5 Seasonal Stories

Although I tend to be more of a Halloween episode television watcher than someone who looks for seasonal reads, there are some books that have a distinctly autumnal, or at least slightly spooky, vibe. Looking for something appropriately seasonal? Here are a few suggestions:

21996The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
It takes a lot to get me into a non-fiction book, but Devil in the White City hooked me. Juxtaposing Daniel Hudson Burnham, the architect of Chicago’s world fair, with serial killer Henry H. Holmes, Erik Larsen shows both sides of nineteenth-century Chicago. The book drags a little in the middle, as Holmes’ crimes become repetitive, but is still very much worth reading. The Devil in the White City will make you both marvel at what mankind is capable of achieving and shudder at the depravity of Holmes’ actions.

10626594The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
“It is the first of November and so, today, someone will die.” reads the first line of The Scorpio Races. Admittedly I went through a prolonged horse phase as a girl, so it was obvious this would be right up my alley, but this atmospheric tale of beautiful, but dangerous, water horses and an annual high-stakes race on a vaguely Ireland-inspired rural island is sure to capture your attention. A moving story about the connection between man and beast, Stiefvater brings Thisby and its characters, especially determined Puck, quiet-spoken Sean, and Corr, the red stallion he loves, to vivid life.

30319086If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
Exploring the boundaries between art and life, If We Were Villains focuses on seven young actors at an elite school, the Dellescher Classical Conservatory. Living in the enclosed bubble that the campus provides, the actors study and perform Shakespeare exclusively, playing the same roles onstage as off. When casting decides to shake things up in their final year, jealousy rears its ugly head and violence invades the make-believe, leading to tragic consequences. This atmospheric tale is undoubtedly a perfect fall read.

27190613And I Darken/Now I Rise by Kiersten White
Kiersten White’s gender-swapped historical fiction take on Vlad the Impaler is the perfect seasonal read. Reimagining the young Vlad as Lada Dragwlya, White tells the story of an angry, brutal princess wrenched from her homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by her father. With only her gentle younger brother Radu for company, she bides her time until she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. While Radu finds a home and religion in the Ottomon Empire. Lada’s plans are put into jeopardy by her emerging passion for Mehmed, son of the Sultan.

958158King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
I haven’t actually read this standalone historical fiction novel yet (I’m planning to do so in December), but the subject matter certainly fits the bill! Set in eleventh-century Scotland, King Hereafter is the story of an Earl called Thorfinn, but his Christian name is Macbeth. Impeccably researched, this is a fictionalized account, based on fact, of the real Macbeth. Like author Dorothy Dunnett’s other novels, this appears to be a dense read, but one that is worth persevering through.

Are you a seasonal reader? What Halloween or autumn books would you recommend?

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Favourite Lymond Quotes

Perhaps the hardest part of this week’s Top 5 Tuesday prompt, Top 5 Quotes, was choosing a single quote from Dorothy Dunnett’s historical fiction epic The Lymond Chronicles.

There have been many posts written about Ms. Dunnett’s influence on other writers, including this recent article in The Guardian. Among the factors that make The Lymond Chronicles such a captivating read are the main character himself, a sharp-tongued polyglot with a purpose, who I’m often torn between wanting to hug or slap, the author’s masterful use of tension to heighten the stakes, and, of course, the prose.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are ten of my favourite Lymond quotes, organized by book. To avoid spoiling any friends or followers who may read this series in the future, I’ve left out a certain pair of scenes from The Ringed Castle, so Dunnett fans will note the absence of ‘Languish locked in ‘L”, and I’ve eliminated names from a passage that occurs in the last book of the series. Enjoy!

112077“You are the only person here who might discover he has something to gain by selling out. You are the only person who, whatever he does, is sure of a warm, moneyed niche waiting for him on the right side of the law. You are the only person with a shaky interest in ethics and the emotional stability of a quince seed in a cup of lukewarm water. Either you keep the oath you so dashingly pronounced last year, or I deal with you accordingly. I don’t propose to sit here like a pelican in her piety, wondering what you’re doing next.”
The Game of Kings


“Lucent and delicate, Drama entered, mincing like a cat.”
The Game of Kings


“It also brought him the admiration of Mr. Jonathan Crouch, whose temporary career as a prisoner of war, or a sort of promissary note on two legs, had brought him finally to lodge with Sir Andrew.

