Galatea Book Review

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 2.31.45 PM.pngTitle: Galatea
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: fantasy; mythology; short stories; retellings; historical fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In Ancient Greece, a skilled marble sculptor has been blessed by a goddess who has given his masterpiece – the most beautiful woman the town has ever seen – the gift of life. Now his wife, Galatea is expected to be obedience and humility personified, but it is not long before she learns to use her beauty as a form of manipulation. In a desperate bid by her obsessive husband to keep her under control, she is locked away under the constant supervision of doctors and nurses. But with a daughter to rescue, she is determined to break free, whatever the cost…

Review: 4 stars.

I think it’s safe to say at this point that I’d read anything Miller writes. She’s written two of my favorite books of all time — you can read my review of Song of Achilles HERE and my review of Circe HERE — and I’m a Classics nerd. While I didn’t jump on the Percy Jackson train, I can appreciate what it did for the genre. Miller takes a more sophisticated approach to myth retellings though, and it’s just brilliant.

Galatea is very different though. If I think of her work thus far on a continuum, in terms of her readership, it reminds me a lot of JK Rowling’s writing. Like, with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that book was clearly YA, meant for children around Harry’s age, but by Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, that YA line was very blurred. So much of what Harry was going through in (arguably) 4-7 were ADULT.

Galatea was much of the same. While Galatea is not connected to Song of Achilles or Circe, I think her writing style has evolved with each text. Song of Achilles seemed very YA, even if it isn’t marketed as such on Goodreads. It’s a quick read, lower lexile, all that, and it’s soft and sweet and kind.

And then with Circe, Miller’s writing is harder. And maybe that’s because Circe’s story is harder, but Circe’s feminist eye is open so it’s kind of reaffirming, and the Odyssey tale is so much more charged because of it. Guys. Circe was one of two books that made me change how I rate books. (Internment was the other in case you’re wondering.) That’s how beautiful I thought it was. But like, Miller’s style seemed to evolve in my opinion. A more adult audience required, sort of thing.

And then there’s Galatea (see this is definitely a Galatea review). This is definitely an adult short story. (Less than a 30 minute read for most readers, I’d say). This Pygmalion retelling is not beautiful and sweet or hard and reaffirming. This is tragic and difficult. Right out the jump there’s fuck and confusion, and a woman in a hospital being told to lie down, and a nurse who doesn’t seem to listen.

And later, Galatea tells the reader that if she doesn’t play the game (listen to the orders of her doctors) they’ll give her a tea that stops her tongue from working and makes her piss the bed.

This is not beautiful, but it is really, really good. It has something to say. At its core, almost, as a reminder. The Pygmalion myth is a good reminder about how men are rarely satisfied, and Galatea brings that right to the forefront in such a cutting way.

Again, I’m left breathless, waiting for her next text. Fingers crossed that it’s Medusa. Especially after some of the undertones here, I think it would be a perfect transition.

Moxie Review

Title: Moxie
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Genre: contemporary; feminism; ya; realistic fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Moxie girls fight back!Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Review: 4 Stars. I read this book on the heels of Samira Ahmed’s Internment. (You can read that review HERE). To say Moxie was a departure from that would be a gross understatement. However, this book was fun and a delight to read. Vivian was a strong and caring and carried the book the whole way through. She was a three dimensional character and really well written by author, Mathieu. She was nerdy and unsure, but strong and caring when she saw others needed her to be so.

Inspired by her mother’s glory days, she creates a zine for her school to empower the girls to fight back against the patriarchal structures in place that hold them back.

What I like is that Mathieu brings up events that are relevant for all girls in all high schools. Dress codes, rape culture, inappropriate groping, lack of administrative support… these are all things girls face in countless high schools.

What’s more, these girls, through their collective coming together because of the zine get actual results. It’s really cool.

The boyfriend character is interesting. He keeps doing this “not all guys” thing and I think I get that he’s trying to learn, and Mathieu is trying to make a point, but his repetitive “I’m not those guys, I’m sensitive, look at me, I get it, you’re cool,” schtick didn’t really sit well with me. I’m wondering if she did this to point out how annoying it is, but the fact that Viv and he stay together in the end makes it all the worse. Like, sure, he’s trying, and sure, he’s quasi-supportive, but like… just because he’s the first guy that ever showed interest in her doesn’t mean she has to stay with him and teach him how to be “not all guys.”

