Book Review: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” – 5/5⭐️

Pages: 384 

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Thoughts:

*****SPOILER WARNING (OF SORTS)*****

This is a beautiful book. Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a tender ride through the mind of Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza as he matures into a young man, and builds a lifelong relationship with his best friend, Dante Quintana. The two boys are like polar opposites, but bring out the best in each other. Ari is introspective by nature, and self doubting, while Dante is extroverted and very confident. Ari sometimes mentions how Dante seems to fit right in, while he himself struggles socially to the point of having no friends. 

Both boys carry a deep weight within their hearts, and it’s their friendship that gives them the courage to approach life, and their parents. While one fears rejection by bringing up his imprisoned brother, the other fears disappointing his parents by coming out to them. Being Mexican-American myself, I wholeheartedly sympathized with the two boys because family is such an important thing in Latinx culture. It’s pretty much sacred, and the fear of disappointment is very real. Yet, what struck me the most was the depth of love between the two families, and the relationship the parents had with their children. Because, as we know, not all traditional parents are so open minded. So, seeing the level of tenderness and acceptance from the Mendoza’s and Quintana’s made me want to cry. In fact, I did, a few times. 

What I enjoyed too was the use of the weather in this book. Hot summer days, clear starlit nights, and rainstorms. So many rainstorms. Saenz seemed to connect the weather with Ari in that way. In the beginning, it is summer and he is dry and parched, in need of a friend to exchange words with and validate his existence. Then come the storms of confusing emotions, of family secrets, of school, teenage angst, and injuries. It’s one after another for poor Ari, until, finally, the sky clears and he has come into himself.

In all, this is a fun and quick read, filled with the budding emotions of two teenage boys and the trials they face in a society that is not entirely understanding. But thankfully, they have family to rely on, as well as each other. Oh, and a dog named Legs. Let’s not forget Legs. 

If you choose to give this a read, let me know what you think! I haven’t picked up the second book just yet, so I’d love to hear thoughts from those who have read it.

Book Review: “Circe” by Madeline Miller – 5/5⭐️

Pages: 385

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Thoughts:

*****SMALL SPOILER ALERT*****

It’s easy to tell that Miller has a penchant for underdog characters. In Circe, we are introduced to a goddess who is not only the outcast of her family, but also the most human goddess you will ever meet. If, like me, you choose to read this book after reading “The Song of Achilles”, I can tell you now that it is just as poetically written and enchanting. However, while TSOA was a love story (albeit a tragic one), Circe is more of a story of survival and self-discovery. 

We follow the Daughter of Helios as she first grows up in her father’s halls, ignored by all until she finally begins to show signs of her true power: witchcraft. Sadly, it is this power – feared by the gods – that leads to her eventual exile on the island of Aiaia. There, while she grows into herself and learns the extent of her powers, Circe is faced with a series of challenges, and visitors, that teach her more about the human experience. 

I fell in love with Circe because she is no pushover. There is a resilience to her that is both inspiring and humbling. Though she is no saint, with blood on her hands, she feels regret, guilt, and she learns from her mistakes. She has inner strength that keeps her moving forward when others might have given up. For example, early on in the story, she is severely injured by her own father as punishment for contradicting him. And later on, on Aiaia, she is assaulted by wayward sailors. (Trigger warning for those who are sensitive to SA and physical abuse.) These are just a few of the many trials she overcomes, and that’s not even touching on all the difficulties she faced during motherhood (which are, honestly, a nightmare all on their own). 

In all, her story is a long journey through time and turmoil, and unimaginable pain. She is touched by gods and heroes alike, creates and kills monsters, becomes a mother, and faces down eternal isolation. She’s quite the badass. It’s rare to find a book where you can hear the main character’s voice so well, but Circe’s voice is loud and clear and still echoing. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a strong female protagonist, and themes surrounding mortality, loss, self-discovery, and self-sacrifice. It isn’t a pleasant ride, but one that is entirely worth it in the end. 

If you do decide to give the book a read, please let me know what you think! 

Book Review: Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” – 4/5⭐️

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is a hard book for me to rate, and that’s because it holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve loved this story (both book and movie form) since I was a kid, and so, I decided to reread it because I was curious about how I would see it now, as an adult. 

In the book, we meet the Unicorn, who exists alone in a kind of immortal stasis. She never leaves her enchanted wood, and so is long disconnected from the world of man. What eventually draws her out of her safety zone is learning that she is the last of her kind. Determined to find the others, she reenters the world of man and immediately runs into humans who can no longer see, or believe in, wonders. She meets the Magician Schmendrick, who, though a true magician, is incapable of controlling his magic, and Molly Grue, a woman who long thought herself well past her prime. However, together, the three journey to a land equally frozen in time, and find themselves coming back to life along the way. 

In this way, time is one of the biggest themes in the story. The passing of time being something that is both feared, but can also bring beauty. It is something necessary for life to be appreciated. The other big themes are human greed and fear, and how they can eventually lead to one’s own downfall. 

