Fabulous short treats: A trio of mini-reviews!

These three books delighted me in different ways, so I thought I’d write up a quick post with thoughts on all three.

Title: The Beautifull Cassandra
Author: Jane Austen
Illustrated by: Leon Steinmetz
Release date for this edition: September 11, 2018
Length: 72 pages

Have you read any of Jane Austen’s early writings, collected as her Juvenilia? I hadn’t… but then my daughter sent me this gorgeous edition of The Beautifull Cassandra, a story Austen wrote when she was just twelve years old. It’s a total treat. The story itself is told in 12 chapters, each only a few lines long, with under 500 words in all. The illustrations here are lovely and perfect, and I adored this book so much!

If you’re looking for an unusual gift for an Austen lover, this would make a great choice!

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Title: Snow, Glass, Apples
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by: Colleen Doran
Release date: August 20, 2019
Length: 64 pages

I have loved the disturbing short story Snow, Glass, Apples every since reading it in Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors collection, so when I heard that an illustrated version was being released this year, I just had to have it.

Wow.

The story is as powerful as ever — taking the fairy tale of Snow White and turning it upside down and inside out. It’s gruesome and scary and disturbing, and gives me a chill right down to my bones.

Add to the power of the story the absolutely stunning illustrations by Colleen Doran… and you have a book that is both beautiful and deeply frightening from start to end.

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Title: Galatea
Author: Madeline Miller
Release date: 2013
Length: 37 pages

After reading and loving both The Song of Achilles and Circe, I knew I had to try this earlier short work by Madeline Miller. As with her other books, the author starts with a premise out of Greek mythology: The sculptor Pygmalion creates a sculpture of a woman so incredibly beautiful that he falls in love with her, and begs the goddess Aphrodite to bring her to life so he can marry her.

In Galatea, we learn what happens next. Sure, Pygmalion got the woman of his dreams — but how does she feel about it? What’s it like to be so completely beholden to your creator, a man who only wants you in still, silent perfection? This story is strange and disturbing, and not easy to put from your mind once you’re done reading. Highly recommended.

Two perfect audiobooks: The Song of Achilles & Circe by Madeline Miller

Sometimes I read (or listen) to a book, feel completely blown away by it, and yet find myself without words to do it justice, other than the usual gushing of “oh my gods” and “this is incredible” and “this book is so gorgeous!”.

And that’s exactly the boat I’m in now, having just finished my 2nd of two books (audiobooks) by the oh-so-talented Madeline Miller, who I swear I’ll follow to the ends of the earth at this point to get my hands on more of her astonishing writing.

Last year, I finally got to The Song of Achilles:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

Audiobook narrator: Frazer Douglas
Length: 11 hours, 15 minutes
Published: 2011

This is such a powerful, gorgeous listen. I loved the story itself, the author’s use of words to describe the glory and beauty of Achilles, and the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. I felt immersed in the time and place, caught up in the tale of warring men and the gods who played with them or favored them.

 

 

And now, I’ve just listened to Circe too:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Audiobook narrator: Perdita Weeks
Length: 12 hours, 8 minutes
Published: 2018

I know a lot of people have said they preferred The Song of Achilles, and maybe it’s just because it’s so much more recent for me, but I have to say that I adored Circe so, so much, and may even have a slight preference for this book. (Although, really, how can you choose? They’re both excellent).

I love Circe as a character — her passions, her struggles, her pain, her yearning. Her tales spans centuries and hits all the major story beats we know from Greek mythology, yet Circe herself feels fresh and alive in this version of the story, a woman constantly striving to make sense of her own divinity and find a place in the world. It’s heartbreaking and bold and just lovely.

The narrators of both of these books are excellent, each in their own way. There’s something about these myths and legends that really makes them feel right as a listening experience, like listening to a bard or an ancient storyteller. While I think I’ll revisit both of these books in print eventually, I’m so glad that my first encounter with each was through the audiobook version.