Posts Categorized: Mythology

Sep 04

Take Me Down, Six Underground (Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman)

Fantasy, Mythology, Supernatural, Travel 53

Well Hello Bookworms,

I am not much of a world traveler, so it may surprise you to know I have, in fact, left the good old USA on occasion. When I was in college, I took a mini-mester in London. It was a two week trip where our instructors traveled with us. We took three hours of class a day and spent the rest of the time sight seeing and rambling around trying not to be overly obnoxious. Not sure that we succeeded. In any case, we were supplied with two week pass to the London underground. Thus, I became entranced with “The Tube.”

The London subway system is a massive network of underground tunnels, like any subway. However, having never used a subway system in any other major city, I found it weirdly romantic and exciting. This is likely because I was commuting to tourist destinations instead of work… I imagine the mystique would fade quite quickly if it were part of your day-to-day routine…

That’s the case for Richard Mayhew, the protagonist in Neil Gaiman’s NeverwhereRichard moves to London from Scotland. After a few years of commuting on the Tube, it’s lost its intrigue. He is concerned primarily with his job and his (rather pushy and unpleasant) fiance Jessica. All is well until one night as they head off to dinner.

Richard and Jessica unexpectedly encounter a young woman on the sidewalk… Bleeding profusely. Richard feels compelled to help while Jessica threatens to break off their engagement if Richard doesn’t continue on to their dinner. (Yeah, Jessica kind of sucks, though she DOES suggest calling an ambulance as they continue on their way, so I guess she’s only medium evil.) Richard, acting on instinct, takes the mysterious girl in his arms and back to his apartment after she implores him not to contact the authorities. Richard finds this a bit suspicious, but after a disturbing run-in with a pair of rather unsavory characters, Richard surmises the girl has good reason to keep a low profile. Richard then accompanies the girl on a strange adventure into another world known as London Below. neverwhere

This IS Neil Gaiman after all, you’ve got to expect some magic. London Below is situated in the space between subway platforms. It’s in the abandoned stations, the basements, and sewers of the city. It’s where the “people who fall through the cracks” end up. An odd mixture of characters make their homes in London Below. The underworld seems to be disconnected from time as we experience it, so you run into medieval monks as easily as Victorian castaways, the odd witch, and occasional bounty hunter. London Below is also extremely dangerous. Mythical beasts walk around unchecked. Rats converse with humans. Doors appear out of nowhere. Assassins run wild. But for all its strangeness, it’s also fascinating.

Neil Gaiman is a master of the creepy. He blends magic, mythology, and spooky ambiance seamlessly. I love that he chose the London Underground as his setting for this book! I always get excited when books are set in places I’ve been. I mean, it’s certainly cool to visit places you’ve never been in your reading, but there’s something about having a personal connection with a place. Anyway, I believe Neverwhere is my favorite Gaiman to date. Perfect reading for the transition into fall. I recommend it to anyone in the mood for a little bit of an eerie adventure.

Have any of you Bookworms out there enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s work? Have you read Neverwhere? What did you think? Have you ever imagined a mysterious underground civilization hanging out in your city? (It’s okay if your imaginary underground city includes the Ninja Turtles. I know mine does.)

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Aug 13

War (HUH) What Is It Good For? (Literature, Actually… In a Roundabout Way)

Historical Fiction, Mythology, Top Ten Tuesday, World War II 51

Holla At Ya Bookworms!

It’s Tuesday and you know what that means… It’s list time! The ladies at The Broke and The Bookish have a super fun topic for us today. They’ve asked us to list out our top ten books in a particular setting. I’m choosing books set during wars. No, I’m not talking bloody gory combat tomes. I’m talking about the tales of what happens on the homestead during the wars. And there are a bunch of AMAZING titles with this setting. Are you ready?!?!

toptentuesday1. Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi. This book is so, so good. Trudi Montag is a dwarf living in Germany during World War II. She runs a library with her father. It’s a haunting look at what happened to the German people during the war who weren’t necessarily thrilled about the Nazi regime, but couldn’t do a whole heck of a lot about it.

2. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Ah, the American Civil War this time. Who can forget Scarlett’s finest moments while rebuilding Tara with nothing but a ragtag band of survivors and pure gumption? She’d be more likable if she were permanently under such extreme duress… Not that I want her to go hungry again, it’s just she’s a pretty horrible human being in polite society.

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak- We’re back to WWII and this book’s themes were very similar to Stones from the River. However, since it focused more on the lives of children, it was poignant in an entirely different way. It’s a whole lot of awesome story that’s served best with a box of tissues.

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4. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes- This time we spend half the book during WWI in German occupied France. In case you were wondering, living in an occupied town sucks pretty hard. It makes for good heart-wrenching fiction, though.

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- This was absolutely NOT set during the French Revolution. The warring in question was more of a thwarted uprising than anything. However, where there are muskets, there is war.. At least in my opinion. And this book? Oh this book. So much good. And so many tragic musket wielding fellows…

6. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein- More WWII? Well, yes. It was such a huge and horrible war it affected EVERYTHING, okay? We shouldn’t be surprised to read so much about it, now should we? This was a different take on the war than what I’ve read. Spies and airplanes, you guys! SPIES AND AIRPLANES! LADY SPIES! AND LADY PILOTS! Badass.

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7. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller- This one was set during the Trojan War. How’s that for a change of pace? Jump back in time a few thousand years and visit Achilles and Patroclus and their epic love story. Just… Sigh. Love love love. Plus, you know. Centaurs and Sea Nymphs run amok.

8. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah- Yep. You guessed it. WWII again. Only this time we’re in Russia. That whole laying siege to a city and preventing supplies from going in? Yeah, that’s an effective tactic because you STARVE people. That’s not cool. Having to peel the wallpaper to boil and eat for dinner? SERIOUSLY not cool. However, this book was really good.

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon- We could talk about the whole series really, because there are wars all over the place. Claire served as a nurse during WWII, but when she goes back in time (totally by accident, of course) she ends up in the midst of some serious Scottish-English skirmishes. Plus, when we last left our crew? They were on the cusp of the American Revolution. Seriously, these guys cannot catch a break. Oh yeah, there are totally muskets again. (On an unrelated note, the word “musket” reminds me of “muskrat” and thus does not strike fear in my heart. “Fire Breathing Projectile Shooter of Death” would have been a better marketing strategy, Musket Company. I’m just saying.)

10. World War Z by Max Brooks- Yes, the friggin Zombie Apocalypse counts as a war! It totally was a war, you guys. A war for the survival of humanity! The rules have changed- zombies fear nothing. Zombies eat nothing… But YOU. You can’t lay siege to a zombie city and starve them out. You can’t use psychological warfare. You can’t even use standard shooting techniques! I’m really glad it’s fictional because zombies are scary as all get out.

So there you have it! Top Ten Books set during Wars! Do you have a favorite, Bookworms?

PS- Did you enter my contest of pure awesomeness yet?! Check it out!!!

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Jul 22

A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon

Blogging, Historical Fiction, Mythology, Supernatural, Zombies 19

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

Ordinarily, Mondays bum me out, but not today. Today is a shortened work week for me because I’m going to BlogHer on Thursday (wahoo!) Have I mentioned that I’m excited? To kick the week off on a happy note, today we’re going to talk about Diana Gabaldon’s novella, A Plague of Zombies.

I’m a big giant fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. She’s done a spin off series based on Lord John Grey (of which I have only read one… The one where studly Jamie Fraser featured prominently, natch.) Periodically she’ll also publish novellas to compliment the main Outlander books. It’s a good strategy, because we fans are positively RAVENOUS for new material. It certainly didn’t hurt anything that this particular novella also featured ZOMBIES. (In case y0u need reminding of my adoration of the undead see HERE and HERE.)

