I read the five books reviewed below in early 2022. I thought I would upload them now, while working on a couple new posts for 2023.
1. The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.
Before reading The Song of Achilles, I knew little of the Greek mythology that featured Achilles, the "best of all the Greeks," and Patroclus, a rejected and unassuming young prince exiled to the kingdom of Phthia.
In Song of Achilles, Achilles possesses everything that Patroclus does not. He is handsome, well-versed in the art of war. His destiny is one of honour and fame. He is also the son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis. When Achilles takes the shammed Patroclus under his wing, their quiet, unseeing connection becomes an unshakeable bond that neither mortal nor god, death nor life can divide.
Word reaches them that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, and Achilles is scouted by men of Greece who, bound by an unbreakable oath, scheme their siege on Troy. Seduced by Odysseus' compelling vision of a glorious destiny that awaits him in war, Achilles joins their cause. Patroclus' loyalty to Achilles leads him to the battlefront, but what he finds foaming at its mouth changes him. The injustice of war, the conceit of man. Faced with such cruelty, the boy Patroclus reevaluates the nature and level of commitment of his love for Achilles.
The Song of Achilles is a moving, lyrical rendering of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War.
I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me. If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth. As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong.
2. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
From the New York Times Bestselling journalist and author of Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield comes a beautiful, heartened book about a family who faced devastating oppression when the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Published in 2011 by Harper Collins, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana documents the true story of young female entrepreneur Kamila Sidiqi. Written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a former ABC newsreporter, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana closely follows Kamila's dedication to her community, family and faith. The book follows decisions made by Kamila, her sisters, brothers, mother and father as they build collective and individual legacies of learning, determination, resilience, heart and hope.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana depicts the bond and entrepreneurship of Afghani women caught in perilious, life-threatening circumstances. Kamila's story––and the stories of her sisters––not only changed the way I believe in sisterhood, but also the way I understand Islam and the war in Afghanistan.
3. Before The Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi, with translation from Geoffrey Trousselot
In Tokyo there is a café: the one hundred year old Funiculi Funicula. Local legend claims that this café pours more than a careful brew of coffee––but a chance to travel through time. In its four-part structure, Before The Coffee Gets Cold follows the interwoven backstories of four patrons who visit the Funiculi Funicula café in hope of revisiting moments with family, lovers and friends.
Before The Coffee Gets Cold is a brilliant collection, with wistful characters and reflections. However, the writing (or the translation ––I'm not sure which) was not well executed. At times the action and dialogue is overwritten which can sometimes makes the characters feel one dimensional.
My favourite quote from the novel is this:
Water flows from high places to low places. That is the nature of gravity. Emotions also seem to act according to gravity.
When in the presence of someone with whom you have a bond, and to whom you have entrusted your feelings, it is hard to lie and get away with it. The truth just wants to come flowing out. This is especially the case when you are trying to hide your sadness or vulnerability. It is much easier to conceal sadness from a stranger, or someone you don't trust.
4. Lore, Alexandra Bracken
Lore slept and dreamed of Death's gray world. A river drifted lazily by. Memory bled into reverie as she made her way forward over shards of stone that littered its banks.
A close friend of mine recommended Lore as one of her chosen novels. Written and published in 2021, Lore was widely recieved with welcome accolade––moving to #1 New York Times Bestseller and awarded a Barnes & Nobel Best YA and YA Fantasy/Adventure of 2021 Pick, a Best Book of the Year So Far Pick for Apple Books, an Amazon Best YA and SCI-FI/Fantasy Book of 2021 and an INDIGO's Top Ten Teen Books of 2021.
There's a subtle structure and emphasis that comes with most YA novels; elements that make them successful. These elements can be a wonderful thing because it allows the story to be unusual, in a way, while making the reader feel comfortable, almost familiar, in this unusual world. Most genres are like this, I suppose.
The Greek-centric, mythological premise of Lore intrigued me, and because I'm a massive fan of Madeline Miller's Circe and Song of Achilles, I was happy to give this novel a try. Would I find the YA elements distracting? Or, would its calm, easy-to-read style be a much-needed reading rest? I wanted so much to appreciate the narrative without overthinking the form.
In the beginning, the novel's exposition confused me. There seemed to be a couple of prominent, unexplainable twists and turns. While I believe Bracken has a deep understanding of Greek mythology, I didn't feel that this knowledge was written or translated clear. Expository moments from the past are interspersed and often jarred the middle present-tense tension, which slowed the novel's momentum.
The concept is clever, and the world-building thoughtful. Many of Bracken's sentences were poetic and sparkled with originality. Even so, I found it difficult to connect with many of the characters. I would have liked Medusa to feature more than Athena.
There was the spark of Arcane's Violet in Lore, and a beautiful personality-amalgamation of Madeline Miller's Achilles and Patroclus in her romantic counter Castor.
All in all, the more I read at one time, the more invested I became in the narrative.
5. The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken
The Insanity of God is a wondrous memoir, about persecution and suffering, and about one's dedication to faith through the Ecclesiastical seasons–––how to worship across different variations of time and place. The book blessed me deeply, and I'll continue to reflect on the collection over the next couple of months. Many of the testimonies moved me to tears.
The book moves chronologically, reflectively, geographically and culturally through a spiritual deep dive into what it means to be a follower of Christ. To carry the Gospel and the cross into all nations no matter the cost. The reflections in The Insanity of God awoke a longing in me to see the Holy Spirit working in my life and in the lives of those around me.