BOOK REVIEW: Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton was informative

I never had to read this book in high school or college, though I probably should have. Apparently it is used more than Thomas Bulfinch’s, which is one I picked up on my own. I can understand why they would lean toward Hamilton over Bulfinch, due to the language and the scope and the time period they were written in. How interesting they were both American, though. You would think such a topic would be infiltrated by the Brits (I can only think of Roger Lancelyn Green…).

Americans: 2

Brits: 1

This was one of the most informative books I’ve read on mythology. Using the most prominent versions of the myths, Hamilton gives not only facts about the ancient tales but context. I don’t feel like Bulfinch gave much context. I feel like he  was writing for a more classically-minded audience anyway. I had to look stuff up when reading his because he assumed much. Hamilton chooses the simplest explanations and the most graceful narratives to explain the stories. Half the time, I don’t think Bulfinch captured the whole picture of myth — only what he found interesting.

Other observations about this book include: Hamilton focuses a lot on the heroes, which I find a tad boring at times. But not because of her writing, just the subject matter. I also found it odd that she even bothered to tack on the Norse myths at the end of this.  They take up only about 10% of the actual book — at the very end. Why’d she even bother, really? Her excuse is that they make up part of the Western culture too. But she does not seem to know these myths as well or, at least, have as much to say about them. But she does seem to cover the most relevant points and at least an effort is made to include them.

Book Review: The Wicked + The Divine Vol 2 gets better on the myth, worse on the story

See my review of Vol. 1 here.

So, the plot is kind of all over the place with this one. Everything we know to be “the rules” turns out to be false. There are no rules. The mythos behind the plot is better explained, which made me  stomach a lot of my initial mythology-related issues. But the plot doesn’t really go anywhere and isn’t better for all the “explaining.” Spoilers from here on out.

So, at one point in this Ananke is like “They may not really be gods, but they think that they are.” So, we aren’t even dealing with gods now?! Which makes sense, because their powers are so limited. And Woden does things that seem more like stuff Hephaestus would do (like building armor). It seems more like Ananke is just telling them who they are (naming them after the gods like pets) and every time they (re)incarnate they just remember what Ananke had named them…

The backstory that Ananke gives is so vague (as to why she exists and why the cycle happens) that it seems like the writers don’t know themselves. You could argue that they are being purposefully vague (but that vagueness isn’t working for them), or that they just don’t want to back themselves in a corner, but it seems more like they just don’t care. That they know we’ll eat from their hands anyways.

All we get of that “ancient backstory” is like one page worth of frames explaining that it’s some stupid battle between light and dark (why the gods incarnate? Or why they exist? I can’t even remember). Except I don’t know if we’re supposed to believe Ananke. She doesn’t seem to be very trustworthy. Are they here to fight darkness or to inspire? Because all these pop stars want to inspire. Not much fighting going on. Perhaps they want to inspire to fight the darkness. I don’t know. It sounds cheesy though.

And then Ananke proceeds to make a 13th incarnation. So, apparently there can be more than 12. Way to break your own rules, writers. My guess is that Ananke is feeding  off the gods/whatevers she has trapped somewhere. But she has to let a few of them out at a time otherwise they’ll consume her or turn on her or something something something.

Let me write my own comic book and I’ll do better.

I have beef still, but I’ll probably read the third one just so I can complain more.

And the fact it’s set in the UK continues to rub me the wrong way. Of course the most historically imperial country would get the gods. Of course it feels entitled to all cultures. Of course.

Other reviews I agree with:

Kieron Gillen’s story for this book is incredibly thin. I’m not really sure why it’s important for Laura and Cassandra to find out who Luci’s failed assassins were because 1) they proved their incompetence and aren’t a threat, and 2) Luci’s dead anyway. Also, Laura’s “investigation” involves her going to raves and underground parties, doing drugs and dancing which isn’t just utterly tedious to read but wholly ineffective! Without going into spoilers, the reveal of who the assassins were is also really anticlimactic.

