French Milk

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French MilkFrench Milk by Lucy Knisley
Illustrated by: Lucy Knisley
Published: 2007
Publisher: Touchstone
Length: 188 pages

I really enjoyed Relish when I read it last year, so I’ve been meaning to try Knisley’s other graphic novels since then. Her Wikipedia page shows five books released through publishers and a number of self-published works as well. This one is a food-centric travelogue through Paris, which ticked all the right boxes for me.

Lucy Knisley wrote this at the age of twenty three while spending six weeks in Paris with her mother. It’s a great way to keep a journal, a mix of traditional journaling and illustration. I love the idea of being able to quickly sketch out a scenic view or an interesting market item like this. Not to be too predictable, but it does remind me of old adventurers’ journals, where they might sketch out anything they need to remember. It makes me want to pick up a pencil and start practicing.

I thought this would mainly be about food, and while that is a common topic throughout the book, it’s really more about being homesick and somewhat whiny in a foreign country. Her parents are paying for the trip, as far as I can tell, and she spends the entire time moping about, missing her friends and boyfriend back in America. She’s twenty three but acts more like a sixteen-year-old throughout the book, seemingly unaware of how good she has it. I wonder if paying for travel yourself at that age forces you to try to get more out of the experience.

She is being true to the emotion she felt during the trip, rather than looking back with rose-coloured glasses and imagining it as more than it was, which I can appreciate. It’s just day-by-day documentation of her time in Paris – where she went, what she ate, what she bought, and how she felt – without any real narrative, and in order for that to work you really need to be interested in the documenter herself, and I just wasn’t. I think I wanted this same trip, with this same style of journaling, written ten years later in her life. This is the sort of trip that she could probably look back on later in life and write about in an interesting way, but it’s a bit of a bore written about like this. The same way teenage dramas can be really interesting when written by an adult, but are rarely interesting when described by the teenagers involved.

I did enjoy this, but I just wanted more out of it. Every page in which she described food from the market, what they made for dinner, or what they ate in restaurants was perfect for me, but there was too little of that. I didn’t really connect with anything else in the book. I do really like Lucy Knisley’s style of comics, though, and will be continuing on with her other books soon.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 Wrap-Up

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The Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 was one of the two challenges I took part in this year. The goal was to read classics from twelve categories. There’s a draw associated with how many you read, but I mainly take part because I love lists.

When I first joined in on this, back in 2012, it really gave me a push to incorporate more classic fiction into my reading. This and The Classics Club actually changed how I read for the better over the years, so I’m a big fan of taking part in these reading prompts.

Here’s my 2016 list:

  1. A 19th Century Classic: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
  2. A 20th Century Classic: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. A classic by a woman author: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  4. A classic in translation: Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. A classic by a non-white author: Incomplete
  6. An adventure classic: She by H. Rider Haggard
  7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  8. A classic detective novel: Incomplete
  9. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title: Incomplete
  10. A classic which has been banned or censored: Animal Farm by George Orwell
  11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college): Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  12. A volume of classic short stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

I read nine of the twelve categories (two entries). Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) and The Grapes of Wrath were my favourites. I feel bad about skipping the non-white author category, as I do want to make an effort to diversify my reading, so I’ll have to make a point to rectify that in the new year.

I’ll be signing up for the 2017 challenge as well, but we’re going on holiday soon, so I don’t know how much I’ll get done before I leave. I probably won’t be posting any new challenges or year wrap-ups until January (when everyone will be nice and sick of reading those).

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #3)The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published: 1892
Series: Sherlock Holmes #3
Length: 307 pages

I’ve never been a fan of short story collections. I find I can enjoy a single short story, but reading twelve of them in a row is just too much. By the end of the collection, I remember half of it and don’t care about the other half. So when I decided to read this book, the first collection of Sherlock stories, I thought I’d try a different tactic. Instead of reading it straight through in one go, I read one or two stories between each novel I read and jotted down a quick note about the story as soon as I finished. This worked so much better!

I know most of you are like ‘no shit, Sherlock’ (something I keep hoping Watson will eventually come out with – no luck as of yet), but this was a revelation for me. It let the story linger a bit on my mind instead of just being lost in the shuffle of plots, and now I’m looking forward to reading through more short fiction this coming year.

