Book Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

a thousand beginnings and endingsA Thousand Beginnings and Endings
Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
Retold Asian Mythology Anthology
328 pages
Published June 2018

This is one of the many new releases I have been eagerly awaiting from the library, and it did not disappoint! There are fifteen stories here, reimagining Asian myths, legends, and fairytales. Each story has an author’s note following it, giving a little bit of background information on the inspiration for the story. I didn’t realize until reading the author bios in the back of the book that three of the authors (including the two editors) are from the We Need Diverse Books team, which is one of my favorite book twitters! (@diversebooks) Their book recommendations are always fantastic. One of the editors is actually local to me, so that’s pretty neat, too!

I think my favorite stories were the last two in the book – Eyes Like Candlelight (by Julie Kagawa), about a Kitsune falling in love with a mortal, and The Crimson Cloak (Cindy Pon), about a goddess falling in love with a mortal. Stories range from Japanese mythology (Eyes Like Candlelight) to Filipino, Hmong, and Punjabi-inspired tales. The diversity in both culture, style, and time period of these tales is fantastic. I really enjoy Asian mythology, and I love seeing more and more books exploring it. (Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was another semi-recent one.)

Because it’s a bunch of short stories, it’s an easy book to take in small bites – a story here, a story there. I like mixing short story collections in with my longer reads; they make for nice breaks. I highly recommend this book, and I’ll be looking up the authors to find some of their other works! (That’s another reason I love short story collections – they introduce me to authors I might not otherwise read!)

From the cover of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings:

Star-crossed lovers. Meddling immortals. Feigned identities. Dire warnings.

These are the stuff of myth and legend. Add a dangerous smile, a game that pulls players out of one world and into another, a ghost town, a never-ending war, a night of dancing . . . and this collection of inspired and original retellings is only just beginning. Fifteen acclaimed authors reimagine tales from their own East and South Asian cultures. Classic epics, lush fantasy, inventive science fiction, sparkling contemporary – there is a story here for every reader to devour.

But beware . . . not every tale has a happy ending.

Book Review: Circe

CirceCirce
by Madeline Miller
Mythological retelling
400 pages
Published April 2018

Circe was my April Book of the Month club pick, and WOW was it epic. I haven’t read Song of Achilles, but I just put a hold on it with my library, because this book was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that it sent me into a bit of a reading slump – what book could follow up this masterwork?

This is actually going to be a pretty short review because I’m just in awe of this book. Circe begins as a somewhat naive child in her father’s household, unaware of her own power until her brother points it out to her. For those powers, she is banished to a deserted island, but her powers only grow from there. We meet many figures of Greek mythology – from gods and goddesses to mortals and monsters like Scylla and the Minotaur.

I just don’t even know how to properly review this book other than it was amazing. If you like Greek mythology at ALL, you should read this book. It’s captivating.

From the cover of Circe:

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.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

So I usually publish a review on Saturdays, but as it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, I thought I’d do something a little different, and share the Irish books on my shelves! I have Irish and Scottish ancestry, so I’ve always been fascinated by Celtic things. It’s also a popular theme in the Renaissance Faire community, so I see a lot of it. So here are my Irish books, with a couple of more general Celtic books tossed in.

bloody irishBloody Irish – Celtic Vampire Legends by Bob Curran
A short book, only 186 pages, but centered on Irish Vampire stories. This book hails from the days I played Vampire: the Masquerade all the time! I didn’t find anything in here too creepy, but it gave me material to use in my games!

 

celtic myths legendsCeltic Myths and Legends by Eoin Neeson
This one actually belongs to one of my housemates. Unlike the rest of these, it only has seven stories, but they are preceded by a lengthy foreword on the place of myth in Celtic history, and what we know about ancient Celtic history. Each story is much longer than the stories in most of these other books, as well. And having the larger historical context is pretty interesting.

 

irish fairy folk peasantry talesFairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry edited by William Butler Yeats
This one focuses more on the Irish tales, rather than general Celtic ones, and most of them were collected in the 19th century by folklorists, so the language is rather old-fashioned. There are stories here that I haven’t seen anywhere else, though, like Bewitched Butter, and Rent-day, and The Pudding Bewitched.

 

great irish fantasy myth talesGreat Irish Tales of Fantasy and Myth edited by Peter Haining
Similar to Celtic Myths and Legends, this book includes context for its stories, but instead of a lengthy foreword, it contains a few paragraphs before each story about the legend it came from and the authors who recorded it. I like the bit of context and history it gives to each individual story.

celtic fairy talesCeltic Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacobs
Another general Celtic book. It overlaps a few stories with the Irish Peasantry book – The Horned Women and King O’Toole and his Goose, among others, but still a fun book of fairy tales. He has a second book (More Celtic Fairy Tales) that I don’t own.