 

I really like the idea behind this series, but it is hard to follow. I don’t think I’m really lost, so much as things just aren’t clearly explained. It’s enjoyable having a Pantheon of characters, but I can’t be the only one who finds it difficult to keep their personalities straight.

 

Twelve gods, I think, were too many to adequately develop. It feels as if they’re thrown into scenes or forced to converse with Laura just because they’ve had very little stage time and the audience hasn’t had a chance to get to know them yet. This has slowed the pace of the story to plodding (I was so bored reading this) and plot threads have been too quickly resolved (who and why were snipers shooting at the gods?) which was anticlimactic or forgotten until the closing act (Laura’s obvious god ability)The Faust Actdid a lot more in 144 pages than Fandemonium did in 166.

Reviews of the next few issues of the comic aren’t reassuring. It seems plot is completely absent in favour of telling back stories. If one of those is Ananke’s then that might be helpful. Should my library purchase the third volume, I may skim it. The Wicked + The Divine‘s mythology is compelling but I’m not willing to waste money on it.

Book Review: The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan by Bryan Doerries

Technically a DNF. I found it too hard to reconcile the fact this was just a literal retelling of the Odyssey + parallel frames of modern-day soldiers. A solider in the book is literally just retelling the Odyssey to his men, which I thought was a lazy concept (Sing, Sergeant, the rage of Amanda!). If Boerries wanted to just retell the Odyssey, he should have just RETOLD THE ODYSSEY. No need to make a grand statement and fall flat in the attempt.

I gave this to my bf, who was in the air force, to read and he couldn’t finish it either, saying something to the effect of “This guy [Doerries] doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” The point being, Odysseus should NOT be the poster child for PTSD. Nope, nope, nope. The connection between what Odysseus faced and what modern day soldiers deal with is NOT the same. If he is going to have PTSD from anything, war would be the last on the long list. It would more likely be from being raped by a goddess–from being tortured by the gods–from seeing literal dead people.

Odysseus has very little reason for war PTSD compared to modern day soldiers. He grows up in a culture where war is viewed differently–where war is acceptable and a way of life. Songs are sung about it. Soldiers are glorified. Soldiers today come home to a culture where war is not OK (because war *isn’t* OK). Most songs to day are very anti-war (Country music excluded). Soldiers today also don’t have patron goddesses to ensure their smooth transition when they finally do make it back home (“Want some more youth, Odysseus? BOOM. Granted.” –literally Athena). Instead they get offered pills and suicide help lines.

Odysseus also goes through hell and back. He doesn’t have to wrestle with theological and moral questions. He knows where the dead go. He even gets to work out unfinished business with them. Soldiers never get that. So comparing their issues Odysseus’s just isn’t fair.

Odysseus has confidence (of belief and knowledge and magic) that regular soldiers never have. What’s more, he’s a king who is the only one of his men to make it home alive (cough, cough Athena).

This whole book rings as a sad attempt to get soldiers interested in the classics. Which I don’t think works. Yes, yes. History repeats itself and we can see the same old problems for humanity resurfacing again and again. That doesn’t mean we have to try and spell it out and work really really hard to prove that point. It’s a fact. Note it and move on. Don’t hold my hand like a two year old by giving us a comic book to make up for it.

BOOK REVIEW: The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

What. A. Let down.

I was so disappointed in this book I’m speechless. I’ve been trying to write this review for months now. It’s been a struggle. I’m going to let other reviews speak for me.

 A deus ex machina ending is no less of a poor literary device, even when it actually features Zeus, and killing off a major female character literally and unironically for the sake of a man’s emotional development ain’t gonna win you points.

Basically, the entire 2nd novel was pointless. [Spoilers] It literally seemed like an excuse to meander to where Walton wanted to take us all along: outer space. This book literally goes from The Republic to Perelandra. And not very gracefully at that. It was abrupt and thrust upon the reader. Unwillingly.

It’s obvious she didn’t know how to end her story and I’m liek maybe try workshopping it or something? Anyway, in retrospect this whole series was nothing more than a sophisticated thought experiment and turns out I shouldn’t have really wasted my time.

