Monthly Wrap-Up: November

I’ve been a negligent blogger this month, so my very late wrap-up of November reads and shows is coming a whole third of the way into December. Oops.

My free time for blogging suffered as I first attended 7 performances of the National Ballet of Canada in November, wrote a combined 3,000+ words on my two favourite ballets (Nijinsky and The Winter’s Tale) for My Entertainment World, battled a touch of sickness that left me drained, and then launched right into preparing for Christmas. About the only thing that didn’t suffer was my reading. That forty minute commute to work by train does wonders for my page count!

In November I FINALLY finished the dreaded War & Peace, and it was like pulling teeth to get to the end, which reads more like the conclusion to a dissertation than any ending to a fictional story. Fortunately, my other reads were much more enjoyable. 4 of the 6 books I read this month received a rating of 4 stars or above from me as I sought to reward myself for finishing War & Peace with some newer releases that had been on my TBR for awhile.


Elegy
(re-read) by Vale Aida  small 4 half stars  +Review
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy  small-2-stars  + Review
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston  small 3 half stars  + Review
Provenance by Ann Leckie  small 4 half stars  + Review
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng  small 4 stars  + Review
Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo  small 4 stars  + Review

Book of the Month: A tie between Vale Aida’s Elegy and Ann Leckie’s Provenance. Elegy was a re-read for me, which I usually don’t count in my rankings for what I loved each month (or in my best of year-end lists) but since it’s a lesser known title, I’m including it here. I loved the obviously Dunnett-inspired political machinations, prose, and complicated enigmatic protagonist, Savonn Silvertongue. Leckie’s standalone novel Provanance was an absolute delight. I loved the characters, especially resourceful but naive Ingray, the world-building, and the genre-defying plot.

Least Favourite: I am so relieved that I FINALLY finished War & Peace because it was a slog. I spent the last several hundred pages just wanting it to be over. Never have I been more relieved to finish a book!

***

Seen on Stage: In case you’re wondering why I’ve been so scarce on here, the answer is because I’ve been at the ballet!

When the National Ballet of Canada made its season announcement back in February, I very nearly screamed at my computer. I did double-check it multiple times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and then walked around all day with a dopey grin on my face because my favourite ballet of all time, Nijinsky, was returning and in the same month as my second favourite ballet, The Winter’s Tale. Nijinsky has an especially personal connection to me, which I may write about later in a companion piece, but suffice it to say that I hadn’t in a million years thought that I would see it again so soon. Naturally, I bought multiple sets of tickets and yes, it’s return was everything I hoped it would be.

I’ve written two (very detailed) multi-cast reviews for My Entertainment World, which I’ve linked to below. Editor, Kelly Bedard, is the only person I’ve met who has the same passion for the National Ballet of Canada and strongly held opinions about the company, so it’s been a great joy to discuss my thoughts with her and have pieces published on her site. I’ve also been extremely flattered to receive some attention for my reviews! A principal dancer with the company, Jurgita Dronina, re-tweeted my review of The Winter’s Tale, calling it truly detailed and tagging the show’s choreographer! My review of Nijinsky was re-tweeted by principal dancer Guillaume Cote, and Skylar Campbell, a favourite of mine in the company and to dance the role, replied to my review, saying it was “thoughtfully written and very in depth!” Needless to say, I am still a little overwhelmed and incredibly flattered by the response!

I also hit a few theatre shows. A smaller independent Irish play, Dublin Carol, I also reviewed for My Entertainment World, and I plan on writing reviews for Musical Stage Company’s Uncovered Concert, and Bat Out of Hell (the Meatloaf musical) later this month, so stay tuned for those.

Bat Out of Hell (musical) Mirvish + RTC
Uncovered: Bob Dylan and Springsteen concert + RTC
The Winter’s Tale (ballet) by The National Ballet of Canada (x3) – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Dublin Carol (play) by Fly on the Wall – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Nijinsky (ballet) by The National Ballet of Canada (x4) – Reviewed for My Entertainment World

***

Coming up in December: I actually have December pretty mapped out! I’ve finished Anita Amirrezvani’s historical fiction novel The Blood of Flowers, and am currently reading Julie Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. On my list for this month is John Boyne’s The Absolutist since Rachel and Steph have both RAVED about it, and Boyne’s newest novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one of the best books I’ve read this year. After two months and multiple customer service emails, the copy of Swansong, the second part in Vale Aida’s Magpie Ballads Duology finally showed up, so I’m really looking forward to finishing that series! Before I lead a buddy read of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, beginning in January with Rachel, Steph, and Hadeer, I’m hoping to get to Dunnett’s standalone King Hereafter, about the historical Macbeth, as well.

