Summer Reading: Circe, The Last Child, The Outsider, Notes from the Upside Down

summer reviews (2)My Summer reading started off gung-ho but my current status is gung-slow. Hoping to check off 4 more books on the Bookish Jay and Reading Mermaid co-challenge before Labor Day, but figured I’d submit some finished book reviews while they’re still freshly read.

--sucks to be Prometheus
--Titans v. Olympians
--witches, bad-assess

Circe by Madeline Miller | mythological read ★★★★☆

“Circe isn’t powerful like her father Helios, nor viciously alluring like her mother Perse. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods. Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, and crosses paths with many figures in mythology. When Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, she ultimately finds herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians.”-Little Brown and Company, 201820180603_084501 (1)The most beautiful prose I’ve read this year featuring some of the most grotesque storylines. As Thomas Hobbes described the natural state of mankind as solitary, nasty, brutish and short, Miller’s state of godkind could be described as solitary, nasty, brutish and eternal. Once the unconventional characters and timelines are accepted, Miller’s unique take on these cherished myths and legends should be applauded. She vividly captures the strangeness and beauty of life lived under the gods’ whims and frames it plausibly, if occasionally the dictated rules were a convenient fit to the story.

Circe’s perspective dislodges the beloved hero of the Odyssey from his Corinthian pedestal and reveals a bit of a jerky-jerk. Gratified with the inclusion of the plot from Telegonia, the epic poem describing Odysseus’s decline, it’s fitting that no mortal shall get out of this tale alive. A few loose ends were left twisting (presumably part of Miller’s next mythological retelling), but Circe’s storyline was full-circle. Hers is of a woman disowned then empowered. Whose skills were earned, mettle tested, and empathetic spirit rewarded, not an easy task when sparring with the vengeful divine beings populating the novel. No textbook knowledge of Greek or Roman mythology is required, but knowing some essential background made a more satisfying read and motivated a refresher course afterward.

Notes from the Upside Down-Non-fiction
--80s music
--Stranger Things
--television series

Notes from the Upside Down: an Unofficial Guide to Stranger Things by Guy Adams | title that would make a cool band name (leaving off the subtitle, a dope band name with a play on music ‘notes’) ★★★☆☆

“If you devoured Stranger Things on Netflix and you’re looking to fill the demogorgon-sized hole in your life, then look no further than Notes from the Upside Down. This fan-tastic guide has every fact you could ever wish for–from insights into the origins of the show, including the mysterious Montauk Project conspiracy theory; a useful eighties playlist and much more.”-Touchstone, 2017 20180701_111148Rarely do I bother with movie or television companion reads, but my fanatic heart skipped a beat when I came across a Stranger Things guide. Adams breaks it all down in an informative and mostly entertaining way. From the iconic title art to frame-by-frame shots in some cases (Chief Hopper typing a report in the first episode is apparently an identical shot to Chief Brody in Jaws). Dissecting the show itself is worthy material. I ate up the character analysis, both conventional: Winona Ryder as ‘Flaky mom’, Harbour as ‘Cop with a Past’ and defying convention, with Nancy and Steve. I also aligned with the arguments for unfortunate Barb’s motivations.

But the true grist are the well-researched extra features explaining the references in each episode. The delightful “Familiar Things” highlighting the 80’s touches, the insightful “D.N.A. of ST” sourcing the Duffer Bros. inspiration from Stephens’ King and Spielberg to shady CIA projects such as, MKULTRA. I’m a geek, but not enough to recognize these references without help. His habit of addressing the reader directly in footnotes veers into cringe-worthy territory at times, but it’s worth it to acquire the annotated “Sounds of Stranger Things.” Where was this enlightenment when I was scouring the internet for Stranger’s music sources? Mostly, reading gently reminded me how much my brother would have loved this show with it’s 80s horror homages and gave me a new appreciation for watching.

The Last Child-Mystery Fiction
--missing children
--North Carolina
--psychological Fiction

The Last Child by John Hart | book with a child protagonist ★★★★☆

“After his twin sister Alyssa disappears, thirteen year-old Johnny Merrimon is determined to find her. When a second girl disappears from his rural North Carolina town, Johnny makes a discovery that sends shock waves through the community in this multi-layered tale of broken families and deadly secrets.” -Minotaur Books, 200920180615_140353Johnny Merrimon is the reason to love this seemingly unlovable novel filled with such heartache, desperation and despair. Johnny feels these pains sharply but instead of breaking him, he carries on through sheer strength of will. Getting into numerous unholy scrapes-with law enforcement, abusive adults, escaped convicts, general assholes and even eagles, the kid holds onto a hope and resilience that is unfathomable considering the circumstances. Yet, he has no choice, all of the adults in his world have let him down. With only himself to rely on, readers root for Johnny (while understanding his quest to save everyone is impossible) and fear that he won’t even be able to save himself.

