Sunday Sum-Up

Another week has come and gone, and once again I’m wondering where all that time went. I really need to get that temporal vortex out of my closet. I know some of the time was spent in finally watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and a little bit was spent watching Will. As for the rest of it? I dunno. Not nearly enough of it was spent sleeping.

*sighs*

DSC01749I only finished one of the books I started the week with, and that was Sarah J. Maas’s Crown of Midnight, the second book in the Throne of Glass series. I’ll have a longer write-up later this week, but for now I’ll just say that, while Maas’s writing has improved somewhat, I’m still not a fan. It was fun to do the buddy read with Danielle from Books, Vertigo & Tea, though, and I’m hoping she’ll want to do it again.

 

The other book I’ve been reading is Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion, which is one of my all-time favorite books. If you want a master class in world building and political intrigue in a fantasy setting, then this is the book for you. The characters are beautifully written and utterly believable, and even the villains have logical reasons for what they do. And while the world of the five gods has more books, The Curse of Chalion can act as a standalone novel if you’re not in the mood to embark on yet another lengthy series. I’ll have a further review when I finish it.

In other news, I picked up a couple more books this week, because why not? One was a ‘blind date with a classic’ from one of the indie bookstores downtown. My last experience with a ‘blind date’ book was dreadful, as I ended up with Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, which remains the only book I’ve ever thrown at a wall. This one sounded more interesting, though, and given that it was in the classics section I figured another Philippa Gregory incident would be unlikely.

DSC01934

So what did I get?

DSC01938

It looks fascinating. I’m debating taking it to Iceland with me to read on the plane. We shall see.

I bought two books in all last night. Passing because of the intrigue factor of the ‘blind date with a classic’, and The Ramayana, because I want to develop a better understanding of more literature from around the world.

DSC01958

What’s up for this week? Lots of preparation. I leave for Iceland on August eighth, and while I’m prepared as far as reservations, passports, and currency, I will need to do laundry and give my apartment a good cleaning so I don’t have to do that when I get home and am exhausted and jet-lagged. I’ll also need to figure out how to pack my camera gear, since I’m taking most of it with me and security restrictions regarding electronics are higher these days. C’est la vie.

As for books, I’ll read what I can. I should finish up The Curse of Chalion in the next day or so, and then it’ll be on to Ann Cleeves’s Raven Black, a mystery series set in the Shetland Islands off the northern Scottish coast. I have a friend who grew up in the Shetlands, so I’m interested in where he’s from. Also, there’s a great TV series based on the books, Shetland. I think there are only about eight episodes, but it’s fantastic. It’s available on Netflix streaming, though you’ll probably want to turn on the subtitles as their accents are quick thick.

I started listening to a new-to-me podcast today. It’s called Writing Excuses, and features four writers who discuss various elements of writing and how to do things like world building and pointing out that descriptions of a thing can change drastically based on a character’s point of view. It’s entertaining and three episodes in (they’re all about 15-20 minutes long), the hosts have given me a lot to think about regarding my own writing and in the books I’d reading.

Sunday Sum-Up

I am pleased to report that I did not melt this week after dealing with heat indexes approaching 108°F (42°C), and actual temperatures that didn’t drop below 90°F until after 10:00pm. I felt like I swam to work yesterday morning through 90% humidity. But thanks to several coffee shops and bookstores with their wonderful air conditioning, I survived the heat wave. This morning is much cooler, and without my window unit rattling away, I’ve been able to properly listen to my podcasts, in particular, LeVar Burton Reads. The newest episode is, ‘Graham Greene’ by Percival Everett. It’s an intriguing story set in Wyoming, about a man contacted by a 102 year-old woman who wants him to find her son.

6260576It felt like I didn’t read very much this week, and part of that is due to the heat and the humidity frying my brain and making it difficult to sleep. I started and finished Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul To Take, which was fine. I didn’t find it to be particularly creepy, as the reviews say it is. But then, my reaction to creepy stuff has always been rather blase. I doubt I’ll read any more of this particular series. I didn’t object to the writing, translation, or the pacing, but the MC, Thora, just didn’t interest me very much.

After getting excited upon hearing that they were going to be releasing a series of comics based on the Showtime series, Penny Dreadful, I sort of forgot about it until something reminded me of it the other day. I did a quick search through my Hoopla app, and there they were! Volume 1 is a prequel to the series and does a good job of fleshing out certain questions I had regarding the first season, namely, ‘What happened to Jonathan Harker and the others who were in Dracula?’ and ‘What brought Malcom and Sembene together?’ and ‘Why is Malcolm not phased by this supernatural lunacy going on around him?’ The art is fine, though it doesn’t approach the brilliance of Sana Takeda’s work in the Monstress series.

