family that they can draw from.

It is not just the sadness of a mother at the end of her tether that got to me, genuine heartache pervades many of these stories. Death of children, death of siblings, death of spouses; you name it and Carys Bray bravely tackles it in this collection. There’s a story of a young boy and his sister finding a dead bird in the garden and burying it. Later, we discover that the boy’s sister dies and he goes back to uncover the remains of the bird. We see the pain and trauma of death through the innocent and ignorance of childhood and it’s heartwrenching. I finished this book feeling just a little bit sad but hopeful that despite all the horrible things that happen, there is still magic and lightness in the world.

This is a beautiful collection of short stories that captured my heart and started my 2017 reading list off on a high-note. I can’t tell if Bray makes the monotonous more magical or if the magical becomes more grounded in reality? Either way, it is lovely. I’m definitely going to buy and read more Carys Bray because her writing style is very much up my street. Bonus point: she’s really nice and tweeted the Napier Literary Society on the run up to our book club.

Proof of her niceness:

Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 09.04.33.png


Have you read anything by Carys Bray? If you have, let me know by commenting below or getting in touch on Twitter and Instagram.

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

My 2017 mantra is Read More, Worry Less. 2016 was a great year for me despite all the political and cultural upheaval that was going on but the big changes (graduating, moving to Edinburgh and starting a degree in Publishing) meant I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked. I just managed to hit my thirty books target on GoodReads and I know that’s a relatively small number compared to some of you bookworms. This year I’d like to read forty books and to help reach my target, I’ve decided to embrace audiobooks. Until now, I had never listened to an audiobook and dismissed it along with eBooks as a poor substitute for the real thing but no more!

Here’s my review of The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo which I listened to on Audible narrated by the author herself.

Recently, I put a plea out on Twitter for advice on audiobooks. Are they good? Worth the money? What kind of books would you recommend listening to? I got a month’s free subscription to Audible, which gives you a free credit towards any audiobook. I had heard The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo was an amazing read from a classmate and I had already proclaimed it as my most anticipated read in 2016 yet never got around to reading it. The lovely @readingandinked recommended it as an audiobook along with Amy Poehler’s autobiography, Lauren Graham’s autobiography and The Power of Habit, which are now all on my radar.

First of all, I am not a big Amy Schumer fan. I’m not not a fan but I’ve only really encountered her in Trainwreck. I’ve not watched her comedy sketches or her TV show so I was fairly in the dark about Amy who seemed to explode onto the comedy scene really quickly. I have friends who love her and I liked that she talks about body positivity and sexuality in a frank and fun way that I can relate to. Although, I am aware that Amy Schumer 100% does not speak for womankind – a point which she makes clear in her book – and that she cannot and does not pretend to represent everyone. However, I personally found myself drawn to her especially after her Pirelli Calander shoot with Annie Lebowitz. THOSE TUMMY ROLLS ARE EVERYTHING!

After listening to The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, I am officially a fan. Having her voice in my ears for eight whole hours made me feel like she’s my best friend. If you’re unsure about Amy Schumer, read this book. Not only is she as witty and self-deprecating as I expected but there were a lot of surprises including her difficult relationship with her parents: a boozy lothario father who becomes a tragic hero when he develops Multiple Sclerosis and a cheating and manipulative mother. She doesn’t hold back about relationships including a rather harrowing account of an abusive relationship with one boyfriend. I had shivers when she talked about her realisation that she was in a violent relationship. Like many women, she thought she couldn’t possibly be a victim. She was a strong, bubbly and intelligent woman yet she found herself in the hands of an abusive lover. Amy makes a plea to her readers to know that this can happen to anyone.

In fact, the whole book feels like a letter to young people (especially women). Each chapter brings another nugget of wisdom: it’s okay to have shitty parents, it’s fine to admit you’re weak, you’re allowed to make mistakes (like a regrettable lower back tattoo) and it’s cool to be a woman and enjoy having sex. Although, Amy surprised me by admitting that she has only had one ‘one night stand.’ I think her celebrity persona plays upon her open sexuality and I had a preconception that she had had a lot more sex than she actually has. Most of her experiences have been in relationships but by no means does she condemn anyone that has one-night-affairs. I liked that. She wasn’t saying GO HAVE SEX WITH EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING nor was she advocating for only having sex with long-term partners. It was more: you do you (as long as it’s consensual).

