How I Choose My Books Tag

With the whirlwind that was the Toronto Fringe Festival over for another year, I have more time on my hands and what better way to ease back into blogging than with a book tag? Thanks to the wonderful Rachel @ pace, amore, libri for the tag!

Find a book on your shelves with a blue pink cover. What made you pick up the book in the first place?
13414716I read John Boyne’s latest novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies (which I went on to name my favourite book of 2017) and intended to read more of his works, but it was Rachel’s rave that bumped this one to the top of my TBR. Rachel, Steph, and I share a love for painful books that hurt in the best possible way, so when Rachel sent us this text, I knew I had to pick it up!
painful

I may not have been as destroyed by The Absolutist as I was by The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but I did love it and am now a card-carrying member of the John Boyne fanclub.

Think of a book you didn’t expect to enjoy but did. Why did you read it in the first place?
7937843I knew that Room by Emma Donoghue was beloved by critics, but based on the subject matter and synopsis alone, I really didn’t expect to enjoy it. I picked the novel up with some trepidation when the book club I was in a few years ago chose it as our next read. I’m thrilled to say that I was wrong. I loved Room and gave it a full five stars, finding it distressing yes, but also powerful, inventive, and incredibly well-paced. I really miss being in a book club because it opened me up to reading books I never would have picked up on my own. Some of them, like In Cold Blood, Room, and The Devil in the White City, I enjoyed. Some of the choices – I did not. Either way though I read more broadly than I do when left to my own devices and that’s never a bad thing.

Stand in front of your bookshelf with your eyes closed and pick up a book at random. How did you discover this book?
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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I first encountered this book on a university course list while completing my English degree! I read a lot of mediocre books in university but this was not one of them. From the moment I encountered it in my Science-Fiction and Fantasy Literature course I fell in love. It’s definitely my favourite Gaiman novel that I’ve read so far, and re-reading was that much rewarding after I had visited London and actually been on the Underground.

Pick a book that someone personally recommended to you. What did you think of it?

9322741In an effort to get away from listing the, by now surely into double-digits, recommendations I’ve directly or indirectly received from Rachel, I was introduced to Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series by my friend Annmarie. There’s a great shortage of good YA historical fiction out there, so I really enjoyed this quartet about an all-female spy agency in Victorian London. The first book is called A Spy in the House and introduces the banter-filled dialogue that is a hallmark of the relationship between the protagonist and her love interest. I love Mary Quinn herself as well. She’s independent, resourceful, and feisty at a time when women were supposed to be anything but.

Pick a book you discovered through book blogs. Did it live up to the hype?
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a wonderful example of a book that honestly does live up to the hype. Obviously it had appeared on bestseller lists and book blogs since before I even started blogging and I always meant to pick it up, but it took me awhile to get to it. I’m so glad that I did because it’s not only an important book thematically, it’s also damned well-written. Starr is a compelling protagonist, the book is complex and doesn’t paint everyone with the same brush, and although moral lessons are imparted, they never feel heavy-handed.

Find a book on your shelves with a one word title. What drew you to this book?
22637358Melusine by Sarah Monette has a truly awful cover, but it was recommended to me by my friend Kiera, who also enjoys painful (usually fantasy) books. She lent me her copy (the books are, devastatingly, out of print) and I fell in love. The four book series features political intrigue (another fav trope of mine), brilliant world-building, and shifts perspectives between Felix, a flamboyant, often infuriating, wizard and his half-brother Mildmay, a gruff, street-smart thief and assassin with a crippling inferiority complex. I have a love-hate relationship with Felix, but Mildmay is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. Their voices are so different it’s difficult to believe they’re written by the same author and the books are among my absolute favourites, although they deal with dark subject matter and are not for the faint of heart.

What book did you discover through a film/TV adaptation?
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The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. For some reason, probably the fact that even though objectively it’s bad, it contains several tropes that I enjoy in fiction, I like the action-adventure movie The Eagle starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. I’d been meaning to read the middle grade historical fiction book from the 1950s that it was based on for years, but only got around to it when I saw the book for sale while visiting Housesteads Roman Fort in Northumberland a few months ago.

 

Think of your all-time favorite books. When did you read these and why did you pick them up in the first place?

I’m just choosing a few of my favourites here: The Game of Kings (Book #1 in The Lymond Chronicles) by Dorothy Dunnett, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

Two reasons for The Lymond Chronicles: 1) I was reading C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince series (back when it was being published chapter by chapter on Livejournal) and she often mentioned the influence that Dunnett had on her writing (try reading Captive Prince after you’ve read Lymond – there are A LOT of similarities) and how Dunnett’s writing was a masterclass in tension; 2) I was looking for more historical fiction recs and Dunnett’s name came up on multiple message boards in the same sentence as authors like Sharon Kay Penman, who I’d enjoyed.