With Mr. Crouch came his tongue, his teeth, his lips, his hard and soft palate, his maxillary muscles, larynx, epiglottis and lungs: all the apparatus which enabled him, ne plus ultra, to talk. Like the enchanted garden of Jannes, tenanted by daemons, the keep of Ballaggan encased the ceaseless drone of Mr. Crouch’s voice. He droned through September until it and his captors were exhausted; then pounced on October with undimmed vigour and worried the blameless days for a fortnight.”
The Game of Kings


Queens' Play“Considering Lymond, flat now on the bed in wordless communion with the ceiling, Richard spoke. “My dear, you are only a boy. You have all your life still before you.”

On the tortoise-shell bed, his brother did not move. But there was no irony for once in his voice when he answered. “Oh, yes, I know. The popular question is, For what?”
Queens’ Play


The Disorderly Knights“As the soporific sunlight began to embrace his chair, Francis Crawford leaped to his feet with such force that the seat crashed to the floor behind him. He said, ‘Sorry Kate!’ without stopping  and flung away from her, the full length of the room.

There he halted, fighting for equanimity, and after a long difficult silence turned, with obvious reluctance. Kate, standing, had been going to speak. Instead she stared at him, thinking numbly about hot milk and blankets, and saying nothing at all.

His misread her face. He said quickly, ‘Don’t be frightened. You look as if you expected me to strike you …’ And then, his eyes widening with tired shock, ‘Did you? Did you Kate? Oh God, what does it matter then?’ he said, and dropping to his knees beside the stifling windowseat, pressed both hands hard over his eyes, his elbows buried in Kate’s old flock cushions.

Above the white voile of his shirt a pulse was beating, very fast, under the fair skin. After a moment he said, without moving, ‘Would you give me a bed if I asked for one?’

‘My dear, my dear,” said Kate but to herself, ‘I would give you my soul in a blackberry pie; and a knife to cut it with.'”
The Disorderly Knights


“‘Today,’ said Lymond, ‘if you must know, I don’t like living at all. But that’s just immaturity boggling at the sad face of failure. Tomorrow I’ll be bright as a bedbug again.’”
The Disorderly Knights


360455“Francis Crawford’s face in this fleeting moment of privacy was filled with ungovernable feeling: of shock and of pain and of a desire beyond bearing: the desire of the hart which longs for the waterbrook, and does not know, until it sees the pool under the trees, for what it has thirsted.”
Pawn in Frankincense


351198“What he wanted was very near. It was typical of the monstrous, egregious, laughable irony which dominated his life that with every dragging lift of his arms, he should be saying over and over, ‘Not yet.’”
The Ringed Castle


“I wish,’ said Lymond, ‘it would try a major key sometimes.’
‘Wind,’ Chancellor said, ‘is a melancholy creature.”
The Ringed Castle


Checkmate“‘As you say, I’m inexperienced. On the other hand, you are not always right. Please listen. Please think. Are you sure, when it matters so much, that you know my feelings better than I do?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m not infallible. You might, without my crediting it, fall deeply in love and for ever, with some warped hunchback whelped in the gutter. I should equally stop you from taking him.’

She couldn’t speak. Her breath wheezed in and out. With extreme deliberation, and indeed restraint and moderation as well, [she] raised her glass and dashed it on the parquet. Crystals frosted the carpet between them, and the wine lay like blood.

Speech came back. ‘God in heaven,’ [she] said. ‘Do you think that I care?’

He looked up from the mess. ‘I know you don’t,’ Lymond said. His eyes were black, not blue; and there were red splashes on the white velvet. ‘But you must excuse the hunchback, who does.’”
Checkmate

 

T5T: Book Quotes

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful Bionic Book Worm.  This week’s topic:

OCTOBER 24 – Top 5 book quotes

Rachel and Steph can attest to the fact that narrowing down the multitude of favourite quotations to just five choices was a Herculean task. Asking a book lover to pick just five favourite quotes seems on par with selecting only five books to read for the rest of our lives! Nonetheless, here are some of my favourites (and I’ve only cheated a little bit this time!):

~ 6 ~

The leaves rustled, close and protective, pressing up against his ears, curled in his fists. They didn’t mean to frighten. They only ever tried to speak his language and get his attention. It was not fearsome Cabeswater’s fault that Adam had already been a fearful boy when he’d made the bargain.