However, this book is not just a string of hapless relationships. Amy talks emotively about her father’s illness, about her determination to become a successful comedian (that girl put in some serious graft) and about just being happy with yourself:

Love yourself. You don’t need a man, or a boy, or a self-proclaimed love expert to tell you what you’re worth. Your power comes from who you are and what you do. You don’t need all that noise – that constant hum in the background telling you whether or not you’re good enough.

I love her advocacy for body positivity. She talks about being a frustrated teenager realising that she wasn’t the prettiest girl in the class and naïvely wishing she could actually give herself an eating disorder. She talks about going on a crazy diet with her sister and joining boot camps to lose weight. She also discusses her intense love of pasta. I can relate to all of this as someone who eternally struggles with their weight. One of her body positive rants goes a little something like this…

Enough. Enough with these wafish elves walking your impossible clothing down an ugly runway with ugly lighting and noisy music. Life doesn’t look like that runway. Let’s see some ass up there and not just during the specially themed plus size show. We girls over size 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, we don’t want a special day! We want every day and we want you to get out of our fucking way because we are already here. You are living in the past, all you dated, strange magazines representing the weird fashion world that presents bizarre clothing that no one I have ever met wears.

She also devotes a chapter to ending gun violence in America. Yeah, that might not be what you signed up for with Amy Schumer but it is amazing that she chose to shed light on such a massive issue. I won’t go into too much detail here because I recommend you read the book for yourself. It is emotive and empowering and I’m glad Schumer isn’t letting her light-hearted and funny public persona get in the way of some real talk. Here’s some articles about Amy’s stance on gun violence: Amy Schumer rips Senate ‘cowardice’ on gun votes and Amy Schumer Had a Brilliant Take on Gun Violence Last Night.

I could go on to list more of the surprising moments in this book – it’s not at all what I expected but in the best way possible – but I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. I’m not a reader of autobiographies so this was a first in many ways and I’m glad Schumer broke my autobiography/audio book virginity because it was a wonderful experience. I also recommend listening to her narration because it adds a sense of personal to what is already a very personal book. At times, it’s funny, uplifting and hopeful and sometimes it’s sad, informative and emotional. I definitely recommend this one.


Have you got any audiobook recommendations? I have a credit to use on Audible! Let me know on Twitter or Instagram.

My Top 5 Books of 2016

Happy New Year everybody! I hope everyone is enjoying the festive period. I have to admit, I have been so lazy and indulgent over the past few weeks so I’m looking forward to getting back to routine. Anyway, it’s time for a round-up of my favourite books out of the 30 I read this year. If you’re interested in seeing what else I read in 2016, check my page out on GoodReads.

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I joined the Outlander fan club this year when I read Outlander in July. It was a perfect treat after four years of studying books I wasn’t always interested in and I completely fell in love with Gabaldon’s world and characters. I wrote a full review over here but I’ll give you a summary: it’s a love story set in 18th century Inverness, it involves time travelling and features a badass heroine at its centre. I loved reading about Scottish history and I especially loved our favourite Highlander, Jamie Fraser. Being a fan of Outlander has brought me lots of friends on Twitter and Instagram. I also wrote about the book-to-screen adaptation for Scottish Book Trust. A blog which even caught Diana Gabaldon’s attention!

2. Room by Emma Donoghue

Yet another book-to-screen adaptation, I wanted to read Room before I went to see it in the cinema. I read it back in January and I fell in love. Again, you can read my full review on my blog (it was one of my first ever book reviews) but here’s what I thought of it in short. It has one of the most wonderful first-person narrators I’ve come across: five-year-old Jack. It follows Jack and his mother as they live life as prisoners and are eventually freed. It’s a poignant and emotional story that’ll make you laugh and cry, as cheesy as that is. Mostly, I loved the portrayal of motherhood and the strength that Jack’s Ma finds through her son. It is wonderful – if you haven’t read it yet, do it now!

