Oh, those Russians…

 

HELLO THERE. Long time no see. Did you guys know it was 2016? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, I hope this capricious new year is treating you right a month and a fortnight in. Me? Oh, the flimsy foundations of my life are crumbling to dust around me as I type this, faithful internet friends, but I soldier on, because BOOKS.

So. First actual book review of 2016. Pathetic, I know. I’ll make it up to you by giving you good one. It’s The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra and it unmade me and remade me a dozen times in the span of 352 pages of glorious, astonishing, transcendent prose. WITH RUSSIANS! (+1 Russians)

*heart-eyes emoji*

So. It’s been a while. *Cracks knuckles, brushes dirt off shoulder, backflips.*

Let’s do this.

The Deal (stolen, as always, from the jacket copy): This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.

Robyn says: I read the title and that was all it took. Because that is some title. A++. And that cover – love love LOVE. Seriously, before we get into the deeply insightful intellectual discourse you expect to find here at 96 Euston Road (ahem), let’s take a minute to soak in the epic cover-porn of this beauty. And it’s relevant to the book, so it’s pretty AND clever (like me hahahaHA shut up). Because this is a collection of short stories, which is really just a prose narrative mix-tape, right? (See, Mom? That English literature degree is worth something after all!)

Now, onto the book. By Rasputin’s undead head (too soon?), this book was AH-MAAAH-ZING. The writing is stunning – there were times that I had to put aside the book and repeat the last sentence I’d read aloud to myself, just savouring the masterful way Marra uses language. I started to write down my favourite sentences and passages but eventually gave up because there were simply too many. When I buy a copy of this book (eventually), I intend to re-read it slowly and annotate the hell out of it.

As for the stories themselves… I don’t think I’ve reviewed a short story collection on the blog before, have I? If this were any other collection, I’d probably have to rate each story individually, but I won’t do that now. There’s no need, because all of the stories are marvellous, and also I returned the book to the library already and didn’t think to write down all the individual story titles. I loved them all. There were a few I loved even more than the others, but I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favourite. Actually, no, that’s a lie, my favourite was the fourth story, “A Prisoner of the Caucasus.” Another Kolya to add to my list of book boyfriends (it’s weird how many of my book-boyfriends are named Kolya, right?).

What’s really great about The Tsar of Love and Techno, and why I think everyone should read it even if they think they loathe short story collections, is that all of the stories are connected. Ostensibly, it’s the appearance of or oblique reference to a fictional painting by a real-life Russian artist that connects the stories, but there are other things that link the stories, too. The most obvious is the setting – if you hadn’t guessed from the title, the stories all take place in Russia (okay, some take place in Chechnya, but we’ll get to that). The characters are also connected, though sometimes this isn’t immediately obvious. Guys, you would not believe the number of times I realized who the characters of one story were in relation to those of another and actually shrieked in delighted OMG surprise.

The Soviet era and the Chechen War (and, I’d argue, by extension, the damage wrought by two different forms of Russian government) loom over the collection as a whole. As you can imagine, there is a definite grimness to most, if not all, of the stories, but Marra is also very funny. It’s a dark kind of humour–very Russian, and very fitting–and an essential component to the success of the collection.

God, I really loved this book. I feel like I’m gushing, but it’s so hard to talk about something you completely adored without sounding a bit like a teenager swooning over a crush in her pink polka-dot diary.

my mad fat diary

What didn’t I like? Ooh, this is hard. Um… one story felt like it dragged, and I still can’t tell if I thought the last story of the collection was amazing or awful or both and therefore perfect… but I kind of like that, too. It wasn’t simple or easy, and I think that was exactly how the collection needed to end.

What I liked most of all was the connectivity of the collection. I’ve read reviews that said the links were a little too perfect at times, but I think that’s a bit of a churlish critique, and really indicative of how you view the world in general. As Mel Gibson wisely said in the movie Signs, “I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign.” Wait, that’s not right. Oh yeah, here it is:

(Listen, I never thought I’d be quoting Mel Gibson in an M. Night Shyamalan movie either, guys, but this is happening, THIS IS WHO I AM NOW.)

Verdict: DUH. Read this book. Or as they say in Russia according to google translate, читать эту книгу.

Best lines: “You remain the hero of your story even when you become the villain of someone else’s.” (p. 9)

Rating: Canadian rating: 5 out of 5 heroic Soviet cosmonauts circling this pale blue dot we call home. Soviet Russian rating: in Soviet Russia, BOOKS RATE YOU.

JERRY’S ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: What does a girl have to do to get a square-jawed Russian lover named Kolya?

Now, please enjoy the most Russian thing I could find on the internet:

Over to Book Cat:

Book Cat: “Well, well, so you finally managed to write a review, you slothful Philistine. Tut tut. I suppose you can share this portrait of me and my beautiful Russian friends, since it is in keeping with your theme. These lovely ladies and I were just discussing whether it is possible to fully appreciate the genius and beauty of that titan of Russian literature, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, if one was not born speaking Russian as one’s mother tongue. Alas, I think not, for surely the clumsy alchemy of translation cannot capture every breath-taking nuance, every monumental innovation of a tour de force like Eugene Onegin. We speakers of English must settle for inferior shadows of the masterpiece, and try not to dwell on what unimaginable wonders were, as the saying goes, lost in translation.”

Er, yes. Yes to all of that.

… Anyways.

Das vedanya, comrades!

