The Monday Check-In ~ 9/28/2020

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I’m not actually observing, and I haven’t fasted in years, but still…

Hope all who observe are having a meaningful Yom Kippur and an easy fast.

What did I read during the last week?

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell: This was a book group book, and I ended up loving it. My review is here.

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo. Terrific debut fiction. My review is here.

Snow Falling by Jane Gloriana Villanueva: A very silly audiobook treat for Jane the Virgin fans. (I thought it was great!). My review is here.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren: Christina Lauren books are always great fun, and this holiday-themed romance (with a touch of Groundhog Day too) is no exception. My review is here.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: This slim book is weird and wonderful. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

I finished Avatar: The Last Airbender! You know what? It’s not just for kids — I really enjoyed it (and I’m glad my son convinced me to watch).

Who else watched Enola Holmes this week? Wasn’t it fun? I hope there’s a sequel in the works.

I also started watching The Boys, and despite the incredible amounts of gore, I’m liking it so far!

Puzzle of the week:

Two this week! First, a puzzle that my amazing daughter sent me for my birthday:

My 2nd puzzle is pretty much my dream cabin (minus the fish on the wall):

Fresh Catch:

New books this week — a trio of older books by Jenny Colgan:

Plus, I was thrilled to receive this advance copy from the publisher:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

What to read? I’m ready to start a new book — it’s between these two ARCs.

Flip a coin, maybe?

Coming soon:

Thursday will be October 1st, and that means it’s time for another Discworld book! I’m starting a new volume in the series on the 1st of each month. Coming up for October, book #3:

Now playing via audiobook:

Well Played by Jen DeLuca: I really enjoyed Well Met, and this sequel is off to a good start!

Ongoing reads:

Outlander Book Club is re-reading Outlander! We’re reading and discussing one chapter per week. This week: Chapter 16, “One Fine Day”.

It’s our 3rd and final week for our group read of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. So much fun!

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Title: Piranesi
Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: September 15, 2020
Length: 245 pages
Genre: Fiction/fantasy
Source: Purchased

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

How do you write about a book that’s impossible to describe?

When it comes to Piranesi, there’s so little that I can actually say. You have to read this and let it unravel itself to you. Knowing anything in advance would take so much away from the reading experience.

What I can say is this:

A man lives alone in an endless House, with halls and vestibules that seem to stretch on forever. Outside the House, as seen from its windows, are the sun and moon and stars. Inside there are clouds and birds, and on the lower levels, the sea and its rising and falling tides. The House is filled with statues, all depicting different people and creatures.

Also in the House are the remains of 13 people. There’s also the Other — an older man whom the main characters visits with twice a week, who refers to the main character as Piranesi. As far as Piranesi is concerned, the 15 people — two alive, thirteen dead — are all the people in the entire world.

So what’s actually going on here? What is this House? Why is this man here, keeping journals of his daily explorations, fishing on the lower levels, and leaving offerings to the dead?

I’m not telling. 30 pages into this book, I’d decided that it was the weirdest thing I’d read all year. Now that I’m done, that’s still true, but it also was a strangely captivating read. There are revelations and explanations, but the most interesting thing of all is living inside Piranesi’s mind and seeing his worldview.

The writing is beautiful, of course, even when utterly baffling. I ordered this book knowing nothing about it, other than that it was by Susanna Clarke, and that was enough for me to know that I needed it. After the huge size of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (782 pages for the hardcover, over 1000 for the paperback), I was pleasantly surprised to realize how slim Piranesi is.

Piranesi really doesn’t need to be any longer. It’s slim and decisive, telling a weirdly wonderful story with a sparseness and delicacy that make it a perplexing but ultimately fulfilling read.

Of course, there are probably many more layers to this book — issues of identity, memory, and psychology — that I only grasped the barest shadows of. But even without a deeper dive into the underlying meanings and symbolism, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Piranesi.

I just can’t wait for someone else in my life to read it — it’s so hard not to be able to talk about it!

Book Review: In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Title: In a Holidaze
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: October 6, 2020
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

As a rule, I do not read Christmas-themed books. But, rules are made to be broken, especially when the Christmas-themed book in question is by Christina Lauren, the author duo whose books I always seem to love.

In a Holidaze is a feel-good holiday story with a little bit of Groundhog Day mixed in as a twist. Maelyn Jones loves her family’s Christmas tradition. For as long as she can remember, her parents, their college best friends, and the assorted offspring gather at a cabin in Utah to catch up and celebrate. It’s the best sort of found family.

