Thursday Quotables: A Quiet Heroism

It’s a quiet sort of heroism, the making and keeping of books.

You don’t get medals for sitting in the library each day, scratching away, writing it all down. Still less for dusting the shelves. But it is what civilisation is made of: the collective memory, passed on, passed down.

— Katherine Swift, The Morville Hours

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Thursday Quotables is a weekly event hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies!

The Artsy Engineer, Seraphina, and a mini-review of Shadowscale

sscaleAre there any Seraphina fans out there? I just finished reading Shadowscale and was reminded of how much I love the concept behind this book. (Very mild spoilers for Seraphina follow).

Seraphina is half-dragon, half-human. So she has this wonderful, human artistic side that she pours into her music. But her half-dragon side is brainy, analytical, intellectual. It’s a perfect band-nerd dichotomy that she struggles with every day.

As an artsy engineer myself, I struggle with this dichotomy every day, so I identify intensely with Seraphina. It’s what made the eponymous first novel so compelling for me, and it got me through the somewhat rougher second novel, Shadowscale, too.

All-dragon types should avoid Shadowscale, as it has some plot inconsistencies and other technical issues. On the other hand, those of you who loved Seraphina’s garden in the first novel will love exploring it further. And my half-dragon, half-human, mixed up engineer friends out there will love it most of all.

Readers: Any half-dragon / half-human types out there? Or is it just me and Seraphina?

Library Loot: Back for the Summer

librarylootnewLibrary Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I’m back to the library after spending a month or two reading through my backlist of ‘owned’ books. It feels wonderful, and so RIGHT, to be hauling out sacks of books from the library on a hot(ish) summer day!! Here’s a few selections:

What did you pick up this week?

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From a favorite blogger

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I forgot how annoying teenagers are!

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A new – and bookish – release

Reading the Backlist, part 3: Rumer Godden

bredeThis week, I’m continuing my exploration of favorite authors’ backlists by picking up In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

Godden’s 1945 novel, Take Three Tenses, was one of my Top Ten Books in 2014 as well as a recommendation from Jo Walton in her book, What Makes This Book So Great. It was a short, very feminist book about the life of a house over 100 years. (Check out this interesting publisher’s note from the wartime printing).

I skipped ahead over 20 years of Godden’s work when I opened In This House of Brede, which is a thick novel about the lives of Benedictine nuns. It was a very different experience, and one that was probably colored by my expectations from Take Three Tenses

In This House of Brede could easily be a TV miniseries. Although there is an overarching plot in the spiritual development of Dame Phillippa the executive-turned-nun, this book is really a string of subplots involving scandal, money troubles, intrigue, and personal crises among the nuns. There’s also a lot of info-dumping about how a Benedictine monastery works, and about the changes taking place in the Catholic church in the 1950s.

I was initially intrigued by Dame Phillippa’s story, because she started as an executive-level businesswoman (type unspecified) in her 40’s. Based on my expectations from Take Three Tenses, I expected this very feminist character to further develop her leadership skills when she became a nun, and triumph in that way. Nope – this was primarily a book about spiritual development, and so instead, she grows in humility and patience while working on her personal issues. Plus, she does this somewhat in the background, because there’s so much other drama going on around her. By the end of the book, her narrative has almost been dropped, and is wrapped up for a hasty conclusion.

In the end, I’m not warning anyone off of In This House of Brede. Just don’t read it because you loved Take Three Tenses. If you  are looking for entertainment in the form of a dramatic, soap-y read about Benedictine nuns, this is a good offering.

Readers: Have you tried anything else by Rumer Godden?

Reading the Backlist, part 2 – Elizabeth Wein

This week, I’ve been digging deeper into Elizabeth Wein’s backlist.

I first fell in love with this author’s work when I read Code Name Verity. Rose Under Fire was just as good, and I have her latest release, Black Dove White Raven, on my TBR (here’s a really positive review from In Bed With Books, and a less enthusiastic one from Bookshelf Fantasies). All are excellent character-driven YA novels with unusual historical settings, and a moderately strong feminist perspective. lionhunter

Last year, I dipped into her backlist when I read the Mark of Solomon series which wins my award for diversity in setting: Aksum (modern-day Ethiopia) in the sixth century A.D. While I loved being introduced to a new world, and there was nothing really wrong with the books, I wasn’t in love with them either. I blogged more about this series last August – we’ll call that Reading the Backlist, part 1.

