Posts Tagged 'reviews'

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.


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!)


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.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: Circe, by Madeline Miller’

Capsule Book Reviews: September 2012

Ready for another edition of capsule book reviews? (I read so much faster than I write blog posts! Sigh. Blogger problems.) Anyway, I had a great run of enjoyable books in September!

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach
I am decidedly NOT queasy or easily-squicked out. I’m a fan of senseless violence and the darkness in the human heart. One of my favorite books is Blood Meridian, for goodness sake! But this nonfiction novel about cadavers had me close to fainting at points. Seriously! I had to stop reading it on the subway a couple times because I was so grossed out. (To my credit, most of the dead body stuff was okay; it was when she wrote about the experiments done on living animals that I felt lightheaded.) Despite that, however, I thought this was a completely engrossing exploration of what happens to human bodies after death. Roach covers medical research, organ donation, car safety research, composting, and more, and does it in her usual chatty, witty, endnote-laden manner. She’s a master at injecting her voice and personality into a narrative without making it all about her. So in spite of my queasiness, I think Stiff is more than deserving of praise. Four out of five stars.

Mr. Toppit, by Charles Elton
Arthur, author of a little-known children’s fantasy series, dies, starting an unpredictable chain of events for his family to muddle through. Told from the point-of-view of his son–on whom the hero of the fantasy novels was based–we follow the family’s slow decline and the ascent of Laurie, an American tourist and witness to Arthur’s death.  I enjoyed Mr. Toppit, but too many things were glossed over or unaddressed for me to find it an entirely satisfactory read. Characters were both unlikable and opaque; I couldn’t stand Laurie or bring myself to care about her motivations. It also stretched my disbelief too far to have Laurie become a successful television host when she so often seemed psychotic on the page. I do think it is an interesting take on the havoc novelists can end up wreaking on their children. Three out of five stars.

Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-speaking United States, by Hector Tobar
I support reading non-fiction about and by Latinos for sure, considering I am Mexican-American and biased. Tobar takes us across the United States and through Latin America in his journey to chronicle the ways in which Latino identity has adapted and evolved. Many of the scenes in the Midwest, which has a large (and sometimes invisible) Latino population, were quite interesting. I found some of it problematic, however. I would have liked more writing about Guatemalans, and less about Mexicans, considering Tobar himself is Guatemalan and thus can bring a cultural insider’s perspective. I also thought some of the parts about white men appropriating Latino identities was not regarded through a critical lens at all. Basically, my issues boil down to wanting either a purely academic text or a purely journalistic text, and Translation Nation fell somewhere in between. Perhaps it will be a helpful eye-opener to those who know absolutely nothing about Latinos in the United States, but for those of us who do, it doesn’t go deep enough. Two and a half out of five stars.

Continue reading ‘Capsule Book Reviews: September 2012’

Upcoming reviews!

A glance at the week ahead:

The Bean Trees, by Barabara Kingsolver
Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

and possibly even Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick, if I think I can do it justice.

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