Sunday Sum-Up: April 16, 2023

Have I mentioned how wonky the weather can get around here? Probably a few dozen times, but it can get pretty wonky. Like last week when it got up to 90F on Thursday, then we had a series of severe thunderstorms on Friday, and a day of rain, sleet, and a high of 45F on Saturday. Fun times! Springtime weather is always interesting around here.

The summery weather did prompt the plants and trees to green up and produce leaves. There are flowers all over and most of the trees have leaves, save for the Bartlett pears which have blossomed and look gorgeous (even though I know Bartlett pears aren’t the best trees to have all over urban environments). So now that we have the spring greens and flowers, I’d love it if we could get a bit more rain to end the drought we’re in the midst of. Two storms and a day of steady rain help, but they can’t undo months and months of dry weather.

Friday evening, I went to the lake before the storms came through and photographed some of the clouds:

Obligatory Mina Photo:

It will come as no surprise, I’m sure, when I say that Mina is afraid of the vacuum cleaner. If she’s in the living room when I pull it out of the closet she runs and hides and doesn’t come out for a while after I’ve put it away. But after a very loud car drove by on Friday morning and scared her, she hid in the closet, where I found her curled up next to the vacuum cleaner and using it as a pillow. Perhaps she thought it would be an enemy of the loud noise that had scared her and would protect her. Or maybe the closet felt like the safest place ever, and even the dastardly vacuum couldn’t harm her. Whatever her thoughts on the subject, the car went away and she eventually left the closet and returned to her spot in the window.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

  • Bring up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell trilogy #2) by Hilary Mantel, audiobook narrated by Simon Vance
  • The Sinister Booksellers of Bath (The Left-Handed Booksellers of London #2) by Garth Nix, audiobook narrated by Marisa Calin

I spent most of my time at home last Sunday listening to the rest of Bring Up the Bodies because even though I’ve read it a few times before, I just couldn’t stop until I’d gotten to the end. There are not enough superlatives for Mantel’s writing in this book, the way she reveals character, or the historical details that went into the Cromwell books. And then there’s Vance’s narration, which is just perfect. Having come from his lackluster narration of Dune Messiah last month (where all the women came off sounding shrill), his approach to narrating the voices of women like Jane Seymour, Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon, and Jane Rochford was just fantastic. I know it’s probably now how things fell out in actual history, but I love how Cromwell takes down the four men he had a long-standing grudge against and uses them to fulfill Henry’s desire to get rid of a wife who had failed to bear a son and who’s tempestuous nature worked against her once they were married. Every author has to take some liberties with history, but I feel that too many of them try to make (especially female characters) into such modern-seeming characters or use cliches or poorly-wrought tropes to try to add spice to a historical story. But the historical figures many authors write about these days lived fascinating lives on their own terms, and the half-baked stories the authors come up with pale in comparison. But Mantel’s approach was to dig into the details of history, let the history speak for itself, and let her speculation fill in nothing more than the small gaps in the historical record. This is how I prefer it, when an author decides to write about real people from the past. There’s no need to make up implausible romances or include kidnappings for dramatic effect. The drama is in history.

I read The Left-Handed Booksellers of London shortly after it came out in 2020 and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s about a group of magic-wielders, both scholars and warriors, who fight the forces of dark magic that threaten the people of the world. In the first book, left-handed warrior mage Merlin and his sister Vivian, a right-handed magical scholar, must find out why an ordinary-seeming young woman named Susan is being hunted by magical monsters. It’s a fun, popcorn read with an excellent sense of humor and quirky characters doing interesting things. I wasn’t sure at the time if this would be a series, so I was happy when I heard that The Sinister Booksellers of Bath was coming out. I immediately put a hold request in at my library, and it arrived for me earlier this week. In this installment, a strange map shows up in the bookshop where Vivian works, and it somehow whisks Merlin away into an alternate dimension. With time running out for him, Vivian races to London to find Susan, who is the only one who can make the device that can save Merlin. But that’s not the only danger facing the booksellers once they discover who made the map and the reasons for its creation. Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as the first one, and it’s partly due to the perspective. The book starts out from Vivian’s POV, switches to Merlin’s, then back to Vivian’s and it feels like the rest of the story will continue like that, but when Susan shows up it’s all about her. Vivian feels like an afterthought in a book that felt like it was going to be all about her. It bugs me when an author completely abandons the POVs they spent a significant part of the book in, and that’s what happened here. Also, I didn’t find the plot as engaging as it was in the first book. Would I read a third book in this series? Maybe? It will depend on the plot synopsis, I guess, but I’m not super-interested in any continuations at this point.

What I’m Currently Reading:

  • The Quicksilver Court by Melissa Caruso (212/480)
  • The Whispering Skull (Lockwood and Co. #2) by Jonathan Stroud, audiobook narrated by Katie Lyons (20%)

I’m still enjoying The Quicksilver Court, though I’m not getting through it terribly quickly. I thought I’d be done with it by now, but nope. And that’s okay. It’s a fun if dark story. So far, Ryxander and the Rooks have discovered that the glittering palace they’ve gone to find a powerful weapon is a trap set by one or more of the evil entities that escaped into the world in the first book. Now, the group has to find a way to locate the weapon, deal with the entities (or at least escape them), and maintain each other’s trust even as their darkest secrets are revealed to the group. And Ryx realizes there is more to her own past than she thought, and the powers that have kept her locked away from people for so long make her more dangerous than she ever thought possible. Is this a good book? Not really. The prose is serviceable but unremarkable, and the pacing has been a little weird, but as enjoyable as it’s been overall, I’m willing to overlook its deficiencies.

