Spinning Silver – highly recommended

I enjoyed Naomi Novik’s earlier book, ‘Uprooted’. It was a fine read, nice fantasy story. In Spinning Silver she takes it a step farther – more fantasy, better world creation, and definitely better use of old fairy tales (I had to go look some up from time to time).

This would make a superb movie.

Uncorked: My year in Provence studying Pétanque, discovering Chagall, drinking Pastis, and mangling French by Paul Shore | Goodreads

Source: Uncorked: My year in Provence studying Pétanque, discovering Chagall, drinking Pastis, and mangling French by Paul Shore | Goodreads

Absolutely unreadable for me. I put this thing down after 5 or so pages and just couldn’t pick it back up. This feels like, and maybe is, a collection of blog posts. Nothing more. No real narrative. Sloppy writing. Sloppy editing. And somehow it manages to not make you care about life in a small French village.

Cookham To Cannes: The South of France – Lobsters & Lunatics by Brent Tyler | Goodreads

Source: Cookham To Cannes: The South of France – Lobsters & Lunatics by Brent Tyler | Goodreads

This is a light, easy, quick book about failing miserably in England and moving to France. Interestingly enough it seems that most travel/moving/emigration books I pick up start with people being miserable in England and moving somewhere else. I’ve never lived in England; it must be pretty bad given the emigration books per capita.

But I digress. This book is a series of events being “guardians” (which sounds a lot better in French than in American English) on various properties in France. The owners are wacky, mean, and generally speaking insane. Also the owners are British which I guess continues the thread of people from England being miserable in one way or another.

Worth reading? Sure, if you’re looking for a lightweight, easy read between heavier things. I enjoyed it.

Oathbreaker

This is the second book in The King’s Hound trilogy. And no, this has nothing to do with The Hound in Game of Thrones. This is a fairly simple story of an illuminator (the guy who did the fancy illustrations back when books were very, very rare) and a minor noble who lost his estate. The fun part is that it’s set in a historical period when England was in complete flux. Angles, Saxons (one can imagine Jutes), Danes, and of course Vikings (Danes were sort of domesticated Vikings).

Winston and Halfdan are asked to check out rumors in various villages. Along the way they encounter a murder mystery and investigate that. There isn’t much more to this, the conclusion could have gone any which way… but in the end it doesn’t matter. The real reason to read this series is “day in the life” of pre-medieval England. And in that it stands up nicely.

Give this series a whirl, don’t expect too much, enjoy.

The Powder Mage trilogy

I’ve been reading a ton of books this year – but I haven’t always made time to review them. So with that in mind let me suggest The Powder Mage trilogy. I stumbled on this series via a post-trilogy book Sins of Empire. I liked the world-building and characters enough in this book to check out the initial trilogy. And wow, I wasn’t disappointed!

If you’ve read steampunk this is sort of like that only flintlock-punk perhaps. Technology in this world is circa 1700 in many ways; flintlocks, muskets, and still people charging around with sabers and pikes. But there is sorcery too. And new on the scene is a new kind of wizard; people who power their abilities with gunpowder. It sounded stupid when I first read the description but trust me, it’s a lot of fun.

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Don’t be bothered by the silly words on the cover… it’s a good book

The plot can be a little disjointed at times; every so often something happens that absolutely makes no sense. At other times we get characters popping in or out that will never show up again. But these are quibbles. I enjoyed the series immensely and tore through them. I found myself up way too late at night reading these three books.

I look for ward to book #2 of the new series when it comes available in 2018.

An interesting word – draíochtúil

I am currently reading “The House on an Irish Hillside” – so far this is a lovely read about a couple who moves from London to the Dingle Peninsula. We spent a lovely few days in Dingle in the 90s and I still fondly recall the perfect pubs there.

The word of the day though is draíochtúil – an Irish word I cannot begin to pronounce. Look at that spelling! And recall that in Irish “Taoiseach” is pronounced something like “tea socks” except for “socks” is smoothed out a bit. Whoever did the orthography for Ireland did them no favors. Turns out draíochtúil is pronounced something like “dreck dull” but the ‘ck’ gets a bit of the Swiss-German treatment.