“You think they’re gonna look at you and see an abused kid? Do you even know what abuse is? That judge will’ve heard enough stories to know a whopper. He’s not gonna blink an eye.”

The branches leaned toward Adam, curling around him protectively, a thicket with thorns pointed outward. It had tried, before, to cling to his mind, but now it knew to surround his body. He’d asked to be separate, and Cabeswater had listened. I know you are not the same as him, Adam said. But in my head, everything is always so tangled. I am such a damaged thing.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Have I mentioned that Adam Parrish is one of my favourite characters in all of literature?! Adam’s thought at the end of this passage always make my stomach clench in pain, but it’s such a beautifully written part and I love the development of his relationship with Cabeswater.

~ 5 ~

Jack: How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

Jack: I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Earnest was my first taste of Oscar Wilde’s famous wit. I originally encountered the play in high school and now, more than ten years later, this ridiculous scene of frivolity between the anxious Jack Worthing and his rogueish friend Algy Moncrieff still makes me smile.

~ 4 ~

Cosette, though from another cause, was equally terrified. She did not understand; what she saw did not seem possible to her; at last she exclaimed, “Father! What can that be in those wagons?”
Jean Valjean answered: “Convicts.”
“And where are they going?”
“To prison.”
At this moment a the cudgeling, multiplied by a hundred hands, reached its climax; blows with the flat of the sword joined in; it was a fury of whips and clubs; the prisoners crouched, a hideous obedience was produced by the torture, and all fell silent with the look of chained wolves. Cosette trembled all over; she asked, “Father, are they still men?”
“Sometimes,” said the man of misery.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Hugo’s writing is such that there are several Les Miserables passages that could go here, but this often overlooked passage hits me right in the heart, as ex-convict Jean Valjean is confronted with a visceral reminder of his past, while adoptive daughter Cosette, who remains ignorant of his status as an escaped convict, is by his side. Fun Fact: This is actually the passage I chose to have printed on a custom book scarf several years ago!

~ 3 ~

“You’re Jude St. Francis. You are my oldest, dearest friend. You’re the son of Harold Stein and Julia Altman. You’re the friend of Malcolm Irvine, of Jean-Baptiste Marion, of Richard Goldfarb, of Andy Contractor, of Lucien Voigt, of Citizen van Straaten, of Rhodes Arrowsmith, of Elijah Kozma, of Phaedra de los Santos, of the Henry Youngs.
“You’re a New Yorker. You live in SoHo. You volunteer for an arts organization; you volunteer for a food kitchen.
“You’re a swimmer. You’re a baker. You’re a cook. You’re a reader. You have a beautiful voice, though you never sing anymore. You’re an excellent pianist. You’re an art collector. You write me lovely messages when I’m away. You’re patient. You’re generous. You’re the best listener I know. You’re the smartest person I know, in every way. You’re the bravest person I know, in every way.
“You’re a lawyer. You’re the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein. You love your job; you work hard at it.
“You’re a mathematician. You’re a logician. You’ve tried to teach me, again and again.
“You were treated horribly. You came out on the other end. You were always you.”

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life destroyed me, as I suspect it does just about anyone who makes it through. Yanagihara’s prose is so devastatingly beautiful that again there are any number of quotes I could choose. I had enough distance from this book that a particular quote didn’t instantly spring to mind and I was leaning towards one on friendship (which I also love) but then I scrolled by this one and every single one of those feelings came rushing back. It’s such a beautiful passage. More moving in context, but still wonderful.

~ 2 ~

“Inej turned to go. Kaz seized her hand, keeping it on the railing. He didn’t look at her. “Stay”, he said, his voice rough stone. “Stay in Ketterdam. Stay with me.” She looked down at his gloved hand clutching hers. Everything in her wanted to say yes, but she would not settle for so little, not after all she’d been through. “What would be the point?”
He took a breath. “I want you to stay. I want you to… I want you”.
“You want me.” She turned the words over. Gently, she squeezed his hand. “And how will you have me, Kaz?”
He looked at her then, eyes fierce, mouth set. It was the face he wore when he was fighting.
“How will you have me?” she repeated. “Fully clothed, gloves on, your head turned away so our lips can never touch?”
He released her hand, his shoulders bunching, his gaze angry and ashamed as he turned his face to the sea.”
Maybe it was because his back was to her that she could finally speak the words.
“I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Gah! Do I really need to say anything more? All the building sexual tension, the reliance that these two characters have on each other and the feelings between these them, which have always been present, but never before voiced, and it comes to a head in this wonderful scene. Inej’s last line gets me every time.

