Top 10 Tuesday: Summer Beach Reads

Today’s theme was a “Summer Freebie,” intended to help us recommend books for summer vacation, on the beach, or whatever. Personally I don’t think my reading increases during the summer, and I don’t think I understand the term beach read, but hey! Freebie! Gonna do what I want!

And what I want is: classics.

I love classics. Sure, a lot of them are boring. Sure, a lot of them are real downers. Sure, a lot of them use weird techniques like stream-of-consciousness so you don’t know which way is up much less which character is doing what.

But all of them are significant in some way, and more importantly, a lot of them are just plain entertaining, good books. “Some of my favorite books are classics!” she protests while clutching her totebag.

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Here are my top 10 recommendations for summer reading. I tried to pick short-ish ones so no Crime and Punishment and no Middlemarch.
  • Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle: Detectives! Crime! Occasional murder!
  • The Europeans by Henry James: Romance! Snobby relatives! Summer?
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons: Woodsheds! Reform! Romance?
  • Another Country by James Baldwin: James! Effing! Baldwin!
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: Pirates! Treasure! ISLAND!
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling: Spies! India! SPIES?
  • The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery: Found family! Romance? Nature!!!
  • Hamlet by Shakespeare: Ghosts! Murder! Duels!
  • Beowulf: Monsters! Mayhem! Madness!
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen: Love! Friendship! Persuasion???

 

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Myth Monday: The Star-Touched Queen (Review)

I’m really late to this party but I recently read The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, an excellent YA fantasy which also happens to be chock-full of mythological influences. The protagonist is a girl called Maya, one of many daughters of a Raja who is trying to get a bunch of rebellions under control in his kingdom. The Raja decides his last unmarried daughter is the only way to get the rebels under control, in spite of the terrible horoscope surrounding her birth. Maya finds herself married to the mysterious Amar, the Raja of a land called Akaran that she’s never heard of before, and the mysteries only grow from there!

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“Ruling Akaran is a strange task. In many ways, it is like balancing an illusion. You must separate the illusion of what you see and the reality of its consequences,” he said. “Tell me, my queen, are you ready to play with fate?”

-Amar is a weird dude.

Some chunks of the plot and characters reminded me a lot of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, particularly the bit where the girl is married off, somewhat against her will, to a mysterious dude who won’t tell her anything about himself but is really nice and has a palace but also nothing really adds up and the girl becomes more and more uneasy about her life and her choices. All of that, but set in an Indian setting, and with a bunch more magical stories and mythic creatures, either gliding along on the fringes or bursting into the middle of the story.

Since I’m super white and am much more familiar with Greco-Roman myths than anything else, I had to look up the other myths invoked here, for the sake of my own curiosity. Fortunately, the author listed some on a Goodreads Q&A. She apparently used many Hindu myths in the story, but especially these: Savitri and Satyavan, Shiva and Parvati, The Ramayana, Shakuntula, and Narasimha. So I have my myth-reading list for the week!  Themes from these stories include lots of trickery and cleverness, the value of memory, the importance of Death as a stabilizing figure rather than a chaotic one, and the power of love. All of these are featured heavily in The Star-Crossed Queen. This book reminded me of another myth-inspired YA book, Deathless by Catherynne Valente. Deathless draws on Russian folklore, similar to the way The Star-Touched Queen draws on Hindu myths, and is another book I strongly recommend.

I definitely enjoyed the story without being familiar with the Hindu myths, as they enriched the story regardless, but I’d like to reread the book once I have a better grasp on them. This book definitely seems like one that would reward rereads; there’s a lot packed in here.

The book as a whole was beautifully written, well-paced, and included a fascinating and awful cast of characters. My personal favorite was Kamala the murder-horse, who says things like:

“It is nice to be nice. And it is also nice to eat people.”

Scripture Sunday (25)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

Extol the Lord, Jerusalem;
    praise your God, Zion.

He strengthens the bars of your gates
    and blesses your people within you.
He grants peace to your borders
    and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.

He sends his command to the earth;
    his word runs swiftly.
He spreads the snow like wool
    and scatters the frost like ashes.
He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
    Who can withstand his icy blast?
He sends his word and melts them;
    he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

-Psalms 147:12-18

Why I chose it:

I love the active quality of God’s “word” here. He sends his word; his word runs; he sends his word; his word melts them.

