Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess by Bettany Hughes

venus and aphroditeTitle: Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess

Author: Bettany Hughes

Genre: Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 242

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A vivid history of the ancient goddess Venus by the bestselling historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Through ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations Bettany Hughes shows why this immortal goddess endures through to the twenty-first century, and what her journey through time reveals about what matters to us as humans.

Charting Venus’s origins in powerful ancient deities, Bettany demonstrates that Venus is far more complex than first meets the eye. Beginning in Cyprus, the goddess’s mythical birthplace, Bettany decodes Venus’s relationship to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and, in turn, Aphrodite’s mixed-up origins both as a Cypriot spirit of fertility and procreation – but also, as a descendant of the prehistoric war goddesses of the Near and Middle East, Ishtar, Inanna and Astarte. On a voyage of discovery to reveal the truth behind Venus, Hughes reveals how this mythological figure is so much more than nudity, romance and sex. It is the both the remarkable story of one of antiquity’s most potent forces, and the story of human desire – how it transforms who we are and how we behave.

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Many gods and goddesses from various religions and myth cycles from all over the ancient world have not only fascinated people throughout the decades and centuries, but often have many counterparts. Aphrodite and Venus are two such goddesses – the same goddess from two different societies, who have gone from Greek  to Roman origins, and have been found in other incarnations in other Near East or Middle Eastern ancient cultures where they have evolved and changed as the society has needed them in their pantheon of gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions that either pre-date or run concurrently with the monotheistic religions we associate with the modern equivalents of those places.

Bettany Hughes explores the Grecian and Roman sides of the same goddess – Aphrodite and Venus, and her role in art and the pantheon, and how she came to be in each tradition, and how this influenced arts, stories and other narratives and characters throughout history.

Venus-Aphrodite is a figure that is more than nudity, romance and sex. Like many gods and goddesses, she has many more roles and layers to her, and what she brings to mythology and the understanding of humanity and human emotion. This history adds to our understanding of a goddess who is often reduced to what she is known to represent and stand for in mythology, rather than the complexities behind what she does.

Rather than justify her actions throughout the various myth cycles, Bettany Hughes explores these as part of the history of Venus-Aphrodite and how she has been represented, and what this has meant in how she is viewed and builds on this with layers and complexities.

This is an intriguing book for anyone interested in antiquity, and especially women and their role in antiquity, which is only going to build on our understanding of women and their role in the ancient world. It will help bring to life these myths in a new and exciting way.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythology redTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Mythology

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 19th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The great Norse myths, which have inspired so much of modern fiction, are dazzlingly retold by Neil Gaiman. Tales of dwarfs and frost giants, of treasure and magic, and of Asgard, home to the gods: Odin the all-father, highest and oldest of the Aesir; his mighty son Thor, whose hammer Mjollnir makes the mountain giants tremble; Loki, wily and handsome, reliably unreliable in his lusts; and Freya, more beautiful than the sun or the moon, who spurns those who seek to control her.

From the dawn of the world to the twilight of the gods, this is a thrilling, vivid retelling of the Norse mythology from the award-winning, bestselling Neil Gaiman. Bringing to life the epic myths that have inspired Gaiman’s own writing, this glorious special edition for Christmas features a vibrant new red cover.

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The Norse myths have been around on one way or another, like many other myths, legends and fables of various societies and cultures across the world for millennia.

Here, Neil Gaiman has taken the original myths, and retold them in an accessible and concise way, capturing everything important and interesting about them, whilst leaving enough room for the reader to do their own further reading and investigations. From here, there are many more sources that can be consulted about the creation of the Norse world, the giants, as well as Odin, Thor and Loki, and Freya and all the other gods in Asgard and the Norse underworld.

Of course, many people have retold these myths – Marvel has, of course, but sometimes, the source material is much more or even just as interesting, and can give very clever and creative insights into where the characters in the retellings have come from, and the evolutions they have gone through in each retelling, and how it relates back.

However, here, these are the myths as they are, retold in plain, modern English for the modern reader, exploring a myth cycle that has common themes with others such as Greek, Roman and Egyptian – from the formation of the world to the end of the world and everything in between.

I truly enjoyed this book, and hope other lovers of mythology will enjoy it too.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic by JK Rowling, British Library

pb history of magic.jpgTitle: Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Author: JK Rowling, British Library

Genre: Exhibition Catalogue/Non-Fiction/Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 18th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $34.99

Synopsis:Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the record-breaking British Library exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and a team of brilliant curators. As the spectacular show takes up residence at the New York Historical Society from October 2018, this gorgeous book – available in paperback for the first time – takes readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from Astronomy and Potions through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.

