Fool’s Quest

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Fool's Quest  (The Fitz and The Fool, #2)Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Published: 2015
Series: The Fitz and The Fool, #2
Length: 768 pages

I’m so happy to have gotten back into reading Robin Hobb. I’m spreading the books out, partly because they’re quite chunky and partly because I don’t really want this story to come to an end. I’ll console myself with the fact that I have two other related trilogies to go back and read, as well as whatever she comes out with next.

Robin Hobb is a brilliant writer, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Her novels are beautifully written, and she expertly draws the reader into a complex, but understandable, world. Each character is real, flawed, motivated in their own way, and she makes you care about every single one of them. Even when they frustrate or anger with their actions, or inaction, the reader can still eventually understand their reasoning. In these last eight books, Fitzchivalry, the main character, has continuously made decisions that infuriated me, but you can always see why he’s the way he is. Hobb spent nearly the entire last book building these characters up in our imagination, making us understand their relationships to one another and really building the emotional foundation for this trilogy. It was a riveting read, even if not a lot of action took place.

With that groundwork in place, this is the novel where the action really picks up. It’s exciting, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once. Something happens to Fitz that we’ve been waiting to happen for twenty years now (twelve for me, since I came in late), and it’s done it the most satisfying way I could hope for. One thing that prevented me from getting through her Soldier’s Son trilogy was that it was just so hopeless. She can be ruthless in how she treats her characters, and she was out for blood in that series. This latest trilogy is much more balanced – some chapters raise your spirits while others crush you a little, and it overall makes for a much more interesting and pleasurable reading experience.

One more book left with Fitz and the Fool. Loving the latest trilogy. Will be sorry to see them go.

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One thing that did bother me is that there’s a central mystery or surprise in this, which I won’t spoil but I think will be obvious if you’ve read it, and it takes the characters so bloody long to figure it out. It was incredibly obvious to the reader since midway through the first novel, on purpose I believe, but the characters took about a thousand pages to work it out, and that’s always been an annoyance of mine. Either make it less obvious to the reader, so we can experience the discovery with the characters, or speed it along a little. That disconnect does nothing but hurt the writing, in my opinion.

Even with that small gripe, this might be my favourite Robin Hobb trilogy yet. It’s been a long time since I read those first books, so it’s hard to tell, but either way I am loving this. This novel unfortunately comes to an end without really trying to find a natural break, as it’s clearly meant to just transition to next book, so I’m itching to read on. It comes out in May, but I might hold out for the paperback edition later in the year.

January in Review

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Books Acquired:
Irredeemable, Vol. 3 by Mark Waid
Irredeemable, Vol. 4 by Mark Waid
Ayoade on Ayoade by Richard Ayoade
The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman

Books Read:
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Kaijumax, Season 1 by Zander Cannon
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

It’s been a decent start to the year. A bit of a rough beginning, as I got ill immediately upon returning from holiday and spent a chunk of New Years Day in emergency, but it all turned out all right. The rest of the month was relaxed. Reading, hanging out, and taking some photos. Last month I bought a new camera, and I’m having fun learning and posting to Instagram. I picked up a copy of The Photographer’s Eye for some inspiration, as it comes highly recommended online as a good overview on composition.

The Photographer’s Eye and Ayoade on Ayoade, which I’ve been itching to buy for ages now, were both purchased with the winnings from the Back to the Classics 2016 challenge. I was lucky enough to win the draw of US$30, which is equivalent to winning the lottery jackpot with the current Canadian dollar. Thanks to Karen for hosting the challenge!

Sleepy Sunday

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Warm enough this weekend to go for a walk by the ocean.

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Freighter with the Olympic Mountains in the background.

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Lee-Ann and Paisley.

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The two Irredeemable comics I picked up used. I started the series years ago and only got a couple of volumes in, despite really liking it. I saw these and thought I should get back into it.

Movies watched:
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – I loved this. Sweet little movie out of New Zealand. Very funny with great actors. First movie I watched this year, and it’s already better than anything I watched last year.