I will admit, the reason I ultimately settled on 4 stars, instead of 5, is because of the characters. I wasn’t as connected with them as I once was, though I understood their motivations and admired them all in their own way. For example, I found that I didn’t really care for Schmendrick, as his character was a bit self-centered at times. He is meant to play the fool, as he is beginning his true journey of self discovery, but I still found him a bit irritating at times. However, the harsh Molly Grue has a stronger character. She is jaded, but at the end of the story, is rejuvenated by her adventure with the Magician and Unicorn. I would have liked to know a bit more about her. The Unicorn herself learns about human emotions, like love and regret, and becomes the first of her kind to have truly lived as something else, other than a unicorn.

In all, this book is lyrically written, whimsical, and fast paced. It’s a classic read for anyone wanting a little bit of magic in their lives.

Book Review: Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles” – 5/5⭐️

IG: @introvertinflux

*SPOILER WARNING!*

(A quick note: TSOA is not a historical book. Yes there is action and a lot of great historical detail, but the main focus is on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. It’s a love story set in a historical/mythological era.)

“The Song of Achilles”, by Madeline Miller, is the kind of book that lingers well after it’s been read. It is a tragedy, yet knowing this going in did nothing to alleviate the rollercoaster of emotions I felt as I listened to, and then read, this book. (I had to go through it twice before I could sit down to write this review.) This is because Miller utilizes careful poetic language and subtle character development to weave together a tragic love story that also poses the moral question: is a brief life worth honor and glory, or is it better to live a long, obscure life with the one you love?

In TSOA, no word is carelessly used, and almost no paragraph is without a spark of metaphor. It’s rereading the book that helped me realize that sometimes the simplest line or detail can serve to foreshadow the ending. This can also be glimpsed in Patroclus’ frequent references to the past, or to death. The more we progress into the book, the more we know a “death” is coming, without fully comprehending that there will be more than one death, and more than one kind. (SPOILER WARNING: Achilles does die, like his prophecy foretells, but his innocent character dies before he does. It’s this change that leads to his prophecy coming true.) The result of such careful language is a story with a dream-like quality at times, and at others, with the distinct feeling of a long-ass love letter. I am no romantic, but it sucked me into following Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as it blossomed from friendship, into a life-long partnership. 

I have read that some found the language a bit dense and difficult to understand. It definitely takes some getting used to, but once the story picks up, you stop noticing it.

During my second run through the book, I was able to pick up on a few more nuances in Patroclus’ character, and sometimes wondered if his affection for Achilles warped his thinking. There were a few times where I felt he was too forgiving, and he himself is a self-deprecating character. He constantly reminds the reader about his tarnished background (stained by exile). He feels he is not worthy of the other, and only later on in the book does he begin to take pride in his own accomplishments. Yet, we quickly learn that he is not only kind, but gentle in nature. Two traits that are frowned upon in a society where honor and glory are placed above everything else (even love). 

Achilles himself is boyishly charming and very innocent. He has never known defeat or rejection, and has many traits considered ideal in a “hero”. Speed, strength, charisma, and, well, the looks. Sadly, he was not ready for the world’s cunning.  I think one of the most tragic things about the story (besides the ending) was seeing how the war, and the expectations of others, slowly warped Achilles into someone who became unrecognizable at the end. He allowed the thinking of others to influence his actions, instead of focusing internally like Patroclus did. One wanted to be loved by all, while the other only cared about one person. 

All of this said, one struggle I did have with TSOA is the treatment of women. It might have been historically accurate, but god was it painful to read.  Women in this book are portrayed as items and/or cattle. They are spoils of war, or chess pieces for political agendas. If you are a feminist, be ready to cridge and scream “what the fuck?”  more than once. (I’m sure it was painful for Miller to write!) Even now, I can’t think of one woman who didn’t get f**ked over in the end. 

In all, The Song of Achilles is a multilayered book about love, honor, loss and the choices we make. It’s one hell of an emotional ride, but worth it and then some. If you do decide to give it a chance, let me know! 

Book Review: TJ Klune’s “The House in the Cerulean Sea” – 5/5⭐️

5/5 Utterly Charming

I have to admit, I originally thought this was a children’s book. The brightly colored cover got me good, and carried on the whimsical energy of the book. In a nutshell, it’s about a middle aged man named Linus Baker, who’s miserable in life even though he doesn’t realize it. Cue a life-changing job assignment from Extremely Upper Management and he suddenly finds himself quickly overwhelmed with another way of life (and people) he never knew existed. Six very unique children and their equally special guardians, and an island that serves them all as their personal sanctuary from a cruel world. The book is about found families, about not taking things at face value (including yourself), about fighting for those you love, and finding the unexpected just when you think life’s got nothing else for you.

