To me, fair friend, you never can be old

Happy maybe-Birthday, Shakespeare!

Bring on the cakes and ale

Yes, today is the day we traditionally celebrate the birth of the greatest English writer, William Shakespeare – the Bard of Avon, “not of an age, but for all time.” Happy 451st, Will!

Do you have a favourite play, or a favourite quotation? I love “Boldness be my friend! / Arm me, Audacity, from head to foot!” from Cymbeline (I, vi), but I think my most beloved lines come from Sonnet 29, “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate

I don’t know what it says about the state of my life that I often find myself muttering those words to myself without even realizing it.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

ANYWAY.

As you all probably know by now, our favourite Book Cat is named after one of ole Shakey’s characters, one horrifically creative and rightfully vengeful Roman general, Titus Andronicus (seen below planning to serve his enemy a pie made of her own sons).

To honour the great Bard and celebrate this monumental day in literary history, me and my boy T are spending the evening curled up in matching chicken suits (DON’T ASK) to eat some none-people-containing pie and watch the amazing film adaptation of Titus, with intermittent bouts of competitive recitations. He’ll probably win, the furry little nerd.

You know I love you, you foolish human. As Miranda says to Ferdinand, "I would not wish / Any companion in the world but you." Even when you dress me up in  a chicken suit.

You know I love you, you foolish human. As Miranda says to Ferdinand, “I would not wish / Any companion in the world but you.”
Even when you dress me up in a chicken suit.

TITUS! YOU ADORABLE CURMUDGEON! I KNEW YOU CARED!

To Shakespeare – thanks for all the words! Enjoy your cakes and ale, you poor players –

[Exit, pursued by a bear]

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I promise to do my best… #BrownieForLife

Hello, my delicious, chewy, chocolate-chip cookies! Gather round the toadstool, won’t you, while I force you to bear witness to my great and terrible nostalgia.

I was a Brownie for about three glorious months when I was a wee girl. And I was a BOSS. The whole shebang was right up my alley: fairy-tale influenced origin stories, a clearly outlined path to rising in the ranks and therefore gaining power over my peers, being sorted into tribes named after various types of fairy folk, seriously bad-ass uniforms. Listen, if my mom hadn’t yanked me out because of ‘reasons,’ I guarantee you I’d be Queen Brownie right now, ruling over an army of mini Brownies, respecting the shit out of the Brownie Law. (Believe, bruv.) In case you’re wondering, I was a Pixie. And I was the baddest Pixie in that troop.

Look out, we're the jolly Pixies Helping people when in fixes So best watch out or we'll cut you, bitches (I made that last line up)

Look out, we’re the jolly Pixies
Helping people when in fixes
So best watch out or we’ll cut you, bitches
(I made that last line up)

Seriously, though. I really like the whole Brownie/Girl Guides organization. To begin with, I think it’s a pretty damn feminist concept, especially considering it was founded over a hundred years ago. I also like the way it encourages kids to get out into nature and practice their zombpocalypse survival skills. As much as I detest most organizations purely on principle – espically those with ‘mottos’ and ‘creeds’ and ‘laws,’ if I ever procreate, I will make sure my little bastard carries on the proud Aleksiewicz Brownie tradition. If only to make sure little Ursula Carolin Raven-Wolf-Moon Galadriel Aleksiewicz-Momoa can survive the post-zombpocalypse wasteland of which she will inevitably be Grand High Princess.

All this Brownie talk is making me hungry.

Only one of these groups of brownies is for eating. DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONE?

Only one of these groups of brownies is for eating. DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONE?

MOVING ON.

Believe it or not, that revolting fit of reminiscence is actually relevant to today’s review. The book we’re going to tear apart this week is all about less cool, dude version of the Brownies, the Boy Scouts. And also monstrous, genetically-modified parasites. (Bet you’re not gonna be hungry by the time I’m finished.)

This week, it’s The Troop, by Nick Cutter.

OoooOOooooh scary!

The Deal: Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons.

Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other.

(Should that be italicized because it’s the cover copy? Probably, right? Damn, I’ve been out of school too long. Okay, I’m italicizing it. Boom. *Blogger makes super-important font decision*)

Robyn says: Dude. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude. Dude.