Submarine (2010) – Another fantastic movie. Directed and written by Richard Ayoade. His style of comedy really shines through on this, and it’s filmed in a unique and fun way. The music is great too. Very reminiscent of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen.

TV watched:
Last Chance to See (2009) – Stephen Fry revisits the trip Douglas Adams took, with his original travelmate Mark Carwardine, to see what happened to those near-extinct animals they tracked. Great series. I’m always happy to watch Stephen Fry, of course, but Mark Carwardine really stole the show for me. He’s interesting and affable. I wish he’d continued on doing more nature programmes after this.

Games played:
Inside (2016) (PC) – Beautiful little game. Turned out to be much creepier and bizarre than I expected. Turns out the hype around this was well-warranted.

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

Morning Star

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Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
Published: 2016
Narrated by: Tim Gerard Reynolds
Series: Red Rising #3
Length: 21:50 (524 pages)

This is the third novel in the Red Rising trilogy, and I thought it came to a very satisfying conclusion. Brown is apparently planning a follow-up trilogy, one that will follow new characters living with the result of this story, and I will probably read through those as well. The first one is due out later this year.

In this world, the people are divided by colour class. The golds rule at the top, treated as gods by some of the lower colours, and at the bottom of the class structure are the reds, who are essentially mining slaves, forced to spend their lives underground at work, never to see the sky. These three novels follow the rebellion of the lower class as they struggle for equality.

I loved the first two novels. Red Rising started out very strong, building up this world in an exciting way and really driving home the inequality and the struggle of those enslaved by this system. The second novel, Golden Son, was just as good, avoiding the lull many middle novels fall victim to while exposing the reader to the entire universe beyond the enclosed story of the first book, essentially turning the series into a space opera.

A trilogy like this could really fall apart at the end, leaving the reader unsatisfied, but I’m happy to say the conclusion hit the mark for me. It left me guessing up until the end with some unexpected twists, and while some of those twists felt a bit hokey, I was able to overlook that. It’s a complicated story overall but still manages to remain a fast-paced and exciting read.

My only real complaint is that everything in this final book felt so high-stakes that it managed to come across as a bit monotonous. Every war movie has that moment when the Sergeant is giving a rising speech to his squad, full of bravado and speaking of glory and honour. Most of this novel is that tone, and it gets a little tiring after a while. I was drifting a bit in the middle of the book. To Brown’s credit, though, the story’s emotional highs and lows still managed to hit me pretty hard, so I guess he didn’t overextend himself.

Overall, this was a great finish to the trilogy. Tim Gerard Reynolds is a superb narrator, and I’m sure my reading experience was improved by listening to him. I’ll be watching for the next trilogy.

Sex Criminals, Vol. 3: Three the Hard Way

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Sex Criminals, Volume Three: Three the Hard WaySex Criminals, Volume Three: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction
Illustrated by: Chip Zdarsky
Series: Sex Criminals #3
Published: 2016
Publisher: Image Comics
Length: 160 pages
Collects: issues #11-15

When I was skimming reviews before purchasing this, I saw that they were generally less enthusiastic than the last two volumes, but I seem to be having the opposite experience as everyone else. I was lukewarm on the first volume, really enjoyed the second volume, and I thought this latest one was just as strong. At this rate, the comic will be cancelled as soon as it becomes my favourite series of all time.

Sex Criminals is a filthy, juvenile, and hilarious comic about people who have powers that activate when they orgasm, all of which seem to relate in one way or another around stopping time. In the first volume, the two main characters used this power to break into a bank, hence the name Sex Criminals, and the story has now progressed to include an ever-increasing number of characters. The plot is becoming somewhat unfocused, but I’m hoping this was just setting up some story elements in the next volume, because right now it’s in danger of just being a showcase of weird sex powers with no real goal, which would be a real shame. The writing is hilarious, and I’m just hoping the plot can catch up.

One of the newly introduced characters was an asexual woman, and I found her chapter really interesting. I thought Fraction did a brilliant job of introducing the topic of asexuality in an understandable and respectful way while still being funny. Another character was a man who creates semen demons, so a slightly different tone there.