3. The Muse by Jessie Burton

It is no secret that I adore Jessie Burton’s writing. The Miniaturist is probably one of my favourite books of all time and I wasn’t disappointed with the release of The Muse this year. I wrote a full review which Jessie Burton was delighted with. I believe she said she wanted to laminate it and wear it around her neck, just sayin’. It tells the tales of two struggling female artists set across different time periods: 1967, London and 1936, southern Spain. It is one of those magical books that make you feel cosy and nostalgic but you don’t quite know why. If you haven’t discovered the beauty that is Burton’s writing then put that on your resolution list for 2017.

4. Expecting by Chitra Ramaswamy

I read this surprising book in November because I was on the shadow panel for the Saltire Society Awards. Chitra won the First Book award jointly and it was well deserved. When I first saw it, I thought: ‘No way am I reading a book about pregnancy!‘ However, despite avoiding reading this on public transport or in front of my parents, I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Before you dismiss it as just another book about pregnancy, please give it a chance. It is one of the richest texts I’ve encountered in the past few years; it’s filled with metaphors and allusions to a wide range of literature and it is far from a fluffy read about giving birth. I’d recommend this to any literature lovers and not just expecting parents.

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I was in two minds about including this book on my list because, well, pretty much everyone except me had read it but I finally gave into my pride and decided to read Harry Potter in 2016. I read the first book in January and I have to confess it is magical. I only wish I had read it when I was younger so I could’ve marvelled at its wonders from a child’s perspective. Nonetheless, I can understand why people are so besotted with this series. I’ve read the first three now and the books are far better than the films which never excited me much. Hopefully, I’ll finish the series in 2017.


Other books I really enjoyed in 2016 include: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Girl on the Train, Ceremony, The Raven Boys, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. 

What books did you guys love in 2016 and what are you looking forward to reading in 2017? Let me know on Twitter and Instagram. I have so many books in my TBR pile for next year so I’ll hopefully get a post up about that in the near future. Happy reading and a very Happy New Year!

 

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

I’m such a bad book blogger. This has taken far too long to post so I apologise for that. If you haven’t already then check out my review of the first Outlander book before you read this.

You’ve probably gathered by now that I am Outlander obsessed. The first book captured my imagination unlike any other book has in a long time and I have been fangirling ever since. I’ll start off by saying I didn’t enjoy the second book in the series as much as the first and I feel like I’ve been putting off writing this because I don’t want to feel sad again. Bear with me here, it might seem like I didn’t love this book but I did. This series has me transfixed but I did spend a lot of time comparing Dragonfly in Amber to Outlander so this review might seem negative at times. Probably because it ripped out my heart and stomped on it. Am I supposed to enjoy being heartbroken?

Synopsis

Dragonfly in Amber is split into four parts: Scotland 1968, Paris 1744, Scotland 1745 and back to 1968 again. It begins at the end as we are thrusted back into the twentieth century as Claire tries to piece together a life for herself and her daughter without the love of her life, Jamie Fraser *weeps gently* … who am I kidding? *ugly sobs*  and without her first (second?) husband, Frank Randall.

Thankfully, we do go back to eighteenth-century life to spend time with our fave ginger hunk as Claire convinces Jamie to prevent the Jacobite uprising in order to save thousands of Highlander lives. Claire and Jamie spend some time in Paris gallivanting with prostitutes and Bonnie Prince Charlie before returning to Scotland to settle into agricultural life and win the war after failed attempts at prevention.

I won’t spoil too much. There is a whole lot of drama in between but, finally, we go back to the beginning again as Jamie forces Claire to travel through the stones to her “own time” where she and her unborn child can live in safety under the protection of another man who loves her too *heart shatters into a thousand tiny pieces*

Characters

Reason number one to love this book is tall with a mop of red hair and his name begins with the letter J. You guessed it Jamie Fraser is and always will be one of the best parts of this series. If you’re looking for a new book boyfriend then look no further than Gabaldon’s wild Highland warrior. He is sweeter than ever in this book and I liked that we saw an insight into his intelligent and calculating side. While Outlander very much focuses on him as a fighter and a lover, Dragonfly in Amber really showcases Jamie as a clever and educated young man. Plus there’s this:

I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you – then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest … Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.

Excuse me while I take a moment to drown in my own tears… Anyway!

