Greek mythology is real weird

Circe by Madeline Miller

I begin by saying, Greek mythology is very odd and it’s not easy to take something that messed up and make in feel human. But that’s exactly what Miller has done.

Circe is a lesser goddess, featured in Homer’s Odyssey. In the original myth she is a witch who lives on an island and turns sailors into pigs. Odysseus tricks her, takes her as his lover and in the end she helps him complete his quests. In Circe, the character is a little more developed. Her childhood was sad and lonely, her heart not as capricious, cruel or indifferent to the suffering of morals as her immortal family. When she discovers her powers, she goes against the will of her god father, Helios, reveals her witchcraft to the Olympians and is punished with exile for all eternity on an island. There she waits, interacting with several heroes and villains throughout Greek mythology.

It’s a story of family, motherhood, anger and violence, wrapped up in ancient myths and held together with beautiful language and lovely storytelling.

Once again, the part that most resonated with me was Circe’s becoming a mother for the first time. I swear, I’m not looking for audiobooks about parenthood to listen to while I’m feeding my son but they just keep popping up.

Circe’s terror and fierce drive to protect her son, and her amazement and heartbreak as she watches her son age and change struck a cord with me for sure. It’s hard to articulate my feelings of constant terror for my son, particularly because as an adult you see how dark and scary the world is and how delicate life is and how easy it is for it to be hurt and lost. Circe, as an immortal goddess who has survived in a world where gods are a destructive force sees so clearly the futures her son might face. I understood her. The awe she feels as her baby ages and changes in what feels like the blink of her eternal eye, I also got that. My son’s coming up on three months and already I feel like my time with him is slipping away.

It was incredibly powerful to hear the descriptions of parenting Miller wrote through Circe.

This is not a kids book – it’s got quite a bit of kind of disturbing content, a lot of sex (although nothing graphic) and is pretty violent. It is an adult book, and above all, I’d say it’s a parent book.

Also, anyone who likes Greek myths. I would not recommend it to anyone who can’t handle all that nonsense.

Last movie I watched:

The first half of Into the Woods. Fun musical. Very grim.

Last TV show I watched:

Part of To Walk Invisible. I’m committed because I’m interested in the Bronte sisters, but really I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I’m finding it lacks any kind of narrative drive.

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Surprisingly life changing and a bit magical

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

My wife made me read this. I would never, ever have picked this book up ever. And although I didn’t expect to like it, I found it quite readable and not even that painful, like I had anticipated.

I don’t know how to talk about this book, because it’s kind of a self help book and therefore I assume everyone should be getting something different¬† out of it.

Please note that I a not a clean person, never have been but I recently had a baby and am spending most of my time at home with him and I was finding, for the first time in my life, that the messes around me were actually upsetting. This book came to me at the prefect time. Which is one of the things the author talks about – objects coming to you at the right time in your life.

The things I took away from this book were the idea that your objects and your house itself serve you faithfully and in return you should make sure they are treated respectfully. I’m not going as far as she did (nope, just not folding my socks or emptying my purse every day) but that philosophy kind of resonated with me (yup, I’m lucky I have this beautiful, little house and I should treat it with care and affection). She also discusses how everything has a place, everything has a home and this is also something that brings peace to my brain, going to bed knowing things are in their place. It used to just be people but maybe I could extend it to my objects too.

So I’m not going to systematically go through my whole house, hold each object and ask myself if it brings me joy but I am going to take a bit of that book with me as I move through my life, keep my house and raise my kid(s). I’m not sure I’d recommend it but I’ll say this – if you think you should read it, it might be the right time for you to read it.

But I will never agree with her philosophy on not keeping all your books. Seriously, even bad books bring joy to my life.

Last movie I watched:

The second half of my Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I liked it. I mean, I loved the first one but I liked this.

Last TV show I watched:

Legend of Korra. Loved it, but Avatar is better

I am … okay

Lorien Legacy: The Power Of Six by Pittacus Lore

I suppose I should say, in defense of this series, I haven’t read the whole series. I saw the movie, and read one of the other books so maybe I’d enjoy this more if I’d done better with the series.

