Quick book picks for April

With a whole load of books out this month, it was actually hard to pick out some recommendations. These are a mixed bunch aimed at a variety of audiences, but not limited to those audiences. Click on the title links to full reviews for more details.

  • I Still Dream by James Smythe – A novel about a girl who builds an AI to listen to her problems and how that AI becomes so much more, but also stays as her personal friend and confidant. Proof that books about tech can also be about memory, loss, and the minutiae of people’s lives.
  • The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla – A story of three generations of the same family, and how their different cultural experiences in Kenya, Keighley, and beyond and their differences of opinion and life shape how they interact.
  • Clean by Juno Dawson – Exciting whilst also hard-hitting, Clean is a young adult novel about addiction, but also about privilege, what makes people different, and how you can have sympathy for abrasive characters. Treats the subject matter seriously, but is also witty and clever.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller – Miller turns from the Iliad to the Odyssey in this rewriting of the story of Circe that weaves together a great deal of stories, showing the tension between gods and mortals from the perspective of an outcast.
  • The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas – The next book in Thomas’ charming magical children’s series that imagines a world where electricity is no longer reliable and magic and books become crucial.
  • Macbeth by Jo Nesbo – The next book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series takes Macbeth and gives it a crime thriller treatment that strips that magic and retains the paranoid corruption. Undoubtably will be popular in libraries.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe is a retelling of Greek mythology full of storytelling, magic, and female power in the face of mockery and banishment. After having rewritten Homer’s Iliad in The Song of Achilles, Miller turns to his Odyssey for this novel, with Circe as main character. Born to the sun god Helios and a naiad, Circe is an outsider from her birth with a strange voice and yellow eyes. Her siblings mock her and her prospects don’t even stretch as far as becoming a wife. When she meets a handsome young fisherman, Glaucus, she meddles in his life to try and suit herself, but gods and mortals don’t mix, and soon Circe is discovering more about herself, power she did not know she had, and it sets her on the way to becoming the witch of the island Aiaia.

Miller has written an intricate novel, tying together many classical stories through the perspective of Circe, including that of her sister Pasiphae and her infamous time married to Minos, and Circe’s encounters with the hero Odysseus. Her ostracised position means that though these stories are shown first hand, many others are told to her as tales or given as answers to her enquiries about those she once knew. The effect is a weaving together of stories, particularly for readers who know only some bits of Greek mythology, and overall it works well to give not only Circe’s story, but new perspectives on other tales too.

The novel starts fairly slowly and covers a lot of ground as her immortal lifespan allows the narrative to keep progressing. This does mean that it can be difficult to get into at first, but once Circe is on Aiaia the book blooms into the tale of a woman who carves her own place, both physically and using magic and power, in a world that seemed to be against her. In particular, Miller highlights the tension between gods and mortals, not only as separate entities, but within individuals.

Circe is a different beast to The Song of Achilles, focused on female power and nature rather than the battles of the Trojan war, but it does have similar themes of love and loss, plus questions of mortality and remembrance. As a character, Circe is given an agency not always found in tales of male heroes and many readers will find this a refreshing take on the Odyssey (though it is likely others will question Miller’s choices regarding the variable interpretations of these stories).