~ 1 ~

“Go away and bleed to death,” said his onetime saviour sharply. “On behalf of the female sex I feel I may cheer every lesion.”

“Remember, some live all their lives without discovering this truth; that the noblest and most terrible power we possess is the power we have, each of us, over the chance-met, the stranger, the passer-by outside your life and your kin. Speak, she said, as you would write: as if your words were letters of lead, graven there for all time, for which you must take the consequences. And take the consequences.

Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett

In my eyes, Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series is sheer mastery of the craft of writing. There’s a reason so many prominent authors (including Ellen Kushner, Leigh Bardugo, C.S. Pacat, and Guy Gavriel Kay) admit to being inspired by her works! I could easily create a Top 5, 10, probably even 50 Lymond quotes. I don’t think these are my favourites of all time, but they fit better out of context, and aren’t a page or two in length. The two I’ve chosen also complement each other well. Both quotes are words said by the same character in the same book. Margaret Erskine is a great underappreciated minor character who speaks plainly to Francis Crawford of Lymond. I would love to steal the words in her first quote to use against someone particularly heinous, but it’s the advice she gives in the second about the impact we can have even over acquaintances and people who barely register in our lives, and how devastating the impact can be should we abuse or remain ignorant of the power of our words, that stays with me, and with Lymond.

Those are some of my favourite quotes of all-time, what are some of yours? 

The Raven Cycle Book Tag

I was tagged by the wonderful Steph of Lost Purple Quill, who I was lucky enough to meet a few weeks ago and discuss these books with in person! I devoured the three published (at the time) books of The Raven Cycle in 2015. I had borrowed The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue from the local library all at once, and I experienced such a book hangover when I finished reading that I immediately started the series over from the beginning before the books had to be returned! Naturally I then progressed to buying my own copies and hoisting them on anyone who would listen, saying you HAVE to read these books. A few years later this remains one of my favourite series of all-time, so I’m so glad that Steph tagged me in this Raven Cycle inspired tag.

The creator of this tag is Inside My Library Mind! She’s also created a bunch of graphics for this, which you can see and use at her original post.

THE RULES

  • Mention the creator in your post.
  • Thank the person who tagged you.
  • If you want to use the creator’s graphics (check the link to her blog), just make sure to give credit!
  • Be sure to include the rules in your post.
  • Tag more people so we can all enjoy it!
  • And most importantly… HAVE FUN!


Blue Sargent: Your Favorite Quirky Character

“Blue was a fanciful, but sensible thing. Like a platypus, or one of those sandwiches that had been cut into circles for a fancy tea party.”

One of my favourite quirky characters remains Princess Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. The “niece” of Queen Achren, Eilonwy speaks largely in quirky similes and comparisons, which fascinated me as a child. I love that she’s an unconventional Princess, who is forthright and practical about how she feels, yet brings a kind of blunt wisdom to situations. Here are a few of Eilonwy’s gems:

“It’s silly,” Eilonwy added, “to worry because you can’t do something you simply can’t do. That’s worse than trying to make yourself taller by standing on your head.”

“Prince Gwydion’s the greatest warrior in Prydain,” Eilonwy replied. “You can’t expect everyone to be like him. And it seems to me that if an Assistant Pig-Keeper does the best he can, and a prince does the best he can, there’s no difference between them.”

Gansey: A Leader

“Gansey was just a guy with a lot of stuff and a hole inside him that chewed away more of his heart every year.”

I think Gansey is actually a great answer to this question, but a few others I love are Francis Crawford,  of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, because he has to learn how to become a good leader over the course of the first three books in the series and discover how to wield the power he has over others responsibly, Kaz Brekker the criminal genius from Six of Crows, and Miles Vorkosigan, the precocious teenage genius of Lois Mcmaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, whose redeeming feature is that every time he gets himself and his friends into trouble, he manages to get himself out of it again.

Ronan Lynch: Your Favorite Character of All Time

“I am being perfectly fucking civil.”

