lists · meme posts

Explanation Post (Now With Added Meme)

Guess what, guys? I lost my internet access last Saturday. I did stuff all morning, came back, and promptly lost my internet. Turns out lightning and routers don’t mix.

So you’ll have to wait until next Saturday for my first post on comedy/humor in writing, aka The Post Where I Talk About How Much I Don’t Know. I promise, if I possibly can, I’ll make it happen.

For now, have another meme!

From The Book Date blog: “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.” Yay, I get to talk about my reading log! I wish I had a picture of it, but I’m writing this in my campus library, so I have no access to the little Jack Skellington notebook that I’ve had and kept a book log in since October 2014. It’s adorable, I can assure you.


Books I Recently Finished

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The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
read: Jan 22

I have a thing for Russian classics. I also have a (huge) thing for cats. This was a perfection combination.

I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I expected – too many bland Russian officials with names I couldn’t keep straight because I’m an American, dagnabbit – but devilry is always entertaining, and once the story actually got to the Master and Margarita, it picked up a lot, and it ended on a great note.

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Nicholas St. north and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce

read: Jan 20

It’s a reread because I finally got access to the third and fourth books in this series! Admittedly, I watched Rise of the Guardians before I started this series, so the much more child-oriented story is a little bit of an anticlimax; still, it’s enjoyable and lively, with a fun focus on invention and a sort of magical science. And, despite all of its kid-friendliness, Pitch is still pretty scary.

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The Third Man by Graham Greene
read: Jan 19

Greene’s explanation in the preface – that this is not a novella but a working-out of a story to become a script – somehow makes The Third Man work even better. His writing is incredibly cinematic, and you can just hear the noir voiceover in Calloway’s voice. I do think it would probably work better as a film – I haven’t watched it yet, but I plan to. Still, very entertaining.

 

Books I’m Reading

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E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core! by William Joyce

I mean… obviously. The third/fourth books are due this Saturday. It’s a good thing these books are easy to blaze through.

Bunnymund was always my favorite Guardian in the movie (even over Jack Frost and Sandy, yes). Obviously that Bunnymund has an Australian accent and a fun devilish personality, but this Bunnymund is a Pooka, and he can time-travel. Your move, Dreamworks.

 

Books To Read Next

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The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

Yep, I am reading Rick Riordan’s latest. I’m not expecting much out of it, but maybe it’ll surprise me, despite featuring the god I kindly refer to as the most boring Olympian I can think of.

Then again, I’m still salty about not getting a Nico di Angelo spin-off. So the problem, I admit, is mostly with me.

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Mandragola by Niccolo Machiavelli

Do I have any idea what it’s about? No. It’s in an anthology (Eight Great Comedies) I got at a library sale. So we’ll see how this goes.

 

 

 


That’s it for my Monday! What have you been reading lately? Any plans for this week?

reviews

Mythadapted: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

(Yes, I drank all my tea… again. Sometimes it’s just too good to leave unconsumed until the photo op.)

You have to understand how excited I was to read this book. Latin American characters and culture and magic, mixed with some fictional but Latin American-based mythology, folk tale, and ritual – Labyrinth Lost was going to be something different. In a YA urban fantasy/paranormal market flushed with average Anglo-American stories, with roughly the same situation over and over and over, this was going to be new and untapped (though hopefully not untapped for long).

And I fully acknowledge that I’m not in the majority with my opinions. A lot of people on Goodreads love this book. Five and four stars are the norm there. And I guess in a way I’m glad. I wanted this book to succeed.

Unfortunately, to me, it wasn’t new or different. It’s great that almost the entire cast is Latin American, and I guess it’s good that some attempt at LGBT relationships is made, but, in all the deepest storytelling places, Labyrinth Lost is just another one of the same mediocre stories we’ve been getting in the YA supernatural market for ages.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…
(From Goodreads)

The book starts out fairly strong. The normal, everyday culture of the brujas/brujos is fun to read about; the conflict between modern life and magic is almost always an interesting situation. It’s a little overdone, sure, but there’s room for exploration. This aspect of the conflict was, I think, the most compelling thing about Labyrinth Lost – that, and the family dynamic. Alex lives with her mother and two sisters, and their notable circle includes several other brujas, both living and dead. While Córdova’s treatment of it is not particularly groundbreaking, it still worked well enough.

But the book loses those two elements – family and clash of modern life/magic – at page 81. (Yes, I went back to check.) Less than a third of the book takes place in a relatively well-defined world with characters we (at least start to) care about. Then Alex and Nova go to Los Lagos, and the book falls apart.

I wrote in my preliminary Goodreads review that Labyrinth reads like it’s being smothered by a pillow. The life just goes out of it. Alex is always distant and frequently melodramatic – not a great combination. I wanted to get where she was coming from, but her narration was too unclear and her motivations didn’t have enough context to be believable. Everything supernatural that happens to her in Los Lagos is related in bare, vague detail, with no emotional inflection. It’s like Alex feels nothing; she just flat-out says that she feels what she’s supposed to feel in various situations. Her magic is strongly tied to her emotions, but those emotions are never actually shown coming from an understandable place.

