May 2018 Edition.
I had planned a new blog series for this year to replace my regular reading updates. Every month, I wanted to feature the first sentence or paragraph of a single book, with commentary on how that line or those lines had measured up against the book as a whole. I might still get around to posting a few, but it’s been six months or more since my last reading recap and I’ve read some amazing books that I really want to share with you. So, here’s what I’ve been reading.
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
I really enjoyed The Curse of Chalion when I read it last year. Loved it, in fact. I’d recently finished all but one of the Vorkosigan novels and had tried the Sharing Knife series (which I also recently finished). The Curse of Chalion had everything I was looking for in a book from Lois McMaster Bujold: rich world-building—with a genuine history that extended back before the beginning of time—a fascinating plot, and characters I wanted to cheer for. I adored Cazaril and though he’s nothing like Miles, the way he was voiced often reminded me of Miles. He was a complicated character and sometimes not particularly likable. But when the fate of others was at stake, he’d always do the right thing because he’s inherently GOOD.
So I was looking forward to Paladin of Souls. It started slow and I had trouble paying attention, but I really liked the choice of Ista as a main character and looked forward to seeing her get over her past. As the story deepened, I got more involved. I started hoping for things. When the story got more complicated, I experienced my usual awe regarding just how talented Bujold really is. By 60% I couldn’t put the book down, by 80% I had set aside a morning on the couch just so I could finish, and by the time I was done, I thought this could possibly be the best book she’s ever written. Then I saw that nearly every judge of literary awards agreed with me.
There is so much I could say about the plot, but this is one of those books you really need to discover for yourself, because the plot complicates so much as it unfolds, revealing new secrets and twistier twists. The characters become more engaging and real, with the secondaries being just as important as the primaries—which is one of the aspects of Bujold’s writing I love so much. What pleased my romantic little heart the most, though, was that final scene between Ista and [spoiler, ha!] and knowing that both of them had won the love and the partner they deserved.
Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
Is it too early to have read my favourite book of the year? I loved Now That You Mention It from the first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph—the first line! It’s actually a book I’d liked to have featured in my First Line series. Here’s why:
The first thought I had after I died was: How will my dog cope with this?
The second thought: I hope we can still go with an open casket.
Third thought: I have nothing to wear to my funeral.
Fourth: I’ll never meet Daniel Radcliffe now.
Fifth: Did Bobby just break up with me?
Everything you need to know about this book is right there, in black and white. Nora is obviously at a turning point in her life, and she has questions. What follows was a funny, deeply thoughtful, honest, romantic and just a damn fine story about a woman finally coming to terms with herself. As always, the secondary characters were wonderful, populating the small island off the coast of Maine with authenticity and charm. I particularly loved Nora’s mother and niece. The dialogue was amazing—effortlessly flowing through every subject—and the romance was sweet without overwhelming the true message of the book.
I loved every minute spent within the covers of Now That You Mention It and can’t wait for my next Kristan Higgins. She’s fast becoming one of my favourite authors.
Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell
Fools and Mortals has been on my wish list for a while and now that I’ve finally read it, I almost wish I hadn’t so that I could read it all over again—for the first time. Briefly, it’s the story of the first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as related by one of William Shakespeare’s younger brothers.
The history of the play itself would have made a fascinating story—and Cornwell’s attention to detail stood out here with facts so expertly interwoven with fiction as to give the book that peculiar weight of good historical fiction. I came away feeling as if I’d learned something, and with a desire to read more about the subject.
What made this book so special, though, was Richard. He’s a compelling character in his own right with a very Dickensian life story. I loved his point of view and enjoyed his unique insights into the character of his older brother William. I actually became so engrossed in the lives of the players in Shakespeare’s company that I could have kept reading forever.
I invented chores to keep listening to Touch. I baked muffins. They were horrible because I left them in the oven too long because I was listening to this. But I did get all the bathrooms cleaned and even vacuumed my stairs. I hate vacuuming stairs.
What drew me to Touch was the premise: Kepler is a being that can pass from host to host through touch. There’s also a mystery. Kepler is trying to solve the murder of his most recent host, a woman killed while Kepler was “in residence.” Toss a mystery plot into a novel with speculative elements and I can’t help myself.
Touch was exciting, compelling, different, but not weird. There was a logic to it all and it was kind of beautiful. I don’t think it made quite the comment on gender that some reviewers seemed to think it did, though. I thought was actually more about self and love.
As an aside, Touch reminded me of another of my favourite books, Purpose by Andrew Q. Gordon. If the premise of Touch appeals, I’d suggest you add Andrew’s book to your wish list as well.
Squared Away by Annabeth Albert
Every book in the Out of Uniform series by Annabeth Albert is better than the last, which is quite an accomplishment, because as I’m reading every book, I think it’s my new favourite.
Squared Away is special, though. It’s about a guy who isn’t an innately sexual being, but who craves the same connection most of us do. Mark wants to love someone, to share his life with someone. His… not indifference, but lack of ease with sex, is holding him back, though. For the most part, he’s stopped dating.
But Mark has never forgotten Isaiah. When tragedy brings these two into close quarters, Mark begins the process of figuring himself out. It’s scary, because he’s always perceived Isaiah as someone inherently sexual. But Isaiah proves he has the maturity to keep their relationship at any pace required.
What I really adored about this book was the almost gentle way Annabeth addressed asexuality. Not tentative, but respectfully and genuinely. Mark came across as a real person who wasn’t simply waiting for the right person to have sex with, but the person who was willing to not simply accommodate him, but connect with him. All in all it was a beautiful love story with a lot of deep feels that had me crying while driving—which is not advised, but I do a lot of my listening at the wheel—crying over the dishes—justified—and crying into my pillow.
I am even more eager for the next book and will be devastated when this series finally comes to a close.
The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
While discussing the premise of this book with my husband, we both agreed we’d last maybe three days. The day of the crash, the day after, when we were both unconscious from the pain of our injuries, and the day after that when we argued about what to do next, each tried to do our own thing, fell off the mountain, and died.
It’d have been a very short book. Thankfully, Martin wrote much more sensible and likable characters, providing the reader with hours of adventure, suspense, entertainment and a love story like no other. The Mountain Between Us will probably end up being one of my top recommendations for the year.
After enjoying the book so much, I rented the movie and was horribly disappointed. I could sort of understand why they changed things around, from beginning to end, but in the process the writers destroyed nearly everything I loved about the book, including the unique characters of Ben and Alex, and the motivation behind everything they did. So skip it. Or, if you have seen it, do yourself a favour and read the book. 😉
That’s it for now. What have you been reading?