Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Review: 'Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined' by Stephen Fry

Greek Mythology is an enduring favourite of mine. It forms the origin point for most of my passion: reading, history, language, mythology in general, adaptations, traveling. I'm not quite sure which direction my life would have taken, had I not discovered (been introduced to) these Greek myths at the tender age of 7. So of course both Heroes and its predecessor Mythos would have peaked my interest straightaway. Thanks to Chronicle Book and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date:
Publisher: Chronicle Books

In this sequel to the bestselling Mythos, legendary author and actor Stephen Fry moves from the exploits of the Olympian gods to the deeds of mortal heroes.

Perseus. Jason. Atalanta. Theseus. Heracles. Rediscover the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths. Whether recounting a tender love affair or a heroic triumph, Fry deftly finds resonance with our own modern minds and hearts.


Illustrated throughout with classical art inspired by the myths, this gorgeous volume invites you to explore a captivating world with a brilliant storyteller as your guide.

• Each adventure is infused with Fry's distinctive voice and writing style.
• Connoisseurs of the Greek myths will appreciate this fresh-yet-reverential interpretation, while newcomers will feel welcome.
• Retellings brim with humor and emotion.

In Heroes, Fry draws out the humor and pathos in both tender love affairs and heroic battles, and reveals each myth's relevance for our own time.

• A collector's edition filled with classical art inspired by the myths and a luxe, foil-stamped jacket
• Perfect gift for mythology and history buffs, lovers of ancient Greece, art aficionados, and devoted fans of Stephen Fry
• Add it to the shelf with books like Circe by Madeline MillerNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, and Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

I've had a major soft spot for Stephen Fry for years. I can trace back this love to three different things:  the TV show Quite Interesting, in which he dispenses puns and random facts with the jollity of a favourite uncle, his riotous and hilarious sketch show with Hugh Laurie, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, and his ease and love for language, evident in both of the former. It is the latter which drew me to both Mythos and Heroes, as the Greek myths and legends are already deeply embedded in my mind. I was wondering what twist he would bring to them, how he would reimagine the myths that so permeate Western culture. As he says at the end of the book, the heroes were the ones that sanitized the world, removed the monsters and horrors and made it a home for humans, rather than gods. In the view of their intense labor, Fry undertakes to show their humanity.

Covered in Heroes are Herakles, Perseus, Theseus, Atalanta, Oedipus and Jason. It is especially the inclusion of Atalanta I greatly enjoyed. While the others are established heroes, or at least established leading men, Atalanta doesn't always get the attention she deserves. (I also appreciated Fry's respect for Medea, a character easily vilified.) Fry's retelling of Herakles was oddly touching, as he highlights the emotional honesty that defines Herakles. He's not sly like Odysseus, but he is straightforward. Aside from perhaps Oedipus, he is the hero to suffer the most, to endure the most. Fry explores both his rage and his honour in full, which made for quite a few touching moments. 

It is clear from Heroes that Fry has a very strong familiarity and understanding of the Greek myths, which allows him to familiarize them for the reader.  I had the same response at first that I had to Mythos, an odd sense of betrayal at how straightforward and simple he had made these myths. I quickly began to appreciate, however, the importance of making these tales more accessible and more available. In Fry's Heroes the young men and woman are stubborn teenagers, as embarrassed to find out about their origins as any child is to think of their own making. They are as obsessed with each other as we are with them. As I also listened to the audiobook, I was amused by the different accents Fry gives his characters, choosing to make some of them Scots, for example. It made the stories even more enjoyable, having them read to you by Fry himself.

I give this book...
4 Universes.

Anyone with a love for Fry and Greek mythology will find Heroes utterly charming. Although his reimaginations might not be for everyone, they do broaden the access to these myths and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Review: 'Animal Spirit: Stories' by Francesca Marciano

I adore short story collections, especially ones like Animal Spirit that seem bound together by specific themes. Each story builds on the next, perhaps not with the same characters, but by developing a feeling or a message, until, by the end of the collection it is almost a rallying cry. Thanks to Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 6/16/2020
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Centered in Rome but transporting us into worlds as varied and alluring as they are emotionally real, Francesca Marciano’s stories paint landscapes that are populated—vividly, hauntingly—by animals: from violent seagulls and starlings circling the evening sky in exhilarating formation to magical snakes and a tiny dog on the side of a deserted road.
 
In unforgettable, cinematic frames, events unfold, especially in the lives of women. An affair ends painfully at a dinner table, an actress’s past comes crashing down on her during an audition, an unhappy wife seeks respite in a historic palazzo sublet. Two starkly different couples imagine parenthood during a Greek island holiday and a young girl returns from rehab, deciding to set out anew with a traveling circus. A man in crisis draws his ex-lover deep into the New Mexico desert.
 
With spellbinding clarity, the six masterly stories in Animal Spirit inhabit the minds and hearts of Marciano’s characters. They chronicle deeply human moments of realization and recognition, indelible instants of irrevocable change—epiphanies sometimes sparked by our connection with animals and the primal power they show us.
In Animal Spirit Francesca Marciano shows us people in the middle of dilemmas and conflicts, while focusing strongly on animal symbolism. Short stories are a great medium to explore specific moments or emotions, but it requires a major focus on the author's part. In Animal Spirit Marciano tackles the conflicts of women, many caused by their relationships with the men around them and mistakes from their past. Her short stories feel like novels, in the sense that she builds up character wonderfully through their actions meaning that after a few pages you have become very aware of them.  