The same holds true for her relationships. Nova is nothing but cliché, the bad boy with an awful backstory, literally too sexy for his shirt (he spends a substantial portion of their time in Los Lagos shirtless). His lines feel copy-pasted from every single YA paranormal story you’ve ever read, and so does his dialogue with Alex. He and Alex don’t really have an organic relationship; he’s there because the story requires she have a sexy brooding bad boy as a “guide” (aka: an edgy love interest). Rishi, Alex’s best friend and eventual third part to the love triangle, started out promising, in a “Manic Pixie Dream Bestie” kind of way (galaxy leggings are basically shorthand for that character), but she eventually turns into a line-mouthing puppet, too. There was barely any chemistry when Alex and Rishi were friends, but any trace of chemistry vanishes when the relationship turns romantic. Ugh. She also gets a bizarrely random feud with Nova going – truly childish jealousy over Alex – which repeatedly had me putting the book down just to mutter, “What are you, like twelve?”

That’d all be well and disappointing, but the most tragic thing is that even the novel’s mythology can’t stand up on its own. Los Lagos is vague and hazy, with only the barest of description (thanks to Alex’s apparent sensory coma). Most of the fantastical elements are fictional, and since we get almost no discussion of Los Lagos before Alex and Nova go to Los Lagos, we are even more in the dark than they are about what to expect. And no one ever sits down to explain. Exposition is a bad thing, of course – no one wants an “As You Know, Bob” moment – but being shoved into a brand new mythological situation blind is equally frustrating. Avianas? An important Alta Bruja no one mentioned until the middle of the book? A Faun King? Okay, sure, whatever, I guess; we weren’t told it couldn’t happen, anyway. Every minor obstacle in Los Lagos materializes out of nowhere. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but Alex simultaneously shows very little surprise at those obstacles while demonstrating almost no foreknowledge that they might exist. It’s like if Percy Jackson encountered the minotaur without knowing that minotaurs existed, and his reaction was, “Dude with a bull head? I mean, no one told me I wouldn’t meet a dude with a bull head, so I guess I’ll fight it.”

All around, Labyrinth Lost is a cloudy, confusing, vague situation, both character-wise and setting-wise. Also, if you’re like me and have issues with animal sacrifice, you should be warned: there’s animal sacrifice. Shudder.

This review was overlong a couple hundred words ago, so I’ll stop here. In brief, it’s a “do not recommend.” Guess I’m still waiting for that one perfect magical Latin American novel to do the genre justice.

meme posts

Surprise! Post: Top Ten Tuesday

Look at me, posting on a day that’s not Wednesday or Saturday (and NOT because I just ran out of time on those days)!

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme by The Broke and the Bookish. They like lists and so do I, and this meme is all about the lists: top ten books for whatever the category is this week. This week’s category:

Top Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books We’ve Read In The Past Year Or So

Because I’m lazy, and because 2016-ish wasn’t an incredibly fruitful year for hidden gems, I’m cutting the number down to five. Maybe next week will be better.

In the interests of transparency, a confession: I’m not super into most of the communities attached to the genres of these books. They might be properly rated in their areas and I’ve just been deaf to it because I don’t run in those circles.


Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters, #1)

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #1)
Read: February 2016

I’m not usually one for historical fiction, but Girl Waits With Gun is fantastic. It has a great family dynamic, an enchanting little romance subplot, and a kick-a heroine. I love that the story truly progresses and that the characters go in arcs instead of returning to how they were before the events of the book happen. Wonderfully entertaining.

 

15810106A Skeleton In The Family by Leigh Perry (Family Skeleton Mystery #1) 
Read: March 2016

Again: I’m not a big mystery person. But how are you supposed to pass up a mystery with an adjunct-professor-slash-single-mom protagonist and a walking, talking skeleton as the sidekick-slash-object-of-the-mystery? Answer: you don’t. Read it. It’s the coziest of cozy mysteries. (Fun fact: I met Leigh Perry last August and got her autograph!)

 

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Leviathan ’99 by Ray Bradbury
Read: May 2016

Can I in good faith put a Bradbury book on a list of underrated books and hidden gems? I feel like I can, because I’ve for sure never heard of the two novellas in the collection I read (Now And Forever, which included Leviathan ’99 as well as Somewhere A Band Is Playing).

Leviathan ’99 is a space version of Moby Dick, which is why I got the collection in the first place. I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it was going to be. It’s a novella, so it’s short, but you can feel your life stretching out around you as the story goes on. One of those stories that you need to read in one sitting, undisturbed, so it can properly drink you in.

Living Hell by Catherine Jinks6437426
Read: September 2016

Catherine Jinks is one of those authors who just… pulls no punches. She didn’t in the Evil Genius series, and she doesn’t here.

I don’t want to say too much about this book because it’s best if you go in blind, just like the characters. It might take you a couple chapters to believe in what Jinks is doing, but it’s worth the wait. It truly does turn into a living hell.

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Leaper by Geoffrey Wood
Read: December 2016

Four (compound) words: Christian slice-of-life supehero story. It sounds absurd but it works.

The impression I have from this book is short, snappy dialogue that hooks you, paired with concepts and a main character’s internal monologue that reels you in.

I ditched about an hour of helping with Christmas dinner in order to start and read this book. Try it.


