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The Sunday Salon on Bank Holiday Monday

tssbadge1Apologies for the long, unexpected break from blogging! I’ve spent very little time on the computer in the last three weeks; we went to visit my parents on the 1st of May and stayed for 10 days, during which time I pretty much didn’t touch a keyboard (although I meant to). We have now been back for 2 weeks, but my free time has unexpectedly been consumed by starting to watch Veronica Mars and randomly getting back into crochet, as I’ve made two little toys in the space of that time as well. I’ve also been handling most of the cooking and general chores as my husband has had to spend quite a bit of time on some coursework in addition to his normal full-time job.

This is made a bit more complicated by the fact that we’ve turned mostly pescatarian for general health reasons in the last couple of weeks. I’d like to be closer to entirely vegetarian but fish is allowed as a backup at least a couple of times a week. I actually tried to be a vegetarian for a while when I was a teenager but went back – I don’t remember why I stopped, but probably because it made my mom’s life too difficult. It is important now for various reasons for my own health and I’m more or less forcing it on my husband when we’re eating together too. I’m allowing myself exceptions while eating out or a guest at other people’s houses, but in my own we’re going meat free. If you have any amazing vegetarian recipes or any great resources online / in print, please send them my way, as I’m now trying to rebuild my menus.

Excuses aside, I’ve also been having a week-long reading slump, which is pretty unusual for me. I think I’m actually reading five books and have paused in all of them for various reasons:

  • The King Must Die by Mary Renault – I’ve actually heard a lot of really good things about Mary Renault and this book about Theseus seemed like a good place to start. I’ve had it for ages, so it would satisfy one of my once-a-month goals, too. I’ve really struggled to get into it; I know nothing about Theseus and Renault’s writing seems old-fashioned to me and hard to get into. I’m just not interested enough in the story to power through. I’ve only got about 100 pages left so I probably will finish it, but I will probably give away the other of her books that I have.
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather – For some reason I started a book I thought would be meh while I was reading the above meh book. Partly because I needed another book I’d owned for ages and partly because I thought a different style of book would work better. Wrong. I have tried reading other books by Willa Cather and haven’t liked them, but I was much younger. Turns out things haven’t changed for me.
  • Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia by Christopher Clark – Okay, this one is good, it’s just somewhat dense non-fiction so takes a bit longer to read. German history has turned into an interest of mine and the small fraction of this book that I’ve read so far has been great.
  • Heart of Venom by Jennifer Estep – Accidentally started reading book 9 instead of book 8 in the series. Why is it so hard to label a book with what number of the series it is? -_- I read about 50 pages before I got to the catch-up part of the backstory that I didn’t recognize. Now need to both acquire book 8 and read it.
  • Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw – And I started reading this because my husband read it and insisted that I read it so much that he emailed it to my Kindle (Humble e-book bundles are wonderful things) and asked every time I was reading whether I’d started it yet. I gave in.

And that’s all the books I’m reading! I hope to finish at least one or two this week because I’m feeling a bit lost with all of them floating around. Fortunately today is Bank Holiday Monday so I’ve not only found time to finish this post, but I also might have time to read for an hour or two. Let’s hope that works. If I’ve missed anything in the last 3 weeks, I’d love it if you let me know, as catching up on blogs is also a daunting prospect.

I hope May and the real start of spring has been enjoyable for all of you!

Books I Haven’t Managed to Write About Yet

cinderI had a high and lofty goal of writing about everything I read this year, even if only a sentence, at the beginning of the year. I’ve failed at that, but here are a few thoughts on books I have read and think are worth talking about this year so far.

CinderScarlet, and Cress by Marissa Meyer

I loved these books. I went on a work trip to London and had to stay overnight back in February and I managed to read Cinder and Scarlet back-to-back on the evening (in between a trip to Forbidden Planet and a curry for dinner). I didn’t sleep much, needless to say, but I loved them. I got completely and totally absorbed in Cinder’s world. By a small stretch of time I managed to wait to read Cress - about a month – but my resistance wore down absurdly quickly and I devoured that one, too, although so far I think Cinder is my favorite. And now I have to wait all the way until 2015 for Winter, which seems pretty unendurable whenever I think about it!