Each chapter showcases a treasure trove of artefacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, beside exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive. There’s also a specially commissioned essay for each subject area by an expert, writer or cultural commentator, inspired by the contents of the exhibition – absorbing, insightful and unexpected contributions from Steve Backshall, the Reverend Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake, who offer a personal perspective on their magical theme.

Readers will be able to pore over ancient spell books, amazing illuminated scrolls that reveal the secret of the Elixir of Life, vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake roots, painted centaurs and a genuine witch’s broomstick, in a book that shows J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions alongside their cultural and historical forebears.

This is the ultimate gift for Harry Potter fans, curious minds, big imaginations, bibliophiles and readers around the world who missed out on the chance to see the exhibition in person.

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I first reviewed the hardcover edition of this book when it came out in 2017, coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and now, have read and reviewed the same book in paperback to coincide with the upcoming twentieth anniversary of my favourite book in the series, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban because not only do we get the fantastic Professor R.J Lupin, but Harry gains a godfather – Sirius Black. To help write this review, I have used some parts of my last review, as many of my previous comments and appreciations are the same.

Since 1997, Muggles around the world have been captured by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, starting with the immortal lines of number four Privet Drive. Since 2017, to celebrate each twentieth anniversary, House Editions for each book, and this year, the House Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner pf Azkaban will be released.

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Harry Potter: A History of Magic is an exhibition that ran at the British Library, and this book gives those who have been unable to visit the exhibition a chance to see the artefacts that inspired the magic behind the series. It shows a whole literary and historical world of magic that influences the fictional worlds.

Each subject at Hogwarts is based on a real-world example of magic – Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Divination and so forth. Each culture around the world had their own traditions that had similarities and differences, and reading about these was fascinating, especially ancient traditions, such as curse tablets from Ancient Greece. Exploring these aspects of magic in the real world, and exploring what they meant to the cultures they emerged from, is interesting and intriguing from a historical and literary perspective, and these traditions could be used to shape many a magical or fantastical world other than just Harry Potter.

Allowing people who could not physically get to the exhibition to experience it through the book is a good idea, and a good resource to start with if you’re researching historical aspects of magic, and many of the historical aspects were familiar to me as I have done a historical course called the Art of Magic.

This review is shorter than my hardback one, as they have the same content, but my previous review can be read here.

Pre-Release Review: Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron

Beneath_the_Mother_Tree_cover-195x300Title: Beneath the Mother Tree

Author: D.M. Cameron

Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spine-chilling mystery and contemporary love story, Beneath the Mother Tree plays out in a unique and wild Australian setting, interweaving Indigenous history and Irish mythology.

On a small island, something sinister is at play. Resident alcoholic Grappa believes it’s the Far Dorocha, dark servant of the Faery queen, whose seductive music lures you into their abyss. His granddaughter Ayla has other ideas, especially once she meets the mysterious flute player she heard on the beach.

Riley and his mother have moved to the island to escape their grief. But when the tight-knit community is beset by a series of strange deaths, the enigmatic newcomers quickly garner the ire of the locals. Can Ayla uncover the mystery at the heart of the island’s darkness before it is too late?

Wrought with sensuousness and lyricism, D.M. Cameron’s debut novel Beneath the Mother Tree is a thrilling journey, rhythmically fierce and eagerly awaited.

 

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I received permission from the publisher to post this review before publication date to generate interest and buzz for the debut author.

The novel opens with Ayla hearing a tune played on a flute as she swims at the edge of her wild island home, where Indigenous history and Irish mythology are interwoven, and there is an understanding in the community of what happened in the past, and respect from all characters towards each other and this past. Ayla has spent her whole life on this island – and its history – Indigenous and white, and the tales of Far Dorocha and other Irish myths that she has been told by her Grappa, have informed her and created her identity.

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Riley and his mother have just moved to the island following the death of his stepfather, and instantly, Ayla’s grandfather senses that something sinister is at play when the mysterious deaths begin – and he tries to ban Ayla from seeing Riley. But as the story ebbs and flows between the viewpoints of Ayla and Riley, and at times, Riley’s mother, Marlise, the mystery that is gripping the island deepens, and it is up to Ayla and Riley, with the help of advice from friends, Riley’s stepfather’s books and the history of the island that Ayla has grown up with, they begin to look into the mysterious deaths that have occurred since Marlise arrived, and hopefully, solve the mystery that has almost destroyed the island and those that live there.

What I liked about this novel was the care that D.M. Cameron took with her research into Irish mythology and the research into the Indigenous history of the Quandamooka people and the islands near Stradbroke and Moreton Bay, and has ensured that she gave the utmost respect to these stories. This made the story richer and gave a better experience with the facts of Indigenous history, and the stories and experiences of Ayla’s friend, Mandy woven throughout.

