Book Review: “Circe” by Madeline Miller

circe

Once upon a time, I had to act out The Odyssey with a group of friends for my high school English class. I was cast as Circe, the temptress witch that turns men into pigs. This was my first introduction to a much-studied literary character.

Circe by Madeline Miller dives deeper into Circe’s origin story, exploring how she discovered her powers, her tumultuous upbringing, and her interest in mortals.

What Circe gets right: Circe is a goddess who does what she can with what she has. She’s not the strongest, wisest, or most beautiful, but she is definitely the most resourceful. Time and again, even after she makes terrible mistakes and the other gods punish her, she bounces back to try something new. She’s willing to help others, even when she has no one to help herself.

Madeline Miller made a mythological goddess into a relatable character. That’s the power of this novel. The setting and customs are foreign to modern people (and to mortals), but we can relate to Circe as an underdog of sorts.

What Circe gets wrong: Circe definitely has the unreliable perspective that she is a good person (or, at least, a reasonable person), while pretty much all of the other gods and goddesses are immoral. In reality, I’m sure that the others have their reasons for what they have done, just as Circe has hers. She slowly learns more and gains a clearer perspective as she ages.

Circe’s limited narration doesn’t make the book a bad one, but it can be frustrating when she can’t- or won’t- see the whole picture.

Who should read Circe: Anyone who wants a better understanding of Greek mythology. The Titans and Olympians are fleshed-out and more accessible in this narrative than others I’ve read. Readers who don’t like Odysseus, like me (this book exposes his flaws and his crimes after returning to Ithaca).

Who shouldn’t read Circe: Readers who aren’t interested in Greek mythology or fantasy. It does help to have at least a vague understanding of Greek mythology to read this book- maybe read The Odyssey first if you haven’t already.

 

Circe is available in the Recreational Reading section of the library.

Content note: language; violence; suggestive scenes that, while not described in detail, include some pretty wild events (remember that this is Greek mythology).

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Top 5 Novels About College Students

college students

Long nights spent studying, laughing with friends over lunch in the cafeteria, fighting your roommate for the remote control, writing papers in the library: these are some typical college experiences. For most people, college is a short but profoundly impactful time in their lives. Whether you’re in college now or not, reading about college students and their adventures can be a fun pastime.  Take a look at these 5 books that capture different and intriguing college stories.

*Book descriptions are by the publishers c/o the library website.

 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality, their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill. Read Olivia Chin’s review here.

 

Nada by Carmen Laforet

In Barcelona, in the wake of the Spanish Civil War, Andrea, a young university student, moves into a strange, gothic house inhabited by a volatile array of aunts and uncles in order to attend college.

 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life–and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, immersed themselves in the series when they were kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Her sister has grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told her she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone, and can’t stop worrying about her dad. Can she do this? Read Olivia Chin’s review here.

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers–one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

 

This Side Of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This Side Of Paradise recounts the story of Amory Blaine as he grows from pampered childhood to young adulthood and learns to know himself better. At Princeton he becomes a literary aesthete and makes friends with other aspiring writers. As he moves out into the world and tries to find his true direction, he falls in love with a succession of beautiful young women. Youthful exuberance and immaturity give way to disillusion and disappointment as Amory confronts the realities of life.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

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I was in eighth grade when I fell violently and happily into Ernest Hemingway’s writing. We were reading his famous novella, The Old Man and The Sea, and I remember everyone in my class hating it. I loved it, though. Here we were, reading what I understood as literature, and not only was it about an interesting subject (a washed-up fisherman trying desperately to catch and keep a giant fish alone in the open ocean), but it was accessible. My eyes flew over the pages, and I couldn’t stop myself from getting lost in the words.

Authors have been trying to write like Hemingway for years for a reason: his writing is legible. You can understand what he’s trying to say. It’s that brilliant writing that not only says something worthwhile or meaningful but says it in a way that you can grasp without having to open up a dictionary.