 

An apology, and some thirst

Good morrow, my nicely toasted crumpets! How goes it with this thing we call life? I’m currently camped out in the eye of a personal tornado of ADVANCEMENTS, UPHEAVALS, and GENERAL STURM UND DRANG. Mum’s the word for the moment, moppets, but I will tantalize you with a riddle hinting at things to come: Where is the last place on this vast and marvellous planet that a girl who despises sun and spiders and surfers would go? (I am the girl, and I am indeed going to the last place on this blue dot that I would ever go, BECAUSE REASONS.)

 And so, sorrynotsorry for the lack of posts recently. The life tornado, you see. Also I’ve been reading a lot of smut and what is there to say about smut, really? “Five out of five Apollo’s Belts, this book made me think deliciously naughty thoughts, CENSORED etc.” Boring, and also ew.

 On a less, ahem, salacious note, I have also been silent on the blog front because I am currently knee-deep in Susanna Clarke’s colossal Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, which I’m enjoying so much that I’m not even going to spellcheck this post so I can get back to it, #rebel.

There will be a review, but I’m only 357 pages in… which leaves 649 pages more for me to savor like a fine Lake-town wine. (Great Odin’s ravens, don’t you guys just love big books?)

 Before I rejoin Jonathan Strange in the Peninsula, permit me to share something that has been occupying a great deal of my mind: #ChildermassThirst. In case you haven’t read the book or watched the recent BBC adaptation, Childermass is the servant/right-hand man of Mr. Norrell, and guys, he is BAE. Like, hot. HAWT, even. Observe:

 

Damn.

 

DAMN.

 

DAYUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

(You only get the finest intellectual discourse with me, guys. GET ON MY LEVEL.)

 Oh, hey, Titus. ‘Sup?

You didn’t tell them about the Childermass fanfiction, did you? Oh, book-wrangler, how heavily you edit your personal mythos–

 PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE CAT WITH THE QUIZZICAL BROW. ADIEU! 

Rhead. Thhese. Bhooks.

(The subtitle of this post is “Why is this so good, I don’t know why I like this so much, I probably shouldn’t like this so much but oh my god this is amazing.”)

Christ, poppets, I forget all about you and this silly blog. I’m living it up on this FUNemployment vacation – some days I even brush my hair! I can wear pajamas all day! Bras are optional! Can you believe it? GOOD TIMES.

Seriously, though, kiddies. Learn from my mistakes. Stay the fuck away from the humanities. Get yourself a god-damn STEM degree. Or better yet, marry rich.

So. Today, I am not reviewing a single book, but a series of books. (Or bhooks). Hold on to your butts, babies, today we’re talking BLACK DAGGER BROTHERHOOD!!!!!

I will attempt to use my words today but I cannot guarantee coherency, nor can I deny the (very high) chance of descending into post-verbal communication (so, gifs, basically).

Let’s begin with my own introduction to the insanity that is the Black Dagger Brotherhood, for it is a moment I remember well, the way some people can pinpoint their exact location when they found out Jason Momoa would be playing Aquaman (18 February, 2o15, 21:37 EST, my mom’s house, unfamily room, corner spot of shitty couch, wearing Foghorn Leghorn boxers and an avocado facemask BUT I DIGRESS). Here, let me paint you a word picture:

It was July 2011, and young Robyn was three months into her Masters degree, pursuing her super-smart and not in any way doomed journey to becoming one of those righteous guardians of knowledge, those warriors of intellectual freedom, a librarian. Oh, but all was not well. The summer heat of the hellscape known as London, Ontario, was sucking the young girl’s will to live, leeching her of what little motivation she already had, the slacker. As the papers and projects and readings upon readings upon readings piled up, our wise heroine found herself doing as great minds do when faced with tasks that require the greatest intellectual rigor and dedicated hard work: she started reading a metric fuck-tonne of smut. Thanks to the suspiciously high numbers of smutty e-books offered by London Public Library, Robyn of Procrastina was able to procure her smut without even leaving the tiny, single-room apartment she was only able to live in thanks to a canny combination of emotional blackmail and subtly-executed revenge. Her first pick: Dark Lover, by one JR Ward. Who knows what fateful forces led her to choose that particular book as her first attempt to put off writing essays about library-related shit, but it was undeniably a choice written in the smutty stars, setting her on the path to Brotherhood lust…

I’m serious, though. It’s funny how some things become so important to you that you find it odd that at one point in your life, they weren’t this essential part of your existence and identity. Like, who was Robyn before the Lord of the Rings and Pern and Scarlett O’Hara? How was I a full person without Gogol Bordello and We Were Promised Jetpacks, or Eleanor and Park, or Celaena and Chaol (#TeamChaol forever) – or Sharpe and Harper? As much as I love to make fun of them, the Brothers are another thing I love dearly.

I guess I should explain for you poor, unfortunate souls who have not yet partaken of the chrack. The Black Dagger Brotherhood are the elite warriors of a vampire race that secretly exists in our own world. they aren’t undead and they don’t need human blood to survive. Rather, they are a different species – long-lived, but still mortal – that feeds off the blood of their own kind. They are engaged in an ancient war with this evil dude called the Omega but let’s face it, no one really cares about that. We’re all here for the super-sexy Alpha heroes that are at once ridiculously lust-worthy and also kind of silly, who have their own eccentric vocabulary (shit-kickers…), and who are utterly devoted to their chosen lady-love.

Oh, and every possible word from the invented vampire language has an extra h thrown in. I.e, the band of vampiric bros has to ahvenge any loved ones who were harmed, particularly if they were whards, which means, you guessed, their wards. No one knows why, don’t question it.

