Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm

“Spirits of the East and Air, I welcome you into our circle and bid you well tidings. On this sacred night of Samhain, come dance with us. Spirits of the South and Fire, I welcome you to feast with us on this sacred night. Spirits of the West and Water, I welcome you to drink and be merry with us tonight. Join our revelries on this sacred eve. Spirits of the North and Earth, I welcome you to this hall and ask that you tell us stories from ages past. Speak easy and loosen thy tongue on this sacred night.”

I’m always looking for faerie/elven stories to read so you could imagine how excited I was to find Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm. Its a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast with an Irish folklore twist. Sorcha, a young midwife, is deep in peril when a plague sweeps across her village and takes root in her father. She had always been respectful of the Fae—leaving them offerings and praying to their deities—so when faced with such tragedy, she turns to them for a favor. In return, Sorcha finds herself sent on a suicidal mission across realms to the Otherworld where the Fae reside. It is there she will meet Eamonn, a banished king with a curse that allows for crystals to grow beneath his skin instead of flesh and blood. Together, they will need to rely upon one another in order to save her family and reclaim his throne.

I enjoyed this story. The world-building was rich and lyrical, the characters were beautifully described in their own gruesome makings, and the amount of references to Fae folklore made me beyond happy. Instead of just using the Fae as her mythical creatures, Hamm included beings like selkies, brownies, nymphs, and boggarts. And those are only a few. I think that when an author attempts to write a story about these specific beings they should always try to include a varying array of them, because, after all, the Fae are only one branch of species in relation to their thousands of kin. Its an entire spectrum of earth spirits we’re referencing.

Hamm even touched upon a favorite element of mine—the Seelie and the Unseelie. Often times, the Unseelie are described as the “dark” Fae (usually autumn and winter), and the Seelie are the “light” (spring and summer). In this book, the seasons don’t play any role but the notion of good and evil certainly does. Lesser Fae are those that don’t appear humanoid by Seelie standards, or don’t appear grotesque enough by Unseelie standards. There is a social contract within both major realms, and the political intrigue on the Seelie side will throw in a few plot twists that will make you question whether you’re reading about the right Fae.

The writing was easy to follow, simply put it was straight forward with a sprinkling of poetic moments here and there. I prefer more emotion and prose in the books I read, but maybe I’m biased because I still enjoyed this one very much. Another slight issue I had with it was the romance. Of course, I was rooting for the two main characters to get hitched since the first page because of the way the synopsis promises them to be lovers…but it somehow still felt forced. Thankfully it didn’t feel rushed, but there were a few times that I had to contemplate why the one character was confessing their emotions to the other when it felt like their wasn’t a basis to their emotional ties just yet.

The plot was decent, but you can surmise a great deal of what will happen because this is a loose retelling of a story that has been retold millions of times. People even draw parallels to another Beauty and the Beast inspired story that also includes the Fae and, yes, you guessed it: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Even though I’ve already begun to see people compare the two, I will just put my two cents out there and say that while they share glaringly obvious similarities, these stories are highly different and unique in their own ways.

All that being said, if you’re in the mood for a cute romance, or (like me) in the mood to always read about the Fae—here’s your next book! I’m currently reading the sequel and thus far it’s even better than the first.

 

4/5 stars.
Goodreads.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

I always enjoyed the Odyssey, but it was never a favorite tale of mine. Circe, for those who might not be familiar with the story, was a minor character who’s notorious moment of fame was when she turned Odyssey’s men into pigs. Yes, that actually happened—and yes, she made me enjoy the tale considerably more than had she never been written into it.

With that out of the way, I should begin this review by saying that while I have a decent knowledge of Greek mythology, this story would have been a bit of a struggle to understand had I not known specific myths. For many people, I feel that Circe is going to be one of those books that you’ll need to do some background research to truly understand what is happening. Miller provides enough resources that one can just surmise what is going on without having to recall some middle school lecture about the Odyssey, but there are still going to be holes left unfilled. Even for me, it was a bit confusing at times.

But don’t let this discourage you!

I was already a fan of Miller because of her other novel, The Song of Achilles, so Circe had some big shoes to fill. I’ll just say right now that I didn’t love this story as much as the other novel. For me, it didn’t have the same fast-paced and adventurous ambiance of TSoA, nor did it have the same emotional pull. Circe is a slower read. The romance is essentially nonexistent, which I liked, but the emotional angst wasn’t delivered to the extent that I thought it would be. What I mean to say is; I didn’t really care much for most of these characters. Not like I did with TSoA. However, they are both completely different tales, so its hard to base one book off of the other.