I’m still going to read the third book, but I’m not going to be as excited about it. If this was Jo Walton’s goal (to bring the Just City to space) then why not start it there in the first place? It just seems like she’s repeating her same concept over and over again. Maybe with different results, yes, but I’d rather just read about the most interesting one.

Beyond these, though, the weird “superpowers” given to the too-many-to-remember children of Apollo can be forgiven; the rickety deus ex machina of Zeus can be forgiven; the jarring sci-fi twist can be forgiven… Why? Because the philosophical topics the story continues to explore are its main saving grace.

The superpowers thing really rubbed me the wrong way, because it seemed so contrived. What does going to a specific place have to do with anything? Is that standard mythology? It may be, but it’s still really weird. Not to mention, are the kids really demigods? They were still created by mortal sperm (that comes from Apollo’s mortal body). Would they really have full demigod status? The science doesn’t work for me.

I think that Kebes should have been a much deeper character. He should have been relatable, not an endlessly malevolent bad guy with every violent and nasty predilection in the book.

I felt this way about Kebes as well. Walton really wasted an opportunity with how she got rid of Kebes. Also, the way Christianity was handled in the “wrong time” made me frown. The time-travel logic didn’t fit. If Kebes made things different, then Apollo would have known about it, wouldn’t he? Because it would be history. But he didn’t. And so the supposedly-wise god worried for nothing. I think what bothered me most about the “Christianity” bit was that Jo Walton didn’t have a good argument for why Kebes as a character would believe in Jesus. Or even need religion. None of the other characters seem to need it. Why use that as a reason to justify him wanting his own city? Sure, he hated the masters, but he was justified enough in his hate not to add religion into the mix. Does that make sense?

Please let me know and direct me to other reviews you liked–even your own!

 

Goodreads Review: Hang Wire by Adam Christopher

Hang WireHang Wire by Adam Christopher

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was a DNF for me. I could not get into it. There was too much to wade through to connect with the story at first. What Christopher meant to be an action packed start was really just too much to read at first. Such detail might be good in a movie, but not here at the start of a novel. Maybe Adam Christopher should work in film rather than literature.

View all my reviews

How I feel about most books I review on Goodreads these days.

Book Review: THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton: When robots take over – take over a story, that is.

(This is really for people who have read the book. Semi-spoilers throughout).

There is quite a lot of repetitive exploration/dialog in the book—where some topics are reexamined over and over just to get to a new point about said topic. That could have been chiseled down, but I get why it was done. This book deals with the Socratic method, after all.

The robots—or, as they are called in the novel, the “workers”—seem to be explored way too much. They are a subplot that wasn’t necessary. I found it hard to believe that a goddess (Athena), who could see and visit the future, wouldn’t foresee robots becoming self-aware at one point. Sure, gods could (theoretically) overlook things, but… Really, the whole robot plot point could have been removed from the book entirely and it would have made more sense (I mean, keep the robots, but ignore them becoming self-aware),

They seemed like just an excuse to talk about slavery when, really, they could have been written in is as normal mindless machines that, when they wore out, the iron and bronze children could take their place. They were only necessary for a couple of years, theoretically. No need to introduce AI into the mix. If you were going to do that then why not make an excuse to talk about animal rights in the novel, which was never done). This is why I took off one star on goodreads, because it just wasn’t fun or necessary to read about.

Also, Apollo could have predicted the thing about the robots too. He talks repeatedly about the future. He knows fancy words like “postpartum depression” and that we explore space in the future. I found it EXTREMELY hard to accept this fact about the robots. Not that I wouldn’t care if robots did become self-aware (and of course they deserve their rights acknowledged). I’m saying Jo Walton could have made Athena find some less complicated robots. Or, better yet, Athena could have used “magic beings” to be the servants until the children got old enough to be the workers. Hell, food could have magically appeared to them until they got enough children who learned to grow it and prepare it.

…Now that I think about it there was a surprising lack of “magic” in the book. Not that it’s a bad thing, but Walton could have used it to her advantage more, clearly.

