10 things to warm a bookworm’s heart

Friday, April 29, 2016 | | 3 comments
It’s a gray, rainy day here in D.C., and though that reminds me of my hometown (Seattle!), it also feels dreary after a few beautiful spring days last week.  When I feel my mood plummeting, I try to think of good things, favorite things (like Julie Andrews sang about in The Sound of Music!)(yes, I’m a Pollyanna)(sometimes)(and I'm okay with that).  I missed the official Top Ten Tuesday for this topic, but I thought my list was worth sharing anyway.  So, here are the top 10 things that warm my bookworm heart, created with help from my sister Virginia and friend Melissa.

1. Sunny spot in a coffee shop
2. Gift cards to book stores
3. Book-themed t-shirts, sock, coasters, etc.
4. Seeing strangers reading a book I love “out in the wild”
5. Book club (and book club friends)
6. Library hold shelf – if you don’t feel like browsing or interacting with anyone, you can still borrow books!
7. New book smell
8. A whole day set aside for reading
9. Favorite reading spot on the couch or in bed, with mandatory fuzzy blanket
10. Hot Dudes Reading Instagram account… self-explanatory

What are some things that warm your book-loving heart?

saga, volume 1

I see buzz on Twitter about the Saga comic series when it wins awards – and each collected graphic novel volume seems to win several apiece.  It sometimes feels like a year-round buzz cycle (in fact, the only comic my feed loves more is Ms. Marvel. which, for the record, I also enjoyed).  It was inevitable that I’d finally take a look, especially when I realized that there was good female representation and the premise was “journey in space.” I picked up Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples after I saw a great deal in the Book Riot email list, so I now know what all the fuss is about.

saga by brian k. vaughn cover
When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

Brian K. Vaughan has created an adult comic (I feel like I have to clarify that it’s adult, because YA is my default expectation for this space) for fans of science fiction, star-crossed love and action adventure.  The first volume has a lot going on: birth, death, berserker rages, interspecies conflict, a sex planet, ghosts, crazy spaceships, and a life-changing romance novel (that bit made me laugh)(in a good way).

This comic does a lot of things well: multiple threads of story tied into the main plot line via an unusual omniscient narrator, exciting visuals, star-crossed love just fighting to survive, and humorous dialogue throughout.  It is also a set-up for a wide-ranging epic, but the volume has enough skirmishes, close calls, and surprises to make it satisfying and interesting as a standalone.

That said, I was not impressed by main heroine Alana’s dialogue. Whether it fits the character in the context of the series or not, I can’t say.  I was just disappointed to read pages of the jealous/nagging wife cliché when there were other more interesting (and life-threatening!) things going on at the same time.  So that bit into my enjoyment – and I am going to skip reading further volumes.  The one plot thread that really got its hooks into me was that of the Robot Prince – I thought the robot royal characters seemed really innovative and suited to the comics medium.

If you’ve been thinking you’d like to “try” comics, like science fiction, and don’t care for superheroes, Saga is a good place to start.  Just be aware that this first volume pulls no punches – it’s R-rated.  And if you’re more of a fantasy fan, I’d suggest starting out with Bill Willingham’s Fables.

Recommended for: comics newbies and veterans alike – basically anyone interested in a complex space adventure with enough action to keep the story moving and enough depth to hook most readers for the long haul.

what should i read before i visit paris?

I signed up for a cheap flight list this past fall, and I watched the deals arrive in my inbox every week: a mistake fare from Toronto to Italy here, an incredible deal from San Francisco to Shanghai there. It didn’t feel like I would ever find that elusive combo of timing, price, and departure and destination cities that would work for me.  Then one day it happened.  A trip from New York (easily accessible from DC) to Paris, for less than the cost of my annual trips home to Seattle.  I picked my dates and booked a late-September trip to Paris! 

It hit me a couple of days later: I don’t know anything about Paris (or France!), AND I don’t speak French.  Spanish, sí.  Portuguese, sim.  French, non!  Cue: research time!  I ordered the latest Lonely Planet Paris travel guide, followed the advice on Oh Happy Day!’s guide to booking a Parisian AirBnB, and then I downloaded the Duolingo language learning app to my phone.  So I’m working on the language, and I’ve got my lodging and the general logistics figured out. 

BUT.  I want to be a little more prepared than that.  I want to have some vivid images in my mind’s eye to compare to the real thing. I read A Tale of Two Cities in high school, but I couldn’t think of another Paris-set book that had made a lasting impression.  So, I needed to construct a Paris-centric reading list.  Nothing too ambitious, you understand – just enough to give me a taste and keep me excited for my trip in the months to come. I asked friends and family for recommendations and put one book on the list that I’d been meaning to read anyway.

Books on my Paris reading list:

paris reading list

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery – I’ve owned this book for several years, but I haven’t read it.  It was recommended with high praise.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley – I read (and loved!) Knisley’s graphic memoir Relish, but I don’t know if I would have ever picked up this earlier comic if I hadn’t been planning my trip.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – I’ve only ever read Hemingway’s short stories, but my friend (and all-things-French expert!) Lauren suggested this one.

Paris Buildings and Monuments by Michel Poisson – My uncles are architects, gourmets and world travelers.  They lent me this out-of-print book so that I can get up to speed on the visual environment I’ll be experiencing.