Hemingway was my favorite author until I became a feminist and started reading Haruki Murakami (who is not a feminist, either, but I still like him). Hemingway isn’t known for writing well about women, and he wasn’t always the best in his relationships with women in real life. Still, I come back to his books because they have something to say, even if it isn’t always my favorite way of saying it. Plus, it’s a joy to read stories that are well-written but still easy on my tired eyes and blessedly not that long. That’s why I decided to re-read The Sun Also Rises during quarantine.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Sun Also Rises gets right: I’ve read this book maybe twice, when I was in high school and wanted to read everything Hemingway had ever written. I’ve got to say that reading it as an adult was very different. Suddenly all of the subtext made sense to me, and not really in a good way. For example, one of the main characters, Brett, is impulsive and promiscuous, hurting every man in her path. However, when we learn about her background as a victim of domestic abuse, her current actions seem like coping mechanisms instead of just selfishness. Hers is a sad story- in fact, most of the characters in this book are sad due to their physical and emotional scars from past problems. That’s why they treat one another so badly.

Although it made for a sad read, it was good to learn more about each character and put two-and-two together about the hints that Hemingway left in this book. The main themes are unrequited love, struggling with feelings of uselessness, dealing with alcohol addiction, and the thrills of traveling and experiencing other cultures. You will feel like you, too, are in Spain with this wild group of people- for better or for worse.

 

What The Sun Also Rises gets wrong: This book is infamous for the characters’ anti-Semitic views. Even if it is an accurate representation of the time, it’s still not fun to read about the slurs and racism shown toward the Jewish character, Robert Cohn.

There are a few minor characters who are black, but they are more stereotypical caricatures than real people, and this “casual” racism will make you squirm. A racial slur is used to reference the black characters.

 

Who should read The Sun Also Rises: Fans of crisp writing, weird characters that are loosely based on real people, lots of drama, and the 1920s.

 

Who shouldn’t read The Sun Also Rises: If you didn’t like F. Scott Fizgerald’s The Great Gatsby, don’t read this one. It’s similar to Gatsby in that it’s about a group of people with annoying habits and problems that they don’t communicate well about. It’s an examination of a generation that people now don’t know much about personally- we only really know them and their struggles through books like this.

 

The Sun Also Rises is available at the library.

Content note: violence (in particular, bullfighting), racism, some suggestive scenes (which are mostly inferred or referenced in conversation), language, substance abuse.

Book Review: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

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Normal People by Sally Rooney is the bestselling story of the ups and downs of an Irish millennial couple’s relationship. Since its publication in 2018, Normal People has been adapted into a popular TV show on Hulu.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Normal People gets right: The writing in Normal People is simple, direct, and poignant; I flew through this book because it was easy to read and understand without oversimplifying its subject matter. Likewise, the characters are believable- they have flaws and virtues that constantly pop up alongside each other. Connell worries about what others think and wants to be a “nice” person; yet he is at his best when he allows himself to be vulnerable and to stand up for others. In contrast, Marianne feels different from everyone else and is not afraid to express her opinions, but she is burdened with her abusive family and fear of close relationships.

As someone the same age as the main characters, I found most of their interactions and cultural references relatable (albeit some of their political conversations were specific to  Ireland and I needed to look them up).

What Normal People gets wrong: There’s definitely some moments that will make you cringe. I was genuinely worried about both Connell and Marianne at times. It’s impressive that the book can get such a strong emotional reaction out of its readers, but at the same time, it’s not a fun book to read.

I also wasn’t a fan of the open-ended conclusion. I am usually fine with open endings, but I really thought this book was moving in a clear direction and the plot just didn’t end up there. I expected more personal growth out of the characters than how they were acting on the last few pages.

Who should read Normal People: Readers who enjoy books about relationships, recent history, and mental health awareness.

Who shouldn’t read Normal People: This is a sad one, guys. If you, like me, occasionally like to read something that will make you cringe and maybe even cry, then pick this one up. But if you’d rather read to escape, or if you don’t want to read about abusive situations, just skip this one. Readers who like linear plots and strong conclusions will not like Normal People, either.

 

Normal People is available in the Recreational Reading section at the library.

Content note: suggestive scenes, language, substance abuse, sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

night circus

The library ladies chose The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for our second book club pick. This popular novel is a favorite among readers who enjoy books with magic, secrets, and romance.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Night Circus gets right: I love the magical realism in this book. Some magicians are faking it, but others have an innate gift for real magic, and it’s fascinating to read about.

The Night Circus introduces the reader to the two main characters and gets the plot going quickly. I flew through the first few chapters, excited to find out what was going to happen next and how Celia and Marco would eventually meet for their challenge.

What The Night Circus gets wrong: To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of either of the main characters. They were both selfish and deceptive. The book only scratches the surface of the problems and baggage that they carry into their relationship.

