Tag Archives: Monsters

Review: Miller’s “Circe” and Lindsay’s Opinion vs. Mrs. C-T’s Opinion

What a beautiful respite from my reading slump! Of course, after my long trek through the desert of boring books, I was over-thirsty for quality and, thus, finished Madeline Miller’s Circe in a few days, so now I’m back to square one. What will I read now?

Hannah finished Circe before I even received it and texted me a few afterthoughts; it sounded like she was somewhat underwhelmed, but I was adamant that I would go into it as a “blank canvas” and let it paint all over me. I was not disappointed.

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.

Now, I am rather well-acquainted with Circe as a character from Homer’s The Odyssey, which I teach to freshmen every year. I went into this reading hopeful that it would contain something I could incorporate into this year’s unit (more on that in a bit), but due to my recent bad luck with books, my number one goal was to read and be entertained, to enjoy a book as I haven’t done in a while, regardless of academic application potential.

I loved this novel. The story was narrated from Circe’s 1st-person perspective and felt almost like sitting by the fire listening to story time. She was looking back on her life and telling her story to an anonymous audience (me!) and occasionally interjected her past story with musings about how naive she was or how later she would think differently. Due to these brief snaps back to the “present” story time, the vibe of the book was easy-going and familiar, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Considering the fact that most people only know Circe as a witch and temporary love stop on the Odysseus Express, imagine my surprise when the emotions and relationships weren’t 50 Shades levels of cringe. Mythology is fascinating, so we all roll our eyes and shrug at the unhealthy relationships and mistreatment of women, as though they’re just as unbelievable as gods wielding thunderbolts or six-headed sea monsters, but the truth is that misogyny seems to have weathered the test of time in a way that gods and monsters didn’t. I give 100% credit to Madeline Miller for her interpretation of Circe’s story, as well as her story-telling ability. Instead of relating every detail of each copulation session (be it willing or forced, so yes, be trigger-warned), she implies and leads the reader to understand what’s happening, but dedicates her time to the why.

The Odyssey presents Circe as a witch who transforms men into pigs because it pleases her and only Odysseus could outsmart her, changing her heart of stone to typical female emotional mush. FINALLY, Circe is portrayed as an individual, whose life was difficult and complicated long before Odysseus came along and made it more complicated. She is given a why. Why transform the men? Why be there waiting for him? Why be so enamored by a turd like Odysseus? Like all women, Circe is a complicated being and she existed outside of her connection with literature’s most well-known “hero” for centuries. Homer wrote The Odyssey around 800 B.C.E., so we’ve known one side of the story, the male’s perspective, for almost 3000 years. Let’s hear HER side of the story!

Okay, I can feel that I got on my soapbox there. The point was to say that depending on how deep down the Mythology rabbit hole you’re known to go, anywhere between a little to a lot of this novel will be yesterday’s news to you. Spoilers aren’t really that big of a threat, since we know how it will end, generally. However, the refreshing and necessary thing about this novel is that we are given insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of an ancient woman.

So, from what I’ve seen, people have disliked this when they aren’t fans of historical interpretations. Again, this is a tale as old as time, but Miller’s work came from embellishing stories and creating a new perspective. Some times, her embellishments stray from the original and a lot of hard-core mythology junkies reject any creative license. For instance, in The Odyssey, Odysseus is given moly by Hermes, he eats it, drinks Circe’s potion, and is not transformed, thus beguiling her with his “power.” It doesn’t go that way in Circe and I could be mad about it and be all “look at me; I’m so smart; I know the original; this is wrong; I’m right” but what’s the point in that? It’s no fun to be such a know-it-all that you can’t enjoy anything but the original. Chill.

The other thing about that divergence from the original is that it must exist for a reason! That is one of the most well-known plot points; anyone can point it out (so calm down, know-it-all’s), so why would Miller change it? The new version must serve a purpose in telling the audience more about Circe. This is where my mind swaps from Lindsay, the “for fun” reader, to Mrs. C-T, the critical reader. The wheels were turning nonstop towards the end of the novel, to the point where I had to get out some post-its so I could refer to important excerpts later. Here are some teachery thoughts that are still mulling and taking shape in my pre-planning mind (we won’t get to our Odyssey unit until November, so I have time to hammer out details). However, I must say that these sort of critical reading thoughts and questions do not exist exclusively in a classroom; anyone can read, but it is an entirely different skill to read critically, allowing texts to tap into your mind beyond surface-level enjoyment. Even if you are not a teacher or student, even if you don’t enjoy when this reader blog crosses the line over to a teacher blog, I encourage you to take a look at the questions posed below. You don’t have to be a student to continue to challenge your thinking. Now, to the musings:

