Friday, 7 August 2015

Summer's Best



There you have it: my five-star reads, the three best books I've read this summer. SO FAR.

~***~


If life had no love in it, what else was there for Maggie?

As a young girl, Maggie Tulliver has her griefs and her joys. Her world revolves around her older brother Tom, her love of books, and the desire that she cannot speak: the thrill of something greater in her life, the need for something beyond the ordinary. The Mill on the Floss follows her through childhood and into her walk as a young woman, faced by the pressures and constraints of family life; the conflict between her duty and her desire for some greater life; and the pangs of her first love. 

This was my second Eliot; I read Adam Bede last May (review here) and, after loving it, was eager to try some more. The Mill on the Floss lived up to every expectation; it was captivating, beautiful, perfect.

I really loved the character of Maggie. She longed for love from her parents, from her brother; she was always buffeted back by their ideals of the daughter or the sister that she could not be. Her mother wished her to be quiet, peaceful, dutiful; she was impetuous, rash, wild, burning with passion. She loved and raged in equal measure; no emotion came by halves for Maggie, which I admired and related to.

What was it, he wondered, that made Maggie's dark eyes remind him of the stories about princesses being turned into animals?


These bitter sorrows of childhood! when sorrow is all new and strange, when hope has not yet got wings to fly beyond the days and weeks, and the space from summer to summer seems measureless.

The themes of the book were very interesting. It presented a central theme of suffering, asking the question: to what extent do we suffer by our own faults, and to what extent by circumstance? Even now, almost a month after I read it, I am still considering this question. It also presented social life in a comedic way, with Austen-like astuteness.

I loved the relationships, too. Whilst Jane Austen's love stories tend to be straightforward, if not predictable, at least tidy and happy, Eliot explores love and passion in a messier and more complex way. Predicting Maggie's emotions was impossible, and Eliot certainly captured the confusion of first love and the paradoxical strength of warring emotions. 

More than that, the prose was utterly beautiful. Eliot has an incredible way of capturing the countryside, describing the landscape. Her work is a marvellous ode to an England that is gone. It has a wistful beauty. 

The wood I walk in on this mild May day, with the young yellow-brown foliage of the oaks between me and the blue sky, the white star-flowers and the blue-eyed speedwell and the ground ivy at my feet, what grove of tropic palms, what strange ferns or splendid broad-petalled blossoms, could ever thrill such deep and delicate fibres within me as this home scene? These familiar flowers, these well-remembered bird-notes, this sky, with its fitful brightness, these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of personality given to it by the capricious hedgerows,—such things as these are the mother-tongue of our imagination, the language that is laden with all the subtle, inextricable associations the fleeting hours of our childhood left behind them. Our delight in the sunshine on the deep-bladed grass to-day might be no more than the faint perception of wearied souls, if it were not for the sunshine and the grass in the far-off years which still live in us, and transform our perception into love.

~***~




In Mercy Falls, Grace lives a normal life: home, school, her eccentric parents and loving best friends. But her house is the last human outpost before the woods begin, and in them, Grace's well-ordered life cannot exist. They are the woods of dark, the woods of winter, and by night the wolves howl there.

At the age of twelve the boundary between home and the woods is broken for Grace, when the pack drags her from her garden and tries to kill her. She survives the attack, but she can never quite forget the strange pull that the wolves have on her, in particular one yellow-eyed beast. And when, years later, the pack kills a local boy, the memories and the yellow eyes come for Grace, calling from the past.

I may have mentioned, once or twice or sixty-nine thousand times, how much I love The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I was, of course, desperate to try Shiver, and I wasn't disappointed.

It was the perfect YA. I love paranormal/urban fantasy - like, a lot - although I wasn't sure if Shiver's brand of the genre would be quite my cup of tea. The thing (one of the many things) I love about The Raven Cycle is the magic elements, and Shiver is less magic, more werewolves. After Twilight I was dubious. But in fact the whole otherworldly element was brilliantly executed. Stiefvater was definitely not playing up to the YA Trash Trope of the moody vampire/steamy werewolf male lead. Sam was so much more; so much better.

I adored the relationship between Sam and Grace; they were insanely shippable, and I loved both of their characters. Grace is hard-headed, practical, controlled; Sam is a songwriter, a boy who is at once an emotional whirlpool and the kindest, most grounded character you could imagine.


"Sensitive," I tried.
"Squishy," Sam translated.
"Creative."

"Dangerously emo."
"Thoughtful."
"Feng shui."

I laughed so hard I snorted.
"How did you get feng shui out of thoughtful?"
"You know, because in feng shui, you arrange funiture and plants and stuff in thoughtful ways.” 

Of course, the plot was A+, and I am super excited to read the next book, Linger. All in all Shiver was a glorious book and I highly recommend it to one and all. (I didn't love it as much as I love The Raven Cycle. But come on now. That's just not going to happen.)

~***~




 1914. The Great War. The war to end all wars. You did not think. You just fought.

Frederic Henry is a lieutenant in the Italian army. Like thousands of others he is embroiled in the "mud, blood and futility" of WW1, living in bravery and friendship, existing amongst wounds and slaughter. A Farewell to Arms is his story, and the story of the nurse he meets in Italy: their story, of a love that rises above the pain of separation and the horror of the First World War.


For school next year I am studying Advanced Higher English. This involves me writing a dissertation. This involved me, before the summer, making a list of intelligent-sounding books and borrowing them from the library. A Farewell to Arms was one such.

