Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Thank you to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for letting me read this ebook! Before reading, I just want to say that I can’t figure out if this is spoilery or not. It’s not fully spoilery, but I do think it would be best to first read Young Mungo with little knowledge (apart from the triggering warnings), before reading a post like this. I’m also writing this immediately after reading, so this isn’t so much about my own rating of the book, or a ‘review’ of sorts, but for now it’s more a collection of thoughts. I will say before continuing, I do think trigger warnings are very important going into this book. It will make you feel rage, distraught and helpless at times.

‘’He was Mo-Maw’s youngest son, but he was also her confidant, her lady’s maid, and her errand boy. He was her one flattering mirror, and her teenage diary, her electric blanket, her doormat. He was her best pal, the dog she hardly walked and her greatest romance. He was her cheer on a dreich morning, the only laughter in her audience’’.

‘’Her brother was her mother’s minor moon, her warmest sun, and at the exact same time, a tiny satellite that she had forgotten about. He would orbit her for an eternity, even as she, and then he, broke into bits’’.

The first thing I noticed in this story, and love, is that Douglas Stuart’s stories always have semi-autobiographical elements. I’ve never heard him speak in person, and have only listened to a couple of interviews, but I get the sense through the lens of Shuggie and Mungo that Stuart is an artistic, incredibly kind and perceptive dreamer. I love that these stories feel real because they have elements of Stuart’s character within, and because any Glaswegian can feel the stories come alive in a setting that feel so familiar. It is the innocent and dreamy qualities of both Shuggie and Mungo that make their stories so sad and poignant. Douglas’s books feel like one world, where the characters from each book could meet. The themes in Young Mungo are similar to Shuggie Bain, yet almost shifted in focus; Shuggie’s relationship with his mother is to the forefront, whilst Mungo is older and growing to focus on his sexuality. Class and the cycle of poverty continues to play a large role in this book, which I feel is highlighted particularly strongly in this quote:

‘’You know, that’s not for boys like you;’…’’You’re not cut from university cloth’’.

Cycles of poverty and class are contained by the unjust society we live in, a society where people who stigmatise and believe in their own prejudice aim to segregate those who live in poverty from a young age, pushing them into boxes. The class division in Glasgow and Scotland remain strong today, and I realise that this is something incredibly difficult to break. I am privileged in that I have never had to worry about money to this extent, and that I have grown up with a loving, nurturing family. I know that there is not much I can do as one person, but as a teacher, I aim to always work in areas of deprivation like the one I grew up and live in, and I hope to use my voice to be the nurturing figure that some children are reaching out for. It is very important not to ignore privilege, and not to imagine that hope alone can overcome these barriers, but it is equally important to teach every children that dreams and ambitions are theirs to have.

A strong theme within Young Mungo is future, and choice within constrained options; or rather, what feels less like choice but may be predetermined fate due to the social structures of this family. Choices surrounding a sense of family loyalty, the bounds that can hold us when someone we love is suffering, the impact of making these choices- or rather, lack of choice- at such a young age, and how these can limit your own sense of identity. Choices become tied up with burden. I was therefore interested in the part minor characters had to play in this story. For example, Poor-Wee-Chickie’s reflections on his past choices and the life he leads now will resonate for lots of people, but I feel particularly people living in areas like Glasgow, where prejudice still exists. I believe his reflections will also resonate with many LGBT people. My choices have been impacted by my sexuality- consciously or otherwise, growing up hearing the negative connotations of being gay. This has resulted in a hesitancy in myself and a fear of taking chances. I enjoyed the parallels between Poor-Wee-Chickie and Mungo, and his part in the story of pushing Mungo to contemplate his own future.

‘‘Poor-Wee-Chickie has been surrounded by love. Where had it all turned for him?… ‘’What should I do, Mister Calhoun?’’… ‘That’s easy son. Put yourself first for once’’.

I also love Mungo and Jodie’s relationship with Mrs Campbell. She is facing deprivation amongst other issues and strives to support these children despite barely being in a better off situation herself. I believe this strongly shows the character of Glaswegian communities. This is why I feel that is so important that Douglas is a Glasweigan writer; this first hand knowledge, and love of Glasgow allows this story to be so nuanced. Douglas knows what it’s like to live here, and really explores the different levels of deprivation within this community. This story is not a 2-dimensional account with the theme ‘Glasgow is poor’. Encounters from Mrs Campbell and James highlight that the characters in this story experience differing degrees of deprivation, but that their other experiences can still equate to an equal impact on mental health and opportunity.  And this story highlights that people in these communities will always help each other despite the burden of their own pain. In this way, I feel that Young Mungo discusses two of the most famous or infamous paradoxical impressions of Glasgow: that it is a city of violence and poverty, and that people make Glasgow.

Please let me know what you thought of this book! I’d be really intrigued to hear others opinions 🙂

My favourite new reads of 2021

A very late Happy New Year! I am remotivated to post this then get on with some more up to date regular 2022 posts! I also love posting on Instagram @carlybooks_ and looking at bookish accounts, so please follow me there if interested! 😊 I never count rereads in this list because I reread old favourites, so here are my 5 favourite new reads of 2021 (p.s. there are fuller descriptions of each book in 2021 blog posts so these are just wee snippets):

Honourable mentions:

Klara and the Sun, Kitchen, After Dark, Luster, Exciting times. I’ve written about these books in more detail in 2021 blog posts, but they all have the sort of style of writing I love- character driven, almost plotless, somehow dreamy, reflecting on social issues and their impact on people in today’s society. I fell in love with Japanese literature this year, it’s very beautiful and almost magical!

Number five- Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes:

‘’Now, in Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I didn’t read as much non-fiction as I usually do this year, but this was a great one! I didn’t love Natalie Hayes fiction books as much when I read them, but the way this book was written weaved in all the characters with modern social issues so well, I’d recommend! I’d also recommend listening to the songs she mentions throughout, listening to Beyoncé lemonade during the Medea chapter was quite an experience.

Number four- Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

‘’Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World, Where are You synopsis)

I listened to this as an audiobook which I think is always the way to go with Irish narrators because I love the accent and it adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I think this might be my favourite of her books. I love the storytelling, elements of mental health and the social commentary on social media/technology and climate change. I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to keep this in mind whilst reading, but I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I’d love to read more books that look at the impact of social media on our self-esteem and mental health.

