August Reads in Review

I ticked quite a few books off my to-be-read list in August. Of course, I also picked up books that I’d had no intention of reading before the month began. So, net result: my to-be-read pile has stayed...pretty much level. It’s fine.

This month featured a range of retellings, from my usual diet of Greek myth to Mulan and Grimm's fairy tales. I reread a beloved book and discovered I loved it all over again. I read a chunky fantasy novel that I heartily enjoyed. I discovered yet another Odyssey translation that I can strongly recommend. Overall, it was an excellent reading month.

Number of books read: 13

Number of pages read: 4,639

Books over 700 pages read: 2

Number of formats read: 3
Paperback (5)
Hardcover (5)
Ebooks (3)

Number of genres read: 7
YA fantasy (3)
Adult fantasy (2)
Middle grade graphic novel (1)
Ancient Greek history (2)
Ancient literature (2)
Ancient Greek/Roman retellings (3)

Full list of books read:

Homer by Richard Rutherford

While sitting in a Barnes and Noble cafe recently, I overheard two high school English teachers discussing how to teach The Odyssey. I gathered that the goal is to use the poem to teach close reading (a sentiment I’ve heard from other HS teachers as well). If you happen to be one of those teachers, may I recommend Rutherford’s cogent survey of issues in Homeric studies?

It provides an overview of the challenges associated with reading and researching Homer. While you don’t have to be a Homer scholar to read and appreciate The Iliad and The Odyssey, it definitely helps to have a sense of how different the Homeric world was from our own—different beliefs, expectations, and threats.

Rutherford also includes discussion of major themes in The Odyssey (and Iliad) and analysis of memorable scenes, which should come in handy when you’re teaching those oh-so-essential close reading skills. For clarification, I’m not being sarcastic. I deeply wish more scholars performed close reading before committing to outlandish and bizarre readings of the poem that have more to do with personal beliefs and experiences than the words on the papyrus. #shade

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Most of the fantasy novels I read are parts of series. I have no complaints about this, but still, it was refreshing to discover this stand-alone behemoth (830 pages). It follows several perspectives across several empires with opposing values and beliefs. The novel takes its time establishing the characters and bringing them into relationship, with the final third ratcheting up the plot tension.

I should specify that what I loved about reading this was the slow pace. I liked getting to know the characters while also knowing that when I reached the last page, their story would be resolved. It made the waiting worth it for me, but if you like a fast-paced fantasy, this isn’t that (until the last third).

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

This is a retelling of the 12 Dancing Princesses fairy tale. I’ll just leave it there.

Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell

Mitchell calls this a “version” rather than a translation because he crafted it from other translations rather that from the ancient Mesopotamian text, believed to be the earliest surviving literary work. Gilgamesh goes on a hero’s quest with his best friend, and things happen. Mostly sad things. You know how it is.

I’m a huge fan of Mitchell’s translation of The Iliad and enjoyed this one just as much. If you’ve ever thought about (re)visiting Gilgamesh, you could do worse than this one.

The Goddess Test and The Goddess Hunt (Goddess test #s 1 and 1.5) by Aimee Carter

First of all, I cannot resist a $1.99 ebook deal, and second of all, I cannot resist a Greek mythology retelling. So a Greek mythology retelling that is $1.99? Sold.

You know who never looks very appealing in literature? The lord of the dead. I’m talking about Hades, and this YA fantasy series features him as the romantic lead. I’m not sure if I was supposed to laugh while reading this, but it was entertainingly ridiculous. This is not shade. I had fun reading this novel and novella (respectively). It has helped me realize that I like my myth retellings set in the modern world. Otherwise, I get too fussed about changes and inaccuracies.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I read, adored, and gushed about this when it first came out. (See my Favorites Reads of 2014). With the movie soon to be released, a reread seemed in order, and a lovely internet friend of mine (you should visit her gorgeous and soothing Instagram) organized a buddy read. It was a wonderful way to re-experience an incredible book.

Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars #1) by Elizabeth Lim

This was a Mulan retelling, sort of. It starts out as a retelling, then becomes a quest with a romance. It was fine.

The Time Travel Diaries (Time Travel Diaries #1) by Caroline Lawrence

I bought this middle grade novel a while back because a) I love time travel stories and b) the time traveler in this story goes back to ancient Roman London. Then I promptly let it languish on my bookshelf because I’m an idiot who buys a gillion books and then forgets to read them. So then I finally read it, and I discover that the main character is Greek, which happens almost never. Honestly, the book was already excellent, but the Greek main character was the cherry on the sundae for me.

Excitingly, this is the first in a series. If you have middle grade readers in your home—or you enjoy time travel and ancient civilization—get it. Get it now! It’s fast-paced, incredibly educational in an age-appropriate way, and funny. Caroline Lawrence, wherever you are, I salute you.

The Tea Dragon Society (Tea Dragon #1) by Katie O’Neill

This is a very pretty middle-grade graphic novel with a very sweet message about memories and community. It’s probably not going to blow your mind, but you’ll spend an enjoyable hour or two working through it.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Anthony Verity

Though his translation is in verse, Verity announces in his translator’s note that his goal was not to be “poetic” (scare quote courtesy of Verity himself) but to stay as close to the Greek as possible, respecting line numbers in the original. Friends, I loved his version a lot.

It’s true that it’s not as “pretty” as other translations I’ve read, but it does feel “faithful.” This time, the quotes are mine because of course it’s impossible to replicate the original ancient Greek in modern English. The idea is to avoid as much as is possible interjections and interpretations. So Homeric repetition and epithets are very much present, which I have come to believe are essential. They give us an opportunity to explore elements in the original and consider what and how it might have meant to its original audience.

This is a version I would highly recommend to people who want to read a translation that strives to be Homeric.

Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber

I’ve heard this YA fantasy novel recommended for fans of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’ve also heard people roast this novel. I’m in the camp that enjoyed it, especially the further I got into it.

The story revolves around two sisters, Scarlett, who is overly cautious, and Tella, who is impulsive. They run away from their abusive father to participate in Caraval, a magical performance with heavy audience participation. Things take off from there. Nothing is what it seems, and the twists kept coming right to the end.

The Hellenistic Age by Peter Thonemann

This concise little book provides a bird’s eye view of the Hellenistic period in ancient Greek history. Thonemann’s enthusiasm for this period is contagious. I’m looking forward to rereading Jason and the Golden Fleece now.

How was your August reading? Impressions? Disappointments? Recommendations?

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