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BOOK REVIEWS &
RECOMMENDATIONS
 
with Abby Kernya IG @abbigalekernya@abbigalespages

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GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

by Max Porter (2015)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Recommended Age:  13+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 5/5

Positive message:5/5

Positive role models: 4/5

Violence: 2/5

Sex: 3/5

Language: 1/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking: 2/5

Consumerism:​ 0/5

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“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.”Max Porter

"Grief is the Thing With Feathers", by Max Porter, is a short novel following a father and his sons after the sudden death of their mother. In their sadness, they are visited by a witty crow. Fascinated with human grief, the nameless crow follows along the waters of pain as a mentor of grief. There is so much in this novel to unpack, and so much to connect with. Max Porter writes the most beautiful journey of grief without sugarcoating the raw ugliness of losing a loved one. We follow this healing process through commentary of the sons, father, and the crow, all reflecting on the grief that haunts their London apartment. Sometimes comical, sometimes made up, most of the time sad; the visiting crow guides this broken family through the torrential rain following the aftermath of death. 

 

This story does not focus on the nature of the mothers death, but rather the love she left behind. The crow watches the family as they grieve, it comforts them and makes them laugh even when the young boys don’t understand why. "Grief Is The Thing With Feathers" is truly a remarkable telling of pain. Breathtaking prose, heart wrenching confessions, and the vulnerability of grief in every colour. This is not a story to pull you in and captivate you in its plot, it is rather a fictional story that is real for so many people. It is a hungry novel, hungry for its readers to insert themselves in a story we are all too familiar with - a loss we are all too familiar with. 

 

Not everyone who loses someone is granted a talking crow, but sometimes we all wished we had. The most important part in this story is the absence and presence of the crow. Grief stays with us, is stains our lives and haunts our dreams. Yet some days are easier than others, and some days we don't need a crow to hold our hand through it all. "Grief Is The Thing With Feathers" gives us that crow if we need it, and that is why this novel is so uniquely special. 

 

“Grieving is something you’re still doing, and something you don’t need a crow for.” – Max Porter

THE SECRET HISTORY

by Donna Tartt (1992)

Genre: Fiction, Psychological Fiction, Mystery

Recommended Age:  15+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 1/5

Positive message: ​0/5

Positive role models: ​0/5

Violence: 5/5

Sex: 3/5

Language:​3/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking:​5/5

Consumerism:​ 2/5

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“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely?” 

The Secret History by Donna Tart is a filthy novel with filthy characters. This story takes place with the murder of the egocentric and flamboyant Bunny: a college elitist involved in a secret society of Greek and Classics students. The culprit? That’s the secret. Set in Hampden College in New England, the narration follows the unreliable mind of Richard Papen: a Californian student who finds himself in the centre of a cult-like clique with no way out. The twins: Camilla and Charles, Bunny, Francis, and Henry - the psychopathic ringleader with a thirst for divine enlightenment at any means necessary.

 

A mystery that will have dark academia lovers foaming at the mouth.

Characters created for those drawn to bloodied beauties.

And a murder committed with beautiful lips kissing stained hands. 

 

This is not a book for the kind hearted. This is a book for those willing to search the ends of the earth for a glimpse of the gods - even if it means damnation.

 

Academic elitists brought together by the same compulsive desire to understand life through death...what more could you ask for? Donna Tart is a modern author with words as philosophical and daunting as the classics. Her barbaric prose will have you questioning just how far you’ll go to escape retribution, even when it takes a sacrafice of matter. Tartt created unlovable characters you will find yourself drawn to in the worst possible ways. This book had me captivated for months after I finished it. There was so much to digest - so much to try and forget. It explores the shadowed reality of elitism, loneliness, and the loss of control. The Secret History is perhaps my favourite novel of all time. I have never read a book with the same glorious words to describe hideous people, and perhaps I never will. I am a firm believer this book is one of a kind, that is the pure beauty of it. If you are looking for a read that will plunge you into madness, mysteries, Greek gods, and murder, then I cannot recommend The Secret History enough.