The second set of comics deals with the aftermath of the series. While the show ended they way I always thought it would, it felt a bit abrupt. So it’s good to see that they’re continuing the story (and not pulling any punches). Once again, the art is fine, and while the dialogue is true to the Victorian nature of the show, the pacing leaves out much of the poetry and the quiet scenes many of the characters shared. I’ll be curious to see if future issues flesh out those quiet moments more than the current ones have.

 

Because Danielle over at Books, Vertigo & Tea and I have been planning to do a buddy read of Sarah J. Maas’s second Throne of Glass book, Crown of Midnight, I bought a digital copy, since I didn’t want to have to wait for a library hold to come through. I’ve written before about how disappointed I was in the first book in the series, so I’m hoping that the second book takes a big leap forward quality-wise, as I have yet to see why so many people say that Maas is ‘one of the best fantasy writers out there’.

DSC01749

 

I had to go downtown on my day off to run some errands. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t have made some pit stops at the two independent book stores there. They offered me free iced tea when I walked in the door at Francie & Finch, and Indigo Bridge Books has always had a great little cafe with both hot and cold drinks. I bought an iced coffee and spent about an hour wandering around looking at all the books. I picked a book at each shop- Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant and volume 2 of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s graphic novel series, Monstress. They go along with the copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man I bought at Barnes and Noble the night before. The heat may make it hard to sleep, but at least I have some new books to read while I’m lying awake at night!

DSC_0072

I intended to do a lot of things when I got home last night, but it was so hot and gross, and I was so tired after a week of lousy sleep that I ended up not doing much of anything. What I mainly did was discover that the entire current season of The Great British Baking Show is available through Nebraska’s PBS streaming service. I have an NPR membership, which gives me free access to the service (yay NPR!) I had been watching an episode every Friday night, thinking that they were premiering on the streaming service when the episodes were playing on TV. But they weren’t! The whole season was available right from the start! So I binge-watched the remaining few last night, and was thrilled to see that my favorite baker won the whole thing!

I have not caught up on TNT’s Will. I meant to last week, but it didn’t happen. I blame the heat and general fatigue for that. It’s hard to get excited about anything when, outside of work, you feel like you’re trying to breathe soup. This week? A little cooler! I might have some energy!

Sunday Sum-Up

This was an eventful week, in which I found myself renting cars in foreign countries, accidentally attending a big band concert, finally getting my hair cut after letting it grow for a year, and running in circles at work, all while trying not to melt while I read a new favorite and re-read an old favorite, then ended the week with some amazing Indian food.

As it was hot again all week, I spent my evenings away from my muggy apartment until the sun went down. The hottest day was Monday, with a heat index of 105°F in the afternoon. It had dropped all the way down to 101°F by the time I left work at 7:30 pm, so I decided to go to a cafe downtown where they have great food and a quiet atmosphere. I wanted to keep reading Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister, and do it somewhere cool. Little did I know that there was a big band concert going on. I didn’t want to look stupid walking in and then walking back out again (and I really wanted their specialty mac&cheese), so I stayed. I have to say, reading Red Sister while listening to 1940s swing classics is a bit strange.

After procrastinating for four months, since I bought my plane tickets back in March, I reserved a rental car so that I can go see Iceland’s gorgeous sites at my own pace and on my own schedule. So far, I’m planning to visit the little down of Vik, with its black sand beaches and weird rock formations (also the filming location for the Iron Islands sequences in Game of Thrones), Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Gollfoss Falls. I also fully intend to check out the bookstore scene in Reykjavik. If I’m being honest about the trip, I’m a little weirded out by the thought of driving in Iceland since I’ve never driven in a foreign country before (I’ve gone places by trains, buses,  on foot, and via horse and buggy, but I’ve never driven), but I figure that if my friend who had never been out of the country until she went to Ireland last year could handle the left-hand driving on narrow Irish roads without getting too lost, then I can make my way through Iceland.

But if I suddenly disappear in mid-August, you’ll know I either got completely lost and decided to put down stakes in the Icelandic wilderness, or I went off to join the elves.

I read two books this week- Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It felt like a case of literary whiplash going from one to the other, but I don’t regret reading one right after the other. Pride and Prejudice was a breath of fresh air after the darkness of Red Sister.

 

 

What’s next? Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take, for sure. It’s a mystery set in Iceland, so it appeals on two fronts: the first, because I’m going to Iceland in less than a month, and two, Iceland is much cooler than Nebraska temperature-wise and it will be nice to read about a place that isn’t hot and humid. The next one might be Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. A librarian-friend of mine gave it five stars on Goodreads, and when I read the synopsis, I was definitely intrigued.

Or I might read something else altogether. Who knows?

On the television front, I’m planning to watch the next episode of TNT’s Shakespeare show, Will before the new one premiers on Monday. And by the by, I tend to put literary quotes in my bullet journal to briefly sum up my day, and after watching the first episode I decided to include a Shakespearean quote. While I was browsing Goodreads’ quotes, I came across this:

hellisempty

That tag, though… I do not think that word means what you think it means.

And…

GAME OF THRONES!!!!!

Can I begin to describe how much I’m looking forward to seeing this woman finally get to Westeros?

got-season-7

My hopes for the new season? To see the Starks get back together and fully take back the North, to see Sansa get the better of Petyr Baelish and become the political master I’ve been hoping she’ll become, to see Arya continue to kick ass, and to see Cersei get taken down, preferably by Tyrion, just because she’s always been so horrid to him. I’d also like to see Gendry again. Hopefully he didn’t float out to sea in that little rowboat way back when.. I think it’s a safe bet that I’ll be commenting at length after watching each episode.

 

Will

Shakespeare nerd that I am, I was intrigued by the idea of the new TNT show, Will, when I saw the first commercials for it a few weeks ago. My interest grew after I listened to the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast, Shakespeare Unlimited’s most recent episode, Creating TNT’s ‘Will“, which features an interview with Will showrunners Craig Pearce and Shekhar Kapur. The interview delves into, among other things, the inspiration for their very colorful version of Elizabethan London– the streets of Mumbai and London’s disco and punk eras.

will
A bit more punk rock than the Elizabethan age we’re used to.

I’m glad I listened to the interview before watching the pilot. Because I was armed with the knowledge that punk rock was an inspiration for their version of London in 1589 and that twenty-something Shakespeare left Stratford-on-Avon to essentially become a rock star, the show’s stylization  didn’t throw me off like it might have. The atmosphere feels like a Baz Lurhman production, not surprisingly because Pearce worked on Moulin Rouge while Kapur grew up with Bollywood films. He says that people have called his work “Bollywood-like” to insult it, but that doesn’t seem to have phased him at all. Personally, I like Kapur’s two movies about Elizabeth I (Elizabeth, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age). The make-up and costuming of Will feel garish and blatantly historically inaccurate at first, but after about ten minutes I got over that and enjoyed the show.

Laurie Davidson plays Will, a charismatic and gifted young writer who suffers from being middle class and from nowhere in particular. His first day in London is disastrous, as a pickpocket steals his money and a letter meant for a Catholic dissident that Queen Elizabeth’s spies are looking for. He is nearly rejected by the theater company he’s come all this way to join, and it’s only because James Burbage (played by Colm Meaney), the theater’s manager, is so desperate for a play he’s willing to take whatever he can get- in this case, an unknown upstart named Will Shakespeare.  With twenty-four hours to write a play successful enough to keep the company’s patrons interested, Will has his work cut out for him, but still finds the time to engage in Elizabethan rap battles and drunkenly evade the city’s night watch after a night on the town with new friends.


Among the historical figures you’ll come across is one who is made up entirely, James Burbage’s fictional daughter, Alice- “that most useless creature, an educated woman”. She has a quick with to go along with her beautiful face and isn’t above mocking her brother Richard (played by Mattias Inwood), who is one of the company’s star actors. In the interview Pearce and Kapur state that Alice is an amalgamation of the amazing women you’ll find in Shakespeare’s plays. Sparks have already flown between Will and Alice in the pilot, and things will undoubtedly continue to heat up between them despite Will’s marriage to Anne Hathaway.

1280_will_tnt_gallery
Jamie Campbell Bowers co-stars as the playwright Christopher Marlow, Shakespeare’s sometimes-rival who is also a spy for Queen Elizabeth and searches for Catholic dissidents while most assuredly not writing plays. While he struggles with his own writing, he’s able to recognize it in others, including a glove-maker’s son from Stratford, who he keeps calling ‘William Shakeshaft’. While I associate Jamie Campbell Bower with his somewhat naive Antony from Sweeney Todd, his laconic Marlowe practically drips with genius and danger, making himself into Will’s perilous ally.

willj
These days, Shakespeare’s works are often spouted from ivory towers by snobby professors with their noses in the air. But Pearce and Kapur point out that, to keep the theater open, and full, Shakespeare had to write for the masses. While the language he employed is thought of as old-fashioned and academic these days, in the Elizabethan era, that was how people spoke. Shakespeare wrote for the masses, unwashed and unlettered though they might be, and so his plays have ribald jokes, clown figures, and talk of sex all throughout them. By infusing Will with a punk rock and rap vibe, Pearce and Kapur seek to show younger generations that Shakespeare’s plays are sexy, cool and, above all, meant for the average person.

The first two episodes, ‘The Play’s the Thing’ and ‘Cowards Die Many Times’ both aired last Monday, July 10th. I’ve only seen the first one, but if the rest of the season is as fun and engaging as the pilot, I’ll be watching all ten episodes and beyond.

June Summary and July Preview

Is there anything more fun to do on a Friday night than spending forty-five minutes trying to figure out what has gone terribly wrong with your camera or editing software before figuring out that you merely changed a camera setting, and that’s why things are wonky?

So that was my Friday night. Part of it, anyway. Some of it was fun, like photographing clouds and going to the cafe for a pizza-stuffed pretzel and a latte. Also, a bookstore. Who doesn’t love a good trip to the bookstore?

Anyway. I read eleven books in June! Not too shabby, considering that I read only five or six in May. They are as follows:

  1. The Snowman by Jo Nesbø
  2. Bloodline (Wars of the Roses #3) by Conn Iggulden
  3. Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes
  4. Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
  5. The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
  6. The Star-Touched Queen by Rakshi Shosani
  7. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  8. The Soul of the Camera by David duChemin
  9. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  10. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
  11. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

My Favorite Book of the Month:

bear

Katherine Arden’s beautiful debut novel brings medieval Russia to life- along with its fairytales- with the story of Vasilisa, a young woman who must defy her family and her culture in order to save her people from the onslaught of the winter demon. There was never a moment where I wasn’t fully drawn into Vasya’s world, and though many of the spirits were unknown to me before I read the book, they felt like familiar faces by the end. I was even moved to pity the human antagonists instead of merely hating them, and that is a rare occurrence. I was happy to discover that Arden has a follow-up book in the works, due out next winter.

My Least Liked Book of the Month:

514nd2R1-rL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

I went into the reading of this book with a feeling of ‘meh’, and after many eyerolls and a lot of skimming, I finished it with a feeling of ‘meh’. All too often, the prose let me down with its clumsiness or poor word usage, often kicking me right out of the story while I tried to figure out what, exactly, Maas meant by a particular phrasing. Calaena was not interesting, nor what I ever worried for her safety. Of course she was going to win the competition. And of course Darion and Chaol were going to fall for her. There was never any doubt about that, and that killed any tension that might have been building. What would have made this book more interesting? If it had been about Princess Nehemia instead.


An update on an earlier post, Must See TV- Kinda Sorta: I finished the first seasons of Victoria and The Shannara Chronicles!

TEMP-Victoria-poster2

Victoria ended on just the right note- with the birth of Victoria’s first child and the royal couple as happy and as powerful as they could be. Their rivals have been cast down, the people adore them (mostly), and even disputes within the extended family have settled down. Things couldn’t be better for Victoria and Albert. Not so for the rest of the characters, who have spurned possible love interests, left the palace to seek better lives, or have otherwise made bad decisions that have made them unhappy. The season ended beautifully, and if you went back to watch the first episode all over again, the changes the first few years of her reign have wrought on Victoria would be obvious, but they developed naturally across the season, with nothing that felt forced or rushed. I can’t wait for the next season!

shannara

The Shannara Chronicles is another story altogether. I was honestly surprised to find that it had been renewed for a second season given how lackluster the first season was, with too many repetitious plot elements, lousy scripts, and changes in relationships that felt completely unnatural. While other shows such as Game of Thrones effortlessly handle a vast cast across multiple plotlines, Shannara struggled to do the same. I think it would have benefited from a smaller cast in its first season. The showrunners could also have gotten rid of the internal plots of a few episodes and spread the main story arc across them instead. The overall story would have been better had they not been almost constantly introducing one-off places and characters that were never intended to last more than an episode. The next season starts in September, and while I think the events of the (lackluster) finale point to a tighter, more interesting show the next time around, if things don’t improve soon, I won’t continue watching.


What’s next for July? Another five books that I will intend to read, but may or may not get to, depending on what pops up between now and the end of the month.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. IstanbulMemories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
  3. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
  4. Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić
  5. Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt

I’ve been intending to read Pride and Prejudice and Istanbul: Memories and the City for the last couple of months. Will I actually get around to reading them? Who knows?

I’m actually about a quarter of the way through Practical Magic at the moment, thanks to a quick download from the public library. I am enjoying it so far! Dictionary of the Khazars and Little Black Book of Stories have been sitting on the shelf, looking sad for quite some time. They are, I think, getting lonely up there, so I am going to make a concerted attempt to read them, too.

I realized the other day that I have a little over a month left before I leave for Iceland! Woohoo! The excitement is building! But first I have to get through July, which is usually a long, hot month.

Must See TV- Kinda Sorta

My TV-watching habits are a little weird. I binge watch shows as much as the next person, happily devouring whole seasons over the space of a week or a few days. Or even one day, if the season is short and the show is fascinating. But then, for no particular reason, I’ll just stop. Right in the middle of a season, or with one or two episodes left. Part of it, I think, comes from the fact that I’m not actually watching the show. I’m usually doing something else at the same time, whether I’m dusting or folding laundry or crocheting. The episodes play on while I’m doing whatever, and then I’ll turn the show off when I need to go to bed. A day of work and general busy-ness passes, days go on, and suddenly I realize that I have one or two episodes left of a show and such a long time has passed that I’ll have forgotten what’s going on.

It’s not something I’ve done with one or two shows, either. Falling short by an episode or two is something I do on a regular basis, so let’s take a look at a few of them, shall we?

TEMP-Victoria-poster2Victoria
PBS
1 season
Starring Jenna Coleman, Rufus Sewell, and Tom Hughes

I was excited for this show when I saw it was in production, partly because I’m an Anglophile and a history nut, and partly because I like Jenna Coleman. This show is gorgeously done with beautiful costumes and sets, and as far as I know it is historically accurate. The stories involve the palace servants as much as they do the titular queen and her court, adding seemingly simpler intrigues to the politics of the realm. The acting is brilliant, and though the script is period-appropriate, no one sounds strange or unnatural saying their lines. I watched every show as soon as I could once they were streaming via PBS, but for some bizarre reason, I failed to see the season finale. I have one episode left of this show that I adored, and I haven’t watched it yet. I will try to do so this week.
london spyLondon Spy
BBC/Netflix
1 season
Starring Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent

I was on a British crime drama bender for a little while and binge-watched the first six episodes of this show in one day. It was fascinating, watching Ben Whishaw’s character (a hedonistic gay man), fall utterly in love with another man, only to have him die under mysterious circumstances. And then the real trouble starts. For once, I couldn’t predict anything that was happening in this show, and the twists and turns were fascinating. And yet I have two episodes left. I hope to finish them up sometime this summer.

shannaraThe Shannara Chronicles
MTV
1 Season
Starring Austin Butler, Ivana Baquero, and Poppy Drayton

I read several of Terry Brooks’s Shannara books in junior high and high school, so I was curious to see what MTV did with the story of The Elfstones of Shannara. In the previews, you could tell that the production value was high- the show looked amazing. The overall effect is a bit mediocre, to be honest. The script is pretty lousy, and a few of the episodes could have been cut without affecting the flow of the story. As far as the acting goes, it’s hard to tell if they’re just very good, or if it’s a matter of scripting that holds the three stars back. Perhaps, with a better script and direction they would be fantastic, but as is their relationships’ progression don’t feel natural. Still, I kept watching in the hopes that the show would get better. I stopped at the penultimate episode, thinking that it was the last one and that the season ended on a cliffhanger. Weeks later, I discovered that there was one more episode, and yet I haven’t watched it. The next season is due out in September. I’m hoping that the cast and crew will have settled into the story, and that they’ll simplify the story a bit. There are so many characters and minor storylines in the first season that no one really go the screen time to completely fill out their stories.

And last, but certainly not least:

americangods1American Gods
Starz
1 season
Starring Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, and Gillian Anderson

I’ve been raving about this wonderfully weird show based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, and while I love it, I have two episodes left. This show has been nothing short of spectacular and timely, with its stories about immigrants and the ideas and stories they bring with them and how they fit into the grand scheme of America.  The visuals and stories are breathtaking, and Gillian Anderson steals every scene she’s in with her performance as Media, one of the new gods who is trying to defeat the old ones. And while their stories aren’t really central in the book, I whole-heartedly approve of how Brian Fuller approached the storylines of Laura Moon, Mad Sweeney, and Salim-not-Salim. There’s real heart in that storyline, and my favorite quote of the show so far comes from the last episode I saw (the sixth one): “No, Salim-not-Salim, life is good”. I was happy to hear that season two will have more episodes than the first.

With a whole six episodes between the four shows, it should be relatively easy to finish them all off and not be left wondering what’s going to happen in their respective storylines. And maybe that will be a goal for the week. We’ll see. You know what happens to the best laid plans of mice, after all!