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Book Review: Circe, by Madeline Miller

Fairy tale retellings through a feminist lens have gotten super popular lately.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland…all of them have had eager authors writing them darker, edgier, stronger. That doesn’t mean they’ve all been done well.

tenor

For a true reinvention of a classic myth, look no further than Circe, by Madeline Miller. It. Is. FANTASTIC. I read it in a day because I simply couldn’t put it down. (I was on vacation, sure, but still. One day!)

circe

Miller’s reinvention keeps many of the same beats as the original Greek myth. Circe is a nymph born to Perse, an oceanid, and Helios, Titan god of the sun. She has a talent for witchcraft, which gets her into trouble. She eventually is banished to an island, where she lives a solitary life amongst the lions and wolves. When sailors land or are shipwrecked there, she turns them into pigs. She meets Odysseus and seduces him into staying on her island for a year.

This leaves a lot of blank space as to who Circe really is, what motivates her, what her thoughts and hopes and fears consist of. And it’s in those blank spaces that Miller’s creation really shines. Her Circe is a lonely, unloved child, not-quite god and not-quite human, roaming the immortal halls of her parents desperate for some emotional connection amongst the perfect, cold Titans and nymphs. She finds it briefly in the tortured Prometheus, punished in front of all Titans for the sin of bringing fire to man, who bestows to her the words that will come to define her:

Not every god need be the same.

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Book Review: See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt

I was completely seduced by the cover, title, and the advance praise for See What I Have Done.

In my defense…look at that gorgeous watercolor! Look at how “ha ha” is highlighted, mirroring the unhinged laughter that someone might emit as they murdered their parents. Realize (belatedly) that the title also echoes the infamous Lizzie Borden nursery rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe:
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

seewhatihavedone

Alas, these also ended up being my favorites things about See What I Have Done, a book I had been eagerly waiting to read since it was reviewed in the New York Times. The focus sounded so interesting: the historic Borden murders, from the perspectives of Lizzie and Emma! There’s no way that I wouldn’t like this, right?

Continue reading ‘Book Review: See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt’

2017: A Year in Books

I’m alive!

Since 2015, I have gotten engaged and married, changed jobs, and moved to a new apartment in a new neighborhood. So yeah, I’ve been slightly busy! 🙂

I’ve also been READING. Not quite so much, with all the aforementioned marrying/moving/job-changing, but it’s my favorite, most sustained hobby and I’d never give it up!

To ease back into blogging, I thought I would take a look at my 2017 in books, assembled via Goodreads.

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Not bad! I exceeded my goal of reading 50 books this year, and read a wide range with a good breakdown of fiction versus nonfiction. I also read a good handful of books that had been on my to-read list for years.

Continue beyond the jump to see my top reads of 2017!

Continue reading ‘2017: A Year in Books’

2015: A Bookish Year in Review

Yes, ideally a reflection on the year’s reading gone by is done before the year is over, but better late than never, right?

In 2015, I read 86 books in total, which is an all-time record for me, and blew past my annual goal of 65 books! I’m not really sure what to credit for this huge leap in numbers, other than 1) I received a Kindle, which makes it easier for me to immediately begin a new book after finishing an old one, 2) I have a long subway commute to work, and 3) a loss in my family resulted in me reading near-constantly for a week or so in order to cope with some of the stuff I was thinking and feeling. Reasons both good and bad, then.

The average length of the books I read in 2015 was 341 pages, with the shortest read being Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant, and the longest being The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. My average star rating was a 3.3, or pretty average. (Still wishing there were half-star options on Goodreads, argh!)

There are a ton more interesting stats on my Goodreads Year in Review page. I encourage you to check it out!

What I think is a bit more telling of me and my reading style, though, are the 2015 books that I gave 5 stars to, 6 out of 7 of which were written by women. Mini-reviews of each can be found after the jump!

Continue reading ‘2015: A Bookish Year in Review’

Book Review: Zoology by Ben Dolnick

My feelings about this novel exactly.

I can be bored by books, or bewildered by the author’s choices, or unable to suspend my disbelief enough to buy into a story, but it’s rare that I feel the visceral level of dislike that I felt while reading Ben Dolnick’s debut novel Zoology.