The islanders are bonded by history and mythology, and by a tragedy that claimed the lives of two fishermen many years ago. Things are peaceful, and tranquil, as though the characters have reached an understanding of the past and what is to come, until Riley and his mother arrive. It is their presence that beings to haunt the island – and bring a feeling of unease to the novel as the reader wonders just what their motive for being there is. I found Marlise to be a suffocating character, and I suppose she was, when I think about the way she tried to control Riley. Ayla, Riley and Mandy were breaths of fresh air, and definitely my favourite characters.

Intertwined with the Indigenous history that the author carefully leant about from members of the Quandamooka community, and included sensitively, and I felt in a way that didn’t shy away from the horrors history sometimes does, and Irish mythology of the Fae, is the mystery of the deaths that Grappa says are caused by Far Dorocha, whom he thinks Riley is when he sees one of the flutes that Riley has made. I felt a sense of relief when Ayla managed to bring her Grappa around and like Riley and help him to not only uncover the mystery of what was happening on the island, but the mystery of his father, and what really happened to him. The combination of myth, history and mystery creates an atmospheric novel with a well-paced structure that climaxes effectively towards the end, and brings together the strands of history, mystery, and myth in an effective and emotive way that has the power to unite people.

I enjoyed this novel, gobbling most of it up over an afternoon yesterday. D.M. Cameron is an evocative new voice in Australian literature, and I hope she writes more novels that weave history and mythology throughout as I enjoy that sort of book.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

CirceTitle: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Genre: Fantasy/Mythology Retelling

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 10th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. 

Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born.

Yet after her sister Pasiphaë marries King Minos of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril.

In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.

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Set in Ancient Greece, daughter of the sun god, Helios. and naiad, Perse, Circe is cast aside in the halls of their home as an outsider, mocked by her siblings and other gods, and named after a hawk. She is unlike anyone else, with her yellow eyes and strange voice – until her brother Aeëtes arrives, and finally, someone understands her. But still, she is isolated, as her sister, Pasiphaë marries Minos, and Aeëtes is sent away to rule his own island. So she begins meddling with mortals – Glaucus, a fisherman. When her spell backfires and he falls for her sister Scylla, the revenge she takes on Scylla sends her into an exile to Aiaia, where she traps sailors as pigs, and where one day, she meets Odysseus on his way back from Troy – a war of ten years and a journey back that has already taken several years – as told in The Odyssey. From here, Circe seals her fate as a mother and exile, and what she must endure for eternity.

The Circe (Kir-kee or Cir-cee) myth cycle is one of the most interesting myth cycles in Greek mythology. A sorceress and goddess, Circe’s most famous and well-known appearance is in The Odyssey with Odysseus when she turns his crew into swine and induces him to stay for a year on the island with her. As a witch, she used potions and magic to transform people into animals. Where most mythical retellings focus on the male heroes, Madeline Miller takes Circe’s tale and spins it into something new and fresh – Circe and what she did, her exile and how the other gods treated her and feared her – from her perspective of her role as a woman, as a goddess with the voice of a mortal but the body of a goddess and sorceress. It is Circe in her own words – what she did, what she felt when she was exiled and how she reacted to other divine figures sending their nymph daughters to her – to serve her, and in the eyes of the gods, give Circe companionship in her exile.

In Miller’s story, Circe’s dark revenge spell that she casts on her sister, Scylla, forms the backbone to this story. In a mythological world where each god, goddess and mythical figure crossover into each other’s myth cycles all the time, several other gods, goddesses and characters are woven in and out, such as Medea and Jason, seeking refuge away from Colchis, away from Aeëtes, and Pasiphaë and Minos, and the birth of the Minotaur. Madeline Miller has cleverly constructed a story that reads much like the ancient myths, but injected new life into them, amplifying the voices of the goddesses and sorceresses, and giving them a story where they are true to themselves, and where the reader goes on the emotional journey with them, never quite sure what to expect from them, or how to react to them.

Miler’s Circe is allowed to be human, though she tries to hide any instances of what the gods saw as human weakness, when it comes to her son, Telegonus, she does all she can to prevent what she fears the most. Each god and goddess show their good and bad side as well, and their ability to be heartless towards one character, yet at the same time, a patron towards another. Circe is shown as neither good nor bad, but in the grey areas in between, where many figures of mythology lie. As a lover of Greek mythology, seeing the female characters front and centre, in their own words, rather than the ancient texts, is intriguing and fascinating. Whilst still living in antiquity, modern authors give them agency and voice that ancient authors didn’t always, or that the myths didn’t allow for. The mythological world is fascinating in all its incarnations, and this latest Circe interpretation is no exception – she is feminist yet fits into her time in antiquity and uses this to her advantage, and she is individual – embracing every part of who she is because it what makes her Circe, not what Helios and the rest of her family wish she was. Circe is powerful and vulnerable in equal measure and is cautious about letting her guard down – and she is a heroine in her own right, standing up for herself and not letting the world dictate what she must do.

