Troy by Adèle Geras (Miriam Margolyes, narrator)

Troy by Adèle Geras is another audio-book I listened to in the car and one I enjoyed quite a bit.

Troy by Adele GerasA stunning portrait of the Trojan War as told by the women of the besieged city of Troy

The siege of Troy has lasted almost ten years. Inside the walled city, food is scarce and death is common. From the heights of Mount Olympus, the Gods keep watch. But Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, is bored with the endless, dreary war. Aided by Eros’s bow, the goddess sends two sisters down a bloody path to an awful truth: In the fury of war, love strikes the deadliest blows.
Heralded by fans and critics alike, Adèle Geras breathes personality, heartbreak, and humor into this classic story.

Told from the point of view of the women of Troy, portrays the last weeks of the Trojan War, when women are sick of tending the wounded, men are tired of fighting, and bored gods and goddesses find ways to stir things up.

It really is an epic tale and Miriam Margolyes does an incredible job of bringing all the characters to life. It is listed as Young Adult (or at least was originally published by HMH Books for Young Readers)  but includes profanity, violence and sexuality so it seemed quite adult to me. [Amazon says ages 12 and up while PW says 14 and up.  Parents will have to decide for themselves what is appropriate, etc.]

Geras brings a feminist perspective to this classic story but the appeal is much broader than that. Not only does she bring the gods and myths of ancient Greece to life but she offers a glimpse into the daily lives of the people impacted by the god’s whims and decisions. As was intended I am sure, it really flips your perspective.

Listening to this book was like a theatrical production such was Margolyes talent. It would be interesting to read it and see how one’s imagination handled the same characters and interactions to life. But anyone with an interest in classical mythology or ancient history will want to check this out if they haven’t already. For more mature YA readers this would be a great introduction to both the mythology and stories of this time but to the power of epic storytelling (with the caveat that maybe some familiarity with the stories would help you see how Geras adapts and interacts with the classics). And those looking for a female perspective will, of course, find Geras take satisfying.

But outside the mythology there is plenty of wrestling with human nature, war and peace, gender roles, love and lust, power and politics, and the like. Like all good literature, it transcends time and place and offers insight into what it means to be human. Sure, in a specific time and place and with some unique characteristics but still a sense of the innate issue humans deal with no matter when or where they live.

All in all, this audio-book was great entertainment. It would make a great listen on a longer trip (10 hours on Audible) but I listened to it on my commute and didn’t feel like it was too chopped up.

 

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

Speaking of middle grade fiction, I recently picked up Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom (Heroes in Training) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams at a library sale. Regular readers are aware of my fascination with mythology, and I figured my son and daughter would be interested, plus it is the first in a series which is always fun.

Ten-year-old Zeus is mystified (and super-annoyed) by the fact that he keeps getting hit by lightning. Every. Single. Year. He also longs for adventure, as he has never been far from the cave where he grew up.

Zeus gets his wish—and a lot more than he bargained for—when he is kidnapped by dangerous, giant Titans! In self-defense, Zeus grabs the first thing he sees—an actual thunderbolt he pulls from a stone that is covered in mysterious markings. Zeus is the only one who can decipher the markings, and sets off on a quest to rescue his fellow Olympians from the evil Cronus. Armed with his trusty thunderbolt (named Bolt, of course), Zeus is on an adventure of a lifetime—and a journey to fulfill his destiny as King of the Gods.

It is an interesting take on the Greek legends of the Titans and Olympians; a humorous and mostly lighthearted one.  This is the first volume and focuses on introducing Zeus and connecting him to the rest of the Olympians (spoiler alert: they are in Cronus’s belly) while setting the foundation for the ongoing battle between the two sides.

The authors do a nice job of  balancing the elements of classic mythology with current language and perspectives.  It is a quick read obviously and seems aimed at younger readers not quite ready for the longer and more complex books like Percy Jackson, etc. and might be a good place to start with young boys interested in mythology and adventure.