It’s difficult to pin down why I loved them so very much. I really liked the way they reflected fairy tales, how they’re burdened by expectations and each girl has to make her own way, and because each book has a great romance going on (although I think Cress’s is probably the weakest) without being just about that romance. There is so much packed into each book, so much emotion and story. I even like how they reflect a wider scope of the world within fantasy and each girl comes from a different place and different walk of life. I so hope Winter is just as good as the first three books in this series.

germaniaGermania, Simon Winder

I didn’t really love Germania, but I appreciated it a lot, and it reminded me of why Germany is so interesting. Winder basically goes off on a long, rambling, nostalgic and affectionate rant about Germany and takes his readers along for the ride. So while it isn’t an organized history of much of anything, it has a whole lot of charm. Just the subject of Germany is complicated now, still, in the shadow of both World Wars. They fundamentally changed the way that Germany was perceived by the rest of the world, especially Europe, and Germany’s reputation hasn’t recovered in the way. Anecdotally, I’ve never met anyone obsessed with German culture, like people so frequently are with France or Italy, and German friends I have had do say that there is still shame pervading Germany because of what happened. But Germany was regarded completely differently before those wars in ways that it’s now difficult to imagine.

Winder agrees with this interpretation. Germany is kind of disregarded now, certainly compared to its European neighbors, but it’s an enchanting country with a bizarre history, so fractured into tiny little pieces that still hold on to their own eclectic pasts. I felt a fragment of this when I went to Munich almost two years ago; I had never really heard of any of the people or places around Munich, but there are royal palaces and paintings and little bits of history all over the place. I wanted to know more, but it feels like learning more about Germany is unravelling a massive swath of history that has the potential to be overwhelming. I’ve picked up little bits and pieces, like in Vanished Kingdoms and Noble Endeavours and I have Christopher Clark’s history of Prussia for when I get some time, but this book in part reminded me how much I don’t know and how much I’d like to find out. It also made me really, really want to visit Germany again. I haven’t been anywhere else where history smacked me in the face quite so vividly in so many different ways. That history is complicated and has a traumatic relationship with the rest of the world, but it’s important to remember the good right along with the bad.

Anyway, if you are at all interested in Germany, I would recommend picking this up. Like I’ve said, it isn’t a straight history and didn’t really satisfy my cravings to know more, but if anything it made those cravings much stronger.

a dance with dragons dreams and dustA Dance with Dragons: Dreams and Dust, George R.R. Martin

I’ve been re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire for months mostly so I could get to book five finally (and so I could know what was going to happen on the show, as I’d forgotten a lot). Unfortunately, I remember A Feast for Crows as a disappointment, and I was pretty bummed that I didn’t much like this first installment of A Dance with Dragons, either. In the UK, they split it into these two books, and the first half just didn’t grab me although I slogged through. I guess I’d forgotten in my head how sexist, brutal, and depressing Martin’s world is. I was primarily disturbed by the excessive and unnecessary sexism, in this particular book; it just felt relentless and I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading the book as much as I thought I would. Plus, I think at this point, the series is just too long. A new minor character seems to pop up every other page, distracting me from the characters who are actually interesting to read about, but everything just gets worse for them too, with no actual break. It’s too dark, too long, too frustrating to read. I used to like this a whole lot more than I do now and discovering that has been disappointing. I haven’t been in a rush to pick up the second half and I’m not sure when I will.

Review: The Bees, Laline Paull

the beesFlora 717 is a worker bee, designed to be a silent sanitation worker who simply picks up after her betters. But Flora can talk in a way that her sisters can’t, so despite the fact that she is an ugly, large brown bee, completely unlike her black-and-yellow striped siblings, she experiences life outside that of the other floras. She spends time feeding the baby bees and even goes foraging. But after a few days pass, and Flora meets the queen, she realizes she has a secret, and she can no longer follow the bees’ mantra: Accept. Obey. Serve. Instead, she has to think for herself and fight for what’s forbidden at all costs.