I feel like this is one of those questions like asking a mother which child is her favourite! I have so many favourite characters, but contenders near the top of the list are, appropriately enough, Adam Parrish of The Raven Cycle, who is so complicated, and wounded, and yet perseveres with a dedication and ambition I could never hope to match, and Mildmay the Fox of Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series. Mildmay suffers from chronic low self-confidence, particularly after he is physically disabled in an accident, but he’s fiercely loyal, smarter than he believes himself to be, and kind.

Adam Parrish: A Character You Disliked at First but Love Now

“If you combined these two things – the unfathomable and the practical – you were most of the way to understanding Adam Parrish.”

There are characters who I’ve disliked somewhat that I came around to, such as Richard Crawford in The Lymond Chronicles. He is kind of awful to his brother and very dense in the first book, although to be fair his brother (Francis) is baiting him into some of this behaviour, but I am now a card carrying member of the Richard Crawford Defense League.

However, the ultimate answer to this question has to be Gerald Tarrant of C.S. Friedman’s The Coldfire Trilogy. I mean, the first scene of the book is quite literally a flashback to him killing his entire family! It definitely takes a long time to build some grudging affection for the man, but much like protagonist Damian Fryce, over the course of three books of adventure and back-and-forth life saving, I grew to love Tarrant, as infuriating as he often is.

Noah: The Most Lovable Character

“Depending on where you began the story, it was about Noah.”

I’ve said this before, but one of the things I found most refreshing in Katherine Addison (aka Sarah Monette’s) standalone novel The Goblin Emperor was how *nice* the main character, Maia is. Maia spends his childhood exiled from the favored sons of his father, the Emperor, with no friends and watched over by an abusive guardian. But when an accident kills most of the royal family, Maia finds himself on the throne and attempting to navigate court politics and intrigue. Many characters would be bitter and vengeful after suddenly gaining power, but Maia is simply lonely and kind. He’s the kind of character you just want to give a big hug and a helping hand as his only agenda is to do the best he can and make choices that help others.

The Women of 300 Fox Way: Your Favorite Female Role Model

“You could ask anyone: 300 Fox Way, Henrietta, Virginia, was the place to go for the spiritual, the unseen, the mysterious, and the yet-to-occur. ”

One of the great things about reading is coming across so many fabulous female role models. I’m sure I could come up with a long list, but I’ll stick to two. I love Catherine in The Heart’s Invisible Furies because she’s bold and unafraid to stand up for herself and forge the life she wants without taking any crap from anyone, yet she’s also kind and looks out for others when she can. She’s firm, yet fair, as a boss, and even towards the end of her life she is living life to the fullest. I find that very inspiring and I admire her nerve and confidence so much.

One of my favourite characters of all-time is Philippa Somerville of The Lymond Chronicles, who grows from being a precocious child to an intelligent, educated woman who displays extreme courage in order to help others, and who is a grounding, practical presence in the series.

The Search for Glendower: A Book Series You Wish Had Never or Will Never End

“He was everything Gansey wished he could be: wise and brave, sure of his path, touched by the supernatural, respected by all, survived by his legacy.”

I definitely had a huge book hangover after The Raven Cycle and I hated to say goodbye to the characters I so loved, so how lucky I am that The Dreamer Trilogy is coming!

Mr. Gray: An Anti-Hero

“There aren’t terrible ideas. Just ideas done terribly.”

I love Ann Leckie’s unorthodox heroine Breq/Justice of Toren in the Imperial Radch series. An AI former ship who has been exiled to a single ancillary (‘corpse soldier’) body, she experiences pangs of loss for the multiple bodies she could utilize as Justice of Toren, and for the bond between ship and captain that she no longer has. I love that Breq is the kind of character who appears not to care about her crew and the common citizens but she actually feels a keen sense of justice and she secretly cares deeply for her people. Breq’s also blunt, sometimes relentless, and incredibly intelligent, although her motivations are not always clear until well into the story.

Psychics and Tarot Cards: Your Favorite Magic System

“It was impossible to forget that all of these women were plugged into the past and tapped into the future, connected to everything in the world and to one another.”