That being said, heres a rundown on the plot.

circe coverCirce is the firstborn daughter of Helios, god of the sun. Her father is a mighty Titan, and her mother a vicious water nymph. Growing up, Circe was an outcast because she appeared more mortal than immortal, and neither of her parents were pleased with her existence but they put up with her regardless. Years later, her mother gave birth to twins—Pasiphaë and Perses. They treated their elder sister with as much contempt as their parents. Circe, being used to the torment, went along with it for centuries. Later, another brother was born into the family named Aeëtes. Circe felt an overwhelming sense of adoration for her little brother and became immensely protective of him. He, in turn, became the only one who spoke to her as an equal.

Circe continued with life, walking in the shadows of her predecessors, until one fateful evening where Prometheus was held on trial for gifting mankind the creation of fire. The Titans unleashed their wrath upon him, and Circe, not knowing what else to do, waited until everyone left to come forth and speak with the cursed god. He told her of his love for mortals, and how their kind treats one another different than how the gods treat themselves. Thus, Circe starts to seek comfort with mortals.

A young sailor by the name of Glaucos enraptures her, and they soon fall in love. Circe finally discovers her powers and is able to transform her lover into a serpentine immortal, to which causes him great fame because everyone believes he was favored by the gods—not that she had been powerful enough to perform the impossible. But when Glaucos starts to fall for another, Circe goes before her father and claims that she was the one who transformed him. Of course, no one believes her. In her frustration, she transforms Glaucos’ new lover into a monster, and is banished to an isolated island to live out her days alone as punishment.

It is on this island that mortals came from the sea in hopes to find shelter. And Circe, having grown desperate, entertains each crew of men that arrive on her island until their true intentions cause her to take matters into her own hands. After attempting to rape her, Circe transforms the men into pigs. She repeats this for each ship that seeks refuge until Odysseus makes an appearances and pleads for her to change them back.
From there, Circe begins to understand life and its often cruel meanings.

I think what I enjoyed the most in this book was the character development. Circe goes from being a small girl who never stood up for herself to an angry woman who transformed people into creatures until she finally blossoms into a wise witch who’s whit and knowledge of mortal and immortal behaviors causes her to become a compelling force.

She is the type of character that you’ll find yourself rooting for. An underdog of sorts. And while she might not ever be the most powerful character in the tale, her presence is one to be noticed and that is why I ended up liking her so much. She doesn’t need blades or even her spells, she just has to rely on her patience and cunning. (There are a few moment between her and Athena that will really demonstrate this.)

Plot aside, Miller has such a beautiful writing structure that she could have given me a story about the adventures of a worm and it wouldn’t have been so awful. Its lyrical and flows smoothly—two things I love in a book. The pace might be a bit dragging at times, but it eventually picks up when you least expect it. Overall, you’ll be happy you kept going.

So if you’re looking for a romantic book, or one about bloodshed and battles, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re interested in a story with amazing character development that explores the many strengths of a women who has been tested by literally everything she’s ever had to deal with…congrats. Heres your next read.

My rating: 4/5
Goodreads

Cry of the Firebird

You know that feeling when you’re really in the mood for a specific book but finding it seems nearly impossible because theres likely nothing published that will match what you’ve conjured up in your mind? Yeah—that’s me with all of my reads. Lately, however, I’ve been craving Slavic folklore retellings. I find those fairytales to be the most intriguing, and I love the dark atmosphere they usually bring. But seeing as Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente and Uprooted by Naomi Novik are two of my all-time favorite books, the rest I come across have a lot to compete with.

What initially drew me into Cry of the Firebird by Amy Kuivalainen was the synopsis. “Firebird” being in the title was one thing, but “…a noir paranormal series that brings to life the bloody fairy tales of the North” made me cross myself and thank whatever Gods have been guiding me along my search. Honestly, it couldn’t have sounded better to me.

The ebook for Cry of the Firebird is FREE on iBooks right now, and if that wasn’t another sign for me to start reading immediately than I don’t know what else to tell you. Naturally, I stayed up until 4am for two nights before finishing the massive book (to be fair, its not super long but the online version was roughly 1,450 pages) and here’s what I’ve come to think of it.

It didn’t let me down, but it also didn’t exactly live up to my expectations. The writing is a little choppy at times, and there were a few phrases being overused when there wasn’t any need for them to be. I’d say that the first 30% of this book had me on the edge of my seat, but it kind of dwindled after a while and I felt as though I was reading the same scenes over again for chapters. There is also an influx of characters that come into play one after the next, and while I love books that have tons of characters I felt as though these ones weren’t getting the development that they deserved. The author draws you in with their stories, you grow attached, and then she leaves you hanging as to what will become of them. After all, there are so many to keep track of.

What I did enjoy about this book was the setting, plot, and the quirkiness and individuality of each character. For as many cons as I’ve listed, it balances out all of the pros. I’m still unsure how I truly feel about this one, but I’m leaning more towards a positive vibe because for all of its flaws, the good parts are too good to look over.

The characters—all one-hundred of them—are wonderful. I frequently find that with side-characters there are many authors who will bundle them together in similar mindsets so that they only serve the purpose of the main characters. That’s definitely not the case here. I loved nearly everyone, and it was wonderful to read how such a diverse cast came together for the sole purpose of defeating a threat to their realm. That’s was something I wasn’t expecting to happen, and it couldn’t have come as a nicer surprise.

World-building is definitely Kuivalainen’s strong suit.

We are brought across the Russian wilderness to a dark forest in an otherworldly spirit realm, back to Russia, all the way to France, and then eventually to Budapest. Each character is from a different country, a different era, and no two people (seemingly) share the same ‘species’ so to say. Bare in mind, everyone has a supernatural ability of sorts…or an unnatural talent with knives and guns and riding motorcycles.

I wasn’t expecting this to be a series so when I read the final page, a cliffhanger no less, I was ready to scream until I saw the prologue for the next installment. I’m definitely going to read all of the novels in this series because I need to know what happens next.

Perhaps this one isn’t great for getting out of a book-slump because of its length and swapping point-of-views, but it’s great if you’re looking for something new. Fans of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo will likely enjoy this one.

My Rating: 4/5 
Goodreads Review
Free iBook Download

The Bird & the Sword

I stumbled upon a few gorgeous pieces by PhantomRin on Tumblr (tagged below) and I was so drawn to them that I had to search for the book they came from. The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon is a story about a young mute girl named Lark who becomes part of a terrible prophecy. Before the king murders her mother, the Lady Meshara proclaims, “…you will lose your soul and your sun to the sky.” Following these last words, she sets the curse in place and takes away her daughter’s voice— for they are both witches who practice in “telling”; a type of magic honed by words only. Lark then lives alone with her corrupt father who is constantly vying for the king’s throne, leading a lonely life until she is noticed by the newly crowned prince, Tirus, who had been present upon her mother’s beheading.

bird sword coverThe world-building in this book was interesting. There are four main embodiments to being a witch: spinner, teller, changer, and healer. The spinners can weave gold out of anything, the changers can shape shift, the tellers (who are naturally the most gifted) can hex anyone/thing with their words or thoughts, and the healers are…well, healers.

The political dynamic is intriguing as well, because we start the book with the king slaughtering the protagonist’s mother in front of a whole assembly of royals and guards. So you’d assume that he would be more involved in the book, but only a mere chapter later it is reveled that he died and his son, Tirus, who is the love interest, became king. However, don’t let this discourage you. Without spoiling, I can say this slight confusion of the king’s sudden death gets resolved in the end during a bizarre plot-twist.

Lark is a very gentle character. I’d call her soft-spoken if she actually spoke in the novel, but you do get to see her communicating with other characters via her mind and telepathy powers. I think that when we read these types of novels we always expect the main character to be a sword wielding bad bitch with a lust for vengeance (which isn’t necessarily a bad trope in my honest opinion), but in this scenario Lark’s power comes from her ability to cause things to happen with her words alone. The irony isn’t missed.

Titus, on the other hand, is also a soft character, if you could call a warrior king soft. He is cursed with transforming into a bird every night, and over time these transformations become more and more potent until one night he barely changes back into a man. His brother, Kjell, forces Lark to help him in whatever way she can even though she swears that she isn’t a healer.

