REVIEW: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, DELIA OWENS

Rating: 5 stars.

Where the Crawdads Sing follows the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned to the North Carolina Marsh, intertwined with the case of Chase Andrews, a promising young man from the local town found dead in a swamp.

“Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long legged birds lift with unexpected grace – as though not built to fly – against the roar of a thousand snow geese.”

I knew from the very first page that I was going to love this book. Delia Owens’ words flow across the page, effortless and beautiful, like poetry. Her imagery is vivid, stunning and utterly immersive, showing the North Carolina marshlands in a way that it’s never been seen before; full of life and beauty. A tangible, breathing thing that becomes a character in it’s own right.

We see the marsh through the eyes of Kya, a girl abandoned by her family at a very young age, forced to fend for herself and fight for survival. She learns from the wildlife around her, her only constant in a life of abandonment; hiding in the brush to avoid truant officers and predatory men, collecting mussels and fish to sell to Jumpin’ for money and supplies, navigating the intricate channels and endless estuaries that braid through the thickets of trees like a maze of waterways.

“Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.”

Kya is lonely, the only comfort and company she finds in the slow moving creeks, the oaks and pines, the layers of life that live in the marsh; the gulls, the clicking cicadas, the squiggly sand crabs and dancing porpoises. But she aches for human interaction, desperate to hear someone’s voice, presence, touch.

Amongst the palmettos and the green lagoons, Kya blossoms into a remarkable beauty, attracting the attention of boys from the local town. First Tate, the son of a local fisherman with a shared interest in marsh creatures and biology. Then Chase, the local-good-looking-jock type who promises Kya the world then brags of his conquests. Desperate for human company, Kya grabs the opportunity to make friends with both hands, but soon discovers the price of letting people in.

“Kya remembered, those many years ago, Ma warning her older sisters about young men who overrevved their rusted-out pickups or drove jalopies around with radios blaring. “Unworthy boys make a lot of noise,” Ma had said. She read a consolation for females. Nature is audacious enough to ensure that the males who send out dishonest signals or go from one female to the next almost always end up alone.”

When Chase is found dead at the bottom of the fire tower, speculation rips through Barkley Cove like a dark and dangerous undertow, threatening to pull Kya under and destroy her. In a to-kill-a-mockingbird-esque court case Kya is put on trial, but so is the bias and prejudice of the townspeople. A town that didn’t help an abandoned little girl surviving on her own in a swamp, cold and hungry. A town that rejected her because she was different, calling her the missing link between ape and man, turning their backs on a helpless child for reasons beyond her control.

“His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.”

Owens’ cleverly written dialogue and striking imagery truly bring the characters and the story to life in a way that hooks you from the very first page. A devastatingly beautiful story. This book is a treasure trove of important life lessons and a must read!

REVIEW: Thrown to the Wind, Amanda M. Cetas

Rating: 4 stars.

“Entienne, you can’t often control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.”

I really enjoyed this book! Historical fiction isn’t my usual go-to genre, but it was a refreshing change and a really lovely coming-of-age story.

Synopsis: Based on true events, this story traces one boy’s journey from France to America in 1660 as he finds the courage to save himself and those he loves. Etienne Gayneau’s family is fleeing La Rochelle in the dead of night to avoid his father’s certain arrest in the morning, but his cousin has offered him a safe haven. Now he must choose. If he leaves with his family, he will never become a musketeer, but if he stays, he will never see his parents and sisters again. Both choices are fraught with dangers and uncertainty. One thing is sure – his life will never be the same again. Etienne will face many dangers along his journey. Along the way, Etienne will befriend a beautiful Dutch girl with a dangerous father, confront his guilt over the death of his brother, and face off against injury, illness, and death. Will Etienne choose to fulfill his family’s expectations, or will he plot the course for his own destiny?

I adored Etienne’s character and found myself routing for him from start to finish. Despite the hardships he faces, he remains kind, compassionate and resilient throughout the book.

A captivating tale of self-discovery, healing and adventure; Thrown to the Wind is beautifully written, fast-paced and truly fascinating. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction based on true events or adventurous coming-of-age stories!

