Last week was much better than the week before. No minor disasters, and a small snowstorm on Friday. Not too bad at all! Thanks to things being postponed due to rampant disease, I spent most of my evenings at home, reading, and watching Dune, which came out on DVD on Tuesday.
I did go out on my day off to check out a friend’s new business, which opened a week or so ago. It’s a game store and coffee shop that opened in the historic district downtown. So far, business has been pretty good for her, though she said she’s been working 80+ hours per week to get things up and running. I’m hoping that she’ll be able to have more normal weeks soon as she and her employees settle into a rhythm. She has managed other businesses and franchises before, so I know she’ll be able to manage this one. As long as the community turns out for her, things will work out just fine.
So no complaints about this week. It was a pretty good one.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
Mina loves her GoCat toy. She’s always loved wand toys, ever since I bought her first one when she was a tiny kitten. I would hide it from her before bed or before I went to work because I didn’t want her to get tangled up in it and hurt herself when I wasn’t around to help her. When the alarm clock went off, though, she would go right to where the toy was hidden and beg for it until I got it out for her, after which she would play with it, even if I wasn’t flicking the toy part around for her. She still loves her wand toys.
She’s also fond of pushing doors around and managed to shut herself into two different rooms on Saturday morning. Around 3:00AM, she slammed the studio door shut, which woke me up (and freaked me out a bit until I figured out what it was). I got up, opened the door, and propped it open so she couldn’t do that again. A few hours later, she managed to shut herself in the bathroom (because I’d forgotten to put the doorstop in place), and was pawing at the door so I would wake up and rescue her (again). I guess I need to be extra vigilant about propping the doors open overnight so I’m not startled awake by a cat slamming a door.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables #1) by Alix E. Harrow
- Chasing Homer by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by John Bakti
- Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer, translated from the Spanish by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
- Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) by S.J. Parris, audiobook narrated by John Lee
- Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
- Odin’s Child (Ravneringene #1) by Siri Pettersen, translated from the Norwegian by Sian Mackie and Paul Rusell Garrett
A Spindle Splintered is a recently-published novella by Alix E. Harrow, whose two novels (The Ten Thousand Doors of January and The Once and Future Witches) I adored and made me want to read everything Harrow ever publishes. When I saw that A Spindle Splintered was available through my library, I immediately put a hold on it. It’s the story of Zinnia Gray, a young woman with an incurable disease that will kill her soon. She’s loved fairy tales since childhood– especially Sleeping Beauty– and even majored in folklore in college. On the night of her twenty-first (and probably final) birthday, Zinnia jokingly pricks her finger on a spindle and finds herself suddenly transplanted to a fairytale world with its own version of Sleeping Beauty who isn’t keen on succumbing to a curse. Harrow’s prose is as beautiful as ever, and Zinnia is probably my favorite of her characters so far. She has so much to say about living and dying, what it’s like to, essentially, be cursed, and the dark side of the fairytales that are cleaned up and made squeaky clean and ‘acceptable’ for the general public thanks to Disney. I loved this little novella, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.
Chasing Homer was a book I picked up because of a prompt for a yearlong reading challenge I’m taking part in. The prompt was to pick up a book by an author I’d never heard of before, so when I saw this on the ‘new releases’ shelf at the library and read the synopsis, I decided to give it a go. It’s the story of a man who is being relentlessly pursued through southeastern Europe by agents who want to kill him. It’s accompanied by strange modernist paintings that serve as illustrations, and QR quotes printed at the beginning of each chapter lead the listener to a soundtrack of off-kilter, percussive music meant to set the mood for the story. It’s an imaginative experiment for a book, and I liked the idea, but the story itself was strange and weirdly philosophical, and mostly made me go, “What did I just read?” So huzzah for trying new things, I guess, but it was a baffling reading experiment.
