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Highlights in the Charts

Circe by Madeline Miller

Reviewed by Daisy Young

If you’re like me and love all things Greek mythos, then you’ll probably have heard of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. But what about her work about a certain witch? With the gorgeous release of the fifth-anniversary edition in our wake, let’s get into Circe.

Circe is ultimately a story about self-discovery and experience – specifically, the mortal experiences faced by a goddess. Our heroine is Circe herself, the first-born daughter of Helios, Titan of the Sun, and the Oceanid nymph Perse. Circe’s birth marks the beginning of something new, though our beloved witch does not discover that for a few chapters.

From an early age, she shows a fascination for humanity. They are ephemera to her, but their lives seem to have so much more meaning than the repetitive days at the feet of her father. Her curiosity towards them leads her to betray Zeus himself as she dares to speak to the eternally punished Prometheus. In this discussion, Miller reveals her beautifully poetic style of writing. Prometheus explains how each mortal is unique and experiences everything differently, except in death. In that, we are united.

Death is a concept foreign to Circe but one she is exposed to time and time again throughout the story, meeting many famous figures from mythology. She stands in as midwife for the birth of the Minotaur, touches the soul of the inventor Daedelus, gives love advice to Medea, and (of course) meets everyone’s favourite horse enthusiast, Odysseus. Mortals are central to her character development. Their lives and experiences are short and full of hardship. (We need only examine Daedelus, perhaps my favourite of Circe’s loves).

Through Circe, Miller weaves a tale of human hardship in a world of uncaring gods. Circe is a powerful character who, in her quest to understand mortality, makes human decisions that contradict her own godly status. She pursues love and life, embracing her imperfections and acknowledging her weaknesses – and she ends her tale content.

Like The Song of Achilles, the book is dedicated to the classical source material, but Miller takes liberties to make a world that is tangible and real. It is another brilliant example of why Miller is a leading name in modern mythos retellings. A perfect read for those who also love Natalie Haynes and Jennifer Saint.

If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin

Reviewed by Becky Connolly

A New York Times bestseller and trending on TikTok, If He Had Been With Me is frequently a BookTok must-have, often featuring in trends such as “Books that Made Me Sob” and “Books I Wish I Could Read For The First Time Again.”

If He Had Been With Me follows the story of Autumn and Finn’s friendship. Friends since birth, they begin to drift apart in high school, and while the story is primarily based in the school environment, the reader is given intermittent flashbacks to their childhoods. It deals with Autumn’s complex feelings towards Finn, her boyfriend and herself, as well as tackling common teenage issues, including the complications of friends and family. Nowlin’s portrayal of Autumn in this way is incredibly realistic – I appreciated the depth of Autumn’s character, with her familial dynamics and her mental health struggles.

Through these flashbacks, Nowlin creates an incredible complexity to Autumn and Finn’s relationship. Their relationship is one that, in the end, is borderline frustrating, but in a good way – it is in this frustration that Nowlin so astutely depicts teenage angst, hormones and anxiety. In Finn’s absence, Autumn makes a group of close-knit friends at her school. Compared to her relationship with Finn, these relationships aren’t quite as profound, but this is a clever tactic by Nowlin, as through this we can see the depth and intensity of Finn and Autumn’s relationship. Through these friendships, the reader is given a wonderful sense of camaraderie that eases us into the school environment in a way that evokes nostalgia and carries the theme of the book.

The story begins with a prologue, which is fantastic for building suspense. The reader knows there’s a tragedy waiting to occur, but the details are not revealed, and you’re not sure when, how, or under what circumstances it will happen. The prologue also sets up the underlying sense of conflict between Autumn and Sylvie, a theme explored throughout the book. The ending is the most shocking thing I have read in a while – it’s absolutely no surprise that it is so successful at drawing a tear to readers’ eyes.

If He Had Been With Me is a coming-of-age novel imbued with loss, love and friendship, and I highly recommend it, but you’ll need to keep a tissue handy. If you enjoy this book, If Only I Had Told Her, Nowlin’s next book is due to be published on February 6, 2024.


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