I didn’t love the book’s ending, either. It was a little too happy and tied things up too neatly, which was a stark contrast to the darkness in the plot throughout the rest of the book.

Who should read The Night Circus: Readers who enjoy fantasy, magic, and character-driven books. People who love movies like The Prestige.

Who shouldn’t read The Night Circus: If you have a hard time reading about child abuse, then maybe skip this one for now. The book doesn’t linger on these scenes, but Celia suffers a broken wrist and damaged fingers from her father’s abuse.

 

The Night Circus is available here at the library.

Content note: abuse, a mildly suggestive scene.

Book Review: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami

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If you’ve read anything by author Haruki Murakami, you’ll have noticed that he likes to write about 3 things:

  • cats
  • people with very specific routines for daily chores
  • men who are visited or contacted by mysterious women

All 3 of these topics pop up within the first 9 pages of his acclaimed 1994 novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This is the 5th Murakami book that I’ve read, and at this point his writing style and preferred subjects are familiar and comforting, like a warm blanket, even though he also likes to constantly surprise his readers with wild revelations (like, for instance, a villain who is trying to enter another world via the souls of cats or a place where you see two moons in the sky).

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about an unemployed, passive man who begins searching for his wife’s missing cat (and then his wife) throughout Tokyo. He meets many weird and mystical characters along the way- some of them sinister.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle does right: This book is like a Japanese Twin Peaks with a healthy side helping of The Shining: neurotic characters, long backstories, mysterious disappearances, claustrophobic hotels, struggles between bodies and souls, and a world beyond the regular one we know. I’d love to see David Lynch make a movie out of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Just like in a Lynch film, you never fully know what’s going on in a Murakami book (or at least, I don’t. But that’s part of why I enjoy them so much).

You can tell that Toru Okada (the narrator and protagonist) is up against something big- possibly even something supernatural or paranormal- but, like Toru himself, you’re not really sure of what he’s fighting against or how he has gotten involved in this vague battle of good vs. evil. It’s exciting to try and unravel the mystery as the book continues and more information is slowly revealed.

The book’s climax had me on the edge of my seat. I’ve never read a book that was so dreamlike and yet so gripping. It was stressful, but ultimately I enjoyed the ride.

What The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle gets wrong: It’s a bit of a slow start, but it does keep you wanting to know more about the characters and what’s going to happen next. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is divided into 3 “books” or parts, but I didn’t realize that at first. The structure of the book makes more sense once you know how it is segmented.

There are a few sexual scenes that I found unnecessary, but I knew to expect them going in. Murakami uses sexual expression in his fiction as a gateway to parallel worlds and understanding other people’s souls; it’s rarely used as a means of procreation or recreation.

While I reveled in how the book finally concluded, it took so long to get there. I think parts of the book could have been shortened or streamlined. And while I enjoyed the historical narratives about events in the second Sino-Japanese war, their connection to the main story was only a vague one, and sometimes I wanted to skip ahead.

Who should read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Readers who are fans of magical realism (i.e. pairing everyday things and settings with characters or events that are out of the ordinary or practically impossible). Nobody does contemporary magical realism like Murakami, in my opinion.

Readers who are interested in Japanese history, especially their involvement in WWII, may also enjoy this book.

Who shouldn’t read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: With any Murakami book, things are going to get really, really weird. If you don’t like bizarre or uncomfortable scenes in books, then don’t pick this one up. There were several scenes that, while pretty brief, were shocking. In particular, the scenes from the war period are disturbingly violent and described in detail.

 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is not currently available at the library, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.

Content note: suggestive scenes, war violence, emotional trauma. If this book were a movie, it would be rated R. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “The Sight” by David Clement-Davies

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Have you ever picked up a book about wolves with powers and then realized that it’s really a thinly-veiled hot take on creation myths, religion, faith, and humanism? That’s what happened when I dived into The Sight, a novel I’ve been waiting to read for a long time and finally got my hands on recently. I read it in two days because I just couldn’t put it down.

Mild spoilers ahead.

 

What The Sight gets right: I loved The Sight pretty much right away. I mean, the book opens with a haunting description of a Carpathian castle; to a vampire fan like me, this is easy bait. But it’s so much more than the fascinating wilderness setting. The wolves in The Sight have their own gods and stories and, in fact, everything in nature is connected and respected (even their prey). Yet, just like with humans, not every wolf has the same beliefs, and these ideas clash as different packs are formed.