Number three- Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

This book was so powerful, and the relationships were beautiful and very sad. I felt even more connected to the story because of the LGBT elements and the setting- some of my own family members have experienced some of these issues and I think they’re still sadly very relevant around Glasgow. I think this book manages to be filled with hopeful moments despite the poignant sad ones. I’m currently reading Young Mungo as I got a review eBook on net galley, woo (did not know that was a thing until last month!) and I think I like it even more, although I love wee Shuggie as a character so much. I’d 100% recommend reading some Scottish fiction if you’re from elsewhere around the world, I’d love to know if it still has the same impact or gives you a new perspective on Scotland. I’d also be curious to know where you are from and what books you’d recommend from your home country! 😊

Number two: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

’When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.’’ (Norwegian Wood synopsis)

This was one of the first books I’ve read translated from Japanese and I loved it! I always love books which are basically just about characters and relationships where nothing really happens, and this is exactly that bit with a kind of whimsical feeling. There was something so interesting and unusual about this book and it’s made me want to go to Tokyo one day even more than I already did. I”d really recommend this, although I’d first check the trigger warnings as there are themes such as suicide. I’d also recommend this as a first choice for Murakami’s books because it’s a lot more realistic and less insane than his others. I read 4 of his this year and I am finding some uncomfortable themes with the ways he writes women. Overall though, Norwegian Wood has become one of my favourite ever books!

Number one: Duck Feet by Ely Percy

’Twelve-year-old Kirsty Campbell used to like school – that is until she started first year at Renfrew High. Set in the mid-noughties and narrated in a Renfrewshire dialect, Duck Feet is an episodic novel comprised of 65 linked short stories, all following the lives of working-class school-girl Kirsty and her pals as they traverse from first to sixth year of high school.’’ (Duck feet synopsis)

Another Scottish book, they did well last year! I also went to a Waterstones reading and signing from Ely Percy and it was amazing to hear their perspective on their perspective on writing the story, it brought it to life even more. I’d like to go to more book events in 2022! I’m also happy that I joined an Instagram book club last year, hosted by @scottieandthebooks. It gave me the chance to read with others, making it a less solitary experience and creating a culture of celebration of Scottish literature (although I’m too shy to really speak in it haha!) Anyway, I loved book so much, I went to school nearby Renfrew a few years after this is set and it’s so close in time and place that I felt like I was reading about my own school (good and bad times haha!). My favourite chapter VL just flashed me back to forgotten (or repressed) times. I also loved the deeper moments and themes throughout and related to so many of the characters. I’d love to read more about the queer characters in Duck Feet if Ely writes this book. I’d 100% recommend this book to everyone!

Thank you everyone who read or commented last year, I honestly love reading comments and talking about books as reading can feel lonely otherwise! Please let me know of your favourites reads of last year, I’d genuinely love to know! 😊 I know we’re still in difficult times, but I hope you have an amazing year, and please reach out to me if you’d ever like to talk- about books, mental health or anything else!

Some more of my ‘art’ part 3

My first time painting Hogwarts as part of my sister’s Christmas present. I find buildings quite hard to paint because of all the greys, but it was still fun to try. I also gave up with the mountain haha, so I used fake gold leaf and goblet of fire pages to make a wee collage (this part looks better in real life).

This is based on a famous painting I saw in Glasgow by an artist called Scarlett Raven. Hers is obviously much more detailed and beautiful, but as I don’t have £10,000, I tried my best to make my own version!

This is the closest I’ll get to drawing a person because faces are too hard! I love Medusa and patterns so decided to combine them which I think worked fairly well for this one. The first Medusa painting I ever tried genuinely looks like Gladys from friends hahaha.

Earlier in the year I enjoyed using acrylic pens to make wee patterns on some old records.

This one was hard again because of the greys- I’ll have to eventually buy decent acrylics or oils if I’d like to try painting properly- but here is a wee version of the Sagrada Familia to remind me of the fun times where travel was a safe thing to do. Hopefully those times will return! 🙂

Lastly, a quick little pen and ink bright pattern which kept me busy for a wee while during isolation (yesterday was my freedom day, wooo! Feeling very lucky to have only had minor symptoms thanks to having both vaccines).

I love painting using bright colours, please recommend any artists who use bright colours or detailed patterns! If you draw or paint, please link your blog or insta, I always love to get inspiration and see other’s work 🙂

Books I read in October & November 2021

I have covid, woo! So I’m using this time to write a wee summary of October and November books, because whilst I was too lazy to write them as a went along, I’m also too fussy to not write anything because it will annoy me not having a post for each book of the year haha. So please feel free to read this strange mini thing, and I promise to write proper full posts again next year for the 3 people who want them haha. Please let me know what you’ve been reading, and if you have any recommendations going into 2022! I always like to try and start off the New Year with some good books.

Duck feet by Ely Percy (new read, physical book)

My favourite of the two months, I loved this book so much. It’s set in a town not too far from where I grew up, a few years before I went to high school, and it honestly brought back so much nostalgia- in the best and worst ways haha! I loved it! I’ll talk more about this in yearly favourites, but if anyone reading is Scottish, was your school also obsessed with the idea of being a VL?

The Norse Myths by Carolyne Larrington (new read, physical book)

I still know very little about Norse mythology, so I enjoyed this book! It was fairly easy to follow and it’s interesting, so I would recommend it for the genre (also got me excited about rereading A Song of Ice and Fire at some point. BTW, analysed Daenerys’s whole story and wrote about 12,000 words for a blog post which got deleted and can’t get back- still too sad to talk about it more haha!) I still think it’s going to take me a long time to properly familiarise myself with these stories, primarily because I sadly only speak English, and I struggle with a lot of the pronunciation of the names and places. I love the monsters and creatures in these myths!

Antigone Rising by Helen Morales (new read, physical book)

This book was an interesting non-fiction analysis of mythology and modern feminism. I naturally ended up comparing it to Pandora’s Jar which I did find more interesting, mainly because of the choice of topics, I think. I found the latter chapters and topics far more interesting than the first. I’d be interested in reading more books like this, I think I’d like any I read now to be written by more people of colour to allow me to gauge a wider perspective and learn more, particularly important when reading about feminism.

No one is talking about this by Patricia Lockwood (new read, physical book)

This was such an unusual book and for that reason I can’t decide how I feel, however, it was very moving. I would recommend reading the themes and warnings before deciding whether to read, as I think this is a very unique experience so I wouldn’t like to say too much, but I would like anyone reading to feel prepared.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (new read, eBook)

I really didn’t know how to feel about this, it was a short book and gave the Halloween vibes I was looking for, however, probably due to the period it was written in, it had some very old fashioned or unusual metaphors and imagery, particularly surrounding homophobia. I can’t decide if this was a commentary on the time and purposefully written, or the authors own views. Either way, I always try and fail to find new Halloween books I like, so I think I’ll just enjoy binging the Vampire Diaries tv show every October.

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson (reread, physical book)

Back on my Jacqueline rereads, this is another great one- for slightly older readers, but saying that, I was probably about 7 haha, I think younger kids just tune out what they don’t understand yet. This one focuses on themes on mental illness in the family and the reversed parent/child roles.