Kjell, like many others, fear the witches and is an adamant believer in killing their kind for being “more” than the rest of the world for having such abilities. (Seriously, the amount of irony in this book is comical.) There were plenty of moments I wanted to tell the characters that “they’re not doing it right” but I feel that way about most books so I’ll let this one slide.

The writing had a nice flow to it, and was a bit lyrical and dreamy. I liked how fast-paced it made the story. So much so that I started it around Monday evening and finished it early Tuesday morning. This one is definitely a short read, and a great one to help get you out of a reading slump.

I didn’t enjoy the ending as much because I felt like it was rushed and there were many elements that could have been further explained or explored. It tied everything up nicely and there isn’t a cliffhanger, but moments that you would have waited for since the prologue were covered in little over a few pages. Also, there were very few characters and, thus, very few perspectives to view this story from. Usually this wouldn’t bother me but because both main characters were like-minded it seemed as though the whole story was dimmed in comparison to what it could have really been.

This was 3.5/5 stars for me.

photo 1 | photo 2 | photo 3

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

It has been three years since I’ve read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and I realized today that I’d never sat down and actually wrote a decent review for the book that I’ve proclaimed to love so ardently. Perhaps this means that my review will be more organized— since I’ve had such a long period to mull over any final thoughts and feelings. Alas, that probably won’t happen either. My emotions will always cloud my judgment when it comes to Tartt.

So finally, I’d like to introduce you to the book that altered every other reading experience henceforth.

Its 559 pages of madness.

We start off following college student Richard Papen as he procrastinates over transferring to another school— departing his hometown in California all the way to the sleepy east coast. Upon arriving at the elite Hampden College in Vermont, Richard encounters five students who immediately draw his attention through their peculiarity and illusive behaviors. Little does he know, the haughty cult of classics scholars will flip his world entirely until he no longer recognizes himself or the people around him. This is a story of paranoia and betrayal—and how our minds can slowly draw out our worst selves when faced with enough trauma.

And believe me, this book will cause you as much stress as it does with the characters.

One of the most glorious parts of The Secret History is the writing. Tartt is a superb author; her character are incredibly vivid, her prose are fluid, and her plot will have you turning page after page without realizing you’ve stayed up for several hours past midnight. I’ve never encountered another author with a smilier style, and that definitely made reading this book a unique experience, especially because (paired with the style) the plot was something I’ve only seen touched upon in other stories but never saw completely unfurled. All in all, it was a breath of fresh air…if you can call a story about murder that.

A favorite quote of mine was when Tartt described Camilla Macaulay— the only female leading character amongst a group of boys.

“Being the only female in what was basically a boys’ club must have been difficult for her. Miraculously, she didn’t compensate by becoming hard or quarrelsome. She was still a girl, a slight lovely girl who lay in bed and ate chocolates, a girl whose hair smelled like hyacinth and whose scarves fluttered jauntily in the breeze. But strange and marvelous as she was, a wisp of silk in a forest of black wool, she was not the fragile creature one would have her seem.”

I wish someone would describe me the way Tartt does her characters. You might think it seems overdone, as some of my friends who I’ve forced to read this book have mentioned, but I just believe it adds to the atmosphere. However, there were times when I had to find a dictionary just to understand what the hell was going on. I will warn you there.

N O T E : I also find it important to include trigger warnings before recommending this particular book, and I’ve yet to see anyone include one for TSH. So, please be aware of the following: mentions of incest, smoking, suicide, homophobia, and drug abuse.

Before I read this book I had strictly been reading fantasy only. Contemporary novels, or any novels that don’t include magic and folklore, don’t really fancy me. And while there is mention of Greek mythology receptively in this story, its entirely realistic. This is just another reason why I found it so enthralling: Tartt almost makes it seem like a fantasy, because surely these types of situations can’t happen in real life…but that’s definitely not the case, as you will find when reading a few chapters in.

Another way in which Tartt makes it seem like a fantasy is how she crafts her character. The narrator, Richard, has a few friends outside of the main group; and these friends are how one would imagine a college student from that era (arguably the early 70s… *no one is truly certain when this book takes place, at least I don’t think) would act. Whereas Henry, Bunny, Camilla, Charles, and Francis all seem too composed to be real young adults. They act as though they’re from ancient times— regal and mysterious and tragic. I’m probably not making much sense right now, but this is one of those things that you’ll have to understand through reading it.

