Book Reviews

Circe Review

Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: fantasy; historical fiction; retelling; mythology;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Review: 5 STARS

Circe was, to date, my favorite read of 2019. I’d read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles first (you can read my review of that one HERE) and knew going in that I would love the writing, but I didn’t realize quite how much.

With authors’ second books, you find yourself hoping for greatness, and in series, you’re generally hyped and not too severely disappointed, but in standalone books, it’s hard to gauge. Is it going to be as good as X? No? Oh well… But Madeline Miller does not disappoint with Circe.

Yes, this book is in the same universe, and yes, Achilles and Patroclus appear here, but this book can be read before or after The Song of Achilles and it won’t really matter if you know your original myths.

Miller has done her own retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey from a different viewpoint. The Song of Achilles was the Iliad and Circe is the Odyssey. That’s really what these books are for me. They’re retellings of Homer’s epic poems. But instead of The Best of the Greeks getting the glory (ie: Odysseus in this novel, Achilles in her first) it’s really Circe who becomes “greater.”

Against all odds and literally ALL GODS, she thrives and becomes so powerful that the Olympians and the Titans are afraid of her. I think that is so badass. Like, she’s the first “come at me bro” in history. She doesn’t do his for her own glory like the heroes do either, she does this because she has to stay sane. She’s a goddess, it’s not like she’s going to wither away and die, or starve, but she could definitely go mad, right? But instead, Circe becomes the best of them all, and even Telegonus realizes it before the end of the novel.

I am IN LOVE with Madeline Miller’s writing style and below, I’m going to write out one of my favorite scenes to demonstrate (see: fangirl) a little. You can skip over the italics and what’s in between, and come back after the long ——- if you’d like to avoid anything directly from the book.

“Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.”

Miller’s description of the inescapable reality of Circe’s plight is tragic and so beautifully written. It mirrors what she does as a character to the men on her island, except that as nymphs they suffer endlessly — immortality really is a beast when you’re a prize to be sought after, isn’t it?.

Later in the same passage, she talks about pigs escaping and throwing themselves over cliffs. Circe wonders, “if it were a man… would I pity him. But it was not a man.”

Walking by the sty she comments on how they are only sorry to be caught, not sorry for invading her island and her person, and her power and ruthlessness is on full display as she shows them no mercy here. I love the straight up potency Miller fills her with as she says to the pigs, “Sorry you were caught… Sorry that you thought I was weak, but you were wrong.”

In that moment, reading that passage, I had full on goosebumps.

———————————————————-

Overall, I really loved how Circe, as a novel, is able to tell us so much about the Greek world. We meet major heroes and characters from myth like Minos, Daedalus, Jason, and Medea. We learn more about Circe as the witch in myth, and how a witch is certainly different from a goddess, and in her case, more powerful, and more feared.

But in the last 100 or so pages, Miller does something brilliant I think. She answers some of my most pressing questions about Odysseus’s return to Ithaca. She’s filled in the gaps on the Odyssey story. It’s really ingenious because Circe is in exile, on a tiny island, and yet, her narrative completes the story that spans the entire Greek world.

We also get to see a vengeful and spiteful Athena, and while I love grey-eyed Athena, patron of wily Odysseus and benevolent Athena— this one was better. It makes me think that maybe Miller’s gearing up to give us the Medusa story we all deserve?

If you haven read either of Madeline Miller’s texts and you’re ready for a more mature take on Greek myth— pick up both of her books now!

I Thought it was Just Me Review

Title: I Thought it was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power.
Author: Brene Brown
Genre: nonfiction; self-help; psychology; feminism;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Shame manifests itself in many ways. Addiction, perfectionism, fear and blame are just a few of the outward signs that Dr. Brené Brown discovered in her 6-year study of shame’s effects on women. While shame is generally thought of as an emotion sequestered in the shadows of our psyches, I Thought It Was Just Me demonstrates the ways in which it is actually present in the most mundane and visible aspects of our lives—from our mental and physical health and body image to our relationships with our partners, our kids, our friends, our money, and our work.