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A Plague of Zombies takes place sometime during the Voyager sagaWhile Jamie and Claire are off doing other things, Lord John has been sent to Jamaica. In the 18th century, Jamaica isn’t exactly a fabulous tourist destination. Jamaica at this time is full of wealthy European landowners, slaves, escaped slaves, a crap ton of bugs, and Mrs. Abernathy (formerly known as the wily and trecherous Geillis Duncan.) Lord John never does anything without having weird crap happen to him. He’s a magnet for this sort of thing.

Shortly after he arrives on the island, he is visited by what appears to be a zombie. Oh yeah. We are talking stinky, undead, flesh eating zombie. The island’s African population is freaked the frick out by the prospect of zombies (though really, who isn’t?) Lord John is nothing if not practical, so he decides to investigate the matter further.

This leads him to an encounter with Mrs. Abernathy AKA Geillis Duncan (from the original Oulander!) He notices that she’s a wee bit over familiar with the ideas of curses, zombies, and general scary doings… Also that she appears to be carrying an advanced case of syphilis. (Too bad Claire isn’t around with her homemade penicillin, amiright?! Actually, Geillis was crazy before the syphilis and given her penchant for trouble making, the penicillin would be better used on someone who didn’t systematically eliminate her husbands… )

Imagine this fella with red hair, because he'll be playing Jamie in the Starz production of Outlander. (Source)

Imagine this fella with red hair, because he’ll be playing Jamie in the Starz production of Outlander. (Source)

So. Lord John has a mystery to solve, and solves it rather tidily, as he is wont to do. All in all it was a nice little story, a pleasant revisiting of familiar characters to tide us over until March 2014, when Written in My Own Heart’s Blood comes out. The very best part of this novella, though? Bonus sneak preview of the new book. EEEP! Even if the novella had been a complete dud, it would have been worth it to get a glimpse of the shenanigans about to ensue. (Of course, Jem is still stuck in that blasted tunnel… The suspense, Diana! Have mercy on my neurotic soul!)

Anybody else out there picked up A Plague of Zombies? Any other rabid fans want to comment on the newly cast Jamie? Personally, I think a good hair colorist and consume designer can pull it off, but what say you, Bookworms?

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May 23

Good Omens, Dogma, and Nostalgia

Coming of Age, Fantasy, Humor, Mythology, Personal, Religion 43

Salutations Bookworms!

I recently finished reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s been on my radar for a while, but I only now got around to giving it a go. Gaiman and Pratchett are both well known authors of the quirky variety, so it seems natural that they teamed up, especially given the cheeky and irreverent nature of the subject matter…

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

So, Heaven and Hell are operating as usual, what with the demons trying to make human life difficult and the angels trying to influence things the other direction. One day, Satan gets all antsy and decides to pull a Rosemary’s Baby by sending the fruit of his loins onto the earth to bring about Armageddon. Thanks to an order of Satanist nuns (who attempt to be as loud as possible to differentiate themselves from other nuns who take vows of silence… Very contrary, Satanists), there’s a bit of a mix up in the hospital. Satan’s spawn is sent home to grow up with an unsuspecting set of parents while a mortal baby is raised in pretty bizarre circumstances. Satanist nannies do their best to influence “Warlock” to embrace his evil, while the angels keep sticking their noses in to try and make him overcome his nature. Obviously their efforts are in vain, as baby Warlock is in possession of no supernatural capabilities.

While the forces of good and evil play a celestial chess game with a frustratingly mortal child, Adam, the ACTUAL demon spawn, is left to grow up like any other human. The only angels and devils perched on his shoulders are purely metaphorical. One angel and one demon in particular (Aziraphale and Crowley, respectively) play an especially important role in bringing about the end of the world, but they’ve become rather disenchanted with the idea of a celestial battle. While Aziraphale and Crowley have been growing weary, War, Famine, Pollution, and Death (the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, of course, Pestilence having retired following the discovery of penicillin) have been gearing up for the end of days. Despite the best intentions of both Heaven and Hell, neither side is particularly well prepared for Armageddon thanks to humanity fouling things up. You try plotting world destruction when your minions are unreliable!

