Sunday Sum-Up: May 1, 2022

I mentioned last week that you were all welcome to come and take some of our windy days, but it seems that no one took me up on the offer, and so we had another week’s worth of wind.

Just so you know, the offer still stands. You’re all welcome to claim a few windy days, free of charge.

On the bright side (the gloomy side?), we got a couple of rainy days, so at least this part of the state is a little less likely to randomly catch on fire. Huzzah for that.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

They’ve been doing renovations in the hallways and stairs of my building, so there has been a lot of noise, which means that Mina has been doing a lot of hiding in the closet. We also had two nights of thunderstorms with plenty of thunder and lightning, so she hid in the closet again. Poor kid’s practically been living in the closet for the past little while. Fortunately, the weekend has been quiet, so she’s back to her normal routines, which involve dashing from room to room at random, begging for treats, chasing after a pull tab from a bag of treats, and generally complaining that I don’t give her more treats.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

In The Grace of Kings, a tyrannical emperor dies, and his empire begins to crumble. Rebellions spring up across the islands, and while some are quickly put down by the still-strong imperial army, others are led by charismatic leaders who have the skill and strength to keep disparate forces together. But those charismatic leaders are still human and subject to the same human frailties as everyone else, and their flaws could doom the rebellion. In the end, while this book has some fascinating characters, the narrative distance put me off. It feels like the reader is meant to be set about four steps away from what’s going on, which makes it difficult to truly connect with the characters and their stories. Do I want to get into the next book if has the same narrative distance, given that the next book has something like 850 pages? Not really. Maybe someday I will, but that is not this day.

The City We Became is about New York City and the spirits of the boroughs who awaken one fateful day. They represent the different parts of the city and must find each other and find a way to work together to defend the city, or else an ancient evil will obliterate New York. I loved this book. I loved how Jemisin works with the idea of the genius loci (genii locorum?) coming to represent the ‘personalities’ of a city, defending it from its enemies, and working to improve the lives of its residents. I also love how Jemisin converses with and works in opposition to the aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s work she weaves into the narrative. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook, too, because 1) Robin Miles is a fantastic narrator, and 2) I would not have imagined the accents that the various characters have, and those accents gave the narrative so much more life. There is a sequel coming out in November, and I cannot wait for it. I want to read everything that Jemisin has written because she is a literary genius.

Bernard O’Donoghue’s translation of The Green Knight takes its inspiration from the structure of Shakespeare, rather than the alliterative verse that was all the rage around 1400 when The Green Knight was written, so while it has all the weirdness, humor, and complexity of Simon Armitage’s more period-accurate and alliterative translation, it doesn’t feel as historically rooted as Armitage’s work. Still, it’s an accessible translation of a genuinely weird story and I don’t have anything against it. I recommend it! But I do prefer Armitage’s alliterative translation to this one.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is a female/female romance novel set around the year 1815. Lucy is a young astronomer whose lover, Priscilla, has left her to marry a man for society’s sake. Heartbroken and facing a bleak future thanks to her father’s death and her brother’s lack of understanding of her skills, Lucy throws caution to the wind and answers a query letter from one Catherine St. Day, Countess Moth– in person. Catherine, a widow from a loveless marriage, is unhappy with the long, empty days she faces and still feels trapped despite the fact that her wealth allows her to do anything she might want. But with Lucy’s arrival, Catherine begins to feel desires she never imagined. When she invites Lucy to stay with her while she’s working on the complex translation of an astronomical text, sparks begin to fly between the two women. I read this book as part of a yearlong reading challenge, and I thought it was fine. I don’t normally read romance novels, but this one was highly recommended by several people I know who do, so I gave it a shot. It was light, often quite sweet, and showed a small piece of what it might have been like for sapphic women falling for each other in England in the early 1800s– but just a taste. Anything more realistic might have ruined the airiness of the story, and in this case, the fizzy nature of the story was the point of the whole thing. I must admit that I was a little annoyed by the third-act troubles, which could have easily been remedied if the two women had just used their words, but I recognize that the third-act struggles are part and parcel to the romance genre, so I don’t hold it against the book. Not very much, anyway. So if you’re a romance reader looking for a historical romance, I would recommend this one.