The real plot of the novel was “Can Plato’s ‘Just City’ work?” but when the robot subplot appeared everything began to be contrived narratively. But beyond this, everything story-wise was fine. HOWEVER, it may bother some people that there was no real climax and resolution; sure, Athena was just as interested in seeing how the city would fall as she was seeing how it would work, but the reader therefore expects the city to fall so there is no real twist or resolution at the end. Just chaos. The only arguable “resolution” the reader gets from the story is that Apollo learns why Daphne chose to turn into a tree. A good resolution, but not one that resolves the novel’s titular purpose or the reason we’re reading in the first place.

Other problems I had with the story were:

1) If Athena could take people from their times, then why did she not just “rescue” the artwork and etc. from their times as well instead of making a whole ordeal of it that involved the masters jumping from era to era? Sure, it sounds fun for them (though we never actually get to see it anyways). But it also got tiring to read about.

2) Jo Walton tried too hard to reconcile Christianity (or, the Christian beliefs of the masters) to the Greek gods she was writing about. Her characters—even the god Apollo—come up with a very Miltonic view of “Divinity.” Yet John Milton was never once mentioned or given credit for such an idea.

3) On every level, Walton missed opportunities to talk about animal rights. Instead, she worried more about robot rights, which was a topic she had to engineer—a topic that didn’t come “naturally” to the story. The fact animal rights weren’t even a thought was very hard for me to wrap my head around, because the children, in a lot of ways, were treated just like animals—forced to breed, grouped by eugenic standards, etc. And yet, despite this effort of avoiding pro-animal conversation, she directly sidesteps the fact that animal sacrifices are thing Apollo and Athena’s worshipers were totally into. Never really addresses it.

4) The gods aren’t bothered by the fact humans have spread to outer space in the future. Apollo says we colonize Mars at one point (he knows this and yet Athena doesn’t blink an eye about the possibility of her robots becoming self-aware? Jesus, Athena, couldn’t you have found some less-advanced robots or something? Or, built them some of your own design? Or, oh, I don’t know, asked Hephaestus to build you some? Whatever.). Back to my point. If the humans can’t even make it in the Just City with Athena helping them then why the hell would the gods want us to colonize other planets?—And be amused we do so? (Apollo seemed amused when thinking about it).

5) The debate between Socrates and Athene. Really, the thing could have just been him accusing her of cheating and then she could have been like “Fine, I’m out. You do this on your own, bitches!” Which Jo Walton totally should have let her do instead of dragging out what the reader already knew. Instead of disliking Athena, I found myself wondering why she would let the conversation go on so long in the first place. Though, to a point, this debate seemed like it was part of her plan in watching the city fall (I think?). But if so, it didn’t come off clearly in the book.

Things I LOVED about the novel:

1) The concept itself. I can’t believe a book like this was published. It’s so smart and not normally what legacy publishing is into. And, it’s not YA.

2) How Jo Walton addresses rape in every main character’s POV. I have never seen it handled so well in a novel. Really, this is what the novel is about. Rape.

3) The cover. Just….The cover!

4) The fact that Lucrezia Borgia was involved in this story! #TheBorgiasFan

BOOK/Short Story REVIEW: Muse of Fire by John Scalzi

I have decided I don’t like anything John Scalzi writes. I did not like Redshirts after a bit because eventually the plot made no sense. That’s not exactly what happened in Muse of Fire, but it was like he didn’t try very hard on the plot (yet again).

With Muse of Fire, Scalzi twists mythology in a disappointing way – as if he knows very little about even Greco-Roman myth (the most popular mythology out there, yo). Firstly, Hestia was never a Muse, so the title made me sigh. Then, Hestia is so “related” to fire in the work that it’s assumed she is the goddess of fire (or did I miss something?). She isn’t the goddess of fire, but of the hearth. There is a bit of a difference, though I would have forgiven it if the story had been better. Then, to top it all off, Hestia is a damsel in distress – trapped in hell (not Hades? Whatever). She needs a human to save her? I don’t get that. Goddesses are goddesses. They don’t need humans. Humans need the gods.