The second thing is that I listened to it, and I really didn’t like the readers. That can make or break an audiobook, and in this case, it broke for me. The reader for Four’s part wasn’t great but he was okay. The reader for Seven drove me nuts! I don’t know why she read all the parts of the Spanish characters with a terrible Spanish accent if all the characters, including the main character, are speaking Spanish?

Overall I felt this book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great – the language wasn’t particularly compelling, and while the story moved along at a good pace, the characters lacked any real depth or characterization, the villains lacked complexity and the story was generally predictable. I liked it well enough, but I’m a snob and I guess I was looking for something a little bit more.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed seeing a love triangle with a boy in the center. If there had to be a love triangle, it was nice to see it wasn’t a girl. After all, boys have feelings too.

I’m sure I’d recommend this series to an older child or young adult – it’s a fast read, plot driven and fun. I’m sure I wouldn’t recommend it to adult snobs.

Last movie I watched:

The first half of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I loved the first one so much it could hardly live up to my expectations, but it’s not bad.

Last TV show I watched:

Legend of Korra. Love it!

I am … okay

Lorien Legacy: The Power Of Six by Pittacus Lore

I suppose I should say, in defense of this series, I haven’t read the whole series. I saw the movie, and read one of the other books so maybe I’d enjoy this more if I’d done better with the series.

The second thing is that I listened to it, and I really didn’t like the readers. That can make or break an audiobook, and in this case, it broke for me. The reader for Four’s part wasn’t great but he was okay. The reader for Seven drove me nuts! I don’t know why she read all the parts of the Spanish characters with a terrible Spanish accent if all the characters, including the main character, are speaking Spanish?

Overall I felt this book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great – the language wasn’t particularly compelling, and while the story moved along at a good pace, the characters lacked any real depth or characterization, the villains lacked complexity and the story was generally predictable. I liked it well enough, but I’m a snob and I guess I was looking for something a little bit more.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed seeing a love triangle with a boy in the center. If there had to be a love triangle, it was nice to see it wasn’t a girl. After all, boys have feelings too.

I’m sure I’d recommend this series to an older child or young adult – it’s a fast read, plot driven and fun. I’m sure I wouldn’t recommend it to adult snobs.

Last movie I watched:

The first half of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I loved the first one so much it could hardly live up to my expectations, but it’s not bad.

Last TV show I watched:

Legend of Korra. Love it!

Learning to fly

Septimus Heap: Book 2: Flyte by Angie Sage

This series is just so much fun! It’s a kids series, good for readers who enjoyed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Septimus Heap doesn’t grow and get darker the same way Harry Potter did). I would confidently recommend it to kids who are looking for a great fantasy series with quirky characters, lots of plot, fun language play and some solid world building.

The book follows Jenna (the long lost Princess), Septimus (no longer a nameless boy in the army, but the apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary wizard) and Simon, the oldest Heap as he pursues another apprenticeship, this time with DomDaniel.

I laughed out loud, was surprisingly moved by a few moments and really enjoyed how, at its core, despite its epic feel, dragons and jokes it is still a story about a family. A confused, struggling and not always reasonable family and if that isn’t relatable I don’t know what is.

Last movie I watched:

Probably still that piece of The Greatest Showman

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Still so, so, so good

Beautiful and heartbreaking and human

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Abridged) by Khaled Hosseini

I listened this book as an audiobook, which is why it was the abridged. The reader was great, the book was amazing and I’m kind of struggling with an book hangover – I’ve got a new audiobook on the go but can’t get into it because it’s just not as good as this story.

The story is of two women in Afghanistan, spanning forty or fifty years. It is heartbreaking, beautiful and devastating but ultimately hopeful story .  It is about the amazing power of women to overcome unthinkable horrors, particularly when they are motivated by love of their children.

The first part of the book is the story of Miriam, an illegitimate child of a wealthy man and a former housekeeper. She is excluded not just from her father’s family, but society as a whole. Her world changes dramatically when she’s a young teenager which ultimately results in her marriage to an abusive man named Rasheed in Kabul.

The second part of the book introduces Laila, who has lived her whole life down the street from Rasheed and Miriam, some twenty years older than her, without ever knowing it, in a much more liberal household. She too is forced to grow up devastatingly early and she becomes Rasheed’s second wife.