Here’s a list of the stories included in this collection:

  1. A Scandal in Bohemia – The first instance of Irene Adler, the woman to Sherlock Holmes. He’s tasked with retrieving a photo she has in her possession, one that could upset a potential marriage between the King of Bohemia and the daughter of the King of Scandinavia, but she ultimately outwits him. Really a fun story, and I was shocked to read that this is the only time Irene Adler appears in any Sherlock story. She’s always popping up in the film and television adaptations, so I thought she’d be a common character in his short stories.
  2. The Adventure of the Red-Headed League – A pawnbroker was recently accepted into the prestigious Red-Headed League for two months before it mysteriously dissolved with no trace. He comes to Sherlock for help, and we find that there were nefarious intentions behind this bizarre club. I found the premise hilarious and enjoyed seeing a lighter, carefree, side of Sherlock in this.
  3. A Case of Identity – This most ridiculous of the cases so far, skip this if you don’t want it spoiled. A woman’s step-father dresses up in a disguise and pretends to court her to keep her from marrying other men. As long as she lives at home, he has access to the interest from the bonds her rich uncle left her, so he put on a funny voice and some silly glasses, had her fall in love with him, and then broke her heart. He begins this story by explaining to Watson that life is stranger than fiction, so this is maybe a particularly wacky story to try to highlight that fact.
  4. The Boscombe Valley Mystery – This was one of the more straight-forward Sherlock stories I’ve read. A man has been killed in the country and Sherlock doesn’t believe the person in custody is the perpetrator. Our first encounter with Inspector Lestrade in this collection, and it was fun to see an irritated Sherlock get snarky with him.
  5. The Five Orange Pips – A man’s grandfather and father were both murdered days after receiving five orange pips in the mail, so he seeks out the help of Sherlock after receiving them himself. This one felt like it warranted a longer version. At one point Sherlock was angry and on a mission of vengeance, and it was evident that those guilty men were going down. That was a fun side of Sherlock to see.
  6. The Man with the Twisted Lip– A man goes missing, and it’s discovered that he’s not who his family thought he was. Full of action and intrigue in the night, and the man’s story was quite interesting.
  7. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle– A stolen gem is discovered in an unlikely location and Sherlock lays a trap to find the culprit. In this, Sherlock reasons that the guilty man must be intelligent due to the size of his massive head, which was one of the first investigative ideas that he’s used that felt really dated.
  8. The Adventure of the Speckled Band – This is the only Sherlock short story that I remember from university. It’s a great one with high stakes, and we get to see Sherlock show off his macho side a bit, bending steel poker with his bare hands. Brawn and brains, the whole package.
  9. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb– This was a particularly creepy one. An Engineer, after losing a thumb and having Watson patch him up, tells them the story of how he lost it. A creepy mansion in the night, and the earliest instance I’ve seen of the classic cinematic scene in which a rock ceiling slowly lowers to crush those trapped inside the room.
  10. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor– This was probably my least favourite of the bunch. An American bride goes missing after her wedding ceremony to an upper class English man, and Sherlock is asked to find her. There was a lot of setup for a lacklustre explanation.
  11. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet– A jewel goes missing again, and Sherlock is tasked with finding it. He also has doubts that the man in custody is really guilty. This one was fun, lots of family intrigue and good old-fashioned investigation. We get to follow some footprints in this.
  12. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches– A very creepy story about a woman hired as a governess. She’s offered much more money than most other governesses and is asked to cut her hair in a specific manner and wear someone else’s clothing. She’s worried that something is wrong, so she asked Sherlock to help her investigate. She’s a great character herself actually, taking initiative in her own investigations. There’s also an angry Mastiff, not quite as fearsome as the Hound of the Baskervilles, and Watson uses the phrase ‘blew his brains out’, which seemed weirdly out of place to me.

This was a great collection. Moriarty hasn’t arrived yet, but a few other known characters have made minor appearances, and it was a great mix of creepy and exciting stories. I almost think the short stories work better than the full length novels, but I really enjoy both.

Laughter in the Dark

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Laughter in the DarkLaughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
Published: 1932
Translated By: Vladimir Nabokov (from Russian in 1938)
Length: 292 pages

This was written twenty-three years before Lolita and also deals with a relationship between an older man and a younger woman. These are the only two Nabokov novels I’ve read so far, so I’m hoping he does branch out a bit in his other novels, but this was still a much different story than what happened between Humbert Humbert and Dolores.