Well friends, I want to open the floor to you.  What else MUST I read before I go to Paris?

the witches of eileanan

The one like = one book meme has quieted down a bit now, but for a week or so it overpowered my twitter feed. I like the idea of the meme (one like on the original post equals one book recommendation from the poster, sometimes multiplied by the hundred), but in execution it made twitter an unreadable mess.  So, I was against it.  BUT THEN… one of the recommended books caught my eye. I can’t remember who recommended The Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth, but I do know they were convincing enough that I downloaded a sample.  I got hooked. The rest is history.

the witches of eileanan by kate forsyth book cover
Since the Day of Reckoning witches and magic have been outlawed on Eileanan. The great towers, once centres of learning, are now abandoned ruins. The penalty for practising witchcraft is death. Yet the Lodestar still calls to the Rìgh, king of Eileanan, making him uneasy. And there are those determined to restore witches and their craft to their rightful place in Eileanan.

In a hidden valley deep in the mountains, in the shadow of the peak of Dragonclaw, Isabeau the foundling grows to womanhood in the care of Meghan, an old wood witch. Meghan can call animals to her hand and knows the secrets of herb-lore. But Isabeau dreams of adventure…

Carrying a magic talisman that contains the last hopes of the persecuted witches, Isabeau is hunted through the land by the evil Banrìgh. Meanwhile the sea-dwelling Fairgean stir, children mysteriously disappear in the night, and Isabeau's guardian climbs Dragonclaw to seek guidance from the most ancient and dangerous wisdom in the land…

Isabeau the Foundling has been raised by the mysterious (is there any other kind?) old wood witch Megan, deep in the mountains. With her 16th birthday approaching, she is hopeful that she’ll be able to leave her sheltered life and head out on an adventure.  But the land beyond her mountain home is full of anti-witch sentiment, and though she has some power, her adventures won’t be without peril.  What ensues is an epic tale following many strands of story, centered around Isabeau, witches, and an uprising to bring magic back to Eileanan.

Why I picked the book up: I couldn’t pass up the idea of an Australian poet writing high fantasy.  Also, the dragon on the cover.  I’m a sucker for dragons.

Why I almost put it book down: Celtic (Scottish? Irish? Lots of ken, o’, and so on) dialect that makes the dialogue hard to read.  I’d stumble to a halt, figure it out, and continue on – but I felt the dialogue was a distinct disadvantage for the reader, especially early on.  I was also kind of “meh” about what I thought the plot was going to be (young girl discovering her power and then going on a quest, everything working out nearly perfectly) – I’ve seen that a lot in my reading life.

Why I kept reading: At first I read to see if the story would unfold as I predicted it would.  There were clues and names dropped in the first few pages that made me think I had it all figured out.  It was refreshing to find out that it wasn’t that predictable (for the most part).   I was also impressed early on by the largely female, multigenerational cast of characters.  There was diversity of personality and power among the characters as well. I felt a bit spoiled by all of the women in the tale – I am not used to reading so many female characters being badass at so many different points of life and in so many different ways.  That also lead to me shake my fist (on the inside) at all of the male-dominated books I’ve read in this genre all my life – I could have had this the whole time!

I also liked discovering the fairy/myth tale tie-ins throughout the story.  And dragons, duh.  Another plus: perspective switch-offs! The reader gets to “hear” the thoughts of many of the main players, even the villains.

Things that continued to annoy me: The Celtic dialogue and I never made friends.  It was a slog at times, but like I said, I was hooked and I worked valiantly to make my way through the book despite the brogue.  Related: everyone had a very similar accent. I tend to expect differences between the speech of those who live far from city centers, townfolk, and different species.  The only discernable difference in this book was a creature divide – dragons and animals didn’t sound like their human counterparts. 

Another pet peeve: the cover art is a lie (needs more dragons).  I’m sure the series as a whole is probably very dragon-ish, but this first book functions as a set-up, that there really isn’t that much about dragons (sad!). That leads to another disappointment – I didn’t realize that so little is wrapped up in this first book – I saw that it received awards and thought it must be at least a bit of a standalone.  Not so much.  I feel about as satisfied at this point as I did after I finished the first Wheel of Time book, if that tells you anything.

Finally, there were a couple instances where characters experienced sexual abuse and/or rape.  It wasn’t unpacked at all, and for such a female-centric story, I was disappointed (though not surprised, especially when I looked at the publication date) that that was the case.  There were other kinds of torture too, also presented without comment.  I felt that these instances of violence served primarily as a mechanism to shock the reader, and that they could have been replaced by almost any [insert terrible thing/suffering here].  As I said, disappointing but unsurprising.

I didn’t put it together until just now that I was reviewing a book that has deep Celtic roots on St. Patrick’s Day.  That’s… lucky.  If you don’t mind ‘reading’ the brogue, this might actually be the perfect holiday read for fans of fantasy (especially fans of Anne Bishop and Tanya Huff’s earlier stuff).

Recommended for: anyone interested in older epic fantasy that breaks the dude-hero stereotype, and those in the mood for an epic journey/adventure story with plenty of magic, magical creatures, and layers of motivations.
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