But I digress – draíochtúil means numinous, another word I really didn’t know. If you’ve ever been to Slee Head in Dingle or spent time in a lovely west coast Irish pub, well, if that’s about as close to cozy divinity as things come.

Book: The Coral Thief

I just finished reading The Coral Thief. I’m not entirely sure how to classify this book. It’s not a thriller, it’s not just historical fiction, and it’s certainly not a mystery or even a love story. Well… it is a love story of a kind in which the author clearly loves Paris.

The plot is fairly simple: boy meets woman on a stagecoach, woman robs boy, boy falls in love with woman. The rest is fairly boilerplate and would be a dull slog if not for the fact that the writing is compelling, the characters at times rise above average, and the historical setting of post-Napoleon Paris is enchanting. At times the characters are cliché – the tough French inspector (Javert apparently), the mysterious stranger, the ex-royal now turned thief, etc. You’ve seen these characters before. But the story holds together for all that as it’s stitched with lovely images of Paris before the Paris you know now. You will still know the Marais, but now instead of a tourist-thronged mess it was a warren of thieves and beggars. You will be amazed to hear of people washing clothing in the Seine.

I recommend seeing “Midnight in Paris” before reading this book. It will help set the right tone.

Book – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

I read Ghost Train to the Eastern Star a few years back. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember what exactly it was about and whether I liked it or not. Being a fan of Paul Theroux I decided that I had the time and I wouldn’t mind reading another book about trains (aside: reading travel books about trains is almost as relaxing on trains).

The book takes the reader from London to the farthest corners of Japan (north and south) largely by train. There are a few ferries in the middle and a few airplane rides when necessary but most of this book is viewed from a train. And it’s lovely. The writing is evocative and it makes the idea of sitting unwashed on a train for seven days across Russia interesting.

Highly recommended if you enjoy travel books.

My Notes

I kept more notes than usual in this book as the vocabulary was challenging at times without being overly pompous or unnecessary.

  • “Without change there can be no nostalgia”. Lovely phrase I captured in the book. We all like nostalgia but without trying new things, failing, moving, and trying again then the past will be just like today.
  • “Yes, and mainly from scholars. Scholars need to validate the status quo, or they will lose their funding.” We all need to eat of course but recent articles point out that a) not much of what is considered science is read and b) much of what is considered science is not replicable. Which means that scholars are basically validating the status quo.
  • Orotund: had to look this up. It means full, round, imposing.
  • frotteurism: doing a nasty bump-and-grind. Basically what perverts do on subways.
  • Hokkien-speaker: a Chinese dialect in wide use across Asia.
  • adumbrated: to produce a faint image or trace of something.
  • A joke about the old Soviet Union (which also works for Comcast by the way): “You know the joke?” she said. “A woman wants to buy a car. She is given a voucher and told, ‘It will be delivered in ten years.’ ‘Morning or afternoon?’ she asks. ‘Why do you want to know?’ She says, ‘Because the plumber is coming in the morning.’ It was like that.”

New word to me: ‘phocine’ – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

Source: Amazon Kindle: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

One of the enjoyable things about reading a good writer like Theroux is he stretches my understanding of the language.

post office, where he was a senior official. Though elfin (or even phocine)

Phocine – of, relating to, or resembling seals. I’m not sure how many times I can use this word but I’ll try.

Interesting phrase – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

Source: Amazon Kindle: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

I try to record interesting notes and highlights as I read. I am re-reading “Ghost Train” right now. I know I’ve read it before but for some reason Amazon pushed this book to my Kindle during a recent upgrade. As I started to skim the book it occurred to me that I truly didn’t remember anything from this book. So here I go again.

I came across this lovely sentence:

Why is the motorway culture drearier in Europe than anywhere in America? Perhaps because it is imitative and looks hackneyed and unstylish and ill fitting, the way no European looks quite right in a baseball cap.

Motorway culture, especially along an Interstate, is not all it once was in America. But the baseball cap thing… is spot on! It’s just impossible for a European to wear a baseball cap and not look ridiculous. It’s similar to an American wearing a scarf (with the caveat that an American in Europe can carry this off at times).