I think just about everyone in my generation feels some attachment to Harry Potter and wished we received our letter by owl post. However, I also love the Sympathy magic (a form of energy manipulation) described in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind series, which involves creating a sympathetic link between two objects, so what’s done on one object will affect the other. I don’t know that it quite counts as a magic system, but I love how magic materializes in C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy as well, where a fictional planet is surrounded by an energy field called the Fae and some individuals have the ability to Work certain types of Fae (Earth, Tidal, Solar, and Dark).

Kavinsky: Your Favorite Unlikable Character

“Reality’s what other people dream for you.”

I have to steal Steph’s answer and go with Julian from The Heart’s Invisible Furies who is, appropriately enough, infuriating, but also hilarious. Despite his words and actions at times, I couldn’t help but like Julian, and feel sympathy for him at times in the story.

Cabeswater: Your Favorite Book Setting

“Cabeswater was such a good listener.”

Admittedly this is influenced by the first movie, which I saw before I read the books, but I love the pastoral cozy appeal of life in Tolkien’s Shire, especially Bag End, as well as the beauty of Rivendell.

I’m not sure which of my followers have read The Raven Cycle, so I won’t tag anyone in particular, but if you’re interested, please consider yourself tagged, and pingback to this post so I can read your answers!

Books: The Language of Thorns

34076952The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
Published September 26, 2017
star-4-half
The Language of Thorns is a charming and beautifully illustrated collection of short stories set in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Drawing inspiration from established fairytales and folktales, ranging from “Beauty and the Beast” to “Hansel and Gretel”, Bardugo crafts her re-imaginings with care, adding elements of the fictional cultures of Kerch, Ravka, and Fjerda, and providing resolutions not always sweet, but far more satisfying than happily ever after.

Part of the magic of this short story collection is in the illustrations by Sara Kipin. Working with an alternating limited colour palette of teals and reds, Kipin frames the pages of each story with patterns and designs that change and grow over the course of the tale, culminating in a final two-page spread at the end of each story. I really can’t say enough about how beautiful these illustrations are, particularly in the last story “When Water Sang Fire” where reds and teals entwine for a vibrant and otherworldly effect.

I have to admit that fairy tales have never been my thing. I know some of the basics sure, but as a child I was more taken with D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths than with Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm. I haven’t read many re-tellings for exactly this reason, but if there was ever an author who could win me over, it would be Leigh Bardugo. Sure enough, this wildly inventive collection has me singing a different tune. Like the King spellbound by Scheherazade, I would happily read any fairy tale Bardugo deigns to tell!

The six stories highlight Bardugo’s keen storytelling ability, as she takes the tropes and stock characters at the heart of most fairy tales and twists them in unusual ways. If there’s a common theme or lesson to take from these tales, it’s a cautionary one about the dangers of perception and the folly in underestimating others based on their appearance alone.

My one criticism is that I thought the short stories where Bardugo draws inspiration from existing properties and twists them were more effective than her original tales. “Beauty and the Beast” variant “Ayama and the Thorn Wood” may wrap up a little neatly, but it offers an underestimated heroine and storyteller who wins a place and position through courage and clever words.

My favourites of the collection are both retellings. The evocative “When Water Sang Fire” draws inspiration from “The Little Mermaid” for a tale about betrayal, love, and ambition, while “The Soldier Prince” retells perennial Christmas favourite “The Nutcracker” from a unique point of view, in a tale that meditates on selfhood and what it means to be alive. In contrast, when I began writing this review and tried to remember each tale, I completely forgot about original story “Little Knife”.

I also have to put in a quick word for the diversity Bardugo incorporates into this collection. Zemeni tale “Ayama and the Thorn Wood”, features a dark-skinned protagonist, and other stories follow the example set in her Six of Crows duology by involving queer characters in organic ways.

This beautifully illustrated collection contains something for absolutely everyone. No knowledge of Bardugo’s previous books, or of fairy tales and folktales, is required to enjoy The Language of Thorns, although a passing familiarity with the classic stories that inspired this collection may help readers to appreciate the unique spins she puts on characters and tropes. Despite not being a fan of short stories or of fairytales in general, The Language of Thorns swept me away with its combination of sheer storytelling craft and accompanying illustrations that set my imagination aflame. I imagine other readers will be similarly enchanted.