The partial viewpoint through a child’s eyes, disillusioned as they are, lightened a brutally dark story. A strong character narrative so intimate, at times I felt I was intruding on Johnny’s secret thoughts as he earned the right to be left alone. Alternating with Det. Hunt’s perspective provided some relief although he carried only slightly less weight of the world on his shoulders. Noble and tortured, I took issue with Hunt’s idolization of a majorly flawed female portrayed as a beautiful broken waif who needed to be rescued. The only irritating story trope in an original mystery that continued to surprise me through it’s intricately plotted conclusion. The tragedy of The Last Child will break your heart, but it is so good you won’t care.

The Outsider-Horror Fiction
--murder tales
--return of the King?
--something wicked this way comes

The Outsider by Stephen King | a library find ★★ 1/2☆☆☆

Read by Will Patton ★★☆☆☆ Why so whispery, Will?

“An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. The case seems ironclad, especially when able to add DNA evidence…but Maitland has an alibi, and it turns out incontrovertible evidence of his own. How can two opposing stories be true?”– Container, 2018.20180802_105230The depths of genuine human-induced horror are mined, extracted and methodically chipped away until all that remains is an otherworldy evil. A relic of a shadowy world one wishes hadn’t been found or ever heard of. This book will get to you, but not in the best way.

A snail’s pacing and a startling character shift two-thirds through, with only one major player bridging the gap were unexpected flaws. The introduction and abandonment of more characters than George RR Martin in a masochistic mood, accompanied by a rising dread with every page also made The Outsider a harrowing experience. Appealing to an audience who enjoys twisting on the hook, but for my money, no matter how exquisitely twisted it’s still torture. King’s writing is not effortless nor exquisite here; it’s unrelenting. From the extraneous dialogue to make his townspeople appear folksy, to the pedantic speeches of a shy, retiring transplant character from King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, (whose breathy stilted speech was beyond grating in the audio version) it got old quickly. Casting my personal reading experience in extra horrific light, the physical crime that sets the story in motion is eerily similar to an actual murder which took place locally when I was 7 years old. I hit fast forward through much of the autopsy reports and grisly details because they were too reminiscent of the nightmare case of my childhood. (I even wondered if King heard of it, as one of the accused continually resurfaces through the appeals process even making it to the Supreme Court).

When teasing this novel, I mentioned it’s been almost 20 years since I last read King. He has changed, authors absolutely do as readers do. Perhaps, as my friend and SK fan from Finger Candy surmised, his focus on death and mortal thoughts has tainted his style. I believe he’s trying too hard to write ‘weird crime’ and it shows. Deriving little enjoyment, I wasn’t invested but chuckled at some dark humor when several characters go on a monster hunt a lá a middle-aged Scooby Doo crew. Unfortunately that was a mere hundred pages from the end of a 561 page tome. Burdened with overwhelming detail, the multiple narratives were tightly structured, and King hasn’t totally lost his ability for creepy ideas. It’s too bad this one is buried under layers of bloated and repetitive heavy-handedness. Not recommended. Read The Dark Half instead, which has the same plot device recycled here.

After much drama, horror and heartache I’m looking forward to my next reads- a gifted book, fragrance, short stories and my epic choice, The Fellowship of the Ring. There’s nothing sorrowful or scary in that, right?

7 thoughts on “Summer Reading: Circe, The Last Child, The Outsider, Notes from the Upside Down

  1. We still need to sit down and have a hardcore DISCUSSION about Stranger Things, especially season 2. I have thoughts about more than just Steve’s sublime hair. I may have just bought a Stranger Things tee to wear to Disney with my Gaston ears. Hey, there’s a horrible crossover for you, Beauty and the Beast and Stranger Things! You know Gaston would ditch LeFou and start hanging out with Billy. They could get shirtless and lift weights and drink beer in Billy’s livingroom and then discuss optimal mullet care.

    In terms of books right now, I’m reading The Night Circus and it’s really great – quite the surprise, actually. 🙂


    1. The Night Circus! I need to read that one, I’ve heard such wonderful things Can’t wait to know your thoughts.
      Gaston and Billy’s sitcom? just made me laugh so hard, tears. I would watch that guilty pleasure. Yes we do need some ST discussion time. Fortunately we have plenty of time since the next season will be 2019 @_@ x_x


  2. Yeah, also, not so into King’s “pulled from the real world” storylines. Mr. Mercedes was a prime example – I think it kicks off with a guy driving his car into a crowd of revellers. I took one peek at that and was like, “Nope, not today, not ever” and put it back on the shelf. Just give me your freakin’ amphibious weather events and let’s leave it at that weirdness. Thank you for pointing out a King book I can gladly skip.


    1. Lol, happy to have read the rubbish so you don’t have to.
      This recurring character is from the Mr. Mercedes series, ugh, not an enjoyable person to experience the story through. Although King obvs thinks these are incredibly lovable and interesting folk, I wanted them to shut the hell up most of the time. It was also so weirdly repetitive either King’s memory is starting to fail or else he thinks his audience’s is.


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