Tag | T10T: Cover Freebie

Happy Top Ten Tuesday, y’all!

This week is a book cover freebie: “Choose what kind of covers you want to talk about: prettiest, most unique, most misleading, weirdest, most memorable, creepiest, ugliest, etc.

I recently noticed that most of the books on my shelf have black covers … which probably says a lot about my reading preferences. To mix things up, today I’m featuring ten (mostly) yellow covers.



Cue: Coldplay

Review | The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

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The Thief Lord has been sitting on my shelf for a very, very long time.

(Like, since 2002.)

… this is just further evidence of the fact that books find you when the time is right. It’s a small magic, but boy do I appreciate it.

Exhausted. Sick. Grumpy. Disappointed with two recent meh reads … I was in dire need of something fun and uplifting and a bit magical.

Cue.

The Thief Lord tells the story of Prosper and Bo: two orphans on the run, who end up in the company of juvenile delinquents living in an abandoned cinema in Venice. Under the leadership of the mysterious Thief Lord, the posse is asked to “reclaim” a particular artifact … then things start to get complicated.

This is one of those darling middle grade books which — and, I say this very seriously — should be counted alongside Peter Pan and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There’s such a lovely mix of action, humour, and magic; a cast of distinctive and lovingly-rendered characters; and some serious thematic talking points.


Things I liked:

The characters. While the cast falls on the whimsical side, they’re nonetheless a super enjoyable and thoughtful group of characters. They all have distinct personalities and histories, roles, and lessons. You can’t help but fall for this group of “lost boys”.

The setting. I’ve never been to Venice, but it sounds like a lot of visitors leave the city disappointed. (Expensive. Touristy. Confusing.) The version of Venice captured in this book is exactly the sort of magical, mysterious place that I want Venice to be … a place with twisting alleys, grand manors, beautiful wooden boats, and stone lions which may (or may not) come to life when nobody is looking.


Things I disliked:

The magic. The magical plot in this story emerges extremely suddenly, and represents such a break from the heist plot that it’s rather … jarring. It would have been useful to interject flickers of magic prior to its unveiling: the lion statues might rearrange themselves; a mermaid spotted in a canal; an alleyway where time stands still.

The pacing. This is a slow book, with a primary focus on characters, relationships, and thematic development — especially the burden/freedom of age. Even though it’s bursting with witty lines and luscious descriptions … I really, really wanted them to get on with planning a spectacular heist.


Favourite Quote:

“We’re not gangsters,” Hornet cut in, “and that’s why we won’t let innocent tortoises starve!”


Final Thoughts:

The Thief Lord is one part love song to Venice, one part celebration of childish wonder. With its delightful cast of characters, it’s an excellent novel to escape to on a rainy winter day.


The Details:

  • The Book: The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
  • Published: 2002, Chicken House
  • My Copy: VIRL
  • Read date: January 15-23, 2019
  • Rating: ★★★★☆
  • You should read this if you like … merry-go-rounds (like, literally)
  • Avoid this if you dislike … insta-magic

Jock | Week of January 26

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Days until triathlon: 140

Alright. Week 1. It was an utter and absolute failure … well, a 60% failure. I did make it to pool twice.

Lemme lay it out there: exercise is super hard. Or, working up the motivation to exercise is super hard. There’s a million things that get in the way, like work e-mails and movie nights and feeling exhausted and just wanting to finish that book.

Lessons learnt:

  • Exercise in the morning … because there’s no way you’re going to the gym after work
  • If you go to bed at 1AM, you will not wake-up for 6AM swims

Last Week:

  • Monday – 30 minutes easy swim – Woot woot! First swim in … eight? months? My legs felt like they were made of jelly. And, as sad as my stroke was, I was still keeping pace with the people in the fast lane?! How does that work?!
    • 2 x 50 warm-up
    • 4 x 25 crawl – counting strokes
    • 4 x 50 crawl
    • 4 x 25 crawl – counting strokes
    • 2 x 50 cool-down
  • Saturday – 30-minute easy swim, as per Monday

This Week:

  • Sunday – Rest day
  • Monday – Swim
  • Tuesday – Yoga
  • Wednesday – Swim
  • Thursday – Yoga
  • Friday – Swim
  • Saturday – Rest day

Review | The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

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43568394Books are so much easier to review when you either love them or hate them …

Love it? ALL THE GUSHING.

