Sunday Sum-Up, 05/05/2019

Sumup food and rain

After an uneventful week, I decided to go out for dinner after work on Friday evening. I am single and made the decision on a whim, so I was alone when I walked into the restaurant- my favorite Indian place- and found that it was a little busier than I anticipated. The only available tables were set for four people, and since it makes no sense to sit a single person at a table for four, the host sat me at the bar. This was fine. The bartender was friendly, the service was quick, and the food tasted as good as it would have at a regular table.

The only problem with sitting at the bar is that bar stools are tall, and I am not.

At least dinner was tasty.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

After a so-so second story in Sapkowski’s collection, Sword of Destiny, the rest of the book kept getting better and better until the titular tale, ‘Sword of Destiny’ delivered a fantastic series of climactic scenes that set up the main body of the series and left me wanting to read the next book, Blood of Elves, as soon as I could. Unfortunately, the library only has one physical copy (which was already checked out) and one audiobook available via Overdrive (which was also checked out). I put a hold request in for both to see which would come available first, not thinking either would arrive for a few weeks, but then the audiobook showed up the other day! I am looking forward to getting into it, and will probably do so later this morning while doing housework.

Letters from Yellowstone is a charming epistolary novel about a team of natural scientists studying the flora and fauna of Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 1898. They are beset by storms, interpersonal issues, and administrative problems as they strive to come together as a team enough to secure further scientific ventures, their own reputations as scholars, and a means of protecting the nascent national park from greedy corporate interests. For a long time, I thought a particular story element would veer toward a trite ending, but I am happy to say that Smith knew better than to do that, and it has a refreshing end where all the characters have grown and develop a better understanding of their world.

City of Illusions is the story of a man who stumbles into a forested settlement one day and is taken in by the startled villagers. He has no memory of who he is or where he is from, but as time goes on he develops a new life in the village. When circumstances force him to leave, he discovers that his previous life is nothing like what he thought it would be. The story and writing in this book are much smoother than in the previous Hainish Cycle novels (Rocannon’s World and Planet of Exile), and I can see how Le Guin’s skill improved from one story to the next. Two of her masterpieces, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are the next entries in the Hainish Cycle. I’m going to skip The Left Hand of Darkness for now, as I have already read it and The Dispossessed was available at the library.

Bill Bryson’s books never fail to entertain, and Shakespeare: The World as Stage was no exception. Because we know few details of William Shakespeare’s life, this biography was necessarily slim, but it gathers a wealth of facts about Elizabethan and Jacobean London, the theatrical world, religion, and all sorts of other cultural bits that helped to turn Shakespeare into the most famous playwright in history. Bryson also addresses the conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare did not write the plays of Shakespeare. Apparently, this theory was first concocted by an American woman in the 1800s. Contrary to much speculation, all the contemporaneous evidence points to Shakespeare having written Shakespeare’s plays, and all the other contenders having done other things entirely. If we go by the reasoning that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays because he was a middle-class person from the countryside (and middle-class people from the countryside obviously can’t be geniuses), then we’ll have to throw Leonardo da Vinci, Jane Austen, and the Brontë sisters under the same conspiratorial bus.

What I am Currently Reading:

I’m not quite halfway through The Witch Elm, but it has been a gripping story so far. It’s so different to see one of French’s stories from a point of view that is not a police officer, as her Dublin Murder Squad series revolved entirely around detectives. As much as I want to continue, though, I am going to pause it for a couple days for a few reasons: first, the narrator is getting on my nerves a little and I don’t know why, second, I can get through it faster if I read the physical book, and third, because the audiobook for Andrzej Sapkowski’s Blood of Elves is available for me, I am going to switch over to that instead.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is wonderfully mysterious with its alternate, Steampunk version of 1880s London starring a synesthetic telegraph operator who is saved from a bombing thanks to a mysterious watch, an aspiring female physicist, and a strange Japanese clockmaker. Pulley clearly has control over the world she has invented, where ghosts exist and a clockwork octupus steals socks, but she does not get bogged down in the details. She sticks with the story and her characters and lets the strangeness exist as atmosphere. This has been a refreshing read after my experiences with books like The Priory of the Orange Tree, which were so invested in the worldbuilding that they neglected the main plot and story.

I am about halfway through Blameless and am still enjoying it, if not the narrator. Emily Gray’s narration would be wonderful if not for the overlong pauses and the slowness of her narration of characters like Conall or Genevieve. It’s driving me nuts, but as I don’t have control over how fast the CD player in my car plays back, I’ll just have to deal with it. If Emily Gray narrates the rest of the series, though, I may switch over to reading either the physical or ebook versions.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

  • Blood of Elves (The Witcher #3) by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated from the Polish by David French, audiobook narrated by Peter Kenny
  • The Ruba’iyat by Omar Khayyam, translated from the Persian by Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs
  • His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik

What I Watched Last Week:

Game of Thrones. What else? Episode 803, “The Long Night”, featured a long-awaited battle in which Danaerys and Jon displayed terrible military tactics, but the rest of the cast was fantastic in the face of the worst odds ever. Melisandre made her foretold return in a wonderfully eerie way (“Brown eyes, green eyes…. and blue eyes”), and the musical cue beginning when Tyrion kissed Sansa’s hand while they waited in the crypts was sheer brilliance.

Also, Arya.

Just Arya.

maisie williams

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

Versailles, season 3. I’m about three episodes into the latest season available on Netflix and am enjoying the heck out of it. George Blagden does a remarkable job portraying the egomaniacal Louis XIV, but my eye has always been on Alexander Vlahos who plays Louis’s younger brother Phillippe (aka Monsieur). Vlahos played the older version of Mordred in BBC’s Merlin (which is like a YA fantasy for the small screen), so seeing him portray the openly homosexual prince of France was a major change. I love how his character has developed across the seasons, but even more than that, I love how the dynamic between Palatine and Chevalier (Phillippe’s wife and lover, respectively) has changed from season two to season three. I will probably get through the rest of the third season this week.

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Chevalier, Phillippe, and Palatine. An odd but delightful trio. (source: IMDB.com)

And that’s all from here. Now I’m off to go do exciting things like laundry and vacuuming. And reading. There’s always the reading.

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