 

 

 

irish tales fairies ghost worldIrish Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World by Jeremiah Curtin
Another book belonging to a housemate. A tiny book of only 124 pages, it still manages to cram in 30 stories told within a framework of a man and his houseguest trading stories.

Book Review: Red Winter Trilogy

RW1Red Winter
Dark Tempest
Immortal Fire
Annette Marie
Fantasy
About 350 pages each
Published 2016, 2017, 2017

So I didn’t actually realize this series was written by a Canadian author until the end of the first book, when I skimmed the “about the author” section! I picked up the first book on a whim – the entire trilogy is free on Kindle Unlimited – and I am so, SO GLAD I DID. This trilogy is amazing. It’s a little anime-like – the illustrations are definitely drawn in anime style and there’s about ten per book – but it’s simply beautiful writing, blending elements of Japanese mythology with a beautifully sweet romance and an epic fantasy task. (Release trapped gods and goddesses and stop a goddess.) The main character was likeable, sweet, and a little naive, but she realizes why she is naive and consciously works to overcome that.

The first book starts with a revelation – Emi has been training for ten years to receive her goddess into her body, with the expectation that their personalities will meld – only to discover that the goddess’s divine energy will instead destroy Emi’s mind and personality. She will be dead while the goddess inhabits her body. Which will be happening two months from the book’s beginning, so she doesn’t have much time to change her fate. The goddess herself is not unsympathetic, and wishes it could be different. I loved the interaction between Emi and her goddess. The compassion, love, and regret shown by Amaterasu means it’s impossible to dislike her, even though we know she’ll be the agent of our protagonist’s death.

RW3But all is not as it seems among the gods, and Emi is attacked by someone who should be an ally, and defended by those who should want her dead. Conspiracies unravel in the second book, as Emi and her friends race to finish the task set them by Amaterasu – a task that must be finished before the winter solstice, when Amaterasu will descend into Emi’s body and destroy her mind. Dark Tempest ends with the task still uncompleted, and Immortal Fire picks up immediately. (I read almost the entire trilogy in one sitting – I finally set the third book aside and got some sleep before the final confrontation.)

RW2I don’t want to say too much, and I’m only going to include the description on the first book, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I liked Emi, I absolutely loved Yumei, the dark, standoffish Crow Lord, and Shiro the kitsune was an amazing character. Reveals and pacing and dialogue and action and exposition were all excellently done. This is a gorgeous, absorbing trilogy and I highly recommend it.

 

 

This is the second review for my Read Canadian Challenge, you can find the rest here:

  1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
  2. this post!
  3. Station Eleven
  4. The Courier
  5. The Last Neanderthal
  6. American War
  7. Next Year, For Sure
  8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
  9. All The Rage
  10. Saints and Misfits
  11. Tomboy Survival Guide
  12. The Clothesline Swing
  13. The Wolves of Winter

From the back of Red Winter:

In a few short months, Emi’s mortal life will end when she becomes the human host of an immortal goddess. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess–and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.

Shiro is a spirit of the earth and an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command–whether she wants him or not.

On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate–but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.

 

About the author:

Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, which includes the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night. Her first love is fantasy, a limitless realm of creativity where she can break all the boring rules of real life, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every single book.

Annette lives in the frozen winter wasteland of northern Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad). She shares her life with her remarkably patient, comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness — sorry, cat — Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.

To find out more about Annette and her books, visit her website at www.authorannettemarie.com.

Book Review: Medea

medeaMedea
by Kerry Greenwood
428 pages
Published 2011 (First US publishing in 2013)
Historical Fiction

Medea is the first of three “Delphic Women” novels to be published in the US by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. It tells the story of Medea from the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. The version that everyone knows involves Medea, as a witch, helping Jason to steal the Golden Fleece in return for marrying her. The story goes that some years later, when he attempts to put her aside, she not only kills his potential bride, but also the children that she’d borne him.

Medea tells a different story. She is a priestess of Hekate, the Black Mother goddess. The story details her fall from that religion, her marriage to Jason, the death of their children, and her life after her marriage. It is an utterly enthralling book, and I am eager to see Greenwood’s other Delphic Women novels, which appear to be about Cassandra and Electra. Greenwood has a talent for keeping the feel of ancient Greek mythology while also making the characters accessible for the modern reader. She includes a chapter after the end of the story, in which she explains why and how she came to the conclusion that Medea was NOT responsible for the death of her children, despite every other popular story saying she killed them.