Hate it? ALL THE RAVING.

Middle-of-the-road? … uhhh … well … the cover’s cool?

In The Guinevere Deception‘s defence, the cover is pretty great. I wish I could pull off that sort of smoulderingly-mysterious gaze.

And the book was … well, it was OK. I’m not going to race to the bookstore to buy a personal copy. (*cough*) But, I will check out Book #2 from my public library.

I think that’s a sign of a solid three-star read.

The Guinevere Deception is a King Arthur retelling from the perspective of Queen Guinevere. Similar to the BBC’s Merlin series, Camelot has banned all forms of magic … including exiling its handy dandy (and very mad) time-jumping wizard. However, that doesn’t mean magic doesn’t still pose a threat. Unable to attend to Arthur in person, Merlin sends his daughter in his stead. Taking on the guise of the dead Princess Guinevere, the girl becomes Arthur’s queen and protector … one of the few barriers between him and the wild magic of the world.

The individual components of this book were pretty brilliant. Not-Guinevere’s magic. The supporting characters. Arthur’s gosh-darn goodness. The magic. The setting. But, great parts don’t necessarily make a great whole.

Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison given different target audiences, but I’m tempted to compare The Guinevere Deception to The Song of Achilles. Both are based on well-established myths; both weave together magic and society; both have rather irregular pacing, with a very slow start. But Achilles was riddled with quietly-epic observations about relationships, society, identity/roles, family, gender, loyalty, bravery, pride, love, etc. The book was so powerful that I was left physically aching by the end.

The Guinevere Deception was … boring. We get 200-ish pages of exposition — and not the of the subtle thematic development sort — followed by 50-ish pages of super-rushed and rather intense action. (A book-redeeming sort of action.) I was left winded and overwhelmed, and wishing that “Merlin’s beard” was a more satisfying curse.


Things I liked:

Guinevere’s knot magic. Very cool! I especially love how this sort of magic relates to craft and the textile arts, so would have been a completely appropriate type of magic for medieval women to practice.

The setting. Camelot is the epic city of myth and legend, and Guinevere’s magic adds an extra layer of complexity to it. I loved reading about the mountain’s looming presence — the flower carvings in the castle’s ceiling — the secret tunnels — the winding alleyways …

Arthur. One-dimensional? Yes. But I love slightly-damaged good guys … and Arthur is definitively a slightly-damaged good guy.


Things I disliked:

The characters. In a word? Flat. The characters in this novel felt under-developed, distant, predictable, and dull.

The Dark Queen’s perspective. For me, these little snippets completely ruined any tension or mystery, and seriously interrupted the flow of the novel. They were entirely unnecessary in moving things forward.

The prose and pacing. The first two-thirds of the novel d-r-a-g-g-e-d. The characters meandered with little sense of purpose or structure. While this is reflected in the plot — Guinevere doesn’t know what the threat is or when it will come — it’s nonetheless frustrating as a reader to watch things progress … nowhere.

Also, please note:

slow novels =/= character-driven novels

The “twist”. **yawn** Anyone familiar with Arthurian legend will have seen it coming from … even before they picked up the book.

The modern interjections. Repeat after me: The fifth-century CE is not culturally equivalent to the present era.


Favourite Quote:

“I did not want a wife like that. Merlin has been the only constant in my life. And you are part of him. I hoped that if I brought you here and filled the role of queen so no one else could demand it, I would have peace. More than that … I would have a friend.” He dropped his head, staring down at his hands. “It was unfair to you. And I hated the deception. And I hated that you did not view yourself as my queen. Not really. Please … please do not go. Do not leave me.”


