Monthly Archives: April 2014

In Other News

Hi everyone. I made it through my surgery, but had some unexpected complications. One of the side affects has been a difficulty in concentration–which means I’m not reading at all! So unfortunately, until further notice The Bastard Title is going to be on hiatus. I hope to be 100% soon, but I really need to focus on my health over anything else.

The real reason for this post, however, is that I would like to encourage each and every one of you to donate blood. Blood donations save lives–including my own–and there is always a need. It’s easy, fast, and is a simple way that you can make a real difference in people’s lives. If you are eligible to donate, please do it as often as you can!

The American Red Cross

Canadian Blood Services

blood.co.uk

European Commission

And as always, happy reading. Hope to be back soon!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Characters Who I Would Totally Marry (That Aren’t Mr. Darcy)

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It’s time for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke & The Bookish. Today’s topic was Top Ten Characters Who X (with bloggers filling in the blank for themselves). I decided to go a little silly (and specific), with ten characters who I would totally marry (that aren’t Fitzwilliam Darcy).

Look. If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn about myself in almost 29 years (eep!), it’s that I’m just not a relationship person. I can barely handle friends and family, much less romance, and I can’t even live with a roommate, let alone a spouse. So when I say that I would totally marry someone, you know it’s True Love ™. It’s much easier to be in love with fictional people, anyway.

1. Sebastian Gage from the Lady Darby mysteries by Anna Lee Huber

I’m really into this series at the moment and anxiously awaiting the third installment, and a big part of why I’m enjoying it is the charming inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. He’s a flirt and a rake, but he’s also deeply caring and protective, not to mention golden-haired and gorgeous.

2. The Jinni from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker

The Golem and the Jinni was one of my favorite books last year. The Jinni is arrogant and dangerous, and very, very much not human. He’s also literally made of fire. That’s pretty hot. (Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week).

100253053. Jem Carstairs from the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare

One of the reasons I like the Infernal Devices series is that it takes the usual love triangle and kind of skews it a bit, and in the end both heroes get the girl. Will is great, and to be honest his brand of tall dark and angsty is usually right up my alley, but Jem is something special. I’m not even sure how to articulate why he his so wonderful, but I just loved him so much.

4. Jesse from the Mediator series by Meg Cabot

Honestly, why couldn’t I have a sexy cowboy ghost haunting my bedroom as a teenager? To this day, the word querida gives me shivers.

5. Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin untitled

Look, I know Jaime Lannister’s done many terrible things that he can’t possibly be excused for or redeemed for. But he’s never been as bad as he wants people to believe. The character I identify most with in ASoIaF is Brienne of Tarth, and Brienne and Jaime are made for each other, so that’s a lot of why I love him so much, too. And let’s be honest, he’s also very, very pretty.

6. Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Peeta-Catching-Fire-peeta-mellark-33875800-423-500Team Peeta all the way. He shows that you can be kind and yet still strong and brave. He’s the perfect foil for Katniss. And it’s nice to have one person in that series who is just pure and good.

7. Sebastian Malheur from the Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan

I’m really enjoying Courtney Milan’s novels right now, and so far Sebastian is my favorite of her heroes. Again with the Rake-But-Not-Really trope; he’s charming and scandalous, but never as bad as he wants you to believe underneath it all.

8. Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen 2

I had to have an Austen hero here somewhere. Most of my love of Colonel Brandon has to come from the fact that I’ve watched the Emma Thompson movie a billion freaking times and Alan Rickman makes me swoon.

9. Numair Salmalin from The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce

Probably one of my first fictional loves. Tall, dark, and skinny, which, despite all the blonds on this list is kind of my thing. But also scholarly and kind of awkward.

10. Seregil of Rhiminee from the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling

I fell in love with Seregil the minute he sloughed off the foppish persona he initially met Alec in, and I never really stopped. You’ve got the tall, dark, and skinny thing I love so much. He’s charming and roguish. Sometimes arrogant, but not without reason. Smart and tricky. Witty and passionate. Plus, he looks really good in a dress. And, since I can’t for the life of me bear to separate them, I’d have to marry Alec, too, which I am more than okay with. Seriously, though, Seregil is like every character I love rolled into one. And so he’s my absolute forever favorite.