The last part changes point of views, switching between the two women as they move from adversaries to allies to a family in the truest sense.

The personal struggles of the two women take place against the backdrop of Afghanistan troubled history, including regime changes, international conflict with the Soviets and the Americans and the repressive rule of the Taliban. Both women are scarred by the trauma of war, just as their beloved city is. Yet at the end of the books, there’s a glimmer of hope for another generation of women, who may escape the horrors their mothers and grandmother’s survived.

I should mention that this book ends almost in the present, and its worth considering what the book is so subtly and elegantly suggesting about the future in the middle east.

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving away a lot of details, which I’m struggling with because it was such a great story I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but I feel like I have to talk about mothers in this book, because to me that’s what the story is really about. In all fairness, this could be because I listened to it as I fed my 4 week old son, but I still think it’s worth considering.

Both women, Laila and Miriam had mothers who loved them, but could not make the hard choices to protect their daughters, due mostly to the trauma and pain they had experienced. For Laila’s mother, this was the death of her sons and her hatred for the Soviets as a result which motivated her to stay in Kabul long after it became unsafe for her family, which ultimately resulted in her death, her husband’s death and the forced marriage of her daughter. Miriam’s mother was so unable to move past the betrayal of the man she loved that when Miriam left her, even just for a day, to see her father, she took her own life.

Contrast that with Laila who married and stayed with a man who abused her to protect her children, who at the end of the book is called “mother” by a school full of orphans and is carrying the potential for the next generation of women. Miriam kills and literally dies to protect Laila and her children, the daughter who wasn’t even her own. Both women make enormous sacrifices to ensure the safety of their children, and that provides hope for the future.

This is an incredible story and I think everyone should read it. Everyone because if nothing else it’s a beautiful, moving exercise in empathy, which is of course, how books change the world.

Last movie I watched:

A small piece of the Greatest Showman, with the commentary of a four year old and a six year old over top of it. I think I’ll try it again sometime.

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. So good guys! So, so good.

Very deep, just a little bit scary

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I really like John Green, his online personality as much as his books. So I was pretty excited for this.

As I side note, I listened to it as an audiobook and the reader was pretty good, if anyone’s got a long road trip ahead of them.

This book centers around Aza, a sixteen year old girl who has a great best friend Daisy who convinces her to help look for a missing billionaire in Indianapolis to get the hundred thousand dollar reward. She also has a few pretty serious mental health issues. As she struggles with her sense of herself, Aza and Daisy’s quest changes everything for both of them.

Overall it was a great read. Like most John Green books, it’s pretty philosophic and maybe a little more thought driven then plot driven, but that’s okay. There’s lots (and lots) I could say about it but I will just mention a thought or two and get on with on my day.

One of the things that I could most terrifying and wonderful was Aza’s mental health issues. John Green clearly brings his own personal experience to this book. Aza’s constant search for the perfect metaphor to describe her illness, like if she could just explain it accurately somehow she’d be better. I found (spoilers! just assume there are spoilers from here on out) her late night drinking of hand sanitizer to be a terrifying and traumatic read for me. The writing was perfect. Not only was Aza out of control, but the reader was too. It was scary.

I also really liked that Aza and her love interest, Davis, the son of the missing billionaire, did not end up together.¬† John Green often subverts expectations about happily ever afters (see Paper Towns) but Davis and Aza really had a connection. It felt tangible and real and built on something that mattered, not the far too common love at first sight coupling that YA so enjoys. But lots of relationships between two people who are really connected don’t work out and YA doesn’t always do a great job of showing that.

And I liked that the core relationship in the story was Aza’s and Daisy’s. Because again, YA novels often put all the focus on the romance, and not the best friend. There’s the odd exception of course, but generally it’s not. This is unfortunate, because I have found in my own experience (not a study or anything) that after high school you’re way more likely to keep in touch with your friends than anyone you dated.

So it’s not The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a great read and I would be more than happy to recommend it to any young person.

Last movie I watched:

Golden Compass. It was good. Certainly not the movies fault they didn’t make the sequel. I blame the book.

Last TV show I watched:

Galavant. Hilarious.