A fun comic. It’s very funny, Chip Zdarsky’s art is fantastic, but that won’t be enough to hold it up if the plot doesn’t tighten up a bit. I still have high hopes for the next volume, though.

Born a Crime

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Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah
Published: 2016
Narrated by: Trevor Noah
Length: 08:50 (224 pages)

I never sit down and watch The Daily Show, but over the years I have seen quite a lot from people just sharing the videos. Since Trevor Noah took over, very few clips have made their way to me, so I wonder how well the switch from Jon Stewart is going. I imagine it’ll take some time for him to find his stride on there, and I do hope he’s given the chance, because, from watching his stand-up and reading this book, it’s clear he’s the type of person that needs to be on American television right now.

Trevor Noah was born in South Africa during the apartheid. His father is a white Swiss man and his mother a black Xhosa woman, which is where the title comes in. It was illegal to have a child of mixed-race at the time, and the stories of him growing up with parents who were not allowed to be seen with him in public are heartbreaking, but he also manages to make them hilarious. This whole book is a testament to finding the humour in dire situations.

If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.

One thing I really found interesting was how racial lines were handled during that time. There were, of course, black people and white people. Those of mixed race are classified as coloured in South Africa, which isn’t the derogatory term that it is in North America. There are obviously racist attitudes towards those people, but the term itself apparently isn’t treated as a slur. But just to drive home how ridiculous the classifications get, for convenience sake everyone was placed into one of these three categories. So Japanese people were labelled as white and Chinese as coloured, for example, and people could apply with the government to have their classification changed depending on their skin shade and economic standing. It really was idiotic, and I believe a lot of those attitudes still exist to a certain extent in the country.

This is his story of growing up poor in a country that didn’t think he should exist. His father couldn’t be seen with him, and his mother had to pretend he wasn’t her son or risk him being taken away. He grew up with a violent and unpredictable drunk of a step-father and had a lot to struggle through, but he also grew up with an incredibly strong mother who clearly had a huge influence on him. It’s not just his story that’s interesting; it’s his outlook and the lessons he learned from his family and his life experiences. This isn’t a comedy book, it deals with some very dark subject matter, but it’s written by someone who can’t help but be funny.

I would highly recommend the audio book. Trevor Noah is a natural storyteller, his narration of this book is brilliant, and you also get the added bonus of listening to him speak phrases in Xhosa. That’s the language with the clicks that you may have occasionally seen Robin Williams mimic, but it really is beautiful and mesmerizing to hear.

Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.

Loved every minute of this. If you enjoy memoirs, I don’t think you can go wrong with Born a Crime.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

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The 39 Steps (Richard Hannay, #1)The 39 Steps by John Buchan
Published: 1915
Narrated by: David Thorn
Series: Richard Hannay #1
Length: 04:10 (100 pages)

I think I first heard of this while browsing lists of classic Scottish literature. It’s referred to as one of the earliest spy novels, a man-on-the-run thriller really, in which an ordinary man finds himself wrapped up in an international conspiracy with his country’s safety on the line. This is the first in half a dozen novels featuring Richard Hannay, and it’s been adapted to film multiple times (none of which I’ve seen), the earliest being a Hitchcock film from 1935. It looks like a new adaptation is in the works as well, due out in 2018.

This is a very short novel, and even at this length I felt it drag on in parts. It begins just before World War I in 1914 with Richard Hannay arriving in London after working in Rhodesia for many years. He’s incredibly bored with this new life, so when a stranger with a crazy story begs for his help, he takes the time to listen to him and provide him a place to stay where a busier man may have just moved on. The man claims to have uncovered a plot to assassinate the Greek premier during his upcoming stay in London, with the goal to destabilize the continent in the wake of war. Those chasing him soon turn their attention to Hannay, and he runs north to Scotland with these anarchists in pursuit.

The rest of the story is Richard Hannay sneaking through bushes, being chased through Scottish moors, disguising himself in working class clothing, and participating in some fairly implausible events. I did enjoy Buchan’s writing, which was the saviour here, but this wasn’t the most thrilling thriller I’ve read. It feels like its longevity is largely due to it defining a new genre and it having been adapted into a well-loved Hitchcock film.