The title story of Animal Spirit concerns a group of friends, made up of two couples, who go on a holiday together, where tensions slowly rise. All of this is alleviated when a little dog finds its way to them. Being able to care for something, almost selflessly, allows them to put their other worries and concerns to the side for a moment, to be better. In 'Terrible Things Could Happen to Us' Marciano shows us the end of a relationship from the perspectives of multiple people involved. Through all the perspectives the true consequences of such a fall out. In 'The Girl' a young woman, who remains nameless, escapes to the circus, before escaping once again. It's a story of someone in the search for freedom and home. In each story animal imagery comes to the fore to help highlight unspoken themes. In 'There Might Be Blood' aggressive seagulls and swooping falcons battle it out as a woman considers her marriage and life. In 'The Girl' a giant albino python is both constrictive and liberating. 

Marciano's stories stuck with me for a long time after I finished Animal Spirit, in a large part because she so effortlessly creates moments that shine. A mother and her daughters, waiting at the dinner table for her boyfriend to show up. A middle-aged woman in an Italian palazzo. A girl writhed in snakes in  a circus tent. These images came across so strongly that sometimes they almost overpowered the rest of the stories. But all the stories have strong themes as well, that mostly come through by the end. I will definitely be looking out for future stories and collections by Francesca Marciano.

I give this collection...
4 Universes!

I greatly enjoyed reading Animal Spirit, which contains nicely crafted stories about conflicts and, hopefully, growth.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Review: 'Perfect Kill' (D.I. Callanach #6) by Helen Fields

I've been following Helen Fields' D.I. Callanach series since its fourth installment, Perfect Silence. I was immediately gripped by the characters and the intense plot Fields wove. For me Perfect Crime only improved in these areas and I wondered how she would be able to top herself. Perfect Kill is, however, on a completely different level. Thanks to Avon Books UK and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Pub. Date: 6/2/2020
Publisher: Avon Books UK

A gripping, exciting read to absorb you from start to finish!

He had never heard himself scream before. It was terrifying.

Alone, trapped in the darkness and with no way out, Bart Campbell knows that his chances of being found alive are slim.

Drugged and kidnapped, the realisation soon dawns that he’s been locked inside a shipping container far from his Edinburgh home. But what Bart doesn’t yet know is that he’s now heading for France where his unspeakable fate is already sealed…

DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach are working on separate cases that soon collide as it becomes clear that the men and women being shipped to France are being traded for women trafficked into Scotland.

With so many lives at stake, they face an impossible task – but there’s no option of failure when Bart and so many others will soon be dead…

Get ready for a rollercoaster ride like no other, with the next gripping thriller from the number one bestselling crime author, Helen Fields. The perfect read for fans of M. J. Arlidge and Karin Slaughter.

I want to take a moment at the beginning of the review to talk about the beauty that is a well-crafted detective book series. Too often, series feel the need to ramp up the tension and action, no matter what consequences that might have for the characters. It's similar in TV shows and films. How often can you put someone through hell or have them punched in the face before they simply can't get back up? The good series don't just allow for lasting consequences of trauma, they work actively with them. Part of the reason why The Hunger Games and Divergent series were so popular was because its protagonists carried their trauma openly and had it inform their next steps. I've always found that the D.I. Callanach series similarly tries to allow trauma and stress to be a part of Ava and (especially) Luc's character arcs, supporting their growth from book to book.

Perfect Kill is a tough read. Although each of Helen Fields' D.I. Callanach installments so far have dealt with heavy and difficult topics, Perfect Kill is very much a culmination of all of them. With Ava Turner in Edinburgh and Luc Callanach in Paris, both find themselves drawn into the same case when the kidnapping of Scottish youths coincides with the arrival and trafficking of Eastern European women. The main theme of Perfect Kill, then, is exploitation and abuse. Some of this is very violent, as we're given an insight into the horror by the narration one of the trafficked women, which means Perfect Kill might not be for everyone. I found certain parts of the book tough to read but I was also very glad that Fields didn't sugarcoat anything. For those with a weak stomach, there is also a bit of a warning attached to this book, as there is some explicit talk about surgeries. On the more serial aspect of Perfect Kill, the novel focuses a lot of Ava and Natasha's friendship, as well as the fall out between Ava and Luc after the revelations at the end of Perfect Crime.

I have reached the point where Helen Fields is now at the same level as Elizabeth George. The moment I see either of their names, I know I will be reading the book it is attached to. Fields explores new depths in Perfect Kill, with characters plummeting to new depths of despair and terror. She finds the right balance between allowing for the horror, while also bringing in lighter moments as a reprieve. Many of these lighter moments come from the side characters that continue to delight me in every installment. Moving back and forth between France and Scotland allows for a bit of suspense, as the reader begins to suspect how linked the two cases really are. As always, Fields nicely ties up all the story lines towards the end of the book, except for the continuing tension between Ava and Luc. This better not be the end of the D.I. Callanach series because although I adore the tension, I would love a resolution!

I give this novel...
4 Universes!

The D.I. Callanach series is a pleasure to read and Perfect Kill is no exception. Fields delivers the thrills, the twists and turns, but also the emotional punches and character development. Get into this series as soon as you can!