This is an utterly unusual book. I picked it up as a review copy from Amazon Vine and, typically for me, didn’t actually read the description in any great detail. I just saw “The Hunger Games meets The Handmaid’s Tale” in the description and thought that this would be a book well worth my time, should that actually hold true. And, as it turned out, a book called The Bees is genuinely about bees. Funny, that – I mention it because it colored my experience of the book, especially at the beginning, and because it highlights that this is unusual. The back of the book itself actually also mentions Watership Down, which is probably a more apt comparison, at least as far as non-human subjects go. I can kind of see why they’ve compared it to those books, but it’s not really like them at all, and I can see how someone who was misdirected, who might be like me and not very fond of reading book descriptions, might not actually end up liking the book much.

Anyway, I digress. This was extremely engaging and extremely unusual. Laline Paull has taken the lifecycle of bees, something is generally taught in school and ignored afterwards, and turned it into a compelling story about differing from and defying the norm. Flora isn’t meant to be what she is. Other bees tell her that she’s too big, that she’s too ugly, that they dislike the privilege she appears to have been given, just due to the fact that she has talents outside her social class. They look down on her and every day she fights to be herself and to keep her own secrets from the world. She fights harder than the other bees because she’s different and because she feels she has to earn her privilege, which really made me root for her.

I’ll admit that I know next to nothing about bees, so I have genuinely no idea how “right” the author gets the way things actually work, but given that the bees tend to use dustpans and brushes and curtsey to each other, I don’t think she’s going for realism. It seems more to be a story about sticking to your own principles and doing what you feel is right, no matter who looks down on you or disdains you for it. But at the same time, by humanising these bees, she does highlight how little they fit in the modern world, and how little we understand or know about them.

The Bees‘s cover also says it’s “An extraordinary feat of imagination” and I think I’d agree with that. I certainly never thought about what it would be like in a beehive, but I appreciated the perspective and I liked the story. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something different.

All external links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

Spring 2014 Read-a-thon: The Update Post

deweys-readathonbuttonWelcome to my Read-a-thon update post! Rather than spread out updates as I have done previously, I’d like to start with just this one post and update each time I’m ready for a break. It’s a rainy day outside and I’m ready for reading. I hope you are too!

Hour 0: The Starting Line

Books Finished: 0

Currently Reading: The Bees by Laline Paull. This is my current read outside of Read-a-thon day, although I’m only on page 52. It’s actually about bees, which somehow wasn’t what I expected despite the fact that it’s called The Bees, but it’s intriguing so far. I’m intending to finish it before I move on to the official stack.

Total Pages Read: None yet!

Time Spent Reading: None yet!

Mini Challenges: The kick-off meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Home in the lovely city of York, England.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I honestly couldn’t say. I tried to pick books that were all exciting. Maybe Half-off Ragnorok by Seanan McGuire or The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. But I hope they’ll all be great.

Here’s my stack again in case you didn’t see yesterday’s post!

Spring 2014 read-a-thon

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Pizza for dinner. We’ve been healthy for the whole month, I think the Read-a-thon is a fantastic chance to have some junk food for a change. Also, not cooking, totally a plus.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

28 year old American living in the UK; I’ve loved books as long as I can remember; I’ve got two bookcases full of unread books (my husband loves this bit the least I think); I love cats, history, and museums; my day job is in online marketing. I’ve been blogging for around 7 years.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I have participated in many Read-a-thons now. The different thing I’m doing today is updating this post each time I update rather than creating a new post. I’ll be hanging around on twitter for brief breaks. You can find me at @mbookworm.

Just ten minutes until the official starting line – see you in a couple of hours! And enjoy your reading, if you’re participating too!

Hour 3

Books Finished: 1

Currently Reading: Just finished The Bees. It was a really good choice – a very fast read with a lot happening. And surprisingly imaginative. I can’t say I’d ever really thought about what life is like as a bee, but this author has done a really good job.

