First line: When we think of Pandora, we probably have a picture in our minds.
Summary: In this look at the women of Greek myths we get a detailed look at them throughout time and different retellings. As most of the myths were written by men the women get sidelined or they get misaligned as the villains of the story. However, these women have been blamed or misrepresented but by comparing different versions of their stories we can see that they are actually much stronger characters than previously thought.
My Thoughts: I remember being fascinated by Greek myths when I was younger, as I think many people are. The stories are filled with gods, wars, love and tragedy. One of my first introductions to the myths was through the show Xena: Warrior Princess. It was cheesy but as a kid I did not notice. And then in high school we read Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey. Even now, nearly twenty years later I still remember the stories. They are something that still fascinates me today. So when I saw this book being released I knew I had to pick it up.
The author brings to life a collection of women from Greek myths. Either these women have been made into monsters, killers or slaves to their desires but she shows that they can be much more than that. Pandora has always been looked at as a woman who brought the suffering to the world through her curiosity. And Medusa is the evil monster that turns everyone she meets into stone. These women have been treated poorly through history and I love to see Haynes giving them their stories back.
Even though parts of the book were either dry or repetitive I did really enjoy reading this. I knew many of the stories but not all of them. I learned a lot about Greek history and myth but also about these fascinating women who filled their mythology.
FYI: Great for people looking at a new spin on women’s history.
First line: At the end of the highway sat an old town, not completely dead, but on its last breath.
Summary: Rainy has recently moved in with her boyfriend in Washington. In an effort to get to know his friends she has started attending their weekly get together but has never really felt a part of the group. When she is guilted into attending a girl’s weekend in Las Vegas she knows that it is going to bring back all the painful memories she has spent years trying to hide.
My Thoughts: My first introduction to Tarryn Fisher was The Wives. It was full of crazy twists and a thrilling read. And at the beginning of this one I felt like we were going to be going through another wild ride. It has a charismatic cult leader, the excitement of Las Vegas and a group of women who seemed determined to learn more about this new addition to their group. As a reader I expected many secrets to come out as they always do. But it happened in a strange way. I cannot describe it without giving away much of the plot but it was just not what I was expecting. That may be a good thing but it was not as satisfying as I would have liked. I did enjoy the book. It was quick and had an interesting plot but it lacked something that I cannot place.
FYI: Definitely read The Wives for a crazy story that will keep you guessing!
Jessica Roux is a Nashville-based freelance illustrator and artist who specializes in animal and plant subjects. Her work has this colorful yet vintage style that plays with duality. It’s warm, but jarring. It’s gentle, but terrifying. Jessica will include a beautiful bouquet of flowers in vibrant paint next to an ivory skull or slithering serpent.
An Instagram post introduced me to her work. The post advertised her new oracle deck, Woodland Wardens, and from the moment I saw the drawings, I was enchanted. Unlike a tarot deck with its traditional cards and meanings, an oracle deck is entirely unique to the creator, and Jessica’s cards use the wisdom of both plants and animals to guide the user. I bought the deck at Barnes and Noble a few days after its release, and I have spent so much time staring at these cards and their art.
Jessica Roux also illustrates book covers, and one of her projects actually led to my next recommendation!
Book: A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese
I picked this book up because the cover art and illustrations were done by Jessica Roux, but the story itself is just as phenomenal as the drawings. This middle grade novel is about Sam who moves with her older sister to rural Oregon after experiencing domestic violence at the hands of her father. Sam’s aunt gives her a card game called Fox and Squirrels, and the cards summon a mythical fox with a dapper suit and a charming proposition. The Fox promises Sam that he will grant her a wish if she can locate the Golden Acorn, but the only way to find this wish-giving item is to give the manipulative Fox whatever he wants.
This book is so merciful in its representation of a child who has experienced domestic violence. It covers traits of PTSD and survivor’s guilt and building trust in other adults when one’s primary caregivers have betrayed them. It’s also written in beautiful prose that encapsulates the elegant forests of Oregon. The relationships between the characters is believable, especially in demonstrating how secrecy and shame become embedded in a family driven by emotional abuse. These characters are full, rich, and human in a relatable way. As someone who has gone through similar situations as Sam, I found this book to be profoundly validating, and I would recommend it to either children currently in this situation or adults who still live with those memories and scars to this day.
