The Odyssey: an untold story

Every once in awhile you’re lucky enough to find two books, written by two different authors, that so perfectly compliment each other they should have been sequels. I found that in The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Penelope’s Daughter by Laurel Corona. I read Song of Achilles first and loved it so much I couldn’t quite drag myself out of the world of the Odyssey, not yet. So I picked up Penelope’s Daughter and dove right back in. And I’m so glad I did. While Song of Achilles covers the war in Troy (caused by the beautiful Helen of Sparta), Penelope’s Daughter focuses on what happens back in Ithaca. Together these books tell the whole story of the Odyssey from perspectives that Homer hadn’t considered. What Achilles lacked Penelope’s Daughter fulfilled and vice versa.

I will assume you probably know the story of the OdysseyHelen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in all the world, is whisked off to Troy by Paris. Her husband, Menelaus, becomes enraged and puts together an army to sail to Troy and take her back. Among the warriors is Odysseus, the star of the Odyssey, who is most famous for taking 10 years to sail back from Troy (where the war had gone on 10 years already). He encounters sirens and cyclopes and endures the wrath of the Gods. When he finally returns to Ithaca he finds his house overrun with suitors for his wife, Penelope. Also among the warriors is Achilles, this is his story.

The Song of Achilles is told from the perspective of Patroclus, a young Prince. When Patroclus is exiled from his home for accidentally murdering Clysonymus, he is sent to Phthia to serve Achilles and his family. Achilles sees something in Patroclus that intrigues him and he chooses the exile as his companion. As the boys grow older they grow closer and closer, Achilles begins to view Patroclus as his equal and Patroclus admires Achilles in every way. When they reach the age of manhood they discover that the bond they share goes much further than simple boyish companionship. While it was normal for Princes to take slave boys for lovers, it was not exactly normal to fall in love with another man. Achilles had responsibilities; he was supposed to take a wife and raise heirs… he was also destined to become the greatest warrior the world had ever seen, greater even than the Gods themselves. But all Achilles wants to do is spend his time with Patroclus, and to keep him from harm. Eventually Achilles is called to duty, to fight in the war at Troy, to take Helen back. It is prophesized that the war cannot be won without him. From there the boys must face challenges both to their relationship and their lives. Hardly old enough to be considered men (especially by today’s standards) they struggle with their childish morals, they struggle to keep each other safe, and they struggle to portray Achilles as the demigod he is supposed to be. Overall The Song of Achilles is a beautiful love story, a coming-of-age epic, and a historical retelling that will leave you yearning for more.

If that is the case and you are yearning for more, you’ll find it in Penelope’s Daughter. According to Laurel Corona, Penelope was newly pregnant when Odysseus left and she soon gave birth to Xanthe; a daughter who grew up hearing the brave tales of her father but couldn’t escape the thought that he didn’t even know she existed. When the war finally ends and Odysseus still doesn’t return their palace is overrun with suitors; nasty men looking for a chance to take over the palace in any way they can. Xanthe’s brother isn’t strong enough or manly enough to rule on his own, nonetheless run the household. Penelope can only rule as long as Odysseus is alive, and people are beginning to doubt that he is. In order to keep Xanthe safe Penelope sends her off to Sparta to stay with Helen, the woman who caused the war. Xanthe resents Helen already, for taking away her father before she ever got to meet him, and dreads her stay in Sparta. Instead, what she finds is a humble, caring, and broken woman who will teach her all there is to know about life, love, and becoming a woman in a world ruled by men.

Together these books covered all the unknown aspects of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective to Helen’s to Achilles’. They gave the famous epic a sense true human emotion and a refreshing backstory. I don’t know if I can ever think of the Illiad or the Odyssey and their famous characters in the same way again.

P.S. StarStarStarStarStar both books.

Note: I tried to hyperlink all the important names and stories, I find mythology fascinating and spent about 3 hours reading up on this stuff on Wikipedia. As is always the case with Wikipedia I stopped when I reached a page about “tarantula hawks.” Be careful with Wikipedia, it can be a dangerous place.