After talking to hundreds of women and therapists, Dr. Brown is able to illuminate the myriad shaming influences that dominate our culture and explain why we are all vulnerable to shame. We live in a culture that tells us we must reject our bodies, reject our authentic stories, and ultimately reject our true selves in order to fit in and be accepted.

Outlining an empowering new approach that dispels judgment and awakens us to the genuine acceptance of ourselves and others, I Thought It Was Just Me begins a crucial new dialogue of hope. Through potent personal narratives and examples from real women, Brown identifies and explains four key elements that allow women to transform their shame into courage, compassion and connection. Shame is a dark and sad place in which to live a life, keeping us from connecting fully to our loved ones and being the women we were meant to be. But learning how to understand shame’s influence and move through it toward full acceptance of ourselves and others takes away much of shame’s power to harm.

It’s not just you, you’re not alone, and if you fight the daily battle of feeling like you are—somehow—just not “enough,” you owe it to yourself to read this book and discover your infinite possibilities as a human being.

Review: In 2016, I found a TEDtalk about being vulnerable by Brene Brown and I used it in my classroom for a PBL Project on character development. In it, she says, “Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” And it’s something I’ve never forgotten. But I thought that Brene Brown was just a researcher who did that one totally transformative TEDtalk and then disappeared back into her research lab.

I use that talk with my classes and I use that quote daily. It’s the header on my class website, it’s how I try to go into the world, it’s how I try to teach.

Then I had an extra Audible credit and needed to use it. (I don’t really use Audible as much as I should, FYI, there are so so so many good choices out there right now.) And then a familiar name popped up Brene Brown. I clicked purchase and started listening.

It’s almost 11 hours of content was just as transformative as her TEDtalk. She talks about guilt and shame and how they’re different. But most importantly, she does this for women. How these things apply specifically for and to women. In the work place, in the home, in relationships (all kinds of relationships too, sisters, mothers, husbands).

She provides readers with terms and definitions, with scenarios, and with questions you can ask yourself and journaling prompts so you can go through things at your own pace.

I bought the physical book too. I wanted to go deeper into some of the things she talked about with my therapist. Some of the things she talked about hit different for me. Like, they made me think about my own situation differently and I wanted to take specific passages into sessions so that we could work through them.

This book really is titled perfectly.

Everyone thinks they’re alone in shame.

They aren’t.

Where the Crawdads Sing Review

image1.jpegTitle: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: fiction; historical fiction; realistic; mystery; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Review: This novel was selected for me as part of an impromptu book club. If you’ve seen my usual book choices, you can see that it doesn’t exactly fit in with my book choices, but I wanted to give it a fair shake. I read this as a kindle read so as I provide this review, I’ll be giving percentages instead of page counts to talk about how I felt as I read along.

To be 100% honest, I almost DNF’d this book around 23% through. I was BORED. I get the appeal of a girl and a place. I truly do. But that’s not my story and there are too many books on my tbr that ARE my story. But, it was for book club, so I kept going. There was an element of crime drama and the non linear storytelling that I kinda liked, so regardless of whether I liked Kya or not, I kept reading.

But then it got so, so, so predictable that by 50% I did DNF it. I was totally done with it, book club be damned. I was 100% sure I knew how the crime plot was going to shake out, I didn’t have any strong tie to Kya or Chase or Tate or anyone else, except for maybe Jumpin.

The one thing I didn’t count on was being shamed for DNFing it at book club. I thought I had enough to speak on when we started talking about it… (50% is a LOT to talk about AND I’m an English major and an English teacher tyvm) I guess by me not finishing it in the first place I was bashing the pick of it? Or maybe I made my opinion of it too well known, but anyway, I was made to feel guilty enough that I went home and stewed over finishing it so much that I did just that!

I finished the dang book. And you know what, it was exactly what I thought it was going to be. The crime plot shook out exactly as expected, the good guy was the good guy, the bad guy was the bad guy, the the marsh was the marsh.

Here’s the good:

Delia Owens is a beautiful descriptive writer. Her description is out of this world. She created the marsh as it’s own character and imagery is her god damn forte. Holy cow can she paint a picture.

Here’s the not so good:

It felt predictable from the start.Maybe it was supposed to. Maybe you’re supposed to guess it from the beginning. This wasn’t for me.