If this hadn’t been an ebook, I would have thrown it across the room. There’s a reason it’s only $0.99.

BUT it was better than Redshirts. At least there is that.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker, a book review:

This post was originally seen on Ohsocleverreads.

the-golem-and-the-jinniI had really high hopes for this book. It was probably my most anticipated read of the year, but it let me down. This review will contain spoilers.

The Golem and the Jinni is an immigrant story – 1890s, respectively. A golem woman is made for a wifeless man by this creepy dude (a mystic ex-rabbi, if I remember correctly) and as her master takes her across the ocean he conveniently dies, leaving the golem masterless. The golem is quickly found by a nice rabbi who teaches her all the ways of humans (i.e. how to blend in). He conveniently dies later on as well, but thankfully only after he gets her a job somewhere.

But on to the Jinni. He is discovered/released by a metalworker fixing a flask. The jinni becomes the tinsmith’s apprentice because he can mould metal in his hands like putty. But this is not entirely a perfect arrangement. The jinni is trapped in human form and becomes restless with humankind. He meets a girl named Sophia and ends up having sex with her. I hated that part because it was just thrown in there. It was only to show that he wanted sex and would throw her away once he got bored with her. But I really didn’t understand why he would want sex with a human in the first place. (For example, he never has sex with the girl that gets him trapped in the flask in the first place – at least I don’t think so. He only wants to talk to her).

Sophia as a character could have been cut entirely because her role is useless despite the fact that Wrecker brings her back later on in the end to ‘save the day’ by inviting everyone to rest up at her house (after the Jinni tries to kill himself when he finds out his fate is tied to THE BAD GUY). It was an awkward non-twist.

The Jinni eventually meets the Golem about town. He and the golem decide to take walks each night because she is the only thing interesting to him and she doesn’t have anything else to do because she doesn’t sleep.

The Golem and the Jinni do not fit in well. The Jinni’s made up back story makes people suspicious and his temper gets him in trouble a lot. The Golem, since becoming masterless, can feel other peoples’ wants and desires and can therefore (basically) read their mind. She almost gives herself away a couple of times. They were very well-drawn characters and I fell in love with them. The Jinni is entertaining in everything he does – from the way he handles his cigarette to his flashbacks about how he came to be trapped in the first place (semi-spoilers: he makes a human girl fall in love with him and as he messes with her dreams he literally causes her to go mad – but not that he wanted that result, of course). And the Golem’s day-to-day experiences broke my heart. She could not sleep so she would take her clothes apart and then stitch them back together. She would play with her clay body – hedgehogging her arm by sticking pins in it just to see what would happen. I loved getting to know the characters more than the actual story.

Because then the story starts to lose its appeal. Wrecker introduces a quasi-handicap man who sells ice cream. He is an ex-doctor who is possessed by a demon and cannot look directly into peoples’ faces without seeing an empty void which scares him. His prestigious life had fallen apart because of it and so went to America to die. But he discovers that he can look at the Jinni’s face without being scared shitless and so follows him around. This ice cream man, Mahmoud Saleh, seemed like a sad ploy to introduce the three major Western religions. Because, well, he had a Muslim background. Let me explain: The Jinni is taken in by Syrian Christians. The Golem, of course, is Jewish. Of course we need a Muslim to complete the holy trinity here. UGH.

The ice cream man will later come back and save the day, but in reality his part could have been cut from the entire novel without making much of a dent. Saleh is not introduced until half the book is over. If Wrecker really wanted to make me care about him dying in the end then she would have called this book, The Golem, the Jinni, and the Demon-possessed. But she didn’t.

Then, the Golem’s maker comes to America on a whim (on his search for immortality – which isn’t apparent until later on). The reader isn’t sure what drives him to come to the U.S. and neither is he. And of course he eventually finds his creation, but not before he charms his way into the heart of the Jewish community. At the beginning of the novel he’s really just this interesting (albeit sinister) magician-guy who is willing to make a Golem (for a price, of course). But then we are suddenly supposed to think of him as evil and it just doesn’t work. At the end, we find out that he’s the dude that trapped the jinni so long ago…but not exactly. He’s the reincarnated guy who originally trapped the jinni. Which made things a little confusing.