The Whispering Skull is the second book in Stroud’s Lockwood and Co. series, which caught my eye when I watched the Netflix show a couple of months ago. In this installment, Lockwood, George, and Lucy have made a bet with the uppity team from the Fittes Agency that always seems to come across them when they’ve screwed up. But things start looking up when Lockwood and Co. are hired to help clear an old cemetery– until they find an old coffin with a strange artifact within it. When the artifact is stolen, Lockwood and Co. must join forces with the Fittes team to track it down. But all isn’t well at the Lockwood offices on Portland Row. George seems distracted by something, and Lucy is growing ever more obsessed with the voices she hears coming from the strange skull in a jar in their office. Thanks to the show, I have a pretty good idea of where this is going and who the villains of the story are. And while the same happened with the first book, I’m actually not as interested this time around, while I couldn’t stop listening to the first book. Perhaps later on, the story will pick up its pace and I’ll be a little keener, but as it is, I’m not super interested in continuing the series after this book.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

  • Atonement, original score by Dario Marianelli

I’d meant to write a whole post about this Academy-award winning score, and it just didn’t happen. But it’s a wonderful score for a fantastic movie.

Marianelli does such interesting things with perspective and diegetic and trans-diegetic music throughout the score. Diegetic music is music that exists in the world that the characters live in, like the cantina band’s music in Star Wars or the song Pippin sings for Denethor in The Return of the King. In the case of Atonement, the film opens with a diegetic sound- that of Briony Tallis typing away on her typewriter. The sound of the clacking keys becomes part of the score’s melody until the final triumphant flourish of both orchestra and typing as Briony writes the final words of her first play.

The second major bit of trans-diegetic music (which, like the typewriter, exists in the characters’ world and also in the external score) comes during the iconic, five-minute Steadicam shot that follows Robbie as he wanders through the encampment at Dunkirk, where thousands of soldiers await and evacuation they’re not sure will actually come. Several of the men on the beach sing a hymn that is a real, traditional hymn. Marianelli didn’t write the music to match the hymn exactly, but each melody blends into the other without giving up their individual sounds. It’s a beautiful bit of scoring and easy to overlook.

Another wonderful part of the score is Marianelli’s use of point of view, which is an element that is critical to the film’s story. Early on, young Briony Tallis sees a series of interactions between her older sister Cecilia and their neighbor, a young man named Robbie. It’s summer in England in the late 1930s Cecilia and Robbie are realizing that they’re in love with each other. Briony sees parts of a few of their meetings, and though she thinks she knows what’s going on, she is too young and inexperienced to truly understand. When their twin cousins go missing one night, Briony tells a lie that has disastrous consequences for Cecilia and Robbie. The film follows Briony as she grows up and comes to realize the gravity of what she’s done, and finally begins to atone for it.

Marianelli’s score subtly plays on the notion of perspective, with most of the music showcasing Briony’s point of view– especially later on, when the somewhat ominous piano score shifts toward a more romantic orchestral work. If you’re already familiar with the movie or with the Ian McEwarn novel it was based on, you’ll understand the reasoning behind this shift toward sweeping, romanticized strings. But it’s not something I caught the first few times I watched the film or even after I read the book. And that’s one of the things I appreciate about this score: everything has a point and a purpose, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. I like it when a writer or composer respects their audience enough to not whack them upside the head with the point. I may not see the details or the purpose of something right away, but I’ll get there in the end. I don’t need the artist to put a bit sign in saying “this is the point of what I’m doing. Right here in big, bold letters so you can’t miss it. I’ll repeat it a couple of dozen times, just in case you didn’t get the first twelve times”.

I didn’t listen to any of the other nominated scores because I felt that Marianelli’s score was excellent, both within the context of the film it was written for, and as a piece of music by itself.

Next week’s score: Slumdog Millionaire by A.R Rahman

7 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: April 16, 2023

  1. I do need to go back to the Mantel books, re-read 1 & 2 and finally read the 3rd book. I loved the first two books when I read them, but I’m afraid too much time has gone by for me to be able to pick up the 3rd without a refresher.

    Poor Mina and the loud noises! Lovely photo.

  2. I love those clouds. They can be so fascinating, especially with interesting light as you had. I hadn’t realized that we’re also in a drought until this morning when the radio was warning about the fire risk with dry conditions and breezy weather.

    With all your praise I’m determined to read Mantel one of these days. And I’ll have to consider the audiobooks. I’ve been very happy with Vance’s narration on several books I’ve listened to.

  3. Clouds are great! Especially later in the day, when the sun is lowering and the light is getting all golden. Drought really does sneak up you, and suddenly you have a bunch of red flag warnings. We’ve been dealing with so many of those around here.

    Read Mantel! I can’t recommend the Cromwell trilogy enough, but A Place of Greater Safety is excellent, too.

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