I was a long-time fan of the musical Les Miserables. From a young age I played the cassette and sang along with the songs even before I understood what they were about. When I was a teenager I read a very abridged (I think it was about 500 pages) version of the novel and honestly thought that was it, it was only when I got a bit older that I realized I hadn’t actually read Les Miserables as it was intended. I tackled the unabridged version over the winter in 2011 and although it’s definitely a “project book”, it requires dedication to get through, it’s honestly one of my favourite books and brought me to tears.

I read and enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy so I picked up Six of Crows because I enjoyed the world that she had created and found it original within YA Fantasy fiction. I was blown away. The Grisha trilogy is enjoyable, but not on the same level as Six of Crows, which along with its sequel are among my favourite books ever!

I’ve been out of the loop, so I’m not sure who’s been tagged or not, but if you’re interested in doing this tag, consider yourself tagged!

 

 

 

 

 

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Books: On Chesil Beach

815309On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Published March 23, 2007
star-4
Quietly moving in its simplicity, On Chesil Beach is a short but poignant novel about how one moment can irrevocably shape the lives of two people.

On Chesil Beach tells an outwardly simple story of a pair of young lovers on their honeymoon in 1962. The romantic weekend should be a joyous occasion but, constrained by propriety,  Florence and Edward are plagued by a series of miscommunications that quickly derail their honeymoon. Florence is what we would now call a sex-repulsed asexual woman, but of course in a time before sexual liberation, she has no label, no reference for what she feels. Believing her distaste for sexual intimacy with her partner to be a personal failing, she suffers in silence until, in a fatal moment, she can’t hide her disgust any longer.

Edward is no less sympathetic. It’s apparent as the honeymoon unfolds, and in flashbacks to his courtship of Florence, that he loves her, but lacking context for Florence’s reactions (her muscles are tense because she’s disgusted and ashamed and steeling herself to be touched in a way that she doesn’t desire), he draws the wrong conclusion, mistaking her tension for excitement.

It’s impossible to read this book without getting swept up in the tragedy; Certainly my overwhelming emotion throughout was a deeply felt sympathy towards the characters, both of whom are a product of their time. In the years before the sexual revolution challenged traditional codes of behaviour, Florence and Edward are burdened by their inexperience. Unable to talk openly with one another about their feelings, desires, and expectations, they both suffer as a result.

McEwan’s prose is gorgeous as it communicates the innermost thoughts of Florence and Edward, as well as the circumstances that have shaped each character. Yet I can’t say that On Chesil Beach blew me away and I suspect the story won’t have a long lasting impact on me. Maybe it’s simply a matter of genre preference, since I tend to prefer historical epics and fantasy novels to literary fiction. Regardless, On Chesil Beach may not be my favourite book this year but it’s well worth picking up and immersing yourself in this melancholic read for a few hours.

Monthly Wrap-up: June

A bit of a slower month of reading for me again as I returned from my trip in late May  and, still jet lagged, immediately started a new job with a sharp learning curve. I love being able to walk to work, but have to admit that the lack of a commute is impacting my reading time. Obviously I need to make the time to read more in the evenings, or need to find books that draw me in so I don’t feel the pull of Netflix!

Tin Man by Sarah Winman  small 5 stars + Review
Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell  small 4 stars + Review
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson  small-2-stars + Review
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly  small 4 half stars + RTC
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann  small 3 half stars + Review

Book of the Month: Sarah Winman’s quietly affecting Tin Man packed such an emotional punch that I actually cried reading it (and I’m not one to cry easily when it comes to books)! I immediately texted Rachel with all of my feelings and I’m still not over it. Highly recommended!

Runner-up: Amberlough also read like a punch to the gut. I was so tense while reading this book that I felt like I needed a massage after I finished. Set in a fantasy world similar to Weimar Republic Berlin, it’s one of those books where you know things are going to get worse due to historical precedent, but it doesn’t make it any easier to read. I loved the political machinations and the cast of compelling and morally ambiguous characters.

Least Favourite: It took me DAYS to read Treasure Island, a book aimed at children that comes in at a slim 187 pages. I’ve read some brilliant classics before, Jane Eyre and Les Miserables come to mind, but Treasure Island is not one of them. I appreciate its contribution to pirate lore, but found this story incredibly dull.

***

Seen on Stage: June marked the end of the 2017/18 season for The National Ballet of Canada. I have to admit that the summer season didn’t thrill me, but since I saw the company perform my two favourite story ballets back-to-back last fall, I really can’t complain too much! I did really enjoy Innocence Lost, a play based on the case of Steven Truscott, a 14-year-old boy who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a classmate in 1959. Truscott was reprieved and released on parole in 1969. His case has come to be synonymous with miscarriages of justice, and his conviction was overturned in 2007.