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Genre: Philosophical fiction, decadent literature

Recommended Age:  13+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: 5/5

Positive message:4/5

Positive role models:​ 1/5

Violence:​5/5

Sex:5/5

Language:​2/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking:​ 2/5

Consumerism:​ 0/5

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“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
 

Oscar Wilde has undoubtedly evolved to become one of the most famous classic authors to date.The Picture of Dorian Gray is a cautionary tale that transcends time itself. Written in 1890, this piece of gothic horror follows the fast decline from beauty to madness. Written by one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century, this novel takes readers on a journey through the eyes of the judge, jury, and executioner. One that connects the dots between a youthful first love and ripening horrors. 

 

Dorian Gray is a simple, youthful, optimistic, and unworldly gorgeous man in upper class London. After his dear friend Basil paints a portrait perfectly capturing Dorian’s innocence, his world slowly grows demonic. Lord Henry Wotton, a rich man with a stone heart and rotten ego, convinces Dorian that life is nothing without beauty. Worried that his godlike good-looks will fade, Dorian wishes his portrait should age so long as he does not. 


Imprisoned by his obsession with the ever changing portrait, Dorian falls down a spiral of self indulgence and greed. Oscar Wilde perfectly paints the fine line that exists between beauty and tragedy. Driven into madness, the once innocent boy now struggles with the fear of his sins finding their way back to him. In a world so corrupted by greed and filth, Dorian faces the question: Is there life without beauty? Is beauty a mirror of morality? This renaissance concept is explored with vulnerability in this century old story that still stands today. With the light of Basil and the darkness of Lord Henry, Dorian must decide for himself if his beauty is enough before it's too late. After all, a beautiful monster is still a monster. If you are on the hunt for a read both philosophical and adventurous, The Picture of Dorian Gray in all its desire, might be for you.

 

HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE

by Souvankham Thammavongsa (2020)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Recommended Age:  13+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: 5/5

Positive message:3/5

Positive role models:​ 3/5

Violence:​ 1/5

Sex:  3/5

Language:​ 1/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking:​ 1/5

Consumerism:​ 0/5

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"Thammavongsa’s background in poetry truly shines on every page. Words written with silk, this novel will have readers questioning everything they know about what it means to be human."

 

Souvankham Thammavongsa’s debut novel, How To Pronounce Knife, is a collection of short stories following Laoatian immigrants and their experiences in a world that never stops spinning. This arrangement of 14 short stories follows the journey of working class immigrants, a boxer turned nail tech, a father-daughter bond that transcends language, the youthful magic of Halloween, and never ending narratives that question what it means to be loved. Thammavongsa is a literary genius: Canadian poet turned novelist, she fills these pages with raw beauty and blindsiding ugliness. How To Pronounce Knife, in all its glory, is one long story about finding yourself in a world created to break you down. 

 

Throughout this novel, Thammavongsa brings readers into a world unlike any other. A world looked through the lens of a child, as innocent and blissful as it is heartbreaking. A world that follows an elderly woman so desperate for love that red flags shine green when the lights are off. Within the fourteen different narrations, Thammavongsa takes readers into the depths of her imagination, in which the struggle to adapt to a Western mold of family and love is the only constant. Yet in all the different lives lived within these pages, each one offers a different perspective on life that will change your worldview in ways unexpected.

 

How To Pronounce Knife is an adventure full of charming characters, nose jobs, and loneliness is its most purest form. Thammavongsa’s background in poetry truly shines on every page. Words written with silk, this novel will have readers questioning everything they know about what it means to be human. Stories surrounding love, loss, and the pressures of being an immigrant in Canada, How To Pronounce Knife is a gripping novel full of questions never meant to be answered. If you are looking for a read that will transform you into a world familiar, yet so unknown, then I highly recommend this read. 