Kalpa Imperial is not a single story, really. It’s a storyteller’s history of the cycles of rising and falling experienced by an empire over centuries, and because it’s specifically a storyteller who is recounting the information, the story isn’t presented in chronological order, or by recounting the deeds of the strongest emperors, or anything of the sort. These are the stories of emperors gone mad, of emperors who would rather discuss theater with commoners and have to be reminded of their duties; of common-born girls who rise to become empresses, and rulers whose wisdom seems strange at first but is revealed as the best path after many years have passed. This is a strange book that doesn’t have a particular plot and whose characters can change abruptly within a chapter, but I still found it fascinating. Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantastic translation helped with that, as it felt like she went out of her way to let Gorodischer’s work shine through the translation.
Comfort Me With Apples was another novella I devoured in a single sitting. This one is by the ever-strange Catherynne M. Valente. It’s about a young woman named Sophia, who lives in a perfect community in a beautiful house with her perfect husband. She is content with her life and goes out of her way to be the charming hostess and guest that her neighbors expect her to be. But her husband works long hours and sometimes doesn’t come home at night, leaving Sophia all alone. And when strange things start to mysteriously appear in the house, she starts to wonder what is really going on and if her life is really so perfect after all. Valente is an odd duck amongst SFF writers. Her stories rarely end up the way you might expect them to, and they can turn from charming to sinister in the span of a paragraph. This was the case for Comfort Me With Apples, though I could see the undercurrent of dread slowly rising from nearly the first page. This is an unsettling take on a well-known story, though to say which story that is would be a spoiler. I highly recommend it.
Heresy is the first book in S.J. Parris’ historical murder mystery series featuring Giordano Bruno, an Italian man who was a monk but was excommunicated for reading forbidden novels. Now, nearly two decades later, he has arrived in England as a guest of the French ambassador because 1) his strange beliefs make him an enemy of ardent Catholics and ardent Protestants alike, and things were becoming dangerous for Bruno in Paris, and 2) he is searching for a long-missing book that he hopes will provide the missing pieces for his own philosophy, which he believes will unite all the people of Europe and put an end to the discord that has killed so many. Soon after his arrival, though, he catches the attention of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster, who is looking for men who will help him discover and unravel Catholic plots to put Elizabeth’s imprisoned cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, on the English throne. Bruno heads to Oxford for multiple reasons, and while he is there a man is killed under strange circumstances. While the leaders of the college want to brush everything under the rug and pretend the death was a tragic accident, Bruno insists on looking for the truth– and investigation that could get him killed. I had a few quibbles with this book, mostly in that it sometimes droned on about Bruno’s personal philosophies, but overall I enjoyed it enough to continue on with the series. There’s just something about the Elizabethan network of spies that I find so appealing, that even though I’ve read many fictional mysteries that do basically the same thing, I’m happy to keep reading them. I’ve already downloaded the second book in the series from my library.
Evvie Drake Starts Over is a romance novel. Yes, I know, it’s not my normal fare. But Olive at A Book Olive on BookTube highly recommended it, and because I’ve been listening to the author, Linda Holmes, on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour for years, I figured I would give this one a try. It was available right away as an ebook from the library, and as it’s a romance, it was a very quick read. I thought it was thoroughly enjoyable if a bit rough at points, which doesn’t surprise me, as it is Holmes’s debut novel. What drew me to it (aside from the recommendation and my familiarity with Holmes as a radio personality) was that it’s about two thirty-somethings who are starting their lives over again. Evvie Drake was packing up the car to leave her husband when she received news that he had been in a deadly car accident. A year later, she is still wracked with guilt that she can’t mourn him the way everyone else in her little hometown does. They all saw him as a charismatic doctor, while Evvie knew some awful truths about him. Dean Tenney, meanwhile, was a star pitcher for the Yankees before suddenly losing his ability to pitch, a turn of events that caused everyone and their dog to ridicule and revile him. He wants to get out of New York City and away from the public eye for a while, and the apartment attached to Evvie’s house seems like the perfect place to do it. What I liked about this book is that Evvie and Dean don’t fall head over heels for each other overnight. Their relationship is built over time and isn’t without its flaws. They both have a lot of mental things to work through, and falling in love doesn’t magically fix things for either one of them. I rarely read romances, so I can’t speak to the tropes or cliches that exist (or don’t) in this book, but I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Holmes’s next book.
