Trust me, the nature of men is fickle: Reviewing The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

Hi everyone! I hope you are doing well and thank you for continuing to read my reviews. I’ve been on a roll lately with no intention of stopping any time soon. So, in case I never told any of you, I have studied Latin for eight years in total. I fell in love with it in high school and went on to earn a minor in undergrad. In the process of learning Latin, I became fascinated with ancient Rome. With all that being said, I was naturally drawn to this particular novel set in Pompeii. Now, let’s get into The Wolf Den.

Amara began life as the beloved only daughter of a Greek doctor. When her father passed, Amara’s mother sold her into slavery in a desperate attempt to get out of poverty. Now, Amara works for the infamous brothel, the Wolf Den, run by a ruthless and cruel man named Felix. She is not completely alone though, as she has formed strong bonds with her fellow she-wolves. Amara is determined to earn her own freedom using her intelligence. When she finds the perfect opportunity, Amara can work her way up to the highest rungs of Pompeiian society. She soon discovers that everything has a cost and she must be willing to pay, one way or another.

Major content warning: the novel does contain scenes of sexual assault, self-harm, and harsh language. With that being said, this was a well-crafted and carefully-paced drama. I love the careful attention to detail that Elodie Harper puts into this novel. Historical novels can be rather tricky, but this one captures the spirit of Pompeii with great accuracy, for better or worse. Harper does handle the subject matter of women working in a brothel with care and honesty. I was initially worried that the book was going to be gratuitous with sex, but Harper does not focus on the more graphic parts. Nor does she hide the reality of what life was like for a prostitute in Ancient Rome. The female characters are fully fleshed out and complex in their own unique ways. While this novel might not be everyone’s “cup of tea,” if you are looking for a compelling historical drama with strong female leads, then I would highly recommend The Wolf Den.

Intimacy is About Truth: Reviewing The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Hi everyone! I hope you are all doing well. This review is a bit of a departure for me as this book is typically within my favorite genre, but sometimes you just need to embrace the impulse. Many of you are probably aware that this book has become a darling on BookTok so I will now offer my review of it. Let’s get into The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Monique Grant is stuck. Between her stagnant writing career and divorce, she is looking for something pull her out of her slump. Out of the blue, she is approached by the glamorous and enigmatic Evelyn Hugo to write her biography. Together, the two women explore Evelyn’s complicated love life and storied career in Hollywood. It becomes clear to Monique that her and Evelyn’s stories are tied in ways she couldn’t imagine and that this woman will change her life forever.

This was a suprising novel to me for many reasons. First of all, I was expecting something rather explicing and scandalous. Reid, however, takes an honest and emotional look at the complicated lives of celebrities. Evelyn Hugo is a fascinating character to study who is as multi-faceted as a gem. While Monique is mostly in the background, she does bridge the gap between the Golden Age of Hollywood and the world of modern fame. Most importantly, this novel has wonderful LGBTQ+ representation as it explores the complicated lives of those forced to hide their love from the public eye. I was truly captivated by this book. In my opinion, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo defies expectations, which is essential to the overall theme of the book.

Sing, Muse, he said, and I have sung: Reviewing A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Hello everybody! I am out here trying not to be too whiney about the cold but I really hate winter, especially a late winter. What better to get my mind off the weather than a good book and this is a good one. In case you didn’t know, I am a big fan of mythology particularly Greek myths. I have studied Latin for quite a few years and have done my fair share of translating the classics like The Illiad and The Odyssey. It is always nice to have a fresh take on these tried and true classics, so let’s talk about A Thousand Ships.

After ten long years of fighting, Troy is destroyed in a single night and the women of the city are left at the mercy of the Greeks. Their stories are often pushed off to the side in favor of their male counterparts. This epic, however, focuses on the women, both Trojan and Greek, and their side of the story. From the three goddesses who had a hand in starting the war, to Hecuba watching her kingdom fall, and Penelope waiting patiently for her husband, these women among many had their lives shaped forever by the ten year war.

I am all here for a feminist retelling of the Illiad and Odyssey, which Natalie Haynes certainly delivers. Haynes dives deep into layered emotions, complicated situations, and trauma throughout the various stories. The writing varies with some stories being brief and poignant and others being longer and contemplative. Many of these characters that Haynes brings to light are often just footnotes in the epics. This novel makes a powerful statement about the often neglected female characters and is delivered with intelligent and provocative writing. It should come to no surprise then when I say that I highly recommend A Thousand Ships to any fans of Homer’s original epics.

I was quiet, but I was not blind: Reviewing Mary B. by Katherine J. Chen

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well and staying warm. I have always hated snow, personally. This is my second “retelling” novel I am reviewing and I have a third in my TBR list. Funny enough, this particular book was actually a gift from my aunt. Most people assume that, when you are a woman in a literary field, you must love Jane Austen. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, I am not a die hard Jane Austen fan but I would like to be one day, admittedly. So, let’s talk about the often forgotten Bennet sister, Mary. (Note: I will leave a content warning at the very bottom of this post. It is also somewhat of a spoiler but I wanted to include it regardless.)

