The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

soaWhere do I even begin with Madeline Miller? I fell in love with Circe when I read it in January, and it seems The Song of Achilles, Miller’s 2011 debut, is just as fantastic. My one complaint is more out of sadness than disappointment. If it took Miller ten years to write this novel and seven to write Circe, will I really have to wait five or ten years to read another one of Miller’s retellings? It’s only been a few hours since I finished The Song of Achilles and the wait has already become nearly unbearable.

I think what makes Miller’s novels so incredible is her voice. Her sentences, short but heavy with imagery, give the book the same feel of classic mythology and retellings. Her descriptions are dreamy, forcing me reading slower than usual to make sure I didn’t miss a single word. And, although there are plenty of battle montages and war councils, Miller shines most when writing extremely emotional scenes, such as when Achilles kills Hector or when Patroclus confronts Thetis, Achilles’ mother, at Achilles’ grave.

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

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The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

tiAlthough R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”

The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

kosMy first venture into Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy “Grishaverse” happened in 2013, when I was ten. Six years later, I’ve followed her protagonists through the rough waves of the Bone Sea, trekked through snowy forests of Fjerda, weathered the cobbled streets of Novyi Zem, and even ventured into a few sketchy casinos in Ketterdam. And still, I love returning to her ever-expanding, relentlessly vivid world just as I did the first time.

In King of Scars, Bardugo returns readers to Ravka, three years after the events in her debut Grisha trilogy. There, we are welcomed by old favorites such as King Nikolai, Genya Safin, twins Tolya and Tamar, and (my personal favorite) Zoya Nazyalensky. However, our characters spend little time in the throne room, instead opting to run around Ravka, chasing saints and subduing a growingly-powerful monster.

I know I am not alone when I say my favorite part of King of Scars was the constant banter between two of the protagonists, Zoya and Nikolai. Since she appeared smirking at Alina’s love interest in the second chapter of Shadow and Bone, Zoya’s reputation has seemed to be cemented as an icy seductress there only to give Alina boy trouble. But, although she was was not treated kindly in Bardugo’s first series, Zoya is certainly not in for a redemption arc in this one. Instead, readers get to peer inside her head, where she transforms from a sexist cliché to an empowered, three-dimensional character. But, make no mistake- Zoya has not gotten nicer. She’s just as witty, and even more ruthless, but now, she’s finally, rightfully, taking control of her narrative.

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On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

otcuIn On the Come Up, Angie Thomas builds upon the vivid world of Garden Heights that she introduced to readers in her #1 New York Times bestseller debut, The Hate U Give. But this time, instead of Starr Carter narrating this story, readers are introduced to sixteen year old Bri Jackson, daughter of underground rap legend Lawless. Like her father, who was killed in a gang-related shooting when she was little, Bri dreams of becoming a legendary rapper (that is when she’s not taking ACT prep courses or geeking out over tweety bird).

You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream/just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also/ saying Bri

I found On the Come Up even more compelling than its blockbuster predecessor, perhaps because of Bri’s similarity to Thomas, who writes in her dust jacket biography that she was once a rapper. However, instead of Bri’s musical ambitions, what stuck out most to me was the conflict between Bri’s upper-middle class arts school and her working class roots.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

circeSomeone I know described Circe as “Percy Jackson for adults.” To me, there seems to be no description more apt for this spellbinding tale. Circe is acclaimed author Madeline Miller’s take on the titular character, the ancient Greek enchantress best known for bewitching Odysseus and temporarily turning his crew into pigs in The Odyssey. After centuries of neglect, this witch finally gets her own story.

There is much to be said about reading a book and knowing exactly what is going to happen. Miller, a devout student of the classics, does not deviate much from the accepted literary canon. Circe hosts Odysseus and later Telemachus (as well as her niece Medea and a few gods). She helps her sister Pasiphaë birth the minotaur and jealously turns the nymph Scylla into a ravenous monster. Because of this set plot, there are often extended breaks in the action of the story. This was not a problem for me. I enjoyed Circe’s inner monologues and Miller’s lush descriptions of the Greek landscapes.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

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Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

monIt’s always a gamble to pick a book up during school breaks. There’s no time for me to pleasure read at school, however I can’t always read fast enough to finish the book at home. But, I feel there’s nothing worse than a story left unfinished. So, when I picked up Muse of Nightmares for the train back to school, I was determined to read the nearly 500 page sequel to Strange the Dreamer in six hours. Obviously, that was not possible, so I was left to sneaking in five or ten pages whenever I had the chance. Perhaps it was this reading style, but more likely it was Taylor’s masterful, slow-build writing that made Muse of Nightmares on of the best fantasy novels I read this year.

Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.”

Taylor possesses an incredible gift of dropping breadcrumbs and seemingly unrelated connections throughout the duology, holding the reader by their hand and revealing the final piece of the storyline at just the right moment. While some of her clues were more clearly connected than others, I found the overall arc of the story a mystery until after I had turned the last page.

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

wcI was not expecting to read The Water Cure. Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, it came out in the UK this past May, and is slated for release in the United States in January. I picked it up on a whim while between books and unexpectedly became transfixed.

The Water Cure, Welsh novelist Sophie Mackintosh’s debut, follows three sisters: Oldest Grace, middle Lia, and youngest Sky. The three live on an island with Mother and King. There, they are taught many things, but one above all: men are evil, toxic, deadly.

“If we were to spit at them, they would spit back harder. We expected that – we were prepared for it even. What we didn’t expect was their growing outrage that we even dared to have moisture in our mouths. Then outrage that we had mouths at all.”

Readers are introduced to the sisters right as something goes wrong: King is dead. Soon after, men arrive. The carefully crafted order the family has cultivated is destroyed. As we are drawn further into the story through flashbacks and dream-like prose, a web of manipulation and disturbing rituals is revealed.

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A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

reaperSabaa Tahir’s lengthy fantasy series has been a favorite ever since I turned the first page of debut An Ember in the Ashes in 2015. Like its predecessors, newest installment, A Reaper at the Gates, is a 450 page novel best read in a day or two.

The story alternates chapters between the perspectives of Helene, Laia, and Elias, each on their own respective journeys. What makes the novel so unputdownable is that each chapter ends on a cliffhanger. You just need to read on and find out what happens next.

Although the novel is told at breakneck speed, A Reaper at the Gates occasionally falls into the dreaded middle book rut. The book feels great on its own, but compared to Ember and A Torch Against the Night, it’s just okay. Perhaps, this is because there was one perspective that felt superfluous and occasionally frustrating. While Elias’s journey was important at the end of the novel, there were a couple chapters towards the beginning that I felt could be edited out.

“There are worse things than death,” I say, “Shall we learn about them together?”

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Curating the Perfect Bookshelf

w&pFeeling at home is important wherever you are. A sanctuary to  ground you in difficult times or somewhere you can relax, away from the world around you, is vital. But, especially for students, finding that small sanctuary in an environment like a dorm can be difficult.

I find my sanctuary in books. I grew up in libraries and bookstores and my room at home has always had an overflowing bookshelf. Obviously, I can’t bring this bookshelf to school every year. But, I can bring a few books to remind me of home. The books I chose are more mementos than stories. They carry memories of the people they were gifted from or ideas that changed my life.

No matter what you chose to bring to create your home, there are a few categories that your mementos can fit in to. When using these categories, I find it easier to choose what comes with me and what stays behind. Hopefully, you’ll find some inspiration for your own packing list.

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Swing Time by Zadie Smith

st“Please,” my roommate begged as we packed our bags, “take it. I can’t even look at it. I want to love it. But I just- ugh!” She threw her hands up and collapsed onto her bed.

The “it” she was referring to is Swing Time by Zadie Smith. We were packing our carry on bags and she was desperately trying to make the 50 pound limit by  giving me books she had read (or in this case, attempted to read). I took the book, partly because I had heard that Zadie Smith was an incredible author, and partly because I had nothing to read on the immenent thirteen hour flight.

For the first half of the flight, I thought my roommate was right. Zadie Smith is an extremely talented writer. Every sentence, deliberately constructed, presents interesting ideas in beautiful ways. But every sentence. It was exhausting. Even selecting quotes for this review was difficult. So many amazing sentences! How could I chose?

“Sometimes I wonder if people don’t want freedom as much as they want meaning.”

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