At this point, I don’t think I’ll carry on with the series, although I am intrigued. I may let myself be convinced to read further in the future.

Ballistics: Poems

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Ballistics: PoemsBallistics: Poems by Billy Collins
Published: 2010
Length: 113 pages

After reading Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, Billy Collins stuck in my head as someone to further explore. I enjoyed his poem The Lanyard, which was J.J. Abrams’ choice for the collection, but I also really liked Collins’ choice, Bedecked by Victoria Redel. He was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, and while I don’t actually know what that is, it does sound very impressive.

So while we were in Portland last year, I picked up this small collection of his. There were poems in this that I did really enjoy, but I felt a little underwhelmed by the collection as a whole. There were maybe half a dozen poems I marked down to return to while reading through this, and the rest just really didn’t strike me in any way. He can be hilarious at times, and I love that, but a lot of these felt more like unsuccessful exercises in trying to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I’m not going to write him off completely, as I know there are some of his poems that I really do enjoy, and maybe this was just the wrong collection for me. I find it tricky to actually pick out poetry and find the best place to start with each poet. On our way home from Portland, we were taking a taxi in Seattle to the ferry terminal, and I got to talking with the driver. He was a big poetry buff, it turned out, and when I mentioned I’d picked up a Billy Collins book he mentioned he wasn’t a fan. I asked what he recommended, and apart from briefly mentioning Robert Frost, he was mainly enthusiastic about poetry anthologies, even naming Kenneth Rexroth and Oscar Williams as two of his favourite anthologists. Maybe I should take that advice and stick to anthologies for a while.

The few I did like, I really liked. Some of my favourites were: Divorce, Old Man Eating Along in a Chinese Restaurant, Ballistics, and Adage.

Here’s the title poem, which turned out to be one of my favourites. I’m an easy sell on bitterness and snark, though.

Ballistics

When I came across the high—speed photograph
of a bullet that had just pierced a book —
the pages exploding with the velocity —

I forgot all about the marvels of photography
and began to wonder which book
the photographer had selected for the shot.

Many novels sprang to mind
including those of Raymond Chandler
where an extra bullet would hardly be noticed.

Nonfiction offered too many choices —
a history of Scottish lighthouses,
a biography of Joan of Arc and so forth.

Or it could be an anthology of medieval literature,
the bullet having just beheaded Sir Gawain
and scattered the band of assorted pilgrims.

But later, as I was drifting off to sleep,
I realized that the executed book
was a recent collection of poems written

by someone of whom I was not fond
and that the bullet must have passed through
his writing with little resistance

at twenty—eight hundred feet per second,
through the poems about his childhood
and the ones about the dreary state of the world,

and then through the author’s photograph,
through the beard, the round glasses,
and that special poet’s hat he loves to wear.

Foodies Read 2017

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I’m also joining the Foodies Read challenge again this year. The goal is to read any book that is somehow related to food, be that a cookbook, a foodie memoir, or a murder mystery in which the killer slays his victims using only spotted dick.

The challenge levels are as follows:

  • Short-Order Cook: 1 to 3 books
  • Pastry Chef: 4 to 8 books
  • Sous-Chef: 9 to 13 books
  • Chef de Cuisine: 14 to 18
  • Cordon-Bleu Chef: More than 19

I’ll be aiming for the Pastry Chef level again, although I would like to read more than the bare minimum this year. My initial choices, which may change, will be:

  1. Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
  2. How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson
  3. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
  4. Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France by Peter Mayle
  5. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
  6. Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
  7. The Dinner: A Novel by Herman Koch
  8. The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle

Back to the Classics 2017

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I will be taking part in the Back to the Classics 2017 challenge to read classic books that fall into twelve categories. The more you read, the more entries you receive for a draw at the end of the year.

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

Here are the categories and my tentative choices:

  1. A 19th Century Classic: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  2. A 20th Century Classic: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  3. A classic by a woman author: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  4. A classic in translation: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  5. A classic published before 1800: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
  6. A romance classic: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  7. A Gothic or horror classic: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  8. A classic with a number in the title: Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
  9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title: Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  11. An award-winning classic: Dune by Frank Herbert
  12. A Russian Classic: The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

2016 in Review

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Well, that year turned out a bit differently than we all thought, didn’t it? Oh well, I guess now that we’ve rolled over to a new arbitrary calendar year EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE. Donald Trump will definitely not start a war over Twitter and all of our favourite celebrities will stop dying. I can’t wait!

