Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller




The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Publication Date: September 1st 2011
Publisher: Ecco
Find This Book: The Song of Achilles
Rating: 3.5/5




            I’d only just heard of this book a couple months ago from the hype it’s bet getting and quickly wanted to find out why I hadn’t heard of this Ancient Greek book earlier. As a lover of mythology I would have thought that this book would have popped up on my radar much sooner, certainly not almost 4 years after it was published. This book had so much potential and I was really excited to read a book about a canon gay couple back in Ancient Greece when this was more of a norm and to have mythology on top of that. I quickly realized that the new hype for it was not well deserved and that was why I hadn’t heard of it when it was originally published. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my short time with this book and the 2nd to last page managed to bring a single tear down my cheek, but there were some flaws that were just hard to overlook.

A small inconsistency that bothered me was in one of the final battles of the book. Achilles goes to fight someone and while there’s not much detail (something I’ll get in to later) the novel DOES specifically say on page 342 that; "Achilles has only a sword.  His spears are gone, buried in bodies." This sounds cool and badass and all, which I’m completely fine with until just two pages later on 344; “[Achilles] lifts his ashen spear." (That being the special one Chiron made for him) except all of his spears are gone and he's only supposed to have a sword..... I know, I know,  that’s a little mistake but they’re kinda far from the battle so it doesn’t make much sense for him to pull a spear out of a dead body that happened to be there with his special spear in the time of two pages. It just seems like that should have been something the writer or editor should have picked up on before publishing it.

My other problems with this book is that Achilles and Patroclus’  love was never really explained? It's just sort of  happens and it seems shallow and unreal, I was weakly routing for them because they were the main characters but they didn't actually complement each other very well. All of the terrible things that happened to Patroclus wouldn't have, if Achilles wasn't such a stubborn ass. It was basically Achilles perfect beauty that Patroclus couldn't leave that kept their relationship together. And then the whole frickin Greek army with Achilles included couldn't even put Patroclus to rest even though he killed a bunch of enemies including Sarpedon????? Like what the heck he saved them ALL from the Trojans!?!?! The Trojans were in the Greeks camp starting to burn their ships and he single-handedly turned the war around yet he can’t even get a proper burial? He was not Achilles slave, everyone knew that they were comrades and equals, and they won't even label his tomb? Worse yet they'll let a little punk-ass 12 year old boss them around? Ridiculous.

Furthermore, for a book about Ancient Greece I thought it would be well researched and include mythology, ancient weapons/fighting techniques, and more detail in general. Let's just say that was sorely lacking and I was extremely disappointed. As far as gods/goddesses went, there was little of that involved. Achilles’ mother, Thetis, took a small part in the story and occasionally gave them parts of a prophecy and Chiron was a Centaur. That was the only remotely mythological element to the book. Aside from Achilles twirling about his spear and looking pretty there was no detail about weapon design or how any of the other soldiers fought and all of the enemies’ just *poof* appeared dead at their feet. It just wasn’t realistic at all and it could have been easily fixed with a bit of research into Ancient Greek weaponry. Most importantly, Achilles wasn't even killed by an arrow to the ankle! The one thing that I guarantee everyone’s heard of if they’ve heard of Achilles’ is Achilles HEEL. The only place where he was vulnerable and the location where he got shot with an arrow (sometimes a poison arrow depending on which legend you listen to). Paris shot and arrow through Achilles’ back piercing his heart. Outrageous, I know.

I feel like I just bashed this book pretty hard and I would like to clarify that I DID enjoy the book. The author makes a point of comparing beauty and physical strength to moral character and a sense of duty. The twists in the plot were a bit predictable, but interesting all the same. Additionally, the novel had some very well written side characters. This was not a swift action-packed story. Picking up the book will give you a sweet romance that will make you cry. 
*****Another small point was that it was a bit more sexually graphic than I expected. Patroclus masturbates, gives Achilles a hand job (another reason why I thought their relationship was a bit shallow if that’s what they considered a sexual act), and both have sex with the same noble-woman who ends up getting pregnant and shamed for having a child out of wedlock.***

Another thing that I liked was how Odysseus was portrayed. Maybe it's because there's more material about him from Homer's work but he seemed realistic and true to my previous expectation of him. While I was not quite happy with the shallow relationship I thought the writing itself was all right. If she went on to write a book about Odysseus (that was more researched) maybe a story about his adventure before the Trojan War, I would consider reading it.

In conclusion, I can see why many people loved this book! I can agree that the author did a great job with bringing gay representation to books, which isn’t something I’ve seen being done much. Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship was a perfect one to explore. While we will never know for sure, growing up together, being very close friends and being buried in the same urn certainly leaves it open to the interpretation that they were lovers. This book is definitely a great start to diversifying literature. Furthermore, I know that I called the author out on what other people would consider trivial problems. I would certainly recommend this book to others, but if you’re a Greek Mythology fan I just wanted you to know what you were getting in to.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Kid's Lit Quiz


Fun Fact, I volunteer with the Kid’s Lit Quiz which is an international reading competition created by Dr. Wayne Mills. This year his World Final was being held in America and he had a bunch of authors invited who I had the pleasure of meeting. The one that stood out the most would be one of my childhood favorite author’s: Ron Roy, who wrote the A to Z Mysteries! To explain a little, Dr. Mills was a professor at the University of Auckland who couldn’t help but notice that kids didn’t get rewarded for reading like they did for sports. This led him to create a local Quiz, which is basically fun trivia about a number of children/young adult books. This quickly spread to heats in all of New Zealand with winners from different sections then competing in the final. Soon Australia, England, then to all of the UK, South Africa, Canada, and most recently Connecticut, USA and Singapore all joined the competition with winners in each country being invited to the World Final.