Innocence Lost (play) by Soulpepper
Frame by Frame by the National Ballet of Canada
Paz de la Jolla, The Man in Black, and Cacti by The National Ballet of Canada

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Coming up in July: Rachel and I are planning to FINALLY read some Robin Hobb! Hobb’s books have been on my TBR for a few years now, so I’m really looking forward to diving in. Besides that I’ve been in a bit of a book slump and I’m still behind on my goodreads challenge, so I’m trying to be more of a mood reader than usual and don’t have a lot of specific plans. In terms of theatre I’m once again reviewing some Toronto Fringe Festival productions for My Entertainment World, so I may be a bit scarce for the first few weeks of July as I concentrate my energies on writing mini reviews over there.

Hope everyone experiencing the crazy heat that we are here in Toronto stays cool and hydrated!

Books: Tin Man

36676536Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Published May 15, 2018
star-5
Tin Man is a quiet, but deeply moving novel about the relationship between two men. I didn’t expect to be as touched by the story as I was; It snuck up on me, unfolding slowly, patiently until before I knew it this tiny, thoughtful book had imprinted itself on my heart forever.

Telling the story of two childhood friends, Michael and Ellis, who for a brief time were romantically involved, Tin Man begins with Ellis alone and barely holding it together after the death of his wife. We’re left to wonder where Michael is and what’s become of him in the intervening years. Non-linear scenes piece together the story, which is told first from Ellis’ point of view and then finally from Michael’s.

In a novel like this the characters are everything, and Winman has created a cast of incredibly human major and minor characters. I adored Michael, Ellis, Annie, and Mabel, and selfishly wished that I could spend more time with them but, as someone with a tendency to overwrite, I admire Tin Man all the more for being exactly as long as it needed to be and no longer. It is a masterpiece of brevity.

Winman’s prose is deceptively simple, but evocative. Each word seems to be perfectly placed to tell the story in a compassionate and delicate voice. Tin Man is admittedly more literary than my tastes usually run, but so vivid and quietly heartbreaking that I find it difficult to imagine a reader not won over by its charms.

Often the books that wreck me, that leave me emotionally compromised, are longer than Tin Man. They’re immensely readable, but measure four hundred, five hundred, even six hundred pages in length. Tin Man did it in just over two hundred pages. I was left teary-eyed and physically aching by the end of the book, while at the same time overwhelmed with warm thoughts through the quiet moments of humanity and kindness that Tin Man depicts. A poignant exploration of love, loss, grief, and absence, Tin Man packs an emotional punch and is undoubtedly the best book that I’ve read in 2018 so far.

Books: Treasure Island

1326420Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
first published January 28, 1882
star-2
After visiting the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, it seemed only natural that I should continue my challenge to read more classics with one of the best loved Scottish authors. Let’s be honest though, the main reason why I chose Treasure Island is because my favourite television show, Black Sails, acts as a loose prequel to the events of Stevenson’s adventure story.

In the novel, Jim Hawkins discovers a map among the effects of an old sailor, who dies while staying at the Hawkins’ family inn. Deducing that the map leads to the location where the infamous pirate Captain Flint buried his treasure, the local physician and district squire buy a ship, gather a crew, and set sail. However, the crew turn out to be former pirates from Flint’s crew and plot a mutiny against the honest men.

Sounds interesting right? Wrong! No book about pirates written for children should be this dull! I can understand why Treasure Island would capture the imagination of readers in the nineteenth century but this is one classic that the years have not treated kindly. Never before has 187 pages felt so long!

The biggest problem is that Treasure Island is written in over-descriptive prose that robs the narrative of any sense of urgency or tension. The stakes are never high enough to feel as though there’s any real danger, and the dialogue is filled with nautical slang to the point where it’s difficult to understand what the characters are actually saying.

With the possible exception of Jim Hawkins, the boy narrator, the characters are thinly written. The most enduring character is, understandably, Silver, who shows some promise in his jovial persona but underlying self-interest. Silver unfortunately doesn’t have a large enough role to save this novel though.  It’s easy to see why Treasure Island has been adapted successfully, but the source material does not stand the test of time. It’s particularly distressing that Treasure Island is recommended to pre-teen and teenage boys, who are often among the most reluctant readers.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s influence on the depiction of pirates in pop culture cannot be underestimated. Treasure Island created many pirate tropes including X marks the spot, Long John Silver with his parrot, and nautical slang. These have been cemented in our minds through its various adaptations from more traditional films to new classics like Muppet Treasure Island. This contribution to pirate lore is Treasure Island‘s legacy. Stevenson has created a foundation on which more in-depth and engaging pirate stories can grow for future generations. My advice? Leave Treasure Island on the shelf and enjoy the media it’s inspired instead.