That’s it for me! Tune in tomorrow (I hope) for a review of Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova.

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Cosmogosgonosic: The World In Cycle

Welcome back to The Hero With A Thousand Faces, where we’re picking up with Part II, Chapter 1: “Emanations.”  I’m still frustrated with Broseph’s lack of layman-appropriate consistency and the constant reminder that mythology is inherently sexual in its metaphor. Nothing has changed!

“Emanations” deals primarily with beginnings, which is appropriate, given its title. But, at first, Campbell deals with the whole of time – cosmogonic cycles, which is, as it turns out, very hard for me to type.

Various mythologies and beliefs held/hold the idea that the world starts, ends, and restarts, over and over, through various ages and eras. Sometimes the world just ends up eyebrow-deep in “cyclic conflagration” (264), a mass of total annihilation that allows a brand new world to come into being. In other places (as in a particular Jain system, apparently), the world merely goes through ups and downs, valleys and peaks. People start out wonderfully good before they deteriorate, becoming so heinous that I guess they start World War III or the Hunger Games or World War XXIV, whichever is timeline-appropriate; then, somehow, the remaining dregs of humanity crawl from their fallout bunkers and start to build up again, redeeming themselves until they’re back at the peak. Which means that, yippie kay-aye, there’s nowhere to go but down again!

But in the sixth of the descending ages, the state of man and his world will be still more horrible. The longest life will be only twenty years; one cubit will be the greatest stature and eight ribs the meagre allotment. (264)

That quote doesn’t add anything of particular value. I just like the idea of moral uprightness being measured by how many ribs you have.

Of course not all mythologies hold to a cosmogonic cycle, but enough do to make the idea stick. One of my favorite mythological images is one post-Ragnarok, when the world has been reborn and Baldr has returned, and two humans – like the first two humans of the Norse creation story – come alive in this new earth. Campbell doesn’t record the beginning of the reborn earths of the Jain or Stoic beliefs; I can only assume they contain the poignancy and hope of the Norse.

Because that’s what the cosmogonic round means. That’s what, to a layman like me, the Norse end of days is all about. That’s one reason I think Ragnarok is, if not a household name, at least something that a lot of people know about. (That and the ship made of dead men’s toenails. Hel does nothing halfway.) It’s one reason that the end in general just has more of a spiritual punch than the beginning in just about any mythology. Look at the Norse beginning: what do you have except a sweaty sleeping giant and a cow licking some salty ice blocks out of sheer boredom? It’s near the same in any mythology. You don’t get existential shivers listening to the story of primal gods sleeping with their primal sisters so that the current pantheon can come to be. At least, I don’t.

And, okay, my own personal orientation (as asexual as you could ask for) might play into my feelings and tastes on the issue. I admit that my lack of esteem for carnal delight might be coloring my opinion of much of “Emanations,” dealing as it does with the innate sexuality of the birth of the world: eggs, godly incest, worldly conception, the lying-together. But I don’t think I’m totally disinterested in the place of sex in mythology; it has its place in the iconography and meaning of many, many, many stories. It’s just that it makes creation stories so… human-focused. It’s as if we bring the inconceivable (ha, ha) down to our own level. And, yes, that sounds like what I’ve argued, about how that’s exactly what makes mythology important. That’s even what Campbell argues (258). But it’s… different, isn’t it? Isn’t there some difference between bringing the inconceivable down to humanity versus boosting humanity closer to the inconceivable?

Creation myths are pervaded with a sense of the doom that is continually recalling all created shapes to the imperishable out of which they first emerged. …Mythology, in this sense, is tragic in its view. But in the sense that [mythology] places our true being not in the forms that shatter but in the imperishable out of which they again immediately bubble forth, mythology is eminently untragical. (269)

That’s what, I feel, Ragnarok gets at. It’s not the begetting of humanity or the gods, it’s the testing of them. It’s not their lineage, not the dirty details of how they came to be; it’s who they are, how they act, what they’ve done to get to this final, ultimate point.

And then, no matter who is on the right or wrong side – no matter who bites it from a snakebite or gets iced by a frost giant – it all starts again. No one makes it out alive, and the brightest hero ends up in the same place as the bitterest villain, which means justice and mercy are the same thing. All playing (or battle) fields are leveled. Then the fields grow fresh new trees and fruits, and fresh young people play games with the golden pieces leftover from the first age. I guess it’s not exactly the same world – Baldr wasn’t the first living god in the world before, was he? – but it all starts again with the same players. Though… different, maybe? The same, but different? And sure, Ragnarok will come again, and who knows who’ll be the first god to wake up after the next one and the next and the next. But everyone does wake up, and maybe, eventually, everyone will get it right.

The basic principle of all mythology is this of the beginning in the end. (269)

That’s the glory of a cosmogonic round: it’s a psychoanalyst’s way of saying “universal second chance.” And third chance, and fourth chance, and who knows how many chances we get? It looks like one Hindu eschatological system has about a million chances. How encouraging is that? If Loki and Jorgumandr and presumably even Surtr get a shot a acting right the next time around, what about us? Even if you don’t believe in a literal cyclical universe, this mythological mode says, “It’s okay. Every world is capable of coming back to life.”

