Circe by Madeline Miller

“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 419 pages.
Read from June 15, 2020 to June 17, 2020.

This book was on my library waiting list for such a long time but let me tell you, it was worth the wait. This book popped up on my radar on Goodreads and a few book sites I follow with raving reviews for its unique and accessible approach to some classic characters of Greek mythology. Madeline Miller holds an MA in Classics and teaches high school ages students Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare. A feat, that is is no easy task. I would not call Circe a young adult novel because it’s truly a piece of literature that is accessible to all ages.

Circe is the daughter of the titan, Helios. She is considered unremarkable in comparison to her family as she bares no talents, powers or abilities worthy of her heritage. Always under the watchful and wrathful eye of the gods, Circe finds herself interested in and drawn to mortals, and even falls in love with one. Her love allowed her to do something not even the Gods thought was possible as she turned her lover into a god. Circe soon learns that she is actually a sorceress with remarkable transformative abilities that are capable of feats that make even the gods uncomfortable. After a regretful transformation made out of jealousy, Zeus banishes Circe to a remote island near the mortal realm for eternity. On this island, Circe comes of age, as grows and hones her skill as a witch. She sees the unfairness of her sex and the treatment she endures as a result. She also comes to distance herself further from the gods as she cannot understand the lack of empathy the immortal and powerful gods have towards mortals. During her time on the island, she encounters some of the most famous figures mentioned in Greek mythology.  Unfortunately for Circe, a woman alone, especially one of power with disdain for the gods will not go unnoticed for long.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

Circe is a story of choice, accountability, and empowerment. Circe starts a naive and passive woman who grows and comes into her own. She makes mistakes but owns them and stands for what she believes in against immeasurable odds. Circe’s struggle is relatable and it brings to life classic stories and characters from mythology whose original publications may feel unattainable or unenjoyable for the average reader. Circe also gives a different perspective on these characters as well as interesting interpretations for some of the things that each character did in the original Greek stories.

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

The writing is gorgeous and intelligent, showcasing Madeline Miller’s feats as an accomplished academic and storyteller. I’m thrilled that she has published other books meaning I have a chance to enjoy more of her thoughtful writing style and character work. I can 100% say, that this book is absolutely worth all the hype and accolades. If you enjoy historical fiction, mythology, fantasy, classics, or feminism I think you will absolutely devour this book.

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

You finally get the back story on the elusive Sheepman.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from April 20, 2020 to May 5 2020.

You finally get the back story on the elusive Sheepman in this book. Despite being a major focal point throughout the whole Rat series, little was known about him and he made few appearances through the series. The Sheepman even turns up in a book outside of the series in another one of Murakami’s works outside of this series but was published around the same time, The Strange Library, in a connection I have yet to determine.

If you’ve not read Murakami or a book in this series before you may be wondering how the heck a Sheepman fits into any story, even an absurdist reality as this one, well, it does. Strange, yes but that’s what Murakami does best.

Here’s an image of the Sheepman directly from the 1989 version of A Wild Sheep Chase.

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Why a sheep? I honestly couldn’t say but the title of this book is quite literal as the main unnamed male protagonist is blackmailed by a strange man representing a company that threatens him with losing everything if he doesn’t go and find this sheep that is in a photograph he published with his advertising company. The image, which he received from the Rat, his friend that disappeared a few years back and is detailed in the two previous books in this series, Hear the Wind Sing (The Rat #1) and Pinball 1973 (The Rat #2), is somehow tied to all of of this. On his search, much to his surprise, the protagonist finds others along the way who are obsessed with the concept of this Sheepman as well.  In the midst of all of this, the main character is going through the process of a divorce with his wife and meets a call girl with a strange allure. By all appearances she is very average, that is until you get a glimpse of her irresistible ears. While the story of his girlfriend trails off in this novel, it resumes in the fourth and final instalment of his series Dance Dance DanceDoes the protagonist find this Sheepman? And what will happen when he does find him? What will it all mean for him in the end?

Superior to the first two novels of the series, this story was by far more interesting and captivating. I really didn’t care much for the first two books, if I’m honest, but this one reads well and lends itself well to the final instalment of the series as well. I’d say this book is my favourite of the four because as a reader, you’re more connected to the protagonist in this story and you start to see the full spectrum of the story with the Rat the protagonist and the coming of age story that it really becomes. This novel, in a way, is like a peculiar vision quest that the protagonist takes with all the people he meets along the way playing a part in its conclusion and shaping who he becomes.

The Rat series is not one I would recommend a newbie of Murakami to. The first two books are some of the first he ever published and I feel he really comes into his craft a little later. For Murakami lovers, however, I feel that this an essential series to read to really get a feel for Murakami’s writing style and progress. The protagonist feels familiar because many of the other books Murakami write have similar characteristics to the one in this series, whether that’s with age, being a divorcee, and other personality traits and similarities. I feel that this series was likely the first one to establish this character that we, as Murakami readers, have come to love.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. ”

4/5 stars.
197ebook, 208 pages.
Read from January 24, 2020 to Janaury 29, 2020

I had never even heard of this book until a few years ago. It kept coming up in a few blogs in lists as one of those life-changing novels that you read in your youth. You know the ones, books like Harry Potter, The OutsidersThe GiverSpeak, Tuck Everlasting, and Where The Red Fern Grows. Perhaps this book was read more in the US than it was in Canada as it didn’t reach my repertoire as a kid. I wish, however, it had.

Bridge to Terabithia was originally published in 1977 and follows the story of Jess Aarons. Jess and his family don’t have much but he has been training all summer to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. What he doesn’t expect is that a new kid, a girl named Leslie, while absolutely whoop him and all the other fifth graders on day one. While Jess was initially annoyed at losing, especially after he trained to so hard, he comes to form a formidable bond with this fearless new girl who has come from the city. The two of them create a magical place called Terabithia at tree past a stream behind Jess’ house. It’s a magical place that the two of them rule over in which they can dream and imagine. The two, despite coming from very different homes become inseparable. However, a tragedy occurs that changes Jess and their story forever.

“Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.”

I’ve read reviews of people who have never forgotten how this book made them feel when they read it as a kid and their utter devastation at the loss of one of the characters, however, I still didn’t expect the outcome and was shook when I came to the tragic point in the story. I can see now how devastating a story like this would have been for a kid reading this for the first time as even I was taken back. The story manages to breach the topic of death, loss, and grief in a way that is tangible for a young mind. Unless tragedy touched you in your own youth, chances are you never gave a second thought to death even if you watched or read about it in other mediums. There is something special about this book with the way that death is approached and how the characters cope afterwards that really drives the point home. I could see this book being helpful for a youth dealing with tragedy themselves as it depicts well someone with minimal understanding or experience of death might cope or approach a tragedy. The story encourages deep compassion for people of different circumstances that may not seem to need it at first.

The writing is inviting and the characters enjoyable and relatable, another reason this book is so timeless. We’re looking at 40+ years on and this book is still being read and discussed and that is because death and grief are universal. Despite this, we’re poor at dealing with death as a society and it’s novels like this one provide a useful way for youth to broach and deal with the topic. I would highly recommend this novel if you’ve not read it before or are looking for a middle-grade appropriate read that discusses, love, friendship, death, and grieving.