Where Humbert is a calculated predator, Albert Albinus, this story’s older man, is a fumbling and naive fool. He’s a well-off art critic living in Berlin who meets Margot, a seventeen-year-old girl, and becomes obsessed with her. He meets with her on a few occasions and eventually – ‘seduces’ is not the right word here – convinces her to have an affair with him. She is in control from the very beginning, manipulating him every step of the way to get what she wants while slowly dismantling his life. We watch as this relationship progresses and becomes shockingly toxic.

All of the characters are completely unlikable in this. Albinus is truly pathetic and Margot is just a vile human being from the very beginning of the story, to the point where it was difficult to imagine what Albinus saw in her, although she does get some sympathy being the target of a man too old for her. I don’t need characters to be likable, but it’s nice to know what others see in them. Yes, she’s (too) young and beautiful, but even the most beautiful people will become unattractive to you over time if they’re shallow and unbearable. It’s really Nabokov’s writing, though noticeably less polished than Lolita, that pulls you through the middle of this novel.

Laughter in the Dark really shines in its last third, where it becomes delightfully demented. I was not expecting the story to go the way that it did, and it was a lot of fun. It almost felt like a pulpy movie, ending in an unrealistic situation that still managed to be horrific and entertaining to read.

This was first translated to English in 1936, but Nabokov is said to have disliked that translation so much that he decided to translate it himself again two years later. I feel like we don’t often get the chance to read a translation done by the original author, so it’s a bit of a rare treat. It looks like the rest of his Russian novels were translated either by him or his son.

A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.

I’m looking forward to reading more of his novels and curious to see what other subjects he tackles in those stories.


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Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in TuscanyHeat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
Published: 2006
Narrated by: Michael Kramer
Length: 12:17 (336 pages)

I ignored this very popular book for years because I wasn’t that interested in restaurant culture. I love food and cooking, but the day-to-day schedule of a line cook, preparing the same thing every day, wasn’t something I found exciting.

My assumption was that this would be the account of Bill Buford spending a month or two in a kitchen, waxing poetic about the strong work ethic and the screaming chefs, but it’s much more than that. He spent nearly four years working on and off in Mario Batali’s New York restaurant, Babbo, working with Batali’s former boss in London, and visiting Italy to apprentice as a butcher. That’s a level of dedication I didn’t expect coming into this.

I also didn’t know that this was partly a high-level biography of Mario Batali’s cooking life, from arriving in Italy for the first time as a youth to his rise to fame as a celebrity chef. He’s a chef that other chefs consider legit, but I’m somewhat unfamiliar with him and really had no interest to learn more. Buford’s descriptions also made him out as a bit of an asshole, especially at the beginning, which killed my enthusiasm somewhat.

But I quickly got over that, because this is a fantastic read. Buford’s an engaging writer who can easily transport the reader directly into the middle of a hectic kitchen or in front of a plate of spectacular food. I mentioned I wasn’t interesting in the restaurant side of things, but he really won me over. In spending so much time in Batali’s kitchen, he was able to move from station to station and really give the reader a sense of how a professional kitchen works. Each station has its own challenges and lessons, and I really enjoyed being able to see it from a newbie’s perspective. Restaurant kitchens are usually written about by veterans as they look back, but here we see it through fresh eyes.

I hate how romanticized the stereotypical screaming Gordon Ramsey style chef has become, which in most cases is really just macho posturing in an attempt to cover the fact that the chef has no business leading other people, and Buford does a decent job of not falling into that. In one chapter he has a sous-chef slapping food out of his hand over and over in an attempt to make a point that, honestly, doesn’t exist. It’s ridiculous and wasteful, and Buford doesn’t try too hard to turn it into a life lesson. He just presents it as it happened, which I appreciated.

A few reviews that I came across complained that the chapter-long digressions into food facts were too dull, but they were some of my favourites. I enjoyed the chapter on the history of pasta and the chapter researching when cooks started added eggs to their pasta dough. He presented them in a way that made you feel like you were following along with his research, looking over the shoulder of a foodie Indiana Jones as he digs through his father’s journal. Those chapters, and the chapters detailing his apprenticeship in Italy, were my favourites in the book.

I wasn’t completely on board with the premise of this, but Buford really won me over. His writing draws you in, and I loved the near obsession he has in his research. I’m hoping he writes another food-related book at some point.