So You Want To Be A Robot (Review)

33376885.jpgI don’t read short stories all that often, but I just finished So You Want To Be A Robot: 21 Stories by Merc Rustad, and loved it. If you read science fiction and/or fantasy, do yourself a favor and read this!

Brief reviews of the included stories:

“This Is Not A Wardrobe Door”: I enjoyed the Monster’s Inc. / Narnia vibes getting twisted around and reimagined. The story was a little too pat overall for me.

My favorite story in the collection was “Tomorrow When We See The Sun.” I want 3 novels and a movie and I want to reread it until my eyeballs are bleeding. It is sad and hopeful and angry and happy and there is so much world-building and characterization and plot packed into it.

Another of my faves was “The Sorcerer’s Unattainable Gardens”: I loved the two intertwined stories, and this was my favorite use of 2nd person in this collection (yes there are several!).

“The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie”: After the end of the world, there are dinos and robots and they make beautiful lives for themselves.

I didn’t like “For Want of a Heart,” but it did a beautiful job of slowly building up a nice solid Dread.

“Once I, Rose” was another one that seemed a little too pat, but the concept was fascinating!

“Where Monsters Dance” was another story that felt like it packed in an entire novel. I love everyone in this bar! Warning: includes monsters and dancing.

“A Survival Guide for When You’re Trapped in a Black Hole”: I hate dog stories, but Merc made this one a bit more palatable than usual.

“Thread”: When you’re enslaved by aliens made of light, darkness is suddenly very hopeful and cozy.

“Under Wine-Bright Seas”: This was the only one where I felt like the description dominated all other parts of the story so much that I don’t have an opinion on the story itself. But I like the world.

“Of Blessed Servitude”: Another favorite of mine that includes sun-demons, cyborgs, Wild-West-ish post-apocalyptic wasteland, sacrifice, etc!

“To The Knife-Cold Stars”: I’ve rarely read anything so desperately determined to grasp hope out of terrible circumstances. It’s also a sequel of sorts to “Of Blessed Servitude.”

“Finding Home” was a really cool contrast between those always escaping and those who stay.

“Winter Bride”: This story did NOT make me rethink my desire for all Fae to die in a trash fire.

“To The Monsters, With Love”: An ode to all the monsters, monster-lovers, and monster-makers out there.

“BATTERIES FOR YOUR DOOMBOT5000 ARE NOT INCLUDED”: It’s like a super-hero story, except about the super-heroes (and villains) after they’ve gotten out of the business and are still dealing with the aftermath.

“….Or Be Forever Fallen”: YIKES. This was Elizabeth-Bear-Level of heartrending and oh-no-oh-no realizations and grim decisions to keep going.

“Iron Aria”: Kyru can talk to metal, and the mountain full of iron is hurting. I LOVED the wordsmithing in this one.

“What Becomes of the Third-Hearted”: It’s good. I’m nervous that saying anything about it will spoil the effect.

“The Gentleman of Chaos”: This was possibly the Merc-i-est story in this collection. I love Merc stories because they’re so often about finding hope in places/situations where there is absolutely no hope at first (or second, or third) glance.

“So You Want To Be a Robot”: Partway through reading this, the story grabbed me and made me cry and wouldn’t let me go. But in a good way.

Overall, I loved this collection. It’s well-written, with lots of surprises both in the stories and in the word-choice – I LOVE the surprising ways Merc describes or shows things in the words they use. There are several stories that not only use second person but SUCCEED with it, although this both a praise and a quibble because a little second person goes a LONG way with me.

Scripture Sunday (24)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

“Now then, my children, listen to me;
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
Listen to my instruction and be wise;
    do not disregard it.
Blessed are those who listen to me,
    watching daily at my doors,
    waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life
    and receive favor from the Lord.
 But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
    all who hate me love death.”

-Proverbs 8: 22-36

Why I chose it:

I adore this entire chapter. Wisdom is personified as an actual person, a woman who stands by the gate to the city and challenges people to seek her out and value her. In this section of the chapter, Wisdom tells us her backstory and explains how important she is to humans for living. I really love anthropomorphism, and this chapter does such an awesome job of making us think about Wisdom in a whole new way because it’s not just an abstract quality or characteristic, but a person we can interactive with and talk to.

