Recent books, mid-July edition

I just finished a book (more info below) and I felt so motivated by doing so that I wanted to write about all the books I’ve read since the last post about books. I also don’t want this to just be a blog about recipes, because I generally do a lot of other stuff with my time, like read books (and other stuff, like amend my taxes and file UK immigration paperwork. That stuff is pretty boring, though, so I don’t write about it in public-ish places). I”ll start with the book I just finished:

  • The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch

RepublicThieves

The most recent installment of the “Gentleman Bastards” series is perhaps a little lighter on the insanity than the previous two books, but delivers three wonderful, complex, and compelling stories  in mostly-alternating chapters. The A-plot follows directly on the events of Red Seas Under Red Skies, which ends in events (trying not to spoil anything) that lead Locke and Jean to agree to work for a faction of Bondsmagi in Karthain to, essentially, rig an election. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that the competing faction has engaged the services of Sabetha Belacoros, their former sister-in-arms as a member of the Gentlemen Bastards and the woman Locke has been in love with since the moment he met her. The B-plot, set approximately ten years in the past, tells more of their tumultuous courtship in the midst of the Bastards’ first independent assignment: producing and acting in the Republic of Thieves, a famous play, with a theater company plagued by debt, criminal disrespect for nobility, and general poor decision-making. A less-important-now, more-important-later C-plot gives some insight into the inner workings of the Bondsmagi, particularly Locke and Jean’s employer, Archedama Patience, and their old nemesis, the Falconer. Unlike the previous two books, The Republic of Thieves engages your heartstrings without necessarily ripping them out of your chest. This is not to say it’s without emotional weight, but that comes more with the trials of love and some truly astonishing surprises than with, say, major character death. Can’t wait to see what Lynch writes next.

  • Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Lavinia_Novel

Despite the fact that I’ve been a huge fan of fantasy books since at least the age of 5 (when my dad read one chapter of The Hobbit to my brothers and me per night), I’d never read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin. Her Earthsea books are probably on every list of “X Books that Every Fantasy-Lover Must Read!,” but I always had a hard time finding the first one at the library. Lavinia is totally unconnected to her better-known fantasy work, but it definitely shows that she deserves her fame as a writer. This novel is a re-telling/re-imagining of the later part of the Aeneid and events that follow it in the founding myth of Rome, narrated by Aeneas’ Italian second wife, Lavinia. She is important in the Aeneid as part of the motivation for the conflict between the Italians (Turnus and his faction in particular) and the Trojans, but she is never shown to have much agency in the story. Le Guin, through Lavinia, attacks the idea of Classical women as silent and relatively unimportant in themselves, more valuable as commodities than as actors in their own stories. The heroine is brave (though sometimes frightened), stubborn, loving, practical, spiritual, and haunted by the strange spirit of a certain poet who claims to inhabit her future. It’s a great read. Speaking of great…

  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Gatsby_1925_jacket

I admit that this is another John Green/Crash Course inspired choice, but I must say that I liked it much more than I was expecting. Most of the characters and certainly unlikable, and it has (spoiler alert) a hell of a downer ending, but Fitzgerald has a real way with words that makes his prose a delight to read, whether it’s describing an elusive green light, Nick’s possibly implied (it’s ambiguous) sexual encounter with another man at a party, or the color of Gatsby’s car. Highly recommended.

  • Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

BringUptheBodies

Wolf Hall was half House of Cards, half Elizabethan Baroque Cycle, and all awesome, describing the rise of Thomas Cromwell from abused son of a drunkard blacksmith to Master Secretary and friend of King Henry VIII by becoming an accomplished accountant/banker/lawyer and facilitating Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies returns us to Cromwell in fine form, now negotiating England’s questionable place in re the Church of Rome v. the nascent Church of England and Henry’s growing unhappiness with Anne’s seeming inability to produce a son. I’d say that Mantel is setting up for a trilogy here, based on the murmurings of disquiet in the ending of the book. I cannot stress this strongly enough: IF YOU DO NOT ACTUALLY KNOW THE HISTORY OF THOMAS CROMWELL’S CAREER, DO NOT LOOK IT UP BEFORE YOU READ THE NEXT BOOKHere’s the thing: we all know that Catherine gets divorced and Anne gets executed (it’s divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, with regard to Henry and his wives), but chances are you don’t know much about what happened after that, particularly to Thomas Cromwell. Well, thanks to Wikipedia and my foolish curiosity, I have a pretty good idea what will happen in the next book. Here’s hoping I have a chance to forget all the facts before it actually comes out. Bring Up the Bodies is definitely a worth successor to Wolf Hall and I highly recommend both.

Next up (next due at the library):

the-magicians-by-lev-grossman

The first page is pretty good. Here’s hoping the rest of the book lives up to it.

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