  1. Read Book 10 of The Odyssey and then read the excerpt of their meeting from Circe. Consider how the two main characters’ vices and virtues are shifted and challenged with the difference in narrative. How are the narrators biased? Which story do you believe? Why? How are you biased?
  2. Our textbook does not include Book 11 (Odysseus’ trip to the land of the dead) but I think it is interesting/important. Last year I just did story time for missing sections and I’ve asked my department chair for a class set of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, but if those options fail or fall short, I can use the excerpt from Circe where she gives him guidance.
  3. This one is exciting: include our article about PTSD to read after Odysseus comes home and he and Telemachus slaughter all the suitors and “unfaithful” servants. Also, include the excerpt where Telemachus talks about what Odysseus was like when he came home. Is it human nature to hope “they all lived happily ever after”? Why do so many stories lack falling action and end after the climax? What do you think life was like for Odysseus/Penelope/Telemachus after his return? Why? How does Telemachus’ account support or challenge that?
  4. Include excerpt of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, specifically including the Chorus from the servant maids Odysseus killed. Then, include excerpt from Circe that gives Penelope’s account of Odysseus’ return. Why is it so unbelievable that Penelope and Circe would meet and interact so positively? How are readers of The Odyssey led to believe these women would treat each other? How does Penelope’s account shift your perception of Odysseus? Recall how Odysseus portrays Penelope in The Odyssey: how does Penelope’s portrayal of Odysseus in Circe and/or The Penelopiad compare/contrast? How do these characters show bias?
  5. After completing the epic, discuss whether Odysseus is a hero. Further discuss whether he fulfills the steps of Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey. Can one fulfill the steps but fail to be a hero? Can one be a hero without being “heroic”? Include an excerpt from Circe where Telemachus talks about Odysseus’ life and legacy. Does the inclusion of personal experience and opinion alter your perception of Odysseus’ heroic status? How could it be biased? Can one determine heroic status without the inclusion of personal accounts?

As you can tell, I LOVE to include various perspectives in my classroom. I know that it is human nature to form opinions and, sadly, some people spend more time building their own opinions by ignoring or attacking the opposition and stacking up supporting arguments than by exploring and engaging those adverse opinions in constructive discussion. It is my goal that students learn to explore the opposition as much as their own side, challenging their own biases as well as those of others, and building informed, malleable opinions. Circe will undoubtedly help me work towards this goal.

Hope you enjoyed this and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

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L: Emmy Laybourne’s “SWEET” + Toon Teaser

createToon.do

Chubby bffs go on weight loss cruise; one crushes on sweetner drug, the other crushes on human boy; sweetner makes chubsters into addicted murderous zombies

Readers, I just finished the most FAB book and I cannot wait to sing its praises! I got Emmy Laybuourne’s SWEET in a recent book haul from my generous Grad professor and my expectations could not have been lower. I mean, it sounded positively ridiculous.

sweetSolu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Fiorelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

But will they die for it, too?

Tom Fiorelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

The novel is a satire, making fun of… well, everything. The absurdity of our society’s obsession with weight and weight-loss; the danger of trusting that the things you’re ingesting are safe without doing your own research; the severity of addiction and how easily it happens; the ability to find love in unlikely places. It would be easy to read SWEET and think it’s just a ridiculous depiction of an impossible occurrence; undoubtedly, the premise of this novel is whackadoodle, but then again, is it?! Yes, Laybourne’s depiction is severe and unlikely, but far from unimaginable! The wonder drug, Solu, promises dramatic and almost instantaneous weight loss, something that I’m 100% certain real people would sign up for STAT, not just the fanatics in the novel.

Laybourne’s humor is present throughout the novel and it’s impossible (well, it was for me, at least) to read any of it without fully grasping the message, “people are CRAZY!” The story is told from the swapping perspectives of the main characters, Laurel and Tom. Laurel is a beautifully optimistic depiction of a seventeen-year-old, slightly overweight girl. She’s happy with her body, she loves her curves, she has a healthy relationship with her best friend, and aside from not being rich, she has no overwhelming resentments towards her parents! Can you believe that?! An emotionally un-scarred teen. It’s about gal-darned time!!

The first half of the book is comical, focusing on the budding love story and making fun of, again, everyone. About halfway through, though, things get so stinking REAL! S**t hits the fan in the most improbable way, and Laybourne doesn’t spare her readers any of the gory details. For me, this was an utter delight! Gross me out, girl! Give me the creeps! But for others who are not fans of horror or thriller stories, this may get a bit too heavy for you. I sincerely hope not, because this book deserves to be read by any and all. As vivid as the details were, it only emphasizes Laybourne’s point. How far will people go to be thin? Addiction is not glamorous; in the face of disaster, dignity and social status cease to mean anything. And at what point do you stop considering a person to be a person?