The thing about these books is that if you haven’t read one, and all you have to go by are the synopses, they are fucking absurd. And then when you do read them, they’re still kind of absurd. But they are also fucking amazing. There’ a reason this series is so well-loved, and it deserves all of that love. Check out the ratings on goodreads here, and know that they deserve every goddamn star they have.

BUT WHY, ROBYN, you ask plaintively. I will tell you why, my scrumptious, salty baked pretzel.

Well, the whole concept of Ward’s vampires is an entirely original take on an old, over-used trope. The only really vampiric things about them are the aversion to sunlight and the super-human strength. I love that they’re mortal, can have kids and eat food and age, albeit slower than humans – oh, and that they can have really hot, non-creepy sex.

Ah, oui, le sex.

And it is definitely some hot sex. Like, volcanic (get your mind out of the gutter, perv). Steeeeeeamy. Face of the sun hot.

My gif game is ON POINT today, son

On a more serious note, the story-telling is insanely masterful. Ward can suck you in so fast you wouldn’t notice a hoard of ravenous zombies moaning outside your window. And once you’re in, it is, much like the mafia, virtually impossible to get out. You will read these books in as few sittings as you can manage. I may have even pulled all-nighters to finish one or two of the books (*cough* Zsadist *cough*). Seriously, it’s a miracle I managed to finish that degree. Who needs Dewey when you can have Rhage? (Which is a sentence I did not expect to ever write but there you go.) To call them book crack is not merely an amusing turn of phrase – they are addictive. I tore through the whole series like Sherman to the fucking sea. I don’t know how Ward does it, but sweet one-eyed Odin, I hope I one day manage to possess even a fraction of the kind of writing skillz it takes to craft a story that pulls readers in so completely and effectively.

Most importantly, though, are the characters. By which I mean the Brothers, of course, even with their odd names and ridiculous hip-hop slang. Oh, the heroines are (generally) pretty great, too, but yeah, no. We’re here for the guys.

God bless you, Tumblr.

The king, Wrath, and his four – and later more – warriors are the main event. Each one is 6 feet plus of muscular, ass-kicking, adorable, smouldering-hot alpha males. You know there’s gonna be another gif, right?

Yeah, that’s kind of what you could say about most other romance heroes, right? WRONG. Whole other level here, dahlings. But it’s more than that, too. Despite being similar in many ways, each is own distinct character, and that’s pretty hard to do as a writer (trust me, I know, because I suck at it). And Wrath and co are funny. This is especially true of the scenes in which they interact with each other. It’s more like an ensemble cast, really, because they all appear in each book, to varying degrees. It’s like watching a bunch of bros who’ve been friends forever just hang out, rib each other, give each other advice, and save each other’s asses when that pesky plot interrupts all of the chilling. Sometimes they can be kind of dickish to their ladies when they’re still in that adorable refusing-to-admit-they’re-in-love stage, but then when they come around and realize how dickish they’ve been, it is so goddamn satisfying. And they’re by no means perfect. Each hero is broken in his own way… and because this is romance, ONLY LOVE CAN HEAL HIM. God, I love when that happens.

We all have our favourites. I think a LOT of people will say Zsadist, but personally, I’m a Rhage girl all the way… which is pretty fitting, all things considered. Just look at the Rhage tag on Tumblr. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Me, to Rhage.

DON’T YOU JUDGE ME, DAMMIT.

Yes, the books have flaws. There are entire subplots I skim because I simply don’t care, the world-building is flimsy, and the spellings and slang can be downright silly. One serious issue that used to irritate me was that the heroines don’t recur throughout the series in the same way that the heroes do, but recently, Ward seems to be attempting to remedy that. In the last few books, the storylines weave past plots and characters into the current story, and the happy result has resulted in a new feeling to the series as a whole. As heroesandheartbreakers.com puts it, it’s less a series of paranormal romance novels as it is a sexy, supernatural family saga.

And frankly, the books are so goddamn amazing that I find it difficult to discuss even the most obvious flaws. So I won’t. JR Ward is a goddmann genius and grass before breakfast to anyone who says differently. A

And if you don’t believe me, read the books. Start with Dark Lover, because it’s the first, and Wrath is the perfect introduction to the madness that is the BDB. Soar through Lover Eternal with a heart borne aloft by the powerful wings of a majestic Golden eagle, whose gilded plumage pales in comparison to the burnished locks of the resplendent Rhage. By the time you finish Lover Awakened and Zsadist has ripped the throbbing heart of your ribs and taught you what feelings are, you’ll be sending me a basket of gratitude muffins.

IN CONCLUSION: the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward. Come for the

but stay for the

and the

and always, the

You’re welcome.

***

LOOK, EVEN CATS LIKE IT.

The gentlewoman hobo has, rather surprisingly, done an adequate job in her feeble attempt to extoll the many virtues of Ms. Ward’s beloved series. And I must concur – these books are indeed among the most praise-worthy of any I have read, albeit for less prurient reasons than those provided by my vulgar human companion. Let neither feline nor human say that Titus Ignatius Andronicus is a literary elitist! Here and now, I declare my love of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a truly wonderful collection of novels. Also, #TeamZsadist. Obviously.

OH, TITUS.

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]

Code Name Hangry.

I lied to you, party people. LIED. (Surprise, surprise.) This week we will not be Tolkien about Tolkien (lol nerd) because I did not, in fact, indulge in a Ringer re-read.

sad bowie

DON’T BE SAD, BOWIE. IT WILL HAPPEN SOON. But, as Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur’s Heir, would say, it is not this day.