The only downside for Mae is that her teen crush on Andrew Hollis, the older of two brothers who are sons of the cabin owners, has morphed over the years into unrequited love. For ten years, Mae has pined for Andrew, but Andrew has never looked at her as more than a kid sister.

This year, Mae’s holiday gets complicated. On the last night at the cabin, she drunkenly makes out with Andrew’s younger brother Theo, which she instantly regrets. Not only that, but Andrew’s parents inform everyone that they’re selling the cabin, so this is the last year of the traditional Christmas holiday together.

Mae is upset and depressed, and not at all excited about going back to her disappointing life and job back home. A random car accident on the drive back to the airport launches Mae into an impossible new reality — she wakes up back on the airplane on the way to the cabin to start the holiday all over again.

Of course, no one else realizes that anything weird is afoot, but Mae is freaking out. After a couple more reboots, each caused by a seemingly fatal accident, Mae is determined to stop being so cautious and timid and just go for what she wants… and that includes telling Andrew how she feels.

From here, it’s a feel-good romance, as lifelong friends discover passion and deep emotional connection. The setting is such fun — a snowy cabin, a big family, holiday traditions like sledding and setting up the tree and having snowball fights, board games and drinks by the fire. The big extended family is of course very invested in the Mae/Andrew romance, and some complications arise that almost ruin everything. But, this is a holiday romance, so despite some fears along the way, I was pretty confident that things were going to work out just fine.

Christina Lauren books are always a good time, and I really liked this one. I loved the set-up — the large group gathered at the cabin for a week — and how the different friends and family present interact, support one another, act out, make fun of each other, and show just how strong a family of friends can be.

Mae and Andrew are sweet together, and the only issue I had was that I spent the 2nd half of the book holding my breath in case another random reboot would happen and wipe out all the wonderful relationship steps these two managed to take.

In a Holidaze is really a sweet read, and is a perfect choice for when the weather turns colder. Ideally, this book should be read while wearing flannel, under a big cozy blanket, in a comfy chair next to the fireplace, while snow falls outside. Don’t forget the hot chocolate!

Audiobook Review: Snow Falling by Jane Gloriana Villanueva

Title: Snow Falling
Author: Jane Gloriana Villanueva
Narrator:  Ivonne Coll and Anthony Mendez
Publisher: Adams Media
Publication date: November 14, 2017
Print length: 240 pages
Audio length: 8 hours, 22 minutes
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s been a lifetime (and three seasons) in the making, but Jane Gloriana Villanueva is finally ready to make her much-anticipated literary debut!

Jane the Virgin, the Golden Globe, AFI, and Peabody Award–winning The CW dramedy, has followed Jane’s telenovela-esque life—from her accidental artificial insemination and virgin birth to the infant kidnapping and murderous games of the villainous Sin Rostro to an enthralling who-will-she-choose love triangle. With these tumultuous events as inspiration, Jane’s breathtaking first novel adapts her story for a truly epic romance that captures the hope and the heartbreak that have made the television drama so beloved.

Snow Falling is a sweeping historical romance set in 1902 Miami—a time of railroad tycoons, hotel booms, and exciting expansion for the Magic City. Working at the lavish Regal Sol hotel and newly engaged to Pinkerton Detective Martin Cadden, Josephine Galena Valencia has big dreams for her future. Then, a figure from her past reemerges to change her life forever: the hotel’s dapper owner, railroad tycoon Rake Solvino.

The captivating robber baron sets her heart aflame once more, leading to a champagne-fueled night together. But when their indiscretion results in an unexpected complication, Josephine struggles to decide whether her heart truly belongs with heroic Martin or dashing Rake.

Meanwhile, in an effort to capture an elusive crime lord terrorizing the city, Detective Cadden scours the back alleys of the Magic City, tracking the nefarious villain to the Regal Sol and discovering a surprising connection to the Solvino family.

However, just when it looks like Josephine’s true heart’s desire is clear, danger strikes. Will her dreams for the future dissolve like so much falling snow or might Josephine finally get the happy ever after she’s been dreaming of for so long?

This one is strictly for Jane the Virgin fans… but oh, if you’re a fan, are you in for a treat!

Snow Falling is the book that Jane Gloriana Villanueva writes in Jane the Virgin — the book that leads her to proclaim:

Jane’s inspiration for Snow Falling, her first published novel, is her own life. Taking characters from her own world, she thinly (very thinly) veils them as characters in a historical romance set in Miami of the early 1900s.

