So, I feel the need to blather on about the second half of the latest Doctor Who series. I'm putting it behind a cut, both to save those of you who don't care, and because of spoilers (sweetie).

I will say this though: I think these six episodes may have been the strongest collection of Who eps since the new version started. Individually they're not perfect, but taken as a whole they're pretty amazing.

Also, did you all see those McDonald's ads for lemonade that ready "Pucker up, sweetie"? I couldn't help 1) hearing them in River's voice and 2) wondering if someone in the McDonald's advertising team is a secret Who fan.

Amy, Rory, River, Eleven )
I just finished my first (but by no means last) read-through of A Conspiracy of Kings, the fourth in Megan Whalen Turner's series (which, for the record, I now think should be called the Basileus series). Since I know people out there are trying to avoid spoilers, this post will be a very general non-spoilery one. The next one (with an lj-cut) will be chock full of spoilers.

I LOVED IT. Okay, yes, it did leave me wanting to read the next book now, but still. LOVE. Sophos has grown so much as a person, and I loved that his sense of humor and Gen's are so entirely different, and yet they mesh so well. I loved several of the minor characters and so many of the major ones too. I don't think I was left unsatisfied, or even exactly with questions. It's more that I have a sense of story not yet told that I didn't have at the end of the previous books. I can't wait for the next installment.
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff: reviewed {HERE}

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters: The second Amelia Peabody mystery. To be honest, I think I'm content to leave the series here. I know people who really enjoy it, and Amelia is a fun character. But it already felt repetitive, which is not good, in the second book of a series!

Mothstorm by Philip Reeve: reviewed {HERE}

Betsy's Wedding by Maud Hart Lovelace: Always a lovely comfort read. The last chapter of Betsy's story is both heart-warming and agonizing, as Betsy returns from Europe and gets married, while the world prepares for World War I. Also lovely for its realistic description of the everyday balancing act between being a writer and a person.

Street of the Five Moons by Elizabeth Peters: The second Vicky Bliss mystery and the one where John Smythe first appears. Outrageous fun, as usual.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer: reviewed {HERE}

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer: reviewed {HERE}. I actually read this one twice.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer: reviewed {HERE}

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer: reviewed {HERE}

Night Train to Memphis by Elizabeth Peters: I haven't read The Laughter of Dead Kings yet, but I've read the rest of the books in the Vicky Bliss series and this one is definitely, emphatically my favorite. Peters manages to take all the tropes she's set up in the rest of the books and stand them on their heads. Plus, Schmidt is amazing.

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye: Always a favorite; a sweet story of Amy, the princess whose godmother gave her the gift of being ordinary.

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner: reviewed {HERE}

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer: Okay but not my favorite.

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander: reviewed {HERE}

Coraline by Neil Gaiman: I wanted to like this book much more than I did. It was scary, and ultimately I felt like its attitudes were much more positive regarding families than some tried to claim. However, I felt that the depiction of the Other Mother took some cheap shots at religion that really dragged the book as a whole down.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner: reviewed {HERE}

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett: My second Discworld book. I really liked this one, maybe even more than Mort. Death is rapidly becoming one of my favorite character, and Windle Poons was also great. Full of snark but unexpectedly heartwarming in a way satire is usually not, this was a lovely read.

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross: When dandy Julian Kestrel accepts a near-stranger's invitation to be his best man, he has no idea that he's taking himself into a strained situation where nothing is as it seems. Murder follows and, in an effort to clear himself and his friends, Kestrel becomes a detective. First in a series. I really enjoyed it, although I wasn't entirely convinced by the 1820's setting. Sadly, Ross died very young, and only wrote four books.

Water by Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley: reviewed {HERE}

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve: A highly-imaginative futuristic book, set in a world where cities can move about and essentially act as large predators, fueling themselves by eating other cities. Focuses on several young people who gradually find out the truth about the City of London and those who run it. I really enjoyed it and will be looking for the rest of the series. I was surprised by the amount of death in the book.

A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs by Ellis Peters: One of the George Felse mysteries. It took me forever to read it--I finally sat down last night and whipped through it because it was due today and it was my last chance. So, not my favorite. It wasn't set in Shropshire, which is always half the beauty of the Felse books, and somehow it never quite pulled me in.

Book sources: all books from my personal collection, my school library, or inter-library loan
by Megan Whalen Turner

After this review I won't have anything else to say about Attolia* until March 23, which is when Conspiracy of Kings will be released. If you think I'm not counting down the days, you're insane. (Background here: my favorite series tend to be those which have already been fully published--not like I choose it that way, it just happens--so this giddy mixture of anticipation and impatience is new to me.) Sigh. I hope I've convinced one or two of you to pick them up. If I have, my work here is done.

What can I say about this book? Not much, plot-wise, since once again huge spoilers for the first two books would be involved. Alas. Let's just say that all of our favorite characters are back, plus a few more who prove their complete and utter awesomeness! Notably, Costis, a guard in the Queen's Guard, who does something rash and has to deal with the consequences.

By this time, assuming the reader is going through the series in order, we're in on the joke. We know that Gen has something up his sleeve, even if we don't know exactly what it is. And if you are an obsessive long time, ardent fan, there are some lines that will just make you squee. There are some others that make me cry. Every.single.time. (I cry easily over books and movies, but still.) And you know what? Every book in this series is better than the one before it. I don't know how MWT manages it. I seriously do not. (And the first ARC reports are coming in for CofK: this one is definitely happy. But SPOILERS for the rest of the series.) Also in this book, the return of Rosemary Sutcliff references and a moment where Gen quotes himself in Thief AND Howl in Howl's Moving Castle at the same time.