Kiss by Jacqueline Wilson (reread, physical book)

Another of hers for older readers, this was always has a different feel for me but that’s maybe because it’s one of the last new books that I read by her, maybe aged 11. This one focuses on sexuality and puberty.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (reread, eBook)

Not going to give it more time, I had a low week and wanted a Halloween vibe hahaha.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (reread, physical book)

For this book, I want to talk a bit about the idea of separating the art from the artist. My views on this- which I’m not saying are right, and I sometimes waver on myself- are that I will reread but not continue to buy. Once I know that an author has done something wrong, I will never support their work again by buying future books etc. I will never buy another Harry Potter book or merch that will help she who must not be named to profit. However, I have loved Harry Potter since I was a wee girl and it holds so many special memories for me. These books remind me of my childhood and of my dad who use to read them with me. He bought me the first 5 and I can remember the excitement of holding one of these books new in my hands. I have always felt so nostalgic and at peace when I read this series, especially leading up to Christmas. So, I think that in a case like this, only where the book is incredibly nostalgic and one which I read in childhood, I will separate the art and continue to reread the books. However, I will reiterate that I do not condone the words of the author and will never buy from them again.

World Vegan day

This is less of a ‘properly written’ long blog post, but upon realising that today is World Vegan Day, I wanted to take a wee second to reflect and mention it! I’ve been vegan two years and veggie five and it just feels so normal now, it’s never an effort, it feels easy and fun to do. I always like to avoid preaching, but I do think occasionally highlighting veganism can be helpful for anyone curious about it. I think it’s particularly apt given that COP26 is beginning- and will hopefully produce some important changes for our planet.

Veganism has so many benefits for animals, the environment and potentially health (although not the way I do it haha!), and whilst I would not like to force ideas on people, I would like to say it’s very easy and fulfilling. I’ll leave this here on the message that I would truly love to talk to anyone who has considered being vegan (or eating plant based foods more often), and who may have any questions about starting. Please think about the positive impact the smallest changes can have, and give it a go if it’s something you’d like to try 🙂

Please do comment here or talk to me on instagram at carlybooks_ if you do have any questions or comments 🙂

Books I read in August/September 2021

Every time I went to write about my August books I just really could not be bothered, hahaha. One reason was that I leave it all too long and can’t remember lots- I’m trying to change this for October by writing notes after I finish each book so I can get a bit better. Instead of writing half remembered thoughts, I’m just going to list the books I read in August here: Such a Fun Age (mainly enjoyed), Soul Tourists (not my fav of hers), The Wolf Den (mainly enjoyed), The Mash House (not my genre, but good). I just decided to have a little break, especially considering this is just a hobby and really does not matter in the grand scheme of things! I did listen to a podcast today though, which made me very excited about reading and books, and it has motivated me to try to put my best effort into posts going forwards (excluding this one haha as I’ve done the usual thing of forgetting most of what I read). I hope you’ve been having a good couple of months, please let me know what you’ve been doing or reading! 😊

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan (physical book, new read)

‘‘Anne Marie’s dad, a Glaswegian painter and decorator, has always been game for a laugh. So when he first takes up meditation at the Buddhist Center, no one takes him seriously. But as Jimmy becomes more involved in a search for the spiritual, his beliefs start to come into conflict with the needs of his wife, Liz. Cracks appear in their apparently happy family life, and the ensuing events change the lives of each family member.’’ (Buddha Da synopsis)

In September, I found an Instagram book club called ‘The Scottish Book Club’, for which this was my second read (The Mash House was the first). This book club is great, encouraging Scottish people to read books written by fellow Scots, often including Scot’s language. The host, Natalie is really welcoming and often manages to contact the authors to get involved in live chats which is an amazing way to learn more about the books! I’d recommend joining if you’re Scottish and have Instagram! 😊 Buddha Da is written in Glasgow dialect which I find really easy to follow being from there, but I would encourage anyone interested to try as it makes for a really authentic account of many Scottish lifestyles. I loved this book, the characters were incredibly likeable with great relationship dynamics, even if they made some annoying yet realistic decisions. This book focuses on the themes of identify/future and loss/grief, using Buddhist philosophies to contrast with an ‘ordinary’ Scottish family. This was so interesting, because a lot of Scottish culture, especially Glaswegian is about humour which can often lead to people hiding their feelings, particularly stereotypically males. This made for such a great character study of Jimmy, with interesting perspectives on the changes he makes and whether things like taking the time to meditate or ‘self help’ can actually become quite selfish if they cause you to distance yourself from the needs of others around you. I felt like the story is reflecting on being your own person whilst in a relationship and the ways in which burying sad emotions can lead to co-dependency. There were so many themes to reflect on and I’m excited to hear from Anne Donovan to learn more, as it’s semi-autobiographical. I’d definitely recommend this book (please let me know if you do read it and want help with any Scots phrases haha!)

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

‘Glasgow for it. That’s the gemm. Embra’s lovely, a great place for a day oot or a wee break but Glesga’s hame.’

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (audiobook, new read)

‘‘Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World synopsis)

I haven’t read too many Irish books, but I’ve loved each one that I have read, I think mainly because they feel like a conversation almost, they feel quite homely if that’s the right description by marking out the simple details of daily life without every feeling slow. I’ve listened to all of Sally Rooney’s books which has definitely helped my positive opinions because Irish accents are my favourite and listening adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I listened to her other books a few years ago so I don’t remember how strongly I felt, but like most people I enjoyed Normal People a lot more. I think Beautiful World may now be my favourite of hers. Before I compliment this book too much, I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to  keep this in mind whilst reading, but her story telling is excellent and I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I think they are very self-aware and reflect on their own feelings of guilt whilst dealing with mental illness, so their more pretentious qualities are definitely written intentionally. I enjoyed that this book almost breaks the fourth wall, giving Rooney an opportunity to add in some commentary on her own experiences as an author and the controversy/opinions that come with becoming more well known. I also really liked the discussions surrounding technology and social media and their impact on the modern world, these really resonated with me as I do often find myself thinking about the impact of media and technology on my ability to communicate and my own self esteem. I think social media has made a lot of things easier for us, but left us with a lot more time to fill, a lot of room for negative comparisons and a lot of isolation and loneliness. I find these conversations so interesting, and I would love to read more books reflecting on social media (please let me know if you’ve read any!) Overall, I would recommend this, but as with all her books, prepare for her characters to be very white and privileged. I enjoyed the overall message being conveyed, the characters finding a sense of peace or meaning in the modern world that they have been blaming for the sense of feeling unfulfilled; I think unfulfilled or lost is something that lots of people are now experiencing. I also enjoyed the links to our own reality at the end of the book.

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

‘’do you ever experience a sort of diluted, personalised version of that feeling, as if your own life, your own world, has slowly but perceptibly become an uglier place? Or even a sense that while you used to be in step with the cultural discourse, you’re not anymore, and you feel yourself adrift from the world of ideas, alienated, with no intellectual home? Maybe it is about our specific historical moment, or maybe it’s just about getting older and disillusioned, and it happens to everyone… When we were young, we thought our responsibilities stretched out to encompass the earth and everything that lived on it.”