So don’t worry about embarrassing yourself in Starbucks that one time when you said “You too” to the cashier’s “Enjoy.” You get a do-over next time. And if that’s not what mythology is all about, I don’t know what is.

 

reviews

Mythadapted: After Troy by Glyn Maxwell

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Guess who drank all their Chun Mei tea before they took the picture?

As it turns out, I lied on my schedule. Neither Judas nor Divine Nature was something I wanted to review on this blog. Saying so might count as an anti-recommendation, a negative review in miniature, so you get a triple whammy today.

After Troy, however, is something worth more.

HECUBA: …Troy, Troy
we must sing you as you are, so, one morning,
my fatherless poor son
forlorn on a grey sea,
he blinks and blinks again,
for there fall two drops of light,
a jewel of pink on both his eyes, it’s dawn
anointing the far towers of his birthplace!

After Troy is what it sounds like: a dramatization of the aftermath of the Greeks’ triumph in the Trojan War. According to Goodreads and Hoopla, it’s a retelling of Euripides’s Women Of Troy and Hecuba. I haven’t read these plays (for shame), so I can’t tell how Maxwell adapts them – loosely, faithfully, emotively, whatever. I can, however, say that After Troy was just as melancholy and at times gut-wrenching as I’d hoped it would be.

As one might expect from the source myth and material, the main figures are Hecuba, Andromache, Polyxena, and Cassandra, locked together as disgraced prisoners despite their royal status. There’s also Agamemnon – whose dialogue, in my humble opinion, was the best, though I still can’t stand the man – a Greek soldier, and Agamemnon’s scribe Talthybius. The story involves faith or lack thereof in the gods, who the gods actually support (if anyone), the treatment of the losing side in a war, and – again, in my humble opinion – the lengths people will go to in order to keep their dignity as human beings.

Agamemnon might have the best dialogue – Maxwell writes with a deft understanding of where to include proper punctuation and where to leave it out for the most lifelike intonations of speech, and Agamemnon’s gruff, exasperated, borderline desperate words come through so you can almost hear them in your head. But he’s not the strongest character. That honor goes to the four principle women, all suffering in their own ways, all struggling to come to grips with their own personal tragedy. Hecuba clings to the hope of her last surviving son, Palidorus, fiercely protecting her vision of Troy restored; Andromache is bitter and angry, following her mother-in-law’s attempts to keep Troy alive through song but really only hanging on for Astyanax; Polyxena is, perversely, still in love with Achilles and seems to believe he’ll rescue her (poor thing); and Cassandra is… well, Cassandra, a world-weary, sardonic lunatic who fights back at Agamemnon when she can and occasionally even sees the audience watching her. They’re all wonderfully written, each unique and compelling. I found Andromache’s heartsick fury to be the most interesting, but each woman is worthy of respect and sympathetic grief.

HECUBA: Your child is safe.
He of Knowledge told me.

ANDROMACHE: Did he really.
Can She of Mercy let me see his face?

HECUBA: I shall ask her when I see her.

ANDROMACHE: Would you do that?
Good, because the gods who I’ve been begging
are She of the Folded Arms and He of Grinning.

It’s a relatively short play – 93 pages on the Hoopla ebook. Time passes as the Greeks wait for a wind to take them back home (and do the Trojan women take it out on Agamemnon by reminding him of Iphigenia) but not that much time. Like The IliadAfter Troy seems to take place at the end a long period of stalling and spinning of wheels. The audience sees the end result of the Trojan women’s efforts at remembering Troy, at somehow staying Trojan despite everything, mourning their enormous loss by memorizing what it was before. It seems strange at first, the songs and dances that Hecuba and her daughters execute, but after a while their effectiveness becomes apparent when – as is customary in tragedies – the Trojan women start dropping off, leaving Hecuba to her increasing desperation and broken-heartedness. It’s sad enough that Troy has been razed, but the real tragedy is in the loss of Troy’s people, in their subjugation and dehumanization and even (in Polyxena’s case) in their own surrender to the Greeks.

It’s not an uplifting play. But it’s an intensely empathetic, strangely compassionate one, showing the humanity (even Agamemnon’s) in the inhumanity of war.

CASSANDRA: In the cool shade in a lemon grove
White butterflies on a holy day
                             White butterflies in a lemon grove
                             In the cool shade

HECUBA: Thou of Mercy spare my son.

ANDROMACHE: Thou of Mercy spare mine first,
me please, me please, me please,
change the world to my world.

Due to strong language (Agamemnon is fond of the f-bomb) and some dialogue concerning sexual abuse, I wouldn’t recommend After Troy to everyone. If one can handle that intensity, however, it’s worth the effort – as long as one doesn’t mind being heartbroken over the Trojan War again. Personally, I’m always heartbroken over the Trojan War, and this play still kicked me in the heart.

But definitely in a good way.

lists

2017: Books Long Awaited

Well, most of these are not so long-awaited. I didn’t read most of the hits of 2016, so I’m not eagerly awaiting any sequels; I’m very excited for V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy-ender, A Conjuring Of Light, despite the fact that I haven’t read the second book yet, and I’m glad that the sequel to This Savage Song will be out this year, as well, even though I haven’t read This Savage Song. It’ll be a busy year of catching up with V.E. Schwab. I’d like to personally thank and bless the designers for her book covers. Splendid, all.