This was a scary book. BUT. It wasn’t scary the way, say, Pet Sematary, is scary. Pet Sematary (by Stephen King, natch), is hands down the scariest thing I’ve ever read (not including my diary, which is also terrifying but in a different way MOVING ON). For some people, it’s The Shining or The Road or The Exorcist. Those books are driven by a cerebral sort of fear, the kind that gets in your head and sends your imagination into overdrive. This fear invades your non-reading life, so that long after you think you’ve escaped the horror in the pages, you realize it has seeped into your subconscious. When your power goes out and you’re standing in utter darkness, that fear surfaces, reminding you that worst kind of fear is that one that comes from your own unimaginably twisted, horribly creative brain.

The Troop was not that kind of scary. It was the gross, stomach-turning, brutally primitive kind of scary, the sort of Saw ‘movie’ scary. An inelegant kind of horror, but effective in its own way.

What I liked most about The Troop was the writing. This language was lovely: wonderfully descriptive, alternating between beautiful and vulgar, and always very distinctive. Cutter has a strong voice. (FYI, Cutter is actually a pseudonym for Craig Davidson, the author of the incandescent Rust and Bone. I also loved that the story took place in Prince Edward Island. Go Canada, etc.

I also really liked that this book was scary, even if it was the gross kind of scary. Definitely DO NOT read this book while you’re eating. It reminded me of Mira Grant’s Parasite mostly because they both deal with genetically modified parasites, but I preferred this book because I thought the science of the worm was more realistic, bearing in mind that both are works of fiction.

There were some things I wasn’t too fond off. I thought the plot was predictable and the pacing was a bit slow, but these are usually things that I’ll overlook if the characters are well-crafted and memorable. Alas, these characters were not what I was hoping for. I agree with some reviews I read in that the boys were archetypes, and this added to the novel’s general feeling of predictability. Scoutmaster Tim was TSTL. Ugh, Tim. This could have all been avoided if only you weren’t A COMPLETE MORON. Say no to impromptu cabin surgery, kids. The boys themselves were a Breakfast Club collection of clique representatives. Kent, the jock; Ephraim, the bad-tempered boy from the wrong side of the tracks; Max, the calm everyman; Shelley, the psychopath; and poor Newton, the chubby, perpetually-bullied nerd. I liked Ephraim the best (surprise, surprise), and I think the story might have benefited from being told from his point of view exclusively (the story is told from alternating points of view, interspersed with newspaper columns, excerpts from scientific reports, and interview transcripts – it was clumsy). I thought he was the most interesting of the boys by far, but I found his fate to be out of character for him, and another of the story’s failings.

And then there’s the turtle. The god-damn turtle. You know what, I am not emotionally stable enough to discuss the turtle right now. I probably never will be.

RIP Turtle *pours one out for the fallen soldiers*

 

OH GOD MY EMOTIONS. FORGET IT, ROBYN. FORGET THE PAINNNNN–cat videos, cat videos, cat videos cat vi–*sticks fingers in ears and watches cat videos until the pain goes away*

Boy Scouts, man. Listen to me, none of this shit would have happened to Brownies. Brownies would have taken one look at Patient Zero and SHUT IT DOWN, Brownie-style. Because Brownies are BAMFs.

Verdict: Read it. Yes, despite its failings, I enjoyed this book. It was an easy read – I tore through it in two days – and delightfully disgusting and creepy and Canadian. After you read it, maybe pick up Scott Smith’s The Ruins – I LOVED this book (hopefully one day I’ll muster the motivation to write a review extolling its many virtues). It’s similar to The Troop, but surpasses it in many ways. And waaay better than the movie.

Best lines: “There is an emotion that operates on a register above sheer terror. It lives on a mindless dog-whistle frequency. Its existence is in itself a horrifying discovery: like scanning a short-wave radio in the dead of night and tuning in to an alien wavelength–a heavy whisper barely climbing above the static, voices muttering in a brutal language that human tongues could never speak.” (p. 130)

Rating: Three and a half mutant worms. (I know, predictable. Whatever. Lay off me, I just had to relive the turtle incident in my mind and I’m in a very fragile place right now. Send cake and Jason Momoa.)

Book Cat?

Have you been... have you been looking at OTHER CATS? Oh, vile witch! Wretched hag! To the lists, harpy, for I demand a tourney. I shall reclaim my place in your infernal affections with a Coup de Grace, thou Duchess of Hades!

