The Monday Check-In ~ 1/14/2019

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.

Reading goals

Or should that be: #readinggoals (???)

Nah, I’m not really a fan of random hashtags. In any case, I kind of swore to myself that I’d request fewer ARCs and concentrate more on my existing stacks of books, plus focus on reading whatever the hell I feel like at all times… and yet, I already have 18 (yes, 18) ARCs lined up to read between now and the beginning of June. So, trying to meet my obligations as well as stick to my plan, my current plan of attack is to read one ARC per week, more or less in sync with the books’ release dates, and read according to my whims in between all those ARCs. Will this plan stick? We shall see.

What did I read during the last week?

I read two works by Josh Malerman — a novel (Bird Box) and a novella (A House at the Bottom of a Lake), and really liked them both. I’m probably the only person who hasn’t watched the Netflix version of Bird Box yet, but as soon as I do, I plan to write up some thoughts on the book and the movie.

I wrote one book review this week:

The Nowhere Child by Christian White: A contemporary thriller set in both Australia and Kentucky. My review is here.

I also finished In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire late Sunday, and loved it (just like the rest of the books in the Wayward Children series). I’ll write up my thoughts a bit later in the week.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4. Last week’s post went up a little later than usual – check it out:
Episode 410, “The Deep Heart’s Core” (aired 1/6/2019) – the post is here.

And here’s the newest:
Episode 411, “If Not For Hope” (aired 1/13/2019) – my reaction post is here.

Pop culture goodness:

More Game of Thrones! The kiddo and I are about halfway through season 4. He’s loving it, and I’m loving having a good excuse to rewatch the entire series.

Fresh Catch:

I picked up a couple more books for my Great American Read challenge:

… and treated myself to one more new release that I’ve been wanting:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Roomies by Christina Lauren: I picked this up at the library on a whim, because there’s never a bad time for a Christina Lauren pick-me-up.

Now playing via audiobook:

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: This is just so frickin’ adorable! I’m about halfway through – can’t wait to hear the rest.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our next classic read starts the end of January. Can’t wait!

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/7/2019

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.

Welcome to 2019!

It’s my first Monday post of the new year! I didn’t have exactly a stellar first week of reading (neither of the two print books I read blew me away) — but luckily, I’m not a big believer in omens, so I’m thinking it’s onward and upwards from this point forward.

What did I read during the last week?

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker: Terrific premise, but this book turned out to be just a “meh” read for me. Here’s why.

Terrier (Beka Cooper, #1) by Tamora Pierce: I finished the audiobook! What a fun, captivating start to the trilogy. I’m just waiting for my library hold to come in so I can start #2. (As usual with the Pierce books, I’ll do a write-up when I finish the entire trilogy.)

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden: I didn’t end up writing a review for this one. I liked it well enough, and it did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy — but somehow, I was pretty much underwhelmed by the book overall, and didn’t feel the emotional connection I did with the first two.

I also listened to a good audiobook short story:

Atomic Marriage by Curtis Sittenfeld: A fun, brief listen — currently a free selection from Audible, and takes less than an hour to listen to. I liked it!

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4. Last week’s post went up a little later than usual – check it out:
Episode 409, “The Birds & the Bees” (aired 12/30/2018) – the post is here.

As for the newest episode:
Episode 410, “The Deep Heart’s Core” (aired 1/6/2019) – I was a bit under the weather on Sunday, and decided to hold off on watching until I had more energy. How shocking, not to watch a new episode on its air date! I’ll watch and write up my reaction tonight.

Pop culture goodness:

My son and I have started a Game of Thrones binge! I’ve watched the show from the beginning, of course, but he was too young at the time. So now, we’ve started from season 1 (and have just finished season 2), working our way through the entire series before the final episodes in April. (There are definitely some explicit scenes that are cringe-worthy when watching with my teen, but we just kind of pretend that the other person isn’t there, and we get through it.)

Fresh Catch:

I picked up a couple of books from the Great American Read list for part of a reading challenge I’m participating in this year.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Bird Box by Josh Malerman: I’ve been meaning to read this for a couple of years now — and now that it’s a Netflix movie, I realized that I needed to read it ASAP before I end up seeing spoilers. I’m at about 50% at the moment, and loving it.

Now playing via audiobook:

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: I picked up this audiobook on a whim while browsing the library website. I saw this book mentioned on a few “best of” lists recently, and something sweet and light really appeals to me right now.

Ongoing reads:

My book group is just starting our next Lord John story, A Plague of Zombies. I’ve read it before (of course!), but it’s always fun to do a deeper dive with the group.