In any case, long-awaited or not, here are 17 books that look most interesting (most interesting indeed) to me in 2017. The categories:

  • Mythological/Fairytale – Existing
  • Mythological/Fairytale – Fictional
  • Modern Myth
  • Non-mythological

Existing Mythological/Fairytale Books:

308096891. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Does this even require explanation?

Confession: I have not read American Gods, nor have I read Anansi Boys. I did not even enjoy, that much, Neverwhere, Stardust, or Coraline. I have read and somewhat enjoyed Odd and the Frost Giants. Why am I even excited for this book if I’ve had such a lacking experience with Gaiman?

Because it’s frickin’ Neil Gaiman, dealing with straight-up Norse mythology, and after Joanne Harris’s treatments in both The Gospel of Loki and Runemarks, I’m ready for more, from an author who knows what they’re doing. Bring it on.

Release date: February 7

293446532. House of Names – Colm Toíbín

It’s a book about the effects that Iphigenia’s sacrifice/murder has on Iphigenia’s family. Why wouldn’t you want to read it?

Release date: May 18

 

 

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3. The Crystal Ribbon – Celeste Lim

Chinese mythology. Enough said.

If it’s not actually enough, the Great Huli Jing mentioned in the book’s synopsis is a shapeshifting fox. I’m not sure if it’s a fox spirit or just a fox old enough to shapeshift – my Chinese mythology is incredibly rusty – but either way, foxes!

Foxes and Chinese mythology, and what sounds like an intriguing fairytale-like story – not to mention a beautiful cover – means this book is eagerly awaited.

Release date: January 31

301636614. Spindle Fire – Lexa Hillyer

A Sleeping Beauty tale with sisters, and some action for Sleeping Beauty herself – while she’s sleeping! I personally couldn’t be happier about the frequency of sisters in fairytales recently, and I’m excited to check this one out. The Goodreads synopsis includes phrases like “Aurora was tithed her sense of touch and her voice to the faeries.” Intriguing. (And that cover!)

Release date: April 11

Fictional Mythological/Fairytale Books:

299393035. Crossroads of Canopy – Thoraiya Dyer

This book’s synopsis contains two of my favorite things: gods with lifespans and tree-based civilizations. A mortal goes looking for a newborn god in their apparently massive forest home, coupled with slave rebellions and magic? Sign me up!

Release date: January 31

 

284492076. Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

I have issues with Laini Taylor’s apparent priorities in her novels, and I’ll be the first to call this cover’s color scheme horrible, but the synopsis sounds pretty great. A “mythic lost city” called Weep, a blue-skinned dream goddess, “murdered gods” – I’m trying not to get my hopes up but this sounds perfect.

Release date: March 28

7. The Edge of Everything – Jeff Giles22296822 

The category placement could, potentially, be off, but the Goodreads synopsis claims that this book involves bounty hunters from “a hell called the Lowlands,” so I’m counting it on the basis of having a fictional version of an/multiple underworld(s).

Okay, so a bounty hunter from hell – called X, no less – in a romance with a mortal girl sounds… unimpressive. But hey, I’ll bite. It might just be worth the read.

Release date: January 31

300954648. The Bone Witch – Rin Chupeco

Do you know why I want to read this book? Here’s the first sentence – not even the first sentence, the first phrase – of the Goodreads synopsis:

“When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead…”

That’s why I want to read it.

Release date: March 7

Modern Myth:

9. The Gatlon School For Vigilantes – Marissa Meyer

This one’s further away, so that there’s no cover. I don’t know how to feel about the synopsis for this one – sounds a bit too much like Sky High for my taste. But Marissa Meyer didn’t disappoint with the Lunar Chronicles, and I hope she’ll have the same effect on the superhero genre. (It’s not like Sky High was any crowning achievement, anyway.)

Release date: November 7

3011421210. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

This one goes under “Modern Myth” in that its subject is Lizzie Borden. I haven’t read the Borden Dispatches yet, but this one looks like a less fantasy-horror look at the enduring American horror story.  It looks like the only book on my list that has no speculative elements at all, actually; it seems to be straight historical fiction. I’m excited.

Release date: May 2

2600653711. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter – Theodora Goss

The daughters of Jekyll and Hyde (how does that work?). Holmes and Watson. Justine Frankenstein, Rappaccini’s Daughter, and Catherine Moreau. These women and detectives teaming up to beat a society of crazy alchemists.

Gimmicky? Sounds like. Appealing? Absolutely!

Release date: June 20

Non-Mythological Books:

12. 27 Hours – Tristina Wright

Another one without a cover, due to its late publication date. This one has a cast of four teenagers on a colonized moon called Sahara, the people locked in a battle with creatures called alternatively gargoyles or chimaeras. It sounds complicated, while at the same time very character-focused. Just my kind of sci-fi.

Release date: October 3

2502640313. Starfall – Melissa Landers

Starflight was a decently good romp, nothing incredible but with enough entertainment value to be memorable. Starfall sounds like it’ll be a huge improvement, focusing on the two most compelling characters of the first book, Cassia and Kane.

This is the first of my 2017-published trilogy of books about a female royal taking back her throne. I want to read these and see how the stories stack up.