Happy holiday season reading everyone!

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Books: Little Fires Everywhere

34273236Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published September 12, 2017
star-4
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere provides an intimate look at class, motherhood, and family in an elegantly written and well-crafted package. As in her breathtaking debut, Everything I Never Told You, a vague mystery is introduced in the opening pages, but this time around the question is less about whodunnit and more concerned with the motivation behind the crime.

Celeste Ng takes the old adage about writing what you know to heart, setting Little Fires Everywhere in 1990s Shaker Heights, Ohio, the neat suburban neighbourhood where she grew up. In some ways Shaker Heights is a progressive town, but over the course of the novel it becomes clear that it is not, in fact, a place where no one sees race, as Lexie Richardson naively professes based on her experience dating a black man. Shaker Heights is rendered with care by Ng as the picture of suburban perfection. Maintained with care so that it will remain a utopia, residents of Shaker Heights are fined if their lawns become unkempt, while garbage disposal is at the back of each house so as not to impact curb appeal.

Into this idyllic bubble come Mia Warren, a free-spirited nomad who goes wherever inspiration for her art strikes her, and her shy, but brilliant, fifteen-year-old daughter Pearl. Mia and Pearl’s existence is unsettled but happy; They have little in the way of material possessions, but are resourceful , able to repurpose thrift store and curbside finds. The Warrens rent a house in Shaker Heights from the wealthy Richardson family, who view renting their property to good people they can do a good turn for as a form of community service.

Pearl is quickly captivated by the easy confidence of the Richardson children, developing a crush on eldest son Trip, and friendships with the middle children, Lexie and Moody. In turn, the Richardson’s rebellious younger daughter Izzie is drawn to Mia and the freedom that she represents. But when Mrs. Richardson and Mia take opposing sides in a custody battle between the impoverished Chinese immigrant biological mother of a one-year-old daughter, and a naïve but well-intentioned white couple looking to adopt the child, it sets them on a collision course.

One signature of a Celeste Ng book is the effortless, flowing prose. Ng always seems to have chosen the best possible word for the idea or mood she’s trying to convey. The teenage characters sound age-appropriate, the prose conveys the 1990s suburban setting, and the omniscient third person point of view allows the authors to dip in and out of the minds of both major and minor characters as required, creating a subtle intimacy. Ng also has a gift for writing characters who are flawed, yet deeply sympathetic. I enjoyed reading about Mia, whose individuality, resourcefulness and artistry, I admired, even while I didn’t always agree with her choices, but I was also interested in Elena Richardson’s life of order and structure that Mia deliberately eschews.

At its heart, Little Fires Everywhere is a novel about motherhood and family, that touches on biology, race, and class. Ng guides us to see both sides of a custody case. Does the poor immigrant who gave her child up in a moment of desperation when she was destitute waive any claim to her child? Should custody be granted to a couple who obviously have the means and love to provide a stable home, but who can never truly comprehend and properly introduce the child to her Chinese heritage? At times the emphasis on biology feels a little heavy-handed, but the complicated dynamics of the custody battle are handled with tact and empathy.

As much as I enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere, and would recommend it to others, I have to admit that it didn’t leave a strong impression on me the way that the author’s debut did. Weeks after reading Everything I Never Told You I found myself still thinking about it. I remembered the pressures that led to Lydia’s death and how deftly Celeste Ng depicted each family member’s grief. Little Fires Everywhere provoked a more immediate reaction in me. I loved it, I found the ending satisfying and beautiful, but even a week later I had trouble remembering each character’s name. None of the Warrens or Richardsons had the impact on me that Lydia, Nath, Hannah, Marilyn, or James did. I don’t know that I’ll ever re-read Little Fires Everywhere, but that doesn’t make the first read any less enjoyable.

Where do my books come from?