‘’It is hard in these circumstances not to feel that modern living compares poorly with the old ways of life, which have come to represent something more substantial, more connected to the essence of the human condition.”

Six Tudor Queens: Katharine Parr by Alison Weir (audiobook, new read)

‘’Two husbands dead, a boy and a sick man. And now Katharine is free to make her own choice. The ageing King’s eye falls upon her. She cannot refuse him… or betray that she wanted another. She becomes the sixth wife – a queen and a friend. Henry loves and trusts her. But Katharine is hiding another secret in her heart, a deeply held faith that could see her burn… KATHARINE PARR. HENRY’S FINAL QUEEN. HER STORY.’’ (Six tudor Queens synopsis)

I won’t write too much about this book as I’m mentioned most of this series in previous blog posts, but I love this series! These books were interesting, at least semi-factual and a great way to learn more about the Tudors from the perspective of the Queens. They are such easy reads which provide great satisfaction to know that you are learning more about history in such an interesting way! This wasn’t my favourite of the series (she definitely wasn’t the most dramatic queen haha) but I still loved it and would recommend reading! I listened to these books which made it easier to read any slow bits and helped the characters to really come to life. So happy to have found these books! 😊

The Sopranos by Alan Warner (eBook, new read)

‘’The choir from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour School for Girls is being bussed to the national finals in the big, big city. And it’s an important day for The Sopranos – Orla, Kylah, (Ra)Chell, Amanda Konky and Fionnula (the Cooler) – pub-crawling, shoplifting and body-piercing being the top priorities. Then it’s time to lose that competition – lose, because a nuclear sub has just anchored in the bay and, tonight, the Man Trap disco will be full of submariners on shore-leave. There is no time for delays…But after the fifth bottle of alco-pop up the back of the bus it’s clear that all is not going to plan, for anyone. The Sopranos are never going to be the same.’’ (The Sopranos synopsis)

This is such a strange one to write about because I watched the film (Our Ladies) and read this book, but I can’t really decide what I thought of either. I found something very intriguing about both, maybe because they are Scottish are I can’t resist a book in a setting I’m familiar with. The fact that I chose to read the book and watch the film suggests that I did like them, but it is more of a feeling of intrigue rather than enjoyment. I think, on reflection, that I maybe feel strange because this was written from the male gaze when it is a story about catholic schoolgirls, two or who are gay (btw, I’m always strangely satisfied when I instantly know someone’s gay, it really is like a superpower hahaha). I think the fact that it was written by a male and is over 20 years old has led to a slightly uncomfortable vibe surrounding this book although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. It felt almost like an Irvine Welsh counterpart for young teenage girls. I think I’ll end by saying I do like the book, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker (physical book, new read)

‘’Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.’’ (The Women of Troy synopsis)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve now read quite a lot of Greek myth retellings, so I’ve become fussy with them. I was interested to read a story which focuses on the aftermath of the war as I most of the myths I have read focus on before or during. This was an interesting perspective on the aftermath, questioning the meaning and purpose that people are left to grapple with after conflict, and our nature as human beings to feel dissatisfaction; we often strive to achieve something only to be left with a sense of discontentment or peace, in exchange for a drive to move on the next thing that we think will give us a sense of purpose. The characters in this story are (very rightly) left feeling doubt, dissatisfaction and intense guilt following the events of the Trojan war. I think the reason I was let down a little was the marketing- recent myth retellings always emphasise the need for female voices and a feminist take. This book is marketed as a feminist retelling, literally emphasising this in it’s title, which left me a little frustrated when it often strayed away to focus on male characters, often switching to Neoptolemus’ perspective. This was not a problem in itself, but I get a bit bored of such marketing because it appears to become about selling books and looking progressive, rather than the actual content (if that makes sense). I was hoping to learn more about the Trojan women themselves and would love recommendations for books following these characters. I didn’t realise that this is almost a sequel to the Silence of the Girls so I would recommend reading/rereading this first, as I couldn’t remember much about Breseis’ relationship with Achilles and inner monologue in this retelling. I think I’d have taken more from this book had I read it directly after the Silence of the Girls. I also found it a little strange (again, maybe I’m just very fussy haha) that sometimes the phrases used by characters seemed very modern or took me out of the story. This therefore made it uncomfortable when the R slur was frequently used in a very derogatory manner towards certain characters. It felt very odd and wrong to use this slur, and I feel that due to the modern phrases used elsewhere, the time period of the story cannot be used as reasoning.  

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner (physical book, new read)

’When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognizes in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing preoccupation with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.’’ (Nightshift synopsis)

This is an example of when my ramblings about books suffer because I forget to take notes- I read this in the first couple of days of September and I’m coming to realise that I have a shocking memory haha. Nightshift is advertised as a thriller, which I typically don’t read, but I was intrigued because reviews I watched on YouTube referred to it as more of a character study, which I would, having now read it agree with. I always get so excited for spooky season and Halloween as soon as I see one Autumn leave haha, so this was definitely a good time to read the book! I found the character Sabine to be quite annoying to read (actually, I disliked them all haha) because she’s written as that stereotype of a narcissistic ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope, but this was very purposeful and contributed to the characters dynamics and decisions. I don’t tend to have a problem with books with unlikeable characters so I don’t think the story suffered because of that. The book was very fast paced- I read it in a day- and interesting throughout but wasn’t a favourite of mine. I would give it a go if you read the synopsis and like the sound of it, but please know that it is definitely a character study rather than a thriller. It’s also very important to read the trigger warnings as there is an incredibly difficult chapter in this book!

Her New Best Friend by Penny Batchelor (physical book, new read)

‘’Mum-of-two Audrey is horrified when during a moment of distraction in the park, her pram with baby Wilfred in it rolls down the hill and into a pond. Fortunately for her, Claire Jones is nearby and rescues Wilfred, soothing Audrey and daughter Antonia with coffee and cake in a nearby café. No harm is done. However, the frightening experience dents Audrey’s confidence and she replays the events over and over, convinced she can’t have forgotten to put the brake on. To make matters worse she keeps spotting a shadowy figure everywhere she goes and becomes sure that someone is stalking her. Does Claire really have Audrey’s best interests at heart?’’ (Her new best friend synopsis)

This is the first book I’ve been sent to read by a publisher (guess I’m famous hahaha) which was so fun! Crime and thrillers aren’t a genre I ever really read, but it was good to read a book out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I did read it because when I do read thrillers, I remember how fast paced they are, and the story was interesting. I also really enjoyed reading an own voices account of disability, of which I’ve read few in the past and need to read more frequently. The only thing I didn’t particularly enjoy was that at times I thought it was slightly too fast paced in the sense that there was not enough time to build up the thrills or twists. I’m still going to continue my pace of reading a crime/thriller every 5 years or less haha, but I know that this is one of the most popular genres for readers so I would recommend this one if you do enjoy thrillers, particularly around the spooky season. 😊

This ended up being very long hahaha. Please let me know how you’ve been and what you’ve been reading! 😊 I would recommend looking up the Scottish Book club on Instagram, it’s great! Also, may as well plug my own haha, please follow me on carlybooks_ if you’re interested (Dusty my cat is a regular feature).