Roadside Picnic

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Roadside PicnicRoadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Published: 1972
Narrated by: Robert Forster
Translated By: Olena Bormashenko (from Russian in 2012)
Length: 07:08 (209 pages)

What if aliens made first contact, landing in various locations across our planet for two days, and then they just left. No abductions, no anal probes, no tripods with heat rays, no chest bursters, no communication via music tones and flashing lights, and no floating bicycles. Maybe we were too insignificant a species to acknowledge and this was just a rest stop for them, a roadside picnic, or maybe the aliens have a long-term plan for the planet. Whatever the reason for their leaving, their brief stay had potentially dramatic consequences for earth and its people.

Strange, seemingly supernatural, phenomena are now occurring at each landing site. They have become exceptionally dangerous areas, but there is a demand for anything that has been affected or left behind by the alien visitors, and this has create a black market. The areas are controlled by the government in an attempt to keep them quarantined, but people referred to as stalkers now sneak into the zones and return with anything they can find to sell. This novel follows a veteran stalker, Red Schuhart, as he tries to get away from the criminal life but quickly finds himself sinking back in.

There’s something depressing about a world that finds itself suddenly insignificant, falling from seeing themselves as the centre of the universe to becoming nothing more than insects to another species. The aliens pull over, dump some of their litter, and continue on their way seemingly without a second thought. A minor detour for them manages to profoundly affect human life, in ways that are yet to be seen. Right now there are some mutations, strange things happen to people who travel away from these zones, and the dead aren’t acting as they should, and no one knows how this will continue to affect life on the planet.

There’s excitement around the potential advancements that can be made from this discarded technology, but there’s also a sinking dread that comes with the feeling of losing control, of being at the whim of whatever these alien powers will do next. I haven’t read much Russian literature yet, but this felt quintessentially Russian to me, although I’m not sure why. I think because it’s quite dark, depicting people coping with long-sustained suffering, while also raising a lot of philosophical questions without obvious answers – all attributes I, possibly incorrectly, assume are classically common in Russian literature.

“[…] I don’t know how to think, those bastards didn’t let me learn how to think. But if you really are – all-powerful, all-knowing, all understanding – figure it out! Look into my soul, I know – everything you need is in there. It has to be. Because I’ve never sold my soul to anyone! It’s mine, it’s human! Figure out yourself what I want – because I know it can’t be bad! The hell with it all, I just can’t think of a thing other than those words of his – HAPPINESS, FREE, FOR EVERYONE, AND LET NO ONE BE FORGOTTEN!”

I read Annihilation a while back, the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, and it feels heavily influenced by this novel. I have no idea if that’s the case, but the tone and premise are very similar. They turn out to be two incredibly different stories, but from a high level it’s easy to draw comparisons between these landing zones and Annihilation‘s Area X. Reading this actually reminded me that I need to continue on with that series.

I love the world they built in this, and the different take on first contact. This was written forty years ago, but nothing about it feels dated to me. Apparently the previous English translations weren’t very good, but this 2012 translation seemed great.

November in Review

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Books Acquired:

Books Read:
Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky
Heat by Bill Buford
Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
Ballistics: Poems by Billy Collins
French Milk by Lucy Knisley

With the move at the end of last month finished, November in comparison was very low-key. It was actually quite nice. December is beginning to sound pretty full, so this was a good way to lead up to it.

We stumbled across a few used turntables in a strange little out-of-town cafe and ended up buying one on the spot, Lee-Ann’s early Christmas gift to me. It’s a Technics SL-23 from the 70s, and it’s in great shape. These old turntables have more functionality than current turntables selling for over $500, at a fraction of the price, so we’re quite happy with this. It was more of a fun experiment than anything, something to play some random records we’ve picked up in the last year, so it’s nice to find a cheap option.

Limited edition #Psychonauts soundtrack, signed with love by @timoflegend ! #nowspinning

A photo posted by Rob McMillan (@mcmillan) on

An ominous soundtrack for cleaning the house this afternoon. #transistorgame #nowspinning

A photo posted by Rob McMillan (@mcmillan) on

I picked up quite a few game soundtracks while at PAX at the end of the summer, which are great to throw on while writing, and we’ve picked up a couple of our favourite albums as well. It’s good fun. I attached a Chromecast Audio to the system, so we have access to Spotify and the modern, non-hipster, world as well.