Jane herself becomes Josephine, the hotel concierge who dreams of becoming a writer. Jane’s husband (oops, spoiler?) Michael is the inspiration for detective Martin Cadden, the good, upstanding man who loves Josephine unconditionally. But then there’s also Rake Solvino, based on Rafael Solano — the playboy hotel owner with a heart of gold, and the 3rd point in Jane the Virgin‘s love triangle.

In Jane the Virgin, the entire premise is based around Jane (a virgin) becoming pregnant after an accidental artificial insemination, finding herself pregnant with Rafael’s child while engaged to Michael. Yes, it’s straight out of a telenovela!

Snow Falling can’t go the artificial insemination route, of course, so it gives darling Josephine a momentary lapse in her virginal goodness, spurred by what she thinks is Martin’s unfaithfulness (she’s wrong about that) into a champagne-induced one-night-stand with dashing Rake. Which, obviously, leads to Josephine’s pregnancy.

Snow Falling follows most of the major beats from Jane the Virgin, from the main character’s loving relationship with her mother and grandmother, to the discovery of her long-lost father, to the hunt for the terrible Miami crime boss, to the birth and kidnapping of Josephine’s child.

And yes, the love triangle is in full bloom, because that’s what it all comes down to really. Which man has Josephine’s heart? Where will she find her HEA?

As someone who was always Team Rafael, I couldn’t help but be Team Rake while listening to Snow Falling.

The mustache! How can Josephine resist?

But hey, just look at the cover and read the dedication — we already know who Josephine’s true love will be. (Sorry, Rake fans…)

Snow Falling is totally fun. Would it be a good book on its own, without the Jane the Virgin connection? Well, no. There’s really no reason to read this without the JtV love to back it up — otherwise, it’s just a silly romantic story that hits every possible romance trope along the way.

But hey, it IS a Jane the Virgin story! My recommendation is to check out the audiobook. The narrator is Ivonne Coll, who plays the wonderful Alba on the show.

Also wonderful is the occasional appearance of Anthony Mendez, the show’s narrator, adding his own special brand of commentary throughout the book.

Look, this is just plain silly fun. I’m glad I checked it out, after my obsessive binge-watching of Jane the Virgin this year. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably enjoy Snow Falling too.

I mean, Jane Gloriana Villanueva is a published freaking author! Let’s show her book a little love, shall we?

Book Review: Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Title: Ties That Tether
Author: Jane Igharo
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 29, 2020
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

When a Nigerian woman falls for a man she knows will break her mother’s heart, she must choose between love and her family.

At twelve years old, Azere promised her dying father she would marry a Nigerian man and preserve her culture even after emigrating to Canada. Her mother has been vigilant about helping–forcing–her to stay well within the Nigerian dating pool ever since. But when another match-made-by-mom goes wrong, Azere ends up at a bar, enjoying the company and later sharing the bed of Rafael Castellano, a man who is tall, handsome, and white.

When their one-night stand unexpectedly evolves into something serious, Azere is caught between her growing feelings for Rafael and the compulsive need to please her mother who will never accept a relationship that threatens to dilute Azere’s Nigerian heritage.

Azere can’t help wondering if loving Rafael makes her any less of a Nigerian. Can she be with him without compromising her identity? The answer will either cause Azere to be audacious and fight for her happiness or continue as the compliant daughter.

At first glance, Ties That Tether might seem to be just another contemporary romance. But really, it’s so much more.

Right off the bat, we know that Azere has done something completely out of character. After a terrible first date with yet another mom-approved man, Azere decides to cool off by having a drink in the hotel bar… where an attractive stranger strikes up a conversation with her. After talking for hours, they end up in bed and have a fantastic night together — but Azere leaves quietly the next morning, never intending to see him again.

Azere is Nigerian Canadian, born and raised in a village that she remembers fondly, until her father’s death when she was 12 years old led the family to immigrate to Canada under the protection of her paternal uncle. While Azere and her sister Efe learned to become Canadian, Azere’s mother holds the girls to their heritage, and most of all, she holds Azere to the promise she made to her father on his deathbed: To marry a Nigerian Edo man.

Azere feels guilt over her one-night stand, because she’s never been with a non-Nigerian man before, but intends to move on and be a dutiful daughter once again, until the man in question, Rafael, shows up in her office as a new hire with whom she’ll be working closely. Rafael is white, of Spanish decent, and is nothing like the type of man her mother would approve of. But there’s an undeniable chemistry between the two of them — and then something complicates matters further (no spoilers from me!) in a way that guarantees that Azere and Rafael will have to deal with their feelings for one another.

