Scottish Reads

Circus of Wonders

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.

I intended to read this book way back in November. I even took a photo of it at the Christmas market in town, I was so certain that I’d read it before the end of the year. Spoiler: I did not read it before te end of 2021. I did read it this month though and what a treat it was! I gave this 4 stars and I continue to enjoy Elizabeth Macneal just as much as I did before.

This book was told from three different points of view: Nell, Jasper, and Toby. Nell’s father had sold her to the circus which was an utterly heartbreaking story. I really enjoyed her growth in confidence and she started to believe in a future for herself. I absolutely loved her friendship with the other women in the circus. Jasper was the circus master, he was self centred, egotistical, and had a cruel and violent streak. I absolutely hated him. I think I was supposed to hate him. The third narrative came from Toby who was Jasper’s brother who was somewhat of a gentle giant, he was very large but seemed to be mild mannered. Toby was the most layered of the characters as he seemed like a nice guy but was also a secret creeper. This isn’t a spoiler as the signs are there right from the start. I loved getting multiple points of view.

The subject of people being circus acts is horrific and dehumanising, this was never going to be a cheery book. It felt like the subject was handled with respect and compassion towards the real people who were affected by the egos of circus masters. This book did include references to real people who had worked as acts and this just made the book feel so real! Macneal is amazing at writing dark stories that would normally fill me with despair but she left me feeling hopeful.

This book was a very eye opening look into events that happened in the past. They were not glamourised and the book was quite sad. I really did enjoy this book and I’m so annoyed at myself for taking so long to read it!

Scottish Reads, Vlogs

Reading Scottish May Wrap Up

As you may know, I’m a huge fan of Scottish literature and have been making a conscious effort to read more of it. Every month I like to make a wrap up of my Scottish reads and this month is no different…apart from that I read a non-fiction which made me cry with laughter, so I’ve included that too!

This month, my Scottish reads were:

⛴ Conviction by Denise Mina

🎪 Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

🤿 The Sound at the End by Kirsty Logan

📕 Nothing Left Unsaid by Janey Godley

🏩 Single Taken Cursed by Nikki Bell*

Let’s ignore my hair in this video, it had a moment of madness

If you’ve read any enjoyable Scottish fiction (or non-fiction as it seems that I’m reading more of that these days), I’d love to hear about it!

*gifted

Reviews

Goldilocks

The Earth is in environmental collapse. The future of humanity hangs in the balance. But a team of women are preparing to save it. Even if they’ll need to steal a spaceship to do it.

Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.

The team is humanity’s last hope for survival, and Valerie has gathered the best women for the mission: an ace pilot who is one of the only astronauts ever to have gone to Mars; a brilliant engineer tasked with keeping the ship fully operational; and an experienced doctor to keep the crew alive. And then there’s Naomi Lovelace, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, who has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity to step out of Valerie’s shadow and make a difference.

The problem is that they’re not the authorized crew, even if Valerie was the one to fully plan the voyage. When their mission is stolen from them, they steal the ship bound for the new planet.

But when things start going wrong on board, Naomi begins to suspect that someone is concealing a terrible secret — and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared . . .

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages so I am so happy that it finally got a time to shine. This book did indeed shine! I gave this book five stars and I was so sad that there is no 6/5 rating or a wee gold star I can add because five stars felt inadequate.

I have been saying for so long that I want to read more sci-fi. Sci-fi and fantasy are my favourite genres (along with Murder mysteries) but for whatever reason, I haven’t found myself reaching for a sci-fi book for a long time. I know the reason, I read a bad one and I got scared of reading another unfulfilling space romp. This book was the perfect reintroduction to sci-fi. This was more a sci-fi thriller than pure sci-fi, which I wasn’t expecting but it was a pleasant surprise.

I felt instantly drawn into the action. From the first chapter I was hooked and felt invested in the mission. This was a very fast paced story and it felt like no words were wasted, everything felt relevant.

I loved the characters. Of the characters on the ship; there were five of them and they were all strong, smart, and capable women. If there’s one thing I want in my novels, it’s a strong female character. These women were the best in their fields but because of the way the world was, they lost out due purely to being female. We got a look into the characters’ backstories and I really felt like I got to know them all and care about them.