Conflicted!

The Devil and Angel on my shoulders!

To be completely honest (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) Good Omens left me feeling lukewarm. I can’t discuss this book without bringing up Dogma. In 1999, Kevin Smith and his merry band of misfits put together a movie that was heavily influenced by Good Omens, though not a movie version of the book. Gaiman was instrumental in helping Smith craft his tale, and is thanked in the credits. I knew Good Omens and Dogma were in cahoots, but I was disappointed to find out that the story was completely different. I mean, sure. Heaven, Hell, Armageddon, creatures from another realm of existence doing battle- that was all there. But some of the elements that really drew me to the movie like heckling organized religion and giving a little spin on the family history of Jesus were absent in this book. My connection to Dogma is polluted by nostalgia. That movie came out when I was in high school, and Kevin Smith offered just the right combination of humor, intelligence, and bad language to make watching his movies as a teen a safe way to rebel while not getting into any ACTUAL trouble. (Appreciating humor at the expense of established cultural norms does not represent my feelings on religion in any way, so please don’t think that I’m being disrespectful. I simply enjoy revisionist takes on history- biblical and otherwise.)

I recently read somewhere that people who don’t read The Catcher in The Rye as a teenager will never appreciate it properly, and I think this might be the case with me and Good Omens. What about you, Bookworms? Have you ever (gasp) liked a movie better than a book? Were you ashamed to admit it?

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May 13

Awww, Sookie Sookie Now: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Crime, Fantasy, Mystery, Mythology, Romance, Supernatural, Vampires 27

Hello to my Bloodsucking Bookworms!

Oh, that’s right. The REAL vampires are still “in the coffin.” I get it, I get it. I don’t blame you for keeping it to yourselves. Actually, I may have mentioned it before, but my very existence is proof to me that vampires are not real. I am DELECTABLE to all blood sucking insects. Every mosquito within miles comes to feast on my sweet sweet blood. (I’m beginning to think I may be part fairy.) Anyway. Considering I’m so delicious to fleas and flies and mosquitoes, it would only make sense that vampires would find me irresistible, drink all my blood, and render me a whole lot of dead in very little time. Let us suspend our disbelief, shall we?

In Charlaine Harris’s version of vampire-lore, vampires “came out of the coffin” to the general public after a medical company was able to manufacture synthetic blood. The theory was that they would no longer be a threat to humans if they just drank bottled fake blood instead of guzzling humanity. After the vampires came to light, so too did werewolves and other shape shifters (I’ve yet to hear of a were-penguin, but I like to hold out hope that it is completely possible. Sam Merlotte, the resident Bon Temps shape shifter/bar owner can turn into just about anything. Just because he never pulled out the penguin tux doesn’t mean he COULDN’T if he wanted to, right?) In a world where vampires, shape shifters, and werewolves, are real, the floodgates are open to all sorts of mythical creatures. Fairies, demons, elves, and hybrid supernaturals of all kinds have encountered the lovely Sookie Stackhouse over the last 12 books. Sookie, our heroine, is a waitress in a bar in small town Louisiana.

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Sookie has been a telepath all her life, which is typically the bane of her existence. I don’t want to hear what goes on inside anyone else’s head any more than I want someone listening in on my thoughts. You can’t control thoughts, you know? All the impolite things you think but never say are what Sookie deals with on a daily basis. The fact that she was drawn into the world of supernaturals was largely based on this gift- she isn’t able to hear vampire thoughts at all, and other supernaturals are difficult for her to read clearly. Finally, some peace and quiet! Only… Not at all. Because hanging out with witches and vampires and werewolves and fairies and shape shifters makes life AWFULLY interesting… And leads to an impressive pile of dead bodies, human and otherwise.