This was an example of a middle grade book that was quite different from the more detailed and complex young adult books I have read.  This is more like a chapter book for young readers.  But as I said, a quick easy read with a nice blend of adventure, mythology and humor. Not a series I would want to read myself but something for my kids (my son in particular).

Adventures of Achilles by Hugh Lupton

As we approached the holidays and the end of 2012 I was working on some freelance projects and found myself working in libraries quite often.  As is often the case, procrastination was a constant temptation.  I would regularly browse book sections and check out whatever caught my eye.  As it happened we were planning a trip to Northern Minnesota and needed things to do during the long car ride.  And so it was that I stumbled upon Adventures of Achilles – an adapted version of the classic story the Iliad by Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden with illustrations by Carole Henaff.

School Library Journal

AchilliesGr 6–8—While many kids might be familiar with the gods and heroes featured in the Iliad, they may not know how these characters relate to one another and, indeed, how the story actually plays out. To remedy that, two noted storytellers pair with an award-winning illustrator to adapt the story into 12 beautifully designed chapters and an epilogue. The focus is on the legendary warrior Achilles, beginning with his birth and childhood, his entry into the Trojan War, and his life as a soldier. Some chapters expertly cut away to introduce other players, like Paris and Helen, or Hector and Priam, and show how the machinations of the gods affect the story. Throughout, the writing style easily switches between florid prose and functional plot-driven narrative to capture the mood of the adventure at hand while making sure kids can follow what is happening and why. While the storytelling is simplified when necessary, the content is anything but: details of the violence of the Trojan War, as well as the sexual escapades of the gods are included, and underlying themes of the story, like the role of fate and luck, are presented again and again. Each chapter is heavily illustrated, giving at least a quarter of each page to dreamlike images that reinforce the mythological feel of the story. The images focus on characters depicted against scenes of nature, home, or war, all using acrylics to mimic the look of ancient Greek and Roman art, with rounded shapes, swirls, and muted colors that somehow brighten the page.

I had hoped to maybe read the story to the kids and/or listen to it on the car ride. As it turned out I wasn’t sure if it was a good fit for my kids (ages 5 & 7) and so read it myself but held off on listening to it in the car (we listened to Harry Potter which more about later).

And I really enjoyed this version of the Iliad.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of reworked or retold myths and legends and so was excited to dig into The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.  To understand why, here is the publisher’s setup:

The legend begins…

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

As it turned out this was really a romance – between Patroclus and Achilles – with the classical story mostly as background. It was well done in many ways, and the writing is often excellent, but the classics as romance was not what I was looking for.

More below.

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Tales from the Odyssey series by Mary Pope Osborne

I was vaguely familiar with Mary Pope Osborne‘s Tales from the Odyssey series but hand’t read any of it until I stumbled upon book two at a library sale.  My daughter had been studying mythology at school and is an avid reader so I thought this might be a good series for her.  So decided to read the whole series. (I read version that is broken into six books but the version in two volumes is more readily available.)

Here is a good description from an education site:

Greek classics, with all their complexities, are understandably a little difficult for younger children to understand, but hey, with sea monsters, one-eyed giants, beautiful royalty, sailors on a dangerous sea, angry gods and goddesses, powerful enchantresses that can turn people into animals, and other strange creatures, there’s not much more than an adventure-craving reader could ask for in a book. Mary Pope Osbourne has retold The Odyssey for middle-grade readers, breaking it up into volumes of 8 or 9 chapters each. Large, readable print, and a “classic” look add to the appeal while the books also include additional information about Homer and The Odyssey, a map of the voyage, and a list of gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece. Also, a pronunciation guide to the names is appended, making the difficult job of stumbling through those long Greek names a little easier for youngsters.

I am not an expert on the Odyssey, or Greek mythology, by any means but I thought the series was a well done children’s version of this epic tale.  More thoughts below.