Final Thoughts:

The Guinevere Deception has lots of promise, though falls flat on its execution. Still, readers (1) unfamiliar with Arthurian romances and/or (2) on the hunt for a female-inspired medieval adventure will probably enjoy it.


The Details:

  • The Book: The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
  • Published: 2019, Delacorte Press
  • My Copy: KFPL
  • Read date: January 15-23, 2019
  • Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • You should read this if you like … dialogue
  • Avoid this if you dislike … BBC’s Merlin

TBR | Down the Hole #29

downthetbrhole


Books #154: The Radleys

7989160Synopsis: Life with the Radleys: Radio 4, dinner parties with the Bishopthorpe neighbours and self-denial. Loads of self-denial. But all hell is about to break loose. When teenage daughter Clara gets attacked on the way home from a party, she and her brother Rowan finally discover why they can’t sleep, can’t eat a Thai salad without fear of asphyxiation and can’t go outside unless they’re smothered in Factor 50. With a visit from their lethally louche Uncle Will and an increasingly suspicious police force, life in Bishopthorpe is about to change. Drastically.

Thoughts: So much yes. I adore Matt Haig.

Decision: KEEP


Book #155: The Sagas of Icelanders

102534Synopsis: In Iceland, the age of the Vikings is also known as the Saga Age. A unique body of medieval literature, the Sagas rank with the world’s great literary treasures – as epic as Homer, as deep in tragedy as Sophocles, as engagingly human as Shakespeare. Set around the turn of the last millennium, these stories depict with an astonishingly modern realism the lives and deeds of the Norse men and women who first settled in Iceland and of their descendants, who ventured farther west to Greenland and, ultimately, North America. Sailing as far from the archetypal heroic adventure as the long ships did from home, the Sagas are written with psychological intensity, peopled by characters with depth, and explore perennial human issues like love, hate, fate and freedom.

Thoughts: Keep! I own this book – I’m visiting Iceland later this summer — plus, everyone needs a good Viking epic in their life!

Decision: KEEP


Book #156: Dragonmark

23492109Synopsis: Centuries ago, Illarion was betrayed– a dragon made human against his will, then forced to serve humanity as a dragonmount in their army, and to fight for them in barbaric wars, even while he hated everything about them. Enslaved and separated from everyone he knew and from his own dragon brothers, he was forced into exile in a fey realm where he lost the only thing he ever really loved. Now he has a chance to regain what’s been lost— to have the one thing he covets most. But only if he gives up his brothers and forsakes the oaths he holds most dear. Yet what terrifies him most isn’t the cost his happiness might incur, it’s the fact that there is just enough human in his dragon’s heart that he might actually be willing to pay it and betray everything and everyone– to see the entire world burn…

Thoughts: Ha ha ha ha why is this even on my list? I read Dragonbane a few years back — and it might be one of my least favourite books of all time. (And would have been an automatic DNF if I hadn’t been on a boat in the middle of the Pacific. Friendly tip: There aren’t many bookstores in the patch of water between Tokyo and Vancouver.)

Decision: GO


Book #157: The Fire Sermon

18109771. sy475 Synopsis: Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair one is an Alpha – physically perfect in every way – and the other an Omega burdened with deformity, small or large. With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other. Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side by side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.