Straight away there was an element of doubt. I wasn’t sure if there was someone being sneaky or whether it was the whole space ship thing that made me suspicious. I loved not being sure!

The stakes in this plot were high. As a human, what could be higher than the fate of the earth and humanity itself? The world didn’t feel too unrealistic a version of our own. This book really gave a picture of what could happen to the world if we don’t start treating her better. This book also came out around about the time of the current pandemic so it was really interesting having a book that referenced it. This may be the first novel I’ve read that mentioned it.

I was so excited reading about the theft of the spaceship and about space travel. This was more of a realistic space travel story than I’m used to so it was really interesting to learn some things along the way.

The attitude of the world towards women made me so angry! That women were to just make one baby and not have any career just infuriated me. If this is your choice then I wholeheartedly support that but it was the fact that choice had been removed, that is what annoyed me. This book actually had some foreshadowing to events happening right now. Maybe I read a psychic book?

The chapters flitted between times and locations but this didn’t feel disorienting. While one chapter could be in space and the next in Scotland, they tied in really well or provided an explanation. This aided to the fast pace of the novel.

I absolutely loved this book and it’s reignited my love of sci-fi! I also have heard that this author has written some fantasy which I will be looking up. I’m so happy to have found this book. It was so scary to think that this could happen!

Reviews

Greek Mythology Adaptations That I Have Recently Loved

I recently read two amazing books that were inspired by Greek mythology. Since there was some overlap between these two myths, I wanted to review them in the same post. It only felt right.

Each of these books were 5 star reads for me, I absolutely adored them. I loved them for some of the same reasons, the main reason being that these books both covered women who have traditionally been forgotten in Greek mythology and have stood in the shadows of others (Theseus, Perseus, Poseidon etc.). Medusa and Ariadne finally have starring roles in their own stories and this was something that excited me!

Exiled to a far-flung island by the whims of the gods, Medusa has little company except the snakes that adorn her head instead of hair. But when a charmed, beautiful boy called Perseus arrives on the island, her lonely existence is disrupted with the force of a supernova, unleashing desire, love, betrayal . and destiny itself.

Filled with glorious full-colour illustrations by award-winning Olivia Lomenech Gill, this astonishing retelling of Greek myth is perfect for readers of Circe and The Silence of the Girls. Illuminating the girl behind the legend, it brings alive Medusa for a new generation.

Medusa is a myth that I’ve been familiar with for such a long time and it’s always intrigued me. I know how she ended up with snakes for hair and I knew of her demise but the middle…I had no knowledge of what happened between those periods. This book helped to fill in the blanks and it felt like a lovely homage to this tragic tale.

The story started with Medusa already banished. I liked this because it allowed Medusa to be the star of their own story. The tale of why Medusa was cursed has been told so many times that I didn’t miss it and was happy to start the story four years later with her having built a new life with her sisters.

Medusa was so lonely and wary of kindness. I really enjoyed her budding friendship with Perseus but knowing that it couldn’t end well, this really enhanced the feeling of foreboding!

I really enjoyed this adaptation and the voice given to Medusa. The illustrations were just gorgeous. This was such a joy to read and I was already a huge Jessie Burton fan and that remains the case.

Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid’s stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice.

When Theseus, the Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne’s decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?

This was another story that I kind of knew but I only knew about Ariadne as a side character in the story of Theseus. I hated Theseus even before reading this adaptation.

I could totally understand why Ariadne ended up being betrayed by Theseus after betraying her father. He was so charming and I would have fallen for his charm too. My heart broke for her when she was on that island.

I enjoyed learning about Ariadne and her love for her mother and siblings. I had only known her as a tragic character but this book let me get to know the woman behind the defeat of the Minotaur.

There were four parts to this story: Theseus and the Minotaur, Ariadne and Phaedra after the fall of Crete, the sisters reunited, and the death of Ariadne. Elements of each of these parts were familiar to me but from the male perspective of Theseus, Perseus, Dionysus etc.

Didn’t want this book to end!