* This book was gifted to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW: THE NIGHTINGALE, KRISTIN HANNAH

“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

Rating: 5 stars.

*Trigger warnings: distressing scenes, sexual assault and violence.*

There are very few books that stick with me for a long time, but I can tell this is going to be one of them. I am still sobbing as I write this review, partly because of the story itself, and partly because I’m so sad for it to be over.

Synopsis

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France, but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can, completely. Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

I’ll be honest, it took me a while to get into this book – there were times in the first half when I almost stopped reading it altogether – but I am so glad that I didn’t! It would’ve been such a shame to have missed out on the second half of the book, which is equal parts beautiful and devastating.

The story follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they struggle to come to terms with a Nazi-occupied France during WW2. The sisters are complete opposites; Vianne is sensible, taciturn, and happy to live a simple life, whereas Isabelle is wild, often irresponsible, and dreams of making a difference in the world, no matter what the cost. Both sisters are changed irreversibly by the war, each having had to face unthinkable hardships in order to survive, just as both sisters become heroes in their own right, taking great risks to save the lives of loved ones and strangers alike.

A truly remarkable tale of love and loss, courage and survival, and the unbreakable bond between sisters. I’m struggling to find the words to adequately describe how beautiful and moving this book is. On many occasions I found myself sobbing inconsolably, with both sad and happy tears. It is undoubtedly a story that will stay with me for a very long time. (Get the box of tissues ready!)

“But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.”

REVIEW: CIRCE, MADELINE MILLER

Rating: 5 Stars.

Trigger warnings: rape, graphic violence.

I loved this book! Never before has a story of the gods felt so… human.

“When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist.”

In this bold and spellbinding re-telling of The Odyssey, Madeline Miller casts Circe, the witch goddess, not as a minor part in a mans epic, but as a heroine in her own right. Miller successfully gives voice to Circe as a complex and ever-evolving character; Goddess, witch, mother, and lover. She isn’t perfect. She is broken in ways, insecure and sometimes jealous, she’s done awful things, and yet there wasn’t a moment whilst reading this that I didn’t adore her. Perhaps because Miller made her unfailingly human; compassionate and driven by love in a way that belies her harsh reputation.

I did not go easy to motherhood. I faced it as soldiers face their enemies, girded and braced, sword up against the coming blows. Yet all my preparations were not enough.”

We watch as Circe grows up in Oceanus, an outcast amongst her ruthless father, Helios, Titan god of the sun, her loveless nymph mother, Perse, and her three ambitious siblings, Aeëtes, Pasiphaë, and Perses. We watch as she is exiled to the island of Aiaia, the struggles she faces there as a woman living alone, and the cruelties and hardships that she faces which inevitably force her to realise her true power as a sorceress. We watch as she struggles to navigate motherhood; proving that nothing can prepare you for those first years, mortals and witches alike. Miller perfectly depicts the fierce love and protectiveness that Circe feels for her son, Telegonus, and the extreme measures she takes to protect him.

Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.”

Throughout the novel Circe questions what it means to be a helpless nymph in a world ruled by power-hungry gods, and what it means to be a woman in a world governed by men. She learns the importance of balancing trust and self-protection, though the path to this realisation is not an easy one. Millers portrayal of the double-standards the women in this tale face is a reminder of the double-standards that we still face to this day; how the ballads will always be sung for heroes, not heroines. That’s what makes this re-telling a refreshing change to the usual testosterone driven tales in Greek Mythology.

“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.”

Circe is a beautifully written tale of self-discovery and healing, love and loss, and the often blurred lines between right and wrong. I highly recommend reading this for anyone who likes Greek mythology and strong female characters!

REVIEW: THE HEATWAVE, KATE RIORDAN

Rating: 5 stars.

I loved this book! A beautifully written, hugely atmospheric and suspenseful thriller with a dark family secret at the centre.

Synopsis: Sylvie hasn’t been back to her crumbling French family home in years. Not since the death of her eldest daughter Elodie. Every corner of the old house feels haunted by memories of her – memories she has tried to forget. But as temperatures rise, and forest fires rage through the French countryside, a long-buried family secret is about to come to light. Because there’s something Sylvie’s been hiding about what really happened to Elodie that summer. And it could change everything.