As the middle child of the Bennet family, Mary is often forgotten. Unlike her sisters, she is not renowned for her beauty or charm. Mary, though, is painfully aware that it is convention that she find a husband in order to have a secure life. In her despair, however, she finds solace through writing her own fictional novels. As tragedy and scandal strike the Bennet family, Mary must learn to come into her own as a woman in a time of strict social boundaries.

I am a bit biased towards this book as I deeply related to Mary as a bookish woman in her twenties. Chen’s overall take on the Bennett family shows in a more realistic light, creating and taking away sympathy. Mary is well fleshed out as a protagonist as she tries to figure out where she wants to be in life. The novel is honest in its depiction of women trying to navigate their ways in a time where options were limited. It is even rather heart- breaking in its truthfulness. Chen does not diminish any of the hope that Austen initially created. She simply shows a different side of the romantic notions which endeared us to Pride and Prejudice. Mary B is a fully fleshed out portrait of the lesser known Bennett sister’s journey of self – discovery and I highly recommend this to any Austen fan.

Content Warning: The novel does contain a graphic scene involving the loss of an infant and further discussion of the topic.

Half Pleasure and Half Pain: Reviewing The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

Hi everyone! I promise that I’m still doing my best to bring you book reviews but life keeps interfering. You all know how it is. I wish I could just shut the world out and read and read and read, but I have things to accomplish. You all don’t need me to ramble any more so let’s talk about The Betrayals by Bridget Collins.

Leo Martin was once a promising student at Montverre, a prestigious academy with a long history involving the grand jeu. The grand jeu is a complex game involving art, math, philosophy, among other subjects, which Leo excelled at until tragedy struck. After his career in politics is ended by a small action, Leo is forced to return to Montverre only to find that his once beloved school has changed. The most highly sought out position is now held by the first woman, Claire Dryden, who resents Leo’s presence. As the Midsummer Games approach, Leo must come to terms with the tragedy that befell him so many years ago and face an even more uncertain future.

Even as I am writing this review, I am still not entirely sure how to feel about this novel. It took a while for me to properly enjoy it but that is merely my opinion. From a technical standpoint, Collins crafts an intricate world with as many moving pieces as the grand jeu which takes center stage. This is very much a character centric novel and I certainly did feel that emotional pull. The world around them, though, I had a hard time truly appreciating. This book might take me another try for me to fully appreciate it. I found the pacing to be slow but that worked towards the overall plot. It was certainly dramatic, though, and I did enjoy that. I would definitely argue that this is a “dark academia” kind of novel. Though this was not my new favorite, I did certainly enjoy the drama and the aesthetics of The Betrayals.

Bloody, Bold, and Resolute: Reviewing If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Hello everyone! I have officially survived my final semester of grad school and tomorrow I will have officially have a Masters degree. Needless to say, I am equal parts exhausted and excited. I am mostly looking forward to being able to read what I want for the foreseeable future. In all my excitement, I am going to give you my review of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. (Side note: Many of the books I’m reading I found on the book side of Tik Tok or Book Tok).

Oliver Marks is one of seven eager Shakespearean actors attending the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Their days are filled with friendly, but fierce competition as they rise above the ranks and get the leading roles. Each member, though, plays their own role in the group that reflects the characters they play on stage. As tensions begin to rise and the competition turns fierce, a mysterious tragedy strike the group. Now, Oliver and his fellow thespians must uncover what happened and use their skills as actors to convince everyone else of their innocence.

As a fan of Shakespeare (and theater in general) and dark academia, this book had my name written all over it. I also loved a good whodunnit mystery. If We Were Villains is a perfect combination of all of those elements. Rio does an excellent job combining the prose and play narrative structures while also emphasizing the richness of theater and the sketchy reality of prestigious university. You all may know that I am a huge fan of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and this novel is very much in the vein of that genre. Overall, I thoroughly enjoy the way this novel unfolds and I would consider it essential for any fan of dark academia novels.

We will make another path: Reviewing A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Hi everybody! I hope everyone is still doing their best to stay safe and sane as we continue forward with lockdown or quarantine or whatever you want to call it. I am a week away from being done with this semester. It’s a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I’ll have a break from the pressures of grad school and having to deal with online classes. On the other hand, I will be incredibly bored. I still have a stack of books I’m so excited to get through, though. While I wait to be free, I decided to review another book I read this semester. It isn’t what I would choose to read but I am very glad I read it. Here is my review of A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

Rafiq and Layla have only wanted what was best for their children, but tragedy drives their family apart. Now, on the day of their eldest daughter’s wedding, they must come to terms with the tragic past that has haunted them. First, they must come to terms with Hadia’s untraditional marriage, then their second daughter Huda’s determination to follow her sister’s path, and finally, they must try to reach out to their youngest and only son Amar, who has been estranged for the last three years. The family must learn to forgive the past in order to create a better future.