I bought this book under the impression that it was an older, more grown up version of Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (a book I loved). And that’s what it was, in a way. But it was so much more. It was a murder mystery spanning across 15th century Rome, it was a quest that resembled that of Angels and Demons, it was the story of a girl, too smart for her own good, on a mission to save the city.

Poison by Sara Poole  StarStarStarStar

While I loved Poison Study for it’s strong female heroine, Yelena, she quickly went from strong and independent, to ridiculous and bossy. Her stunts evolved from “teenage girl standing up for herself” to “Daniel Craig as James Bond” and her character became entirely unbelievable and, honestly, unlikeable. Poison’s heroine, Francesca, is everything I wished Yelena would have been. She’s strong, she’s smart, and she can easily take care of herself but she’s not using martial arts or magic powers to do so. She’s just the poisoner’s daughter; an ordinary girl who has spent her entire life learning the art of poison making and detection. A skill that would both condemn her and save her life… as well as her city.

When we first meet Francesca she has just poisoned and killed the newly appointed poisoner, angry that she had not been asked to step up after her father’s murder. It’s a bold move, one that could get her thrown in prison, but her master, Borgia, is impressed by her cunning. He appoints her his official poisoner and instructs her to finish what her father had started; kill the pope. It’s a mission that will take her across the crumbling yet magnificent city of Rome; into the Jewish ghetto, through the secret passages of the castel, under the basilica into the twisting labyrinth of an old Roman empire, and to the top of the Vatican.

During her quest she faces life threatening betrayal and decisions that could change the entire fate of Rome, if not her own fate. She yearns to avenge her father and protect those she loves. All the while she must face the difficulties of being a woman in Rome; a woman doing a man’s job, a woman in a world ruled by men. She is forced to face truths about her own heritage and learns to accept, even befriend, people she would have looked down on before. The entire fate of Rome rests of her shoulders.

I loved almost everything about this book; it was a page turner, it was full of riddles, it had a likeable and strong lead character, it had romance and danger and long, dark, twisting hallways… but overall the writing was a little bland. Francesca seems pretty detached from everything going on around her, we don’t get a lot of emotion out of her and the author doesn’t supply us with a lot of description. The story is written from Francesca’s point of view, almost as if she’s writing in a journal or relating her story to a few avid listeners. Oftentimes she’ll take an aside from the story and address the reader directly. It made her seem a little robotic. I suppose, as a poisoner, she is forced to keep herself emotionally distanced… Nonetheless I would recommend this book to any lovers of historical fiction and fans of Dan Brown. Will I read the sequel? Absolutely.

Alice I Have Been

This book came to me at the perfect time. It’s one of those books that you can get completely lost in. It creates a world so realistic and wonderful that when you pull yourself out of the story to get a snack or answer the phone you’re disappointed by reality. Reality suddenly seems mundane and you find yourself with the ever increasing desire to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  At least that’s how I felt when I was reading this book. And I needed that, I was feeling overwhelmed by life, I had just spent a month on editing odd jobs and I decided to treat myself to a book of my own. I book I could enjoy without over analyzing. A book I could escape into. This book was it. If I could give this book six stars I absolutely would.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin StarStarStarStarStar

This is not a story about Alice in Wonderland. I thought I would be disappointed by that but I wasn’t. I thought I wanted a story about a little blonde girl with an overactive imagination but this story was better. This story is about Alice; Alice of Oxford, Alice the Dean’s daughter, Alice the brunette. Alice whose spirit inspired her dear friend, Mr. Dodgson, to write down the story of Alice in Wonderland. A story that Alice begged for, a story that she’ll wish was never written.

