Cursed by Thomas Wheeler


cover159074-mediumWhosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.

But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?

Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave. That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else.

Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.

But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.

The Lady of the Lake is the true hero in this cinematic twist on the tale of King Arthur created by Thomas Wheeler and legendary artist, producer, and director Frank Miller (300, Batman: The Dark Night Returns, Sin City).

Look out for the original Netflix series starring Katherine Langford streaming everywhere Spring 2020!

I don’t think I’ve been as excited about an Arthurian book since Mists of Avalon!

Cursed gives a whole new take on the old legends of King Arthur and focuses on Nimue, the Lady of the Lake or, in some versions, Merlin’s lover. We first see Nimue as a child, living in a nurturing environment still following the old ways of the Druid. The first chapter is a violent introduction to the unconscionable acts of cleansing and conversion carried out by Christian priests and monks in the Dark Ages. The violence is startling, made especially so by the immediate change in tone in the second chapter as the storyline fills itself in, then pushes forward with Nimue as warrior and defender of the old ways.

All the expected characters appear, but in clever and fascinating new ways. The narrative itself moves fast and holds you tightly as you read page after page, oblivious to time because you just have to know what happens next. Complemented by magnificent illustrations, the story wraps around you until you can’t think of anything else. Arthur fans will devour this, but so will Game of Thrones fans missing that world. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Mythos by Stephen Fry


cover166354-mediumFrom the Publisher: Rediscover the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths—stylishly retold by beloved author and actor Stephen Fry. In this first installment of a projected trilogy, he begins with the birth of the cosmos, and leads readers on a romp through the stories of the Olympians: wise Athena, imperious Hera, fleet-footed Hermes, and impulsive Zeus. Each adventure is infused with Fry’s distinctive voice, which perfectly balances genuine love for the material and a wry, modern perspective. He draws out the humor and pathos in the gods’ quarrels and love affairs, and reveals the myths’ relevance for our own time. Illustrated throughout with classical art inspired by the myths, and wrapped up with a textured and foiled case, this collector’s edition is worthy of the intense devotion fans feel about both Stephen Fry and the Greek myths.

I have found that Fry’s work is an acquired taste and his humor not always appreciated by those who like their literature unadulterated and traditional.

That, my friends, is not me.

His irreverent and saucy retelling of Greek mythology is quite possibly the most hilarious thing I’ve read this year. The irreverence, however, is a light blanket over some serious and thorough research. Fry knows his subject well enough to skewer the gods with 21st century wit and humor. I look forward to the next installment. Well done!

Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel by James Markert


cover153987-mediumFrom the Publisher: For years, guests of the Tuscany Hotel could leave their pasts behind and live among fellow artists. Now guests of a different sort fill the rooms, searching for their memories—no matter the cost.

Run by renowned sculptor Robert Gandy and his wife and muse, Magdalena, the Tuscany Hotel hosted guests of a certain kind—artists, actors, scientists, and engineers who left their worries behind so that they could create their latest masterpieces. Surrounded by lore, the hotel was rumored to free the mind and inspire artists’ gifts. But tragic circumstances force Robert and his family to move.

After thirteen months at war, Vittorio Gandy is haunted by memories, and his former life is unrecognizable. Once a gifted painter, now he can’t bear the vivid, bleeding colors on a canvas. His young son doesn’t remember him, and his wife, Valerie, is scared of him. But the most disconcerting change is in Vitto’s father, Robert Gandy, who has fallen from being a larger-than-life sculptor to a man whose mind has been taken by Alzheimer’s.
When Robert steals away in the night, Valerie, Vitto, and his new acquaintance and fellow veteran John go to the only place Robert might remember—the now-abandoned Tuscany Hotel. When they find him there, Robert’s mind is sound and his memories are intact.

Before long, word gets out that drinking from the fountain at the hotel can restore the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The rooms once again fill up with guests—not artists this time, but people seeking control over their memories and lives. Vitto desperately wants to clear his own mind, but as he learns more about his mother’s life and her tragic death, he begins to wonder whether drinking the water comes at a price.

A story of father and son, memories lost and found, artists and their muses, Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel explores the mysteries of the mind, the truth behind lore, and the miracle of inspiration.

This gorgeous book joins my “Best of 2019” list, pretty darn close to the top. This is storytelling at its best, with characters who twine themselves around your heart and pull tight until you think you’ll explode. The blend of Greek myth with a wholly original story about muses, memory, art, and love creates a narrative that leaves you emotionally spent. Markert explores relationships here – between fathers and sons, mothers and sons, husbands and wives, and between friends – with special emphasis on aging and memory. There are beautiful love stories here – Magdalena and Robert, and Vitto and Valerie – that explore trust, passion, friendship, and deep love that transcends the ordinary world.

This would make a fabulous selection for a book club, and is one I’ll be recommending for a long time.

Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published by: Thomas Nelson Publishing
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden


winter of the witchAround the beginning of December, I finally managed to get my hands on an advanced reading copy of Arden’s Winter of the Witch and had hoped to spend the weekend reading this end to the gorgeous Winternight Trilogy. Alas, that didn’t happen….because I finished it in a day.