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Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

esmes wishTitle: Esme’s Wish

Author: Elizabeth Foster

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publisher: Odyssey Books

Published: 30th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: This was her last chance.
Her hand twisted high in the air.

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the actions of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about Ariane, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

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aww2017-badgeEsme Silver has spent years without a mother, and now, as she watches her father marry Penelope, her stepmother, she feels betrayed, and begins to object. Yet, with her protests dismissed as easily as her feelings about losing her mother are. Esme feels isolated from her father in their Picton Island home, and when he sails away with his new wife, Penelope, and leaves her to the mercy of his wife’s sister, Mavis, Esme travels to Spindrift, where a cottage belonging to her grandmother sits vacant. From the waters nearby, Esme is transported to Aeolia, a world that is beneath the waters it seems, and a world that will hopefully help Esme find the answers to her mother, Ariane’s disappearance several years ago.  Together with Lillian and Daniel, Esme settles into life in Esperance and Aeolia, and begins a journey that she hopes will get her the answers she has sought for so long.

Esme’s Wish, and Aeolia feels reminiscent of a fairy tale or mythological world, and I loved the references and connections I was able to make to Greek mythology and fairy tale tropes, coupled with the unique world that Elizabeth Foster has created. Connecting Esme’s Aeolia with Ancient Greece was clever, and made for an engaging story. It invites the reader into the world accessed by a magical pool, and on a journey with good friends. The underwater world inspired by Greek mythology reminded me of Atlantis and the blown-out centre of Santorini, where the Minoans lived thousands of years ago. Whether it was inspired by this or not, Elizabeth Foster has created an engaging story for young adults that I hope many will enjoy reading over the summer break, as it had a delightful summery feel to it as well.

Norse Mythology Neil Gaiman

norse-mythologyTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1 February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: The great Norse myths are woven into the fabric of our storytelling – from Tolkien, Alan Garner and Rosemary Sutcliff to Game of Thrones and Marvel Comics. They are also an inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s own award-bedecked, bestselling fiction. Now he reaches back through time to the original source stories in a thrilling and vivid rendition of the great Norse tales. Gaiman’s gods are thoroughly alive on the page – irascible, visceral, playful, passionate – and the tales carry us from the beginning of everything to Ragnarok and the twilight of the gods. Galvanised by Gaiman’s prose, Thor, Loki, Odin and Freya are irresistible forces for modern readers and the crackling, brilliant writing demands to be read aloud around an open fire on a freezing, starlit night.

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Neil Gaiman has turned his terrific and inspiring talent with words to the realms of Norse Mythology –Odin, Loki, Thor, Freya, and all the others. He retells the major myth cycle of the Norse myths and pantheon for a modern audience, giving each god a voice, starting from their births, and the mischief they get up to, tricking humans and fellow gods alike – a characteristic that Loki, the trickster god, embodies without shame. Together with Thor and Freya, and Freya’s brother Frey, the story evolves naturally. Though written for a modern audience, the lyrical and oral nature of these original tales shines through.

Beginning with the creation story sparked by the death of Ymir, and concluding with the battle of Ragnorak, Norse Mythology takes myths that are not always as widely used or known as Greek and Roman myths, and repackages them for a modern audience, while still keeping the cadence and lyrical nature of the old stories, giving an image of ancient Norse people sitting around, telling stories of the Gods and myths, lessons learned through the oral tradition of their world.

Like many myth cycles throughout the world, it begins with creation, has the gods and goddesses and other beings causing mischief with each other and humans, causing havoc upon Earth through boredom or the need to do something, lives lived, anger, and finally, destruction and the end of the world.

Many of Neil Gaiman’s other works incorporate aspects of Norse Mythology. American Gods features Odin and Loki in a modern setting, so Norse Mythology is a natural progression, incorporating Gods, Goddesses, Dwarves and Frost Giants into the narrative that has existed for centuries. Norse Mythology reveals the romance and adventure of these tales, fairy tales retold for an audience who may have outgrown fairy tales. Like all his stories, Neil Gaiman’s lyrical style reminds adults of what reading a fairy tale is like – full of magic and whimsy, where bad things do happen but everything will be all right in the end – mostly.

A fine book that explores a lesser known myth cycle, wonderful for fans of mythology and Neil’s previous works.

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