What I’m Currently Reading:

I was surprised when I got the notification that this was available for me in my Libby app, because I’d been on the waiting list for a few weeks, and I thought I had at least another three weeks to wait before I would get it. But it showed up on Wednesday afternoon, so I downloaded it right away. I’m only 10% of the way through, and have another thirty hours or so left, so I may end up having to check the physical copy out from the library and finishing that, as I only have seventeen days left on the check-out. I attempted to read this book several years ago but quit at some point for some reason I don’t remember anymore. I wanted to give it another chance, though, because everywhere I turn, it seems that I find someone who’s read it and loved it. Also, the sell sheet for my ARC of R.F. Kuang’s upcoming book, Babel, describes it as a “tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”. Of course, I am not about to take the copywriter’s word for that and will judge these things for myself. So far, I’m enjoying the book, which has the feeling and language of a Victorian novel through and through, though I have a feeling it will pick up some modern sensibilities whenever Jonathan Strange comes into the narrative. Thus far, the quiet, no-nonsense (and rather dull) Mr. Norrell is having more than his fill of the inanities of polite society and their obsession with seeing silly magic tricks while he wants nothing more than to bring respectability back to the study of magic and be useful to his country in its struggles against the French.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

I was not expecting to get Spear from the library quite so soon, but I got the email about it from my library last night and picked it up on my way home from work. It’s a short novel, so I should finish it quickly.

I’ve been curious about Death and the Maidens since I found it at my local used bookstore, so I will start it this week.

I decided that I would finish Pettersen’s Raven Rings trilogy before I got into anything else, so I plan to start it this week sometime. I was intrigued by the direction Hirka’s story took at the end of the second book, The Rot, and I look forward to seeing what she does with her newfound knowledge and the strengths and skills she developed in that book.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

The Magnus Archives
Fiction Podcast
Featuring: Jonathan Sims, Alexander J. Newell, Ben Meredith, Lydia Nichols, Mike LeBeau, Sasha Sienna, Alasdair Stuart, Jon Gracey, Paul Sims, Sue Sims, Frank Voss, Hannah Brankin, Lottie Broomhall, and Jessica Law
Genre: Horror

Jonathan Sims is the new head archivist for the Magnus Institute, an esoteric archive devoted to documenting, cataloging, and investigating the various stories of paranormal activity that ordinary people encounter. While they are often regarded as either a collection of crackpots or unfeeling skeptics, the staff of the Institute is dedicated to their work. But as they begin to bring some semblance of order to the shambles that the previous head archivist left matters in, they find connections between the stories that begin to show that there are deeper, darker things at work so far down into the shadows it just might break them all to find out what’s really going on. And yet, they refuse to let go of the matters like sensible people should. Because when the abyss begins to stare back, there is no turning away from it.

I started listening to this thanks to a couple of acquaintances from an SFF Discord I’m on. They were excited about it, and while I’m not a big fan of horror, I decided to give it a try because I do enjoy a well-made fiction podcast. I was a bit skeptical in the first few episodes, as I thought the narrator was laying things on a bit thick in his narration, but I got used to it. And now that some of the other characters have been showing up, he has someone to play against. So now I am well and truly hooked, and I just want to keep listening to the next episodes to find out what’s going to happen next.

The show is basically a series of Jon’s recordings of people’s accounts of their supernatural encounters, and at the end of the transcript, Jon provides some context to the story. The episodes mostly stand on their own, but as you progress through the first season, you start to see recurring characters, themes, and creatures that build upon each other to form an overarching plot. One of the bonuses for me is that there is no grand conspiracy theory working in the background, as I tend to loathe conspiracy theory storylines.

Another bonus is the relative shortness of the episodes, which are about twenty minutes each. Part of what annoys me about horror films is that they just go on and on and on, and end up being tedious after the characters escape the monster(s) over and over again. I prefer short-form horror that packs a punch in a short period of time (or in a short story), and then calls it good. Which The Magnus Archive achieves very well.

I haven’t been frightened or creeped out by any of the stories yet, but they are wonderfully eerie, and the characters are endearing, though most of them haven’t been ‘on-screen’ for very long yet. I finished the first season on Friday night, and plan to get into the second season after I’ve finished a chunk of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

But who knows? I might just dive into the second season, audiobook or not.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: May 1, 2022

  1. The name Simon Armitage rang a bell and then I realized I just bought the audiobook of The Death of King Arthur, which I believe migth be his version of Le Morte d’Arthur. Like you, I keep hearing good things about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and still have that copy sitting on my shelf staring at me, taunting me, teasing me for not having started it yet.

  2. I saw that audiobook of Le Morte d’Arthur in my Hoopla app! I was going to download it before the end of April, but then Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell showed up for me, and at 32 hours, it’s going to be my primary audio thing until I get a lot farther into it. But I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get to Le Morte d’Arthur before the end of the month.

  3. I don’t need to borrow your wind — we’ve had plenty of our own, but thanks anyway! I read Jonathan Strange so many years ago and have been tempted to reread (or listen to the audiobook), but it’s SO long and there are always other things to read. Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

  4. Are you sure I can’t tempt you with a bit of wind? Even just a little?

    I’m enjoying it so far. It’s witty, and has a lot of wry observations about the society of its time (feels like it could apply to a lot of the current times, too), rather like Dickens, Austen, or the Brontes. I doubt I’ll get through the audiobook in time, so I’ll probably have to pick up a paper copy. I think I have 16 more days on my loan.

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