AKA. A Love Letter to My Public Library. I came across this post by way of Rachel @ pace, amore, libri and thought that it was a really interesting way to look at my reads so far. The idea is to go through everything you’ve read this year and make a note about where you got them. Here are my 2017 reads to date from most recent to oldest:

  1. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston: Library
  2. War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Library
  3. Elegy by Vale Aida: Purchased from Book Depository
  4. The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo: Library
  5. One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake: Library
  6. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld: Library
  7. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: Library
  8. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin: Library
  9. Our Dark Duet by V.E. Schwab: Library
  10. American War by Omar El Akkad: Library
  11. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: Purchased from BMV (used bookstore)
  12. Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin: Borrowed from my mom
  13. Now I Rise by Kiersten White: Library
  14. All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders: Library
  15. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: Library
  16. Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer: Library
  17. The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente: Library
  18. Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee: Library
  19. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: Borrowed from another library
  20. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rios: Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
  21. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu: Library
  22. The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich: Library
  23. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See: Library
  24. Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray: Library
  25. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: Library
  26. Giant Days Vol.1 by John Allison: Library
  27. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee: Library
  28. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: Library
  29. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston: Library
  30. Saga Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan: Borrowed from a co-worker
  31. Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde: Library
  32. City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett: Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
  33. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: Library
  34. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose: Library
  35. Sonora by Hannah Lillith Assadi: Library
  36. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: Library
  37. Villains by V.E Schwab: Library
  38. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: Library
  39. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Library
  40. When The Sea Is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen: Library
  41. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Library
  42. The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak: Library
  43. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera: Library
  44. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab: Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
  45. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: Library
  46. Everfair by Nisi Shawl: Library
  47. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab: Library
  48. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote: Library
  49. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon: Library
  50. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Library
  51. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman: Library
  52. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera: Library
  53. Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh: Library
  54. Saga Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan: Borrowed from a co-worker
  55. An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay: Library
  56. Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen: Library
  57. Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst: Library
  58. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: Library

Of the 58 books I’ve read to date in 2017:

50 – Borrowed from the Toronto Public Library
3 – Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
2 – Borrowed from a co-worker
1 – Borrowed from a neighbouring Public Library System
1 – Purchased from Book Depository
1 – Bought from a used bookstore (BMV)

As expected, I am a heavy library user. A whooping 86% of books I read this year were borrowed from the local library system! There are a few reasons for this:

1. As a Librarian (I work in a corporate library and my job is primarily research-based), I strongly believe in supporting libraries whenever you can. Stats MATTER. Public libraries constantly have to justify their existence, and circulation stats, visits, etc. are all important and concrete ways in which they can demonstrate to politicians, etc. that libraries are useful.

2. I’m fortunate enough to live in the City of Toronto, which has a huge and well-used library system. The City has 102 (I think?) library branches and Toronto Public Library (TPL) ranked first in North America in circulation, visits, and electronic visits per capita among libraries serving populations of two million or more in 2015! I also live within a five minute walk of a library branch, it’s quite literally on my way to and from work, which makes it easy to borrow and return items. I am so privileged to have this fabulous library at my fingertips, and its size means that the library gets almost everything I want to read. The few times that they don’t have something, or its not available in print, it’s frustrating because I’ve become so accustomed to being able to borrow anything I want!

3. I don’t have an e-reader or tablet. Not having an eReader definitely holds me back from being able to receive ARCs from NetGalley and from taking advantage of sales on eBooks. I’d like to take the plunge, but the eBooks provider used by Canadian library systems, OverDrive, isn’t compatible with Kindles in this country, and I’d like the option of borrowing eBooks from the library as well as borrowing/receiving from NetGalley. If anyone has any insight on dedicated eReaders or on tablets, especially Canadians who use their library to borrow, please comment and let me know what you think!

4. Cost/Space. For a Toronto-apartment I have a lot of space. It’s still a city apartment though, so I try to be very careful about what I buy. Generally I buy the latest in a series that I can’t wait to own, or keeper copies of books I’ve read and loved that I know I will want to re-read. Definitely cost is also a factor, especially when it comes to hardcovers, so I tend to borrow from the library and decide whether to buy later.

I’ve also been really bad about buying items and not reading them this year, so I think I’m going to do a few months of reading only what’s on my shelves already at some point in 2018.

If you want to do a post like this, pingback to me here so I can check it out, I’d love to know, where do your books come from?