Music: Out Walking by Abby Gundersen
While I love loud, aggressive music to pump me up for a workout or rhythmic, R&B beats to dance to, sometimes gentle piano music is what the soul needs. Abby Gundersen is a composer from Washington who has been collaborating with her brother, Noah, and other musicians for years on multiple projects. Most often Abby works on other people’s tracks, playing piano, violin, or fiddle in the background, but every few years she’ll release a collection of solo instrumentals.
Out Walking is her newest EP. It features six songs, all piano tracks, and explores the feelings one has when walking around a neighborhood, garden, lighthouse, or just heading north. It’s a delicate album, and each song has this way of making whatever you are looking at or doing seem beautiful and profound. I listen to this album when driving and suddenly I feel like I’m in a movie where seemingly mundane things, like kids riding their bikes or construction workers tearing up a road, are existential and poignant.
I love the sounds you can hear on this album too. I believe Abby recorded on an older piano in some kind of attic because you can hear her hitting the piano pedals and the keys striking the base. It’s a palpable album, both soothing and emotional.
Netflix is a hot-spot for interesting documentaries, and The Lost Pirate Kingdom is an adventure into the Golden Age of Piracy. I’ve always been fascinated by the visage of the pirate; a rebellious sea-sailing warrior armed with freedom and pretty jewels, but the truth of the pirate is much more brutal. I wanted to understand what led individuals to such a chaotic and dangerous life.
The Lost Pirate Kingdom is part documentary/part dramatization. Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi narrates a six-episode series into the beginnings and endings of famous pirates like Benjamin Hornigold, Edward Teach a.k.a. Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, and Anne Bonny. Combined with interviews from historians, the series features actors performing these roles aboard actual ships and playing out scenes that rival the cinematography of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. It’s a succinct, entertaining, and honest account of how these men and women took autonomy over their own lives by going against the tyranny of a monarch and its repressive values.
If you are curious about the timelines, actual events, and motivations behind these brackish buccaneers, check out this trailer and giveThe Lost Pirate Kingdom a try!
“We don’t have a plan, we just do our best to get through the day, because there’ll be another one coming along tomorrow.”
― Fredrik Backman, Anxious People
Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.
I enjoyed every part of this book. As the reader, you get to know each of the characters personally and see into their lives. The main question throughout the story is how did they all get to this point. Since the author lets you meet the hostages, bank robber, and police officers, the story is constantly developing and making more sense. There were a lot of twists that I was not expecting. It was not violent or gory in any way. This book is sarcastic and funny while also being emotional and thoughtful.
Trigger Warnings: Talk of Suicide, Depression, Anxiety
First Line: At first light, I leaned against the window and looked down at the mountains.
Summary: Matthieu Aikins is a young Canadian reporter who living in and reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. While there, he befriends Omar, a local translator and driver who worked closely with U.S. Special Forces and found himself on the front lines more than once. Omar longs for the freedoms of Europe and the United States and he is devastated when his visa application to the U.S. is denied. Although Omar is desperate to get out, he also has a hard time committing to leaving because he is head over heels in love with Laila, whose conservative father will not permit her to marry a man of such little means.
In 2016, Omar and Matthieu decide to leave together, following the smuggler’s road to escape to Europe. Matthieu leaves his passport behind, passing as Afghan to experience the journey as a true refugee would, alongside Omar. Of course, he is also acutely aware that at any time he could call and escape the perils that so many cannot. The book details the many steps along their journey as the pair encounter cops, guards, activists, cross several borders, and get to know fellow refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Africa–all searching for a better life for themselves and their families.
My Thoughts: This book offers a straight-forward, first-hand account of what their underground journey looks like, and it’s fascinating all the way through. So often, refugees are lumped together into a single entity in the news. In this book, we get to know who some of these people truly are. We hear about their hopes for the future, and we gain an understanding of the countless barriers to achieving freedom they encounter. As wars continue to rage and economic inequality increases across the globe, our refugee crisis only worsens. I wish anyone who had a negative view of immigrants would get to know the individuals themselves by listening to or reading their stories, and then maybe they’d have more empathy. I understand immigration is a complex issue, but in my mind, the world could use all the empathy and understanding it can get.
In addition to being a story about Afghan refugees, this book is also a story of friendship, an adventure tale, and a love story. It is hopeful as much as it is heartrending.
FYI: As a follow-up, listen to this interview with Aikins on the Longform Podcast from after the release of the book, and the fall of the Afghan government.