Release date: February 7

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14. Empress of a Thousand Skies – Rhoda Belleza

It sounds potentially derivative, but, as is obvious at this point, I’m a sucker for this type of story. And hey, it’s sci-fi, which probably means there will be banter on spaceships. It’s not at the top of my list but it could be some middlingly good entertainment.

Release date: February 7

 

3032005315. Long May She Reign – Rhiannon Thomas 

What did I say about royal girls and murdered royal families? It’s not in space, but it does involve illegitimate children and a laboratory nerd-turned-queen, so I’ll cross my fingers for this one, too.

Release date: February 21

 

2993926816. Universal Harvester – John Darnielle

LOOK AT THAT TRIPPY COVER.

The idea of someone inserting their own creepy footage into VHS tapes, for some reason, sends chills down my spine. I’ve read maybe two books in my life that genuinely disturbed me. I hope this one joins the ranks.

Release date: February 7

17. How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

This one is English, I believe. I can’t find a solid publication date for it besides “July.” In any case, it’s the story of a man who ages so slowly that he’s lived through four centuries even though he only looks 40; he’s a history teacher. If you’ve been on Tumblr for two minutes or even looked over Pinterest story-inspiration boards, you’ve probably seen something like this, and I’m thrilled to see that something like it is actually getting published. It sounds like a keeper.

Release date: July


That’s it for my 2017 to-read list! Towards the end of the year, I’ll check back in to see how many I got to read.

Any 2017-published recs for me? Comment and share some titles! I love recommendations, always.

Uncategorized

Symma: The Cycle Begins Again

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A tale as old as time: college started, and there went everything in my life that wasn’t school. This blog has suffered at the hands of my lack of responsibility. But no more! (I hope.)

Sympathetic Magic (but let’s call it Symma) is being resurrected in a slightly different form, due to some shifting interests and priorities of mine. Of course, a main focus will still be mythology and how it’s used and understood in current/currentish media. Myths, legends, and folktales are going exactly nowhere, and we have a full year to wait for new mythological titles to appear!

However, with a rededication of my time to my own writing and to the writing life in general, I’d also like to make authorial shop-talk a mainstay. This the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand and Seventeen is going to be a year of (I hope) sending in manuscripts to publishers and submitting poems to contests and publications – of, in general, trying to get my stuff out there. And I want this blog to play a part, since I am fairly, decently proud of it. (At least the name is cool, right?) Which is not to say that I’m going to spend a lot of time advertising, or waxing eloquent about my own crap. As pretentious as this sounds, my aim is less for promotion and more for meditation. Let’s keep it #relatable.

Reviews every (usually) Wednesday? Yes! And with a bent towards mythology/folktale? Yes again! I still have a good half of The Hero With A Thousand Faces to get through, too; let’s not even look at the stack of mythological references sitting on my desk that I want to blog about after I’m done with Broseph. Still, I’m going to bump those posts down to roughly two per month, one every other Saturday. The other two weekends will be about Writing, Reading, and the Writerly Existence. Hopefully, the posts will be worth those capitals.

For the most part, the future of Symma is a big mystery for me, too. (I might even have an Etsy shop in the future…) But I think it’ll be a fun one – the Scooby-Doo kind, not the obscurely prophetic,”end up killing and marrying parents” kind. But, if mysteries aren’t your strong suit, here are some clues as to what’s going down in January:

Jan. 7 || Welcome Back post / Anticipated Books of 2017
Jan. 11 || Mythadapted: Judas: The Last Days by W. Maxwell Prince OR Divine Nature by J.D. Atkin
Jan. 14 || Untitled Thousand Faces entry
Jan. 18 || Mythadapted: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Jan. 21 || No Funny Bones About It, Pt. 1 (let’s hope I come up with a better title, because yikes)
Jan. 25 || Mythadapted: After Troy by Glyn Maxwell OR The Monster’s Wife by Kate Horsley
Jan. 28 || Untitled Thousand Faces entry

(If you haven’t guessed, I have not read what I’ll be blogging about re: Thousand Faces. Not only a mystery, but an adventure!)

As you can see, today I’m also putting together a list of anticipated reads for 2017. I’ll try to stick with a mythological theme but don’t be surprised if I stray. So, with that, I’ll close out.

Welcome to 2017, and welcome back to Symma!

Uncategorized

Interlude: Keys

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There are three general ideas I found in the fourth chapter of The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

  1. The hero has to return to the physical world, while the deities and spirits he met and who helped him have to stay behind.
  2. Myth, the monomyth, Stories with a capital S – those change as time moves forward and the stories move outward from their origin location. It’s necessary, but isn’t always beneficial.
  3. Myth cannot be examined through a strictly historical or scientific lens.

They seem kind of disjointed – not all that connected – and maybe Campbell didn’t mean them to be connected at all. Maybe he was recapping the previous chapters, hitting some of the major points. But I feel like there’s a good way to connect the three.