This has all been leading up to the finale of Dead Ever After, book 13 in the series. Sookie’s had a series of love interests, among them two scandalously sensual vampires (the quintessential southern gentleman and the outrageously hot Viking), a were-tiger, a were-wolf, and exactly zero humans. Her fairy blood has proved a mixed blessing as it makes her vampire catnip (though it’s diluted enough that they don’t just eat her outright), but lands her in a world of conflict with another dimension of existence. Sookie’s dearly departed Gran left her a token of love called a cluviel dor, which is super powerful fairy magic that allows the owner one insanely powerful wish. At the end of her last adventure, Sookie used her cluviel dor to save the life of her close friend and business partner Sam Merlotte (after he was injured in a werewolf battle. Dangerous business hanging around supernaturals, even if you are one.) Unfortunately, Sam starts acting all weird about the whole thing (much to my dismay because I’ve been ‘shipping hard for Sookie and Sam to have a happily ever after since book 1, y’all.)

Sookie + Sam = Supernatural love that can reproduce and lives only the length of a normal human life!

This is a screen cap from True Blood. It’s a great show, as long as you don’t expect it to follow the books very closely… As in, the books are less of a code and more of a loose set of guidelines…

To add to the crazy, Sookie’s ex friend Arlene managed to get herself sprung from jail (because of that one time she joined a cult and tried to crucify Sookie…) and shortly thereafter get herself murdered. I know, right? Thanks to the work of some devious douchebags, Sookie is framed for the crime. While Sookie’s had to mow down a few supes in her life, it’s largely been in self defense. She’s a sweet gal, Sookie. Murder really isn’t her jam. So now she’s got to rally her troop of supes to solve the crime and prove her innocence.

I didn’t have exceptionally high expectations for this finale book because the series is fun, but campy. It would have been hard for me to be upset if she’d ended up with the hottie hot hot Eric, or her first love Bill, or Quinn the were-tiger, or even Alcide the werewolf. Sure, I was Team Sam all the way, but you know. They’re fun silly books about imaginary people and imaginary things that didn’t get all up in my SOUL the way that Harry Potter did. Fun distraction, but I’m surely not feeling bereft knowing the series is finished. I won’t tell you how it turns out, but I found the final book satisfying. A follow up book which is NOT a novel is due out in the fall. It will detail what becomes of all the characters in their happily ever afters. I’m sure that will provide any closure to any lingering questions fans have, and I applaud Harris for taking the step.

Have any of you bookworms been following the Sookie saga? Have you read the finale? How did YOU want things to turn out? Are you pleased with the results? Talk to me, my dears. I love to hear from you!

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Apr 11

What The Frodo?! (In Which Katie Begins The Lord of the Rings)

Classics, Fantasy, Friendship, Mythology 63

Vedui’ Parma Loki!

Oh yeah. That just happened. I just greeted y’all in ELVISH. Thanks to some random internet English to Elvish translator, I was able to come up with “Greetings Book Snakes!” (Worms was not listed in the translator. I improvised.) I have a feeling if, say, Legolas, were out there reading my blog, he’d be all, “You’re bastardizing my people’s beautiful language!” Luckily, Elvish isn’t a real language, so I doubt I’ll catch too much flack. YES! I FINALLY started the Lord of the Rings trilogy! I just finished The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien, and you bet your sweet lembas bread I’ve got some things to say. I may as well just go ahead an give a big fat SPOILER ALERT for this whole review, but really, if you haven’t read the book, seen the movies, or have any concept of the story, you probably don’t care. However. I’m working on being RESPONSIBLE, see?

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Nerd Cred!

You may recall a while back I read and reviewed The HobbitThe Fellowship of the Ring picks up with Bilbo Baggins as an old hobbit, ready to enjoy his retirement (from what exactly, I’m not sure, because he had a crap ton of money from his share of Smaug’s booty, but whatever…) Anyway. Bilbo has “adopted” Frodo Baggins as his heir. They really ARE family, but more distant than nephew and uncle. Tolkien is rather fond of the describing the genealogical origins of his characters… In great detail. (More on that later…) Bilbo and Frodo have a big birthday bash (if you recall from the movie, it’s the one Gandalf shows up for with his fancy fireworks.) Bilbo pulls a disappearing act in the middle of the party and heads off (presumably to his condo in Boca) after an intense parting with his ring.