I originally started by listening to the audiobook on Hoopla, but quickly realized this was a book that required all of my attention. I wasn’t wrong. There are many little hidden nuggets, including a wonderful cast of characters that reminded me a lot of old 90s movie characters. (“The Omen”, and Disney’s “Can of Worms” for some reason. My brain works in mysterious ways.) As an adult in her early 30s, Linus Baker really resonated with me because who hasn’t found themselves miserable and in a dead-end job? Show of hands, please. I’ve been through some dark phases, and have asked myself quite a few times: is this it?

Klune’s response may be: no, it never is. 

So if you haven’t read it yet, or have been considering it and just want a quick read that will sink you in the warm fuzzy feels, this one’s a go.

Journaling Thought: Ending on a Good Note

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am notorious for data-dumping, or simply ranting, in my journals. Not necessarily a bad thing, but what I did realize recently was that I have forgotten to write down more of the good. Often my journal is the friend I reach for when my emotions are high, when I need to work a problem out and find some kind of clarity. Once I’ve gotten it all down, however, I stop there.

But I invite you to join me in my challenge: let’s try to end on a good note. One highlight or positive that ends the shit-storm of a day we might have had. Something to curb the anxiety we might be working through. Something we’re thankful for, or, an event that made our day not-so-bad. Maybe someone “paid-it-forward” at the drive-thru at Starbucks, or a coworker surprised you with one of her handmade scones. (Seriously, I have a coworker who’s one wicked baker.)

In fact, what’s something good that happened to you today? Let me know in the comments down below!

What’s your life motto?

What life motto do you currently have?

For me, it’s to take things one day at a time. I know that sounds very relaxed, but the reality is that I have anxiety that likes to kick me down a lot. But after going through a particular rough patch a few years ago, medically and emotionally, I had to come to terms with the fact that there were only so many things I could control. But even those little things made all the difference. I learned to give up this false image of control I carried around, and learned to focus on the now.

On today.

This motto particularly helped me get through working through the COVID-19 pandemic as someone who works in healthcare. (In 2020, I was working in hospice, or, end-of-life healthcare.) I built a wall between myself and the landslide of worries and fears that anxiety brings, and focused on my loved ones, and my interests instead. No, I didn’t ignore what was happening around me, but I learned to keep things in their place, I stopped reading (and listening to) the news, and pretty much became selfish with the energy I am given each day.

I would live to know what your personal motto is as well, and how you came about it!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Keeping things short today because of the holiday (and because I have a paper to finish for my Social Media Campaigns course).

Whenever I think of ghost stories, I immediately flash back to an evening drive back home from Rio Vista over 15 years ago. I was young, still drying off from one last dip in the Sacramento River before departure, stuck in the car with my siblings, parents, and a visiting distant aunt. For some wicked reason, this relative thought a dark drive home was the perfect time to tell us all the story of La Sihuanaba. If you don’t know who she is, well, let me just say she’s La Llorona’s Salvadoran cousin.

La Sihuanaba is a fallen beautiful woman who enchanted a nobleman and caused him to lose his mind. Because of this, she was cursed to forever wander the earth disfigured (sometimes appearing as a skeleton, and sometimes with the face of a horse). She attacks late night strollers, especially men, and is often found near bodies of water.

Safe to say, it was a LONG while before I could look out the car window at night again. Thanks Tía.

JT: Finding the Right Time

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I would be lying if I said that I write consistently every day. I don’t, and I’ve also failed at trying to get up extra early to do a bit of journaling before work. I’m a night owl who has the unfortunate luck of working a normal eight-to-five. That said, for some, writing first thing in the morning does have some benefit. In her The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages artists (of all kinds) to take up a routine of writing morning pages, or, three pages of stream-of-consciousness/data-dump writing. The goal of this is to help clear the mind and prepare it to face the day. Open up the creative channels that might be otherwise blocked by all the worries we carry around.

I tried this way, and realized that as a night owl, evening journaling works best for me. By evening, I feel like I have plenty to say. (I keep a notepad in my bag to write down potential topics, just in case I need help starting.) After I’ve written my two pages (not three, in my case), I find myself in a quieter state. I’ve noticed that I even sleep better.

So, I encourage you to try writing during different times in your day, see which one best fits your schedule and nature. You can try writing three pages, or, like me, two pages back and front.

What time do you feel fits you best?

***

If you’d like to connect, please reach out at my contact page, or on instagram (@introvertinflux)!

Just A Note:

What’s something you’ve been meaning to write about, but never got around to? Sometimes, it’s healthy to vent. Get the nasty thoughts in our head out and open up space for the good. Yesterday, I wrote about my frustration with work, with the medical system, with life in general. My grandmother hasn’t been feeling very well, and we’re currently awaiting bloodwork results. I’m scared of what they might find. But, once I got everything down, I realized that maybe I was just letting my anxiety get to me. I sometimes forget to look at the positive when I’m bogged down by a heavy black cloud. So, I encourage you to write down your own black cloud. What’s got you angry, frustrated, scared?

***

If you’d like to connect, please reach out at my contact page, or on instagram (@introvertinflux)!