No, this day is for another book about war and the destruction it wreaks on everything it touches. I read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

code name verity

The Deal: (Taken from the book jacket AGAIN, because I’m packing for Ireland and frankly, you guys are lucky you are even getting one of my brilliant, elegantly-written posts this week, so there):

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Robyn says: Finally, a great book to pull me out of my slump. I’m actually at a little bit of a loss with this one, because it was so good. What do you say when a book is damn near perfect?

Well, to begin with, I loved the setting. Anything historical is like a siren’s song, and WWII is my particular catnip. Then add all of the amazing feminism and excellent female friendships and it’s like, HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS ALREADY? We don’t get nearly enough stories about the women who contributed to the war effort, so this novel was a fresh perspective on a part of history I now want to learn everything about.

(That is a very important gif. I suggest you add it to your gif folder.)

Loved the characters. Verity and (spoiler?) Queenie, eccentric liars and storytellers, are my heroes, but all of the other characters were excellently rounded. I loved the way we gradually began to learn more about Verity’s captors, too. Hell, I want a dozen more books about Verity’s family and what happens to everyone after the war and please tell me Maddie and Verity’s brother live happily ever after because SOMEONE HAS TO, DAMMIT.

The best thing about this book, though, was the construction; specifically, its use of the unreliable narrator. The experience of reading Code Name Verity is a literary bait-and-switch. Three quarters of the way through the story, you realize everything you’ve read is untrue or partially true, and that Verity has been playing us as much as her captors. It’s a lovely, beautifully-executed trick, and Wein pulls it all of masterfully. Initially, I’d felt the story was rather slowly paced for my tastes, and I considered adding it to my mountain of DNFs. I am so so so glad I didn’t, because the final quarter of the book is like a trip through Willy Wonka’s psychedelic tunnel of hell, and everything that came before it is absolutely essential to get to that last heart-destroying stretch.

The novel is divided into two parts, the first narrated by Verity, the second by her best friend, Maddie. Maddie’s story is where all of the action plays out, and it’s also where YOUR HEART WILL BE RIPPED FROM YOUR CHEST LIKE IT HAS DECIDED TO STAGE A CAREFULLY PLANNED ESCAPE FROM ITS RIBBY PRISON. Yeah… I wasn’t expecting the Event. The Event which I will not discuss here. It’s dark – very dark – but I’m glad it is. Like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Book ThiefCode Name Verity doesn’t shy away from the ugliness and brutality of war. Nor should it.

Verdict: Read it. It will take you a week to digest and another week to get over. Then tell everyone you know to read it and if they don’t never speak to them again.

Best lines: Way too many to write them all here. I loved everything Verity says about lies and liars. One of my favourites: “But I have told the truth. Isn’t that ironic? They sent me because I am so good at telling lies. But I have told the truth.”

And then there’s “KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!” and goodbye now I have to go drown myself in a pool of my own tears.

Rating: Four out of five broken hearts because this book broke four of my hearts and now I only have the little, shriveled, black one to keep me going. Shit, I’ve said too much. Hm, what? Oh, nothing to see here, just your average, one-heart-having lady. *Walks away, hands in pockets, whistling ‘God Save the Queen.*

Book Cat?

book cat bookshelf

Sweet Fancy Bastet, she found me! Be gone, pitiful scholar-hobo! I dwell above thee now, as is right and good and ever meant to be!

Oh Book Cat.

Slán, party people. I leave you with an image of me, having to relive my Code Name Verity soul-agony, just for you. You’re welcome.

gob hello darkness

Suck it, Resolutions

WELL WELL WELL. Look who’s starting 2015 right. Yup, it’s THIS GUY. Suck it resolutions, I AM ACHIEVEING YOU.

anigif_optimized-4694-1419359747-6

Did you miss me, darlings? Don’t try to deny it, I know you did. I’m sure 2014 was barren and joyless without me and Book Cat to warm your cold hearts and empty lives. No, no, let’s not get at all mushy. We didn’t miss you at all. Seriously, stop weeping, you’re embarrassing yourselves.

ANYWAY. I’m going to do what I always do, and forget anything and everything unpleasant until it suits me to take bloody revenge on who- or whatever has crossed me (that’s right, sleep with one eye open, 2014, you bastard). So we’ll just pretend last year’s “hiatus” never happened and jump right in.

The first book I’m reviewing this year is the last book I read last year: Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

bird box

The Deal: (Taken from the book jacket, because there’s no way in hell to explain this briefly without spoiling everything, which reminds me, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS…, er, later): Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news. But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street. Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent. The phones stopped ringing. And we couldn’t look outside anymore. Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors. The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows. They are out there. She might let them in. The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall. Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them. Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything

OOH, SPOOKY.

Robyn says: Damn. This was a really great read, one of those books that just sinks its claws into your gut and yanks you right into the world inside its pages. I read this the day before New Year’s Eve and I can honestly say, in my best Gandalf voice, I have no memory of that day.