Books I read in July 2021

This is posted so last minute, mainly because this month I found out that I’ll be working from home for a year which is always something I’ve said I would absolutely hate hahaha. So, I took a while to process, but now trying to make the most of it and be thankful in a time where so many are struggling for work. In book related news, I remembered that libraries are a thing and once again opened, and I got so many good books to read! Honestly such a good resource, good for the planet and also a much-needed money saver, I love libraries! Also, looking at the list there are probably a few trigger warnings for most of the books I read, so please look them up before reading these books!

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (physical book, new read)

‘’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

I always love reading new Scottish literature and I don’t shy away from harsh realities or bittersweet stories: I love Irvine Welsh’s writing for example. This story was so poignant and moving, made more impactful by the fact that I’ve been to most of the places. Whilst I’m lucky enough never to have lived in poverty, I recognise some of the elements of this Glaswegian lifestyle even in some of my older family members, as well as direct parallels to the lives of some of the children I have worked with. My favourite stories have themes of family, love, loss and grief and it felt so important to read a Glaswegian book with these themes. Whilst I’m extremely lucky never to have experienced the poverty so many Scottish people face, I related to Shuggies unconditional love of his family after losing my dad at a young age, and the impact of mental health, grief and love on family dynamics. I also enjoyed the interlinking LGBT themes and like to think that Shuggie will live a true and fulfilling life as his story continues. Such a poignant Scottish story!

Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow by Banana Yoshimoto (physical books, new read)

‘’Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan’s brightest young literary star and is now a cult film. When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern literature, and has been described as ‘the voice of young Japan’ by the Independent on Sunday.’’ (Kitchen synopsis)

I love Japanese literature so much, honestly can’t even explain what it is about it but it’s so dreamy yet so focused on almost mundane details. This book focuses on themes that I’ve found to be key in the Japanese stories I’ve read- grief and relationships, but whether it’s the writing, translation or philosophies surrounding these books, such common themes just feel so different, magical and new compared to a number of British or American books I’ve read. This book is quite sensory as we follow the main character around at their daily pace, for example, hearing her slow thoughts on the weather, things she’s eating, furniture she sees, but I never felt bored because I felt immersed in her story and surroundings. I don’t think some of the terms used to describe the transgender character are now appropriate at this time, but I loved the interactions between the characters and ways in which the themes were explored.

As this book is so short, it featured another novella at the end called Moonlight Shadow, which again focuses on themes of grief. I actually think I preferred this story. I loved how dreamlike it was and the characters written- it almost felt like the episode of Black Mirror called ‘Be Right Back’ which I also loved. Sadly, I read it a while ago now and can’t remember more (need to stop being so lazy with blog posts haha) but I usually hate novellas and short stories, so the fact that I loved this so much sums up how I feel about Yoshimoto’s writing. I’d love to read more from her, if you have please recommend any of her books that you like! 😊

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (physical book, new read)

‘’It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…’’ (On Chesil Beach synopsis)

Before I start, since reading this I’m sure I’ve heard something about Ian McEwan having a transphobic past? I’m not sure what happened, but it’s definitely not something I condone or want to align myself with. As with so many others, this will sadly have to be a case of separating the art from the artist. I think I’ve read three of his books now and enjoy the themes of morality/ethical questions, and the way that these are weaved throughout the story we’re learning so that we reach the end of each book contemplating our own stances and opinions. With sex and sexuality as a key theme of this story, I’ve read reviews where it has brought up interesting discussions and reflections surrounding asexuality; some readers believe that the main character is asexual, some believe that past trauma has instead impacted her reactions, and others discuss the point that for some (not all, of course!) a person can experience trauma and be asexual. Trauma and asexuality definitely don’t have to be linked, and this link can be very damaging for what is already a very misunderstood sexuality. I’m finding it hard to really vocalise what I mean here; I think what I’m trying to say is that unfortunately lots of people who dismiss other sexualities than their own often reject asexuality (or being gay) as a real sexuality and assume that it is a ‘choice or response’ as a result of trauma. I think this results in these sexualities being dismissed or diminished, and I also think that it can make it difficult for asexual people who’ve experienced trauma to discuss their trauma without fear that ignorant people will state that this ‘explains’ their sexuality. Asexuality is real and valid, and definitely not a ‘problem’ or ‘trauma response’.

Anyway, I really hope I articulated what I meant to say properly there, I did not mean to ramble but I like books that make me think and that evoke strong discussions. Other than that, however, I found this book quite boring and didn’t really connect to/like the characters. I’m honestly starting to think I should avoid books set in this time period haha because I always seem to be complaining! I would like to see the film though, I love Saoirse Ronan as an actress and feel like she would bring the character to life 😊

The Returnees by Elizabeth Okoh (physical book, new read)

‘’After a bad break up, 25-year-old Osayuki Isahosa leaves behind everything she holds dear in London to return to Lagos, Nigeria: a country she hasn’t set foot in for many years. Drawn by the transformations happening in the fashion industry in the city, she accepts a job at House of Martha as their Head of PR. While waiting at Milan airport for her connecting flight to Lagos she meets Cynthia Okoye and Kian Bajo. After the plane lands at the Lagos airport, they all go their separate ways but their lives will intertwine again and change the course of their lives forever.’’ (The returnees synopsis)

This book was very fast paced with fairly likeable characters, so for this reason is was a quick and easy read. Unfortunately, though I got bored quite quickly and felt like the story lacked something. I can’t tell if this is YA or pitched at adults, maybe that’s why I felt this way (although, some YA books are incredibly detailed and interesting). I really enjoyed learning more about different parts of Nigeria and Nigerian culture, something I knew very little about before. I think, however, what frustrated was really interesting elements were touched upon but never given depth or detail; for example, the characters mention the stereotypes they perceived about Nigeria before living there, and the ways in which people of colour can experience negative perceptions or isolation on returning to their birth country after moving and being perceived as being ‘Westernised’. I’d love to have read a book focusing on these issues, however, a lot of the story instead focused on some elements that I never really like such an insta love, relationships that feel co-dependent and some twists that were not very surprising. I’m sure lots of people loved this book and enjoyed the main themes but sadly I am always very critical of insta-love tropes, maybe because I am a cat lady hahaha. If you have read any books focusing on the elements that I did find interesting, please let me know! 😊

Georgia Nicholson books 1 and 2 by Louise Rennison (e-books, reread)

‘’Brilliantly funny, teenage angst author Louise Rennison’s first book about the confessions of crazy but lovable Georgia Nicolson. Now repackaged in a gorgeous new paperback and looking even fabber than ever. Louise is an international bestselling author and her books can’t fail to make you laugh out loud. Follow Georgia’s hilarious antics as she tries to overcome the dilemma’s that are weighing up against her, and muddle her way through teenage life and all that it entails: how to replace accidentally shaved-off eyebrows; how to cope with Angus, her small labrador-sized Scottish wildcat; her first kiss with Peter – afterwards known as Whelk Boy; annoying teachers; unsympathetic friends and family, and how to entice Robbie the Sex God! Phew – she’s really got her work cut out!’’ (Angus, thongs synopsis)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- sign of my impending breakdown: childhood books hahaha. These, like many others of the time have not aged well, but I love the nostalgia and the way these books bring me back to some of the funny times me and my friends had in our early teen years (although I was very shy and awkward, my diary would not have made a good book series!). I read these through the kindle app, and if you haven’t I’d honestly recommend reading some of the silliest books on public transport through the inconspicuous comfort of your phone haha (this is how I got away with reading 50 shades in public when I was about 15).

I always leave these blogs too long and think I’ll have no thoughts then I end up absolutely rambling hahaha. I think my favourites this month were Kitchen/Moonlight Shadow and Shuggie Bain. I hope you’re well, please let me know what you’ve been reading or what you’d recommend- I genuinely love reading comments and learning about more books haha. Also, if you do comment, I’d be interested to know where you live (in a non-creepy way, more of a how far across the world are those of you I’m talking to hahaha).

Books I read in June 2021

Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes (physical book, new read)

‘’In Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes redresses imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I’ve previously read some of Haynes myth retellings and was sad to feel a bit detached whilst reading. I did, however, still want to read this book and I’m so glad I did because I really loved it, I think it could be in my favourites of the year! 😊 It felt to me like reading a podcast which I loved, it was easy to read, well written and always interesting. I love learning more through books and feel excited when I start to retain more knowledge about the many (MANY) characters in mythology, and it was great to learn more in this book, particularly about the amazons- I’d previously only really known a little about Penthesilea’s death and taken the rest from Wonder Woman- and Medea, who’s story is so horrifying and interesting. I also enjoyed Haynes references to pop culture throughout as they never felt like too much or brought me out of the book- I’d really recommend listening to Lemonade whilst reading Medea’s chapter! This book has intrigued me to read more non-fiction about these myths from different perspectives, please let me know if you’ve read any good books in this category!

Witches, Warriors, Women: Mythology’s Fiercest Females, written by Kate Hodges and illustrated by Harriot Lee Merrion (physical book, new read)

‘’From feminist fairies to bloodsucking temptresses, half-human harpies and protective Vodou goddesses, these are women who go beyond long-haired, smiling stereotypes. Their stories are so powerful, so entrancing, that they have survived for millennia. Lovingly retold and updated, Kate Hodges places each heroine, rebel and provocateur fimly at the centre of their own narrative. Players include:Bewitching, banished Circe, an introvert famed and feared for her transfigurative powers. The righteous Furies, defiantly unrepentant about their dedication to justice. Fun-loving Ame-no-Uzume who makes quarrelling friends laugh and terrifies monsters by flashing at them. The fateful Morai sisters who spin a complex web of birth, life and death.’’ (Witches synopsis)

This was my second mythology-based non-fiction book of the month, and it filled with short, illustrated character accounts. I bought this online from Edinburgh’s social justice book shop ‘Lighthouse’ after reading about the racially charged and homophobic abuse staff were dealing with, resulting in the shop temporarily closing; if you can, please support their shop! I enjoyed this book and the accompanying illustrations, although they weren’t my personal art style, I prefer really bright colours and patterns. It wasn’t my favourite book of the month, however, it was an interesting read and it was good to learn more about Scottish myths! I’d like to continue to learn about Celtic and Scottish mythology. 😊

Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod (physical books, new reads)

‘’Hesiod belongs to the transitional period in Greek civilization between the oral tradition and the introduction of a written alphabet. His two major surviving works, the Theogony and the Works and Days, address the divine and the mundane, respectively. The Theogony traces the origins of the Greek gods and recounts the events surrounding the crowning of Zeus as their king. A manual of moral instruction in verse, the Works and Days was addressed to farmers and peasants.’’ (Theogony & Works and Days synopsis)

I do not know how I ended up owning this, which means I probably borrowed/stole it from my sister who has a random assortment of books from her literature degree haha. I tend not to like plays unless watching them as a play, especially those written long ago as the writing can frazzle my brain a bit. However, I was on a mythology binge and this was in my flat so here we are. These plays are so famous and studied so often that I know they are important, however, I am not their target reader and I found them very, very boring so I’m just going to leave this here.

Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller (physical books, rereads)

My last blog post is basically a love letter rambling about these books, so I won’t go into them here but I’d be thankful for anyone who’d like to read that post or comment your own thoughts about these books on it 😊

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (physical book, new reads)

‘’It is in 1950’s Brighton that Marion first catches sight of Tom. He teaches her to swim, gently guiding her through the water in the shadow of the city’s famous pier and Marion is smitten–determined her love alone will be enough for them both. A few years later near the Brighton Museum, Patrick meets Tom. Patrick is besotted, and opens Tom’s eyes to a glamorous, sophisticated new world of art, travel, and beauty. Tom is their policeman, and in this age it is safer for him to marry Marion and meet Patrick in secret. The two lovers must share him, until one of them breaks and three lives are destroyed.’’ (My Policeman synopsis)

I loved the idea of this book, and I was very intrigued to read it. Sadly, I didn’t find this book very interesting, and it was quite a challenge to get through. This led me to think about this is more detail as I eventually dnf’d ‘The Paying Guests’ earlier this year as well as reading but feeling bored and disappointed by ‘Carol’. All three of these books are set in the early/middle 1900’s, and all three are centred around gay/bi characters. I’ve loved books set in this type period before, for example, ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ which is one of my favourites. When reflecting on why I loved this as opposed to the others, I concluded that Crimson Petal is so vivid, passionately written and features dimensional characters. It also features themes that were particularly taboo for this time period, for example, prostitution, but Faber did not shy away from these themes and instead brought them to life, vividly highlighting the hardships and impact on the characters wellbeing. The other books I’ve mentioned, including My Policeman felt flat in comparison. I think the nature of this conservative time period can often mean that the characters can be written in a way which feels stilted. This works well in reflecting the constraints of the time, however, can- for me- make the reading experience feel flat and a bit glum. I think this explains why I am often disappointed by historical fiction set in this time period. Interestingly (to me, probably not to anyone else because I’m just rambling hahaha), I don’t feel this way whilst watching historical fiction of this time period. I love Downton Abbey and Titanic, for example, so it maybe that my imagination is lacking when reading.

In reflecting back, I also feel like I struggled with these books due to the exploration of life as an LGBT person in the early-middle 1900’s. I am always looking for LGBT representation and I appreciate that these stories reflect the risk, stress, homophobia and taboo surrounding being gay. I am thankful that these authors choose to write inclusively. I think, however, I’ve read enough depressing LGBT stories now that I just want to read happy or at least more positive depictions of gay relationships. I think in coming to accept my own sexuality, I already deal with internalised homophobia and feel the weight of current LGBT issues. Reading about them is therefore quite draining and weighs on me, although I acknowledge that it’s so important. I’m therefore going to avoid LGBT accounts in historical fiction for a while, and I’d love if you could comment any positive, happy LGBT books which you have read. 😊 (Sorry, I did not plan for such a tangent here haha!) Ps. I do think Harry Styles is a great choice, and think he has the charisma to play the character well in the film adaptation!

Everyday Activism: How to Change the World in Five Minutes, One Hour or a day by Rachel England (physical book, new read)

‘’This inspiring, easy-to-use guide will help kickstart any activist’s journey. From supporting independent businesses and amplifying marginalised voices, to community gardening and giving to a food bank, there’s something you can do to make a positive change – whether you have a day, an hour, or just five minutes to spare.’’ (Everyday Activism synopsis)

I found this by chance is a bookshop this month and read it in one sitting; this is an easy read with some interesting, positive reflections and ideas for activism. Some are common sense, but all were interesting and very achievable small ways to make a difference. I’m sure there are more advanced or nuanced books of this genre, as well as some books on activism which are far more diverse. I’d love to read these in the future and try to actively work to make positive change, but this book was an interesting starting point! 😊

Thank you for reading, especially as I accidentally rambled lots haha! I’d love any recommendations based on the books I’ve been reading, and I’d love to know what you have been reading recently. I hope you’re well! 😊

My love of Madeline Miller- Circe and The Song of Achilles

After rereading Circe and Song of Achilles this month I felt like I wanted a rambling little post to remember the way I feel about these books. Apart from a few books I vaguely remember years ago, Madeline Miller’s were the first Greek myth retellings I read. I first read Circe in summer 2019, choosing it without knowing anything about it firstly for the beautiful cover and then because it mentioned Greece where I was lucky enough to be going on holiday. So, on a beach in Crete feeling truly enveloped in the setting, I started the book which has spiralled me into an intense mythological fascination. I’m lucky enough to now own over 20 mythological books and I think I’ve read over 30, with each bringing more intrigue rather than any sort of feeling that I’ve ‘overdone’ it.

I absolutely love rereading books, arguably more than reading new books. As a nostalgic, semi-routine enjoying person, my favourite books bring feelings of comfort and warmth (almost said joy but I will leave the Christmas ramblings for another couple of months). Within two years, I’m usually ready to reread an old book and bring myself back into the memories and emotions that came with it. A year plus of a pandemic and two years in Scottish weather have undoubtedly contributed to my desire to reread Circe, a book which I now associate with the warmth and sea breeze of its origin country.

Madeline Miller has received lots and lots of praise and hype, which in her case I think is truly deserved. To explain why, I’ll now try to get on to the actual books and stop the rambling. Paralleling the order in which I originally read them, I’ll start with Circe:

Circe

‘’In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child – not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens the gods, she is banished to the island of Aiaia where she hones her occult craft, casting spells, gathering strange herbs and taming wild beasts. Yet a woman who stands alone will never be left in peace for long – and among her island’s guests is an unexpected visitor: the mortal Odysseus, for whom Circe will risk everything. So Circe sets forth her tale, a vivid, mesmerizing epic of family rivalry, love and loss – the defiant, inextinguishable song of woman burning hot and bright through the darkness of a man’s world.’’ (Circe synopsis)

The writing in Circe flows so well. It’s beautiful and intricate, feeling very detailed and powerful whilst also being very easy to read: my favourite mix. Whilst focusing on Circe, her story weaves in other myths and we meet different famous or infamous characters. This felt interesting and natural to me, where it sometimes felt forced in other retellings. I’ve mentioned before that whilst I enjoyed some retellings including Ariadne, they felt almost stretched- as though they tried to do too much with too little source material. Miller manages to create full and meaningful depictions that interested and engaged me whilst feeling almost real in a way (this is a good time to mention that these are all my own random lil opinions and not necessarily correct). I love that in Circe, Greek terms and words are used (I was going to say that the reader learns Greek words, but I have a shocking memory for languages) and that so many of my favourite books are taken from Greek mythologies. For example, in my blog post called A Song of Ice and Fire Norse and Greek mythology parallels, I noted the parallels between GRRM’s Cersei and the Circe in this story. These were only basic thoughts and parallels from the endless ones to be found. I think parallels are one of the reasons I love mythology so much; rather than feeling frustrated that I’ll never realise them all, I love knowing that I’ll learn new things and feel excited every day I read a retelling.

Song of Achilles

‘’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 differences, 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’s 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.’’ (Song of Achilles synopsis)

Being the second myth retelling that I read (and remember), this book was my first experience of the Trojan War. I will say, this led to me feeling quite disillusioned about Achilles when I then went on to read any other account of his personality hahaha. I am glad to note that Patroclus remains one of the few genuinely good characters in any depictions he features in, I love him. Throughout this story I really felt the urgency, passion and struggle that these characters experience and whilst I didn’t cry, I felt very moved by Patroclus and Achilles story; I also love a book that really makes me feel the tension that the characters are feeling, and the cave parts of this book did it so well. Maybe I’m biased, but while I appreciate all retellings, I far prefer the stories that depict Patroclus and Achilles as a couple, and I do feel that the source material heavily hints this. Accounts that deny these characters as lovers give me strong ‘historians will say they were good friends’ vibe hahaha.

I love Miller’s narrative choices- whilst featuring some of the most famous characters, namely Odysseus and Achilles, she chooses to read about the lesser known or rather lesser heard characters of Circe and Patroclus and gives them such a full, interesting voice. Miller may almost romanticise characters, but in a mythological world of absolute horrors, I appreciate these depictions; particularly as these myths are just that- stories passed down for us to imagine and reimagine.

Themes and comparison

 On both first read and reread I’ve binged Miller’s books one after the other, which naturally leads me to compare and wonder which is my favourite. The answer is that I truly cannot decide. Both times, I’ve tentatively said that Song of Achilles just has the edge, but I genuinely feel that this is just because it was fresher in my mind. I love both for such different reasons and feel that they compliment each other almost as a duology. I will say that at times both felt slightly slow on my first read- Circe because it spans such a long time and Achilles because of such a heavy war plot. On rereading, I didn’t experience this feeling at all and read both books over 4 days. I think this is because I now have a better knowledge of the myths and endless characters featuring throughout. Despite saying this, I would 100% recommend these books as a starting place into the world of Greek mythology.

The pacing and writing style is something that I found very interesting whilst reading; Miller’s writing has objectively improved by Circe- whilst still being very accessible, it’s much more intricate than Song of Achilles. I do, however, think this is almost done purposefully; Circe is a complex Goddess with eons of time to pace out her life and develop her craft. She is also frequently lonely and lost. The pacing of this story heavily reflects Circe’s mindset and the timespan it follows- at times peaceful, at others almost stilted. The latter part, for example, felt more frantic to me and fast paced as Circe raised her restless, energetic mortal son. Song of Achilles, felt in comparison urgent and fast paced- for lack of another phrase, it felt very human. The characters are passionate and young and energetic, whilst facing the philosophies of a good life, and the loss and grief that comes with the prophesised early death. In saying that, the writing style also parallels Patroclus- human and simplistic as opposed to Circe’s intricate wisdom. I cannot decide which I liked more, I just hope I am projecting how much I truly love these books and would recommend them.

I was also very interested in the themes of humanity throughout both books. Whilst feeling so different and focusing on very different life experiences, both books centre around humanity and what it feels to be human, or at least what it feels to find a purpose in life. I loved Circe’s inner monologues depicting the Gods and her own distance towards her immortality, ultimately choosing her own life and embracing the paradoxical simplistic yet vivid and vital human life span.

I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

This contrasts Achilles, and therefore Patroclus choice to forgo a peaceful life to engage in ‘heroic’ acts and the form of immortality that surrounds them. These books have philosophical undertones due to Miller’s choice to write from the perspective of very thoughtful, very human characters. It is this that has led to these stories becoming some of my favourites; themes of humanity, purpose, life and loss are always my favourites.

“True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory.’’

“I think: this is what I will miss. I think: I will kill myself rather than miss it. I think: how long do we have?”

I genuinely put off writing this because I wasn’t sure what I would say and now I have absolutely rambled on, hahaha. Thank you so much if you’ve read all of this, please let me know your own thoughts on these books. I’ll end by saying, Miller has become one of my favourite writers because she introduced me to mythology and I’ve yet to find a retelling that I’ve enjoyed or felt more from than hers. I loved experiencing these stories the first time and learning; I now love them in a different way. Rereading was so exciting because I know understand the references, know more about the characters and I can see what I’ve learned. These books reignited my love of learning in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. Things like Uni didn’t really work for me. I’m not an academic, whilst I got the degree, I genuinely cannot think of much I learned from Uni due to the nature of cramming for exams and writing essays on areas I didn’t find interesting. Reading is a greater form of learning for me personally, and in mythology I’ve found books that match my personality and interests exactly- comfort and familiarity of a world and characters I’m starting to know, whilst always allowing for new material and things to learn.

Books I read in May 2021

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (physical book, new read)

‘Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid’s stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice. When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne’s decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?’ (Ariadne synopsis)

Firstly, both cover versions of this book are so beautiful! This book has very willingly spiralled me back into a Greek mythology retelling binge. I enjoyed this book and loved getting to learn more about Ariadne as there are still so many stories, I’m not very familiar with (I somehow always got mixed up with Medea and Ariadne, so I finally know the very different differences haha). Unfortunately, I didn’t love this book. Madeline Miller’s retellings were the first myth retellings I read and I love them so incredibly much that I end up comparing all others to them. Whilst Ariadne is good, I didn’t feel very strongly towards it. Sometimes I feel like myth retellings can feel slightly stretched or ‘bitty’ since they are coming out of such short original material and I did feel this way towards Ariadne. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it, if you’re able to read myths without comparing each to your favourite books I think you’d love it! 😊  Also, this book discusses constellations often, I’m interested to learn more about constellations in relation to myths, please let me know of any good books or websites!

After Dark by Haruki Murakami (physical book, new read)

‘The midnight hour approaches in an almost-empty diner. Mari sips her coffee and reads a book, but soon her solitude is disturbed: a girl has been beaten up at the Alphaville hotel, and needs Mari’s help. Meanwhile Mari’s beautiful sister Eri lies in a deep, heavy sleep that is ‘too perfect, too pure’ to be normal; it has lasted for two months. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the television screen in her room, even though it’s plug has been pulled out.’ (After Dark synopsis)

I don’t even know what to say about Murakami anymore, he’s slightly insane and full of genius. I think this would be such a good book of his to start with! It’s short, with lots of his common themes and favourite tropes and a lil bit of the surreal but little enough that it’s very readable. It takes place in one night and I read it in one evening which made it so much more interesting. I feel like Murakami’s books suck me in, there is something just so interesting and otherworldly about them. I definitely recommend this if you’d like to start some of his books and want to test out whether the unique style works for you.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (physical book, reread)

Clare and Henry have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was 36. They were married when Clare was 23 and Henry was 31. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing. (The Time Traveler’s Wife synopsis)

I don’t really ‘review’ any book to be honest, but I’ve decided not to review this book at all. This is one of my forever favourite books and I’ve read it possibly 5 times now. I think writing about books, analysing them or even reading reviews has made me slightly more critical in my reading judgements- I’m not sure this is a bad thing, it lets me think more about social justice and I’m a far better judge now of books that I’ll find interesting. For this reason, I want to leave this book as a favourite without reflecting too deeply, because some of the themes and phrases have not aged well, and I am not recommending it. Instead, I’ll write about how this book makes me feel; for some reason, certain books feel so real to me and resonate with me so strongly, usually books that centre families and grief. It almost pulls at my soul, as silly as those sounds. I just feel comforted as well as paradoxically extremely emotional every time I read this book and I’m truly glad I found it- when I was 15ish I think? If you’ve read this, I’d love to know what you thought of it (also, it’s better than the film haha). 😊

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by she who must not be named (physical book, reread)

‘Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!’ (Harry Potter synopsis)

So. Here we are. These books have created a struggle for me, because I’ve always been one to separate art from the artist- usually because I’m lazy haha and sometimes because I prefer to think of books as their own worlds which I feel in a way can be a wee bit diminished by knowing too much about an author? I can’t explain this, I sound silly and unfair to the authors haha. Anyway, above I mentioned how much I love and feel comforted by my favourites like the Time Travellers Wife. Harry Potter has always been the same for me, it reminds me of my childhood and my dad and lots of brings me lots of comfort if I’m sad. For this reason, I will keep reading these books- albeit they are a bit tainted- and continue to ignore the existence of she who must not be named. I will not, however, buy any products or new books that bring money to the author.

I reread this book because my P5 class asked to read the illustrated version (which I already owned before she who must not be named became nameless), and as 99% of them dislike reading (which makes me sad), I was very eager to agree. I think these are funny, magical books which will become classics for children, and I think this can only be a good thing, as long as we are separating and educating.

I started off strong this month and then got really stressed at work and read nothing haha, but overall, it was a really good month, I didn’t dislike anything! Please let me know what you’ve been reading or what your thoughts are on these books 😊