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Short Story Sunday: “Moonlit Landscape With Bridge”

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“The Minister of the Interior stood in the middle of the room, assessing three suits laid over a chair.”

“Moonlit Landscape With Bridge” by Zadie Smith, published in The New Yorker

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Short Story Sunday: “Araby”

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“North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free.”

Araby” by James Joyce, originally published in Dubliners.

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Review: The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

cover37142-mediumTitle: The Shadow Queen

Author: Sandra Gulland

Rating: 2.5 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

For the vast majority of The Shadow Queen, I was trying to figure out why it left me so cold.

This happens to me a lot with historical fiction (especially judging from past reviews). A historical event or figure sounds fascinating to me on a book blurb, but when it comes to the actual novel, I have trouble connecting, and ultimately feel bored or frustrated. Not all historical novels are alike, and this has happened to me often enough that I think it’s become a case of it’s not you, it’s me. A certain audience will love Sandra Gulland’s The Shadow Queen. I was not part of that audience.

Claudette, the narrator, is the daughter of poor, itinerant actors. She is the glue that holds her family together, especially after her father’s untimely death, taking care of both her dramatic, unstable mother and her “simpleton” (probably autistic) brother. Eventually, she develops a relationship with Athenais de Montespan, a spoiled Parisian aristocrat. When Athenais becomes the mistress of King Louis XIV, Claudette becomes her personal maid and closest confidante, but it is a tenuous relationship that cannot last.

Let me state at the outset, The Shadow Queen was not badly written. I thought the use of first person a poor choice, but there was nothing egregious in the writing. The historical details are fascinating–especially the little, almost throwaway references that show the depth of Gulland’s research into the period. But there were a few things that really bothered me and kept throwing me out of the story.

There’s a lot of telling versus showing. Big, momentous events are glossed over, and years passed in the text in what I initially thought was the space of a few weeks. The relationship between Claudette and Athenais is alluded to with overtones of sexual attraction–especially given the fact that Claudette is at one point a thirty-something-year-old virgin who has not once expressed sexual attraction to a man (remember, she is the one actually narrating this story, you think she might have said something). At one point, the always high and horny Athenais even invites her into bed. Yet all of this is completely brushed off and not dealt with, and suddenly Claudette, who again has not once expressed actual sexual desire for a man, suddenly looks at a guy and wants to lick him. It was weird. You don’t go from being nonsexual to wanting to lick random dudes, which definitely made me feel there was some piece missing in the text.

Finally, the story was overly sentimental. A long passage dealing with Claudette nursing her ailing mother seemed to me to be less about historical concerns than shoehorned in to appeal to middle aged women caring for aging parents (Cynical? Obviously, but I’m built that way). People long assumed dead under bad circumstances re-appear improbably. Claudette has trials thrown her way, but everything ends up sunny and bright. Her brother finds his place in the world, her child is pure Plot Moppet, and as she reaches her fifties, suddenly everything is contentment.

I think that may be why these historical fiction novels are not for me. I’m not searching out unhappy endings. I just don’t want saccharine ones. The world is complex, history is complex, and in novels like this I feel that the complexity is brushed off in exposition and everything else is presented in a neat and tidy little package. Some people look for that in their fiction, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just doesn’t satisfy me.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Unique Books

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The topic for today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Most Unique Books I’ve Read. It’s really easy to get comfortable, to get into reading ruts, but some of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve had have been with books that play with form and genre, that take me by the shoulders and shake me out of those ruts.

This one was hard. So hard, I could only come up with five!

1742157Graham Rawle- Woman’s World 

The text of this novel is entirely assembled from scraps cut out of vintage women’s magazines. It’s visually stunning, and like nothing I have ever seen before or since.

Seth Grahame-Smith- Pride & Prejudice & Zombies 

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This trend got old really, really fast. It’s certainly not original anymore to take a classic (aka public domain) work and mash it up with the supernatural. But all trends have to start somewhere, and when I first heard that Pride & Prejudice was being mashed up with a zombie tale while still using the original text, I was totally excited about it. Plus: that cover, omg.

49628David Mitchell- Cloud Atlas (and pretty much everything else he’s ever written.)

David Mitchell is the author who taught me to appreciate form, to see beauty in unusual structure, that the shape of things is important. Cloud Atlas, with it’s nesting doll structure, is the most potent example of this.

Ryan North- To Be Or Not To Be 17938417

I think this was the most successful Kickstarter project, ever. And it’s pretty hilarious. Hamlet as an epic choose-your-own adventure novel in North’s signature quirky style, with some great art by the best comics artists around right now. It’s definitely more interactive than most books, a new twist on the mash-ups I talked about above.

11515328Caitlin R. Keirnan- The Drowning Girl

The narrator of The Drowning Girl is schizophrenic. The story is atmospheric and haunting enough when she’s lucid, but when she decides to stop her medication it fractures and becomes an altogether unusual story. There’s a mermaid story and a ghost story and a werewolf story, and it’s all the same story. The narrator is wholly unreliable, and the book left me in knots.

What are the most unique books you have read?

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Short Story Sunday: “Saltcedars”

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“Today they will burn our tamarisk trees to the ground.”

Saltcedars” by Shannon Peavey, published in Daily Science Fiction.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten “Gateway” Books

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is top ten “gateway” books in my reading journey. I have always been a reader and a book lover, and whatever story began that is long lost to my memory or, more probably, doesn’t exist as one single book. But there are a couple stops worth mentioning on my reading journey.

The books that introduced me to the beauty of grief

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Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

There are a number of books I read in elementary school that stayed with me, and even still sit on my shelves, but these are two worth calling out. These are two books that taught me that life and stories don’t always have a happy ending, but they are still stories worth telling.

The books that introduced me to magic

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Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce and The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce.

If I hadn’t read Tamora Pierce, I wouldn’t read fantasy today. Simple as that. The Darkangel is an altogether different type of fantasy, but still pivotal to my reading life. I can still remember the first time I read each of these books, almost twenty (eep!) years ago.

The books that taught me “hard” books can be worthwhile

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulker.

“Hard” is relative, of course. My uncle gave me The Secret Garden the Christmas I was eight years old, and I struggled with it forever, trying to crack the dialect writing. I remember puzzling and puzzling over this book and just not understanding it, until one day I did, and it became one of my most beloved books. Fast forward a few years, The Sound and the Fury was my nemesis in high school. So frustrating. But I eventually came to love Faulkner, and I return to this book often, if only for selfish, grandiose, flawed Quentin Compson, who is one of my favorite characters in all of literature.

The book that introduced me to adult fantasy 

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The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling.

This was, if not the first fantasy I read written for adults instead of YA, at least the first one that made a strong impression on me.

The book from college that stayed with me

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.

This is a book that shaped my college years, and I still go back to certain essays every once in awhile.

The book that introduced me to crime fiction

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.

Without Larsson I wouldn’t have developed my current obsession with Scandinavians. I also probably wouldn’t have ever learned how much I love the dark stuff–I would never have read Gillian Flynn, for one.

The book that introduced me to short stories

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Among the Missing by Dan Chaon.

Once upon a time, I was a poor, deluded soul who tried to write short stories without reading them. But luckily my college writing professor introduced me to the works of Dan Chaon, and then many other great short story writers.

The book I will be rereading until I die

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

I’m not sure there is a better book than Frankenstein. Possibly Crime & Punishment, but I don’t reread Crime & Punishment nearly as much. Frankenstein has become almost a yearly tradition for me.

So, that’s a pretty good representation of the books that matter to me. What about you guys? What are your reading gateways like?

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