Category Archives: Book reviews

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Growing up, I had a pretty substantial obsession with Greek Mythology. I owned several books on the gods and goddesses, including The Idiot’s Guide to Classical Mythology, and read every adaptation that I found in the library. I picked a favorite goddess (Artemis, goddess of the wilderness & fertility) and knew which gods would be complete sleaze balls if they existed in the real world. For whatever reason, my interest in mythology never really extended past the Greeks. Even Roman mythology, with all its similarities to Greek mythology, didn’t capture me the same way.

That may have changed now that I’ve listened to the audiobook Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my favorite authors so I was pretty intrigued when I saw his newest book was a retelling of ancient myths. Up until now, my understanding of Norse myths was confined to what stood out to me the most in the Marvel movies (i.e. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston).

In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman tells the stories of the gods and goddesses, beginning with the creation of the world and ending with Ragnarök, a.k.a. apocalypse. In between, there are about 15 stand alone myths that Gaiman weaves into a relaxed single narrative. However, the book still feels like a collection of short stories that you can pick up and set down as often as you like. I doubt you’ll want to set it down that often, but the option is there.

Most of the chapters star the Big Three of the Asgardian crew: Odin, the Allfather, Thor, the god of thunder, and Loki, the clever and treacherous giant who lives with the gods. Gaiman also mixes in plenty of new gods and goddesses that Norse Mythology rookies such as myself will likely know nothing about. There’s Tyr, who lets his own hand be bitten off by Loki’s monstrous wolf-son; Freya, a sassy goddess who I wish had more time to shine; Hod, the blind and ill-fated god who is cruelly tricked by Loki into killing his own brother; and many more.

Treachery, tongue-in-cheek humor, action, cunning, betrayal, a legendary hammer called Mjollnir. All of it is here, and all of it together makes for an incredibly entertaining 6 hours and 30 minutes. Neil Gaiman narrates the book himself, and he is as fantastic at storytelling as he is at writing.  If you’re looking for an audiobook to occupy a long road trip (or as in my case several small road trips) I highly recommend Norse Mythology.


 

While searching for gifs of Thor and Loki I came across this one:

Marvel franchise Thor smashes a coffee cup. Norse Mythology Thor smashes a seemingly unbreakable cup against the side of a giant’s head to win a massive ale-brewing cauldron and to escape with his own head intact. Coincidence? I prefer to think not.

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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I absolutely can’t stand spoilers. Even if I know with 99.95% accuracy that someone isn’t going to see a movie/read a book, I still hate giving away an ending. On the list of things that really shouldn’t happen in a civilized society, spoilers are up there with putting gum anywhere other than a garbage can and not liking The Office. The problem is, I can’t review this book the way I want to without edging close to the spoiler line. So with a bit of regret and without further ado:

**SPOILER ALERT: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS BORDERLINE SPOILERS. (as in you’ll know part of the end without knowing who it happens to)**

Please enjoy the following gifs that should give you enough time to decide whether you actually want to read the full review or not.

Yay, you’re still here!

So here’s a quick rundown of the book: Entertaining? Check. Unique, intelligent, and endearing main characters? Check. References to Italian poets, Dr. Suess, and a British astronomer? Check. This book has a lot going for it. What’s tripping me up is whether or not I actually  recommend it.

All the Bright Places follows a pattern similar to The Fault in Our Stars. Two teens who are abnormally intelligent, quirky, and introspective fall in love despite their personal struggles with illness. Unlike John Green’s ultra-popular couple Hazel and Augustus, Violet and Finch deal with mental illness rather than physical illness. Finch, who is called “Theodore Freak” by the jerks at school, helps Violet cope after the death of her older sister. Their relationship moves a little fast in my opinion, but overall there are plenty of cute, fun moments.

Okay, but a warning: it’s not all cute and fun. One thing that struck me about this book is how hopeless it feels. All the Bright Places deals with mental illness and teenage suicide so I didn’t anticipate a sunshine happy ending.  Actually, a sunshine happy ending would have felt insincere and out-of-touch. However, this book didn’t seem to allow for even a possibility of a way out for the character who ends up committing suicide. I understand that depression is horrible and that those who deal with it often feel deeply helpless and lost. However, a YA (emphasis on YA) book about depression and bipolar disorder that doesn’t indicate a glimmer of hope seems like it could be such a damaging thing for a teen who is struggling with mental illness.