What’s so great about it? Well, it’s a brilliant, creative idea, and something I haven’t encountered before – the idea that seeing the monster is what will lead to your death. It’s terrifying and intriguing. It speaks to something very primitive and childlike, like the part of me that still thinks a blanket over my head will keep me safe when I hear something moving around in the dark corners of my bedroom. Because I totally believe that, and you’re a liar if you say you don’t, too. But which of us can say we don’t eventually pull back the corner of that blanket-armour and crack one eyelid open, casting a slivered gaze into the darkness, breath held, desperate to see what scares us? Humans are visual animals. Sight is our greatest asset to survival, after our big ol’ brains. In Bird Box, sight is Malorie’s greatest weakness – sight, and her own mind, full of fear and uncertainty. Oh, and other people, too, of course. Because this is an apocalyptic horror novel, and by now I think we all know it’s other people you have to look out for, even when invisible, madness-inducing ‘creatures’ are trying to get you to look at them. (Side-note: I kind of feel bad for the creatures. Maybe they are just really needy, insecure dudes looking for validation. Imagine if every time you asked someone how you looked, they went crazy and killed everyone around them before finding a creative and gruesome way to commit suicide… Time for a new look, lol)

The story is exceptionally well-paced, so suspenseful that there was never a lull. The setting shifts from the early days of the crisis to the present, four years later, a single day in which Malorie decides to venture out of the safety of her house with the two young children in her care. I thought this worked really well. It allowed the author to provide exposition without the dreaded infodump, and also heightened the almost unbearable level of suspense. *Cartman voice* Seriously, you guys. I was totally on edge the entire time I was reading. Ooooh, you know what the word is? TAUT. I never get to use that word. IT WAS TAUT.

Some of the not so great things? Well, I really liked this book, so it’s difficult to find many flaws. I did think the characters sometimes fell a little flat. Malorie felt underdeveloped, which is probably odd for a POV character. The supporting characters were blurry (with the exception of Tom, who I wish we had gotten to know a little better). The kids were more like pets, for all that we are told about them.

Something else: for a horror novel, it was a little… family friendly. PG-13. Tame. Antiseptic. Ok, fine, I’ll just say it. MORE BLOOD, PLEASE. Yes, the psychological terror was awesome and effective and made me sleep with my nightlight on. Okay, with an extra nightlight on (SHUT UP). Still. I felt the story would have been improved a little by seeing something. It was like you’re waiting, waiting, waiting to finally see what we (and Malorie) aren’t supposed to see… and then you don’t.

Yeah. But maybe… sequel?

Verdict: Loved it. Read it. Totally worth the night of sleep you will inevitably forfeit to find out what happens next.

Best lines: A lot of great lines in this one, but I didn’t write any of them down because I was so engrossed in the story. Everyone else seems to love this one – thank Odin someone tore their eyeballs away from the page long enough to make a note of it. “It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.” Totally agree, dude.

Rating: Four out of five black shadow-monsters lurking in your bedroom closet tonight, waiting for the moment when you let your little head peak out from under the magic blanket and they ATTACK. Try getting to sleep now MWAHAHAHAHA.

Book Cat? Anything to add? How was 2014 for you?

titus bird box

My year, Librarian? It was infinite and infinitesimal, it was wonder and despair, it was magnificence and triviality. I am all things and all things are me, for I am Cat… Oh, read your books, puny-brained human. Write your words. I speak without speaking and my silence is a symphony. How I love you, simple creature.

Oh, Titus.

Until next time…

anigif_enhanced-27506-1417377366-7 Mwah!

Book Cat is Famous Once Again!

Emergency post!!!

I hope all of you subscribe to PBS’s Idea Channel on YouTube, because not only is it awesome and insightful and brain-embiggening… but this week it featured Book cat in a Russian Hat!!! Yay! Yet another victory in Titus’s ongoing campaign to rule the world! Pause at 1:04 to witness the momentous occurrence.

AHHHHH! Kermit arm flail!

kermit flail

You guys remember the post, right? It was a filler post for when I was rereading Anna Karenina.

Well. Congratulations all around. I don’t know why but I’m in a good mood. Fun times, y’all.

Book Cat, aren’t you excited?

Excited, Librarian? No. Did not Longfellow once say, "Fame comes only when deserved, and then is as inevitable as destiny, for it is destiny"? 'Twas destiny that brought me to these lofty heights, and destiny that shall raise me ever higher, until all the world knows the name of Titus Ignatius Andronicus, Book Cat and Supreme Ruler of the World!

Excited, Librarian? No. Did not Longfellow once say, “Fame comes only when deserved, and then is as inevitable as destiny, for it is destiny”? ‘Twas destiny that brought me to these lofty heights, and destiny that shall raise me ever higher, until all the world knows the name of Titus Ignatius Andronicus, once called Book Cat. All shall tremble and know my mightiness!

O…kay…

Ranty-pants: Judging a book by its cover

Hallo, poppinjays! Busy busy fortnight and a half here in Helheim. Slowly recovering from a severe case of ABH (Awesome Book Hangover) – the books in question being Stacia Kane’s Chess Putnam books, of course. Got a few books in the queue to very soon review (accidental rhyme, make a wish!) but today, I think I’m going to switch my usual villainess trousers for a pair of ranty-pants and step onto my soapbox. Don’t worry, it will be brief (not like the great e-reader rant of 2011).

Last night, I was finishing up the lovely Siege and Storm, the second in Leigh Bardugo’s wunderbar Grisha trilogy, when I realized that it and its predecessor featured that rarest of rarities, the gender-neutral cover. Behold, and be amazed:

siege and storm

Gorgeous, and inclusive!

Now, I realized I am a bit late to the gendered book cover discussion. Way back in May, YA author Maureen Johnson raised the issue on her Twitter, and wrote about it on the Huffington Post – which also featured a truly eye-opening gallery of cover-flips (check it out if you haven’t already seen it!). It’s not just a YA issue either – the reissue of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar caused quite an uproar a couple of months ago, and any stroll through the bookstore reveals some distressingly conspicuous design trends.

