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.

Advertisements

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.

Just so, so, so good

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

I love, love, love this book. There is so much excellence I’m not sure where to start.

It is the story of Pen, short for Penelope, a queer first generation Canadian teenager. At the start of the book Pen is doing her best to slide by unnoticed. She avoids fighting with her parents when she can by hiding in the basement where her older brother lives. Her best friend Colby defends her against anyone who bullies her in exchange for her help picking up girls. But when Colby tries to pick up the girl Pen has a crush on, Pen makes a choice for herself. Soon after events in her life start to spiral out of her control, forcing to her to evaluate the decisions she’d made so far, their consequences and man up.

There’s a lot of really, really good things about this book. The tone is great, Pen’s voice is unique and strong and she’s a great character who’s relatable to anyone who’s every felt like an outsider (every single person ever obviously). It’s also a great story of LGBT+ story in a delightful, un-simplistic way. Pen is a lesbian, 100%. Blake, her girlfriend, has dated boys but also dates a woman, implying she’s bi or possibly pan. Pen is very masculine – she cuts her hair short, she dresses in her brother’s hand-me-downs, she loves TMNT and hates Barbies but she also is very sure she’s not transgender. She really recognizes her identity as a masculine woman. But most of this isn’t really stated, it just is. There are scenes that really touch on these issues – for example Pen tells Blake she wants to be touched like a boy – but they aren’t resolved either and as far as all the characters, or at least the sympathetic ones, are concerned, that’s okay. And I think that’s a really good thing. We don’t need every single person to fit into a box.

This book has a lot of really heavy content. Here there be spoilers. The struggles of first generation Canadians are woven throughout the story – Pen struggles with vastly different expectations she has for her own life versus her parents. Language gaps, extended family, food and cultural expectations are woven throughout the book as challenges and advantages for Pen and her brother.

Finally there is some sexual assault. Pen’s internal dialogue does an amazing job of describing her frozen fear, when Colby makes sexual advances on her. Although she clearly doesn’t want them and is not interested in them but she feels like she has no power in their relationship, she’s afraid to find herself without Colby’s friendship so she has to let it happen. It’s really upsetting to read.

There’s also some pretty serious violence, alcohol, drugs and an abortion, which is handled carefully and complexly but is obviously challenging for readers.

I recommend this book enormously,  for teens and adults. If younger readers would like to take a stab at it, I’d recommend that too but encourage an adult conversation about some of the content. Just read it, enjoy it and embrace the really satisfying but not completely happy ending.

Last movie I watched:

Thor: Ragnorak. Pretty excellent, I have to say.

Last TV episode I watched:

The Red Tent. I’m actually really enjoying it, although I’m sure the book is better.

How not to end a love triangle

Infernal Devices: Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

Here there be spoilers.

This is the last in the series, and resolves both the story and the love triangle. There were a few really, really big twists that were all pretty good and definitely squee worthy.

I would like to address the love triangle though, because that was a pretty good  and big part of the story that was kind of a cop out. The love triangle has to end of course because the book is over. And it was  a really good love triangle because Tessa loved both Will and Jem for real reasons that make sense for her. Both bring something into her life that makes her feel special and beautiful and brings love to her heart.

So how does the author get out of these two excellent character being equally deserving of the love of the heroine?

Well she kills one of them. But it’s a trick kill – they aren’t really dead. And then as it turns out, two of them are immortal. So naturally, Tessa stays with one of them until he dies of old age and then eventually catches up with the immortal one when chance allow.s

This was a very satisfying ending because I liked both potential lovers but it was also not, I don’t know – emotional I guess? It felt like 2.75 novels building up to Tessa having to make a terrible choice but then she lucks out, circumstance just takes her decision away from her and she just gets to have both. And something about that just made her seem like a victim of circumstance, not her own heart. That was a little disappointing, that’s all.

Last Movie I watched:

Nope. No clue.

Last TV show I watched:

Supernatural. I’m getting through it.

The triangle continues to grow. As does my love for Magnus Bane

Infernal Devices: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

This book continues the love triangle/Shadowhunter history started in Clockwork Angel. I’m not sure why, if it’s because I read it a while ago or if its a reflection on the book itself, but I don’t remember it as clearly as I remember the first and third book. I’m sure some details are revealed, at least one character dies, and there are a few good “gasp! No!” moments but overall it was really just a great bridge between a good setup in the first book and a great payoff in the third.

I did really enjoy this series though. Strongly recommend.

Last movie I watched:

Who knows?

Last TV show I watched:

Supernatural.

Love Triangles

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Once again, I read this book a long time ago, but like all the Cassandra Clare books, I really enjoyed it. Although it was very heavily based on a love triangle, which I don’t usually like, but Clare did a great job of making all members of of the triangle equally developed instead of having one poor player basically be a straw man there for dramatic tension, instead of being actually lovable.

The supporting cast was also excellent and there were some really, really good reveals, as well as Magnus Bane, making it all in all a great reading experience.

Last movie I watched:

I’m really not sure. Part of 101 Dalmatians I think?

Last TV episode I watched:

How I Met Your Mother. Fun times.