In the movie, Frodo leaves home on his quest to destroy the evil ring the very next day. In the book? It takes SEVENTEEN YEARS! I’m not saying that in an “OMG that took FOREVER” sort of way. I literally mean it took from Frodo’s 33rd birthday to his 50th for him to get a move on. In the meantime, we learn a lot of stuff that’s not especially critical to the plot about the Shire and the cantankerous branch of the family that will inherit Bag-End once Frodo skips town. Eventually, Frodo, his eavesdropping gardener Sam, Merry, and Pippin go adventuring. Along the way they acquire a really sweet pony named Bill. I liked Bill.

Bill the Pony for President!

Bill the Pony for President! (Sam and Bill are BFF.)

There were moments of excitement and great dialogue and serious bro-mances of the equine variety… But in order to GET to those parts, you have to wade through endless description of landscapes and geography and genealogy and songs. Have I ever mentioned that I have incredibly poor spatial skills? I can’t tell north, south, east, or west in the real world- I don’t know how I can be expected to be concerned with the debates on route between Aragorn, Boromir, and Gandalf. And the SONGS. I’ll be honest. While I was slogging through this bad boy, I would completely skip the songs. And, um, the songs in made up languages? Yeah. Not happening.

I will give Tolkien major props for excellent world building. It’s impressive for sure. I can completely understand the dedicated ravenous leagues of fans these books have acquired, and while I skip over the songs, I see why some would dissect the songs for even MORE Middle Earth goodness. I get it… I’m just not that fandom. Now, if JK Rowling published an entire book on the assorted family histories of the Harry Potter characters, gave them a fake language, and wrote volumes of verse for them, I’d be ALL ABOUT IT.

Have any of you Bookworms out there been to Middle Earth? Did you share my experience, or would you like to burn me in effigy? I’m open to both possibilities, because it’s the INTERNET and you still LOVE ME and you wouldn’t try to burn me alive for something as silly as not LOVING the Lord of the Rings… Right?

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Feb 18

Gold! Always Believe In Your Soul: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Coming of Age, Fantasy, Mythology, Supernatural 40

Bonjour Bookworms!

I like getting my reading material for free when I can, so I’m constantly checking up on my library’s digital selections. Though they’re not as extensive as I would like, sometimes I’ll get the chance try something out that I’m too “on the fence” about to purchase. In my most recent foray, I sampled The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist tells the tale of a young shepherd from Spain who dreams of traveling the world. The entire book is written in parable form, and it focuses on finding the truth in life and discovering one’s own personal legend. The meaning of life and whatnot. Deep stuff.

Our hero decides to take his chances in the wide world and sells his flock of sheep on the advice of a gypsy and a “king” (I have doubts of his actual monarchical pedigree.) The little shepherd is advised to seek his own personal legend and find his treasure near the pyramids of Egypt. Along the way, he gathers lessons from a crystal merchant, a British man obsessed with alchemy, a really cool camel, and a lovely lady from a desert tribe. All seem to be pointing him toward his purpose in life.

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Y’all, this book was just not my thing. I’m not great at getting into this kind of head space. Like… I take yoga, right? I find it relaxing, I appreciate the stretching and the way it makes my body feel. However… At the beginning of each class we’re taken through a sort of mini meditation. We’re instructed to clear our minds and concentrate on the present and our sense of being.

You know what I concentrate on? The fact that we’re trying to meditate in the basement of a recreational center that has a basketball game going on directly overhead and a Zumba class across the hall. I think about the old dude and his shiny blue pants. Are they pants? Are they tights? Were they made for cycling? Does this dude shop at a fancy yoga store I know nothing about? Perhaps my cheap Target yoga pants are laughable to this master of yoga. Wait. Did somebody just fart?!