 

ON EARTH WE'RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS

By Ocean Vuong (2019)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Recommended Age: 15+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 5/5

Positive message: ​3/5

Positive role models: 1/5

Violence:5/5

Sex: 5/5

Language:​3/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking:​5/5

Consumerism:​ 1/5

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"They say nothing lasts forever but they're just scared it will last longer than they can love it.”

Ocean Vuong, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a letter written to a mother who cannot read. It is a letter written by a son, filled with painstakingly raw emotions reflecting on the highs and lows of growing up. But most of all, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a love story. A love story between a single mother and her son, and a love story between two broken boys desperate for an escape. Ocean Vuong opened his heart and spilled his soul over these pages, and allowed readers to step inside his world-both beautiful and tragic. 

 

The best way to describe this book is raw. Ocean Vuong writes in brutally honest poetry about the long lasting effects of the Vietnam war, exploring and understanding sexuality, racism, lower class America, and learning to heal in a world created to destroy you. As painful as this novel is to read, it is also necessary to understand and live a life different from your own. Throughout the narration, Little Dog brings readers along through his most vivid childhood memories-both good and bad. Exploring sex, drugs, heartbreak, and the fragility of all things beautiful. Ocean Vuong tours his childhood from the moment he understood what it meant to be targeted for who you are, to the moment he became the water he once drowned in. 

 

This tender autobiography is a book that will just hit you. Written in the most beautiful poetry, Ocean Vuong delivers a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will reevaluate all you have come to know of heartbreak. A queer love story devoid of all things love, a mother and son torn apart by war, and a crumbling America told through the eyes of a child. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a desperate attempt to put into words all things that are too great to be restricted by language. If you are looking for a read that will completely flip your worldview and shatter all expectations of beauty, then I highly recommend On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. 

THE SONG OF ACHILLES

By Madeline Miller (2011)

Genre: Novel, Romance Novel, Historical Fiction, War Story 

Recommended Age: 15+ readers

Rating Scale

Educational value: ​​ 5/5

Positive message: ​4/5

Positive role models: 5/5

Violence:5/5

Sex: 5/5

Language:​1/5

Drinking, drugs, smoking:​2/5

Consumerism:​ 0/5

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"We were like gods dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other".

Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles


When I finished reading "The Song of Achilles", I was left speechless. And still days later, no combination of words can describe the emotions I felt upon these pages. In the most simple words I can muster: I have never read a book like "The Song of Achilles". A fable of love, sacrifice, prophecies and pride. A tale that has broken my heart and stitched it back together with every turn of the page.

"The Song of Achilles" is a legend of Greek mythology reimagined. It is told through the eyes of an awkward young prince sent to live with King Peleus’ exiled boys. It is in this kingdom, where Patroclus meets the son of a terrifying goddess, and a powerful King. A boy who is destined for greatness: a boy whose veins run rich with the golden blood of the Gods. Here, in the land of Phthia, the most epic love story is born.

Achilles and Patroclus are completely opposite in every way possible. The son of a goddess and a banished prince would normally never speak - but this is not a normal story. Patroclus and Achilles are instead, inseparable from the moment they first meet. Together they share a bond strong enough to break fate itself. Patroclus watches Achilles from the sidelines, he observes a living prophecy take flight - a prophecy that threatens to tear his most beloved companion from his arms. When the Trojan War breaks out, the two boys - now young adults, are called upon to fight. Achilles, who has been foreseen to be the greatest warrior of his generation, must now prove his birthright of fame and immortal legacy - even if it means endangering the person he loves most in the world. 

On every line, Madeline Miller beautifully writes a mosaic of emotions. She tells a story of devotion and divinity in a perspective I have never read before. "The Song of Achilles" is a legend reborn: one that proves how love is the most powerful weapon in all the heavens. If you are looking for a read that challenges every perception of fate, honour, and the purest form of love, then be ready to be left breathless with "The Song of Achilles".

 
 
 
 
 
 
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MORE RECOMMENDED READS

Normal People

by Sally Rooney

The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Bronte

The Priory of The Orange Tree

by Samantha Shannon

Persuasion

by Jane Austen