If I had to choose a favorite character, of course it would be Francis Abernathy. Not only is he one of the most genuine characters of them all, but his melodrama makes him a comedic relief during the more gruesome scenes. Also, the way Tartt describes him makes me flustered; “Angular and elegant, he was precariously thin, with nervous hands and a shrewd albino face and a short, fiery mop of the reddest hair I had ever seen. I thought (erroneously) that he dressed like Alfred Douglas, or the Comte de Montesquiou: beautifully starchy shirts with French cuffs; magnificent neckties; a black greatcoat that billowed behind him as he walked and made him look like a cross between a student prince and Jack the Ripper.”

If you want to read a book that will pull you out of a slump: read this one.

If you want to read a book that will forever change your perception of storytelling: READ THIS ONE.

It might be tricky to dive into, because the author’s writing is nothing I’ve personally encountered before, but once you’re in…good luck putting it down.

SECRET HISTORY PLAYLIST: Soundcloud link. 

October Film Recommendations

Happy first of October! We’re finally in the best month of the year. I’ve waited a whole year for this time to come again, and so far the last twelve hours have been treating me just right. Everything about this season from the food, the music, the clothing, and the television shows makes me nostalgic and longing for an eternal autumn. That being said, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite Halloween flicks and shows so you can Netflix-and-Kill all month long (please tell me at least one person snorted).

Let me know which are your favorites! And if theres any I’ve missed, I’m all for new recommendations so hit up my messages below. Enjoy!

  • Hocus Pocus (1993)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • Scream (1996)
  • Beetlejuice (1988)
  • The Addams Family (1991)
  • Halloweentown High (1998)
  • Corpse Bride (2005)
  • Coraline (2009)
  • The Craft (1996)
  • Monster House (2006)
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  • Saw (2004)
  • The Haunted Mansion (2003)
  • Practical Magic (1998)
  • Scary Godmother (2003)
  • Carrie (1978)
  • Twitches (2005)
  • Warm Bodies (2013)
  • Ginger Snaps (2000)
  • The Blair Witch Project (1999)
  • Hellraiser (1987)
  • Scream Queens (2015-16)
  • It (1990, 2017)
  • The Shinning (1980)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (1997)
  • The Babadook (2014)
  • Insidious (2010)
  • Friday the 13th (1980)
  • The Conjuring (2013)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • The Birds (1963)
  • Train to Busan (2016)
  • Zombieland (2009)

Warwick, NY

If you’ve been following my blog or Instagram, then you might already know how enraptured I am by autumn— a.k.a the best season of the year. Everything from the sights, the smells, the tastes, even the feel of the cold wind and the scratchy turtle-neck sweaters makes me come to life like a reverse, melancholy effect of a springtime rose. When things decay, I suppose my spirit is energized? Ironic how that works.

One day I’ll write that thousand-paged thesis about why I love the fall as much as I do, but for now I’ll keep this short and practical.

Starting with example number one: apple picking. 

Each year I would go apple-picking with my family, either around upstate New York or out east on Long Island. While the east has its own magical makings, I prefer going north where the natural environment seems to have taken over the towns like a segment from Snow White‘s the dark forest. The last two years have been fairly rough, however. My parents got divorced and I transferred to a new college, miles away from my home. I believe things happen for a reason, and the friends I’ve met within just the first three weeks at my new campus are all wonderful and kind people. So when I mentioned apple picking, they were all as excited to go explore the terrain north of our school as I was.

We went to Masker Orchard in Warwick, NY. Although many of the apples weren’t ripe for picking just yet, there were thousands to choose from. And with a view sitting atop a mountain, looking out over the farms and the houses, it felt surreal to be up there— as if we had been dropped in a different era. It helped that since we went so early in the season there were only a few other guests in attendance, which meant we were able to shoot more freely and with a wider scope!

To make things even better, originally the temperature was in the mid-sixties but a storm passed overhead as we were shooting and the cold draft and grey skies made for a perfect atmospheric photo session. Of course, as soon as it began pouring we headed into town with our bags of apples to eat with the locals.

I can’t wait to go back. With the Renaissance Faire nearby, I’m sure I’ll be headed up there within the next few weeks. //

Music Recommendation: Tiger Mountain Peasant Song by Fleet Foxes.