The main focus of the novel is the power of the Sight, which is essentially increased intelligence, the ability to see through another’s eyes, and the ability to see visions and recall memories (which is something most animals can’t do very well). Some wolves are afraid of the Sight, while others want to embrace its power for good or evil. Eventually, a terrifying prophecy comes into fruition as the wolf Larka struggles to protect a stolen human child and learn the ways of the Sight.

What The Sight does wrong: The Sight doesn’t have the friendliest view of religion, as some wolves come to realize that the stories they have believed in are just that, stories. The main antagonist, Morgra, uses some of the stories to make her followers obey her, using their fear to control them.

However, I think The Sight ultimately takes the view that having faith in something can be good and helpful as long as it doesn’t blind you to “the truth,” which is what the book’s protagonist, Larka, values the most. This is definitely a philosophical book that will make you think; for example, the wolves have their own version of Jesus Christ (a sacrificial wolf named Sita). At the same time, if you’re a believer, it can be disappointing that the wolves seem to reject their religion toward the end- but this is a work of fiction, after all.

Who should read The Sight: Lovers of philosophy, creation myths, Romanian history, fantasy, and wolves.

Who shouldn’t read The Sight: There are some reviews on Goodreads that call this book boring and sad? I don’t personally agree with that judgment, but I suppose some readers might get bogged down in all of the legends and folk tales that the wolves tell each other. And The Sight definitely has sad moments, but many of them are foreshadowed, and an older reader won’t be caught off guard by them.

 

The Sight isn’t currently available at the library, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.

Top 5 Booker Prize Winners At The Library

booker prize

The Booker Prize for Fiction is awarded annually to the best original novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom. The library has several Booker Prize winners that are available to you, which are listed below. For a full list of the Booker Prize winners (from 1969 to present), click here.

 

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019)

The Testaments was just recently awarded the Booker Prize for this year. The long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale has been a bestselling favorite since it was published in September. The Testaments takes the reader back to the horrors of Gilead with three different narrators.

*If you’d like to read The Testaments, I’d suggest asking a librarian to put a hold on it for you, so that you will be the first person in line to get it once it is returned. It’s been constantly checked out since we first got it for the library!

 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002)

This is the unusual story of zookeeper’s son Pi Patel, a tiger, and their struggles for survival after a boat accident. Life of Pi was also turned into a popular movie in 2013, which is available here at the library.

 

Last Orders by Graham Swift (1996)

In England, three working-class veterans drive their friend’s ashes to the sea, learning about each other’s lives along the way. This book has been on my reading wish list for awhile- I’ll get to it some day!

 

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

After reading Never Let Me Go by the same author, I’ve been eager to read his famous book The Remains of The Day. Stevens, a quintessential English butler, narrates his life and career throughout WWII.

 

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)

From the publisher: “A classic novel, in which the man who calls himself the “bomb of Bombay” chronicles the story of a child and a nation that both came into existence in 1947-and examines a whole people’s capacity for carrying inherited myths and inventing new ones.” Rushdie is more well known for his book The Satanic Verses, but it was Midnight’s Children that won the Booker Prize in 1981.

 

 

 

 

 

New: Staff Picks Display

staff picks

Ever wonder what the librarians are reading? Looking for something new and recommended at the library?

Presenting: Staff Picks! This first floor display will show you which books and movies we recommend. The display will be refreshed with new choices regularly. You can read a little about each item (and who picked it) with our handy signs.

Currently, the Staff Picks are as follows:

 

Each item is available for check out. Happy reading!

Featured Author: Octavia E. Butler

The path to success is to take massive, determined action. (2)

 

On June 22nd, 1947, Octavia E. Butler was born in Pasadena California. Butler grew from being a shy child who escaped in books to a successful science fiction writer. In fact, in 1995, she became the first science fiction author to win a MacArthur Fellowship.

Butler wrote about time travel, slavery, African culture, telepathy, dystopias, and much more. Her stories stood out in the white-dominated field of 1980s science fiction. Butler enjoyed the science fiction genre particularly because it allowed her the freedom to write about anything she could imagine.

You can check out Octavia E. Butler’s bestelling novel Kindred from the library- look for it in our literature section!