Besides the terrific connection between Azere and Rafael, this book really shines when it comes to exploring the immigrant experience, spotlighting the pressure to be loyal to one’s heritage while at the same time trying to establish a new life in a new world.

I’ve been compromising for thirteen years, rearranging things so I can exist in two different worlds. Now, he wants me to exist in a third — his. I can’t do that. And maybe I’m being unreasonable and even selfish, but I’m terrified — terrified that adopting Rafael’s culture will put me at great risk of losing mine. After all, my mother warned me of the possibility.

Azere is a wonderful character. She adores romantic movies, which I find incredibly endearing. She can pull out rom-com quotes or comparisons for seemingly any occasion, and it’s just so cute.

Our bodies are in perfect sync, complementing the band’s tempo. I’ve somehow been transported into the movie Dirty Dancing. I’m Baby and Rafael is Johnny.

Azere tries so hard to be the good daughter her mother expects, but her mother leaves her no room for anything but the way she thinks she should be, going so far as to threaten to disown Azere if she persists in a relationship with Rafael. It’s a terrible situation, and the author lets us see the awful pain Azere experiences, being forced to choose her family or the man she loves, with no middle ground available.

The book does a very convincing job of showing the challenges of being an outsider in a new country — particularly for children, who are expected to live up to family expectations and keep traditions alive, yet whose day-to-day existence can be brutal at an age where differences can mean exclusion. Only by adjusting their clothing, food, and other outward signs of their culture can Azere and Efe finally make friends and fit in as young girls.

The writing is lovely, letting us inside Azere’s head (and occasionally Rafael’s), showing the heightened emotions of falling in love without going too far over the top… and sometimes, surprising with how powerful simple words can be.

From Azere:

Whenever he kisses me, no matter how brief, reason eludes me, and I forget I’m kissing lying lips.

And from Rafael:

This is my rescue mission. Though, unlike the fairy-tale-themed movies she once made me watch, there are no dragons to slay or evil queens to overthrow. In this case, the damsel stands as her own obstacle. So rather than using a sword or a life-restoring kiss, I use words, hoping to wake her from the obligation-induced trance she’s been in for years.

The course of true love never did run smooth, so of course there are all sorts of issues beyond the cultural differences that stand between Azere and Rafael. Still, given the nature of romances, there’s never any doubt that these two will end up together — it’s just a question of how, and how long it will take.

The author, like Azere, immigrated from Nigeria to Canada at age 12, and it’s obvious that she knows what’s she’s talking about. Azere’s struggles and experiences feel authentic and realistically portrayed. She’s a wonderful main character, and I loved seeing the care and thoughtfulness she devotes to fulfilling her own romantic destiny while not discarding her family heritage.

I really enjoyed this book, start to finish. It’s a quick and captivating read that pulled me in right from the start. The romance itself is terrific, full of steam and attraction, as well as true emotion and vulnerability. If anything, Rafael is maybe a shade too perfect (and even though Azere has cause to distrust him, we readers know perfectly well that he’s hiding bits of his past for valid reasons and can guess what those reasons are). As a couple, Rafael and Azere are easy to root for — they’re just so right for each other.

Ties That Tether is a delight. Don’t miss it!

Shelf Control #235: The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Light We Lost
Author: Jill Santopolo
Published: 2017
Length: 328 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

How and when I got it:

I bought it at least a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I first heard of The Light We Lost when it was selected as a Hello Sunshine book group book. I tend to shy away from most celebrity book clubs, but I find that the Reese/Hello Sunshine books tend to be really, really good!

From the Hello Sunshine website:

“This book is all about different kinds of love – the kind that engulfs you like a wildfire and the kind that keeps you warm like a hearth fire. This love story spans decades and continents as two star-crossed lovers try to return to each other.

Life, motherhood, and distance get in the way. Will they ever meet again? This book kept me up at night, turning the pages to find out. Can’t tell you the ending but definitely have tissues close by!! I loved it!” x Reese

This definitely sounds like something I’d enjoy. I haven’t read much contemporary fiction lately, and I like the sound of a love story that spans years and years.

Now that this book is on my mind again, I think I’m going to bump it higher up my to-read list.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 books on my TBR list for fall 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Fall 2020 TBR.

So many books to look forward to! Most are upcoming new releases, but I’m including a couple of books from my shelves too.

(Click on any of the book cover images to see larger versions.)