I am a huge fan of Greek mythology. As a child, my sister and I used to read the leather bound Greek mythology tomes that my mother had picked up. The stories are so familiar to be and I’m always on the hunt for a new adaptation to enjoy. I especially love stories that give me a story I’ve not experienced before. Each of these stories focused on how women were punished for the actions of men which was a really fascinating angle for the books to take- they weren’t wrong.

I am familiar with a lot of Greek mythology but I do think that a vague knowledge of the backstories of Medusa and Ariadne would be an advantage when reading these. However don’t let that stop you, Google will be your friend but be warned…you may fall in love with Greek mythology as it’s so rich and full.

Vlogs

Five Star Prediction Results

Last week I shared 5 of my Five Star Prediction books and now that I’ve read them, I’m here to chat about them. I’m not quite Mystic Meg 🔮 but I still had an amazing time and found some new favourites!

I read the following books:

🏝 The Castaways by Lucy Clark

🌹The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

🐍 Medusa- Jessie Burton

👩‍🚀 Goldilocks-Laura Lam

🍇 Ariadne -Jennifer Saint

While they weren’t all the 5 Star reads that I had hoped for, I found three 5 star reads! I’m feeling very good about my results and am so impressed by my prediction skills! I’m feeling way too confident now.

Reviews

Murder on the Links

When Hercule Poirot and his associate Arthur Hastings arrive in the French village of Merlinville-sur-Mer to meet their client Paul Renauld, they learn from the police that he has been found that morning stabbed in the back with a letter opener and left in a newly-dug grave adjacent to a local golf course.

Among the plausible suspects are Renauld’s wife Eloise, his son Jack, Renauld’s immediate neighbor Madame Daubreuil, the mysterious “Cinderella” of Hasting’s recent acquaintance, and some unknown visitor of the previous day–all of whom Poirot has reason to suspect. Poirot’s powers of investigation ultimately triumph over the wiles of an assailant whose misdirection and motives are nearly–but not quite–impossible to spot.

The May theme for the Read Christie 2022 Challenge was: a book set in Europe. There were so many books to choose from and I went with the official pick of Murder on the Links which took place in France. I really enjoyed this book and it was a five star read.

I am a huge fan of Poirot and just loved joining him on another mystery. This was the second Poirot novel so it was really exciting getting to read one of the early ones. Poirot was just as clever and amazing as always. It was entertaining reading about him playing the matchmaker in this story. He seemed to be very playful.

Despite Poirot being in his usual top form, early Hastings was less impressive a sleuth. Hastings is so hilarious in this book. He’s just a lovesick little puppy and I can see how that could be annoying to some people but I found it to be amusing. I loved how easily distracted he was by every pretty young woman. He even took a mysterious new friend to the see the evidence of a crime! All because he thought she was beautiful. Silly Hastings.

In addition to Poirot being on the case, there was another special investigator from Paris who was involved. It was so good having Poirot competing with another excellent investigator and having them have conflicting theories. I think it really helped to show just how clever Poirot was.

Throughout the book it felt like there were multiple mysteries to be solved. Only during the last third did all the pieces start to come together. I really liked the way that Poirot started to explain something and would then stop, go away, then return with whole armfuls of evidence. He made it look so simple!

This book was jam packed with twists and turns. I have read this before but it had been a while, I just did not see them coming. There were red herrings galore, it was so fun trying to work out whodunnit (despite knowing, I still convinced myself that maybe I didn’t remember). This is what I love about Agatha Christie, the books are so excellent that I can reread them and it doesn’t matter whether I remember what happened or not because it’s such a fun ride.

I’m absolutely loving taking part in my Agatha Christie monthly readalongs. It’s nice to have something consistent in Agatha Christie books.

Reviews

The Dragon’s Promise

Princess Shiori made a deathbed promise to return the dragon’s pearl to its rightful owner, but keeping that promise is more dangerous than she ever imagined.

She must journey to the kingdom of dragons, navigate political intrigue among humans and dragons alike, fend off thieves who covet the pearl for themselves and will go to any lengths to get it, all while cultivating the appearance of a perfect princess to dissuade those who would see her burned at the stake for the magic that runs in her blood.

