Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman
First sentence: “Many gods and goddesses are named in Norse mythology.”
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Content: There’s some odd situations, and a bit of violence. It’s with the other mythology books in the bookstore, but I’d give it to anyone who likes Norse mythology (like K, who wants to read this next).

This is exactly what it says it is: retellings of old Norse myths. Gaiman goes basically chronologically, beginning with with the creation of the nine words and the gods and the creation of Yggdrasil, the world-tree, and goes through to Ragnarock, and what that will be. There are stories about Thor and Loki and Frey and Freya and the giants.

It’s a good retelling, as far as retellings go — Gaiman is a talented writer, and it shows in this — though to be honest, I’m not fond of reading the myths in their original form. It’s kind of like reading short stories; I want something longer, something more cohesive. That said, I’m glad I read them, if only because I could see how Rick Riordan worked the myths into the Magnus Chase series.

I picked this up for book group, which is probably the only way I would have read it. It’s just not something I’m interested in reading. But, that said, I’m glad I read this.

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth

by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
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Content: There are some scary images — all based in folklore. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section.

First off: this is a second book in a series, so I felt like I was missing a bit of origin story, but it really does work okay as a stand alone.

Three friends: Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Lupe Impala (an impala, the animal not the car), and El Chavo Flapjack Octopus (again, self-explanatory) have noticed that their friend, Genie (the cat!) has gone missing. They decide to go looking for Genie, and soon discover that he’s been taken captive by Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld. Not to be outdone by some god, the three friends take their car into the underworld to get Genie back.

On the one hand, this is a super cool graphic novel. Ancient gods, huge fights, and who doesn’t love a trip into the underworld? They met all sorts of mythical creatures, from the jackal to La Llorona, and even celebrated Dia de los Muertos. If you know Texas, too, you’ll recognize some landmarks.

I’m not a huge fan of the art style, it’s tri-color pen-and-ink, but it just reinforces the busy-ness of the book to me. I get why the author was using that style; it kind of looks like tattoos, and it is reminiscent of doodling on pages, but it didn’t work for me. And while I appreciated the use of Spanish mixed in with the English, the fact that they provided footnoted translations (which, again, I understand why) really ground my reading to a halt. It worked better once I figured out I could just gather the meaning of the Spanish from the context.

I’m not sorry I read this one, though. It’s clever and fun, and even if the art wasn’t my favorite, I think it was worth the time. Maybe start with book one, though.

Circe

by Madeline Miller
First sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”
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Content: There is a lot of violence, a rape scene, and some references to sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to an interested high schooler.

I am not overly familiar with Circe’s myth. As one of our customers said, when I mentioned that I was reading this book, “she’s the one who turned men into pigs, right?” That’s pretty much all I knew.

So, I was taken with Miller’s re-imagining of this myth. (And since I didn’t have anything to compare it to, I was a blank slate.) Circe was an interesting character (if a bit annoying at times), and I really loved her slow growth arc, how she went from being a clueless daughter of the god Helios to a witch to a woman with a confidence in her own abilities. I liked the details that Miller put in; you could tell she’s a scholar of the mythology, and she handled the huge cast of characters extremely well. It was a bit slow in the middle, when Circe was exiled to her island, but nothing much else was going on, but once Odysseus showed up, it picked back up again.

All of this to say: I really enjoyed this one a lot!

Aru Shah and the End of time

by Roshani Chokshi
First sentence: “The problem with growing up around highly dangerous things is that after a while you just get used to them.”
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Release date: March 27, 2018
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some complex names, a little violence, and hints of crushes, but I’d give it to anyone reading the Percy Jackson series. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

When we saw Rick Riordan, and he was talking about his imprint, Rick Riordan Presents, one of my husband’s concerns is that the writers of these books on this imprint will just basically be telling Percy Jackson stories, superimposed on people of color and their mythologies.

