Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for May, 2013…
The Chalice (Joanna Stafford #2), by Nancy Bilyeau – The second in what I believe is going to be a trilogy starring aristocratic young nun Joanna Stafford finds the monasteries dissolved, Joanna and her friends trying to live in the real world again, and Henry VIII in search of wife number four. When some high nobility come to Dartford and sweep cousin Joanna off to London with them, she will become embroiled in political intrigues and be forced to assume her role in a prophecy that promises to change the course of history. Just like its predecessor, The Crown, this was a quick, engaging and fluffy read – especially if you don’t mind the occasional typo or historical inaccuracy (which, I admit, do bother me). This would make for a good beach read, as long as you don’t expect too much from it.
Fire in the Blood, by Irene Nemirovsky (audiobook) – I loved Nemirovsky’s unfinished masterwork, Suite Francaise, so I snatched this up at the library when I came across it on the audio shelf. It’s in far rougher form than Suite Francaise, but with some beautiful writing and fascinating characters. I loved the portrayal of Silvio, a French hermit who wishes nothing more than to be left alone with his wine and his thoughts, but who is constantly dragged into family dramas. His musings on life and love were masterful. I think I would have enjoyed the print version very much, but the narrator of the audiobook was superb. He was Silvio. Highly recommended.
The Return of the King (Lord of the Rings #3), by J.R.R. Tolkein – Finally, finally, I’ve completed the long trek that is the Lord of the Rings trilogy! I’ve been meaning to get to this for ages, and while I enjoyed each volume, The Return of the King was my favorite. It was nonstop action, thrilling and exciting, and so very satisfying to finish. I’m planning a bigger post on my impressions of the series later this month.
The Iron King (The Accursed Kings #1), by Maurice Druon – Is this month King-themed, or something? I had never heard of the Accursed Kings series, which were published in the 1950s in France, until I read an article about their recent reissue. The book opens with a great drama: the Grand Master Templar and three of his compatriots are being burned at the stake. As he dies, the Grand Master levies a curse on the Iron King, Philip the Fair, and his line. The curse begins to take effect almost immediately: Philip’s three daughters-in-law are suspected of adultery, and his ineffectual sons can’t seem to control their wives. Meanwhile, Philip’s cronies drop one by one, and his hot-blooded daughter Isabella, the unhappy Queen of England, is plotting against her sisters-in-law. The series covers the Hundred Years’ War and this account of the beginnings of the war was exciting, well-plotted, and historically accurate. My favorite kind of historical fiction! I’m now waiting for the next book in the series to come out, and I’ll be snatching it up ASAP.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter – This would make a phenomenal not-too-fluffy beach read. A beautifully written story, spanning some fifty-odd years and the space from Italy to Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins introduces a cast of lovably broken characters and follows their life stories. A dying Hollywood starlet, an idealistic young Italian hotelier, a grizzled veteran turned writer, a Hollywood producer and his disillusioned assistant drift through their own life movies, bumping into one another as they go. Lovely story and beautiful writing. Fully reviewed here.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain – The book jacket described this book as “Catch-22 for the Iraq War,” and it got so much good press that I had to check it out. File this one under “incredible but uncomfortable.” Ben Fountain holds a mirror up to the American media culture as he depicts a squad of soldiers, the heroes of a battle in Iraq, on the last stop of their victory tour. They are mobbed by well-meaning citizens who thank them for their service in kindly but clueless ways and are forced to rub elbows with the Dallas Cowboys owner and his cronies, all of whom want a piece of the glory – which, for Bravo squad, isn’t really glorious at all. Ben Fountain perfectly captured the fawning media attention and opened a window into a soldier’s mind. I squirmed, but they were worthwhile squirms.
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1), by Rick Riordan (audiobook) – I wanted something light and fun and Potter-esque for my drives to work this month, because things have been kind of overwhelming, so I grabbed the first two Percy Jackson books. I’m not wild about the audio production, but the story is gripping and such fun. Percy and his friends are half-bloods, or demigods – sons and daughters of a Greek god and a mortal. The gods are still very much alive and active and causing trouble. When the book opens, Percy doesn’t realize his true parentage, although it’s obvious to the reader from the very beginning who his dad is. (I won’t give it away, for those who haven’t read the book, but the symbol of the series makes it pretty obvious even before you crack the spine.) I’m already halfway through the second in the series – on audiobook again – and Percy and pals are making my commutes so much more fun.
Most of May, I thought, was pretty slow on the book front. But looking back, I’ve done some good reading – even despite some long workdays and some weekends given over to entertaining this month. In addition to these, I’ve been working my way through Villette for the #villettealong, but as of May 31st I hadn’t finished it, so it will appear in my June round-up. The beginning of June looks much the same as the month of May – lots of work hanging over my head, so reading time is at a premium. But once I get past this week, I think things will quiet down for awhile, and I’m anticipating some good, relaxing bookish afternoons ahead. I have a big library stack to get through, so I’ll need them.