Alice I Have Been is written in three parts following Alice through three different stages of life and love. It begins in 1859 when Alice is just a little girl with a dirty pinafore. Her and her sisters, Ina and Edith, spend their days roaming the campus with Mr. Dodgson, a quirky math professor who enjoys telling stories and taking pictures, and Pricks, their prickly, portly nanny. Alice has always felt a special connection with Mr. Dodgson who didn’t seem to mind if her dress got dirty and never scolded her for her outlandish desires (ie: running barefoot through the grass)… much to the dismay of her older sister, Ina, and their nanny – both of whom tend to vie for the attention of Mr. Dodgson. Unfortunately Mr. Dodgson only has eyes for Alice. He willingly grants her every wish and fulfills her every desire. He allows her to run barefoot through the grass, he lets her live like a wild child (if only for the afternoon), and he assures her she will never outgrow his company.

One day, as Alice and her sisters drift down the river, Mr. Dodgson tells the story of Alice in Wonderland – much to Alice’s delight. She begs and begs him to write the wonderful story down, which he does – effectively enshrining her in Wonderland forever – a gesture that would both honor and haunt her for the rest of her life.

I can’t even explain how amazing this book is without giving anything away. Alice learns first hand that there are many different types of love; infatuation, true love, boundless love, endless love… lost love. All the while she struggles with her identity as Alice in Wonderland; a girl that the world has fallen in love with, a girl who cannot live up to her fictional counterpart.

The characters in this story are emotional and real and all too human. I cried over them, several times. This book made me cry several times. That’s unheard of. Not to mention the way this book is written! Melanie Benjamin’s writing style is beautiful and poetic and mysterious. I almost wished I was reading it on my nook so I could highlight some of the more beautiful quotes and post them on facebook for all the world to see. She keeps things from the reader and reveals them just when you start to think she won’t, and those revelations are powerful. When I closed the cover on this book I wanted to open it right back up and start all over again. This is easily one of my new favorites.

The White Forest

I happened upon this book during a slow day at work. When work is slow I usually meander up and down the aisles, reading the first chapters of books that have interesting covers (yes, I judge books by their covers, don’t tell you me don’t). I was instantly intrigued by The White Forest, so much so that I bought it immediately and started reading it that night (despite being in the midst of two other books already). It was one of those books that I actually looked forward to reading every night.

The White Forest by Adam McOmber StarStarStarStarStar

First of all, I’m a bit surprised this book was written by a man. I’ll admit I never pay attention to the author unless it’s someone I’ve read before. I’ll also admit that ALL of my favorite authors are women. Having said that, Adam McOmber writes in such a beautiful way it’s almost poetic. His descriptions were fantastic and his ability to so accurately portray the thoughts of a young female in Victorian London was impressive.

The White Forest focuses on the friendship between Jane and Maddy as they vie for the attention of Nathan Ashe. However, that friendship is constantly tested when Nathan discovers Jane’s secret – she has a “talent” to see and hear the souls of man-made objects. Jane’s world is filled with the constant singing and screaming of objects. They emit color and sound that most people are immune to, except Jane. Unfortunately her talent is easily transferred to another person just by touching her skin – this transference has caused Jane to become something of a hermit; her maids refuse to touch her, calling her a demon from Hell, her best friend, Maddy, shudders when their arms brush, and though she doesn’t say it outright, she thinks of Jane as a bit of an abomination. Only Nathan, tall dark & handsome Nathan, is delighted by Jane’s talent and requests to perform experiments with her at every chance he gets.

Nathan becomes so obsessed with Jane’s talent that he commits his life to the research of it. He joins a cult lead by Ariston Day, an evil man who preaches about paradise on Earth and a heaven-like dimension known as the Empyrean, a dimension to which Nathan believes Jane is the doorway. The cult members, or fetches, meet in the Theater of Provocation – a crude underground theater that no one can ever seem to find the entrance to. Then Nathan goes missing. Jane begins to see flashes of the theater of horrors when she comes into contact with Nathan’s objects. Her talent is also changing, rather than meaningless color and sound, she begins to see a white forest behind the veil of the objects, and she begins to wonder if Nathan was right.