While Medea has often been painted as the villain of the story, Greenwood had me cheering for her the entire book, from the first time she was brought to the dark caves of Hekate as a toddler to when she mourned over the deaths of her children and slowly learned to love again. I enjoyed seeing one of the ancient legends from a woman’s point of view; none of them are ever told that way! I also found it really interesting how the book portrayed Herakles; he turned out to be one of my favorite characters!

I’d definitely recommend this book if you like retellings of mythology or ancient legends.

Edit: 2 years after publishing this review, I’m updating links and discover Kerry Greenwood is also the author of the Phryne Fisher murder mystery series, which Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is based on! I just finished marathoning that entire series on Netflix, it’s fantastic! What a crazy coincidence.

From Medea:

My mother gave birth to me in the darkness under the earth and died in doing so. I loved the velvety blanket of night before my dazzled eyes ever encountered light. And when I did, they say I wept, and the people said, “Here is a true daughter of Hekate!”

I am standing in the dark again, in the central room of my own place – no, of Hekate’s temple, which was once mine, before I went with Jason. Jason the thief, the pirate, the betrayer. Jason the stranger. I have left my own gods, my own tongue, my own beliefs, for too long….

The knife blade gleams, and I try the blade. I feel the sting as it slides along my thumb. It is very sharp. I can hear the children laughing as they play.

How did I come to this?

Book Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles

houndedHounded, Hexed, and Hammered
by Kevin Hearne
Published 2011
~300 pages each
Urban Fantasy

So when my husband first saw these at the library, he laughed and handed one to me, saying they “looked like trash” but “might be fun anyway.” Having read them, yes, they’re light reads, but SO MUCH FUN. They’re very reminiscient of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files; Atticus is a total BAD ASS, is the last Druid, and is a total lady’s man to boot. (I mean, look at those covers, he’s a cute-as-hell Irish dude.)

Atticus may be a special snowflake (he’s 21 centuries old, and the last living Druid, so the Tuatha de Danann take an inordinate interest in his life) but he’s hilarious. It’s especially interesting to see how his morals (he freely admits they’re based in an Iron Age mentality) conflict with the morals of modern humanity, and with the morals of his gods.

Atticus has collected a crazy menagerie of friends and allies – his lawyers, a vampire and a werewolf, come from a firm run by werewolves. His vampire lawyer has a group of ghouls on speed-dial for easy disposal of bodies. Being a druid, he’s befriended a couple of elementals that help protect his house and himself. His wolfhound is unusually intelligent, with a wicked sense of humor, due to Atticus’ meddling.

These are only the first three in the series; the library had 1, 2, 3, and 5 on their shelves, but I’m waiting to read #5 until I get my hands on #4. (I’ve got a hold request on it.) #6 is on order at the library, and #7 is due out this summer. If you liked The Dresden Files, you’ll probably like these. (Also, if you like reading about sexy Irish dudes kicking ass.)

hexedThere was one scene that bothered me. I can’t remember whether it was in Hexed or Hammered (they blend together a bit) but at one point Atticus and the Morrigan raise some sex magic to repair Atticus’ missing ear. (He got a bit banged up in an earlier fight.) And the sex scene, while not explicit (god knows I don’t have a problem with explicit sex scenes!) was a bit…rapey. As in, the Morrigan quite literally magicked him into it, and by his own admission he felt pressured (how do you say no to your own goddess?) and it was NOT pleasurable in the least. So….yeah. He’s grateful to her for fixing his ear, but the entire scene made me really uncomfortable. It did make me think about gods having sex with mortals, though – there are many, many stories about Zeus taking any woman he pleased, whether she was willing or no. Even if one is “willing” – if a god asks you to have sex, how exactly can one say no? I guess it made me think about how there are laws against teachers and other authority figures taking advantage of those they have authority over. If a teacher-student relationship is rape, no matter how consensual, then how can a god-mortal relationship be anything else?

A review I read of the books mentioned they’re very sexist – in the reviewer’s opinion, all the female characters fall in to one of three roles – harmless sex object, laughably dangerous sex object, and unhinged psychotic actually dangerous sex object. While I can see where they were coming from, the books are told from Atticus’ point of view, and he is, self-admittedly, a ladies’ man and operating on Iron Age morality. So where does a book cross from portraying a sexist character to actually -being- sexist? I’m not sure. At about book three, Atticus does get a strong female apprentice. And while he is attracted to her, she’s definitely portrayed as having a mind of her own. (The reviewer also ignored the Widow who Atticus has a close friendship with – she’s not a sex object in the least.)

There are definitely problematic bits in these books, but if you’re willing to look past those, they are a rip-roaring good time. Just – enjoy with caution.

From Hounded:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

hammeredFrom Hexed:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

From Hammered:

Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully—he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare.

One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plain of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.