I became involved 3 years ago when Wayne first started quizzing in Connecticut to find his American finalists. The World Finals were to be held in New Zealand in July of 2012 and I hitched a ride with the winning American team and their coaches (who just happened to be from my old elementary school and the head coach just happened to be my 2nd grade teacher). That year there were teams from New Zealand, Australia, Scotland (who represented all of the U.K.), South Africa, Canada, and the first ever U.S. team. It was such a blast watching all of the kids interact with each other, forming friendships and getting rewarded for reading! The teams are together for a week in the host country with the competition on Wednesday and fun activities in between.

This year, the World Finals are being held at Central Connecticut State University and we’ve taken the kids on plenty of cool trips. For the majority of them it is their first time in America and it was really funny to see them all react to a yellow school bus with no seatbelts. They were taking pictures with it like it was the Statue of Liberty! (They were also shocked with how high the back of the bus is ejected out of their seats every time they went over a bump). Visiting the Mark Twain house, Mystic Aquarium, and New York City is just the start of their trip. Just this Wednesday New Zealand won the trophy with South Africa coming in Second and America in Third. The night of the competition, it’s tradition to hold the International Dinner where the students, coaches, parents who came, coordinators, and guests get all mixed up and talk to people from other countries. I was sitting with on of the New Zealand girl’s mothers, the Coordinator for all of Canada (who will be hosting the World Finals in 2 years), an Illustrator, the aunt of one of the South African girls, and the grandmother and adorable little sister of one of the Canadian boys. They all had quite interesting and different stories to tell and it was absolutely great meeting all of them!

The week isn’t quite over yet. At the very least we have a Rock Cats game to attend this afternoon and I’m just so glad I met Wayne all those years ago and that I still get to be involved! (I was actually the person running the scoreboard on Wednesday). Even though there will be more space between me and the World Final next summer, (with college expenses I don’t think I’ll be able to fly all the way to New Zealand again) I know these are relationships that will last a long time and I look forward to when Wayne visits again for the U.S. heats and the Canadian World Final!

So that’s what I’ve been up to recently and why I’ve not been so active. Even though I’m a small fry college student, I’ve been spending a lot of time helping this all go smoothly :) For any of you interested in learning more here's a link to a demo quiz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf4MS30qJo and here's a link to the Kid's Lit Quiz Website 

Quizmaster Dr. Wayne Mills

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Ring of Solomon (Bartimaeus 0.5) by Jonathan Stroud




The Ring of Solomon (Bartimaeus 0.5)
by Jonathan Stroud
Publication Date: November 2nd 2010
Publisher: Hyperion
Find This Book: The Ring of Solomon
Rating: 5/5




I read The Amulet of Samarkand years ago and absolutely loved how witty Bartimaeus was. The original trilogy is one of my most beloved book series and I was so excited to buy the prequel! (I was also pretty excited because I got to meet Jonathan Stroud and had him sign this book and The Screaming Staircase for me). I remember driving home from the book tour just over a year ago and imagining all the adventures I would have with Bartimaeus like it was just yesterday. Unfortunately, getting a signed copy meant it became my most treasured possession and I never wanted to take it to the beach or to the pool in case someone ruined it (thise locations are where I do the majority of my reading). That being said, it took me a very long time to start this book because I wouldn’t let it leave my room. That being said, I can’t believe it took song long for me to read this book!

This novel immediately brought to the forefront of my mind everything I had loved about the original series. Those characteristics being the magic and demons, historical references, and humanly flawed characters. You don’t need to read the series to enjoy this spectacular book, however the world-building was done in the original trilogy so Stroud doesn’t explain about the demon summoning and pentacles much in this prequel. What you find instead is a snarky character telling about his fast-paced adventure in 250 B.C. Jerusalem with his additional commentary in the footnotes. While is does switch to a human perspective occasionally, Asmira was quite interesting unlike Nathaniel and Kitty in the originals. Asmira is a hereditary guard for the Queen of Sheba and is sent to Jerusalem to assassinate King Solomon in order to try and save her country from an invasion from Solomon’s army. Being sent on basically a suicide mission, she is being used just as much as the djinni being summoned around her. While she refuses to acknowledge this fact, Bartimaeus and Asmira are a bit similar in that regard and the book brings up a thought provoking perspective on philosophy and psychological slavery. Not so bad for the typically shallow YA book, right? 

While the reader knows that Bartimeaus can’t meet a gruesome end due to the fact that he is alive and well during Victorian England, the book was detailed and suspenseful enough to make me forget about those other books. While this wasn’t the prequel I wanted (I was looking forward to a book about Bartimeaus’s time with Ptolemy) this not only met all of my high expectations, but also went even further. 250 B.C. was a great setting and the book seemed well researched. To sum up; the plot was quite simple overall, it was your typical “girl meets boy who is actually a shape-shifting djinni who is in servitude to an evil magician who is one of the 19 powerful magicians who works for the King of Solomon who said girl is trying to assassinate to steal the most powerful object EVER”. Did I forget to mention the hippo wearing a skirt? This is definitely a book that everyone would look into if they enjoy humor, sass and a bit of history!




Throwback to my Selfie with Jonathan Stroud my Junior Year