Half a King

High fantasy. Seems like it’s everywhere now, since Game of Thrones became popular.

I dunno, maybe it was everywhere before that, but it’s one of those things where you don’t notice it until you do, and then it’s everywhere.

Either way–I’m glad, because I love it. I mean, I don’t foresee anyone writing as hardcore and complicated a world as George RR Martin’s, but there is a lot of great stuff out there.

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Today’s selection was Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, and it did not disappoint. Yarvi, a second son, is set to take his minister’s test, when his father and brother are killed. Suddenly he is thrust into kingdom and all it’s responsibilities. He is quickly betrothed to his brother’s promised wife, and coronated. However, his uncle sees the opportunity to take the throne. I don’t want to give you any more, because, spoilers, but the book is essentially Yarvi’s fight for a kingdom he wasn’t supposed to have.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say this is based in Viking/Norse history. The names have sort of a Scandinavian feel to them, and the lifestyle is based around the sea and oarsman powered boats. Besides that, the world is fairly simple in it’s structure, at least in this first book. The characters are well written, and everything flows well.

I especially liked the banter between the oarsmen (and women). As you’d expect, they were an ornery, dirty lot, but good-natured and hearty. Once they got out of captivity, I loved how they banded together into a family group. Oh, and the author sneaks in a Homer-esque joke in there, so watch out for that. Definitely got a smirk out of me!

Something else important about this story–the hero of this book is disabled. While everyone else gives him a world of crap for it–like thinking him the lesser prince, for instance–he never lets it slow him down. If anything, it makes him smarter and stronger.

I just added the second book to my TBR, which is about as great a compliment as I can give any series. If it’s good enough for me to pick up the next one, you know you’ve got a winner in my heart! Now, let’s see how soon the library will take to get it to me.

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North and South

I recently read a Tumblr thread about how important it was to understand the historical context of the books we read. It was a debate over whether we should take Lord of the Flies at face value and ONLY read it in the context it was written in (which I didn’t really understand), or use that historical context to interpret it in our own time period and cultural situation now–which is what teachers and students and readers have been doing in every single class since the book was published.

My opinion is that historical context is extremely important. A book is going to make so much more sense if you know a little bit about the period and culture that you are reading in (hence my frustration with early French lit…we’ve discussed this…I’m working on it). Even fantasy books like Game of Thrones just blow up when you understand that it was based on the War of the Roses, and the Dothraki are essentially Mongolians.

However, every single person who reads a book is never going to read THE SAME book. Because none of us is the same person. We all interpret things differently based on our life experiences, and that effects our reading. So do the current events happening around us. So yeah, historical context is extremely important, but hardly ever can we take fiction at face value. There’s way too much to be learned and gained from it.

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The reason all this comes to mind is when I started North and South at the end of this week, Twitter was blowing up with the news of Rachel Dolezal–a woman who pretended to be black and became the President of the Spokane NAACP. So as I’m reading a book on Industrialism in England and unions and strikes and two classes ripping each other apart…I’m watching the social media sphere do the same thing, over race.

This quote, in particular, stuck out at me:

“I don’t know–I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down.”

 

I am not writing this to make any commentary on Friday’s situation. For me, I very much want to see there be a resolution to all this strife that is going on, I just don’t know how or what or when. That isn’t my purpose here, though.

 

Sometimes, I read a book, at the exact right time. When I started North and South, I was completely underwhelmed. It was very slow to get started, and I really didn’t understand what was going on. Then, I got to Margaret’s very impassioned speech, which includes the quote above, and it all just clicked. I even went back and reread some of it because once I got it…I got it. And putting a book written in a different time, with a different historical context (industrial unions vs rich factory owners), in a current setting (the very real racial tensions that have been escalating), made it so much more clear.

This is a very strong book. There is a bit of a romance element, but it is literally the last important thing. I’m not going to say I enjoyed it, but I definitely learned from it. And sometimes, that’s the goal.

(Oh, and Mr. Bell? I’m not the only person who thinks he’s gay, right? He almost seemed more a character from Oscar Wilde.)

 

Fulfills Boxall #87

Bring Up the Bodies

Henry VIII. No matter your opinion of the man, no one can deny that he and his court are immensely fascinating and dramatic. If only there were reality TV in the 1500s–could you imagine the Real Housewives of The Tower? THAT would be worth watching. (Hey spoofers…someone please do this. Please!)

I fell in love with Henry’s court when I first watched The Tudors on Netflix several years ago, and while there were several dramatic liberties taken, it let me down a rabbit hole of information hoarding. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the period.

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Somewhere in there, Hilary Mantel published Wolf Hall, her first book from the perspective of the formidable Thomas Cromwell. I was completely enthralled. Cromwell is like all of the Lannister’s in one brain. Jaime’s weary eye, Tywin’s crazy intelligence, Cersei’s power hungry ambition, and Tyron’s book sharpened wit. Not to mention Littlefinger and Varys’ connections and abilities to find out really just about anything about anybody.

In Wolf Hall, you see Anne Boleyn’s utter domination over Henry and his court…and Katherine’s subsequent demise. And now in Bring on the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s second Thomas Cromwell book, you get the same sneaky ambition as we watch Anne Boleyn’s scheming come to a bitter end.

Mantel’s second book is just as well written as the first. Cromwell has always been an intriguing character to me. Not quite villainous, but definitely Slytherin in nature. He is out for his own skin, furthering his own cause, even using his son to do so. He is normally a background character in every other rendition of this court’s history, but Mantel brings him to life. I love the stream of consciousness narration that she gives him–not quite third person, but it’s all in his head, talking to himself.