Henry Elinsky fails his first year of college. To escape the boredom of living at home with his parents for the summer, Henry accepts his older brother’s offer of a place to live in New York City and a job working at the Central Park Zoo. He ends up befriending another summer transplant, Margaret, and bonds with her as various tragedies befall them both.

Zoology is a slim novel, topping out at 300 pages, but it felt longer for me. A huge stumbling block was our “hero” himself, Henry, who is just straight-up unlikeable and not in an interesting way–in an 18-year old man-child way. I kept getting the sense that Dolnick was trying to reach for Holden Caufield-esque protagonist in Henry. But Holden, despite how you may feel about him, felt things and felt them strongly–not just about himself, but about the injustices and hypocrisies he saw in the world around him.

Henry is, by contrast, a boring sadsack. He has no sense of relativism, no curiosity, no unselfishness, no compassion. He gets angry when a girl he likes doesn’t want to date him and hopes that by staying friends with her, he’ll win her away from her boyfriend. (Um, respect her choice, dude; she said no.) Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but the 18-year old boys I grew up with–like my brother and my boyfriend–were not like Henry at all. Thankfully.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: Zoology by Ben Dolnick’

Book Review: The Bitches of Brooklyn, by Rosemary Harris

Thanks, Thranduil. 

I always say, when asked, that I read “everything,” and I do usually mean it. My tastes are pretty wide ranging, from hard sci-fi to poetry, from literary fiction to true crime. Upon reflection, however, there are some genres that I have tended to avoid: romance (of all flavors, paranormal and otherwise), mysteries, and what is often somewhat-pejoratively referred to as “chick lit.” Not because I think poorly of those genres, but because I know myself and my tastes. And as you can see from previous reviews, when I’ve been fooled into reading romance in the guise of sci-fi or fantasy, I’ve been…less than kind.

With all of that in mind, you might wonder why I decided to read mystery writer Rosemary Harris’s latest, The Bitches of Brooklyn. Three words: title and cover. They were eye-catching and kind of hilarious, and I couldn’t help myself. Additionally, I live in New York City and enjoy reading books that take place here, especially in the boroughs. So I thought, “ah, what the hell,” and clicked to download The Bitches of Brooklyn e-book.

It didn’t take me too long to realize I had made a mistake, but I’m too stubborn to stop reading a book I’ve started.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Bitches of Brooklyn, by Rosemary Harris’

Book Review: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, by Dee Brown

Surely revolutionary at the time that it was released, and even now, still an incredibly incisive look at how white American politics, backstabbing, greed, and genocide decimated the American Indian population, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West is not a comfortable read. Wounded Knee is relentless in its documentation of the betrayals and battles suffered by the United States’ indigenous populations, from the Comanche to the Blackfeet to the Kiowa.

I often had to put this one down while reading, due to the sheer injustice and treachery suffered by literally every tribe of American Indian, even those who considered themselves allies of Washington and the Great Father (the U.S. President). This is the real history of the West, which was far from the empty plains the U.S government painted it as; Native Americans had rich, vibrant, established societies that were displaced and destroyed by Manifest Destiny and westward expansion of industrial and agricultural interests. Knowing how the story ends–with the systematic removal of American Indians to tiny, poorly-served reservations–doesn’t lessen the blow.

Wounded Knee also gives us a deeper look into the lives and motivations of prominent American Indians like Red Cloud, Mangas Coloradas, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull, all of whom consistently tried to serve and protect their people however they could, despite the overwhelming odds facing them. It was especially interesting to see the divisions between American Indian leaders like Red Cloud, who tried dealing with the U.S. through legal channels, and those like Crazy Horse, who chose guerrilla warfare and resistance. The photographs and illustrations of these brave men were a welcome addition to their stories.

While the ending to Wounded Knee feels rather abrupt, it is still probably one of the most complete investigations of American Indian history out there, and the choice on Brown’s part to end it with the Ghost Dance saga was especially haunting. Wounded Knee is a difficult but important read, and anyone who considers themselves a student of the history of the West or Native American history would do well to read it.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was on my to-read list for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Roof Beam Reader!

Bookwanderer Rating: Four and a half out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Other Reviews:  At Home with Books, A Variety of Words,


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