I adored this book. So much fun! It was a quick read, being just 250 pages, and I was utterly enthralled the whole time. This book will live in my classroom library and I’ll be sure to place it in the right hands. This could be a really poignant read for teen girls dealing with self-image and needing some perspective, but I’m in no need of body image reassurances and I got the biggest kick out of this book, so I’d also suggest it to my young readers who just love a good thrill.

I immediately texted Hannah upon finishing it and begged her to read it. We’ll see if she takes the bait. And sidebar, the book ended on a note that could totally mean there will be another book so let us all hope for the best.

Has anyone else read SWEET? I’ve not seen anyone talking about this book and I’d love to know if I’m alone in my adoration. Next up for me is Feed by M. T. Anderson. Join me, won’t you?

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L: Review of Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona”

If I many be so bold, I’d like to commend myself for taking great strides towards being a more versatile, well-rounded reader within the last 6 months. If you take a quick trip down memory lane, back to some of my earliest posts, you’ll see that I found a number of ways to clearly indicate that my preferences leaned exclusively towards hard-copy versions of the classics. Nowadays, however, at least half (if not more) of my recreational literary conquests are YA, as well as the relatively unfamiliar (to me) genre of graphic novels, including my latest completion, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Nimona is considered to be a YA text, and I think it fits into that genre perfectly. The main character, Nimona’s, age is never specified, but her personality and behavior in situations of villainy make it easy to assume she is a young adult. Nimona’s character is complex, immature, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and mysterious. Like many teens (and full-blown adults, like myself), Nimona uses humor and sarcasm to navigate serious situations and mask her feelings. Nimona is a product of her past and, although that past is a mystery to readers for most of the novel, her penchant for violence echos throughout her actions, calling into question her motivations for pairing up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom villain.

Stevenson’s characters are complex, having hidden agendas, suppressed feelings, longstanding conflicts, and rich backstories. No character is defined by his/her title and, in fact, those titles (hero, villain, sidekick, etc.) are often called into question by his/her actions. Although readers get significantly fewer words with graphic novels, the pictures help to fill in the blanks and (literally) illustrate aspects of the characters and situations that take twice as much time to convey with standard novels. Also, the images were imaginative, descriptive, and utterly adorable. Just look at the emotion and attitude in her panels, as well as the humor (look at the little shark boobies! So unexpected and funny!). In those ways, I loved it!

However, I’m not sure that I got the chance to connect with these characters. Reading a graphic novel, for me, is like watching a TV show; I’m just a spectator. I get fewer asides, monologues, and inner thoughts. I see things at face value, exactly as the author intended, so there is little room for creative interpretation or personalization. Also, I finished Nimona in one afternoon, and a busy afternoon at that. It was an effortlessly quick read, meaning that I didn’t linger with these characters for days at a time. We met, we faced trials, we resolved those trials, and now they’re gone and I don’t miss them. Why would I? I hardly knew them. I wonder if I would think differently had it been a standard novel? I wonder if this concern has occurred to others, or if I’m alone in my distance?

Like I said before, with the exception of the Maus books, I’m extremely new to graphic novels. However, my experience with them has proven them to be delightful deviations from the standard novel format. I see many advantages to the graphic novels format, as well as disadvantages. Regardless, putting this book into the right students’ hands could give fresh insight into really current and relevant problems. It was a fun and meaningful read!

SIDEBAR: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming! I pre-ordered my copy and July cannot get here soon enough!

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L: Review of James S. A. Corey’s “Cibola Burn” & Toon Teaser

Reviewing the fourth book in a series is difficult. Although the events that take place in James S. A. Corey’s Cibola Burn, book 4 in the Expanse series, are remarkably different from what happened in Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate, summarizing how they differ from one another to someone who hasn’t read the series is hard to do without revealing spoilers. It involves dancing around details in book one that hugely shaped book two; things that are major spoilers for book one (identifying the villain, character deaths or changes, evolving relationships) are yesterday’s news in book two, so discussing books two and up without spoiling book one becomes more and more difficult. That’s why I didn’t even bother reviewing Abaddon’s Gate; the review was going to be the same “it’s about space; also, I loved it” as the reviews for the previous two volumes. To me, each book is remarkable, unique, familiar, and original, but to others I can see that the reviews start to look like reruns of the same ol’, same ol’.