And, after finishing Aru Shah and the End of Time — with its Hindu mythology — I can say that’s partly true. Aru Shah felt like a Percy Jackson book: a girl finds out she’s the daughter of a god (in this case, Indra, the god of Thunder), goes on a quest with a new-found friend and a sidekick to save the world (from the demon The Sleeper, which has awoken) , in a book full of humor, pop culture references, and non-stop action. So, yeah, in a sense that’s true. But Aru Shah is also wholly its own thing. Aru is more conflicted than Percy ever was: she, inadvertently sets off the crisis she has to save the world from, which fills her, not unexpectedly, with guilt. And while the quest part feels the same, there are notable differences: primarily being the mythology; there are a ton of stories in Hindu lore, and while I’m not familiar with all of them, I do know some, and I liked the spin that Chokshi put on them. I liked that Aru and her friend Mini’s relationship was complicated: they were reincarnated souls of former brothers, which makes them sisters, though they have different god fathers and different families in the human world. It gave a deeper, richer layer to their relationship, which I really enjoyed. Everyone in the book seemed more complex and mulit-faceted than I was expecting, which was nice.

In short, while this does feel familiar, and will to anyone who has read the Percy Jackson books, Choski has also put her stamp on the stories, which is a refreshing, welcome thing.

A Crack in the Sea

by H. M. Bouwman
First sentence: “As with true stories, Venus’s story has no beginning.”
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Content: There are some heavy themes, and it might be a little slow for the reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This is one of those stories that doesn’t feel like it has much of a plot or a point; one whose only purpose is to tell mythology. And this one did that well. It takes place in an alternative, second world, one that’s reached through a crack in our world. There a hundred or so escaped slaves made a home for themselves, existing in a world with magic and creating a new life away from the cruel slavers.

200 years later, the people have grown into a Raftworld and an island nation, and a brother-sister team may be what can save the relations between the two nations.

I wanted to like this one more than I did. While I liked the format — it reminded me of the Grace Lin books — I kept thinking that it was problematic. See: the author is white. And this one, pulling on slaving stories and mythologies, should have been written by someone whose mythology it is. And while I liked the story well enough, I couldn’t shake that feeling, that somehow this was imposing.

But that may just be me.

Audio Book: Wonder Woman Warbringer

by Leigh Bardugo
Read by Mozhan Marino
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Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some violence and several instances of mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’ll admit that I’m on board with anything Wonder Woman right now, so I probably would have read/listened to this whether or not it was any good. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that, because in Bardugo’s capable hands, it was definitely worth listening to.

It’s a bit of a Wonder Woman origin story, starting with Diana on Themyscira and dealing with feeling like an outcast with the Amazons because she was born rather than earning her spot among them. So, when she inadvertently rescues a mortal from a shipwreck which sets off a chain of events — since the mortal is no ordinary mortal — Diana is forced to leave the island and head out into the mortal world to save her life, her island, and the world from impending war.

Okay, there’s more to it than that; the mortal, Alia, is the daughter of scientists who died in a tragic accident, and who is trying to find her place in the world, out from under the long shadow of her brother, Jason. Her friends, Theo and Nim are fantastic and definitely worth rooting for. There’s a lot of fantastic action (Bardugo knows how to plot a book), as well as some fantastic reflective moments (plus a wee bit of romance).

And Marino is a stellar narrator. Seriously stellar. She had me enthralled, glued to the narrative, anxious to hear what will happen next.

I really can’t ask for anything better.

Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan
First sentence: “When our dragon declared war on Indiana, I knew it was going to be a bad day.”
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Others in the series: The Hidden Oracle
Content: There’s some dark undercurrents (but those will probably go over the heads of younger readers) and some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

So, Apollo is off on a quest, this time to figure out what Big Bad (really: he’s the worst) Nero is up to, and to get to it and stop it before Nero gets too much power. Tagging along with Leo and Calypso, they head to Indianapolis, where they find a huge mess involving yet another evil Roman Emperor to stop, battle ostriches, and a kidnapped oracle. Not bad, all things considered, and yet Apollo manages to make things worse.

This one definitely has the feeling of a middle book (maybe because it is…). It’s not a bad book; Riordan knows how to pace an action-packed novel, and there’s enough pop culture references to nod and wink at the reader without it being overbearing. They sassy haiku are back (my favorite: Yeah we got the skills/Fake hexes and shooting feet/Teach you ’bout pancakes), which is always fun. Apollo is much less unlikable in this one (he has his moments, but they’re getting fewer) and Riordan seamlessly weaves in ancient myths and stories. It’s much like all the others: good, fun, enjoyable, but nothing that sticks with you for long.

Still, worth reading.