Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label five stars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label five stars. Show all posts

Saturday, 25 February 2017

5 Things I Loved About Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

If this swashbuckling heroine doesn't define awesome, I don't know what does.

Hi everyone! This is my first review in a long time because I'm finally back. I read this book a month or two back, and I loved it so much I had to take notes so I could share the awesomeness with you all. So without further ado, here are 5 things I loved about Kelly Gardiner's Goddess.

1. Fascinating main character

Julie is a crossdressing, bisexual French opera singer and swordswoman from the 17th-18th Centuries. She reminds me a bit of Casanova. That’s interesting in itself. But I also loved her confidence, as it’s rare to find a female character who knows she’s beautiful or/and brilliant. Julie knows she’s great; she calls herself a goddess, and it's refreshing. (Wonder where the title came from, hmm?)

2. Interesting story

This novel is an adventure and a half. Julie has a very eventful (albeit short) life and what’s more, the author didn’t make it up; Julie d’Aubigny was a real historical woman and the events in the novel are based on documented events. I couldn’t believe it when I read the author’s note at the end and found this out. I also couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this awesome woman. The best thing? She was not the only crossdressing, swashbuckling lady at the time.

Julie d'Aubigny
Kelly Gardiner has a blog post about the real life of Julie d’Aubigny here.

3. Unique voice and tone

The book is set up as a transcript of Julie’s deathbed confession to a priest. It’s written as a monologue, including her responses to what the priest says (which is not included, so you have to be smart and guess). She’s sassy and intelligent, which makes for fun reading.

4. Beautiful language

The writing flows and is a joy to read. It’s concise yet descriptive and is also emotional, especially at the end. Julie has a lot to say, but her story fits in at under 300 pages, all the while affecting me enough to rate it 5 stars. French words scattered through the text also make it feel more authentic, although sometimes I wanted to look them up to check a) what they meant and b) if they were real words…

5. Women living on their own terms in an oppressive historical society

Refer to 1 and 2. Need I say more? 


If you love history and interesting women, do yourself a favour and read this hidden gem! I’ve read a lot of Kelly Gardiner’s books, so I can also vouch for her as a good author. What are you waiting for?


Versailles, 1686: Julie d'Aubigny, a striking young girl taught to fence and fight in the court of the Sun King, is taken as mistress by the King's Master of Horse. Tempestuous, swashbuckling and volatile, within two years she has run away with her fencing master, fallen in love with a nun and is hiding from the authorities, sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Within another year, she has become Mademoiselle de Maupin, a beloved star at the famed Paris Opéra. Her lovers include some of Europe's most powerful men and France's most beautiful women. Yet Julie is destined to die alone in a convent at the age of 33.

Based on an extraordinary true story, this is an original, dazzling and witty novel - a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman.

For all those readers who love Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel.

Add it on Goodreads

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A New Favourite: Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace
Jane Austen meets JRR Tolkien

I watched the 2016 BBC mini-series a few months ago, which made me want to read the book. In case you don't know, the book is a monster, and it took me exactly 2 months to read. I read the ebook, not the physical book pictured, for this reason.

War and Peace takes place in Russia during the wars with Napoleon (1805-1813, although the epilogue happens in 1820). It was first published in 1865, making it historical fiction. The book's mostly about four aristocratic families during this time. I loved it. I'll try to avoid very specific spoilers, but if you don't realise that characters are going to die, go back and read the first sentence of this paragraph.

The good

  • An epic story of people fighting for their world and what or who they love (hence the similarity to Tolkien)
  • A rich, engaging setting (just like Tolkien...)
  • Philosophically rich (also like Tolkien) which is interesting when explored through the characters
  • Interesting, complex, developed characters (I found them much more complex and developed than those in Austen or Tolkien - Tolstoy just seems to know people incredibly well)
  • Interesting, complex, developed female characters (although women in this setting know their place, the women of War and Peace include some fascinating characters. However, there was one sentence about a woman who "slew hundred of the French", so they weren't all sitting at home. Awesomely, this woman actually existed.) 
  • It made me laugh (one character doesn't pronounce his Rs, a bear gets tied to a policeman and thrown in the river, several characters are (unintentionally) very very gay to a young 21st Century reader...)
  • It made me sad (lesson learnt: don't get attached to emo Russian princes)
  • Heaps of drama (similar to Jane Austen - particularly the family and relationship dramas)
  • Heaps of angst (between Pierre, Andrei, and Marya, there is a lot of melancholy)
  • Foreshadowing. Two characters' deaths (which I knew about because of the mini-series) were foreshadowed in one chapter, and it broke my heart.
  • Tolstoy's similes, metaphors, and analogies are entertaining. Sometimes, they help you to better understand a situation. Sometimes, they're less simile and more description of what's actually happening.

    The bad

    • Russian characters all have a bazillion names (thanks, Russian naming customs) which is very confusing. When you add in the fact that this translation Anglicises certain names, well...
    • Polish characters' names aren't even pronounceable  
    • Rumoured incest (however, I don't think they actually have an affair, unlike in the mini-series) 
    • Certain characters disappear for no reason and there's no word on what happens to them (one family lost two of their grown-up children, but we don't know anything about their reaction. Another minor character I grew attached to, due to her being so mysterious, disappeared after the last chapter - there was no mention of her in the epilogue, even though she'd been in the background the whole book. What?)
    • Structure - similar to Tolkien, sometimes when there's a change of POV, the book goes back in time a bit, which is confusing.

