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!

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.

Vampire Academy

Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: fantasy; young adult; paranormal romance; urban fiction
Synopsis: (from Amazon) St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . . Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.
Review: I picked this up for $1 at a used book store in Northampton, MA, and am kinda glad I didn’t pay much more than that. For a vacation read, it was entertaining, but it was predictable and the characters felt flat to me. I would definitely recommend this to the girls I teach who still think Team Alice / Team Bella is fun. Rose and Lissa are much stronger women than anyone In the Twilight franchise.

Here are my general thoughts.

1. It was okay. I liked that it had a definitive end, because I don’t think I’ll continue with it. But, I can see where a sequel and subsequent series will pick up.

2. Rose was too juvenile for me. But I think she’s just not what I’m looking for in a protagonist anymore. She’s reckless and snarky in a way that seems foolish, not necessary, if that makes sense.

3. Mead’s dealing with depression was delicate and sensitive in my opinion. I think she wrote in two teenagers who were going through some heavy stuff and didn’t know how to deal, and then handled it well.

The predictability of the book is what really got me. I mean, it’s gotta have some tropes to be YA paranormal romance, but does it have to have ALL of them? The forbidden love, the love triangle, the scandal, the social classes, the miscommunications, the rebellion, the snarky loser reject, the Miss Frizzle, the mean teacher that reads all the notes. If you made a list of all the high school / paranormal tropes, they’d be in this book.

I like a good trope. We all like a good trope. But having them all, I just felt like I was checking boxes rather than reading a story. At the end of the day though, I picked it up knowing what I was getting myself into, and bought it anyway. Like I said up top… it was okay.

Labyrinth Lost

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Genre: fantasy; young adult; LGBT; paranormal; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation… And she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.
Review: While reading this, the first thing that came to mind was, “heck yes, a Latinx bruja story!” I legit haven’t seen many of these on the market and with paranormal fantasy as big as it is, that’s a tragedy. That said, I am happy to report that Córdova has opened up this niche market to the wider audience with her first book of her Brooklyn Brujas series. Authors like Isabel Allende and Cristina Garcia have been bringing powerful Latinx women to the written page for decades and with Labyrinth Lost, Córdova puts herself on that list of authors too — for a young adult audience.

Alex is an interesting narrator for this first installment. She is written like a perfect middle child — I am one, I know what it feels like, okay! — Somewhere between knowing everything and getting away with everything, Alex is just looking for ordinary in a family that is anything but. Like any true YA heroine, doubt and panic lead to major second guessing which leads to a major lack of communication between mother / daughter. (Really, between the whole family.) This is my only gripe with this book. Had ONE of the 400 years of brujas and brujos in Alex’s family told her what she needed to hear, many of the conflicts would have resolved themselves. But as I continue to think about this, I think, what sixteen-year-old girl talks to their parents about the stuff that matters? And there are a few instances where she tries and gets brushed off, so I take away this gripe. But I don’t erase it. Because it was there.

That said, the storyline was beautifully written. Woven like an Ancient Greek tapestry by Penelope herself, Córdova takes you into Los Lagos, the In Between as it were, and writes three dimensional characters all the way through. The villain is interesting. The plot is too. Alex’s character development is both realistic and touching. I like Nova as a character. I like Rishi, but less than I like Nova. Alex does something really impulsive for Rishi that I think is counterintuitive to her character’s whole motivation. In fact, when this particular scene happened, chapter 33, I was riding on a train from Cavaillon to Salon in Provence and I slammed my book down in my lap in a most dramatic fashion. My fellow French passengers were not amused. Je suis désolé. Like my earlier gripe that I took back because she’s sixteen, I think I have to use that same card here too. What do you think?

I’ve already put in an order for the second book and can’t wait for it to arrive.

A Court of Frost and Starlight

Image result for a court of frost and starlightTitle: A Court of Frost and Starlight
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; faerie; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Winter Solstice. In a week. I was still new enough to being High Lady that I had no idea what my formal role was to be. If we’d have a High Priestess do some odious ceremony, as lanthe had done the year before. A year. Gods, nearly a year since Rhys had called in his bargain, desperate to get me away from the poison of the Spring Court to save me from my despair. Had he been only a minute later, the Mother knew what would have happened. Where I’d now be. Snow swirled and eddied in the garden, catching in the brown fibers of the burlap covering the shrubs My mate who had worked so hard and so selflessly, all without hope that I would ever be with him We had both fought for that love, bled for it. Rhys had died for it.
Review:  I preordered this book and anticipated this release so so heavily. I thought I was getting the next full installment of the series, not a 3.1 “day in the life” kind of novella. Maybe that’s my fault. I loved getting back into the characters and their lives, and I am glad I spent the time to preorder it, but it was not everything I hoped for. Some people really enjoy these types of books, the kinds that give their characters a semblance of normalcy after a long battle or a hard heartbreak, and typically, I am those readers. But this time, I was just expecting more.

I wanted this to be the fallout of the Battle of Hybern, and instead, I got the story of recovery after trauma. The varied POV changes also threw me a little. I wonder if this is to set up a series of spin offs from the characters in the future? Anyway. I’m still going to be ordering the next one, so ….

 

Love in the Time of Global Warming

Image result for love in the time of global warmingTitle: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Genre: retelling; ya; hero’s journey; adventure; dystopian; lgbt; mythology
Synopsis: Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
Review: This Odyssey pairing is an interesting YA version of the text. A modern setting and some cool queer characters make this classic tale seem fresh and inviting for a new generation of readers. Pen is an interesting protagonist, thrown into the apocalypse without warning or preparation.  While Block doesn’t have the sweeping power that Homer does, it would be a good pairing for lower-level readers so that they understand the mile markers of the epic. Pen is a heroine in her own right, but she is no Odysseus.

In the end, the book felt a little one-dimensional for me. I am very well versed in Homer, so I think I went into it with really high expectations and hopes, but was instead kind of left wanting more. The characters didn’t get enough backstory and the drama felt a little rushed. I’d still recommend it to the students I teach though, so….