  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
  • Dying With Her Cheer Pants On by Seanan McGuire. A collection of three new stories… and of course I’ll read anything she writes.
  • Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Serpentine by Philip Pullman: A new novella set in the world of His Dark Materials.
  • The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman: It’s been almost a year since I bought a copy of this book! It’s about time to read it.
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie
  • A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong
  • The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
  • Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett — my next Discworld book

What books are you most excited to read this fall? Please share your TTT link!

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Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Title: Fools and Mortals
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: October 19, 2017
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell makes a dramatic departure with this enthralling, action-packed standalone novel that tells the story of the first production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream—as related by William Shakespeare’s estranged younger brother

Lord, what fools these mortals be . . .

In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in one of the London playhouses, a world dominated by his older brother, William. But he is a penniless actor, making ends meet through a combination of a beautiful face, petty theft and a silver tongue. As William’s star rises, Richard’s onetime gratitude is souring and he is sorely tempted to abandon family loyalty.

So when a priceless manuscript goes missing, suspicion falls upon Richard, forcing him onto a perilous path through a bawdy and frequently brutal London. Entangled in a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal which threatens not only his career and potential fortune, but also the lives of his fellow players, Richard has to call on all he has now learned from the brightest stages and the darkest alleyways of the city. To avoid the gallows, he must play the part of a lifetime . . . .

Showcasing the superb storytelling skill that has won Bernard Cornwell international renown, Fools and Mortals is a richly portrayed tour de force that brings to life a vivid world of intricate stagecraft, fierce competition, and consuming ambition. 

Don’t you just love when a book takes you by surprise and ends up becoming a favorite?

Fools and Mortals is my book group’s pick for September, and I just wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about reading it. My impression was that it would be a dry read that I’d have to work to get into, and I just wasn’t in the mood. But, being a responsible book club member (ha!), I decided to give it a go.

As you can tell from the 5-star rating, I loved it. Once I started, I just couldn’t put it down. So let me tell you more about it.

Fools and Mortals is a story about William Shakespeare’s acting troupe at the Theatre in London, told through the perspective of his younger brother Richard. Richard ran away from home in Stratford as a young teen to escape a cruel apprenticeship, but his brother isn’t exactly warm and welcoming.

A very lovely-looking young man, by age 21 Richard has spent years as a player at the Theatre, although not a full member (Sharer) with a stake in the earnings. When he performs, he earns money. When there’s no part for him, or when there are no performances due to bad weather, he gets nothing. Richard lives in a dingy boarding house, constantly threatened with being thrown out if he can’t pay his back rent, and resorts to petty thievery to keep from starving.

On stage, he specializes in women’s parts, but he wants to be taken seriously. He yearns to be allowed to grow up, cut his hair, grow a beard, and take on the significant male roles that will allow him greater status as an actor. But Will doesn’t seem to have any interest in his brother’s goals, and when he finally promises him a man’s role, there’s still a trick involved that means Richard will end up playing a woman once again.

Meanwhile, there’s intrigue and action afoot. Will has earned a commission to write a play to be performed at the wedding of the Lord Chamberlain’s daughter — the play that will become A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Will is also working on an Italian play, which will be Romeo and Juliet.

But rival companies are also building huge theaters, and original scripts are invaluable in the theater world. If another company can get their hands on one of Will’s plays, they’ll be able to perform it and Will will have no way to get it back or claim it.

So when the new scripts go missing, there’s plenty of suspicion, and Richard is one of those accused of stealing the scripts in order to make some needed money. It’s up to Richard to get them back, but doing so is likely the most dangerous thing he’s ever done.

I won’t go further into the plot itself, but trust me — it’s fascinating! I loved the characters and the behind the scenes look at how a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream came into being. Through Fools and Mortals, we get to see the complicated business of patronage and protection, the terrifying power of the Persuivants (known as Percies) — the vehemently Puritanical force who have the power to arrest and convict anyone suspected of heresy — as they threaten the players, and the deadly serious competition and scheming related to gaining and keeping players and scripts.

William Shakespeare himself comes off as cold and heartless when it comes to his brother, but of course, we do get to see his brilliance as well. I was enthralled by the descriptions of how the players learn their parts, figure out the staging, interact with their audiences, and more.

Fools and Mortals reminded me of the (sadly) short-lived TV series Will that was on TNT a few years ago. Will was a little over-the-top at times, but the parts that focused on the players and the productions were terrific, and having seen the show, I was better able to visualize some of what was going on in Fools and Mortals.