This book is a coming-of-age story as much as it is a gothic masterpiece. Jane and Maddy slowly break apart as their feelings for Nathan intensify and they realize that the three of them cannot remain friends forever. Maddy, consumed by jealousy, proves more and more that she is willing to do anything to win Nathan’s heart. Jane, knowing she could never compete with Maddy’s beauty, grows more and more bitter towards Nathan who is using her only to experience her talent. Having been raised by her father, Jane begins to wonder about her mother – the strange woman who died on the heath muttering about the Lady of the Flowers. Jane discovers a history that seems far too fantastic to believe but makes more and more sense as the story progresses.

I considered giving this book 4 stars based on the weirdness of the ending (really, it gets weird), but I realized it’s just a convention of classic gothic literature. It somehow works. In the author’s note Mcomber explained that he tried to write the historical elements as accurately as he could; if he could create a believable Victorian London with believable characters, then the fantastic and paranormal aspects of the story would be believable as well. He did a wonderful job. He created a new London that served to camouflage the strangeness of the Empyrean, hidden just beyond perception. His characters, though a bit strange, suffered from normal ailments of human emotion and coming-of-age while also delving into the unknown of other dimensions; disappearing theaters, screaming objects, otherworldly religions, and ultimately the white forest.

This book deserves to be ranked among the classics.


I have long been a lover of historical fiction, this is largely due to Philippa Gregory and her knack of bringing historical figures to life. In high school I read The Other Boleyn Girl and then I read it again, and again. In fact (besides Harry Potter, obviously) it may be the only book I’ve ever read multiple times (I have too many books on my “to read” list to waste time re-reading). At one point I even sold it to a secondhand bookstore only to re-buy it less than a month later. Anyway, thanks to that book Philippa Gregory instantly became one of my favorite authors. I own almost all of her novels and I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them. It goes without saying that I was looking forward to this novel (despite it being a teen book with paranormal undertones) and it did not disappoint.

Changeling by Philippa Gregory StarStarStarStarStar

I usually avoid teen books (who are we kidding I don’t avoid them anymore) because they’re poorly written with thin characters and even thinner plot lines. While Changeling isn’t nearly as in-depth as Gregory’s adult novels it’s still apparent that she knows her stuff and has done her research. I liked the characters, I enjoyed the plot (even when it seemed to veer into paranormal territory*) and it kept me reading from cover to cover (literally… but that might have had something to do with the fact that I was stuck on a 24-hour car trip at the time).

*To be clear, I have nothing against paranormal genres, in fact I actively seek out books that have some sort of paranormal aspect. However, paranormal teen books usually end up being entirely silly – Changeling was not so.

The novel is set in the 1400’s and switches between the perspectives of Luka, a teenage boy suspected to be a changeling, and Isolde, a beautiful, golden haired Lady. Luka was brought to a monastery when he was only 11 after the disappearance of his parents. While on his way to priesthood it becomes apparent that Luka has a knack for numbers and an insatiable curiosity. He is yanked from his bed one night and dragged across town where he is sure he’ll be sentenced to death for committing heresy. When he finally faces his captor Luka is not only pardoned from his heresy but asked to join a secret order, The Order of Darkness. He is required to travel the country and inquire into Christian fear and signs of “the end of days.” His first assignment sends him to a covenant where the nuns are falling to madness.

Isolde has always lived in the castle with her father and brother. Her father raised her to rule the world; he allowed her to study (when most women were not able), he promised her the castle and all it’s land, and he taught her to lead. After her father’s death Isolde is forced out of the castle by her backstabbing brother and made to join the covenant. Her arrival signifies the beginning of the covenant’s descent into madness.

Luka must solve the mystery of the madness and exorcise any demons that haunt the covenant, even when those demons are not as they appear.

I may be biased but I truly loved this book. I loved the characters, I thought they were very well developed and had distinct personalities. Luka was often frustrating to read – he’s supposed to be so smart and clever but he sometimes can’t see the solution right under his nose – however, he always pulls through and makes the right choice (although his companions sometimes have to help him get there).

Isolde is fiercely obedient – as any Lady of her time would be. Obedient of her father (even after his death), obedient of her brother (despite his evil intentions), and obedient of the vows she was forced to take upon her arrival to the covenant. However she never loses her strong and independent personality. True to Gregory’s style Isolde is a Lady more than capable of taking matters into her own hands.

