For this week’s Tune in Tuesday I’m sharing yet another song from Pandora (my Arkells station, if anyone’s interested!). It’s a little bit silly, but the video is very topical, considering the popularity of post-apocalyptic fiction these days! :) The artist is one of those ’90s bands that I was sadly unaware of at the time, but lately I’ve heard and enjoyed several of their songs. So anyway, here is Phantom Planet with “Do the Panic”:
This book is a collection of poetry, and I don’t really know how to review it, or even whether “reviewing” is appropriate for something that is supposed to strike you in a fundamental, visceral way. The poems are all re-imaginings of fairy tales as told by the Brothers Grimm, and Sexton uses the old stories to shed light on modern themes and concerns. For example, here’s the end of “Cinderella”:
Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
The stories are all set in that quasi-medieval fairytale past, which is interestingly juxtaposed with some very modern language. When the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” is cooked in the oven, “Her blood began to boil up / like Coca-Cola.” When the prince in “Cinderella” tries the glass slipper on every maiden in the kingdom, the narrator observes, “The prince was getting tired. / He began to feel like a shoe salesman.”
All in all, this collection didn’t make a huge impact on me, but I would recommend it to people who like poetry and fairy tales. I’d definitely like to read more of Anne Sexton’s work!
This novel, set in late Victorian England, centers around James Norbury and his sister Charlotte. After growing up isolated in a crumbling country estate, James is eager to move to London and try his luck as a poet. He slowly begins to conquer his shyness and mix a little in society, and eventually he even falls in love. But everything changes one fateful night when James is attacked, kidnapped, and initiated into the sinister Aegolius Club. Meanwhile, Charlotte has grown more and more anxious about her brother, who seems to have vanished without a trace. She journeys to London and attemps to discover what has happened to him, but what she finds out is more shocking and horrible than she ever could have imagined. As the Aegolius Club’s secrets are slowly revealed, and its members become more and more dangerous, Charlotte realizes that her only course of action is to destroy the club; but even if such a thing were possible, would she truly be able to rescue James?
I find that I really can’t talk about this book without mentioning one significant spoiler, so please STOP READING NOW if you don’t want to know anything else about the plot of this book! … If you’re still interested, here goes: this book is about vampires. I mention it because there is nothing in the book’s description or on the cover blurb about them, yet they are central to the entire book! Personally, I’m not a big fan of vampire novels and would not have picked up this book if I’d known they would be such a big part of the plot. That said, I actually really liked it a lot; Owen is a wonderful writer, and I found the novel a real page-turner despite the fact that it’s over 500 pages long. In fact, my other complaint is that it could probably have ended a few chapters before it did. I wasn’t a huge fan of the (largely depressing) ending, and I would have liked a little happiness for the main characters in the end, after they’d suffered so much. Still, this is a very accomplished gothic novel, and I’d definitely consider reading more by Lauren Owen.
Sorry this post is a few days late! The past week has been a bit rough for me, but now that the weekend is finally here (and I’ve gotten some sleep!), I can focus on what’s really important. :)
Currently reading: The Quick by Lauren Owen
Books read in March:
- Ellis Peters, The Raven in the Foregate
- Elizabeth Blackwell, While Beauty Slept
- Kathryn Miller Haines, The Girl Is Murder
- Caprice Crane, With a Little Luck
- Lorna Goodison, By Love Possessed: Stories
- Hannah March, The Complaint of the Dove
- Kate Quinn, Mistress of Rome
- Frank Baker, Miss Hargreaves
Favorite: I have to go with Mistress of Rome — even though it’s a total soap opera, it was a completely addictive read!
Least favorite: With a Little Luck — it wasn’t terrible, but there was absolutely nothing original or interesting about it.
Books acquired in March:
- Deanna Raybourn, City of Jasmine
- Lauren Owen, The Quick (ARC)
- Ismail Kadare, Broken April
- Kristan Higgins, Waiting on You
- Penelope Hughes-Hallett, The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817
- Jennifer Crusie, Trust Me on This
- Deanna Raybourn, Whisper of Jasmine (free)
- Ashley Gardner, The Hanover Square Affair, A Regimental Murder, The Glass House, “The Gentleman’s Walking Stick,” and “The Disappearance of Miss Sarah Oswald” ($0.99 for the bundle)
High-school student Elizabeth Rew is feeling lonely: her new stepmother is taking up most of her father’s time, and she’s just transferred to a new school where she doesn’t have any friends. So when her history teacher suggests that she get a job with the New York Circulating Material Repository, she looks forward to the new experience. The Repository is a lending library for objects, including famous historical artifacts like Marie Antoinette’s wig; but Elizabeth soon discovers that there are even more important objects to be found. Specifically, the Grimm Collection houses fairytale items with magical properties, including flying carpets and seven-league boots. As Elizabeth explores the wonders of the Grimm Collection, she also befriends her fellow employees, including popular Marc, beautiful Anjali, and standoffish Aaron. When some of the magical items go missing, it’s up to Elizabeth and her newfound friends to discover who is stealing from the Grimm Collection — before they become the thief’s next victims.
