Gods of Jade & Shadow Review

image1Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: fantasy; historical fantasy; mythology; mayan; fairy tale;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

Review: 4 Stars. This was a fantastic book. It wasn’t just a fantastic read, it was, like, fantastical. I don’t know enough about Mexican and Central American mythology and wanted to dive into this universe after the first chapter. Sheepishly, my only actual references to anything before this book were movies like The Book of Life and Coco, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Because of this, when Book of the Month had this as an option, I jumped at the opportunity, because I’ve always been fascinated with mythology, and boy I’m glad I did.

I love this book though, because I feel like I’m completely drawn in as a third character on Hun-Kamé and Casiopea’s quest. The imagery, the characterization, and the emotion of this book all weaves such a beautiful tapestry. As I was reading, it felt like, at any moment, I could be transported into the 1920’s right with them. Moreno-Garcia’s way with words is astounding.

It took me a full chapter to really get into this book, not gonna lie. I was bored by Cinderella-esque story, but then Moreno-Garcia literally called me out and wrote Casiopea saying she wasn’t some Cinderella type and so I was like, “okay, dang, sorry… guess I’ll give it a shot.” If I’m being honest, it wasn’t until the chest is opened and the quest itself officially began that I truly got invested in the story.

None of the Leyva family is given much backstory, (aside from Martín) except that they treat Casiopea (and her mother) like servants. Even her mother wants her to fall in line and just suck it up, but it all kind of serves a purpose— there’s no guilt when she leaves, and as a reader, I have no second-hand guilt about her leaving anything behind when her quest begins either.  I guess that’s the intention, and because it works, it furthers the plot along.

I really loved moving through Mexico with Casiopea and Hun-Kamé. Getting to see the different states through Casiopea’s eyes was a joy because Moreno-Garcia really captured the “small village girl experiencing the big city” vibe. From the train rides, to the carnivals, it was so exciting to read.

My absolute favorite part of the book was Juan. The charmer. I went on a short twitter rant about him. (You can view it HERE.) I legit laughed out loud when he threatened to crush her every bone. When he promised to drown her and use her bloated body as an instrument. And then when he backed off so quickly and held his hands up, “I thought we were just playing” — seriously. He was my favorite stop on their quest.

Each stop on their quest had a different feel. Someone had secret wisdom for Casiopea, just in case she needed to get out of a bind, Juan brought humor to a tricky situation, an immortal seductress brought temptation and revealed hidden truths, and a sorcerer helped them relay on each other.

The hardest part for me— although beautiful — was when Hun-Kamé explained to Casiopea the reality of what would come should they succeed. “There is no ‘after,’” she whispered (245).

That part hit me straight with an obsidian knife to the heart. Like she’s willing to walk the Black Roads for you bro. And now there is no after. Ouch.

But then later, Moreno-Garcia got me again when Xibalba sees in Hun-Kamé’s soul and “the flowers, linked together, spoke to her. They said, “My love.” (326)  She still has to go back to the Middleworld alone, but at least he’s feeling it, too! I think there’s a speck of dust in my eye.

Overall, this book was beautiful, adventurous, and full of heart. I loved the language, the Mayan myth, and the spirit of the story. It’s made me want to find more stories with the same energy so I can learn more and immerse myself in the culture even further.

It’s a great read that I’d definitely recommend!

Circe Review

circe-madeline-millerTitle: 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.

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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!

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.

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….

The Song of Achilles

Image result for the song of achillesTitle: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: historical fiction; fantasy; mythology; lgbt; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Review: This book is everything an epic retelling of mighty Achilles should be. In the beginning of the novel, as Patroclus’ backstory was being introduced, I started to feel some type of way because I always loved Patroclus’ story and Madeline Miller’s telling of it wasn’t what I remembered at all, but when he is sent to live with Achilles, I stopped caring about that completely. The relationship between these two heroes grows slowly and softly and sweetly in a way that proves just how passionate about the classics Miller really is.

As Achilles and Patroclus grow older (not that old, they’re barely teenagers at the start of the Trojan War), they cannot avoid the world forever. The dynamics between all of other characters shift, but the bond between Achilles and Patroclus stays steady. I knew how this was to end, obviously, but JESUS did I cry. The best of the Greeks indeed. Patroclus’ love for Achilles, and Achilles’ lust for legacy create a beautiful and tragic story of love and honor. Thetis, I hated you, but in the end, you did right by your son.

Definitely looking forward to more from Madeline Miller after this.