Odin’s Child is the first book in Siri Petterson’s YA fantasy trilogy, the Raven Rings. It was a hit in Pettersen’s home country of Norway when it came out in 2013, and has recently been translated into English. It’s the story of Hirka, a young woman distinguished by her healing abilities and for her lack of a tail, which sets her apart from her fellow Ymlings. The closer she comes to having to undergo The Rite (which all fifteen-year-old Ymlings are supposed to do), the more secrets Hirka discovers about herself and the man she’s called Father all her life. These revelations are not helped by the arrival of Rime, her childhood friend who has been away for the past three years. He has been undergoing training as a soldier, as he does not want to serve on the Council the way his grandmother expects him to. Together, Hirka and Rime must find a way to survive the shifting political alliances, and discover the lies that have been at the foundation of their world for centuries. Though it’s a slow-paced narrative that can feel like it’s wandering around for the first part, I thoroughly enjoyed Odin’s Child. The wandering narrative builds the world up without droning passages of infodumps, and it allows the reader to get to know (and love) Hirka and Rime. Pettersen puts a lot of pieces into play in the first half of the book, and then there comes a point where she says ‘Go’, and everything moves smoothly into place and the narrative builds in speed and tension until the end. It also has the benefit of not feeling like a normal American YA novel. Hirka isn’t a melodramatic girl bemoaning her place in the world or wishing she could wield a sword instead of gathering herbs (a refreshing change, to have a healer who wants nothing more than to heal). There is no love triangle (thankfully), and the relationship between Hira and Rime feels like a normal, healthy friendship between two young people who have been friends for a long time. Odin’s Child was almost 600 pages long, but it didn’t feel overlong, or like it could have been shorted by a significant amount and told the same story. I’ve already ordered the second book in the trilogy, The Rot, and am looking forward to reading whatever else of Pettersen’s I can find in English.
What I’m Currently Reading:
- Prophecy (Giordano Bruno #2) by S.J Parris, audiobook narrated by John Lee (45%)
- The Anglo-Saxons: The Making of England: 410-1066 by Marc Morris (13%)
- Medieval Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture 4th-14th Century by James C. Snyder (66/511)
- The Forgotten Kingdom (The Lost Queen #2) by Signe Pike
In Prophecy, Giordano Bruno is back in London and spending much of his time with the borderline heretic scholar, John Dee, who is Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite astrologer. There are those who would like to see Dee exiled or executed for his beliefs, though, so Bruno must tread carefully. He’s also walking the tightrope among his acquaintances among the staff and friends of the French ambassador, as many of them seem to suspect that Bruno is hiding something from them. Bruno is hiding many things from them, not least the fact that he is a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, who is still on the hunt for Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth. Tension is building all over England at the same time, for there is a prophecy spreading among the people that an upcoming alignment of Jupiter and Saturn will spell the end of Elizabeth’s reign- the rest of the world as they know it. When Elizabeth’s maids of honor start showing up dead with strange markings carved in their skin, Bruno must put all his wit and wisdom to the test to find the killer before they can strike at Elizabeth herself.
The Anglo-Saxons by Marc Morris and Medieval Art are two history books (the former being a popular history, and the latter being a textbook) about life and art in the Middle Ages. The Anglo-Saxons provides an overview of English history from the Roman withdrawal in the fifth century up to the Norman Conquest in 1066. I’m not very far into this, but so far it has drawn a vivid picture of Britain after the fall of Rome and speculates about what might have driven the continental tribes to try their luck (and succeed) in Britain. Medieval Art deals almost exclusively with Christian art from the end of the western Roman Empire up until the 1300s. It barely touches on the pagan art of Sutton Hoo before going back to talk about (even more) churches. It’s a little annoying, as there are spectacular works of art from the pagan peoples of northern Europe, but I suppose I should expect this from a textbook published in 1989. I’ll have to do some digging to find a book about the art of the pagan people of northern and western Europe.
Look! Signe Pike’s The Forgotten Kingdom is finally here! I’ve read basically none of it- just the prologue, really, but I intend to finish this book this week. It’s really, truly going to happen.