1. The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. It’s a murder mystery set in the 1100s. King Henry II romps around yelling, a woman who is basically a Medieval version of Temperance Bones solves murders and falls in love with a future Bishop, and crazy murderers travel from Outremer to Cambridgeshire in Crusader wear. It was quite pleasant.
2-4. The Spearwielder’s Tale by R.A. Salvatore
It’s three books in one volume: The Woods Out Back, The Dragon’s Dagger, Dragonslayer’s Return. So far I’m enjoying it.
(From here the list isn’t necessarily in order… just will be read)
5. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. The very nice woman at Inkwood Books suggested this book to me after I told her of my goal and explained that I have a wide reading taste. It’s a pretty bizarre premise but altogether removed from anything else I’ve read this year. So, I’m interested.
6. Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde. I read the first one of these a year or more ago. The premise is interesting. She’s part of a time-traveling police force that can jump into Literature and she often has to in order to track down villains who would CHANGE THE PLOTS OF LITERATURE.
7. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Because, you know, I seem hellbent on torturing myself.
8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’ve wanted to read this movie ever since I heard John Cusack mentioned it in High Fidelity.
Hey, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m certainly not the dumbest. I mean, I’ve read books like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Love in the Time of Cholera”, and I think I’ve understood them. They’re about girls, right? Just kidding. But I have to say my all-time favorite book is Johnny Cash’s autobiography “Cash” by Johnny Cash.
High Fidelity is one of my All Time Top Five Favourite films… and the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby is top in my books. I, too, have read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Cash by Johnny Cash was on my library list for a long time. I figured it was time to give LITTOC a shot. We’ll see how it goes.
(these next few still fall into the realm of possibilities
9-12. Fellow blogger Geoff over at The Oddness of Moving Things just re-reviewed all four of these books and posted info about them on Goodreads. What got my attention the most was how young Christopher was when he started writing the series when he was 15. Christopher is about four years older than me and has been a published author for nine years now. So, he interests me.
13. Obviously this book is ALL THE RAGE with the American adaptation coming out soon. I’m intrigued. I’ve heard good things. I’ve tried reading a Swedish novel once before but during another time which I might have been too ambitious in my book list. So, again, we’ll see.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
14. I enjoyed this movie and this list needs some classing up sort of… it’s between this and Atonement.
15. Swamplandia by Karen Russell. It’s about Florida. I’m from Florida. Could be interesting.
What about you guys? Any suggestions from my loyal readers? Or advice? Chime in. Chime in.
Someday I will tell you the story about how I’ve been to 4 DMV’s in the last two weeks. Someday, when it’s been relegated to merely anecdotal and not just a spur in my side over getting a front row seat to the inefficiencies of our local bureaucratic government I will pass along the humour of the lessons learned about the privilege of driving. For now, just know that I am finally free and clear to put some miles on my car. And I am prepared to do just that (whilst adhering to the speed limit the whole way). I am, to quote a song, ON THE ROAD AGAIN….
But back to what I’ve been reading.
This is another book suggestion that came to me from my friend Jenna. She actually handed me this along with another book one day as I was visiting her house and just said, “Read these.” No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The two books had to hang out in my car for a couple of weeks until I emptied out my reading queue and conquered the beast of Anna.
The Mistress of the Art of Death was actually the first book in my final 15 of 2011. And she was quite the mistress. I haven’t read a novel like this since high school really. I read a lot of historical fiction then. Particularly the Cheney Duvall, M.D. series by Gilbert Morris. I’m a little embarrassed by how I so devoured all of the Gilbert Morris books at my school’s library. Mr. Morris struck my fancy because of the time periods he chose to write about, but each of his novels followed the same basic plot, over and over, and over again. I read the Cheney Duvall series and the Winslow family series up until about the 1920s I think. Then I moved on to Francine Rivers… a much better literary choice.
But Cheney Duvall and The Mistress, or Adelia, had quite a lot in common. They were both fictional pioneers in the field of medicine being the only women doctors in their novels. But then the similarities sort of stop. Adelia is from medieval Italy, more agnostic in her beliefs than anything else, championing for the Jews and religious freedom in a world that was quickly drawing very black and white lines between Catholic and Not, and rather than practicing medicine on living patients she works more as a coroner.
The novel is interesting. I haven’t read anything forensic in awhile, so it was strange for me to follow the clue building. That sort of stuff holds my attention very well in movies and television shows… but in books I just sort of get bored and want to get back to the people. However, I did find Adelia’s approach to determining the time of death quite humorous (I believe one of the detectives on CSI used a similar method).
The medieval time period also tickled me… particularly since the novel takes place in the few weeks following the murder of Thomas a Becket. (I got to see where he was murdered last time I visited England and I had a brief passion for all things Canterbury Tales, even A Knight’s Tale.)
So, bidden by King Henry II, Adelia, her bodyguard and another Jew from Italy travel to England to solve a series of murders. The victims are all children under the age of 10 or so and the Jews of the fictional town Cambridgeshire are being held captive in the local castle (for their safety).
The people of the village, the rival monastery and nunnery, and the awe inspiring knights returning from conquest in Outremer swirl around the edges of the plot. And all the while Adelia tries to put together the motive for the highly aggressive murders.
Though Henry II is only on a few pages I think I enjoyed his stomping around moreso than anything else in the novel. The political tenterhooks were also quite fascinating to me. A professor I had last year always talked about how England always bucked the power of the Roman Catholic church… that it never really felt right under their dominion. Ms. Franklin definitely captured that feeling in Mistress.
The time period is so particularly fascinating because the lines between Science and Magic, witchcraft and knowledge, progress and delusion were so indecipherable for many of the people… they were afraid of everything, developing superstitions at the drop of a hat… and yet, intelligence, clear-mindedness, and cunning thrived and grew despite the high cost.