Have you been… have you been looking at OTHER CATS? Oh, vile witch! Wretched hag! To the lists, harpy, for I demand a tourney. I shall reclaim my place in your infernal affections with a Coup de Grace, thou Duchess of Hades!

Er… gotta go, guys. I think my cat and I have to have a talk about youtube. Smell ya later, punks!

Look here, Mars! These bloody men are my gift to you

Salve, Citizen! Only the most basic of civilities today, hope you’re well, what fine weather, etc., etc.

Onward!

So last week I read a book I didn’t expect to like, mostly because – brace yourselves, cupcakes – I can be a bit of a genre snob. And smack my face and call me Sally, didn’t I end up liking it. Rather a lot, actually. I think this is the perfect occasion for this:

Wheel of morality, turn turn turn, tell us the lesson that we should learn.

Moral of the story: don’t be a genre snob. The book I judged so unfairly by its atrocious cover was Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn, first book in the Empress of Rome series.

Mistress_of_rome

(That is the nicer cover. To be fair, the one I read had one of those ‘naked woman’s back’ covers. How could I not throw a little shade.)

The Deal: (Let’s just assume from here on out that I’m totally lifting the jacket copy because I’m a shiftless layabout on my good days and a worthless sluggard on the days I’m supposed to review a book) Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress’s rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome’s newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart. As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome’s aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian’s games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor’s mistress.

Robyn says: Guys. GUYS. Such a good book! Where do I start? Like any good historical, the events of the novel are set against a backdrop of actual historical events. In this novel, the later days of the Roman Empire’s Flavian dynasty are the focus. As the book’s copy describes, Thea catches the attention of Domitian, the last Flavian Emperor. I wasn’t familiar with Domitian before reading this novel, so I really enjoyed learning more about a post-Julio-Claudian Rome. It’s quite a large-scale b00k – anything involving an emperor is big, in my opinion, but also in terms of time, as the book’s events span a decade or so – but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that despite the sweeping, epic story, there was some good character development. Not every character was as nuanced as the mains, but Thea and her lover, Arius, both evolved over the course of the story. Thea’s PTSD was another fascinating aspect of the novel, and quite meaningful to me on a personal level. At times, I wished I knew more about Arius – the story is told from alternating points of view, but only Thea’s parts are narrated in the first-person. There is a host of intriguing supporting characters, including the consummately evil Lepida, and while I didn’t skip their chapters, a part of me wished the narration had been limited to Thea and Arius. On a superficial level, I understood the relevance of these other characters and could see how their perspectives enriched the larger story, but I didn’t really care about them they way I did Thea and Arius. Or maybe I’m just a swoony sap of a romantic beneath this stony exterior. MAYBE I DO HAVE A HEART AFTER ALL.

pullo vorenus

Lucius Vorenus + Titus Pullo = BEST BROMANCE EVER

Lol. Or maybe not.

Another plus: the story was exceptionally well-paced. And when I say well-paced, I mean I tore through this book like I was on fire. Or the book was on fire. There was definitely fire involved. I was mad to find out what happened next, and I can’t think of a moment when I felt anything dragged. The sexy-times were super-tame, mostly a sentence or two of vaguely provocative description, but the romance was there, so I was happy. And – spoiler – there was, at last, a happy ending.

spartacus

Still not over this

Oh, and there’s a character named Vercingetorix. Not the Vercingetorix, but still. #TeamVercingetorix.

Verdict: Read it. Don’t be a genre snob like me! There are gladiators and mad emperors and swoon! WHAT MORE COULD ANYONE ASK FOR???

Best lines: “What kind of moron wants to be a gladiator?I don’t know why but that line pleases me no end. I’m using it whenever someone questions me when I want to do something crazy and awesome. (Do you hear me, Mom? I’m totally jumping down into one of those subterranean caves and falling through a bat tornado and you can’t stop me, dammit.)

Rating: Four out of five murdered Roman Emperors. What kind of moron wants to be an emperor, that’s the real question.

Book Cat! You were named after a Roman general. Give us your insider’s take.

My grief was at the height before thou cam’st, And now like Nilus it disdaineth bounds.

My grief was at the height before thou cam’st, And now like Nilus it disdaineth bounds.

OH TITUS!!!!!!!!!!