If you like Game of Thrones, you will like this book. As I’ve mentioned, I draw a lot of parallells in the court and Cromwell to Martin’s characters (although I have read that he wrote it about the War of the Roses, which was before this period). Also, if you like Philippa Gregory, then you probably already know this storyline, as told by the women. You’ll really like this book, if you’re interested in a different perspective. Just be sure to read Wolf Hall first. There are some nicknames in Bring on the Bodies that will make more sense if you do.

I really hope Mantel continues this series! I look forward to reading them!

 

Fulfills PopSugar #46:  A book written by an author with your same initials

The Iron King

Right about the time I was asking for recommendations regarding French history, someone posted on Tumblr asked about The Accursed Kings series by Maurice Duron. I hadn’t heard of it, but when I looked it up, the reviews all toted it as The Original Game of Thrones! Well of course, I had to jump right on it, so I ordered the first book from my library. Little did I realize that not only did George RR Martin love the series and do the introduction, but it was also about the 100 year war between England and France!

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Well, you can imagine my excitement. When I read Martin’s introduction, I was stoked. Martin is pretty grumpy, but to hear him rave about Druon left me with high expectations. I was even debating if I should start learning French so I could read the last two books (which haven’t been translated into English). I thought, “Yes! This will give me more of a foundation into medieval French history that I’ve been looking for.” At least the early years.

But, with high expectations come big disappointments. The subject matter was interesting, but the writing was lackluster. Sorry, George, I just could not get into this at all. I can definitely see the Game of Thrones type storyline. The history certainly the potential for drama, but the prose lacks all emotion whatsoever. It is a complete yawn that left me scanning just to get to the end of the chapter so I could do something else. And that means I retained nothing and gained nothing.

I can tell you the king is Philip the Fair, and there were three princesses that had simultaneous affairs. That’s about it. Oh and there was a poisonous candle somewhere in the mix. I’m going to have to find another version to figure out what actually happened. Something that can hold my attention. This one did not do it.

Sigh. On to the next!

March Photo Challenge: Book Haul

I’ve been pretty fortunate lately, in that my book buying has been able to go up exponentially from what it used to be. I can buy a book or two when I feel like it, and add to my collection.

However, recently, we had Christmas and Tax Returns–which for me, usually means BOOK HAULLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

I have been buying piece meal over the last few weeks, so I have some new orders coming, but here was a big one I did shortly after the holidays.

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I am so excited for all of these books. Those Mark Twains are gorgeous–from the 1920s! They are not in the best condition, yellowed, and a little beat up, but the binding is so lovely, and the pages smell so good! The other three classics are more modern printings of leatherbound classics, but they are pretty! The rest are just very necessary additions to my collection. Some I’ve read, some I haven’t.

I’ll post another haul, probably on my Instagram once I get all of my packages, so keep an eye out! Lots of fun things to come.

March Photo Challenge: Guilty Pleasure

I used to buy all used copies of books. Why spend the money on the new ones when I was just going to wear them out? I don’t remember the name of the site now, but I was part of this club at one point where I could trade back and forth with other members and get new “old” books all the time, just for the cost of shipping.

And then I discovered SERIES. Beautiful. Matching. SERIES.

You can’t just go buy used copies of them, because you’ll almost never find a matching set. It is possible, but difficult. Especially in the right condition. And it is so much lovelier to find them in a boxed set, if they come that way! Of course, that means I can’t buy it until after I’ve already borrowed the entire thing from the library…or wait until I buy it to read it. Catch-22!

Still, buying whole series and seeing their gorgeousness is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. These are just a few of them, I have many more!

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Book to Movie And Back Again

For the longest time, I never let myself reread a book. Once I was done with it, I’d trade it in, move down the list, and never look back.

Why would I waste time reading something that I’ve already read? There are so many other books on my list, and that list is constantly growing.

But then…I started branching out from the Nora Roberts’ romance novel pattern, and read Jane Austen for the first time. I had read The Thorn Birds before, but I READ IT AGAIN. *gasp* I got my hands on a copy of The Secret Garden, which was my favorite book growing up. Other wonderful books started jumping out at me that I had to read more than once because once was just not enough.

Now, my shelves are full. I buy books because I want to keep them, not for trade in value. I am constantly staring at them, loving them, making lists of what I want to read next.


The Hubs got me The Hunger Games Trilogy for my birthday, and shortly after we saw the third movie in theaters. If you saw the movie, you know exactly why I was so anxious to reread the books. THAT MOVIE WAS…WHOA.

I just finished Mockingjay last night. And I know I was keeping R awake because I was breathing so hard. Even though I had seen the movies, there’s so much in the books that I didn’t remember reading. They were just so incredibly powerful.

And I find that happens often when I reread books, especially books that have been translated into screen. I always try to read the book first–because the books are so detailed, there are often pieces of the puzzle I’d miss if I didn’t read the book first. And then I watch the movie, and see the story put together in such a strong visual way. I get to see the characters cast (sometimes great, sometimes not, and sometimes…inconsistent…*cough Daario Naharis cough*), I get to see settings like the arenas from the Hunger Games and the Pit from Divergent.

And almost always, after watching the show or movie, I immediately want to reread the book it is based on. When I do, I find a million things I’ve missed or forgotten, or in the case of The Hunger Games, I start to wonder if I even read the books at all!

It’s what I’m wondering about The Divergent Trilogy now too. But I don’t think I’m alone there. These new Insurgent trailers are so weird. The end of the last movie had us all wondering where they were going with it, and obviously the new trailer is just so different from the book. I have no idea where they are going with this series but I’m going to have to reread the books soon, I think.

Where do you stand on rereading books? Any favorites?