    The ugly

    • It's ~1300 pages long! No book has the right to be that long.
    • The scenes about war strategy and philosophy, and about history, are incredibly boring and I didn't follow. It's okay when they relate to certain characters, but sometimes they're just essays that don't specifically relate to the book.
    • The epilogues. That's right, epilogues. Plural. The first epilogue was set about 7 years after the end of the book, and it didn't give me warm fuzzy feeling about the characters' fates, although some of them were described as being happy. The second epilogue was about 40 pages of Tolstoy philosophising about history, and may as well have been published separately. I've seen people say to skip the epilogues, and I agree: the last 100 pages can be skipped without losing anything.

    The conclusion

    • I've found a new favourite book! How exciting! 
    • I know I recently talked about not judging intelligence by the books you read, but I feel smarter after reading this. 
    • Strongly recommend to fans of historical fiction and classic literature.
    • Will I read it again in my lifetime? Not sure. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll think about it. 

      The summary

      Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed.

      The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

      Add it on Goodreads

      Thursday, 12 March 2015

      The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

      Date finished: 11 March 2015

      I'd been meaning to read this book for about a year, ever since I did a Classics internal on The Iliad vs Troy (2004) in Year 12, and I'm very glad I finally read it. Doing this study meant that I knew the story - and loved it - so I hoped that I would also love The Song of Achilles. And I did.

      I knew the basics of what would happen (I won't give away any spoilers, even though the story is thousands of years old) but this book focuses on Patroclus, a character we don't get to see much in the original story, and gives him a background, which is new and interesting. I adored seeing his relationship with Achilles develop, and there were plenty of moments that made me fangirl. There is a tonne of foreshadowing, which I kept picking up on and almost crying over. *Spoiler alert* Even though I knew what was going to happen, I kept thinking, "Maybe Patroclus won't die this time," but it happens so fast that I was not at all prepared. I don't know how to describe the plot other than epic and tragic, and I loved how the author breathed new life into characters who have been around for a hell of a long time. (That's true immortality, I think - that we still remember the names of and care about Achilles and Patroclus in the 21st Century - even though they die.)

      The writing is beautiful. It flows very well and is easy to read. It's the kind of simplistic style that anyone can read and enjoy, and I loved the description and dialogue. As the book is written in the first person, we only get one character's perspective, but it's okay because it's a character we don't know much about compared to some of the more famous characters like Achilles, or Helen of Troy (*cough* Sparta!). To retell an age-old myth, emotive language is needed to give the novel some originality, and Madeline Miller succeeds in doing this.

      When I first learnt about The Iliad and the Trojan War, my favourite characters were Achilles and Patroclus. As they are the main characters of this book, that remains the case. Their characterisation in this novel is fantastic and, well, there's no other way to say this, but I ship them so hard! They are complete opposites, hero and antihero, and their relationship really makes you think about friendship and love and fate. They treat each other as equals, even though all the other characters think of Patroclus as a disgrace, an exile, unworthy of Achilles, but they love each other for eighteen years, and in the end they don't get the happy ending we want for them, which breaks the heart.

      There are strong themes in this book that also bring out the emotions. Love and sacrifice are important, as is the concept of heroism. At one point, Achilles says, "Name one hero who was happy," and I think that quote is just the saddest thing. In this book, we know that Achilles is fated to be a hero, and he is one, but we don't know if he, or Patroclus, is ever truly happy. Like I said, this story is tragic.

      In summary: This book killed me. It broke my heart with every bit of foreshadowing, and the last few chapters just hurt my soul. And I loved every minute of it, masochist as I am. If you are a young Classics nerd like me or just a lover of male/male relationships, you must read The Song of Achilles. It will break you and you'll thank the author for doing so.

      Sunday, 15 June 2014

      The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

      The Watch That Ends the Night 
      Date finished: 15 June 2014

      This book took me a long time to read, but it was definitely worth it. I can't remember when my interest in the Titanic began, but it was more than a few years ago, and since then I've only read a few novels about it. I've seen Titanic twice, naturally, but I haven't come across that many YA books about it.

      The Watch That Ends the Night is an incredible verse novel with fascinating characters. Obviously, since we all know what happens, and it happens it such a short period of time, the book is character-driven, with 25 different character perspectives (including the iceberg and the ship rat). Each character has his or her own unique voice, and although it is written in verse, it reads almost like a normal novel, which I love. I think my favourite characters to read about were the crew members, since usually you only get to read about/see the passengers.

      The writing in this book blew me away. It flowed really well, and the ideas and thoughts at the end of one character's part segued into the start of the next character's. The imagery was amazing and I could see the lives of the characters clearly in my mind. On the inside cover it claims "Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse into the lives of two dozen passengers and crew, told with astounding emotional power". That's absolutely correct. It's very emotional (especially in the last two chapters) and intimate, as you see the private thoughts, hopes, and plans of the individuals.

      Not only was this extremely well-written, but the author did a hell of a lot of research too. You can see in what I call the appendices (they're not really, I'm just gonna call them that) all the resources he used to get things historically accurate. Now that takes patience. He deserves a round of applause just for taking the time to do such thorough research. Whew.

      In short, The Watch That Ends the Night is a wonderful book and if you like a) interesting characters, b) the Titanic, or c) a book that will make you question humanity, you must read it!
      I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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