Review: The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

the song of achillesGreece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

Rating: 4/5

Beautiful and sad and fairly bloody. The tale of Achilles and the fall of Troy is perhaps one of the most well known Greek tales, and this story of gods, power, love and war was a well-written love exploration of the growing relationship between the famous Achilles and the lesser known Patroclus.

The sexual violence in some parts or threats thereof was unpleasant but never overt, and again made me appreciate living in this era. Yeah, we’ve still got so far to go, but at least I’m not a piece of chattel to be claimed in war. (Although sadly this happens all too often in some parts of the world, and makes me think we haven’t actually gotten very far at all.)

I adored the depiction of the relationship between the two boys – Patroclus knows he’s not fated to be a renowned warrior, but his own inner strength, quite determination and dedication are what make him the best of the Greeks after all. And I love how Achilles never shamed him for not being a fighter, in a masculine culture that prized violence above all else. They were perfect foils for each other, and I enjoyed nothing better than reading about the carefree time they got to spend together before things went to hell in a handbasket. Or to war in a boat as it were.

While some of the language was a bit flowery, it didn’t distract from my reading experience. Furthermore, although we all know how the story ends, i.e. DEAD (that ain’t even a spoiler, friends), there is a glimpse of a happy ending that eased my aching heart.

Review: The Uninvited – Cat Winters

the uninvitedFrom the award-winning author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds comes a stunning new novel—a masterfully crafted story of love, loss, and second chances. Set during the fear and panic of the Great Influenza of 1918, The Uninvited is part gothic ghost-story, part psychological thriller, perfect for those who loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield or The Vanishing by Wendy Webb.

Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan rises from her bed after being struck by the flu, only to discover the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

But Ivy’s life-long gift—or curse—remains. For she sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked, unwelcomed, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918 she sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death of Ivy’s older brother Billy in the Great War.

Horrified, she leaves home, to discover the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for the day, because they could be stricken by nightfall. But as her ‘uninvited guests’ begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once more, but Ivy has no inkling of the other-worldly revelations about to unfold.

Rating: 4/5

Another winner from Cat Winters.

America likes to sanitise its war history, particularly with regards to its saviour status with both world wars. However, the book depicts the rampant anti-German, and to a lesser extent, anti-immigrant sentiment at the time of world war one that led to the banishment, isolation and even deaths of Germans in America – businesses destroyed or boycotted, physical assaults, refusal of bank loans, taunts and jeers, and imprisonment of these ‘aliens’, to name but a few. Wikipedia has a pretty concise roundup here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-German_sentiment#United_States

Even worse, the American Protective League was a group of citizens who worked hand in hand with law enforcement, and spied on and dutifully punished anyone who sympathised, expressed objections, had socialist tendencies, or essentially didn’t meet the criteria for a 100% American patriot. This typical American patriotism sentiment exists to this day, and leaves no room for criticism – if you aren’t 100% with us, then you’re the enemy against us.

Cat Winters incorporates these fascinating, albeit depressing nuggets of history to create a compelling tale involving Ivy Rowan, whose father and brother murder a German shopkeeper in the town in retaliation for her other brother’s death in the war. She tries to make amends with the remaining brother who runs the store, and ends up in a complicated relationship with him. Of course, while all this is going on, the influenza is running rampant across the town, with the daily death toll steadily rising.

This devastating flu and suffering is visceral, and testament to the quality of the author’s writing. We get a glimpse into the lives of those working tirelessly, day after day, night after night, wading through sickness and filth to help out the less priviledged – immigrants and black people, who don’t get access to the treatment they need in order to survive the sickness.

A recurrent theme throughout all Cat Winter’s novels is the role and growing emancipation of women in rather restricted eras. Here, we have women working ceaselessly for the Red Cross, driving ambulances, transporting patients, and generally taking on duties previously undertaken by men.

While this book is categorised as adult, it didn’t feel massively different from her YA novels – and this isn’t a criticism – it means that if you’ve enjoyed the author’s previous work, you will adore The Uninvited.

Also, major plot twist that I didn’t see coming. Major kudos to the author for creating a book that incorporates the uglier parts of history while still creating a fascinating, bittersweet novel with admirable female leads, a little bit of humour, and a romance that you can’t help but root for, even with the giant obstacles in their way.

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. 

Review: The Cure for Dreaming – Cat Winters

the cure for dreamingOlivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.

Rating: 5/5

An exquisitely written book that combines meticulous historical research with elements of the supernatural and an independent, forward thinking young narrator in a time where women were expected to be nothing more that pretty decorations.

For all the shit that goes on in the 21st century, there’s still no other time in history I’d rather live – women’s rights progressively worsen the further back we go. (Unless we’re talking about the few, mystical matriarchal society’s that existed way back in the day.)

I found the historical information included in the book to be really interesting – it’s not info-dumped or bland and boring, but worked in the narrative to portray a rather authentic experience of women’s suffrage at the time. I think it’s an incredible time in history, and it’s inspired me to find out/read more about this fundamental step for women’s rights which we’ve too easily forgotten.

What these unbridled women lack is a thorough knowledge of the female brain. Two of my closest friends….two fine gentlemen educated at East Coast universities, both support the staggering wealth of scientific research that proves women were created for domestic duties alone, not higher thinking. A body built for childbearing and mothering is clearly a body meant to stay in the home. If females muddle their minds with politics and other matters confusing to a women’s head, they will abandon their wifely and motherly duties and inevitably trigger the downfall of American society. 

I was tickled pink at the mention of the bicycle bloomers – it was particularly cool to see how bicycles alone gave women the freedom to transport themselves independently. The quotations provided at the beginning were thought provoking, and it was horrifying to see how suffragettes were spoken about/treated by society at the time. These were rational women who simply wanted the same rights to vote as their male peers, but were dismissed either as hysterical or unfeminine and ‘not quite right’ i.e. wanting to be men.

Olivia Mead is a great MC. She is funny, and smart, and caring. She’s also ambitious, independent and rational. She knows her own mind, and she will not be swayed by those who wish to control her and turn her into a meek and obedient specimen. She’s also awfully brave – to go against her father, to plot and plan a way out, to make her voice heard.

The romance made me want to scoop up both Olivia and Henri and pat them on the head and hide them where no one can ever hurt them again. Poor Henri has already suffered so much in his life, and we forget how incredibly young he really is. Unlike 99% of the men in the story, he is also respectful, a supporter of the suffrage fight and generally a lovely, decent boy who loves Olivia for who she is, not what he wants to mould her to be.

He snickered near my ear, and we both laughed like grammar school children all the way back to my street, drunk on moonbeams and speed and the incomparable exhilaration of hanging onto another person as if one’s life depended on it. 

The strong sisterhood depicted in the novel is fantastic – from Olivia’s friends Frannie and Kate, to the ailing Genevieve, and indeed, all the unnamed, unknown suffragettes who all band together and have each other’s backs -they support each other, and cover for each other if need be.

In short, another fantastic novel from Cat Winters. She has a gift for creating entertaining historical fiction with a paranormal elements and above all, a strong message that will have you thinking about the book long after you’ve put it down.