And coming soon… we’re starting our next classic read at the end of the month! I’m really looking forward to our group read of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin

 

With all the fire and fury fans have come to expect from internationally bestselling author George R. R. Martin, this is the first volume of the definitive two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros.

Centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones, House Targaryen—the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria—took up residence on Dragonstone. Fire and Blood begins their tale with the legendary Aegon the Conqueror, creator of the Iron Throne, and goes on to recount the generations of Targaryens who fought to hold that iconic seat, all the way up to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart.

What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why did it become so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What is the origin of Daenerys’s three dragon eggs? These are but a few of the questions answered in this essential chronicle, as related by a learned maester of the Citadel and featuring more than eighty all-new black-and-white illustrations by artist Doug Wheatley. Readers have glimpsed small parts of this narrative in such volumes as The World of Ice & Fire, but now, for the first time, the full tapestry of Targaryen history is revealed.

With all the scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Fire and Blood is the ultimate game of thrones, giving readers a whole new appreciation for the dynamic, often bloody, and always fascinating history of Westeros.

This massive 700+ page book is not for the faint of heart or noncommitted. By no means an easy read, Fire & Blood takes determination to get through — but now that I’ve finished it, I’d say the effort is well worth it.

You know how people often describe great non-fiction as “reads like fiction”? Well, here the opposite is true. While a work of fiction (to the best of my knowledge, Westeros and Valyeria are not real places, although after soldiering through this book, they certainly feel real to me), Fire & Blood is written as a work of history, not as a novel, and reading it definitely feels like reading a densely researched piece of non-fiction. There are no overarching plotlines, and little in the way of dialogue or character development. Instead, Fire & Blood is a history of the reign of the Targaryens, starting at a point some 300 years prior to the beginning of A Song of Ice and Fire, as the first Targaryen king, Aegon the Conqueror, flies on dragon-back from Dragonstone to Westeros to claim a kingdom.

The amount of detail in this book is staggering. Written as a history book from the pen of an Archmaester of Oldtown, Fire & Blood takes us through the bloody, violent years from the conquest through the early period of the reign of Aegon III, leaving off with still over a century to go before the events that begin A Game of Thrones.

Don’t even attempt to read this book without a strategically placed bookmark on the chart of the Targaryen Lineage at the back of the book. I must have flipped back to it at least once every 10 – 20 pages, from start to finish. The names are mind-boggling to try to keep straight. Among the Targaryens in this 130 year period are notable women such as Rhaenys, Rhaena, Rhaella, and Rhaenyra, not to mention Alysanne, Alyssa, and Alicent. Men’s names are just as hard to keep straight, like Jacaerys and Jaehaerys, or the numerous Aegons, Aemons, and Baelons. Unfortunately, this book does not include a map of Westeros or a guide to the many dragons, but luckily I had a copy of The World of Ice and Fire on hand for quick reference.

Fire & Blood is a fascinating read. While I’ve read the five novels published to date in the ASoIaF series, I haven’t delved much beyond these book in terms of additional histories and the myriad of supplemental materials out there in the fandom. As a first encounter with a Westerosi history, my reading experience was intense but ultimately enjoyable. I can’t even begin to fathom the intricate working of George R. R. Martin’s mind, to be able to come up with a world so complete that its history makes for compelling reading, with no details left unexplored.

While I sometimes felt like I’d be reading this book FOREVER, once I got into the rhythm of it, it didn’t take me nearly as long as I’d imagined. Parts go more slowly than others, and there are a lot of lords and ladies, houses, bannermen, etc to keep track of. The most compelling (and horrifying) part of the book is the section about the war of succession known as the Dance of the Dragons. Lasting a relatively brief number of years, it inflicted devastation upon the kingdom and its people, and brought about the destruction of nearly all of the Targaryen dragons. Maybe it should be obvious from the title — Fire & Blood is very heavy on war and death and horrible cruelty, and like any account of war, while the names remembered are those of the knights and the rulers who set the course of battle, it’s the common people who consistently pay the largest price.

Fire & Blood is part one of a two-part history, and while I’m afraid that we’ll end up waiting years for the next installment, I’m definitely committed to wanting to read part two. This was really an engrossing, rewarding read… and has had the added side-effect of making me even more excited for the final season of the GoT TV series. What a world George R. R. Martin has created! If you’re a fan, don’t miss Fire & Blood.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Fire & Blood
Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam
Publication date: November 20, 2018
Length: 706 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

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