This spring, I picked up her very first novel, The Winter Prince, as well as its sequel, A Coalition of Lions. winprince First novels are tricky beasts – but The Winter Prince satisfied in every way. It was wildly imaginative with an interesting structure, and I zoomed through it in a single day. It focuses on the story of Mordred in the Arthurian legend. If you’re not familiar, Mordred is the incestuous son of King Arthur and his sister, and he can play a very dark role in the Arthurian saga. In this case, the story focuses on Mordred’s perspective on the later part of Arthur’s story as he is explaining it to his highly dramatic and influential mother. It’s also the story of Mordred’s relationship with his half-sister and half-brother, and his eventual ability for self-determination. In strength and scope, if not in subject matter, The Winter Prince is the equal of Wein’s later novels such as Code Name Verity.

coallionsI can’t say as much for A Coalition of Lions. This story picks up where The Winter Prince left off, but follows the story of Mordred’s half sister as she flees Arthur’s crumbling kingdom after a series of disasters that have occurred between the two books. Her flight takes her to Aksum in Ethiopia (sound familiar?) where she is involved in court intrigue to ensure the future stability of Arthur’s empire. It may be my own distaste for court intrigue related plots, or it could be related to my lack of enthusiasm for this author’s Aksum books, but I’d recommend skipping A Coalition of Lions.

However, if you are a fan of Wein’s recent novels, definitely give The Winter Prince a try.

Readers, what’s your favorite Wein novel?

Library Loot: Four New Gluten-Free Cookbooks

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Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

 

For some reason, I got a huge haul of gluten-free cookbooks this week. I’m especially excited about Bread and Butter, which is by the author of Babycakes. I’m hoping I can sneak some Gluten-Free Vegetarian Family Cookbook recipes by my husband, who is a meat-and-potatoes guy. Gluten-Free Flour Power is the thickest book of the bunch, and Let Them Eat Cake is a regular cookbook with GF variations.

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What did you pick up this week?

Five Bingeworthy Fantasy Series to Read This Summer

boneWhat’s better than finding a good book? Finding a book that is part of a really strong, consistent series. Knowing you can lose yourself in that world for weeks or months as you gallop through book after book.

If you’re looking for that kind of read this spring or summer, here’s five good recommendations. These are all mature fantasy series that have a strong narrative from beginning to end (as opposed to really excellent series like Her Royal Spyness, which have the same set of characters but not necessarily a continuous storyline.)

  1. The Tawny Man trilogy by Robin Hobb – A slow-starting, but totally worth it, series about a 30-something man who has retreated into the forest to live in anonymity. He possesses a rare combination of magical skills and slowly is called back into service for his kingdom. This is a continuation of the Farseer trilogy, but I picked up with Fool’s Errand, no problem.
  2. The Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling – A princess trades places with her twin brother at birth by use of magic, to hide her true self until she can come into her own as future Queen. A beautiful story about gender and identity.
  3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa was born with a special skill, or Grace, for killing. In service as the king’s assassin, she learns the true nature of her gift and finds friendship and her true place in the world. This was remarkable as YA for avoiding stupid love triangles and focusing instead on a strong female protagonist.
  4. All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness – A scholar in Oxford’s Bodleian Library finds a long-lost and magical manuscript that has the potential to unite – or undo – a complicated secret underworld of daemons, vampires and witches. For some reason this series reminds me of Outlander, if only in scope and romantic awesomeness.
  5. Small Change by Jo Walton – in an alternate 1949, postwar Britain has an uneasy truce with the Nazis and is feeling their influence. A few heroes fight to rescue Jews, homosexuals, and other ‘undesirables’ from persecution, and maybe save British society from themselves at the same time.

Readers: Now I need a new bingeworthy series for summer. What are some of your favorites?