I did not know what to expect; I've never read Hemingway before. Would it be beautiful, excellent, wonderful? Or would it be one of those classics that you can see is probably very clever but you actually don't enjoy? Deeply, marvellously, stunningly, it was the former.

A Farewell to Arms was a glorious book. I find books about war so interesting, because they show you the raw, terrible side; but also the disillusionment, the disorganisation, and the boredom. The character of Frederic was boyish, believable, pitiable: just a young man sent off to Italy, given a gun to wear, with no idea what he was doing.

It was so so cool reading lines I'd read on Pinterest/Goodreads and being like OH THIS IS THE BIT!
The love story was immensely powerful. It began confusingly, but it developed in a beautifully human way, and I found myself growing a deep love for Frederic, and for Catherine, and for their love for one another.


Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together.”


As for the prose, it was uncompromising and unparalleled. Hemingway has this incredible direct style, which has this metallic beauty: jarring, blinding, yet like a lullaby.

Now in the fall the trees were all bare and the roads were muddy. I rode to Gorizia from Udine on a camion. We passed other camions on the road and I looked at the country. The mulberry trees were bare and the fields were brown. There were wet dead leaves on the road from the rows of bare trees and men were working on the road, tamping stone in the ruts from piles of crushed stone along the side of the road be- tween the trees. We saw the town with a mist over it that cut off the mountains. We crossed the river and I saw that it was running high. It had been raining in the mountains. We came into the town past the fac- tories and then the houses and villas and I saw that many more houses had been hit On a narrow street we passed a British Red Cross ambulance. The driver wore a cap and his face was thin and very tanned. I did not know him. I got down from the camion in the big square in front of the Town Major's house, the driver handed down my rucksack and I put it on and swung on the two musettes and walked to our villa. 

It did not feel like a homecoming. 

~***~


Don't be afraid of classics. Read A Farewell to Arms.

What's the best book you've read this summer? Do tell. And what else have you been up to?


14 comments:

  1. omg i'm so glad you included quotes for Shiver. It's been so long since I've read that book. I need to go back and read it again. Those quotes you added made me smile xD

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    1. That bit in Shiver is so funny! I love Sam/Grace so much. Like, so so much.

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  2. Yes! I need to read Farewell to Arms! I've dabbled in Hemingway, but never read any of this full length novels. After reading The Paris Wife (which is about his first wife), I was inspired to read more of his stuff, but I haven't got around to it yet.

    Good luck with your English course!

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    1. It is marvellous, I so enjoyed it! It was the first Hemingway I'd read and I'm desperate to read some more!

      Thanks, Sunny :)

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  3. The Mill on the Floss, you make me want to read it.

    Did you write the blurbs yourself? They're very beautiful. Much better than the ones I usually read.

    A Farewell to Arms! I want to read that one now too! It sounds realistic and yet romantic at the same time. I love books like that.

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    1. YOU MUST.

      I did indeed. Thanks very much! It's a skill I've developed. I don't hold much by Goodreads blurbs, if I'm honest. I am trying to perfect the art of writing my own.

      "Realistic yet romantic" is an absolutely PERFECT way of describing it. It shows the realism of romance! Ugh, it's wonderful. You should 100% read it.

      PS I see you skilfully avoid the topic of Shiver. ~narrows eyes~ I will convert you to Stiefvater. Even if it kills me, I'll see it done.

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    2. Most blurbs aren't all that great. I hardly even read them any more. Yours are amazing though! I would actually read blurbs and feel motivated to read the book if you wrote them.

      My TBR list grows by the miles. Emily, what are you doing to me!?

      P. S. Avoid the-- What? I don't know what you're talking about. Heh.

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    3. Really? Thanks! I actually do think I might go into publishing or something so WHO KNOWS, maybe one day my blurbs will be bared to the world!

      You're welcome.

      YOU WILL NOT FOOL ME. Seriously, though, Shiver is REALLY REALLY GOOD. You will REALLY REALLY LIKE IT. Maybe if I USE ENOUGH CAP LOCKS I can CONVINCE YOU, RIGHT?

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  4. Maggie Stiefvater's one of my favorites by far! Have you read The Scorpio Races yet because if you haven't you must read it! :)

    It's been a while since I've read A Farewell to Arms but that's a classic and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    I haven't read The Mill on the Floss yet but I would really like to some day. I know my library has a very old copy I would like to sit down with though! I don't think I've read anything by Eliot actually...

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    1. Not yet! But as soon as I get my hands on it!

      I loved it so much <3

      Eliot is marvellous. I would 900% recommend!

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  5. AFJDLKAFSD MAGGIE STIFEVATER!!!! *flails for nine million years* OH HOW I LOOOOVE ALL HER BOOKS. I just finished a reread of Forever. :') It's so perfect. Just WAIT till you meet Cole. He's a bit like Ronan, but Cole is talkative and totally insufferable and jfdaklfsd I love him so much. And also Sam. How is Sam so kind and adorable and dreamy and sweet?! HOW. And he buys Grace books. And he has a tragic childhood. AND JUST YEAH. I LOVE THAT SERIES SO MUCH.

    *whispers* Congrats on finishing your book!! :DD

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    1. I'M SO EXCITED TO MEET COLE BECAUSE EVERYONE LOVES HIM! A talkative Ronan? Amazing! I absolutely adore Sam <3

      Thanks! :D

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  6. I'm glad you found some awesome reads this summer! The only one I've read out of these three are Shiver, but I DNFed that one because the writing and the characters simply didn't work for me :( I do love the author though.

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    1. As am I! Aah, that is sad. Maybe you'll come back to it one day ;) But yes, Stiefvater is queen.

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Thanks for commenting! :)