 

Top 5 Tuesday: Favourite Book Covers

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful Bionic Book Worm.  This week’s topic:

OCTOBER 17 – Top 5 Favourite Book Covers

As much as we all try not to judge books by their covers, we definitely do take notice of books with fabulous cover designs, so this week’s topic is a great opportunity to show off some of our favourite covers! Without further ado, here are my choices:

5. The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

The Killing Moon     The Shadowed Sun

I adore the vibrant colours in this pair of covers that make up N.K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood Duology, a fantasy series based in Egyptian mythology. Admittedly I’m not someone who tends to actually judge a book by its cover or choose to read one based on its art, but these gorgeous covers by designer Lauren Panepinto and artist Cliff Nielsen are striking! I also love how the book title is worked into each design in a way that’s clear, and yet not obtrusive.

4. The Book of Three, The Castle of Llyr, and The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three   Castle of Llyr    The High King

I’m cheating a little bit here by naming a whole series, but some of the first book covers that I fell in love with were these covers of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, a series loosely based on Welsh mythology. The vibrantly coloured illustrations by Jody Lee on these editions published in the 1990s are gorgeous. My favourite covers belong to the first, third, and fifth books in the series, which so vividly bring to life characters like Taran, the assistant pig-keeper who longs for adventure and glory, oracular pig Hen Wen, Princess Eilonwy of the red-gold hair and her glowing “bauble”, and the dark enchantress Queen Achren. I feel like it’s rare for illustrations to actually depict characters in a series in a way that matches the pictures in your head, but for me this series of covers for the Prydain Chronicles did exactly that.

3. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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I think Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale is the perfect match between cover art and the feeling that the novel inside creates. I’m usually not much of a seasonal reader, but from the first page The Bear and the Nightingale gave me a feeling of wanting to curl up under a warm blanket, clutching a mug of tea, while snow fell outside on a day where I had no where I needed to be. The cover art for this edition makes me feel exactly the same way. It conveys the fantasy element and feeling of being swept away by a great story, but also the sense of warmth in the midst of a Russian winter.

2. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

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Although the design is fairly simple, I can’t think of a more appropriate cover for this gut-wrenching fantasy about one woman’s attempt to infiltrate an empire and to tear it down from the inside. The design by Sam Weber speaks to Baru’s struggle as she conceals her true emotions and feelings in order to elevate her position, but her experiences threaten to break through her carefully constructed mask and leave her shattered.

1. Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab

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My favourite book covers of all-time have to be the American Shades of Magic series covers designed by Will Staehle. I love how the covers utilize the colour scheme of the 4 Londons that becomes so significant in the series (Gray, Red, White, and Black), and the map element that’s subtly integrated into each design. The font choice is appropriately fantasy-esque and yet feels appropriately historical for this 1800s set fantasy adventure. I think my absolute favourite thing about these covers is that they are so unique and don’t remind me of anything else.

What are some of your favourite book covers?

 

Books: The Good People

The Good PeopleThe Good People by Hannah Kent
Published September 27, 2016
star-3
Hannah Kent’s literary debut, Burial Rites, blew me away last year with its atmospheric setting and strong, flawed female protagonist, so I had high hopes for her latest novel. Unfortunately I found The Good People to be something of a disappointment. Although Kent’s new novel is rich in historical detail and provides an excellent window into rural nineteenth century Irish life, I never fully connected with her characters and thought the plot lagged.

Set in County Kerry, Ireland in 1825, the story follows the efforts of three women in a superstitious community to heal one’s ill grandson. Recently widowed Nora, and her hired girl Mary, are informed by Nance, an elderly recluse who is believed to have knowledge of healing gifted by the fairies, that the boy is a changeling child, and together they attempt to restore the true Michael and banish the fairy child through folklore and rituals.

The Good People is impeccably researched historical fiction. Even before I read the acknowledgements it was obvious that Kent had thoroughly researched Irish history, culture, and folklore. The result is a richly detailed world where the characters, settings, and customs feel authentic. As someone who likes my historical fiction heavy on the history, this really appealed to me. I love that I could practically smell the turf fires burning, and feel the cold of the river in winter. If I had to sum Hannah Kent’s writing up in a word it would be atmospheric, and she delivers here again, evoking a mood that is tense with superstition and suspicion.

I also love that Kent’s subject matter is once again the every woman. Much of historical fiction tends to focus on nobility and the upper class, so stories written about the rural laborer and working classes are a welcome divergence, and an important one.