I think next I will read Half-off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire. It’s the third book in the Incryptid series and I actually read the last one during a prior Read-a-thon, so it seems particularly appropriate.

Total Pages Read: 290

Time Spent Reading: 2 hours and 14 minutes

Mini Challenges: The kick-off meme only so far.

I think it’s probably time for a snack and a walk around the house, then I’ll be right back into it.

Hour 7 … I think?

Books Finished: 2

Currently Reading: And now I’ve finished Half-Off Ragnarok. As with Midnight Blue-Light Special, this was a great choice for the Read-a-thon. Fast-paced, engaging, and fun. I can’t resist the appeal of the Aeslin mice, although there totally could have been more of them in this book.

Next? I might read a short story before I tackle another book. Or maybe I’ll read another book. I haven’t decided! I might just go over to the pile and leaf through until one decides I should read it.

Total Pages Read: 636 pages

Time Spent Reading: 5 hours

Mini Challenges: The kick-off meme only still. I never really get terribly interested in the mini challenges. Once I start reading I think I’d rather continue.

Hope everyone else is getting along okay!

Hour 10

Books Finished: The Bees, Laline Paull and Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire.

Currently Reading: I’ve started Redshirts by John Scalzi. I’m about 80 pages in so far. I’m finding it highly amusing, but I’m wondering where he’s going to actually take this story. Not sure I’m going to make it through the book tonight, but one of the good bits about being in the UK is that I’ll undoubtedly get up tomorrow morning and have a few more hours of reading left. I hope to finish it then and potentially make a start on a final book.

Total Pages Read: 716 pages

Time Spent Reading: 6 hours (I think – I got distracted in the last couple of hours)

Food consumed: I’ve now had salmon and rice for lunch, Reese’s sticks for a snack, and pizza, cheesy chips, and onion rings for dinner. Yum. And leftover pizza for tomorrow. Can’t complain at all.

I am probably not going to update until the last few hours of the Read-a-thon when I get up again. Hope everyone else is enjoying their reads. And if you stop by, thank you!

Hour 23

Hello! I have actually been up and about for a few hours, but mostly I was too involved in The Raven Boys to turn on the computer. I have since had breakfast and continued reading, although I lost track of timing. I amazingly made it to hour 12, which is tricky for me, and finished Redshirts last night. I was really pleased with myself, as normally I am in thrall to my work schedule even on weekends and fall asleep at 10:30 no matter what I’m doing.

Books Finished: The Bees, Laline Paull, Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire, and Redshirts by John Scalzi.

Currently Reading: I’m now into The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, mostly because as soon as I put it in my pile people whose opinions I trust very much told me to read it (and who were the reasons I’d bought it anyway). Currently on page 184 and I’m suspecting you are very, very right about how I would feel about this book. No one is surprised.

Total Pages Read: 1120 pages

Time Spent Reading: 9 1/2 hours (I think – I have stopped keeping track as I left my laptop off for so long. Kind of an estimate.)

I’ve got another hour left and then I’m going to get on with my day (which I think includes visiting our shiny new re-homed Waterstones and probably finishing this book, as well as hopefully some blog posts and the end of event meme). I hope you’ve all had a great time and, if you’ve not slept yet, I am seriously impressed! Thank you to all the people who stopped by once again, I was delighted to see comments when I’d got up this morning, and I’ve really enjoyed this Read-a-thon.

End of Event Meme

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Probably Hour 12-13, which is where I went to sleep. It always is around then.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I thought all the ones I read were really good choices. RedshirtsHalf-Off Ragnarok (and most lighter urban fantasy) and The Bees all worked well and were fast and engaging reads. I also finished The Raven Boys later on in the day and I think it works less well, only because it’s more thoughtful and a bit longer (but I still loved it, a topic for another post).

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

No, I think it went really well this year. Andi and Heather did a great job.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I like the way the cheerleaders were split into teams. Maybe it’s just because I had one post which could be regularly commented on, but I felt more cheering happening and more of the community atmosphere than the last couple. I still liked those, but I definitely felt more connected this time, and I liked that!