This book kicks off a series. I’m not so sure I have the patience for series right now in my life. I sort of like the one and done aspect of most novels. Though I could see myself revisiting Adelia if I get a hankering for medieval Britain. Or maybe I’d just visit Heath Ledger and Paul Bettany again… I’m seriously surprised we haven’t completely worn that DVD out yet.
(In this review I explain some major plot points… so if you don’t want to be spoiled turn away, otherwise proceed with caution, one does not merely walk into a review of a fantasy novel.)
The day I started this book I tweeted
Please excuse that glaring grammar/spelling mistake. But I was right. It was uniquely enjoyable. It’s been quite some time since I’ve read some straight fantasy with giants and elves and leprechauns and all of that. Fantasy, as a genre, was heavily influential in my early years of reading. We’ve already talked about the influence C.S. Lewis was on me as a reader. And I went through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in high school around the time the movies were coming out. And of course the Harry Potter series. But I consider that a little more on the magical realism side. This Spearwielder’s Tale (which I manage to spell incorrectly every time) was straight fantasy. One of those ripped from the real world into Faerie types of things.
I liked some of the “reveals” that resulted from the main character, Gary, being taken into Faerie. In the first book he’s taken there as a disillusioned recent college grad merely because he fits the specific size of a legendary suit of armor. A scheming leprechaun and an elf on his life quest convince Gary that he has to tag along and the land of Faerie is very much real. Lovers of Tolkien will enjoy that throughout the first book Mickey McMickey (the leprechaun) reads Gary’s copy of The Hobbit, even translating it into his own language. (This artifact given back to him at the end of the first book helps him realize that he hasn’t actually gone crazy).
The Elf (Kelsey), Mickey McMickey, and Gary add a dwarf and a giant to their gang (somewhat begrudgingly) and best not only a conniving witch bent on interrupting their quest but also stand down a very tricky dragon (who can walk around in human form). And they do it all by walking everywhere. No horses. Gary ends up banishing the witch to her castle for 100 years and accidentally freeing the dragon from his castle (though he’d been banished by the elf defeating him in swordplay). This upsets the balance of power in Faerie and creates the plot for the second book.
Five years later in the real world, and only a couple of weeks in Faerie, Gary is brought back to replace a dagger he accidently stole from the dragon. Again Mickey McMickey has an ulterior motive. His pot of gold is situated in the dragon’s pile of wealth, too, and he needs it back.
The witch is still banished, but she convinces Gary to let her out early. He agrees to reduce her banishment from 100 years to 3 months, mainly so she’ll stay out of their hair while they try to handle the dragon. And she does. Also some gnomes show up in this book and they build crazy contraptions. The situation progressively gets worse and worse and Gary ends up having to kill the dragon (in dragon form) with the aid of the spear (which can talk to him) and a contraption built by the dwarf and gnome. I don’t know if I skipped over the specifics somehow but I don’t think how they did it was ever actually explained. Oh yeah, and there are a ton of horses in this one with some kind of fear inducing bells attached to them.
In the second book Salvatore throws out his nod to Fleetwood Mac implying that members of the band had crossed over into Faerie when Gary starts singing one of their songs and Mickey makes a comment about that bard knowing of what he sings. Gary is overwhelmingly excited by the possibility that his favorite author and members of his favorite band have made their way into Faerie for some reason or another. (Mickey had earlier confirmed that Tolkien had to have seen a dragon in real life because he described them perfectly, but he was a little off on the trolls).
The third book was my least favorite. But there were some slightly interesting things that happened. Gary, recently married and having lost his father is desperate to get back into Faerie. So he traipses all over England and Scotland in an effort to find another passage into Faerie. His wife sort of believes the stories he’s told her about his adventures in Faerie but is annoyed all the same at Gary’s strange persistence. Mickey finally relents and allows Gary and his wife to come back to Faerie, mainly because they are in such dire straits. All of Faerie is at war… the men vs. the magical creatures (elves, dwarves, and gnomes). So Gary jumps in and starts his work. The witch is still banished in her castle for this book, but her machinations have crept out. Apparently sometime during his reign the witch had replaced the King with some very strange mountain creature called the Wild Hairy Haggis.
Gary, Kelsey, Mickey, Gary’s wife, and the prince go on a quest to find the real king as the rest of Faerie squares off for war lead by the impostor king. It all ends with Gary fighting a demon in the witch’s castle. And more than a few men die. So thanks to Gary, Kelsey, and Mickey Faerie is set to experience a long time of peace. The king offers to set Gary up as a Duke to watch over a section of his kingdom and be given some reward for all his efforts in Faerie and though Gary and his wife seriously consider it they decide to go back to the real world.
Mickey’s final piece of advice to Gary is that Faerie will always be in his mind. On the plane from England back to the States Gary realizes that he can’t tell people about Faerie an expect to be taken seriously… he’d just end up in some tabloid. He comes to the conclusion that he’ll write a novel and like Tolkien did for him maybe his story will prepare some future hero for the realities of Faerie.
I did enjoy the books, though I’ll admit I skipped over a lot of the fighting scenes. They’re just not really my thing. And I was completely annoyed by the overuse of the word “maw”. I realize that it’s sort of a catch-22 to use a thesaurus in this case. Because these are the kinds of options you’re given:
So yeah, not very enticing options. But goodness I was so over reading the word “maw” that when I recently saw it in another book I almost reflexively chucked it across the room.
I’d say that if you enjoy fantasy and some sillier moments in fiction than this set of novels would be great for you to peruse. And Salvatore is apparently a prolific fantasy/sci-fi writer. So, if that’s your thing I’m sure you’ll find something that tickles your fancy.
These were books 2-4 in my last 15 of 2011 if you’re keeping track.