If you take points 1. and 2., you get one general feeling: disappointment. It’s like entropy in literary/storytelling form. Not only does the hero’s life in the story get noticeably less amazing, the story itself gets less amazing. Campbell does admit that some adjustments due to time or place changes can be done “with considerable skill” (247), but it’s never going to be quite as awesome as it was when someone sat down at the fireside and told the very first story. (Imagine being in the first audience to hear the first story ever told. I know. I had to take a minute, too.) There are dozens of fairytale rewrites in which changes were made to fit things to a different context or culture, and you could bet money that there are at least ten reviews of every book that go, to some effect, “The changes just didn’t jive with the story.” The problem now is that every story has that issue.

It’s even more depressing if you see myth through a purely analytical lens. A story with the Return element to it would probably have only been told because of physical-world reasons, which doesn’t put the physical world in such a great light. And it’s not like that’s even so unbelievable. It’s a pretty crappy physical world, with relatively few heroes and prophets and saints. It’s obvious that one of our favorite types of stories would be the one where divinity is in our grasp and we have to ditch it. I mean, the Garden of Eden.

But you just can’t look at a myth from a strictly historical, scientific point of view. Not if you want it to mean anything more than “it’s a nice distraction from the fact that reality ends with what we see, which could potentially be a bomb or a knife or even an innocent but inauspicious pit.”

Taken at face value, as mere products of human existence, mythology is just a record of humans dressing up day-to-day life because day-to-day life kind of sucks. Believed in – not factually or in themselves, but as ways of communicating that a deeper spiritual reality exists, beyond the bomb and the knife and the innocent but inauspicious pit – myths offer redemption and a second chance.

Believed in – the way that some people believe in Christmas and Halloween having a magic to them, or in the idea their dogs or cats can really understand what they say; believed in because it makes life truer and better, even if there’s no quantifiable fact to measure and prove – believed in, myths and fairytales and folk songs can make us truer and better humans, open to truer and better ideas: the bravery to start a journey, the humility to finish it, and the compassion to come back home to tell other potential heroes and heroines.

reviews

Mythadapted: Xander and the Lost Island Of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway

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Two preliminary apologies:

  1. Sorry for my long absence! I was at MidAmeriCon II until the 20th, had a long day of flights then so nothing got written, and then I started my senior year the Monday directly after. I foolishly did not set up a queue of posts because planning? What planning?
  2. I had to return the copy of The Lost Island, so there are no quotes, and no picture except for the one that I got off Goodreads. Thanks, Goodreads!

Now, on to the review!

I’m pretty used to Middle Grade-oriented myth retellings now. What you get is essentially Rick Riordan knockoffs, mostly in Western mythologies, particularly Greek, Roman, and Norse. And it’s not to say that there isn’t ripe enough material in those mythologies to fill a lot of good books, it’s just that… well, sometimes it gets a little boring.

Then I searched for “mythology” in my library’s catalog, and I see the name Momotaro! Wow! Japanese myth/fairytale! A non-Western mythadaption! How exciting!

I just wish that the book had been as exciting as the initial discovery.

What Dilloway does with Japanese creatures and heroes is basically what everyone else has done with various mythologies’ creatures and heroes: an underdog kid finds out he’s got a family connection to legendary people/powers, then has to go save [insert family member] and defeat [insert Big Bad here]. Which, to be fair, I probably should have guessed from the synopsis. But I was so excited!

The characters are incredibly familiar. Xander, the titular hero, is exactly what you’d expect from a male Middle Grade novel: unpopular for some reason, has trouble in school, is a nice kid despite superficial flaws, and Snarkiness. I was interested in how his being biracial would contribute to the story, but by the time it actually mattered, I was losing interest in the book, anyway. (It was an interesting take, though, considering the author herself is also biracial.) His best friend Peyton was… okay. Just your quintessential best friend. Jinx could have been more interesting but we just didn’t get enough of her, and what we did get was more irritating than anything. Her conflict with Xander didn’t have enough behind it to feel genuine, and her connection to the supernatural forces was… hazy at best.

Speaking of supernatural forces: don’t expect a whole lot, or at least, not a whole lot that’s explained or taken to an interesting place. There were a handful of wins – the tree spirit in that one scene was really good, and the little magic carvings (which I, tragically and unforgivably, cannot remember the names of) were delightfully fairytale-ish. But the other creatures and obstacles were… less successful, often just feeling like something to pad the book out, which it very much did not need.

I think the main problem was that Lost Island was trying to be Percy Jackson with Japanese mythological elements, not a Japanese mythological story. It hit all the PJ notes, changing Greek monsters to Japanese, making Xander a descendent in a long line rather than a direct son, losing parents left and right, bantering with cute girls, wandering through some magical land and checking off monster battles in order to level up… It was all so soulless. If the book had been more committed to feeling like a myth or a fairytale, then maybe some of the less intelligible things that happened would have gone over better (Peyton just grew wings because… he needed to? Okay.); if it had concentrated on doing something different instead of retreading the same old “boring kid becomes hero through power of friendship and love” path, I’d be less disappointed.

But the most disappointing thing about it is that the Japanese elements didn’t really matter. Any number of things could be exchanged for the kappa, the magic carvings, even Momotaro, and the book would still work. There was nothing inherently special about the way Dilloway used the mythical sources. With Antigoddess, you couldn’t change the gods from Greek to Egyptian without taking something away from the story; it’s the same case for The Gospel of Loki or Eight Days of Luke. Of course the elements could be swapped out, but the spirit of the story would change, because different mythologies have different priorities and ideas and – for lack of a better word, different vibes. The Lost Island, in my humble opinion, wasn’t sensitive enough to that.