I just felt like I wasted my time. Like I said in the beginning… There are too many books on my TBR for me to feel guilty over DNFing a book.

 

The Education of Margot Sanchez Review

image1Title: The Education of Margot Sanchez
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Genre: ya; fiction; contemporary; realistic; own voices
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:
Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez was pretty dang cool okay. It starts out with this bratty little girl who thinks she’s too good for all these BS family “the more you know” teachable moments, but then she gets educated in multiple ways.

She makes all these lists of all the things she thinks she knows or hates in the moment, but as she goes along through her journey, these lists evolve right along side her.

Margot’s real journey begins because she’s trying to follow advice from her mother. She’s reminded of her mother’s own struggles coming to the US from Puerto Rico when she begins her high school career at a fancy rich private school. She’s immediately an outsider and she does everything to change herself— changes her physical appearance and her personality.

I tend to shy away from stories like this because they irk me. I hate female characters who do this, but because the author writes in this part of Margot’s backstory as her justification instead of me having to read her going through it in the present, I could buckle down and get through it. For a long time, Margot sees no issue in this— which is part of her education.

I love the way Lilliam Rivera writes Margot in this book. It feels authentic. She doesn’t automatically learn her lesson the first time. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know I love a character that falls down a lot. I think any real reader does. I don’t like the character that does everything right. Who can like a character like that?

Rivera’s Margot reminds me a lot of Zoraida Cordova’s Alex in Labryinth Lost. (You can check out my review for that book HERE.) She’s a bit on the whiny annoying bratty teenager side, but it so fits her character. She doesn’t get it right or do the right thing every time. She’s real. And so are her relationships and friendships.

I like the way the author brings out the real world issues just as clearly as she brings up the more intimate family and cultural issues. Gentrification comes up right along side machismo and gender roles. Rivera makes it clear in her text that YA readers can handle these mature topics just as easily as they can handle school yard crushes, fitting in, and broken hearts.

 

The Rogue King [1/?] Review

image1Title: The Rogue King (Inferno Rising Series)
Author: Abigail Owen
Genre: fantasy; romance; paranormal; adventure
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Kasia Amon is a master at hiding. Who—and what—she is makes her a mark for the entire supernatural world. Especially dragon shifters. To them, she’s treasure to be taken and claimed. A golden ticket to their highest throne. But she can’t stop bursting into flames, and there’s a sexy dragon shifter in town hunting for her…

As a rogue dragon, Brand Astarot has spent his life in the dark, shunned by his own kind, concealing his true identity. Only his dangerous reputation ensures his survival. Delivering a phoenix to the feared Blood King will bring him one step closer to the revenge he’s waited centuries to take. No way is he letting the feisty beauty get away.

But when Kasia sparks a white-hot need in him that’s impossible to ignore, Brand begins to form a new plan: claim her for himself…and take back his birthright.

Review: The Rogue King was an adventurous read. It felt both medieval and modern all at once. While the story was definitely a romance novel, it didn’t feel like a paranormal bodice ripping romance that are a dime a dozen right now. There was meat and substance. The backstory built into this first story in the series was well done in my opinion.

There wasn’t too much so that it felt overwhelming, and it wasn’t all at once either. It was in pieces, where it fit in with Brand’s mysterious development. His hatred of Uther felt justified throughout, and when he takes on this phoenix quest, it makes sense in all the ways his story develops.

Let’s talk about Brand for a second. He’s everything romance readers want: brooding, strong, caring (behind closed doors of course), and sexy. He’s cocky and rough around the edges and has this rogue thing that doesn’t quite get explained when you want it to, but Kasia and her visions, intrinsically trusts him to do the right thing by her.

What I really like is that, as a reader, I wasn’t sure if I could trust Brand to do the right thing. I wanted him to, sure, but was he going to? Not sure. There was always something guarded and rough about him that made me question his motives and gave me pause. I like that in a story like this. Like I said, it wasn’t just a romance— it was very much a quest story too. If it had been a pure romance, I think this might have annoyed me a bit, but as it was more like, deliver a princess to a castle-esque, it felt well-written and well-paced.