The pearl itself is no ordinary cargo; it thrums with malevolent power, jumping to Shiori’s aid one minute, and betraying her the next—threatening to shatter her family and sever the thread of fate that binds her to her true love, Takkan. It will take every ounce of strength Shiori can muster to defend the life and the love she’s fought so hard to win.

This story was just excellent and such an excellent continuation to Six Crimson Cranes (which I also loved). I found myself struggling to put this down, I devoured it over one weekend and it was a really enjoyable reading experience. I adored this book as much as Six Crimson Cranes and gave it 5 shiny stars!

This story picked up right where the last book had left, with Shiori about to embark on an epic quest. I was instantly brought into an adventure which was so exciting. There was no slow build or recap of the last book, instant excitement and adventure.

I loved the character growth and enjoyed all of the characters from the first book having their time to shine. I loved the changes that I saw in Shiori and Takkan. I also enjoyed meeting new characters. Kiki was as bossy and hilarious as always and I think may be my favourite character. She was far more vocal in this book and I loved it! I found myself crying about a paper crane and I do not feel silly about this because I just loved her.

I feel like so many of my questions from the first book were answered. I did have a lot of unanswered questions from the first book, or just things that I wanted to know more about. Each of the adventures in this book revealed some more about a character or plot element. The book was just filled with little breadcrumbs! I absolutely loved getting more backstory, I think that was my favourite part.

I really enjoyed getting to know more about the world and the different environments. The book took place in these new places, under the sea and new islands. I absolutely loved the island with the snakes, I think that was my favourite location and favourite part of the story.

During the last 15% of the book I could barely read the words as I was crying so hard (full on ugly sobbing!), but I persisted and was rewarded with a beautiful ending. This book included some inspiration from a fairytale or myth that I wasn’t familiar with at the time but am now because I went down a Google rabbit hole immediately after finishing this book. I adored learning tales from another culture.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I just think that it was a beautifully written, fantasy quest which is one of my favourite genres. I will be rereading this series in the future because it made me just so happy. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ebook in exchange for an honest review. I have this book on preorder and cannot wait to own a physical copy!

Vlogs

My 5 Star Predictions

I’m feeling a bit of a reading slump come on. In the last week, I just haven’t felt like reading much. In order to combat this, I’ve decided to read some of my 5 Star Predictions. I’m hopeful that I will just enjoy a bunch of excellent reads and truly combat the dreaded slump!

I have chosen five books that I think are going to be 5 star reads and I’m planning to read them. Hopefully I find a new favourite or two!

This week’s blog is all about my predictions and why I chose them. I’m no Walter Mercado or Mystic Meg but I’m feeling really positive about them all.

Here I talk about why I chose each of my predictions

My 5 Star Predictions are:

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Medusa by Jessie Burton

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

The Castaways by Lucy Clarke

If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to know how you got on!

Reviews

Adults

Jenny McLaine is an adult. Supposedly. At thirty-five she owns her own house, writes for a cool magazine and has hilarious friends just a message away.

But the thing is:

• She can’t actually afford her house since her criminally sexy ex-boyfriend Art left,

• her best friend Kelly is clearly trying to break up with her,

• she’s so frazzled trying to keep up with everything you can practically hear her nerves jangling,

• she spends all day online-stalking women with beautiful lives as her career goes down the drain.

And now her mother has appeared on her doorstep, unbidden, to save the day…

Is Jenny ready to grow up and save herself this time?

Deliciously candid and gloriously heartfelt, ADULTS is the story of one woman learning how to fall back in love with her life. It will remind you that when the world throws you a curve ball (or nine), it may take friendship, gin & tonics or even your mother to bring you back…

I had been wanting to read this book for ages, I bought it, then I forgot about it. This is a sadly, very common occurrence for me. I picked this book up and instantly remembered how excited I’d been to read it and got stuck in. I did find out that this was the lowest rated book on my Goodreads TBR…which I strongly disagree with because I gave this book 5 shiny stars and I think it may be a new favourite. That’s what happens with average ratings though, they can be a guide but should never be the deciding factor of whether or not to read a book.