Riordan is a master of imagery. At times I was transported to Provence from the comfort of my own garden, lounging by the pool at La Rêverie, basking in the French heat under the shade of the Oleander tree, so vivid were her descriptions.

This book was well-written and the dialogue believable. I liked the way in which Riordan cleverly put dialogue in italics to indicate that the characters were talking in French, rather than saturating the novel with French words that a non-french speaking person would have found difficult to read. This way the story kept its French authenticity whilst still remaining readable (and I have to admit, I did the read the ‘French conversations’ in a, probably quite bad, French accent).

Another element that I adored was Riordan’s true to life portrayal of a mothers love for her children; complicated, scary in its intensity, but beautiful and pure. She perfectly depicted a mother’s fierce devotion to protecting her child, and the often irrational fear that something bad will happen to them (though in Sylvies case, she has good reason to be worried).

Overall a well-paced, cleverly written and gripping thriller. A fantastic read that I would definitely recommend reading this summer!

REVIEW: LITTLE WOMEN, LOUISA MAY ALCOTT

Rating: 5 stars.

“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

I used to have a vintage copy of Little Women that I found, dusty and crumpled, at the back of a charity shop. I remember it well; it was blue and the pages were tanned with age. The spine was engraved with gold and the cover was made from a beautifully soft leather-like material, the kind that books these days are lacking. In my youthful ignorance I read a few chapters and decided that it wasn’t ‘exciting’ enough for me, and the old copy was lost amongst the rest of my unloved Nik Naks. Oh, what I would give to be able to find that book again!

It wasn’t until a few months ago when I fell in love with the new movie adaption of Little Women that I decided to give the book another go. The film was irresistible, with the most well-assembled cast I’ve seen in ages – Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timothee chalemet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. Each played their part as though they were born to do it, as was expected. Directed by the cinematic genius that is Greta Gerwig, it was destined for greatness, and it did not dissapoint. The movie pulled at my heartstrings, making me cry both sad and happy tears, and the beautifully put together scenes of carmaraderie and the cosy aesthetic gave me a sense of nostalgia.

“I like good strong words that mean something…”

Following the lives of four sisters on a journey out of adolescence, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women explores the difficulties associated with gender roles in a Post-Civil War America.

I’m so glad that I decided to re-read Little Women, for I would have missed out on a beautiful thing had I not given it a second chance. Just like the film, the book feels like home. The infectious spirit of the March sisters undoubtedly brightened my evenings and since finishing it I feel rather lonely. It is a beautifully written novel that reminded me of the simple joys in life and made me hold my loved ones a little closer. Alcott cleverly highlights both the beauty and the fragility of life, in a way that warms the heart and gives you a newfound appreciation for waking up each morning.

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.”

Alcott herself reminds me of a wise grandmother, teaching the reader morals and life lessons in a kind-hearted, non-preachy way that makes you feel comforted and assured of the good in the world. Her worldly words reminded me of my own Nan – she was one of the strongest, kindest and wisest women I will ever have the privilidge of knowing and I miss her every day – so maybe that’s why this book brought me so much comfort; it was like getting advice from her once again, something that I did often growing up.

“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.”

Some might think the book a little long-winded but I adored following the girls from childhood into adulthood, through the good times and the bad, laughing and crying with them, feeling their anger and their joy, and I finished the book feeling as though I had gained good friends. Many of the trials and tribulations that the March sisters experience whilst growing up are relatable and the plot isn’t overly dramatised, giving the book a very real feel to it. More than a few times whilst reading this book I was transported back to my own childhood, a welcome trip down memory lane. It made me feel grateful and nostalgic, if a little wistful.

It’s hard to put into words just how lovely this Classic novel is, it’s really something that you have to experience for yourself and I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already! (or if, like me, you didn’t give it the chance it deserves the first time around). It’s a bit of a slow burner I’ll admit, but if you can look past the lack of fast-paced drama that we are so used to these days, I think you’ll find that, just like in life, the beauty is in the simplicity of it.

“She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.”