Books: War and Peace

635222War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
originally published in 1868
translated by Anthony Briggs
star-2
Reviewing a book as celebrated as War and Peace is no easy feat, especially when you’re going against the crowd, so let me emphasis that this is not an objective review of War and Peace or where it stands in the annals of literature, but a summary of what I thought of the book. In short, as much as I wanted to like War and Peace, and even thought that I would based on the first 700 or so pages, I found the second half to be a tedious slog that focused increasingly on detailed descriptions of the Napoleonic Wars while the characters took a backseat.

I decided to tackle War and Peace for a few reasons. One, a few friends (Hadeer and Rachel, who both finished before me and have posted reviews on their blogs) were doing a group read and it seemed like the kind of project book that could use a support system. Two, I had recently seen and loved Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, a musical based on the 70-page excerpt of War and Peace that focuses on Natasha’s affair with Anatole Kuragin. Since the excerpt is drawn from the middle of the book, I was left with questions about how these characters came to be in their situations, and what happened to them after the musical ended. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that the characters in the book only ever felt surface-deep.

Part of my frustration stems from the fact that the novel is extremely unbalanced. The first half of the book is undoubtedly stronger as Tolstoy’s early war passages contain both a wry sense of humour and commentary on how young men romanticize the war and the emperor. These are balanced with engaging peace scenes that develop the characters, from poor bewildered Pierre to selfless Sonya and spirited Natasha. By the time Tolstoy hits the midpoint he seems to abandon all pretense that he’s writing a novel though and focus decidedly on the war.

As the only other nineteenth-century, brick-sized epic I’ve read, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast War and Peace with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Unfortunately, War and Peace comes out poorer for the comparison in every way.

Although the characters in Les Misérables are archetypal (Fantine as The Fallen Woman, for example), they’re given such depth and empathy that you can’t help but feel for them. I liked Tolstoy’s characters initially, but it’s difficult to form a connection or to feel like you know people who barely seem to know themselves. As a commentary on society, creating characters who are so mutable that their minds, romantic attachments, and entire worldviews shift in an instant if someone voices a dissenting opinion, is interesting. In practice it makes for characters who are hard to understand and care about.

You’ll hear no argument from me that both of these books could have used a more disciplined editor, but Hugo’s digressions, tangents on The Battle of Waterloo, the Paris sewer system, and argot, among others, are somewhat interesting and, much like a distracted university professor, he gets back to his original thought. In War and Peace, it feels like the characters and any semblance of plot are the digression. Tolstoy rhapsodizes about the war and presents his detailed thoughts on the Great Man Theory and every hundred pages or so someone reminds him that there are characters besides Napoleon and the soldiers and Tolstoy grudgingly gives the reader a hasty interlude before he returns to writing passionately about the war. Sadly, this is true even of the epilogue. Tolstoy presents twenty or so pages of domesticity to sum up the characters’ lives, but the remainder of the hundred pages reads more like the conclusion to a dissertation than an epilogue. For those with a keen interest in military history I imagine this makes for a fascinating read. As someone who reads for characters above all else, I found this immensely frustrating.

At the end of Les Misérables I felt a great swell of emotion and love for these characters who had become so dear. When I finished War and Peace I mostly just felt relieved that it was over.

For all my negativity, I’m not sorry I read War and Peace and it hasn’t entirely put me off Tolstoy. At some point (many moons from now, I need a break!) I’ll probably still read Anna Karenina, and hope that it touches me more than War and Peace. However, I can’t imagine ever wanting to read War and Peace again and I think it offers more from a military history perspective than it does from a story standpoint.

Should you attempt the behemoth and read War and Peace? If you have a great love of military history then yes, this might just be the book for you. If not, do yourself a favour and choose another nineteenth century epic, I’d suggest Hugo’s Les Miserables, instead.

 

Monthly Wrap-Up: October

It’s been another slow month for me when it comes to books and blogging. Just three books read as I continue to struggle through the behemoth that is Tolstoy’s War & Peace! The good news is I’ve got only another 150 pages to go, so I’ll be onto more interesting reads soon!

The few books I did read were an uneven lot. I LOVED Leigh Bardugo’s beautifully illustrated short story collection The Language of Thorns, found The Good People underwhelming but atmospheric, and was disappointed by the emphasis on romance and lack of answers in One Dark Throne.