Movies watched:
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) – I love Indiana Jones – have I mentioned that lately? – and will typically watch anything even remotely related, but I still wasn’t that excited about this going in. I really didn’t think I’d care, but it turned out to be a great little story about creating something for yourself, for the sake of doing it, and I ended up really liking it.

TV watched:
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (2016) – Both Lee-Ann and I liked the Gilmore Girls television show, and revisiting the town and characters was a lot of fun. The dialogue and set were both great, but all of the plot decisions were just awful.

Games played:
Titanfall 2 (2016) (PC) – Great single player campaign. The multiplayer is fun, but it’s not hooking me in like I expected. When I do play it, the abysmally unbalanced matchmaking can be frustrating.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

The Dispatcher

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The DispatcherThe Dispatcher by John Scalzi
Published: 2016
Narrated by: Zachary Quinto
Length: 02:19 (75 pages)

This is John Scalzi’s latest novella, and it’s somewhat unique in that he wrote it to be published as an audiobook before print. This means he had the audio in mind while writing, and I think it actually did him some good.

In his previous writing, he’s had the tendency to get repetitive with using the word ‘said’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good word. It works well. Stephen King, if you consider him an authority, says it’s the only dialogue attribution that should be used. The problem is that he often writes snappy back-and-forth dialogue, conversations that can last pages, and he uses it on every line. I don’t really notice it when reading his novels, as I think I just subconsciously skip over it, but in audio it can be a struggle. I almost didn’t make it through the first chapter of Redshirts because of it, but thankfully this novel was free from any such problem.

The main character is a man called Tony Valdez. He is a Dispatcher, which means he’s hired by insurance companies to murder their clients before they die, which at first obviously sounds counterproductive, but a strange phenomenon has occurred recently in the world. People who die at the hands of another wake up in immediately in their homes, naked and uninjured. If they die naturally, they stay dead. If they’re purposefully killed, they find themselves slightly traumatized but alive.

Tony Valdez is approached by a cop for information on a friend of his who has gone missing. He finds himself pulled in, against his will, to the investigation, and along the way we get to learn more about this new temporary murder and how it’s affected certain aspects of society. I found this to be a fascinating thought experiment, which he explores from quite a few different angles, and the story was fun as well. Not one of Scalzi’s best, but I think that’s partly due to this being a novella trying to handle a premise that deserved a longer novel.

My only major gripe was how the cop was used to explain everything. She would ask questions that would make sense for us, the readers, to ask, having no experience with this world, but they sounded ridiculous coming from a police officer. Dispatchers work legally out of hospitals, and laws have already changed to accommodate this new situation, so how does she know so little? I understand Scalzi needed a natural way to continue explaining what was happening to the reader, but a cop felt like a very odd choice to me and anything but natural. At one point Valdez has to explain that it’s legal for him to borrow her gun for his job, and she just takes him on his word. I know it’s a short novella with a lot to explain, but I found it very distracting.

Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes) did a great job with the narration. His voice was tempered throughout, almost flat, but it worked with the dark and eerie atmosphere of the novel. The print version will be released in May 2007. It sounds like he might write sequels to this in the future, and I hope he does. It’s an interesting premise that deserves more time.


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AmazoniaAmazonia by James Rollins
Published: 2002
Length: 510 pages

In the first five pages of this book, the main character wrestles an anaconda under water and is sentenced by an Amazonian tribe to trail by combat. We’re also introduced to a secondary character that has a rehabilitated jaguar as a hunting partner and an Indiana Jones whip hanging from his hip, which later he actually uses to flick a gun out of someone’s hand. This novel begins on an absolutely ridiculous level and manages to maintain that for its entire length, which is impressive.

Four years prior to the anaconda fight, a scientific expedition travelled into the Amazon rainforest and lost contact with the outside world. A search party was sent in after them, but the search was unsuccessful and the scientists were presumed dead. The book begins with a member of that original expedition stumbling out of the jungle and into a small village, near death and miraculously no longer an amputee – his missing arm appearing to have grown back. Another search group is formed, consisting of American military personnel and some local scientists, to trace the man’s trail back into the jungle.

This was just so dumb, but it was dumb enough to be fun – the Sharknado of thriller novels. I enjoyed the fact that I often had no idea what was coming next. It’s difficult to know what to expect at each turn when the story is just a steady feed of insane situation after insane situation.