Onto the princess now, yeah? Kasia is no defenseless princess. She’s kind of badass. She keeps her own secrets, she develops her own talents and her own powers, and she fights her own battles. She demands to be part of her own storyline and I love that. She goes against her own self interest a few times, but that’s to save people she loves, or to do the right thing. She doesn’t always do it for male characters either. Which — wooohoo, go strong female leads in romance/adventure stories!— is pretty rare in my romance reading experience.  Most romance female leads tend to sacrifice (or attempt to sacrifice) themselves for their love interests, but Kasia does it for the people she wants to protect, people who protect the ones she loves.

Kasia is the phoenix and she is only just learning her skill set, so learning it along side her is pretty cool. I like stories where we see the powerful ones struggle with their duty or responsibilities. She isn’t perfect. She makes mistakes, she fights with herself and her decisions. I enjoy that about this story. Will she make the right deicision or the selfish one? Is the selfish one the right one? She has a personality with dimension. She has a little bit of grit to her too. Where Brand is too rough around the edges, she shows she can be too, when the occasion calls for it.

The side characters had substance and were given enough oomph that I wanted more. In particular, I’m really looking forward to more from Hershel. He was very interesting. I can imagine that the rest of the series will bring back all of these named characters and give them even more developed plot lines — I’m looking at Arden and Ladon and Reid and Angelika and Skylar in particular.

Overall, this is an intriguing first book in a series and I would definitely pick up book 2.

** Thanks to Netgalley for this free download in exchange for an honest review.

Outrun the Wind

outrunTitle: Outrun the Wind

Author: Elizabeth Tammi

Genre: fantasy; ya; retelling; lgbt

Summary: (from Goodreads) The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Review: This novel was a compelling and fun read! Tammi writes with conviction with two distinct narrators. Each of the two entwined storylines are interesting to follow.

You cheer for both Atalanta and Kahina individually as their lives unfold, especially since the story switches from each woman’s point of view chapter to chapter. Later in the story, you begin to cheer for the two of them together… but it does take a really long time for the main storyline to actually get going. I tend to enjoy stories like this, but I know they aren’t for everyone.

I quite enjoyed the portrayal of the gods. Artemis and Apollo are given villainous but just character arcs. I like how they’re written. Things are the way they are with them because that’s how they’re meant to be with the gods, but that doesn’t mean the other characters should just blindly follow.

I love Ancient Greek retellings. When I downloaded this, I was fresh off of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, and it was hard not to compare the two titles. In that regard, Tammi’s narrative storytelling takes longer to get into, so if you are anything like me, and riding the wave of Greek love, watch out for that.

Overall, if you’re into Retellings where characters that deserved better than their ancient myth get better, this is a story for you!

**Thanks to Netgalley for this free download in exchange for an honest review.

Sea Witch [1/2]

Title: Sea Witch [1/2]

Author: Sarah Henning

Genre: ya; fantasy; retelling

Synopsis: (from Amazon) Ever since her best friend Anna died, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. Hiding her talents, mourning her loss, drowning in her guilt.

Then a girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears on the shore, and the two girls catch the eyes of two charming princes. Suddenly Evie feels like she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But magic isn’t kind, and her new friend harbors secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad—or on two legs—without Evie’s help. And when Evie reaches deep into the power of her magic to save her friend’s humanity—and her prince’s heart—she discovers, too late, what she’s bargained away.

Review: I enjoyed this book. Sarah Henning does a great job of great a new version of a classic tale. She puts a new spin on this classic tale and makes it her own. Her twist makes it unique and while I might have been able to predict it, it didn’t stop me from enjoying every minute of it. Evie was a fun and engaging heroine and Nik, as a male lead, did his job– he looked good and kept things interesting.

Evie was spunky and rebellious and loyal to a fault. She wasn’t perfect. But infallible heroes are boring, so I liked that about her. She had flaws and we fell down right along side her through her journey. I felt the loss of Anna just as Evie did and wanted more than anything for Evie to save the day at the end.

This story felt like an epic tale, following the classic fairy tale and a hero’s journey all at once.

I wish there was a little more depth to Annemette’s development, as her twist felt contrived, but overall, I liked this book a lot.