Now that it's summer, I've had a lot of free time. And between obsessively watching Gilmore Girls, playing TwoDots, and searching for my apparently long-lost Zoombini's CD, I've been reading. A lot. I've already read something like thirteen books in July alone, and I've still got dozens on my to-read list. But today, I'm focusing on a select four of the books that I read last month. Although historical fiction seems to be a rather polarising genre- you either love it, or you hate it to bits- it's always been one of my favourites. From The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory, to Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (one of my favourite books ever!), I will eat up any kind of historical fiction that you give me, regardless of the place or the era.
Historical fiction is so fascinating because it reminds you of the sheer power that fiction has: the words on the page transport you to another world. Circumstances and events that happened so long ago are evoked vividly on the page. It's an absolutely magical experience!
Without further adue, the four historical books that I read in June are: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Orphan Train by Melissa Baker Kline, Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Septys and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.
(Fair warning: I've never actually written a book review before. I just thought it'd be interesting to try because I love books and I love to write, so I might as well write about books. If this fails horribly and terribly, we can pretend like it never happened).
(Also, I realise it's mid-July now, but never mind).
|my copies of the books (except AGaTB, that's from the library)|
The characters were fairly good. I really liked Gemma, and the supporting characters were also very interesting to read about (despite being incredibly one-dimensional). But the plot, overall, felt rather weak. It had a good basis, but the execution felt awkward- things weren't fully explained, there wasn't enough time devoted to important scenes. Overall, it ended up feeling very rushed, for scenes of no importance were dragged out, while others lagged. Due to this, the plot was very difficult to follow.
Overall, I wouldn't recommend it. Perhaps it gets better as the series goes on, but after this lacklustre first book, I doubt I'll be reading the rest of the series.
|An orphan train|
I'm so glad that I decided to get it, because it was an amazing reading experience. Like, amazing. There are two intertwined storylines: an orphan, Molly, helps an older lady, Vivian, clean up her attic as part of her community service. There, she learns a great deal about Vivian's past: she was an Irish orphan who was adopted into various American families as part of the orphan train movement. Both storylines are equally gripping, and it's very easy to get emotionally invested in the characters. I usually find that dual-storyline novels can get a little tedious because often, one plot is more interesting than the other. This is something that rarely occurs in Orphan Train; you are never left feeling dissatisfied by the switches in point of view.
The ending of the novel is what really makes it for me. While on the surface, the novel may simply seem to be the story of a young girl aboard an orphan train, it's a much deeper exploration of family, love, relationships and culture. I don't want to give anything away, but the novel ends on a beautiful, poignant note. Ten out of ten, would recommend.
Lina herself is a particularly enjoyable character to read about, although she is a little two-dimensional. What really brings her to life is her interactions with her mother, her younger brother and another boy at the camp. Through Lina's eyes, we see the double standards present, along with the comradeship, yet distance, between the fellow prisoners. Septys really makes you get attached to her characters (and then SHE BRUTALLY RIPS YOUR FAVOURITE ONES AWAY FROM YOU- sorry, slight spoiler alert).
The book is a lovely narrative, a little slow-moving in places, but a wonderful read all the same. It's quite light, and very easy to gobble up in a day.
The fourth and final book that I read was The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller. This retelling of The Iliad from Patroclus' perspective focuses on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, interpreted here as being of a homosexual nature. The book took Miller ten years to write, and won several awards.
This book left me feeling a little torn. The actual writing was good- the prose was wonderfully vivid and well-written, but I just couldn't like the characters. In my opinion, any novel needs a compelling narrator. That doesn't mean that they have to be good people-- in fact, flawed narrators make for some of the best reading experiences (I mean, who doesn't love The Murder of Roger Ackroyd?), but they need to be interesting. Patroclus is quite the opposite of that; rather, he's incredibly passive. It seems as if he's floating through life, unable to make any decisions for himself. We only really ever see one side of the character; there's no development whatsoever, despite certain situations ripe for it. It's much the same with Achilles.
The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was also disappointing. It had so much potential, which was all wasted through badly written, soft-core love scenes, and declarations of love that were never supported. We heard plenty about how Patroclus felt about Achilles, but we rarely saw it: not until the very end (the end, itself, was rather tedious: post the war declaration, I found myself skimming through it). Overall, despite loving Greek mythology and the original Iliad, I found this book rather disappointing. Interestingly, it seems to be a rather polarising text: while some loved it, others hated it.
So, in conclusion, last month held both great successes and great disappointments where historical fiction was concerned. I've already made headway on several more books since reading these (Go Set A Watchman, Atonement etc.), and perhaps shall follow up this post with another book roundup.
Do you have any favourite historical novels? Please feel free to share your recommendations in the comment section below- I'm always looking for new books to read and add to my never-ending 'to-read' list!