The side characters are equally as enjoyable. Luka’s companion Freize provides excellent comic relief, he’s always ready with a sarcastic or witty remark. He sees the world through rational and understanding eyes, this, paired with his natural connection to animals, helps the group escape on more than one occasion.  Isolde’s friend Ishraq is dark and mysterious but always full of wisdom and displays a loyalty that cannot be challenged. However, none of the characters are entirely trustworthy. They, and the reader, must always be on their toes and watching their backs.

The plot can be compared to an episode of Scooby Doo, “the gang” hears of a strange occurrence and has no choice but to investigate. The spooky paranormal anomalies are rationally explained which kept the story from being silly and retained the historical accuracy. I spent the entire book wondering “who-dun-it” only to be shocked by the reveal. The authors note explains that the novel was based on true historical events – witchcraft, magic, and madness were real fears in the 1400’s and it wasn’t uncommon for people to be plagued by any one of them. As Gregory explains “these were deeply superstitious times. People genuinely believed there was another, unseen world.” I was pleasantly surprised that Changeling did not turn out to be a typical teen paranormal romance but rather a historically accurate (to an extent) psychological thriller.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

In college I would spend at least an hour at the onset of every essay I wrote trying to come up with a clever opening line. Let’s just skip that today. The point is, I’m finally writing a blog post – now that I have actual followers I figured it was time… that and I’m procrastinating on going to the gym.

I never really intended to review books on here, but my fiction juices haven’t really been flowing as of lately. Moving on.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett: StarStarStar

“What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte? Galen Beckett began writing The Magicians and Mrs. Quent to answer that question.”

When I saw this book in the store I absolutely HAD to have it. It seemed like everything I love in a book – historical fiction (with a hint of paranormal), based in a fictional land (much like London but slightly off), and written like an 1800’s classic.

I struggled through the first third of this book, I was bored but not quite bored enough to give up – just bored enough that I read about 4 other books at the same time. The story opens with Miss Ivy Lockwell strolling down the street with her nose in a book, oblivious to her surroundings (I already like her). She lives in a 4 story house with her mother and 2 sisters, her father occupies the attic – an attic filled with magic books and strange devices – and he never leaves. For the first 200 pages Ivy strolls around town, attending tea parties, buying ribbons, and falling in love with a man that is ranked high above her; Mr. Rafferdy. Meanwhile, Mr. Rafferdy and his friend Eldyn get into some 19th century mischief of their own. Eldyn’s sister falls for a notorious highway man who then forces the already poor and weak Eldyn to deliver incriminating messages against the King – a crime punishable by death. Meanwhile Rafferdy finds himself in possession of a magicians ring that refuses to come off his finger but even more concerning is the fact that he’s falling for Ivy Lockwell – something his father has strictly forbidden. All in all the first third of the book is reminiscent of books like The Great Gatsby and Wuthering Heights sprinkled with a few magic spells here and there, nothing too exciting.

The second part of the book is purely from Ivy’s perspective in a letter she’s writing to her father. She has relocated to the crumbling old mansion of Mr. Quent far outside the city – a mansion filled with taxidermied animals, a mean old housekeeper, and 2 children who continue to see apparitions of a woman in white. I LOVED part two. If Samuel Richardson and Edgar Allen Poe  had ever joined forces on a novel I imagine it would have been a lot like this. Ivy is forced to confront the ghosts (both of the mansion and of her past) while attempting to resist the strong arms of Mr. Quent – her too old, too ugly, ranked too high employer – all the while discovering an unknown power of her own. Part two was dark and gothic and, at times, downright chilling. StarStarStarStarStar to part two.

Part 3, back to the city, back to boring town (although I will admit the last few chapters were quite fast paced and exciting). However, will I read the sequel? Probably not. I’m satisfied with the ending, the author didn’t leave me hanging off the edge of a cliff or begging for more. However, based on the direction of the plot line the sequel promises to be more exciting and scifi filled…