My favourite new character from this book was Master Raymond: a weird and frog-like apothecary who Claire befriends in Paris. You never really know where his loyalties lie and his mysteriousness really adds a sense of magic and fantasy to the series, which I felt was perhaps lacking in the first text. He is also a badass in the herbal department and manages to save Claire’s life when she is on the brink of death. What’s not to love?

Other favourite characters include the new and adorable, Fergus (real name Claudel), a Parisian street rat who Jamie takes under his wing and fosters as his own son. Fergus is the comic reprieve from what can be an otherwise dark and heavy read. Similarly, Claire’s new friend Louise de la Tour is a really fun and sexy character who provides some levity to the story.

Plot & Setting

Dragonfly in Amber is undoubtedly a lesson in history. Compared to the first book, it was far more focussed on the history of the period and, for me, this could be difficult at times. In my first review, I mentioned that I loved the romance of this series but I felt that Dragonfly in Amber was very much focussed on being a historical fiction piece than a love story. Which is great if that’s what you’re into but, as I’ve said before, I am a sucker for the soppy stuff. Literally, I just groaned every so often: “SO MUCH WAR.”

I feel like the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind when I complained that Outlander lacked in the history and magic departments. Because Dragonfly is not only packed with history, it was also a lot more magical than the first book. This book brings in mysterious folklore like La Dame Blanche and plenty of cults and strange rituals which were fascinating to read about. I feel like Paris worked well for this reason.

However, I want to point out just because Dragonfly in Amber didn’t feel like as much of a love story to me as Outlander does not mean that Gabaldon scrimped on the soppy love stuff. We get some classic quotes from Jamie Fraser who just won’t quit. Like this:

If it was a sin for you to choose me . . . then I would go to the Devil himself and bless him for tempting ye to it.

In terms of setting, I much preferred being back in the Scottish Highlands. The Parisian world is incredibly descriptive but I enjoyed it a whole lot less than I would have thought. In theory, eighteenth century Paris should be right up my street. It exudes luxury, sex and, violence, which is always going to make for a great book. Yet it fell flat for me. I found myself longing for the familiarity of the rolling green Scottish hills. I don’t know if it’s because I am Scottish or because one of the reasons I love Outlander is its exploration of Scottish heritage and culture. Maybe I’m just a creature of habit, I’m not sure, but I loved the second half of the novel so much more than the first.

Overall

Dragonfly in Amber made me feel like the honeymoon was over. Outlander  was a delicious and sexy romp filled with the excitement of first love. Dragonfly is beautiful and poignant in its own way but even all good love affairs become a bit dull over time. It is one of those books I will enjoy more as time passes when I have the gift of hindsight. I spent so much time comparing it to the first that I probably didn’t value it in its own right enough. I’m probably just bitter at how much it made me cry.

Anyway, like I said, it sounds like I didn’t love this book but I did. It just broke me a little by the end. It will have you sobbing your eyes out. I didn’t know so much heartache could be contained in one book, excluding Me Before You. And, I have just ordered Voyager. I can’t wait to start it because I am suffering from a seriously bad case of Droughtlander right now. I need me some Clan Fraser.

What about you? Are you an Outlander fan? Let me know on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Sorry, it’s taken me so long to get this review up but between holidays and other blog posts, it’s just taken a back seat. Before I start I should warn you I love love love this book so I’m a little biased. My obsession has grown to heights of Twilight circa 2009. If, like me, you’re a big fan of the Outlander TV show and books then check out my Why I Love Meraki Candles and Totes by Alohomora Design posts for some Outlander-inspired memorabilia that I love.

Synopsis

Outlander, originally Cross Stitch, is the first of eight mammoth historical fiction novels. It is the tale of a young woman, Claire, a nurse with a passion for botany, who visits Inverness with her husband, a historian called Frank, on a second honeymoon after the ghastly trauma of the Second World War. On a visit to the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, Claire accidentally finds herself ‘falling through’ the stones and, upon sighting a Red Coat officer, she quickly realises she is not in the twentieth-century anymore. She has involuntarily travelled to the same spot… 200 years earlier.