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Corydon & The Island of Monsters by Tobias Druitt

Corydon and the Island of Monsters (Corydon Trilogy) is another young adult book I picked up in the discount section of Half-Price Books. It too deals with mythology and offers a non-traditional take (are you noticing a pattern?).

Here is the synopsis courtesy of the publisher:

A young shepherd, Corydon, is driven out of his village because of his unusual appearance and then captured and put on display as a monster. Alongside him in the traveling freak show are Medusa, the Minotaur, the Sphinx, and other classical beasts. When Corydon helps these monsters to escape their cages, they scatter to seek peace and solitude away from prying eyes. But then an army of “heroes” arrives hoping to win glory by killing the monsters, and Corydon must unite these unloved and unlikely allies to fight for their survival and for their island home.

It caught my attention for the above reasons, but also because Tobias Druitt is the pen name of a mother and son team – the mother Oxford Don and her still in school son.  It turned out to be an interesting twist on the Greek Myths – the monsters are the good guys. It pits the Olympian gods against the Chthonic gods.

The story is a little uneven in parts – mostly because it seems unsure of what type of story it is – a serious or semi-comic reworking of Greek mythology in a YA fantasy. But what saves it is the character of Corydon and his interaction with the monsters.

Corydon is the type of character you root for: sincere, loyal, generous, and brave despite his rough life and seeming inability to fit into normal society. There is a certain amount of cheesiness in the “all the misfits unite to defend themselves” story but for the most part it works.

While it isn’t deep literature the characters are interesting. The monsters become more than just symbols but characters with personalities and feelings. And the twist on the normal portrayal of the heros and Olympians proved interesting.

All in all an uneven but imaginative and entertaining first book in this trilogy. It will be interesting to see how the series develops.

Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast by Jane Yolen & Robert Harris

A while back I stumbled on Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast by Jane Yolen & Robert Harris at Half Priced Books and picked it for a couple of bucks.  After having read the Merlin Triology by Yolen I decided it was a good time to check out this Young Hero Series.  I had already read one rendition of the Atalanta story (Quiver by Stephanie Spinner) so I was also interested to see how another YA author approached the story.

You really don’t need to know anything about the myth, however, to enjoy the story.  It really reads like a fast paced adventure story.  Here is the publisher’s teaser:

When her adopted father is slain by a strange beast, Atalanta is determined to take care of herself. She is happy in the forest with only her friend Urso — a giant bear — for company. She wants nothing to do with the world of men.

But the ferocious creature that killed her father is still out there, and Atalanta can’t resist the opportunity to hunt it down, even if that means she has to join forces with a group of hunters to do so. Atalanta must prove that she is as strong and brave as any of the others, as they search together for the deadly Arcadian Beast.

It is an interesting blend of action adventure and subtle explorations of issues like family, gender and identity that are so prevalent in Greek mythology

More below.

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Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast by Jane Yolen & Robert Harris

A while back I stumbled on Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast by Jane Yolen & Robert Harris at Half Priced Books and picked it for a couple of bucks.  After having read the Merlin Triology by Yolen I decided it was a good time to check out this Young Hero Series.  I had already read one rendition of the Atalanta story (Quiver by Stephanie Spinner) so I was also interested to see how another YA author approached the story.

You really don’t need to know anything about the myth, however, to enjoy the story.  It really reads like a fast paced adventure story.  Here is the publisher’s teaser:

When her adopted father is slain by a strange beast, Atalanta is determined to take care of herself. She is happy in the forest with only her friend Urso — a giant bear — for company. She wants nothing to do with the world of men.

But the ferocious creature that killed her father is still out there, and Atalanta can’t resist the opportunity to hunt it down, even if that means she has to join forces with a group of hunters to do so. Atalanta must prove that she is as strong and brave as any of the others, as they search together for the deadly Arcadian Beast.

It is an interesting blend of action adventure and subtle explorations of issues like family, gender and identity that are so prevalent in Greek mythology

More below.

Continue reading