My reaction to this book made me think about the controversy surrounding the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I personally haven’t seen the show, and I read the book so long ago that I barely remember it. What I’ve gathered from talking to friends and reading articles is that although the show raises awareness about the desperation many teens go through, it presents teenage suicide in a concerning way.

Here’s one article that talks about the show from a psychologist’s perspective: 13 Reasons Why: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

All the Bright Places resembles several of the “bad” and “ugly”elements that the author of the article connects to 13 Reasons Why. All the Bright Places certainly glamorizes suicide and, to an extent, mental illness. After a character commits suicide, it’s described as if he/she has moved on to another exciting world to adventure and explore. Also, like 13 Reasons Why, All the Bright Places suggests that suicide can “reform a sinner, soften a bully.” (A quote from the article, not the book.) Several supporting characters in All the Bright Places are completely changed after the suicide and behave like new people. Honestly, I liked these characters much better at the end, but their transformations didn’t feel realistic.

Despite all of this, the book raises awareness about mental illness, which ultimately seems like a positive thing. It reminds readers that you never know what the people around you are dealing with, so it’s best to treat everyone with kindness and respect. Many of my negative feelings toward this book were lifted after I read the “Author’s Note” at the end. Jennifer Niven drew from personal experience when she wrote All the Bright Places, and knowing that she understood first-hand what it felt like to lose a significant other to suicide made the whole story feel more genuine. I suppose my main advice is to be cautious when reading this book or recommending it to a teen.

Overall, All the Bright Places is a book to make you reflect on life and the way you treat others.

Until the next book!

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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The Book Thief has been at the top of my to-read list since I first examined its back cover in high school. The premise was right up my ally (Seriously. It doesn’t get much better than a World War II historical fiction about a girl who loves to read.) On a Christmas shopping trip with my grandparents several years ago, I bought the book and planned to read it as soon as I finished whatever book I had at the time. But life – or at least other books – always got in the way. Still, anytime someone brought up The Book Thief my heart smiled.

In short, I felt so confident that I would fall in love with The Book Thief that I never actually got around to reading it for years.

I fully realize how ridiculous this is, and I promise you it will NEVER happen again.

I will never let it happen again because I now know that The Book Thief is everything I thought it would be and more. But now, rather than because of a semi-vague hunch based on a back cover, I know how great it is from personal reading experience.

Here is an insider look at what my personal reading experience was like:

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Unfortunately, there was no actual wine around when I was finishing the book. I did, however, have a small plastic cup with a few sips of Coca-Cola in it courtesy of Delta Airlines. Like Will Ferrell, I was bouncing around a lot because our plane back from D.C. kept hitting turbulence. I was too engrossed in my book to notice. Much.

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A very brief summary: The Book Thief is about a young German girl growing up during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party and the beginning of World War II. Liesel is illiterate at the start of the book but develops a passion for words. Her life becomes entwined with other characters who are now among my all time favorite characters in literature. Some of my favorites are her loyal and hilarious best friend, Rudy, and her foster father.

What I loved: The characters. Even the characters I didn’t like *cough Nazis* felt so real. I didn’t have a problem believing any action or emotion, which is something I admire in a book. I’ve read a lot of books that made it their mission to make me cry, and even though I didn’t hate them, it was nice to find a book that managed to be emotionally powerful but not contrived.

Also, the book is narrated by Death. If you’re someone who has trouble with nontraditional types of narration, I recommend giving yourself a few chapters to get used to the voice. If you’re like me, you might weirdly start to love it. I generally like unique narrators anyway so I thought it was a great touch from the first page.

What I didn’t love: Nothing honestly. Death occasionally gives spoilers, so that was a little weird to get used to.

For readers who: Enjoy books that pull authentically at just about every heart string.

Not for readers who: Prefer books with easy endings. No spoilers, but it is a book about World War II.

Until the next book!