It’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s also upsetting. Gendering book covers is a feminist issue because, as the Guardian notes, female authors are the ones most likely to be negatively affected by covers featuring loopy type and a picture of a headless chick’s naked back. The unhappy truth is that some dudes just won’t read a book with a girly cover. They are yet to realize that a guy holding a book  – ANY book – automatically becomes the most beautiful guy in the… room (in the whole wide room), even if the book looks like this…

pride and prejudice cover

Actually, that would be pretty hot. I would totally buy that guy a kebab.

Anyway. The point is, whatever the reasons, gendered book covers are a thing and that sucks. I should mention that white-washed book covers are also a thing and that sucks even harder, but since I promised a short rant and really don’t fancy giving myself an embolism this afternoon, I’m not even going to touch that one. And damn it, there’s yet another problem in the form of genre cover tropes, which Chuck Wendig recently discussed. It’s bad enough that I read romances, but damn it, do they all have to have the same naked man’s torso on the front of them, advertising not only my low-brow tastes in ‘literature’ but my inherent, inconvenient, and utterly calamitous romanticism? Ugh.

Of course, it’s not all bad. There are some phenomenal covers out there, too. You’ve all had to endure my hero-worship of Joey Hi-Fi, designer of the drool-worthy covers of Wendig’s Miriam Black novels. Libba Bray’s The Diviners, the adult covers of the Harry Potter series, and basically every John Green novel are some examples of books whose covers are gender-neutral. We just need more like these, where the cover actually reflects the story being told within, and has nothing at all to do with the perceived and/or desired readership based – probably arbitrarily – on the flawed calculations of the publisher’s penny-pinchers.

Another cause for hope is the Recovering the Classics project, which is a “crowdsourced collection of original covers for 50 of the greatest books in the public domain.” And it is off the hizook. There are some bloody gorgeous covers (and you can order them as prints!). While there isn’t a large representation of female authors, and okay, yes, the few covers that have been submitted for books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women are pretty stereotypically girly, I think the idea of crowd-sourcing covers is a great tactic for ending the deluge of covers featuring cupcakes and teapots and six-packs (manly ones, not beer-y ones).

My suggestion is a lot less imaginative and, yeah, maybe a little Orwellian. I propose a return to the extreme simplicity of the classic Penguin covers:

everything is illuminated cover

The cons: uniformity, of course, an undeniable absence of visual engagement, and a maybe a touch of authoritarianism.

The pros: sleek. So very, very sleek. Also, the use of uniform covers would obviously remove any gendering or white-washing or tired genre tropes, and would force readers to select books based on the synopsis alone. We would have to be… cover-blind (sorry, couldn’t resist). And on a more personal note, these covers would also put an end to my endless quest to own every different edition of Wuthering Heights. My bookshelf and my wallet would be very grateful.

There’s a happy medium lurking in between these two extremes, probably. Perhaps, in the place of that delightfully quizzical bird, each book could feature a small illustration, so that the book cover designers don’t find themselves as unemployed as me.

And on that note – Book Cat!

book cat book tower

Oh no, Librarian, please, keep taking pictures and DON’T worry about rescuing me from being crushed by a precariously leaning tower of library books. (Rolls eyes, attacks.)

Cranky, cranky. Note to self: don’t interrupt Book Cat’s slumber to take 347 pictures with fancy new phone.

Exeunt, pursued by a bear!

Bustin makes me feel good. Also gifs

So I’ve been a little down lately. Life and all that. And the worst part was that I had this wretched book ennui. So much to read, as always, but nothing I was quite in the mood for. You know what I’m talking about, right? Terrible dilemma.

So I picked up a book I’d tried a couple times before, based on (really positive) recommendations from friends and the internet: Unholy Ghosts, by Stacia Kane, the first book in her Downside Ghosts series.

unholy-ghosts-large

Terrible cover, right? But don’t let it throw you.

THE DEAL: In 1997, the world changed. Ghosts began to rise and wage violent, bloody war on the living. Only the witches of the Church of Real Truth can combat the bloodthirsty spectres. Twenty-four years later, the Church is in charge, sworn to protect people from ghosts in exchange for strict adherence to the law. One of the most important laws: never ever fake a haunting. That’s where Chess Putnam comes in. She’s a Debunker, a witch whose job it is to see if reported hauntings are real, or faked. She’s also hiding a lot of secrets. Like her drug addiction, and the hefty debt she owes to her unscrupulous dealer, Bump – who also happens to be the overlord of a criminal empire. When he suggests Chess repay her debt by doing some on-the-side witchcraft, Chess finds herself facing a whole new set of problems. As if dark magic, possession, murder, and a bunch of crazy rogue witches weren’t bad enough, Chess also has to deal with her reluctant attraction to Lex, a rival gang-leader, and her growing interest in Bump’s laconic enforcer, the aptly named Terrible. She’s about to find out that there are some things even magic can’t fix…

And now, for the first time on 96eustonroad, a gif review:

So I pick up this book, which I’ve tried to read a dozen times before, because everyone’s all, oh, Terrible is such swoony hero, blah blah blah. All I can think is, people, his name is Terrible. Terrible. For real. And what’s all this about a Church? Why call it a church at all if religion is outlawed in this magical future/alternate timeline or whatever? Come on.

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But then I persevere, mostly because I have always loved witches and witchcraft and anything remotely witchy (as my seven Halloweens as a witch and closet full of crazy-ass Goth clothes can attest to). And then… I understand.