29923707   The Good People   34076952

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake small 2 half stars  + Review
The Good People by Hannah Kent small-3-stars  + Review
The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo small 4 half stars  + Review
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy (in progress – 1208 pages completed)

Book of the Month: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo is an exquisitely illustrated collection of six stories set in the Grisha universe. I loved all of these stories, but especially the unique twists Bardugo makes to classics such as “The Nutcracker” and “The Little Mermaid”.

Least Favourite: One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake is an entertaining enough read, but I wanted more from the second book in this series and it all felt like filler. The novel offered few answers, an emphasis on romance instead of on the more interesting female relationships, and just wasn’t very well written period.

***

Operation War & Peace: I continued to read War & Peace this month as part of a goodreads group that includes Hadeer and Rachel, both of whom finished War & Peace already. Unfortunately this is one classic that I’m finding hard to make it through. I have another 150 pages to go but it’s like pulling teeth to sit down and read this book it’s so dense and filled with war and Tolstoy’s theories about Napoleon.

***

Seen on Stage: You wouldn’t know it from looking at my blog, but I had a pretty busy month when it comes to seeing shows! I reviewed The Off-Mirvish production of Salt-Water-Moon, a stripped down and modernized production of a classic Newfoundland play for My Entertainment World, as well as an independent musical cabaret which had a lot of enthusiasm, but felt muddled and at times pitchy.

I also went on a whirlwind weekend trip to New England over Canadian Thanksgiving where I FINALLY met Rachel and her friend, as well as Steph! Being the crazy wonderful people we are, we hit two musicals in two different cities, and although we weren’t very impressed with the current US Tour cast of Les Miserables, Merrily We Roll Along was fabulous and the kind of show you find yourself thinking about days later. Rachel’s written a review that perfectly sums up Merrily here.

I also saw a wonderful new Canadian musical, Life After (review coming Monday!), which was heartfelt and authentic with a score that may not have instantly hummable songs, but strains of the music stuck in my mind weeks later.

Les Miserables US Tour (musical) in Hartford, CT
Merrily We Roll Along (musical) at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston
Life After (musical) by CanStage and The Musical Stage Company + Review
Salt-Water Moon (play) Off-Mirvish – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Villains (musical cabaret) by Small but Mighty Productions – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
The Canadian All-Star Ballet Gala – Review to come

***

Coming up in November: The big plan is to finally, FINALLY finish War & Peace (can you tell that this is one classic I’m not enjoying)! Besides that I’m planning to break-away from War & Peace with some newer releases that are near the top of my TBR. I’m really looking forward to That Inevitable Victorian Thing by Canadian author E.K. Johnson, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and Ann Leckie’s latest novel Provenance.

This November is really exciting for me because it’s the start of ballet season! This month The National Ballet of Canada is performing my two favourite ballets of all-time, The Winter’s Tale, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play, and Nijinsky, a fascinating contemporary ballet that depicts the career and personal life of Vaslav Nijinsky, one of the greatest dancers of the twentieth century. I’ll be reviewing/discussing different casts of these productions for My Entertainment World, but these ballets are special to me so I’ll likely be boosting the posts here too, instead of just sticking them in my usual monthly wrap-up.

What was your favourite October read? What are you most looking forward to reading in November?

The Fall for Books Tag

FallForBooksTag

THE RULES

  • Please link back to this post so I can see your answers!
  • Have fun!

One of the first books you fell in love with

11181070My favourite picture book is a gorgeously illustrated book called The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman. When Princess Leora’s father, the King, travels to a neighbouring kingdom, he tells Leora to signal him by sending up balloons if anything goes wrong. But her uncle, the archduke, is plotting to take over the kingdom. He locks Leora in her room and orders that every balloon in the kingdom be popped. With the help of a wizard, a boy, and the last balloon in the kingdom, she plants a balloon tree that blossoms into thousands of balloons and saves her kingdom from the evil archduke.  Funnily enough I actually don’t like balloons and the popping noise makes me flinch, but I love this book anyway! As an adult working in a kids section of a bookstore, I often recommended this classic to customers and I hope other little girls and boys enjoyed it as much as I did!

A book you knew you were going to love from the first page

JonathanStrangeI knew instantly that Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell would be my kind of book from the sense of humour on the first page. The book opens as follows:

“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.

They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed any one by magic – nor ever done any one the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one’s head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.”