5. How many books did you read?

I officially finished 3 and most of a fourth, but I only had about 100 pages left in the last and I finished it around an hour after the official end of the event.

6. What were the names of the books you read?

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Redshirts by John Scalzi, Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire, and The Bees by Laline Paull.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

The Raven Boys. But they were all good, to be honest. I have no complaints about this selection.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

See above – I think all of them were good!

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I wasn’t a cheerleader this time. I did like taking a short amount of time to hang out on twitter and read some other participants’ blogs, though, and I think I will do that again next time. I spent a bit more time there than this year than previously.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Unless I absolutely have something I can’t miss, I’ll participate again as a reader. I just like the whole experience; choosing what I might read, picking from that stack, and reading uninterrupted for hours, knowing that there are literally hundreds of book lovers around the world reading at the exact same time. I love reading a book all the way through with no interruptions (you can see above that this is what I did with the first two). I think many books are best experienced that way for me. I would like to still read others’ blogs and hang around on twitter a little, though, and I will aim to do the same next time.

Almost Read-a-thon Day!

deweys-readathonbuttonHappy almost Read-a-thon day! Dewey’s 24 hour Read-a-thon is one of my favorite, if not my actual favorite, events in the blogosphere. It’s lovely to set aside all of my own other concerns for a day and just devote hours to reading and occasionally chatting with other readers.

I also have great fun putting together my potential Read-a-thon pile each time. The day is so full of possibilities and perusing my shelves beforehand reminds me of just how many there are and how exciting some of my books look. I tend to pick shorter reads that I really, really want to get to, or which are interesting and not that high up on my priority list otherwise due to other commitments.

Here’s what I’ve pulled out for this spring’s Read-a-thon:

Spring 2014 read-a-thon

I’ve tried to go for a completely different mix this time, so no matter my mood, I’ve got something to go for. Three romance novels, always a quick and easy choice, but I’ve got one historical, one contemporary, and one paranormal; two science fiction with Dreamsnake and Redshirts; an urban fantasy in a series I already know I love; a non-fiction option which looks fascinating and has sat on the shelf far too long in The Devil’s Playground about Times Square; The Raven Boys which has been recommended to me by practically everyone I trust; and finally some short stories by the utterly brilliant Jhumpa Lahiri.

I might, however, start off by finishing my current reads, The Bees by Laline Paull and Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross. A sense of accomplishment is key to starting off the Read-a-thon right, so it’s either finishing those or picking one of the shorter reads off the pile. I’ve done quite a few Read-a-thons over the years I’ve been blogging. My record is 5 1/2 books, which I doubt I’ll match as I tend to fall asleep with books in my hands these days, but it’s not about numbers really, it’s more about just enjoying spending loads of time reading. We also have a laptop again for the first time in years, so I might spend a little bit more time on social media and updating. I’ll be in for the first update tomorrow morning or early afternoon before I get started (as the event starts at 1 pm my time).

I can’t wait!

Will you be reading tomorrow?

Currently: 20.04.14, or, Happy Easter!

tssbadge1Time // Sunday evening, 18:45

Place // My desk

Eating // Nothing just now – earlier, some rosemary and olive bread from the market. Bread is my weakness. There may also have been a salted caramel brownie.

Drinking // A glass of water

Reading // Just like last time I did one of these posts, I’m actually between books – the space in which I fit blogging, these days. Earlier today I finished The Dynamite Room by Jason Hewitt. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. If anything, it was a bit too literary for me, and I never really felt pulled back to it when I wasn’t reading. In contrast, a couple of days ago I finished A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and did absolutely love it – so still plenty of amazing reading going on. I’m not sure what to read next. I have Longbourn by Jo Baker up next on the immediate TBR pile, but I’m not sure it’s the one for my mood just now. I think I might make a Read-a-thon pile instead and see what catches my eye as I’m pulling books from the shelves.

Watching // I finished watching the second season of Call the Midwife the day before yesterday and immediately longed for the third! Unfortunately, all stores which might sell the DVDs are closed for Easter Sunday, so I have to wait a little bit longer to get my hands on it. We also went to see The Amazing Spiderman 2 in cinemas yesterday, which was okay. Not much else to say about it to be honest, I probably wouldn’t watch it again but it wasn’t a bad film.