I'm seriously concerned about the man tights.

I’m seriously concerned about the man tights.

I have no doubt that this book really resonated with a lot of people. I mean, it must have, because it’s a best seller. I am NOT a risk taker, so I have a hard time with encouraging people to, um, metaphorically sell all their sheep and go treasure hunting at the pyramids of Egypt. I don’t want to sound like a big grouch who lives to crush dreams. By all means, have dreams! Pursue them… But, you know. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or something. And thus, I leave you with this random song my eccentric dance instructor once choreographed and has thus become an earworm in my brain for all of time. Gold = Alchemy + “Always Believe In Your Soul” Lyric = Appropriate. (The beauty of fake math is that it need not make sense.)

Bottom line? I’m glad I got this from the library and didn’t pay for it.

Anybody else read this book? What did you think? Anybody else take yoga? Are the blue man tights a thing?

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Nov 28

Song of Achilles: Yes, There’s a Centaur!

Coming of Age, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Mythology, Supernatural 35

Hello Bookworms! I just finished reading Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. You know that tendon in your heel? Yeah. It’s called the Achilles tendon because according to Greek legend the hero Achilles was untouchable in battle because his goddess mother dipped him into some magic water as a baby and he was this protected. The flaw in the plan was that she didn’t go for full submersion, and held his heels out of the water while she dipped him. Thus the heels were vulnerable and he is finally killed during the Trojan War (not that this is the scenario presented in this book, I’m just filling you in on some medical knowledge.)

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before I go any further, I’ll just come right out and say that this book is basically a love story between two dudes. If you have a problem with homosexuality, I respectfully request that you not read the rest of this blog and that you refrain from posting any nastiness in the comment section. Here’s your get out of jail free card. If you’re uncomfortable with the subject matter, don’t read this book. Or my review. Hate speech will not be tolerated.

You’re still here? Good! Okay so I had a very basic knowledge of the goings on of the Trojan War and I know enough mythological trivia pull out a win if multiple choice is involved. What I didn’t know much of was Achilles’ particular story. Oh what a journey it was! Achilles is the son of a pious king and a sea nymph. Greek mythology is pretty crazy, and according to this account, the pious king Peleus was essentially told to rape the sea nymph Thetis. What a great way to start a marriage! Only NOT AT ALL. Peleus wondered why she hated him. Sigh.

The union of Peleus and Thetis obviously resulted in Achilles. Achilles was a golden boy. He was a super badass warrior without even trying. Enter Patroclus. Patroclus was born a prince, but due to an accident involving a shove and a nobleman’s son’s skull taking an unfortunate bash on a rock, Patroclus was banished from his kingdom. Apparently this was a pretty common practice at the time, because when he’s sent to foster at Achilles’ crib there’s a whole dorm full of ne’er do well princes. Achilles barely notices the other boys, but he notices Patroclus. He chooses Patroclus as his companion and they become total BFFs.

As the years go by and puberty hits, the predictable occurs. You know, you go live on a mountain to be trained by a centaur and THINGS HAPPEN. Not with the centaur. With your BFF. Patroclus and Achilles fall in love. Like for reals love, not politician in a bathroom love. Patroclus chases Achilles down when Thetis hides him in a far off kingdom dressed as a lady. (And she has the gall to be grouchy that he’s in love with a guy. Seriously, Thetis, get enlightened!)

They go off to fight the Trojan War (because you know, Helen and her thousand-ship-launching face.) The Trojan War is frickin long. Daily hand to hand combat for more than 10 years! It’s a good thing Achilles is part god. He barely breaks a sweat. Patroclus is more a lover than a fighter, so he mostly hangs out in the medical tent doling out centaur approved healing techniques. Patroclus and Achilles actually have a pretty nice little war. They get to live as a couple and have some great times. The war is sort of a 9-5 gig. But they know their days are numbered. Yep. Prophesy. The fates never could keep their mouths shut.

I can’t quit you!