I absolutely loved the main characters in this book. I loved Jenny, her best friend Kelly, and Jenny’s mother Carmen. I found these characters to be so familiar and endearing. Would I want to be friends with Jenny or Carmen? Possibly not. Maybe Facebook friends, so that I could witness the chaos but not be hurt by it. I very much related to Jenny, she reminded me of a combination of my friends and I. Albeit a way more exciting and dramatic amalgamation.

I absolutely hated the ex boyfriend but I was meant to. I very much felt like I had known men just like him and they’d broken hearts of people o knew and cared about. So much of this book was relatable.

I really enjoyed the format of this book; it was full of short, snappy chapters with some email entries mixed in. This made it so easy to get into the flow of the book and I just whizzed through it! The book was around 360 pages and I finished it in just a few sittings because it was just so consumable.

A very important subject was raised in this novel regarding social media. I dont feel like the negative effects of social media on adults is discussed that much im fiction. This may be because it’s discussed in books that I haven’t read or maybe because it’s something that is still relatively new. I’ve been on social media since MySpace when I was 17 and didn’t really notice the negative impact that it can have until a few years ago. This provided a great commentary on comparing yourself to a cultivated snapshot of someone else’s life. It handled the topic of obsession really well.

I found myself laughing so much while reading this book. It truly was hilarious! The writing was just so witty and I just kept chuckling! I will be referring to McDonald’s as ‘The Scottish Restaurant’ from now on.

As Jenny was my age I found this book to be a relatable story. I absolutely loved it and highly recommend this. I would like to point out a trigger warning for pregnancy loss though, so please bear that in mind and take care of yourself.

Im very excited to read more books from the bottom of my Goodreads TBR in the hope of finding more gems like this

Reviews, Scottish Reads

A History Maker

A tale of border warfare, military and erotic, set in the twenty-third century, where the women rule the kingdom and the men play war games. This is the fictional memoir of Wat Dryhope – edited, annotated and commented upon. History has come to an end, war is regulated as if it’s all a game. But Wat, the “History Maker” himself, does not play entirely by the rules, and when a woman, Delilah Puddock, joins the fray, this ‘utopian’ history is further enlivened. Alasdair Gray cleverly plays with the notion and writing of history, as well as perennial modern debates on war, sexism and society – entertaining and thought-provoking, this is a delightful satire illustrated throughout by the author.

I’d wanted to read something by Alasdair Gray for ages as I just keep seeing their books whenever I’m in the bookshop. This particular book appealed to me because it’s set in a version of the Scottish Borders which is where I’m from. I enjoyed the first half of this book a great deal but the second half, less so. I ended up giving this book 3 stars.

I’ve never read a book set in my home county before so this was really exciting for me. I read a lot of books set in Edinburgh as that was my closest city when I was growing up. finding a book written by a Scottish author and set in The Borders felt like an achievement! The setting was wonderful and felt so accurate to the beauty that is The Borders. I was familiar with the setting which gave me an extra little nugget of enjoyment!

In this world, war was televised entertainment. With remote drones who interviewed the warriors. I really enjoyed this plot as while it felt horrific and just awful, it felt very dystopian. The entire book was laid out as being a memoir by a famed warrior who had grown jaded with his life and had started to question things.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book which was all about the world building, the battle, and the fallout. The second half I enjoyed less. There was a chapter that gave me the ick and I really didn’t enjoy it so I will be avoiding that chapter during any rereads.

This book was set in a a matriarchal society where the women ruled and the men fought in battles for entertainment. It didn’t overly feel like a matriarchy though. It very much felt like the warriors were in charge but that may be due to the book being focussed on a warrior.

There were so many notes at the end of the book which annoyed me. I just thought that maybe if something was important to the story, it should be in the story. A footnote or two is totally fine but there was about 40 pages of notes at the end of this rather short book.

The book was incredibly witty and I really enjoyed the style of writing. After finishing this book I learned that apparently the author disliked this book and thought that it was not their best work. This excited me as I did enjoy this but it implies that I will enjoy their other books even more! I do intend to read more books by Alasdair Gray.