In the 18th century Inverness, Claire is confronted by barbaric Scots and the equally barbaric British Army, especially her husband Frank’s vile ancestor: Captain “Black” Jack Randall. Claire is seen as an outsider – a “sassenach”- by both the Scots and Red Coats and spends most of her time trying to convince one that she is not a spy for the other.

The Good

Mixed with fantasy and historical fiction, this novel is above all else a love story. I am a sucker for romance and if this book does nothing else then it gives you one heck of an epic love story. Romantic lead, wild Highland Jamie, with tousled red locks and kilt, is one of the most swoon-worthy characters I’ve come across in fiction for a long time. However, I love that Gabaldon does not sacrifice some historical reality for the sake of making Jamie a ‘perfect’ man. He is both stubborn, excessively violent and, frankly, a little bit sexist too. But we have to remember that Jamie is 1740s Scottish outlaw and I think Gabaldon tackles this well. Yes, Jamie is rough around the edges but it is his willingness to change and to understand the world of civility that Claire comes from that makes him even more desirable. Plus, Gabaldon gives him some of the cheesiest, loveliest lines in literary history:

And thanking God that I have two hands. That I have two hands to hold you with. To serve you with, to love you with. Thanking God that I am a whole man still, because of you. – Jamie Fraser

And alongside the lovable and stubborn Jamie is Claire Randall and it is this novel’s protagonist that undoubtedly captures the hearts and imaginations of its readers. Claire is one of the best female characters I’ve read. She’s very strong-willed. I don’t want to give away too much plot but there is one scene in which Jamie and Claire get into a bit of a… violent altercation after she disobeys his command. She gives him a colourful display of her swearing repertoire and, I can’t find the exact quotation, but I’m sure she threatens to cut his heart out. It is her strength and conviction that really separates Claire Randall from the Anastasia Steele’s of the book world. And, Jamie loves her no less for her ferocity:

for all she’s a sassenach bitch… with a tongue like an adder’s… with a bum like that… what does it matter if she’s a f-face like a sh-sh-eep? – Jamie Fraser

In true Claire fashion, she proceeds to trip him up after that comment.

The Bad & The Ugly

The biggest complaint I have about Outlander is its length. It’s not a major problem for me as I love the book so much that I was happy for it to go on forever but it is loooong. I’m talking 963-page-and-tiny-font long. However, please don’t let the sheer size of the Outlander series put you off. I inhaled this book far quicker than most 300/400 page books I’ve encountered in the past few months. The length is merely indicative of Gabaldon’s love of intense, and sometimes gory, detail. She envelops you in the sights, smells and scenery of the Scottish Highlands and I love nothing more than when a book welcomes you into its world with open arms like that.

Another little snag: this book promotes itself as fantasy meets historical fiction. As I mentioned earlier, it’s more of a love story than anything else and this can be troubling if it’s not what you bargained for. Gabaldon certainly educates her reader on Scottish history. I’m ashamed to admit as a young Scot how little I knew about the Jacobite uprising and the ’45. I’ve since become more awakened to my heritage and I’m determined to learn more about where I come from. So kudos to Gabaldon for inspiring that.

However, it is on the fantasy side of things that the book does lack a little. Yes, Claire does travel through standing stones and wind up in a different century but other than that the magic is quite unmagical. Most of it is explained away with twentieth-century logic: witchcraft as early medicine, for example. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the magical element and I wonder if this is something that well unfold throughout the series. Claire seems to too readily accept what has happened to her without trying to find more answers so I hope I get those answers in the next few books.

It Must Be Love, Love, Love

Overall, Outlander and I go together like Jamie and Mrs Fitz’s “parritch.” It has been so long since a book has sparked my imagination the way this series has. If you haven’t read it and are too intimidated by its size or have heard mixed reviews, please put all preconceptions aside and give it a go. I know a few people who didn’t warm to it but I believe everyone should try it at least once.

On a side note, the TV show is also brilliant. I’m notoriously fussy about book to on-screen translations especially with films so I’m glad Starz made these books into full-length series to give it the time and attention each book deserves. It is one of the best adaptions I’ve encountered, it remains very faithful to its book or, at least, as much as you can be to a 1000 page book.

Give it a go and whether you’re a new or old fan of this franchise, keep an eye out for my Outlander inspired giveaway on Instagram – coming ‘verra’ soon. I’ll be featuring gifts from Alohomora Design, Mulderie Wood, Classic Bibliophile and more.

IMG_5954

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for regular blog updates and lots of bookish photos. I’m currently reading the second Outlander novel, Dragonfly in Amber, so you can be sure to find lots of Jamie, Claire and the Highlands! 

The Muse by Jessie Burton

Why are we so trapped by the hours, the minutes of every day? Why can’t we live the life that’s always out of reach?

As a massive fan of The Miniaturist, it felt like Christmas Day when I came home to my pre-ordered hardback copy of The Muse by Jessie Burton. For a start, the cover illustration is breathtaking. Every detail of Burton’s novels, inside and out, fill me with the magical feeling that I thought I’d left behind in my childhood of Roald Dahl novels. She captures the imagination like no other contemporary author that I can think of. Needless to say, I was slightly apprehensive about how high my hopes had been built but I was not disappointed.

The Muse tells two incredible tales of female artists set over two different time periods: 1967, London and 1936, southern Spain. In 1967, Odelle is a Trinidadian immigrant who has been living in London for five years. She is a struggling writer but her potential is unlocked by her mysterious new boss, Marjorie Quick, who pushes Odelle to go beyond the boundaries of her gender and race and fulfill her dream of being a published author. Odelle is shy and wary; she approaches everything in her life with the utmost caution from career prospects to her romantic life.

No wonder we scaredy-cats retreated into books. Sex was beneath us, because it was beyond us.

In 1936, the struggling artist is stubborn and ferocious, Olive, the daughter of a depressed Hollywood-esque starlet and an Austrian art seller. Olive has been offered a place at the Sade to study art but is unable to attend as she is whisked away by her parents to live in Andalusia because of her mother’s poor mental health. Unlike Odelle, Olive faces life with wild abandonment throwing herself deeply into a love affair with an enigmatic revolutionary, Isaac Robles. However, like Odelle, Olive is frustrated by the boundaries she faces as a female artist; she knows her paintings simply could not sell with her name on them so she and her housemaid, Teresa, construct a plan to get her artwork noticed while remaining invisible. When I think of the women in this novel, I think of the following Toni Morrison quote from Sula about the dangers of ridding a woman of her creative outlet:

Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous.

As for the settings in The Muse, post-war industrial London and earthy, rural Andalusia lend themselves beautifully to the story and they come alive in Burton’s dense writing style. I expected nothing less after experiencing Burton’s Amsterdam in The Miniaturist. Everything is described in beautiful, painstaking detail. I felt like I could taste and smell the air the characters were breathing and I was completely lost in the ambers and golds of the dry Southern Spanish landscape. I’m visiting Malaga in two weeks time and I can’t wait to pretend I’m Olive Schloss dreamily walking through the old town.

Finishing The Muse feels like the end of a wonderful love affair: I’m heartbroken that it is over, frustrated that I have to wait to fall in love with another book again and frightened that something as exciting and wonderful might not come along anytime soon but it is worth the heartache to have experienced it. The Muse is full of mystery, passion, heartache and the ferocious will to survive in a world that is burning down all around you. I urge you to buy a copy and put it at the top of your summer to-be-read pile so that you too can be whisked away into another space and time by this stunning novel.

If you’ve read The Muse let me know what you thought on Facebook, Twitter, or  Instagram where you can keep up to date with what I’m reading.

N.B: some  comments on my blog from the author herself.

 


To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

 

Candle photographed above is from Mobros Candles and diary is by Mr Wonderful.

Since publishing this review in 2016, Netflix released two hugely successful film adaptations of Jenny’s novels.

What a rollercoaster this book was for me. I was so excited to read it because I adored and completely devoured The Summer I Turned Pretty Series. As far as the Young Adult genre goes, it is easily my favourite series of books. And To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, like Fangirl, has had a lot of hype in the bookstagram community. So it was on my TBR list for quite a while and lay teasingly on my bookshelf while I made it through Senior Honours at University.

I was disappointed when I started. If you follow me on Instagram then you will have watched my journey through this book: it did not get off to a good start. I found it so cringe-worthy and I desperately wanted to give up but since I already abandoned Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris the week before I felt like I couldn’t give in that easily. Plus I enjoyed The Summer I Turned Pretty books so much that I knew I had to give Jenny Han the benefit of the doubt.

I was glad I did. While the first 100 pages had been a disappointment for me, the next 300 were magical. I couldn’t put it down. Yes, there were a few YA clichés: bad boy love interest, a love triangle, and a hopeless family that you love no matter what. However, I could move past them because Jenny Han’s characters are always well-developed and lovable.

While, at first, Lara Jean seemed a very whiny and annoying main character to follow, I grew to love her quirks. Her range of emotions would spike from high to low very quickly and her fleeting interest in more than one boy seemed very authentic for a teenage girl. I don’t know many young girls that sustain a crush for much longer than a few months before moving on to the next love-of-their-life. As far as the love triangle in the novel goes, I was Team Josh until about halfway through when I realised he was also moany and irritating. Not to mention the fact that he kisses his ex-girlfriend’s sister only months after they break up. YET HE CALLS PETER THE DOUCHEBAG?!

I love Kavinsky. Traditionally handsome, arrogantly charming but has a soft squishy heart underneath his cool guy exterior. Everything I want in a romantic lead. I can’t be the only reader that squealed every time Kavinsky was sweet to Lara-Jean’s little sister, Kitty. Their relationship is just adorable. I love Kitty too. She’s spunky, feisty and takes no prisoners – reminds me of my own little sister which is probably why I could relate to Lara Jean as a protagonist so much.

The ending was slightly anti-climactic for me after finally falling in love with the book but I suppose Jenny Han was leaving it very open ended for the sequel. I would have liked more closure between Lara Jean and Kavinsky. It was a smart move on Han and the publishers’ parts because now I just have to buy P.S I Still Love You to find out what happens next.

Have you read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before? What did you think?

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Originally, I wasn’t going to write a review on this book because dun dun dun I couldn’t actually finish it. Then I realised that it could be more important to write about the books we don’t finish than the ones we can’t get enough of. What stopped me? At what point did I realise my time was too precious to waste on this book? This morning I read an article written by Kenny Pieper on a taboo subject for any avid reader: On Not Finishing Books. It is a brilliant read for any book lover with a case of unfinished-book-guilt and it inspired me to write a review on this novel despite only making it halfway through.

First of all, I was so excited to read this. I’ve read all of Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series and I loved it. Everything about the Stackhouse world drew me in and kept me going for half a dozen books. My expectations for Harris were high. I even included Midnight Crossroad in my Five Books I’m Reading This Summer blog in May. Now I wish I’d reserved that place for something else.

With Charlaine Harris, I expected darkness, mystery and, most of all, I expected sexiness. The Sookie Stackhouse novels are packed with sex appeal. She created one of the sexiest literary characters of all time: Eric Northman. Coming from an ex-vampire fanatic, it does not get any better than Eric Northman. So when I tucked into Midnight Crossroad I was eagerly anticipating another one of Harris’ beautiful badass male characters and instead I got Manfred Bernardo (yes, that has to be the unsexiest name of all time) He’s a slightly creepy twenty-two year psychic with silver hair and multiple eyebrow piercings. Straight away, I was disappointed. Where was the famous True Blood sex appeal?

So, with a sigh, I told myself it could still be a great murder mystery, just without the seductiveness. 150 pages later: there had been a murder but it was meh and I had not been excited by a single one of Midnight’s multiple residents. Even the town vampire, Lemuel, (yet another incredibly unsexy name) was dull. For some reason, Harris wastes page upon page on monotonous detail. In a town with snake-shifters, vampires, witches and psychics, nothing happens. Even the murder is a non-event. It is discovered at a bloomin’ community picnic. Ultimately, after reading 150 pages, I knew more about what Fiji and her cat had for lunch every day than anything else.

It is rare that I strongly dislike a book. Studying English & Comparative Literature for four years has given me a profound appreciation of the most mundane books and short stories but this takes banality to a new level. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read the Sookie Stackhouse series if you’re looking for a meaty mystery novel with all things dark fantasy thrown in but do yourself a favour and give the Midnight Texas series a complete miss.

If you finished this book, what did you think? Did it get any better past the halfway point?