Monday Morning Mid-Month Book Check
Monday Morning Mid-Month Book Check is a way for us to share what we are reading at the moment, no matter how brilliant, menial, or embarrassing. This will be a recurring feature on metamayhem, hereafter called “mmm…book check.” Mmm… book check. Get it? Because of all the M’s? … nevermind….
School’s out, and I’ve been in the mood for some light reading. Enter The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig. This book is one in a series titled The Pink Carnation about a band of English spies. These spies, all undercover in the upperclass, win points for crossing the boundaries of gender – not all are male. The story has two narrators. The first (continuing throughout the series) is modern-day Eloise Kelly who has hit the motherload of research on her doctoral dissertation titled “Aristocratic Espionage During the Wars with France: 1789-1815” in a family archive at Selwick Hall in Sussex. The second is the historic (in these archives, anyway) Lady Charlotte Lansdowne, a wallflower and bookworm who will join forces with the Duke of Dovedale to uncover a plot to kidnap the king. Or, at least that’s what the book jacket tells me. I haven’t gotten to that part just yet. The Pink Carnation series, so titled because the spies tend towards flowery nommes des guerres, is a fun diversion for lovers of period narration. Landing somewhere between Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer with a modern sensibility, the characters sparkle with personality, the plots are quick-moving and delightfully campy, and the adjectives, well, you’ll just have to read them to believe them. Willig has a genius for the quick characterization and even her minor characters have enough presence to steal the show. Turnip Fitzhugh, for instance, has an unforgettable name, an even more unforgettable wardrobe, and the intellect of a, well, turnip. This series has a perfect mentality for beach reading but since this particular novel is set just after Christmas, it has an appropriate atmosphere for fire-side reading. Since it’s horribly cold and rainy here, I might light up the computer fireplace and do just that, and if I randomly break into an English accent, you’ll know why.
I’m a sucker for cheap old books. When I found a novel on a $1 used book cart in New York during spring break (The Strand Bookstore is as awesome as everyone says), I bought it without knowing anything about it. That book was The Briary Bush by Frank Dell, which I later learned was a sequel. Still knowing nothing of the plot, I borrowed the book it follows, Moon-Calf, which is what I’m reading now. Wow, what a background story. Anyway, Moon-Calf begins in the late nineteenth century with a boy named Felix Fay, and essentially follows him as he grows up and his family becomes poorer and he expands his learning horizons even while working menial jobs. The early chapters are pretty fantastic, going into beautiful detail about Felix’s love of books and creating stories, even to the detriment of his schoolwork. He is one of only two non-librarians allowed into the stacks of his local library, and began checking out adult books at a young age by claiming they were actually for his mother. Unfortunately, as Felix gets older he also gets more dull and the narrative seems to be spinning its wheels. Felix discovered socialism, see, and has gotten involved in local organizations. This is where the novel shows its age and the author’s obvious biases seep through. There’s still time for the book to redeem itself, and I think Felix is about to fall in love (for the third time, but who’s counting?). I will stand by those early book-loving chapters, and hope that the sequel proves to be even more worth my while.
Currently reading A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (who has two middle initials, seriously). It is the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic fantasy series. Epic meaning two things, first this paperback book is 800 pages, a seriously damaged spine and torn cover to show for the wear and tear, but I am entirely unable to put the darn thing down (even though I should have been reading A Canticle for Lebowitz for a book club I’m in). Second, it is incredible the history, cultures, beliefs, religions, and political maneuverings in the lands of Westeros and Essos. It is as intricately planned and executed as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but without the crazy diversions (Tom Bombadil anyone?). We’re introduced to these elements through the narrators of the story, each chapter is a different narrator (and, apparently, by the third book there’s 25 of them!). My favorite character is Daenerys, the child bride of Khal Drogo, the fiercest Dothraki warrior (think Ghengis Khan). It’s the story of the people of these lands, focusing on the Starks of the Westeros, who are the Lords of Winterfell, we follow their family through the beginnings of war in the land. Caetlyn Tully, the mother. Eddard Stark, the father and new Hand of the King (the King who stole the land from the previous King). Robb, the 15-year-old son and heir to Lord Stark. Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard, who joins the black knights at the Wall to the North that keeps out…something, we’re not sure what. Sansa, the precocious young daughter promised to the King’s son. Arya, the tomboy 8-year-old. Tyrian Lannister, the Queen’s dwarf brother who provides most of the laughs in the book. I’m not going to lie, I started reading these because it has been made into a TV series on HBO, but I’ve kept reading it because it’s really good. I’ve also never read a fantasy book before (except for LotR), mostly because they always seem contrived and treacly (Unicorns negate any serious storyline, I’m just sayin’), but this is a real story, with real-world connections, and Martin was not afraid of killing off major characters. Oh, and a warning, for those who might care, there’s a lot of violence, a little bit of swearing (only in context), and a bit of sex.
I’m reading The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton. It’s a novel, but is based on the real camel bookmobile in Kenya. I just started (I’m only a whopping 27 pages in). We’ve already
met the main character, Fiona Sweeney, who goes by the nickname Fi. She’s a thirty-something librarian from New York City who decides to go help run the camel bookmobile for a bit of adventure and to bring books to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access. She’s serving an area of Kenya that is home to a semi-nomadic people, who we’ve also discovered are not necessarily approved of by those running the Kenya National Library (which operates the bookmobile). We’ve also met Kanika, a young girl in Fi’s favorite village, who is notable because she can speak and read English, and she wants to be a teacher. Not much has happened plot-wise yet (only 27 pages, remember?). I’ll leave you with this lovely quote: “Books convinced her that something more existed – something intuitive, beyond reason – and they whetted her appetite to find it.”
Hands in the air, boys and girls. What are you reading right now? Tell us in the comments!