I’m glad that someone out there is writing stories based on Japanese myth and legend at all, but I hope someone else can follow up with something more substantial – more non-Western – in the near future.

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Freshman Seminar for Heroes, Pt. 3: There Is Only The Trying

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…and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, in “East Coker”

The third chapter of The Hero With a Thousand Faces is called “Return,” because it’s about the hero returning from the realm of the spiritual and the world of the gods. Ergo, it’s kind of a depressing chapter. If the hero has been chilling in a land of spiritual bliss with a World God(dess) spouses, why would he want to come back to the world of… you know, people and normal life? If you weren’t thoroughly crushed when the Pevensie siblings fell back through that wardrobe and suddenly lost Narnia, their years of magical royal life there, you weren’t reading/watching the same story I was.

But one of the things that Campbell talked about in the last chapter, which I didn’t touch on in the corresponding blog post, was the concept of the boon. It’s what the hero received when he succeeded at his quest in the spiritual world, a sort of life-sustaining item or “elixir.” It might be fire (Prometheus) or watercress of immortality (Gilgamesh) – whatever it is, it improves or sustains life. More than that, though, something that Campbell makes clear is that what the hero brings back to humanity isn’t just a physical thing. The hero brings truth with him, too.

The two worlds, the divine and the human, can be pictured only as distinct from each other – different as life and death, as day and night. …Nevertheless – and here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol – the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know.
…There must always remain, however, from the standpoint of normal waking consciousness, a certain baffling inconsistency between the wisdom brought forth from the deep, and the prudence usually found to be effective in the light world. (217)

It’s the unity thing again. Our world isn’t all there is, and it’s not divorced as sharply from the spiritual world as we think it is. But it’s just not possible for all or even most of humanity to get that, not all of the time. The physical world is too present; it’s too physical.

Case in point: being a Christian, I know well the Sunday Syndrome. Sunday is a hyper-spiritual day; you make progress, you feel close to God, you vow that everything will be different from here on out. Then the weekdays revert to business as usual. It’s just human nature to turn away, maybe even strain away, from spirituality, except for, as Campbell calls them, “saints.” Or, you know, “heroes.”

So now that heroes have reached the spiritual world – the apparent goal this entire time – it turns out they have to leave it. Or, if they don’t exactly have to, there’s also the fact that they can help humanity, by bringing back the boon of the divine, if they do. And can a hero really resist that? Okay, they might try, but usually, they just end up being brought back anyway. (The Pevensies make a good example here, too.) So in the end, the hero brings the knowledge of the divine back to the waking world, humanity is enriched, and… happily ever after.

The problem is that we have more than one hero. Humanity doesn’t stay enriched for long.

Martyrdom is for saints, but the common people have their institutions,… The boon brought from the transcendent deep becomes quickly rationalized into nonentity, and the need becomes great for another hero to refresh the word. (217-218)

You fight sticky-haired ogres and brave Death By Tickling, and this is what you get: rationalization and replacement. It’s a good thing heroes go through all those ego-obliterating exercises, or that would really sting.

It’s depressing. It doesn’t matter what the heroes do. As soon as they win in the spiritual world, they have to leave it; the assurance of helping humanity is a balm that lasts for, like, five minutes, tops. And maybe it’s not depressing to them, because, as I’ve said, they’ve been through the wringer, and they’re older and wiser, they have more in perspective, blah blah blah. But what about us? What about us, the people the heroes come to – not physically, but spiritually? And what does it say for us if we want to have a heroic moment ourselves?

It says something depressing, yes. But also something… encouraging? This is where the following part of “East Coker” comes in.

And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Campbell says it this way: “How teach again, however, what has been taught correctly and incorrectly learned a thousand thousand times, throughout the millenniums of mankind’s prudent folly? That is the hero’s ultimate difficult task” (218). But, honestly, I like how Eliot says it better. Eliot brings us all into the fold.

It’s a slap in the face to realize that no one hero is going to affect all of humanity for long. As much as we rag on Jonah for being a massive, pissy baby, and as much as he didn’t really understand the nature of the god he served, he probably recognized human nature better than any of us. Nothing that he said was going to change Ninevah for that long, and he knew it. (Am I going by the actual Biblical account or the VeggieTales movie? I’ll never tell.) Jonah was a champion of genre-awareness, even if that brought along its own host of issues.

But – look. Once a person gets this, the playing field is leveled flat. You’re not Heracles? Neither was Achilles. You’re not Jonah? Good, neither was Elijah. You’re not Sigurd? Neither was Beowulf. (Hey, I know Sigurd and Beowulf aren’t in the same geographical location. I’m just trying to make a point and my Norse heroic knowledge is lacking.)

This is why people are still telling and listening to the old stories, even though they’ve been told over and over and over. We lose the truth, because that’s what humans do; heroes, saints, storytellers recover it, and we lose it again. It’s an ego-obliterator, that’s for sure, because even if you do find the truth and bring it back with the gods on your tail, humanity won’t appreciate it for long.

But that’s okay. Really. For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.