There were some moments where I could see what was coming, and that anticipation was still a fun experience. At one point, when a major twist was revealed at the end of the novel, my mind, now trained for this plot, immediately jumped to what would be the stupidest conclusion. I spent the next chapter hoping it wouldn’t be true, but when the time arrived, not only did he go for it, he exceeded even my expectations.

While I am on board with the over-the-top adventure of this novel, the characters left a lot to be desired. It’s hard to care about any of them. They have interesting jobs, and do interesting things, but they have very little personality. Rollins tries to force you to care about them, but it’s so heavy-handed that it just comes across as silly and tedious. At one point, we learn that the only daughter of one of the scientists is in trouble, and in order to really drive home the gravity of the situation, we’re told that due to a medical issue in her past she can no longer have children. That felt like such a bizarre way to ramp up the tension to me. Are we meant to feel worse about the child possibly dying because, unlike in other families, she can’t easily be replaced?

This was recommended to me by a friend when I mentioned I had read The Lost City of Z, which is an incredibly different book but still revolves around an expedition into the Amazon jungle. This is essentially the Hollywood blockbuster take on what Percy Fawcett may have gone through. It was interesting reading them in this order, as the jungle described by Rollins felt quite different from the descriptions in Fawcett’s journal. As the expedition sets off in this novel, it was mentioned that they didn’t make much food with them. One of the characters explained that food was plentiful in the jungle, to which I gave a very smug ‘nah uh’. Half of the expeditions lead by Fawcett seemed to end with the entire team nearly starving to death. A lot of the life in the jungle lives up in the canopy, which makes it actually quite difficult to scavenge or hunt down below.

I haven’t read many thrillers in the past few years, really just Jurassic Park and its sequel, but I could see myself picking up more of them. Despite its many flaws, I did really have fun with this, although I do wonder if it would still be as fun if the shock of the absurdity was removed.

Northanger Abbey

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Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Published: 1817
Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 08:16 (251 pages)

The only other Austen I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice, and while I did enjoy the writing and the spots of humour, I just didn’t connect with the story at all. I did want to try some of her other work, but I just wasn’t left with a burning desire to seek them out.

Catherine is innocent to the point of being a bit dense, and she’s just moved to Bath to stay with relatives and attend the season’s social events. As with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, everyone around her is frantic to find a spouse. She seems less concerned. I’m guessing this is a common theme in Austen novels, showing the absurdity of that aspect of a 17th century young woman’s life. While in Bath, Catherine becomes friends with a pair of siblings, who as we read on also show themselves to also be quite dense, stepping over the line into twit territory. As you might guess, the story then becomes a ‘will she, won’t she’ with a couple of men, but it plays out in a more interesting way than that sounds.

I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.

I enjoyed Northanger Abbey much more than Pride and Prejudice. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of Catherine, but her naivety and, let’s face it, simplemindedness serves the story perfectly. She is not your average heroine. But to counterbalance this aspect of her personality, she also has moments of incredible thoughtfulness and reasoning, a trait many protagonists sadly lack. I was reading this around the same time as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and what I liked about that also applies to this novel – misunderstandings that could erupt into unwarranted drama are easily dealt with by people just speaking to one another.

It’s a concept that won’t shock anyone to hear, but it’s an incredibly common method of pushing a plot forward. Something that could be fixed over a cup of coffee turns into a war. I supposed the same could be said about most real life drama as well, so it’s not just a case of plot manipulation, but it’s still frustrating when you notice it.

What I loved most about this, however, was how booknerdy it was! Catherine is obsessed with gothic fiction, to the point that she sometimes has trouble separating the stories she loves with reality (which leads to some trouble later in the novel). She’s put off by a wannabe suitor describing the reading of fiction as a feminine pursuit and was overjoyed when Henry Tilney contradicted that and shared with her his own love of reading. I couldn’t care less if Elizabeth Bennet ended up with Mr. Darcy, or any other man in that novel, but after this scene I was like “you make this man your husband right this instant”. From her obsessing over what was going to happen next in her book, to Henry making up a story for her on their drive to the Abbey, I loved every bookish moment.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

I was lukewarm on Austen before this novel, but this has piqued my interest again. Considering my preference for this more lighthearted and humorous novel, I’d be interested to hear anyone’s suggestion for the next Austen I should pick up. I’m leaning towards Emma at the moment. I’m also now interested in reading Mysteries of Udolpho, after Catherine went on about it so enthusiastically.