Like I said, this was a required novel so normally it is not something I would choose to read so I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. I am even writing my final paper on it. The writing is delicate and doesn’t pressure you to choose any one side as conflict happens. The characters are perfectly imperfect, which makes them feel like real humans. Mirza’s attention to detail within this non-linear novel is what makes this novel so unique. With the main family being Indian and Muslim, it offers a different perspective on tradition and culture. I think it is always important to explore other cultures, especially through literature. Even when Mirza touches on topics that are still rather taboo, like addiction, she handles it beautifully and carefully by offering multiple perspectives. The book is as heart warming as it is heart breaking with such great attention to detail. I would highly recommend this book if you are looking for a good tear jerker with a lovely message.

an explainer of my own unique journey: Reviewing Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Hi everyone! I apologize for my prolonged absence from this blog. I’ve been teaching classes and as well as taking classes. I am cheating slightly because I did read this book for a class but I really wanted to bring awareness about this novel. It is important to me to breakthrough my usual genres and explore more. I want to widen the discussion and become more aware of social issues that exist outside of my realm. That is why I will be talking to you about Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.

In Evaristo’s most recent novel, she explores identity, intersectionality, feminism, and other social issues through the interconnected lives of her characters. From a radical lesbian playwright, to a gender non-binary influencer, to a ninety three – year – old woman, these stories all involve complex internal and external issues they must face in order to full realize themselves in this heartfelt, charming, and unforgettable novel.

This novel is hard to describe but it is truly incredible. Evaristo plays with form and narration in order to make the novel so much more impactful. I was truly entranced by this novel and the areas it explored. Evaristo includes a very British sense of humor and self-awareness in order to bring you as a reader closer to the story. Since the characters come from all walks of life, it is easy to find someone to gravitate to. The way Evaristo blends together wider social issues with very personal stories is brilliant. It shows that we are all learning and no one is perfect, no matter who they are. I learned a lot from Girl, Woman, Other and it really redefined women’s literature for me. You don’t need to be British or a woman to fully appreciate this novel, which would certainly be a good pick for a book club. I cannot recommend this novel enough as it is perfect for casual or critical reading.

PS: If you had this novel, I would love to talk about it more with you so let me know in the comments.

To devour what they left behind…:Reviewing The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Hi everybody! I know, I know. It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to finish this novel, but I’m super excited to share this with you. Lately, I’ve been on a historical mystery kick. I feel the genre is very under appreciated. Despite this book taking me forever to read (not because of length, but because I’m lazy), it was absolutely worth my time. Now let’s talk about The Shadow of the Wind.

Daniel Sempere was just a young boy when his father took him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He immediately found himself drawn to The Shadow of the Wind, written by the enigmatic Julian Carax. Being the son of a bookseller, Daniel uses his father’s connections to find more books by Carax. Soon, he finds out that all of Carax’s books have been destroyed and he may have the only remaining book of Carax. Daniel’s search for the truth reveals the dark and tangled web of Barcelona, full of murder, lies, and forbidden love.

Zafon’s twisted and intricate novel is worth the deep dive that requires to read it. Admittedly, it can be a bit of the struggle to keep up with the plot as so many characters are being introduced at every turn, but it all ties together in the end. There are points in this book that made me audibly gasp. Some people might say I’m spoiling the book by saying it has plot twists, but they are amazing plot twists. It is a mystery, after all. That is part of the genre. This novel is immersive, suspenseful, and thoughtful all at once. The atmosphere of Zafon’s depiction of Barcelona in 1945 is enough to pull the reader into the story. The novel has bits and pieces of many other genres, which is what makes it so interesting to read. I highly recommend The Shadow of the Wind to just anyone at all as it has something to satisfy every reader and will keep you hanging on until the very end.

Who Wants To Live Forever?: Reviewing The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Hi everyone! I know it has been way too long since I’ve posted last. I’m trying not to neglect this blog but life happens sometimes and, unfortunately, that prevents me from reading. Anyways, I wanted to talk about a novel that I went in knowing nothing about and only picked up because I heard good reviews. Sometimes, you never know what you’re going to find. I will now tell you about Chloe Benjamin’s¬†The Immortalists.¬†

In the summer of 1969, Daniel Gold heard rumors of a woman in his apartment building who could predict the future. Eager to know his fate, he convinces his three siblings to come with him and they each learned what day they would die on. Over the next fifty years, the Gold siblings must deal with this information. The youngest, Simon, runs away to San Francisco with no direction. Klara studies to become a magician, dreaming that she may defy death. Daniel struggles to maintain his career as an Army doctor. The oldest, Varya, studies longevity. As the lives of the Gold siblings unfold, each must learn what it means to live forever and what to do when you know on what day your life will end.

Like I said, I picked up this book with no real expectations and I have to say that I was impressed by what I read. Benjamin’s writing has a surreal and almost magical feeling while the plot itself is very much steeped in reality. The characters are very well fleshed out and dynamic in their own ways. The story does span a large amount of time but Benjamin dedicates plenty of time and detail to each story without making it feel as though it’s dragging on. The novel is part love story, part family drama, part mystery, and part tragedy. Benjamin does an excellent job testing the idea of fate versus free will without getting overly philosophical. There’s still plenty of philosophy but it is woven into the story lines.¬†The Immortalists¬†certainly surprised me in all of the best ways and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone.