“Venom and Vanilla”

Shannon Mayer

I picked this at random out of the pile of unread books on my Kindle, and it lined up oddly well with the last book I read, though in a way that gave me mental whiplash. Where Song of Achilles was a powerful and emotional read, Venom and Vanilla was just kinda silly and fun. It feels like an action-adventure novel written in the style of a pulp-paperback romance.

I found the protagonist a bit irritating at times—her background was “escaped from a religious cult,” and I do get that part of the story arc for her is meant to be getting over the leftover indoctrination from that. Except the escape part happened like a decade gone, and the interim, she was a small business owner in Seattle; there’s a certain amount of naïveté that I just can’t really believe someone would hold on to through that.

Similarly, the worldbuilding has a lot of characteristics that remind me of Teen Wolf fanfiction. It’s an interesting concept, and fun to play around in, but if you try to examine it closely, it gets really hard to figure out the intervening steps between “the world as it really was 20 years ago” and “the world as it is in this book, having had One Big Thing change.” Do I believe that the reveal of the existence of supernatural creatures would trigger massive waves of xenophobia, especially in the US? Yes! No suspension of disbelief required. Do I believe that we’d then built a 40-foot concrete wall the entire length of the US-Canada border, move all the humans out of Canada, and start dumping every supernatural we could find onto the Canadian side? No, sorry, I’m actually not capable of suspending my disbelief enough to get past the idea of the US Congress trying to sell that concept to the average Québécois. Much less the Canadian Parliament as a whole.

For my overall opinion, I’m calling back to the first paragraph I wrote: it’s silly and fun. I don’t know that I’d recommend actually spending money on this, but you could maybe find a copy in the library and give it a go.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.


Edith Hamilton
I’ve always had a bit of an interest in Greek mythology. It started with “D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths”, went through the Percy Jackson phase, and since then has mostly consisted of using names from Greek mythology as names for projects. Hey, they’re objectively cool names — they had to be, to stick in people’s minds through centuries of oral retellings.
This book is definitely in a different style then d’Aulaires. The latter was noticeably aimed at children, both in the style of illustration and in the way the content was edited. Hamilton’s audience is clearly more adult, and rereading these stories was interesting in that context. Part of it, I’m sure, is just the context of “I’m an adult now, and know quite a lot more of what the world is like,” but the actual events are different in some of the telling, as well.
Where the book really shines, though, is in the design — it’s gorgeous. It feels like the literary equivalent of a coffee-table book. In the edition I have, at least, the actual paper has a weighty feel to it, and the page design, interspersed with the occasional light-text-on-dark-paper section headings and family trees, is a delight. There’s also the occasional full-page ‘plate’ illustration, which feel right at home with the rest of the design of the book.
The title itself is a little bit misleading, in my opinion — with the full title, “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” implying a bit of “this is all the mythologies.” The cover art, however, is very clear that we’re sticking to the Greco-Roman world, which helps. (Admittedly, there is a little section at the end that goes into Norse mythology, but it’s a very small portion of the book, and quite limited in scale. It’s also very interesting to read — again, some of the stories are very different from how I know them.1)
So, if you like mythology and having pretty books you can put out on the coffee table so that your guests know just how cultured you are, I absolutely recommend this one.

  1. … probably related to the fact that my knowledge of Norse mythology comes entirely from its use as cultural context, and never actually directly reading any. Turns out Marvel’s Thor isn’t 100% accurate to the source material, shocking