I just finished book four in the Expanse series, and I am still as in love as always. I also just found out that the sixth book will be released this summer and there are expected to be up to nine volumes in the series! PRAISE IT! I adore these characters. They are my family. Anyway, I’ll let Goodreads do the boring work of the synopsis, and then we’ll get to the good stuff:

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity’s home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.

But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what’s theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden – with help from the ghostly Detective Miller – can find the cure.

Okay, since I had such a fun time creating the Toon Teasers for the Stiefvater novels and since the reception of them was so kind, I decided to do a Toon Teaser for Cibola Burn, in lieu of another, similar review. Behold:

cibola burn toon

Let me tell you what you’re seeing here. 1. The inhabitants of Earth, Mars, the Belt, and the other colonies in the galaxy are facing the potential of inhabiting hitherto unexplored planets and solar systems, and the race to colonize mineral-rich planets has begun. 2. Tensions rise when the rights to lay claim to one new planet, Ilus or New Terra, is questioned, and James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are assigned as impartial mediators until a decision about ownership is reached. 3. However, the unfamiliar flora and fauna prove hostile, an unidentifiable disease renders everyone vulnerable, and a massive storm threatens to wipe out all of New Terra’s inhabitants, regardless of which side they support. Can they set aside their differences long enough to survive? Read it and see.

Now, the other good news is that Sci-Fi has a new show based on the books! It’s called, what else, “The Expanse” and the Sci-Fi channel website has the first 4 episodes available, so you should check it out if you’re interested in the books. I WILL SAY, however, that Brice and I are both just as surprised by watching the show as you will be, because it is taking a lot of artistic license and some details vary widely. That’s fine by me, but if you want the full story, the books contain so much more than the show ever could, so read the books, friends! Here is the trailer for the show. SO GOOD!

 

 

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L: Review of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Shiver”

Maggie Stiefvater LOVES a female protagonist, and that’s just swell; Maggie is herself a female, so it makes sense that she sees things from a female’s perspective, and I must say that the female protagonists in the other two novels I recently read were strong, intelligent, self-controlled women. They were great. Grace Brisbane, however, is the main character of Stiefvater’s novel, Shiver, and Grace is the worst.

Let me be clear that I read these novels in the opposite order in which they were written, so I started with Puck Connoly (a lovely display of teen wit, wisdom, and feminist determination) and ended with Grace Brisbane (a smart girl who turns into a bumbling fool when interacting with her wolf-boy lover). Grace was written first, so maybe Stiefvater learned from her mistake and upped her game in terms of female characters and their ability to not devolve into to imbeciles when talking to their crushes. Anyway, read this and then we’ll discuss more…

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

First things first: another dumb cover. Heart leaves? Please. Enough.

Secondly, as a reader who read the blurb before reading the novel, I knew this was a werewolf scenario (like I said in my last post, I’m doing an author study; I’m branching out to new genres and it clearly isn’t working), so I knew that the wolf obsessively mentioned in the beginning was going to end up being her boy-lover. But let’s pretend I didn’t know that, just for a second. The first 60-ish pages were wasted on Grace Brisbane admitting that she was in love with “her” yellow-eyed wolf. Now I’m giving her a lot of credit by saying, “ok, maybe she exaggerated. She’s not in love with a wolf,” but the writing sure did make it difficult for me to give that credit. I mean, seriously? Are we just supposed to let this go, as though humans are all too frequently in love with savage animal beasts? No, she was a pure freak. Bestiality much? Also, can I just say that Grace needs to play the lottery or something, because what are the chances that her wolf friend would just turn out to be an age- and species-appropriate, attractive young man? I’m guessing slim.

Otherwise, it was dumb. Once Sam morphs into a semi-appropriate love interest (let’s not forget that Grace’s new bf still spends half the year pooping in the woods and howling at the moon), they both develop an obsession with one another that is unhealthy on all accounts. I’m not just throwing the word “obsession” around all willy nilly; Grace and Sam readily admit that they are obsessed with one another. Their relationship is inadvisable, at best, and although I noticed that pretty much right away, I’m not confident that young, impressionable students would be able to separate the healthy themes from the unhealthy ones. I’m not entirely sure I’d even have this in my classroom library; it does address issues like peer pressure, friendships, and parental issues, but not to an extent that I think readers would learn anything or benefit from this story. In a nutshell, don’t waste your time or it’ll waste it for you.

GUYS, I have no more assigned readings until January!! I’ve forgotten what it feels like to pick my own book! Suggestions are welcome and stay tuned for NON-YA reviews!

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