Thoughts: A lot of GoodReads reviews comment on the unique idea but poor storytelling. Combined with the YA/dystopian theme …

Decision: GO


Book #158: The Serpent’s Shadow

Synopsis: … Some of Maya’s challenges come from the fact that she is not “snow white,” and she has fled India for her father’s English homeland after the suspicious deaths of her parents. Establishing her household in London, she returns to her profession as a physician, working among the poor. Her “pets” and loyal servants stand guard, and Maya herself uses what bits of magic she managed to pick up in childhood to weave otherworldly defenses as well. But the implacable enemy who killed her parents has come to London to search for her; if Maya can be enslaved, her enormous potential powers can be used to the enemy’s ends. Fortunately, English magicians of the White Lodge have also noted a new, powerful presence in their midst, though they’re having trouble locating her, too. They send Peter Scott, a Water Master, to track her down. He finds Maya beautiful and benign, and is determined to teach her to use the Western magic she is heir to, before her enemy discovers her …

Thoughts: I own the book and have previously tried to read it … but declared a DNF at around page 15. I’ve read a few other Elemental Masters books — loving Phoenix and Ashes; feeling rather meh about Unnatural Issue; and greatly disliking Home from the Sea. I’ll give this one another shot before passing judgement.

Decision: KEEP


Down the TBR Hole is a bookish meme created by Lia @Lost In A Story. Here’s how it works:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf
  • Order by Ascending Date Added
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books. If you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or let it go?

 

Review | A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

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35430013._sx318_A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a collection of fifteen short stories inspired by Asian folklore and culture. The stories range from pretty standard retellings of traditional myths to brand new only-loosely-related tales.

I’m pretty sure the contributors were given near-endless creative freedom over their works … which means that, — other than being inspired by a common geographic region — the stories have almost nothing in common. It’s a challenging degree of diversity, in the sense that you never know what the next chapter will hold.

If I put on my objective hat, this is a rather enjoyable collection of stories. The tone is optimistic; the subject matter is unique. It’s not experimental or post-modern … but it is lovingly composed and quasi-autobiographical. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book.

That said, I had a really hard time getting into these stories.

Maybe because I’m not the target audience.

Maybe because I’m exhausted after 2 weeks of travel.

Maybe it’s just a preference thing.

Whatever the reason, something failed to click.


Things I liked:

The variety … and boy, was there variety. First person to third. Casual to formal. Optimistic to somber. Ancient to the far future. Romance to family to war to grief. You’ll find just about everything in this book.

The genre-blending. Many of the authors reinterpret traditional myths, turning them into science fiction or fantasy epics. It’s remarkably creative, and was a really pleasant surprise.


Things I disliked:

The genre-blending. Creativity aside, the fact that so many myths were disconnected from the source material — one story was centred on a role-playing computer game! — meant that you lost a lot of cultural depth.

The blurbs. Each story ends with a little blurb describing it’s historical base and/or the author’s inspiration. These provided some much needed context … though, I would have found them more helpful if they had appeared at the start of each story.

The lack of emotional whoomp. The stories were entertaining enough, but they failed to draw me in. For most stories, I struggled to connect with the characters and the themes, and felt pretty uninvested in events. This shouldn’t have been the case: we’re dealing with gods and demons and life and death and magic and humanity. I should have been hanging off every word.


Favourite Quote:

It was so easy to love. But I was never warned of loss … and memory is strange. I cannot remember his face any longer. What I do remember are fragments in time. The crinkling of his eyes against the sunshine or when he smiled. The ghost of his unrestrained laughter … I am left with pieces of remembering, though I loved him whole.


Final Thoughts:

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a diverse and personal collection of short stories, and an easy introduction to Asian/South Asian folklore.


The Details:

  • The Book: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
  • Published: 2018, Greenwillow Books
  • My Copy: KFPL
  • Read date: January 8-22, 2019
  • Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • You should read this if you like … not knowing what the next page will hold
  • Avoid this if you dislike … android angst

Tag | T10T: Recent Additions

Happy Top Ten Tuesday, y’all! This week’s theme is the ten most recent additions to my bookshelf!

As part of my recent Tour de Canada, I tried to visit as many local/independent bookstores as possible. I met some pretty brilliant staff, and received some stellar — and some rather unusual — recommendations. I’m really excited to see what these books have to offer!

Side note: I’m so thankful that Air Canada almost never weighs carry-on luggage.