One of my issues with the novel is that there was no character I truly connected with. I certainly sympathized with the plight of characters in The Good People, but none of them grabbed me in the same way that characters in Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, did. Women like Nance, Mary, and Nora all feel authentic and three-dimensional, but I can’t say that I grew attached to them, which prevented the book from tugging at my heart strings in the way that it should have.

My biggest complaint is that The Good People just doesn’t have enough of a story to tell. Despite being under 400 pages, it feels long. Very little in the way of plot happens throughout and the emphasis on folklore and superstitious healing is initially interesting, but grows dull after a few hundred pages of focus. Honestly, I thought The Good People would fare better as a (long-ish) short story or a novella, instead of the full-length novel that Kent has stretched the thin story into.

Even though I found The Good People a bit of a let down and would have preferred it in novella form, I’m still enough of a fan of Hannah Kent’s well-researched style and atmospheric writing that I’ll be picking up future works of hers, and for those who haven’t yet read Burial Rites, I highly recommend it to fans of atmospheric, character-driven historical fiction.

Books: One Dark Throne

29923707One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
Published September 19, 2017
star-2-half
Those who adored Three Dark Crowns will likely enjoy this quick-paced sequel that furthers the stories of three sister Queens pursuing a single island throne. But for those less enthused by the first book in the series, One Dark Throne offers more of the same. This includes, but is not limited to, an interesting but underdeveloped setting, continued emphasis on romance to the detriment of all other relationships in the book, and a very young and not particularly sophisticated style of writing.

I wanted to like both Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne so much more than I ultimately did. Some of this is undoubtedly dissidence with what I was hoping for and what I got. The idea behind the books, of an island that chooses its ruler from a set of triplet queens, each with a gift (naturalist, poisoner, or elemental), has so much potential. There’s an opportunity here for a fascinating examination of feminism, of powerful women being used by their elders and turned against one another and forced to kill. In Mirabella there is the promise of familial affection and sisters who decide not to play the roles that have been set out for them, but sadly One Dark Throne delivers on only a fraction of this potential because the relationships between women, for the most part, play second fiddle to romantic attraction.

Some of this is to be expected – it is YA after all and the main characters are teenagers, but there is SO MUCH ROMANCE in these books. Blake spends far more time on each queen’s feelings towards her various suitors than she does on how these sister rivals feel about each other. It’s especially disappointing because the group of male suitors are virtually interchangeable, to the point where I would have a difficult time coming up with adjectives to describe each of them!

This is going to sound harsh, but one issue I have with this series is that I don’t think it’s well-written. With their emphasis on romance and lack of worldbuilding, Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne definitely read on the young side of YA. Although set in a fantasy-esque world that draws inspiration from fairy tales and the past, Blake seems to have decided to convey this by having the two sisters raised in proper settings, Mirabella and Katherine, speak without using contractions. I suspect it’s supposed to sound formal and historical, but since the rest of the dialogue is very contemporary, I just found the lack of contractions made the characters sound stiff and unnatural. If the goal is to set Arsinoe, the wilder tomboy sister, apart from the other queens, it could be accomplished in a more effective manner, for example, by having her speak using invented slang words.

There’s also a lack of skill shown through plot twists, such as (SPOILER) Jules’ legion gift, that read like they were not planned from the start of the series, but invented for this book. I understand that the series was originally intended to be a duology and has since been expanded to a planned trilogy, which probably accounts for the awfully convenient plot turns.

I also found the sparse worldbuilding disappointing. I could excuse a lack of information about the setting and culture of Fennbirn and the Mainland in Three Dark Crowns, but I expected the second book in the series to provide a better sense of how the Island differs from the Mainland, how it came to have this unusual method of governing, and why it is split into these different factions/gifts. Instead I don’t feel like any of my questions were answered to my satisfaction. Without spoiling too much, it looks like there may be some more information that will expand the world in book three, but after nearly 800 pages do I care enough to continue reading in some vague hopes of learning more? I don’t think I do.

Despite the negative review, I want to emphasis that I didn’t hate this. One Dark Throne is still a fun, quick read, it just doesn’t build towards answers or leave me wanting more. There may be more interesting things ahead for the characters in book three, but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough story left to carry two more novels when Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne have relied so heavily on “filler” scenes.