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Because this is some straight-up crazy awesome. And I’m so in it I don’t even care how crazy it is. SO GOOD. There are interesting, dynamic characters that feel fresh and new, the plot is riveting, and this vision of the year 2021 is not like anything else I’ve read. Add the rapid pace and excellent amount of suspense, complex and nuanced relationships, and a liberal amount of sex, drugs, and cussing, and… this:

ron dancing

And then I realized there are four more books, and, miracle of miracles, they are all checked in at the library branch closest to me, RIGHT NOW.

peewee

Finally, a benefit to being unemployed. Non-stop reading marathon. And the next book is as good as the last, and the third book is even better…

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And then my OTP came true…

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But it’s not this typical, clichéd happily ever after. It’s just… aargh! My emotions!

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Finally, an urban fantasy/paranormal romance heroine I can actually like. Stacia Kane, we’re not worthy.

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But then I finished book five (Chasing Magic).

vol8qu

And I spent a couple of days like this:

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And I couldn’t think of reason to go on living anymore.

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Stacia Kane, where is Book 6? WHERE?

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And then I realized I could just reread all of the books ALL OVER AGAIN. So,

tOqhKh4

The end.

Book Cat?

book cat unholy ghosts

Your taste in books has run alarmingly low-brow of late, librarian. Wherefore the paeans to Chekhov, the odes to Wharton, the worshipful tributes to writers whose words echo through the ages, immortal, eternal?

Oh, Book Cat. Such a snob.

Until next time, peeps! I’m out!

mother jones gif

Here there be… well, you know…

…And so, the capricious blogger returned from the wildlands and staggered back into the blogosphere. Older, wearier, significantly crazier, her determination to share the minutiae of her reading life was renewed, now almost as strong as her unslakeable lust for the written word…

What up, peeps! How was your April? Mine was in-SANE. Alas, this is a book blog, so I can’t tell you about all of the miles I walked and the fights I fought, the kisses I evaded, the ghosts I busted, or the villages I pillaged. Official book blogging rules dictate that I can only tell you about the books I read, and even this rebel can’t break that rule.

So I’m back! And so are you, I guess – hopefully. Yay us!

gangee

On with the blogging! So last month, one of my favourite book online book clubs, Sword and Laser, read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. It’s one of my Favourite Books Ever, so I thought I’d re-read it and enjoy the awesome all over again.

Boy hwdy, does this bring back some memories.

Boy howdy, does this bring back some memories.

Here’s a little back-story about my relationship with this book. And yeah, it gets intense. I consider this to be my first real, deliberate foray into SFF and into fandom itself. Of course, I sprung into the world a SFF/genre nerd – my birth was precipitated by a timely screening of Aliens, make of that what you will – and as a child I devoured everything could that was weird, fantastical, creepy, or spooky. Ghostbusters, Labyrinth, Beetlejuice, Willow, The Addams Family – god, even The Neverending Story (cringe with me). Bookwise, it was Grimm’s fairy tales and those Bailey School Kids books (do you remember those?)  But the Pern books were different for a couple of reasons.

First, and maybe most importantly, was that I came across the Pern books independently, or rather, from someone outside my family. It was actually my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Campbell, who gave me McCaffrey’s Dragonsong (and subsequently became my go-to Pern dealer). Another reason that the Pern books were different was that they represented my first toe-dip (and later canon-ball) into the ocean of fandom. My nerd-love for every other thing that has come since – cough Lord of the Rings cough – is intrinsically linked with this first love. Oh, it was love. Crazy love. Like, obsessive, Idris-Elba-stalking love. Man, I literally destroyed five copies of Dragonflight. Five. I’ll let you think about that. At one point, I just gave up buying new copies and used an elastic band to hold the pages together. Seriously. Anyway, I devoured every single Pern book, and then when I reached the end, I did what every normal fan would do. I picked up my pen and started writing my own Pern stories, and thus was a fanfiction writer born. (NERD!) Of course, I didn’t know this was fanfiction, because the internet was just a wee babby and nerds were still solitary creatures. I just thought I was being really resourceful. Ah, the folly of youth.

That is why I was both excited and a little nervous to re-read Dragonflight, my favourite of all the Pern books. I used to do re-reads all the time, but I think the last one was in high school, ages and ages ago. Would my love for it endure, or would all of my fond memories be ripped violently to shreds?

The answer: no, but also kinda, but then no again.

THE DEAL: On the planet Pern, the massive dragons and their riders with whom they share a telepathic link were once the heroes and saviours of their people, protecting them from the deadly alien spore called Thread, which devours all organic material in its path. But Thread hasn’t fallen in four hundred years, and the dragons and their riders have fallen into disfavour, scorned as parasitic relics from a bygone era. Lessa is more concerned with avenging her family, murdered ten years ago when she was a young child. F’lar, rider of a bronze dragon, realizes that Lessa may be the only who can help him restore the last Weyr, home to what dragons remain on Pern. He brings the clever and strong-willed Lessa to Benden Weyr, where she bonds with the newly-hatched queen dragon. Putting aside her plans for vengeance, Lessa focuses instead of raising her dragon. She and F’lar put aside their differences as they begin to understand that Thread will soon return. Together they must work to convince the rest of Pern of the imminent danger. Lessa will have to solve a centuries-old mystery and decide whether she is willing to risk her life, and that of her beloved dragon, to save all of Pern.

Phew.

So first, let’s talk about the good stuff. Which is obviously, DRAGONS!!! I mean, come on. Who doesn’t like dragons? No one, that’s who. And on top of that, they’re dragons who mind-meld with their rider, becoming their life-long uber-BFF. Awesome squared.