A few years ago I read Polly Shulman’s other book, Enthusiasm, and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me quite as well. I absolutely loved the premise — what if you could actually borrow the magic mirror from Snow White or Aladdin’s lamp? — and many of the details related to this concept worked very well. I especially liked the idea that borrowers had to leave a “deposit” for the items, which could be something like their sense of direction, their singing voice, or their firstborn child. The problem with the book is that it’s geared toward a very young audience. I don’t have a problem with YA in general, and I’ve read many excellent books in the genre, but this one really felt like YA or even juvenile fiction. If I’d read the book at age 11, I probably would have loved it, but as an adult, I found it far too simplistic. There were also a few plot points that weren’t fully fleshed out, such as Elizabeth’s relationships with her dad and stepmom. Overall, the book is a decent read, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re really OK with juvenile or YA fiction.
For this post, I was trying to find an image that featured the entire cast — the one including Cristin Milioti, the lovely and talented actress who played Tracy McConnell, a.k.a. the Mother. The fact that I couldn’t find one speaks to only one of the many problems I had with the series finale of “How I Met Your Mother.” My thoughts on this issue – as well as the series as a whole – are long, ranting, and very spoiler-laden, so read more at your own risk!
When I was in elementary school, I honestly thought that I hated to read. I have no idea why I believed this; probably it had something to do with the utterly boring “see Spot run” stuff we were forced to read in school when we were first learning. But eventually I discovered the magic of reading, and I’ve certainly never turned back! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is those “gateway” books and authors that introduced us to a new genre or to the love of reading in general. Here are ten of mine, in no particular order:
1. The Hardy Boys mysteries by Franklin W. Dixon — These are some of the first books I remember reading and loving; I’d check out at least two or three every time I went to the library. Yet for some reason I never really got into Nancy Drew…
2. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman — I think I had to read this one year in school, and I think it’s responsible for my ongoing interest in the Middle Ages. It gives a lot of great details about what life was like during that time from a young girl’s perspective.
3. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh — This is the book that introduced me to the idea of keeping a journal. And for a brief period in my childhood, my best friend and I totally used to “spy” on the neighbors!
4. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley — This wasn’t my first encounter with Robin McKinley, but as far as I can remember, it was the book that introduced me to the fantasy genre as something more than kiddie fairy tales. It also made me realize that I needed to read all of McKinley’s other books IMMEDIATELY.
5. Pierced by a Sword by Bud MacFarlane, Jr. — Looking back on it, this book isn’t terribly well-written, but it’s one of the few books I can genuinely say changed my life. It presented my religion (Catholicism) in a way that made sense to me, and I’ve become much more serious about my faith because of it. Obviously not a book for everyone, but it definitely resonated with me!
6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — This was the book that really catapulted me from the youth section of the library to the adult section. (Seriously — I went directly from the Sweet Valley Twins to Jane Austen!) Not only did I discover my new favorite book of all time, but I quickly fell in love with the classics of English literature, which have given me countless hours of enjoyment ever since.
7. Murder in Retrospect by Agatha Christie (a.k.a. Five Little Pigs) — My first Agatha Christie, which then sparked an enormous reading binge in my early teens as I plowed through ALL of her mysteries. Though I’d read and loved mystery stories before, Christie became (and still is) the gold standard for clever, well-written whodunits.
8. Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold — I honestly think these were the first science fiction books I ever read (aside from required school reading like 1984). Spaceships, aliens, light sabers…they just didn’t seem very interesting to me. But these books from the Vorkosigan series showed me that sci-fi can be just as moving and character-driven and emotionally resonant as any other genre.
9. Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James — This is the book that convinced me that not all romance novels are terrible. I used to wander through the romance section of a a bookstores with my friends and giggle at the melodramatic cover blurbs and embarrassing cover art. (And I have to say, that’s still fun to do sometimes!) But this novel is not only sexy; it’s also funny and clever and a lot of fun! So while I’m still not quite a romance novel lover, I’m much more open to reading and enjoying some authors in this genre.
10. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson — This novel introduced me to a whole new literary world that I never knew existed: female British writers of the 20th century. It’s a weirdly specific niche, but I have found so many LOVELY books fitting that description. Sometimes you just want a sweet, wholesome comfort read that evokes a simpler time, and books like Miss Pettigrew absolutely fit the bill.
I stayed up way too late last night, watching the “How I Met Your Mother” series finale and then watching the Internet explode. (Count me among those who really, REALLY didn’t like it…maybe I’ll do a post later this week!) As a result, I was pretty much asleep with my eyes open all day, and I felt the need for some soothing, lullaby-ish music. So for this week’s Tune in Tuesday, I’m sharing an odd little piece called “Cuckoo!” composed by Benjamin Britten as part of a larger piece called “Friday Afternoons” (Op. 7), which is a set of 12 songs specifically composed for a children’s choir. This recording is by the Choir of Downside School, Purley, and was used in the soundtrack of “Moonrise Kingdom.” So, probably too much information. :) But I hope you enjoy!
When Norman Huntley and his friend Henry are on holiday in Ireland, they decide on a whim to visit the exceedingly ugly church of the village of Lusk. As their tour guide rhapsodizes about the church’s history, he mentions one of its former clerics. Intending to make a joke at the tour guide’s expense, Norman pretends to have heard of this cleric from a (fictional) common acquaintance, Miss Constance Hargreaves. He immediately — with assistance from Henry, who plays along — invents an entire personality and history for Miss Hargreaves, and after a while, the two young men almost believe she is real. But nothing can prepare Norman for the shock of discovering that a woman calling herself Miss Hargreaves is coming to visit him, and she is completely identical to the made-up description he and Henry had concocted! Miss Hargreaves soon embarrasses Norman with her eccentricities, and he begins to wish he could get rid of her — but how can he do so? And if he is really responsible for her existence, should he?
When I first picked up this book, I expected it to be a light, fluffy comedic tale, similar to most of the other early-20th-century British fiction I’ve read. I mean, the synopsis almost sounds like something out of P.G. Wodehouse! But while this book does have its comic moments — like everything that comes out of Norman’s father’s mouth! — it’s actually much more serious than it sounds. Norman’s reaction to learning that he has (presumably) created another human being runs the gamut from shock to amusement to horror. He’s often quite cruel to Miss Hargreaves when she doesn’t show him the love and respect he feels are his due. In this sense, I think Baker was making a point about the dangers of playing God: Norman created Miss Hargreaves and is therefore in some sense responsible for her, but he is too proud and impatient and flawed to fulfill his responsbilities. Overall, this is an odd little book that raises some fairly serious philosophical questions. Recommended if the premise sounds interesting to you!
In the late first century A.D., Thea is a Jewish slave girl living in Rome after the rest of her family committed suicide during the siege of Masada. Thea’s owner, the spiteful Lepida Pollia, misses no opportunity to berate and abuse her; so when Rome’s most popular gladiator, Arius the Barbarian, falls in love with Thea and spurns Lepida’s advances, Lepida immediately takes a brutal revenge. This novel follows the stories of Thea, Arius, Lepida, and several other characters as they all try to better their fortunes, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, Thea uses her talents as a singer and musician to perform before the most fashionable crowds in Rome, where she catches the eye of Emperor Domitian. As the emperor’s mistress, she becomes the most powerful woman in Rome; but the more she learns about the enigmatic emperor’s true nature, the more desperate she becomes to escape her fate.
This is one of those books that hooked me almost immediately, and I found it compulsively readable. Ever since I took Latin in high school, I’ve been interested in the setting of ancient Rome, and this book explores so many aspects of life at that time, from social mores to military strategy to fashion. It’s a truly fascinating time period, and Quinn takes full advantage of the drama it provides. Indeed, the book is almost too melodramatic at times; it’s very much a soap opera, complete with fake deaths, illegitimate children, and even an orgy. The love story between Thea and Arius is often sweet but occasionally becomes a bit too over-the-top. I feel like I should also mention a particular review on Amazon, which pointed out several flaws in plot logic and historical accuracy. But personally, I really enjoyed the novel overall, and I’ll definitely seek out the sequels at some point. If you like your historical fiction gory, sexy, and extremely dramatic, I highly recommend this book!