Cooking // Amazingly, I’ve been doing a ton of cooking over the last week and a bit. It’s completely thanks to two things – Keith and I have been doing the Insanity workout for the last two weeks, which has been inspiring us to eat better, and the fact that we bought one of the Hairy Dieters’ cookbooks. The Hairy Bikers are a couple of British cooks who have made loads of TV shows and generally go off on their motorbikes to exotic locations and cook delicious-looking food. We became interested in their recipes after a friend cooked us an amazing beef curry and recently these two decided to go on a health kick and publish a couple of cookbooks, as well as make a TV show. These are perfect for doing with Insanity – they’re calorie counted to about the right amount of calories and actually are pretty healthy, easy to cook, and taste really nice. I find that cookbooks often contain elaborate recipes that don’t fit in too well with normal life and this cookbook so far has really been the exception. The recipes have a few more fresh ingredients than I might normally buy, but all the food is stuff we’ll actually eat pretty happily and has turned out well. So far, we’ve had a chicken pot pie, chicken bake, and fajitas, and made a couple of different cooked breakfasts.

Learning // Not actually learning much at present, which sounds pretty bad. I’ve been pouring effort into work and then doing the Insanity workout almost every day for the last two weeks. My brain is a little bit fried. I’m hoping, as usual, that things let up before too long.

Gaming // Nothing here either! As above. I haven’t been prioritising any of the games I want to play. Perhaps another time.

Loving/Hating // Still loving the coming of spring. It feels like new flowers spring up every week, which is just what I need on weekends. It’s also been surprisingly sunny, though not really warm enough for my tastes yet. Struggling with work at present – I wouldn’t necessarily say I hate it, but I’m not anticipating the return on Tuesday. Trying not to think about it until I’m there, and hoping that this week is the end and I can go back to feeling things aren’t too bad.

Anticipating // We’re going to see my parents and taking a long weekend trip to London in May – it’s going to be a busy month but in the best ways. And, next weekend, the Read-a-thon! I’m excited to participate and hope I do the event a bit more justice this time.

Credit goes to Kim for the Currently format!

Review: St Cuthbert's Corpse, David Willem

st cuthbert's corpseSt. Cuthbert died over 1300 years ago, but the mystery of his incorrupt corpse has continued to fascinate generations of religious Brits, especially Northerners. Years after St Cuthbert died, a group of monks opened his tomb for the first time and were amazed to discover that he appeared lifelike in every way; though his body was covered with a white shroud, his limbs were flexible and his skin pliable. Over the centuries, his tomb has been moved across northeast England, finally finding a home in Durham Cathedral, but it’s been opened five times since with different discoveries made each time. David Willem looks at the original sources of each tomb opening to create the most reliable possible account of the corpse’s history.

I found this book unexpectedly fascinating, so much so that I actually came home from reading it on my commute and told my husband all about it (he’s not a history person but tends to listen patiently to my excited ramblings, as in this case). It’s a short book which I read over just two days, covering each instance of tomb-opening from the saint’s death to the last opening in 1899. There is no real ending possible, although the author does draw some conclusions; the saint’s corpse is still in the awe-inspiring Durham Cathedral, but it’s quite unlikely that it will be opened again any time soon. But the way he traces back the history and tries to figure out exactly what happened and how a corpse could be “incorrupt” two hundred years after burial was really interesting. It’s also fascinating to see what might happen to a prominent person’s body for centuries after death. This saint hasn’t been forgotten in the slightest and it does serve to remind us of how our mortal remains might gain a history of their own.

This is a very tightly focused book and doesn’t include much context; we don’t really learn much about what’s happening outside the small piece of the world inhabited by the corpse and those who tended to it. But for someone with a good background of the various periods of history, it’s clear that the corpse is actually impacted by each, from the Viking and Norman invasions to the dissolution of the monasteries right up to the later Victorian interest in antiquities. The way the corpse is treated is itself indicative of the general atmosphere at each given point. Very designed for people who already love history, rather than those who might be dipping their toe into the water, the book contains a number of excerpts from the primary sources consulted by the author. He’ll normally tell the story (and let it be told through the eyes of the primary sources) and then look more carefully at what the person has actually said.