The Weblog

Nearly six years I’ve been keeping this weblog now, and I’m still enjoying it. I love being able to look back on what I’ve read, and I feel like taking an hour or two to write about a book really helps me get more out of my reading. If you had told fifteen-year-old me that I would voluntarily write fifty book reports a year, I would have told you to get lost in a very 90s way, possibly by using a sarcastic phrase punctuated with a “NOT!” at the end.

I would like to put a bit of work into the design here, which I say every year, but I can really feel it this time. 2017 is the year I write an About page. I’ve also been toying with the idea of maybe doing expanded reviews in the form of podcasts or booktube videos. I can’t promise I’ll ever post one, but my plan is to at least go through the steps of recording something this year and see how it goes. I may need to undergo some sort of vocal cord surgery to make my voice acceptable for the general public first.

The Stats

Overall books read: 51

Format
Graphic novels and trade paperback collections: 9
Audio books: 25
E-Books: 1
Poetry compilations: 2
Short story or essay complications: 2
Plays: 0
Non-fiction: 10
Classics: 10

Country (of author)
America: 31
England: 8
Scotland: 4
Canada: 2
Russia: 2
Brazil: 1
Ireland: 1
South Korea: 1
South Africa: 1

Other
Most novels by same author: 2 (John Scalzi and Eddie Huang)
New authors (to me): 17
Female authors: 9
Re-reads: 2

Observations

  • For two years in a row now I haven’t read a single play, so I need to make a point to change that this year.
  • I doubled the amount of women writers I read this year. Still only 18% of my overall reading, but still an improvement.
  • This was something I wanted to change last year and it didn’t happen, but I’d like to get that New Authors number down and start reading more novels from authors I know I love.
  • This next year I’d like to read at least one graphic novel a month. It’s such a cool medium, and I often forget how much I enjoy comics.
  • Over half the books I read this year were audiobooks. That’s partly because I tackled some larger physical novels, but mainly because I’ve gotten quite bad at dedicating time to sit down and read.
  • I’d like to read more from countries outside of America and England this year.

The Challenges

The Classics Club: I finished this last spring! I decided to keep adding books to the list until my five year mark, next March, before wrapping it up.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016: I read nine out of a possible twelve novels and really enjoyed participating. I even managed to win the draw at the end of the year!

Foodies Read 2016: I read four novels for this, just squeezing in to the four to eight category.

The Top Fives/Threes

These are all lists of media that were new to me this year, not necessarily released this year.

Fiction

  1. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
  4. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  5. Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

Non-Fiction

  1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  2. The Lost City of Z by David Grann
  3. Heat by Bill Buford
  4. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  5. Quiet by Susan Cain

Comic

  1. Saga: Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan
  2. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff
  3. We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan
  4. Sex Criminals: Volume Three by Matt Fraction
  5. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Audiobook Narration

  1. Dylan Baker narrating The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Tim Gerard Reynolds narrating Golden Son
  3. Patricia Rodriguez narrating The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
  4. Trevor Noah narrating Born a Crime
  5. Dan Stevens narrating Frankenstein

Video Game

  1. Uncharted 4
  2. Tales from the Borderlands
  3. Firewatch
  4. Tom Clancy’s The Division
  5. Destiny

Movie

  1. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
  2. The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
  3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
  4. * Didn’t watch many movies this year, so this turned into a weird top 3.

Movie – Non-Fiction

  1. Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016)
  2. What Happened, Miss Simone (2015)
  3. The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (2015)

Television series – Fiction

  1. House of Cards, seasons 1 – 4
  2. Stranger Things, season 1
  3. BoJack Horseman, season 3

Television series – Non-Fiction

  1. Chef’s Table: France, season 1
  2. Chef’s Table, season 2
  3. Rick Stein’s Long Weekends, season 1