I’ve written before that Arden’s writing is lyrical, lush, and full of magic and mystery; it will keep you reading well into the night, not only because she skillfully blends fairytale and history, but because she has created complex and fascinating original characters. Truthfully, I haven’t loved a series as much since I first read Harry Potter.

I will honestly say that the Potter series, which I have adored for more than 20 years, has been replaced by Arden’s Winternight Trilogy as my favorite in the fantasy genre. The story takes the fairy tales of my childhood and makes them flesh in a way that left me breathless. With this final entry, Arden has brought the stories begun in The Bear and the Nightingale full circle and created a tale for the ages.

When we left Vasya, Sasha, Olga & Dmitri, Moscow was burning due to Vasya releasing the firebird, a mythical creature contained within a golden horse that had been bridled and controlled by Kaschei the Deathless. Vasya, burned and exhausted, finds brief refuge within the terem of sister Olga, Princess of Serpukhov but is almost immediately confronted with a mob demanding her blood. Led by Brother Konstantin, the mob drags Vasya to the river and attempts to burn her as a witch. She escapes and makes her way into the realm of Midnight, where she recovers and learns more about her family and herself.

In Midnight, Vasya is considered an alternative to The Bear and The Winter King, two gods who control the chaos in the world. The chyerti of Midnight are tired of the feuding between the two and hope Vasya will break the cycle of chaos and cold controlled by these two brothers. Vasya begins to recognize her own power and understands that she can affect the outcome of war in the real world and chaos in the other realm.

There are so many themes to unpack here – the position and power of women (Vasya is different and therefore dangerous); the strength of family; the weakness of men and women when faced with unimaginable temptation; and the power afforded beauty and charisma and the danger when it goes awry. While this trilogy grew out of Russian fairy & folk tales, it is at its heart a story about family and loyalty.

What makes this a stand-out is Arden’s writing. In less imaginative and skillful hands, the story could be just another niche fantasy series; here it becomes history and romance and war as well as magic. I’ve read Arden’s other work (give Small Spaces a try next Halloween!) and found it just as beautifully written. She is a young author to watch. I don’t buy a lot of print books these days, but I have purchased a set of these books and will keep and re-read them for years to come.

Someone please make this a Netflix series!

Circe by Madeline Miller

1

CE60DF93-14E4-472B-9DBA-F9CA6948A502My introduction to Greek history and mythology happened in 4th grade, and I was immediately hooked on the stories of gods and heroes. I clearly remember borrowing D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths from the library over and over, reading about Ariadne, Theseus, Hercules, Jason, and Athena. Then I discovered The Odyssey a few years later and was entranced by Polyphemus the Cyclops, the Sirens, Calypso, and Circe, Witch of Aiaia.

While I can’t say Circe was a favorite character in my adolescent myth reading, she has been mentioned in some books I’ve read over the years as the “source of power” in lines of women who practice the healing arts, so I was intrigued when I heard about this book.

Miller presents Circe as a complicated character here, a lesser god by birth – daughter of the Titan Helios and the nymph Perse – but the object of ridicule and subject to what can only be described as low self-esteem. She lives in hope of being noticed and praised by her father and craves basic kindness and love, but at the same time refuses to be cowed by the cruelty shown by her brothers and sister.

In her quest for love, she concocts a potion using flowers born from the blood of gods to turn a human into his true, godly self. Unfortunately, once he becomes a god, he does not choose Circe for his mate. Consumed with jealousy, she brews more of the potion and succeeds in turning the object of his affection into the monstrous Scylla.

As punishment for this act, Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia for all eternity. Her use of a potion to create a monster is feared by the gods, who foresee that “witchcraft” can harm them. On the island, Circe makes a home for herself among the wild animals, teaching herself about herbs and witchcraft. Centuries pass, and Circe learns more and more about mortals and gods, until she meets Odysseus who transfixes her with his stories and adventures. Circe’s relationship with Odysseus comes full circle when his wife and son, Penelope and Telemachus, arrive on Aiaia, forcing Circe to examine her own life and consider her future.

The most striking thing about this story is the humanness of Circe and how the self-centered ways of the gods are misguided, dangerous, and hurtful. She is let down again and again by her father, her uncles and grandmothers, her brother, her sister, Odysseus, and, finally, by her son but she still is willing to offer second (and third and fourth) chances for people to be good to her.

Admittedly, her willingness to let people take advantage of her or treat her badly can wear on the reader, but her final confrontation with her father makes it all worthwhile. Circe’s weakness, in the eyes of the gods, is that she loves too much and she wants to be loved in return. By the end of the book, she has stopped apologizing for that and embraced that as a strength.

Miller’s writing is engaging and lyrical. She is true to the Greek myths and epics, and sprinkles heroes and gods like salt throughout the story. It’s refreshing to examine the Greek myths from a woman’s point of view, and Miller is not always kind to our male heroes. Theseus and Jason fare particularly badly at her hands.

This would make a really interesting “buddy read” with The Odyssey. It would certainly spark some lively discussion about the roles and situations of women in history. I can’t decide if it’s empowering or infuriating to read about a female “god” who is treated badly because she’s not beautiful or clever. At its core, Circe is about a woman finding her own power and taking control of her own life, which is what makes this such a satisfying read.

Highly recommended.