Note: after putting this post together, I realized it would be posted on Mother’s Day. I’m grateful to have a mom who has many similarities with the lady in this chapter of Proverbs!

Northanger Abbey Readalong: June 2017

Our Northanger Abbey readalong begins in June! We will be reading the entire book from June 1 to June 30. You can read it online for free at Project Gutenberg,  get it for free on Kindle, or purchase it at the book depository of your choice.

I’ll be posting a couple of times a week here. Let me know if you’ll be blogging anywhere! Do the reading, join the conversation, ask questions or write posts, as you will! Join us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or whatever social media you desire.

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The discussion hashtag will be: #ReadMorland 

Reading Schedule

By June 9th, you should have chapters 1-9 read.

By June 16th, you should have chapters 10-16 read (or through volume II: chapter 1).

By June 23rd, you should have chapters 17-23 read (or volume II: chapters 2-8).

By June 30th, you should have chapters 24-31 read (or volume II: chapters 9-16).

Thanks for joining us!

Myth Monday: Norse Mythology (Review)

I read Norse Mythology and I liked it, somewhat to my surprise.

30831912.jpgDon’t get me wrong. I’m a casual Neil Gaiman fan, and some of his books I love very much (if you’ve read The Graveyard Book, let’s hold each other).  The nice thing about Neil Gaiman is that he has written a lot of books, for all ages and in many different mediums, so if you don’t care for the content level or subject of one book, you might love another, as he is a very skilled writer no matter the genre.

I really love Norse mythology (big surprise), and while I know Neil Gaiman can use mythological influences to devastating effect in his work, I wasn’t sure about how well he could retell the original stories – playing the “straight man,” as it were, rather than re-imagining or spinning or twisting the myths into his own stories.

I really appreciated Gaiman’s introduction to this book: he makes it clear that he is not writing a comprehensive work on these myths, but instead “picking and choosing what tales I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell them, blending versions of myths from the prose and from the poems.” He also acknowledges the difficulties; for example, how many Norse myths we’ve lost, so that some gods we know the names of but little else.

The stories themselves are told with characteristic Gaiman skill and beauty; some of them are very poetic, not in a confusing way, but in a satisfying, let-me-sit-here-and-savor-that-sentence way. The stories are well-paced and entertaining, with occasional sly humor, as well as a good sense of dramatic tension, in spite of the stories’ age. for All of them are told with directness and clarity, wasting no words and lavishing no sentimentality.

Gaiman doesn’t sugar-coat the myths by any means, either! Norse myths can be gross, violent, disturbing, or all three at once. The gods have a tendency to resort to murder or cruel punishments when they’re pissed off or feel wronged – they’re not in charge because they’re virtuous. Gaiman doesn’t shy away from showing this, and achieves a nice balance of humor and gravitas when dealing with some of the more shocking or disgusting stories.

On the other hand (and oh my gosh I can’t believe I’m saying this), Gaiman is a little hard on Loki. Yes, he does some despicable things (which don’t necessarily stand out against the despicable things some of the other gods do at times – I’m especially looking at you, Thor and Odin), but he is a Trickster archetype, and his main goals in life generally have to do with causing mischief and throwing the natural order into chaos. In Gaiman’s stories, Loki is very intentionally a malicious, villainous creep. It’s Gaiman’s right to tell the story that way and it’s my right to completely disagree with it.

Gaiman’s narration, as I touched on above, is really good for the most part. However, he is inconsistent with the way he uses the narrator to occasionally break into the story. I couldn’t figure out what rhythm or reason he was using. Most of the stories didn’t have narrator interjections at all; some had a little, and some suffer from multiple paragraphs of the narrator introducing the story. “The Mead of Poets,” for example opens with “Do you wonder where poetry comes from? Where we get the songs we sing and the tales we tell?” and goes on at length from there before finally starting the darn story.

My other quibble is the near-erasure of Sif, Sigyn, and Frigg (all goddesses). The stories he chose mostly focus on Thor, Loki, and Odin. We only get one Frey story (he’s a fertility god and one of the most well-loved by the original audiences of these myths), and Freya (another goddess and Frey’s sister) shows up in only a handful.  I expected better from Gaiman on this point.

Overall, I liked this collection enough to read it again and recommend it. If you like Neil Gaimain or mythology, I recommend it. If you’re looking for more on Norse mythology, there’s a nice list here, including my personal favorite, The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland.