Queen Witch

Blessed be, my witchy friends. How goes the spell-work? Messed with any thanes lately? Yeah, me neither. There just aren’t as many power-hungry Scottish nobles willing to commit a little regicide these days, are there? Anyway. ENOUGH CHIT-CHAT. I have news. Ready?

Guys. GUYS. I saw The Witch on Sunday and I. Am. Freaking. Out. FREAKING OUT. Watch the trailer while I compose myself.

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh so perfect ❤ PERFECT I SAY. As a diehard lover of horror movies, as someone obsessed with witches and witchcraft since childhood, and as a librarian, I walked out of the theatre speechless, grinning like a madwoman, and already planning my second viewing. This movie SLAYED. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to see something like this. And my god, the amount of research that went into this movie makes my mouth water. Please, Robert Eggers, I beg you, share your bibliography! I WANT TO READ ALL OF IT.

I’ve never not been into witches. I mean, I was a witch for Halloween every year from the ages of 5 to 10. Now I’m a witch everyday *wink*. And frankly, my captive internet audience, it’s a disgrace that I haven’t forced my witchiness down your throats before now, A DISGRACE, I TELL YOU. So today I’m reviewing Hunt the Witch Down! by Margaret Ronan, written a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (1976).

This cover gave me nightmares so terrifying that it has spent more time wedged between my mattress and box spring than it has on my bookshelf. Who am I kidding, it still terrifies me.

The Deal: Sometimes ill-favored and bad-tempered, usually sharp-tongued – they were people who scared the living daylights out of ordinary folk because of their weird ways, or aroused their envy because of their strange powers. Powers that seemed to come from the devil. People called them witches!

And what did they have in common, these witches? They were women. Women who used all their wit and wile to survive in an oftime hostile world. Desperately unhappy housewives, young women and girls, a little crazy maybe, poor usually, but hunted down and tortured by the law, even put to death. Their greatest crime: being born female.

Twelve true and exciting stories of twelve women whose neighbours were sure they were witches.

Robyn says: This book holds astronomical sentimental value to me. I found it in my grandmother’s dusty, cluttered basement when I was 9 years old, and, um, “secretly borrowed” it – let’s just say my reluctance to lend books might be an inherited trait. Enamoured with anything to do with the occult, I was willing to risk Grandma Ruby’s wrath for the sake of literature. And witchery.

I read it and re-read it, over and over and over, memorized the stories, scared my friends and scared myself, used them as a starting point when I got older and wanted to do more in-depth research. More than the individual stories themselves, though, is the spirit of this book, which, as I reflect on it now, has really has a surprisingly profound impact on the types of stories I want to read and want to write, too. It’s creepy, feminist, dubiously historical horror that is a little ridiculous and a lot of fun.

That sounds pretentious, I know. Sorry. I’m getting emotional. *Girds loins, gets back to business*

As I said above, this is a collection of twelve histories of women accused of witchcraft: from Margaret Barclay in 1618 to Marcia Goodin in 1974. It is definitely not the kind of history book you’d use for your thesis, though, if you know what I mean – no footnotes, no bibliography, a history prof’s night terror. It’s written in a narrative style, with recreated dialogue, so it’s really more like a collection of short stories. The tone is definitely informal, the prose is deliciously purple (“The Scottish rain fell like thin grey spears”) and it’s a little dated (the author frequently breaks out of the narrative to address the reader), but it is so fun to read. The stories are short, scary, and oozing second-wave feminism. What more could you ask for?

I guess my only complaint is that very little actual witchcraft happens. These are all stories about women who were accused of witchcraft, and the author just assumes that they weren’t actually witches. As though real witches aren’t a thing. Ha. Ha ha. Ha.

the craft movies angry witch

Verdict: Read it. Read it when you’re tucked into bed, covers pulled up to your chin, flashlight shining on the yellowed pages. Read it until you hear a sound, a sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, until you think you see a shadow move in the corner of your eye. Then shove it under your bed so you don’t have to look at that cover (I mean, COME ON, that is horrifying) and pull the blankets over your head and try to sleep. Just try.

light models hocus pocus long hair spell

Best lines: One chapter is called “The Queen of Hell” (Martha Carrier, 1692) and I always adored that – it’s the page the book automatically falls open to. The first lines are very evocative and pretty representative of the book as a whole… “She looked more like the queen of beggars, with her tangled hair hanging down her back, her brown dress torn and dirty. She stood in the court, head down, chains on her wrists. Those who did not know her might have thought her meek.” (p. 65)

Rating: Five out of five pointy black hats, because nostalgia.

ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: Ruby, I miss you. You weren’t always a good grandmother, but you were  a damn good witch in your own way, and I miss you. Sorry-not-sorry for stealing your book. I bet you’d appreciate that.

And now a word from my loyal familiar:

I think my cat might be a witch…

Book Cat says: Dabo ultionem meam contumelia, bibliothecario. Pone verba mea.

That sounds ominous, guys. I might have to reconsider my position on dressing up one’s cat in elaborate costumes to match the theme of book reviews.

Or not.

witch anjelica huston the witches fabulous

 

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!

 

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.

I promise to do my best… #BrownieForLife

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

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

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

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

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

All this Brownie talk is making me hungry.

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

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

MOVING ON.

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

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

OoooOOooooh scary!

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

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

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

Robyn says: Dude. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude. Dude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Turtle *pours one out for the fallen soldiers*

 

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

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

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

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

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

Book Cat?

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

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

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

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

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

Onward!

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

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

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

Mistress_of_rome

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

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

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

pullo vorenus

Lucius Vorenus + Titus Pullo = BEST BROMANCE EVER

Lol. Or maybe not.

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

spartacus

Still not over this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very special episode of Robyn’s bookish ramblings

SCENE: A barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, and dus–no, wait, that’s Mordor. Ahem. Picture a dark, dusty, cluttered library, not unlike Bernard’s shop in Black Books…

(CAMERA PANS SLOWLY TO ROBYN’S SERIOUS FACE, WHICH LOOKS ALARMINGLY SIMILAR TO HER RAGE FACE)

Hello, my tasty little ice cream sandwiches. Welcome to a very special episode of the blog. We are going to talk about serious things and maybe have some Theo moments and maybe even learn things, god help us all.

Cart-wheeling Christ, Robyn (you might be thinking), what the hell is going on because you sound even weirder than usual? I’ll tell you what’s going on, my internet friend/acquaintance/enemy/mom. What is going on is that I, Robyn the Loquacious, Robyn the Verbose, Robyn the Pretty-Word-Chooser-Thingy, have found a book I cannot review.

Don’t get your bloody hopes up, though. It’s not because I’ve run out of words (ha ha, you’re stuck with me, wait don’t close the tab–) but because I have found a book I LOVE TOO MUCH. Yes. Too much.

But what does loving a book too much mean, Robyn? you might be asking yourself if you’re ignoring your therapist’s advice to stop talking to yourself because it’s creeping everyone out. I will tell you, you creepy darling. Of course, you can’t really love a book too much (notable exceptions: anything written by German dictators or anything that comprises the dogma of an organized religion YEAH I SAID IT). What I mean when I say I loved this book too much is that I love it too much to be objective about it. It means that I love this book so much that for the last five weeks since I read it I have literally, not figuratively, but actually, correct-dictionary-definition LITERALLY been struck dumb when asked to describe it. I kid you not. The best I can manage is a handful of fervent mumbles, punctuated by the word Sigrud. And it’s not like I’m not trying. I am. I want to share my love for this perfect book through thoughtful, insightful, carefully-crafted reviews instead of my current tactic of throwing the book at people I know and then pointing at their eyes, the book, and finally, making an unmistakable sawing gesture across my throat so they understand the consequences of not reading the Book I Love Too Much.

Finger across neck means death

Maybe it’s all those years of surviving an English literature degree solely by my not-unimpressive ability to eviscerate the most highly respected works of the Western cannon with the ruthless savagery of my Cossack forefathers. Or maybe it’s jut because I’m the kind of miserable cynic that knows the well of criticism stretches far deeper than the one of praise. Maybe I’m just a cruel winter crone in a world of sweet summer children. Maybe I haven’t slept in 43 hours. Whatever the reason, I find it ridiculously god-damn hard to talk about the stuff that I love without. Or rather, why I love the stuff I love.

The Lord of the Rings books, Wuthering Heights, cake, freedom, Jason Momoa’s abs, Deadwood, cats, the watchmaker argument for the existence of an intelligent creator(s), Jason Momoa’s face, rainy days, anything written by Bernard Cornwell, the Lord of the Rings movies, the pre-2010 music of Gogol Bordello, the way it kinda hurts when you take out your ponytail after too long, Ragnar Loðrok  holding a baby goat, the subject of this painfully surreal blog post… I love them all, my poor blog-hostages, but I am incapable of telling you why.

Deep.

Or.

Or…

Or maybe I’m just fucking with you because I’m a) bored, and b) a psychopath.

Maybe this non-review of the unreviewable Book I Love Too Much is, in fact, the MOST PERFECT AND AMAZING BOOK REVIEW TO EVER BE WRITTEN IN THE STORIED AND GLORIOUS HISTORY OF BOOK REVIEWS! MAYBE THIS IN THE ONLY REVIEW WORTH OF THE BOOK I LOVE TOO MUCH! MAYBE I AM A BOOK-REVIEWING GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(For posterity’s sake, I will record that right now, I am cackling. I have never cackled before, nor do I think I have ever heard another living creature cackle, but right now, I am cackling, and it is both a vaguely disturbing and wholly transcendent experience that will forever change me.)

…INTERMISSION TO ALLOW YOU TO MOP UP YOUR TEARS OF RAGE/TERROR…

Hello again, my scrumptious little chocolate soufflés. I will now name the Book I Love Too Much.

Behold:

The Book I Love Too Much is City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett.

The Deal: It’s time to get serious. I do really want you to read this book. It is well-paced, inventive, engrossing, and most of all, fun, which is sometimes rare in epic fantasy. And this is epic fantasy. The world-building is staggeringly detailed and complex, and I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am that there will be a sequel. I, of course, loved the Slavic atmosphere of Bulikov, the titular city of stairs. The heart of this book, though, is its characters. I can’t tell you what it means to me to find a female POC protagonist in a fantasy. When I pictured Shara, I saw someone like myself, and that is a pure, raw joy I have to keep folded away secret and safe in my heart. The other characters are all richly drawn, and oh, Sigrud. You will read this book, and you will meet Sigrud, and love him, and understand. #TeamSigrud. Ultimately, I can only say this perfect book is perfect, and if you disagree, grass before breakfast, you foul blackguard, you wretched scoundrel, you vilest of villains!

Robyn says: .

Verdict: Read it. Read it. Read it. ReaditReaditReaditReaditReaditReaditReaditReaditReadit READ IT. READ IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Best lines: The whole book is one best line after another. I’ll be honest, I was too engrossed to take notes, but I found this one on goodreads and it is one of many best lines:

“Forgetting… is a beautiful thing. When you forget, you remake yourself… For a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it must forget it was a caterpillar at all. Then it will be as if the caterpillar never was and there was only ever a butterfly.”

Rating: Five out of five Imperial Faberge Easter eggs, because you can’t get much more perfect than an Imperial Faberge Easter egg, can you?

ROBYN OUT.

ragnar fall back flip

(Robert Jackson Bennett, if you ever read this, I am so sorry and you’re a genius and we’re not worthy; the rest of you, I’m not sorry, you all knew what you were getting into when you started reading this.)

She's crazy.

She’s crazy. And she cackles all the time, the liar.

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