This book was such a treat! So thank you, once again, to my book group, for getting me to read a book that I probably would have completely missed otherwise.

If you enjoy Shakespeare, historical fiction, the Elizabethan era, theatrical history, or really, just plain good writing, check out Fools and Mortals!

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/21/2020

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

What a week.

Such a terrible loss. There are no words.

Meanwhile, wishing all who celebrate a sweet and happy new year… it can only get better, right?

What did I read during the last week?

The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman: Awesome horror. My review is here.

Glamour in Glass (Glamourist Histories, #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal: I’m just loving this series! My review is here.

The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey: An excellent continuation of The Book of Koli. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

I’m on season 3 of Supernatural! Other than that, I haven’t been consuming much pop culture this week — but hey, I’m having fun.

Puzzle of the week:

My amazing daughter sent me a puzzle! I’m just getting started, but it’s very sweet.

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to two new books:

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: This looks amazing!

When I found out that a collection of Seanan McGuire’s non-fiction writing was out there in the world… well, of course I had to have it.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell: My book group’s pick for September. I didn’t think it would appeal to me, but now that I’ve started, I can’t put it down!

Now playing via audiobook:

This one is strictly for the Jane the Virgin fans:

Falling Snow is the first novel published by Jane Gloriana Villanueva, the main character in Jane the Virgin. So yes, this audiobook is the story that Jane wrote, and it’s just pure silly fun. Especially since it’s read by one of the TV series actors, with the amazing narrator of the show adding his thoughts here and there. Really a delight.

Ongoing reads:

Outlander Book Club is re-reading Outlander! We’re reading and discussing one chapter per week. This week: Chapter 15, “Revelations of the Bridal Chamber”. Get ready for the romance!

This is week 2 of our group read of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s amazing!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey

Title: The Trials of Koli (Ramparts trilogy, #2)
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: September 17, 2020
Length: 445 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The journey through M. R. Carey’s “immersive, impeccably rendered world” (Kirkus) — a world in which nature has turned against us — continues in The Trials of Koli, book two of the Rampart Trilogy.

The earth wants to swallow us whole… Koli has been cast out from Mythen Rood. Behind him are his family and the safety of the known. Ahead, the embrace of the deadly forests awaits.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, where the tech of old times was so plentiful it was just lying on the streets. And if he can safely lead Ursula, Cup and Monono to this sparkling city, maybe he can save the rest of humanity, too.

In a world where a journey of two miles is an odyssey, he’s going to walk two hundred. But the city is not what it once was…and around him, Ingland is facing something it hasn’t seen in three centuries: war.

Middle books in trilogies rarely are as great as first books or as satisfying as third books, but I’m happy to report that The Trials of Koli is a terrific 2nd book, and more than lives up to the promise of the start of the trilogy.

The first book, The Book of Koli, introduces us to a far-future world, long past the days of the Unfinished War. Main characer Koli lives in the village of Mythen Rood, population about 200, where survival is a daily struggle — especially since everything outside the walls, including the trees, wants to kill people.

In The Trials of Koli, we pick up where we left off , with Koli in exile from Mythen Rood, making his way with the healer Ursala, their prisoner Cup, Ursala’s tech — a surviving piece of long-ago technology that includes advanced medical equipment — and Monono, the artificial intelligence persona who lives inside Koli’s own piece of tech, a sort of IPod with a mind of its own.

The Trials of Koli also introduces a 2nd point of view, the young woman named Spinner whom Koli loved back in the village, but who married another boy in hopes of joining his influential family. In alternating sections, we follows Koli’s journey with Ursala and Cup through a harsh, unforgiving world, as well as Spinner’s experiences in Mythen Rood, where she gains access to forbidden knowledge and tech herself.

The Trials of Koli takes us across the dangerous terrain of Ingland, past killer trees and up against warrior bands from other villages, at the same time digging deeper into the inner workings of Koli’s home village, its people and their politics.

This book is exciting and strange. The author keeps Koli’s distinctive voice alive, full of odd word choices and attitudes, very much evocative of a different world than our own. Spinner’s voice is unique as well, a little more refined and with access to more education and knowledge than Koli has. Both characters are compelling, and I never really wanted to leave whichever character I was reading about to return to the other.

I can’t wait for the 3rd and final book, The Fall of Koli, due out in 2021. Meanwhile, now’s your chance to read books 1 & 2! Don’t miss out on this terrific saga of survival and community in a post-apocalyptic world.