The reincarnation thing seemed a little far-fetched in the book because it was just thrown out there. There was nothing for the reader to have seen it coming and so it felt like cheating. The Golem-maker, Schaalman, apparently wanted to trap a jinni so he could command it and the curse somewhat backfired making him have to reincarnate himself as long as the jinni was alive.

The Golem allows herself to be bound to Schaalman, her maker, which I found really stupid. At least plot-wise. I get that she is desperate to have a master, but she could have let ANYONE else be her master. She was suddenly very stupid to think Schaalman was the answer – especially since she had been contemplating destroying herself before (THAT would be the better answer).

But the issues continue: Instead of trapping the Jinni in the bottle, Saleh (the ice cream man) traps Schaalman. So, Schaalman cannot cause more trouble OR be reincarnated. YAY. But then again, he’s not dead. This is where things don’t make sense. Because, suddenly the Golem is herself (as if masterless) once more. But Schaalman is not dead. Her previous master had to die for her to be free. And even if Schaalman DID die, wouldn’t she still be bound to him because, oh I don’t know, he’d technically be reincarnated instantly and therefore she’d still be bound to him no matter what body he was in??????

SO HOW THE FUCK IS SHE FREE – SCHAALMAN CAN STILL LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD THROUGH HER. UGGGH. DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.

This is why the book failed. Every qualm I had with it could have been overlooked if only the story had been properly thought out. It had so much potential. But it was wasted on this one overlooked plot point. It could have simply been fixed if the Golem hadn’t suddenly turned stupid and allowed her maker to become her master. It was so out of character in the first damn place. Honestly.

Other cons about the book: 100 pages into the novel, you are left wondering what the plot is. At first you think it could turn into a love story. But it doesn’t. It simply tries to be a statement on free will. Other reviews will also tell you this. But it is not so much a story about free will as it is about Freedom itself. Both characters have free will but very little freedom. I think this is a difference. If the story is about free will, then there are not many moral dilemmas faced. Though there was one: the Golem eventually marries a man because she is afraid to not serve someone. The human ends up being an asshole who didn’t deserve her, but I didn’t really see anything wrong with how the humans faired in all this. And it’s not like I could have identified with the Golem or the Jinni. Thus, my point is, all the free will issues addressed (if you can even call them free will issues) weren’t really that important. At best the Golem and Jinni’s journey is an example of outsiders’ perspectives looking in.  Humans are strange things. That is the only message you can get from this story, if you care to get one at all.

Also, there is a side-story about a girl the Golem works with who gets pregnant. That whole bit could have been cut from the book. The only thing that you get out of it was that the Golem beats up the girl’s boyfriend when he won’t admit that he got the girl pregnant/marry her. The girl become fearful of the Golem yet is willing to help the Golem later on and it just didn’t make sense. Besides, that whole part could have been simplified in the book.

The book could have been cut in half. Wrecker knows how to set up a story, but not to follow through. She is good at beginnings but not middle and ends. She is very good a writing at the sentence level, though her thematic elements are little above average.

I also take issue with the fact that a 500-paged book was published as first novel and that Wrecker apparently had an agent for this book before it was finished (her agent Sam Stoloff apparently “encouraged [her] to write this novel almost from its conception”), leading me to suspect nepotism within her career. This causes me to not respect her.  Also, my copy says the LC in-publication data has been applied for, making me think this was a rush job. Maybe they shouldn’t have rushed through it, obviously.

Pros about the book: It was one of the better books of 2013 and was a literary, historical ADULT fantasy. You don’t get a book like this every day. I’m proud of the publishing industry to produce a book like this. It was like looking at an Edmund Dulac piece. I just wish it had been thought through. Also, it is pretty open to a sequel and I wouldn’t be surprised if another one was made. Maybe there is a chance my cons with the book will be addressed. Also, this would make an excellent movie – especially if they reworked the plot.

Overall grade: 83%. (B-)