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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Round-Up

Goddess of Spring by P.C. Cast: This romance novel is a riff on the Persephone myth. Through a series of events, Lina, a middle-aged bakery owner, exchanges bodies with Persephone and agrees to bring the touch of a goddess to Hades. This was a pretty good re-telling of the myth -- Cast makes Hades, known as a dour god (unusual for the Greek gods in general), into a very attractive hero. Lina is smart and capable and mature, a refreshing change from the typical twenty-something heroine. The happy ending is unconventional but plausible (well, as plausible as one can expect in a world where the Greek gods are real). And Cast deliberately recast (heh) the myth in a feminist manner, getting rid of the (in)famous rape in the process. (In a comment on a Smart Bitches thread, Cast states that her research indicated the rape was not part of the original myth; I can't confirm this, except to say that this aspect of the story was not known in Homer's time.) Cast has written other books in the "Goddess" series -- the one below, plus ones based on the Undine and Beauty and the Beast stories, both of which I intend to check out.

Goddess of Light by P.C. Cast: This is the sequel of sorts to Goddess of Spring, and I did not like it nearly as much. For one thing it is set in Las Vegas, which holds no appeal to me. For another, Apollo is kind of a jerk -- there are several scenes where he is downright bullying to service people. I think we are supposed to find it romantic, a sign of how passionate and concerned he is for the protagonist, Pamela, but . . . no. Nor did I like the use of the antagonist, Bacchus. I found it odd that Cast chose the Roman version of this god when all other gods were the Greek counterparts, and while Dionysus is a natural foil for Apollo, chaos to his order, Bacchus here was not chaotic or wild, just gluttonous and petty and mustache-twirlingly evil. (And fat. Cast made a big deal of how disgusting he was.) On a more abstract level, I had a bit of trouble with the idea of the Greek/Roman gods being real (which I was able to overlook in the first book, because I enjoyed it so much, but still). Not surprisingly, God-with-a-capital-G (let alone the J-word) is not mentioned in the books, but neither is this some sort of alternate America where Judaism and Christianity do not exist. There are several off-hand references to a Christian understanding of prayer, much is made of how Hades is not like the Christian Hell, and in this book we learn modern dead people do not go to Hades at all. I was therefore left with a number of questions about the theology of the books (as dorky as that sounds, and yes, I am the type who over-analyzes romance novels). Nonetheless, the book was pretty well written, and again Cast came up with an unconventional yet plausible happy ending.

A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick: Bostwick has started a series centered around a quilt shop in Connecticut and a group of women who form a modern quilting circle. As you would expect, the women face all the standard problems -- cancer, divorce, betrayal, familial estrangement, career problems, and so on. Bostwick's skill, however, keeps the story engaging, perhaps because the characters are a little more self-aware than is usual in this type of fiction. Bostwick does make a couple of odd narrative decisions: although the story centers around four women, it is told from the first-person perspective of two, not all or just one; why? And several passages in the novel indicate that the two narrators are speaking or writing directly to someone; who? Otherwise, the book was well-written and enjoyable.

The Mouse Guard comics by David Petersen: Petersen has created an unusual comic universe -- a society of mice who survive in the wilderness despite being surrounded by predators. Fall 1152 is about a rebellion against the Mouse Guard, a group who keep other mice as safe as they can; Winter 1152 deals with the aftermath of he rebellion and a harsh winter. Although the plots at times were a little thin, the world is rich and deep -- there is a history (including a war against weasels and an alliance with hares) that we only get snippets of, there are mousish poems and proverbs, and there is even a list of the quotidian professions of mouse commoners. The artwork, sized to fit onto square pages, depicts mice that are both adorable and deadly serious. I look forward to the next installments.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey: Over-the-top title aside, this is a great book of literary criticism by Shippey. I read it a decade ago and then lent it to Beadmom, where it sat neglected on a book shelf until I reclaimed it last month (like me, Beadmom has more books than time to read). I've now re-read it, and it was just as enjoyable the first time around. Shippey devotes each chapter to a major work of Tolkien's while tying it to a particular theme -- myth, the nature of evil, and so on. Sometimes he overstates his case, but it is clear he knows both Tolkien and his writings very well, which gives him a lot of insight into the works. He also does a close reading of the texts, paying special attention to particular words Tolkien used and even invented (not surprising, given that Shippey, like Tolkien, was a linguist at Oxford). I love language, particularly etymologies, so this is right up my alley.

Although Shippey quotes them, it is nonetheless hard to believe there are people who think the Lord of the Rings et al. is trivial and simplistic. I get not liking the books, but if you think they are just inconsequential little stories, you clearly weren't paying attention.

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