It’s no surprise that Achilles dies. I mean, the heel thing! Everybody knows that. But Patroclus? He goes first and it’s HEARTBREAKING. It’s like Brokeback Mountain but the Greeks were a lot cooler about gay people. It was pretty common for boys to have homosexual affairs, actually. It was a little on the unusual side for Achilles and Patroclus to have kept their relationship going into adulthood, but since Achilles could kick anyone’s ass, they didn’t get too much crap from their army buds. Then they go and die and break your heart into a million pieces. That’s alright though- as we’ve discussed, the literary cry is the “pretty” cry.

The bottom line? This book was wonderful! The love story was beautiful, it tugged at all of my heartstrings (there are many of them. My heart is like a harp.) Greek mythology is so colorful and interesting. They knew how to tell a story. And so does Madeline Miller.

I simply must know, Bookworms. How much would you FREAK OUT if you got to live on a mountain with a centaur? He’d teach you to play the lyre!

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Oct 16

Mythology vs. Technology: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy, Mythology, Religion, Supernatural 14

Howdy Bookworms! I think you should know that I’m highly susceptible to marketing tactics. Also, highly susceptible to suggestion… From people I admire, anyway. When The Bloggess talks about how amazing an author is and I’ve never read any of said author’s work, I take action. The Bloggess is a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan, so I decided that I needed to read one of his books. If you keep up with cinema (which I do not, but I knew this anyway) you’ll recall a few years back there was a movie released called Coraline. Neil Gaiman wrote that. He apparently writes books for all ages, so I went to his website, picked one of the books targeted toward an adult audience, and promptly bought it on Amazon. (Hey marketing people, I’m your target audience! Send me free stuff, yo!)

Seeing that it’s October and Halloween is right around the corner, American Gods is a festive choice. It’s all supernatural and stuff. The premise of the story is that as immigrants came to America they brought their gods, demons, and superstitions with them. And we’re not just talking Ellis Island immigrants. We’re talking like Ice Age immigrants. All the immigrants ever. These gods, demons, fairies, and whatnot became literal manifestations as they were brought to this new land. There’s like leprechauns hanging around getting into bar brawls and pulling gold coins out of thin air. Unfortunately for the supernatural types, they feed on the belief of people… And in the modern day US, there aren’t too many people making blood sacrifices to Odin.

I googled Odin. He rocks an eye patch. Now Pirate Dog has someone to look up to.

Our protagonist is a recently paroled convict named Shadow. Shadow is released from prison after serving a three year sentence only to learn that his wife was killed in a car accident… And had been having an affair with his best friend. Harsh. When Shadow is approached by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and offered a job as an errand boy, he’s really got nothing to lose.

Mr. Wednesday is trying to rally the old school gods to battle the new school. The new school gods include manifestations of the internet, telephone, media, etc. As people moved their faith from mythological figures to technology, the gods have lost their influence and power. They’re starved for belief.

This is Eostre, Celtic goddess of rebirth and spring and stuff. Her name and festival got all smushed together with Easter so she manages to stay fat and happy even though people don’t realize they’re celebrating her. (Don’t get riled up. Students of history must realize that in order for the world to accept Christianity, early missionaries drew an awful lot of comparisons between monotheism and pagan traditions. That’s just a fact, y’all.)

Shadow’s journey introduces us to Norse mythology, ancient Egyptian traditions, Hindu deities, African gods, Celtic folklore, Arabic demons, and Native American history- and that’s just the beginning. There are twists and turns and cons and mysteries. There’s even a good portion of Shadow’s tale where he meanders through Illinois, pointing out all the ridiculous town names. (I totally dug the shout outs to Peru, El Paso, and Cairo… Because Illinois is more than just Chicago, y’all. There’s also a bunch of farm towns that share their names with other famous places!)

The story is long and involved, and I think giving you a blow by blow account would be doing you a disservice. (That, and my brain hurts so I don’t feel like writing up a whole synopsis.) If you like Tim Burton movies, mythology, or supernatural books, I highly recommend American Gods. 

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