In summary, I really enjoyed St. Cuthbert’s Corpse and would happily read more like it. A quick read that nevertheless adds a dimension onto history, certainly worth the time I spent reading it. I now know a lot more about St. Cuthbert and I’d like to go back to Durham Cathedral to visit the tomb in person.

I received this book for free for review.

The Belated March Wrap-Up

tssbadge1Good bye, first quarter of 2014! I have been so happy to see most of the back of this winter; the daffodils out have been making me really happy over recent weeks and just this last weekend we started spotting a greater variety of flowers and buds on the trees. It’s my allergy season, but this year I genuinely don’t care. I’ll sniffle happily outside if we’re heading towards summer.

As with a lot of months these days, March seemed to slip through my grasp. Suddenly it’s April, and we’re already nearly halfway through the month. How did that even happen?

I read a lot in March. I also went a little bit overboard with the book buying (probably my most egregious sin was buying six books in Forbidden Planet while a little bit tipsy. I guess if my worst crime while tipsy is going into a store full of books and buying too many, I probably don’t have much to worry about), which probably spurred me to read more than I ordinarily would have. I also appear to have gone on a mini fantasy binge in the middle towards the end of the month.

So, to books:

Fiction

  • The Arrow of Sherwood, Lauren Johnson
  • Empress, Shan Sa
  • A Dance with Dragons: Part 1, George R.R. Martin
  • One Night in Winter, Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Secrets of the Demon, Diana Rowland
  • The Chalice, Nancy Bilyeau
  • Night Broken, Patricia Briggs
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black
  • A Tangle of Magicks, Stephanie Burgis
  • The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
  • Panic, Lauren Oliver
  • A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Non-Fiction

So yeah, that whole writing about every book I read again thing? It really isn’t happening. I’m a bit disappointed in myself, but at the same time, I have a lot to write about if I can dig some motivation up from somewhere.

Fortunately, I am still accomplishing those reading goals I set out in the beginning of the year. One book by an author of colour, which was Empress, and One Night in Winter is set in Russia. I also acquired Empress in 2008, so it satisfies my other condition of reading books bought pre-2013. I need to get better at that, though; all the rest of the books came from 2013 and 2014. I actually could get better at all of the goals, but I had a rough second half of the month, so I’ll let myself off a little.

Over the rest of April, I would hope that I’ll be able to get a few more posts going; I’ve got a lot of great books to review and I would like to re-start some mini reviews. I’ve also, believe it or not, had several post ideas going in my head, but whether or not they will make it to the blog is another question altogether. That said, it’s a four day weekend coming up, and I am really hoping to draft up some posts and schedule them out. We’ll see!

How did your March go?

Review: Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan

promise of bloodPromise of Blood is “flintlock fantasy” or, an epic fantasy set in a world with guns as well as magic, roughly equivalent to the 18th century (ish) in our world, a new-to-me genre. In this particular series, Field Marshal Tamas, the leader of the Powder Mages, who gain strength from gunpowder, has just overthrown Manhouch, the king, an exceptionally corrupt individual, and is now working to set up his own government against many who would prefer he not do just that. Some of those are in his inner circle, so Tamas enlists the help of Adamat, a private investigator, to find out exactly what’s going on, and his son Taniel “Two-shot” to protect his fledgling state from power-hungry neighbors.