This is still one of the best opening pages I’ve ever read. I love how it sets the scene by introducing the state of magic in the world and the type of people who practice it, and I adore the wry humour in this book. The fact that it begins in my favourite historical period, Georgian England, certainly doesn’t hurt either!

A book you didn’t think you would love as much as you do

112077Believe it or not, when I read The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett for the first time in 2012 I wasn’t sure if I would read the rest of the six book series until I was about two-thirds of the way in. Fast-forward five years and I’ve re-read the book two or three times and am planning a full series re-read starting in January! The Game of Kings was Dorothy Dunnett’s first novel and it’s a dense read, but so incredibly worth persevering through. Part of the reason why it’s a more difficult read is that Dunnett lets us see the protagonist, Francis Crawford of Lymond, only through the eyes of other characters, most of whom don’t have the full story. Re-reading the novel, when you’re aware of what Lymond’s motives and goals is a really interesting experience.

The character who will always have a place in your heart

TheVirtuI will always have a soft spot for Mildmay the Fox from Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series. A former kept-thief and assassin, Mildmay suffers an injury that permanently damages his leg, ending his burglary career and crippling his already low self-esteem. This isn’t helped by a fraught relationship with his half-brother Felix, a wizard, who puts Mildmay down further based on his grammatically incorrect and lower-class method of speaking, or by the sexual and appearance issues he has from his upbringing. Although Mildmay can’t see it, he’s also loyal to a fault, more intelligent than he gives himself credit for, kind, and shy. The Doctrine of Labyrinths series is, in short, a series about two incredibly damaged people who try to get better but the journey is more one step forward, two steps back than a straightforward march.

Character you love on the page, but would never want to meet in real life

351198Don’t get me wrong, I love Francis Crawford of Lymond from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles a lot. He is one of my favourite literary characters of all time, but I would NEVER EVER want to meet him. Okay, maybe I’d like to catch a glimpse of him from a distance and see what those cornflower blue eyes, yellow hair soft as a nestling, and long fingers, look like in person, just don’t introduce me!

Literary couple you will ship until the day you die

17378508I have to go with Ronan Lynch and Adam Parrish from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, one of few slow-burn romances where I physically made squealing noises when they kissed and had to remember to breathe. I love this relationship so much and I think they complement each other so well.

An author whose writing style you fell in love with

186074I have my issues with the way that Patrick Rothfuss has written women so far in his The Kingkiller Chronicles series, but I adore his prose. There’s a lyrical quality to his writing and a sense that this is an author who loves telling stories. His world-building is often wonderful (particularly “sympathy”, the magic system he develops, and the communication system of the Adem in The Wise Man’s Fear) and I mostly enjoy the more modern dialogue used for characters in his world.

A book recommended to you by a friend/family member that you quickly fell for too

alittlelifeBook blogging friend Rachel of pace, amore, libri recommended A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara in a roundabout way. She was mostly posting to warn the majority of people not to read it due to the massive number of triggers contained in this book and the utter pain of it. Me, being me, read this and went ‘oooohh this sounds like something I’d like!’ Sure enough, I LOVED this book. It’s every bit as triggery and dark as I’d heard and I’d definitely be cautious in recommending it to others, but if it’s your type of book (heavy on the hurt), you will probably love it as much as we did. What an exquisitely written dark fairy tale with characters who mean so much to me!

Piece of book-related merchandise that you had to own

24a2aef2c094778d13ff4dc078db743cI have a large mug collection that’s threatening to take over another shelf in my kitchen, but I couldn’t resist this ‘No Mourners, No Funerals’ mug! It looks like the artist has changed the font since I bought the mug (and tbh I kind of prefer the version I have) but it’s still pretty great and her shop has a ton of other gorgeous book-related mugs too.

 

 

An author whose works you love so much that you auto-buy/borrow their new releases

34076952Appropriately enough after showing off my mug, the answer here is Leigh Bardugo. I’ve never been let down by anything of hers I’ve read (although I’m definitely glad I read the Grisha books before the Six of Crows duology). I thought The Language of Thorns was gorgeous, and I look forward to reading her Nikolai series(!!!) and anything else she chooses to write!

Tagging:
Rachel at pace, amore, libri
Steph at Lost Purple Quill
Hadeer at Hadeer Writes
Darque Dreamer Reads

As always, feel free not to do this, and if you aren’t tagged but think it looks interesting please go for it and link back to me so I can read your answers!

Happy Fall everyone!

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?

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