And then there’s the world-building. This is the just the first book of 24 in the Dragonriders of Pern series, and I can only slow-clap in worshipful awe of McCaffrey’s genius. Day-um. It is fantastic. Sure, it’s not perfect, and McCaffrey did tweak and ret-con and change a few details in the later books, but even so, in this first foray into Pern, there is a sense of completeness that is astounding. Almost every aspect feels believeable and authentic. I’d have to place McCaffrey alongside the titans of world-building, Tolkien, Rowling, and Pullman (no, GRRM, you do not make my list). In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there.

The characters are also great. Lessa starts out as a BAMF and just gets better when she ends up HBIC. (Lol.) She’s clever, devious, even, focused, determined, and strong. Talk about a role model. F’lar is kind of an ass, but hey, that kind of does it for me. Shrug. And put the two of them together – yum! I was actually quite surprised by how many people on the GoodReads forums thought the characters were flat and underdeveloped and lacked clear motivations. I personally felt the characters were very meaty, and I thought their motivations clear by the end of the novel. I would have appreciated more character development and insight, of course, but I think any perceived lack of character depth and evolution has to do with the length and pacing of the novel – both of which I find problematic. Dragonflight is without a doubt far too rushed, and far too short – a chicken egg sort of problem.

The relationship between Lessa and F’lar was hotly debated on the forums as well, and generally thought to embody the squickiest of squick. Again, I have to disagree. Sure, they started out loathing each other, and as I mentioned above, F’lar is not the nicest guy, but I think their relationship was shown to evolve, subtly and slowly, to be sure, but unmistakeably, into something deeper and more complex. And again, yes, there should have been more time spent developing this relationship, especially from Lessa’s point of view, but even so, I thought it worked. Or maybe it’s just me. Upon reflection I realize that I have initially despised every guy I’ve ever come to swoon over, so maybe the initial hatred thing is a little quirk of mine. Or maybe I just read Wuthering Heights at way too young an age and have internalized Cathy and Heathcliff’s passionate love-hate conundrum. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Another great thing about Dragonflight is that it defies categorization. You see dragons, and automatically think, duh, fantasy, but as is revealed in the prologue, Pern was settled by humans looking to colonize habitable planets. So, despite the dragons and the rather formal language and the vaguely Medieval society, the Pern books are really more science fiction upon close scrutiny. Way to defy convention before it was even cool, McCaffrey. You are my hero.

It’s also worthwhile to note that this would make an excellent YA recommendation. Lessa is 21 when the story begins, and her development over the novel, from petty, vengeful girl to mature, responsible hero is an excellent embodiment of the coming-of-age trope.

So what about the not-so-good aspects? After I reread this book, I was all, hell yeah, that was awesome, McCaffrey, you are a legend… but then I had to grudgingly admit that there were some things that bothered me, things that left a sour taste in my mouth. Like many readers, I felt there were some serious problems with gender, sexuality, and classism. Funnily enough, I can’t remember being bothered by these as a sixth-grader or a teen. That’s what four years of literary criticism will do to you, I suppose. I hated the emphasis on F’lar’s manly manliness. I would have preferred his ‘manly’ qualities to be articulated and described objectively, without reference to gender. If he’s tough and laconic and a strong leader, fine – what’s not okay is identifying these traits as exclusively masculine. Similarly, Lessa is sometimes described as doing something “feminine” – ugh. And the class thing was so exhausting. Lessa’s ties to “the Blood” are referenced so many times I lost count. However, as much as these two things bothered me, when I really sat down to think about it, they both make sense, in a strange way. Not because the book was written in 1968, but because it’s set in a typical, Medieval sort of society. Pern may have been colonized in the distant future, but Pernese society, as we are introduced to it in Dragonflight, had regressed, not advanced. If we use history as a guide, sexism, adherence to traditional gender role, and an emphasis on class and ancestors is actually to be expected.

Then there’s the whole spoiler-y thing about the sex. I’m not even gonna touch that. I will say it didn’t bother me – in that I didn’t interpret it in the negative way that many other readers seem to have done. Make of that what you will, I suppose.

I also thought the (spoiler) time travel stuff made less and less sense the more you thought about it, but that’s more of a general time travel complaint, really. Does it ever really make sense?

My biggest pet peeve, though, has got to be the wretched names. Oh, those freaking contractions. Try explaining your love of this book to someone – say, for example, your own mother – only to get to the names F’lar and F’nor and R’gul, and have dear old mom – I mean, whoever you’re telling – laugh in your face. (I’m not holding a grudge or anything. Jeez.) McCaffrey explained the whole male dragonrider apostrophe thing in later books, but I still HATE IT. So so much.

Verdict: READ IT. I’m a whole-hearted McCaffrey acolyte, what else am I going to say? But even if I wasn’t a diehard fan, I’d still recommend it. Dragonflight is considered both a science fiction and a fantasy classic, and it deserves all of its accolades. McCaffrey was also the first woman to win the Hugo and Nebula awards for the short stories that would eventually form this book. So yeah. Read it, be amazed, and then read the next 23 novels in the series. (And the watch-wher in the first couple of chapters will BREAK YOUR HEART worse than Ragnar Lodbrok.)

Best lines: Less quotable than some of the books I’ve read, but a few gems. My favourite: “Perversity, endurance, and guile were her other weapons, loaded with the inexhaustible patience of vengeful dedication.” (p. 3). You know me; I looovve me some vengeance.

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Rating: Four out of five giant gold dragons.

Titus?

Really, Robyn? I mean, there's sad, and then there's... this.

Really, Robyn? I mean, there’s sad, and then there’s… this. It looks like the dragon is eating me. And is this even a dragon? It looks more like a dinosaur. I am too pretty for these hijinks and shenanigans.

Oh, Book Cat. You know nothing, Titus Andronicus.