The book felt to me very similar to those I’ve read about the French Revolution, except with a less redeemable monarchy and nobility. The fact that there are old-fashioned guns involved undoubtedly helped, as it seems to further the prospective era of the fantasy along in my head from the typical medieval-esque settings. The people are unhappy and the people are hungry; in the case, though, Tamas does genuinely want to help them. It made for a nice change and provided a different atmosphere than what I was used to. I’ve never read a book in this particular branch of fantasy before, as I generally start being less interested in history when guns get introduced, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I really liked the magic system. The Powder Mages don’t exist in isolation; there are also the Privileged, who work a different kind of magic entirely, and act in a sort of opposition to the Powder Mages. When first starting the book everything seemed very confusing, but it sorts itself out quickly and by the end of this first volume I felt very familiar with how everything was meant to work and who was who. I’d say it’s a similar learning curve to most books of this sort. If you’re starting a new epic fantasy series, you’re going to have to learn the ropes before you can enjoy the story, and this is one that drops its readers straight into the thick of it.

Undoubtedly this book benefited from the fact that I’ve spent the last few months craving fantasy (just like certain sets of historical fiction now suffer from over-reading). I really, really wanted to read a proper epic fantasy and this certainly started me off in that direction. It’s also fast-paced, with consequences that are wide and political but characters that are very human, aspects of books that I love. Probably its only fault is that virtually all of the characters and central players in it are men. Women are rarely featured in positions of power, with a few exceptions, in the particular society McClellan has created, although the foreign Ka-poel, Taniel’s bodyguard, is an excellent example of how women can subvert that.  I think Ka-poel is the most interesting character in the book, simply because she’s mysterious and completely underrated by most of the other characters. I’m really looking forward to seeing where McClellan takes her.

Aside from that particular gripe, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the world and the magic system and I felt I really got to know the characters. I’m invested in what happens next and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, The Crimson Campaign, out next month.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

TSS: Currently, 30.03.14

tssbadge1Time // Late Sunday afternoon, 17:15

Place // Same desk as always

Eating // We’ll be having a beef rogan josh for dinner – an experiment from Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals

Drinking // Just water at the moment

Reading // I’m not reading anything right now. I finished Panic by Lauren Oliver this afternoon and Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan yesterday. I’m pondering what to nominate for the Hugos and still not firm on what to choose. I’m going to have to pick something eventually, there’s just one day left. No idea what I’m going to read next. Kingmaker by Toby Clements is next up on the TBR pile, but I’m not sure I’m in the mood for the Wars of the Roses. I might keep my head in fantasy while I ride out the next couple of stressful weeks.

Watching // Still watching a crazy number of shows and mostly just seem interested in making it worse for myself! We seem to be sticking with Red Dwarf right now and Breaking Bad when there’s more time in the evenings. I started watching Call the Midwife for when my husband is too busy with his final university course to watch with me. He’s never a huge fan of historical dramas, but that doesn’t mean I have to miss out.

Cooking // I’ve been cooking a little bit. As mentioned above, I’m attempting a Jamie Oliver 15 minute meal later on tonight, and am trying to get back into it. Some, at least.

Learning // Back to the crocheting. I finished this interesting-looking frog just yesterday:

crochet frog

He’s not perfect, primarily because I ran out of the light green yarn before I could make his eyes, but it’s been a while since I actually finished a crochet project, so I’m just happy to have one done.

Gaming // I’m not sure I’ve even touched a game since the last time I played Halo 3 weeks ago. Oh, I tell a lie – I have played a little bit of Final Fantasy XIII, just to try and finish that game once and for all. With 2 sequels it can’t be that dreadful.

Loving/Hating // Loving the daffodils, the occasional nice days, the sunshine. I’ve been doing the 100 Happy Days challenge for the last week and making more of an effort to find things that make me happy. It’s working, a little, although at the same time I worry that it means I’m giving off this false message of perfect happiness to the social media world. Definitely not true. It’s reminding myself that happiness is a choice; that I can focus on the lovely things that make life wonderful and ignore everything that is getting me stressed and depressed. Ignore maybe isn’t the right word, but I have a bad habit of remaining worried and stressed about things that I either can’t help or can’t do anything about at a given time.

Anticipating // The end of the current round of stress at work. I had a moment two weeks ago when I thought things weren’t too bad and the universe seems to have decided to punish me for it. I want to go back to thinking things are not too bad. I’m hoping that time will come in a couple of weeks, but we’ll see.

Credit goes to Kim for the Currently format!