I don’t think it was Vivian’s job to teach him how to be a decent guy. It’s not her job to teach him to shut up and just listen. It’s not her job to realize that girls who say the administration tried to cover up a rape or attempted rape aren’t lying.

/rant
Either way, this book was GOOD. Really good. That boyfriend piece is really just a small part of the plot and the rest of it is really female empowerment centered. The female friendships are strong and the driving force of Vivian’s kickstarting Moxie in the first place. The girls in this high school stand proud and tall together, even when they aren’t sure how to do so, and it’s really remarkable. This book is inspiring. And quick. It was fast paced, fun, well-written, and going in my classroom library.

Moxie girls fight back!

These Witches Don’t Burn Review

image1Title: These Witches Don’t Burn [1/?]
Author: Isabel Sterling
Genre: fantasy; ya; paranormal witches; own voices; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Review: 5 Stars. When my book group, the Lit Coven, (find them HERE) decided to read this book, I was late to the party. I’d instituted a summer book buying ban and decided against reading anything I didn’t already own, but obviously I folded, (DUH) and bought this. It only took me reading the description before I was clicking BUY and devouring it upon its arrival.

Okay, so let’s start with setting. I’ve only been to Salem three times, but Sterling put me back there pretty much immediately. From the touristy areas where all the witch shops are, to where the more suburban houses are, it was New England through and through. She did a great job at setting the scene and using the historic undercurrent to highlight the very real threat for her main characters in 2019. I loved how this modern day clan of witches lives and breathes the history of what happened in 17th century Salem, and Sterling’s writing made that happen for me.

Another thing I quite enjoyed about this book are the very real and relatable characters in this book. Hannah is a solid main character. She’s, like many of the other MCs I tend to like, not perfect, but learning and growing. She relies on others, seeks truth, doesn’t just accept things as fact, and questions everything the adults tell her to believe. Go Hannah!

She trusts her judgment and believes in her friendship with Gemma, even when she knows it goes against everything she’s ever learned. She trusts her heart and her mind. But she’s a teenager, so she’s also learning how to come to terms with heartbreak, and relationships. She’s also a really strong example of an unapologetic and badass lesbian. I love Sterling’s writing of her character.

At one point, a side character,  Benton thinks he can persuade her to date him, and she’s like, um, “no dude, I’m gay.” The way Sterling injects the social commentary of turning girls straight here was so smooth and so easily done, just a quick conversation. Then it was done and handled, and then both Hannah and Benton move on, as friends.

Morgan is also badass. She’s bi, and so cool. Hannah assumes she’s a lesbian, there’s a clarifying convo in there about assumptions, and then they move on and it’s literally no problem. Another cool move by Sterling. Morgan is confident, calm, and perfect for Hannah— the complete opposite of Hannah’s ex, Veronica.

Veronica is the epitome of unhealthy relationship.

———-Okay, hold up————

Listen. I promise this book is about witches. But Sterling’s writing is SO GOOD we have to talk about how she writes these characters.

Okay, back to Veronica. So unhealthy. Manipulating. Wishy washy. She wants Hannah back, but only so Hannah doesn’t have someone else. Ugh. But so well written. Isabel Sterling. You are so so good at writing characters and character interactions. For real.

The plot itself is kind of like a mystery whodunit but with witches and a teenage love triange thrown in for good measure — if you’re into that sort of thing. As it’s in Salem, and it’s called These Witches Don’t Burn, there are some assumptions you can make, right? Someone wants to burn witches. So people are after Hannah – the witch. Despite, everything though, throughout the whole book, I wasn’t actively trying to figure out who it was that was trying to hunt witches. I’m usually pretty good at guessing who the bad guy is, but this time, it took me a bit to figure it out.

BUT
I REALLY LIKED that. I liked not knowing. I didn’t want to figure it out. I wanted to enjoy the story and the mystery. I was so wrapped up in the characters and the drama of the romance and the family / clan dynamic that I didn’t guess who the witch hunter(s) was/were until the end.

These Witches Don’t Burn was amazing. I am putting it in my classroom with a big huge 5 Stars on it so my kids know it was an amazing read.

 

I Thought it was Just Me Review

51Nu-VjkudLTitle: I Thought it was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.”
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.