This book, incidentally, contains my favorite simile of all time: "The queen was settling on the edge of the bed, ungainly with hesitation and at the same time exquisite in her grace, like a heron landing in a treetop." (p. 208) It's just so incredibly appropriate and beautiful for that character and moment. And the fact that my second favorite simile of all time is also in this book should tell you something.

The emotional journey that Turner has taken these characters on is wonderful, unexpected and rewarding. She never settles for the easy answer. Gen has gotten what he wanted most in the whole world, but at a price. At a high price. Nonetheless, this is the book where he goes beyond being simply a thief, or even a patriotic thief, to being something--well, I'll just say that someone makes a claim about what he could become at the end of the book, and I agree.

One of the other subplots I love about the books is Gen's spiritual journey. When he starts off in Thief, he doesn't really believe in the gods of his country. By the end of that book he is forced into belief. In QoA, he does believe, but he still doubts and questions. For Turner to take him from the beginning of the Thief, when he thinks of the gods as old legends to the end of KoA, when he says "Whether I am on a rafter three stories up or on a staircase three steps up, I am in my god's hands," and for that journey to be believable, is quite remarkable.

A few favorite quotes (I had to leave out lots of good ones because of spoilers):

She knew he had both hated and loved those cousins who were now beyond both love and hate. p. 97

Expecting better of royal closets, Costis went to bed disappointed. p. 302

Costis was puzzling through the convolutions of human relationships, which were so unlike the neatly arranged patterns in a fireside story. p. 307

If we truly trust no one, we cannot survive. p. 331

* the technical term for this series is the Queen's Thief series, but I've never managed to get behind that one.

Book source: my personal library
Previous posts: The Thief; The Queen of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner

Reviewing this book is going to be annoying, for the simple reason that I can say even less about it than I could for The Thief without revealing huge massive spoilers for both books. Nonetheless, I will make a valiant attempt.

When The Queen of Attolia begins, Gen is hiding in Attolia's palace. I can't tell you why he's there, but I can tell you that it doesn't end well. Not. at. all. Which leads me to part of why I love Megan Whalen Turner so much--she does terrible things to her characters. I know that sounds awful, but I mean it. She really makes gutsy moves. Something really awful happens to Gen in the first part of this book and (okay spoiler ahoy, and I'm sorry but I have to say it) it never gets undone. Oh, Gen learns to live with it in his own...Gen-ish way, but Turner never takes the easy route, never has Moira come down from the clouds on a band of sunlight to fix things (in-joke, for those of you who are already fans).

Gen from The Thief is a wonderful character. Funny, horribly flawed, and always hiding something from someone. Gen from The Queen of Attolia is that character grown up in amazing ways. He's still funny, he's still horribly flawed, and he'll never stop hiding something from someone. And yet, my heart breaks every time I read this book because of how wonderful he is and difficulty of the choices he is faced with. There's another amazing characterization in Queen that I can't really talk about because it would be too spoilery, but I will say that Turner had to walk a very fine line and, in my opinion, she absolutely delivered on it (I know others who do disagree with me somewhat on that count).

In short: I love this book beyond measure. If you have not already read The Thief, go and do so at once. Or I'll send the dancing bears after you.


"You would only come sneaking back through my palace, leaving notes beside my breakfast dishes." p. 20

"The magus was reminded of a bear, chained in a pit, albeit a small bear." p. 87

"'I came to steal his magus.'
'You can't,' said the magus in question.
'I can steal anything,' Eugenides corrected him." p. 106

"Nothing I've ever learned from a priest makes me think I know just what the gods are or what they can accomplish, but, Gen, I know my decisions are my own responsibility. If I am the pawn of the gods, it is because they know me so well, not because they make up my mind for me." p. 171

"She sat perfectly still, looking at him without moving as his words dropped like water into dry earth." p. 360

Book source: my personal library
Megan Whalen Turner's homepage

A great interview with Turner! (note spoilers)
[I posted this at my public blog awhile ago, but I realized that many of you don't read that and it would be just as valid here. So, voila!]

by Megan Whalen Turner

Those of you who have read this blog for any length of time should recognize this title. I only read it an average of once every two months. But I have never actually reviewed it. I thought this should change since me going, "Read it! Read it!" is not a basis for you actually reading it, except to make me be quiet and go away. It's one of my minor quests in life to make everyone I know read this series, hence the review. However, it is very difficult for me to talk coherently about this book and I'm working with the additional problem of huge, massive spoilers which it would be very easy to give away. I will try to both talk coherently and avoid ruining the surprise.

The Thief begins thus:

I didn't know how long I had been in the king's prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before. Every morning the light in the cell changed from the wavering orange of the lamp in the sconce outside my door to the dim but even glow of the sun falling into the prison's central courtyard. In the evening, as the sunlight faded, I reassured myself that I was one day closer to getting out. To pass time, I concentrated on pleasant memories, laying them out in order and examining them carefully. I reviewed over and over the plans that had seemed so straightforward before I arrived in jail, and I swore to myself and every god I knew that if I got out alive, I would never never never take any risks that were so abysmally stupid again.

I had to stop there because if I didn't I would just type up the whole book and then I would be breaking copyright law and probably get sent to jail.

So the I in that passage is Gen, a thief who stole the king of Sounis's seal ring...and then boasted about it and got arrested. He's been languishing in the king's prison ever since. But things are about to change. The magus, the king's most powerful adviser, offers Gen a chance at temporary freedom if he will steal something for him (the magus, that is). This is exactly what Gen's been waiting for. And with that the story begins.

Gen is one of those characters that just leaps off the page. He's a little bit like Howl, a little bit like Peter Wimsey, but in the end he's no one but himself. The story moves between the countries of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia which make up that region of Gen's world. As Turner explains, "I knew that I wanted to write a story and that I wanted the Greek landscape to be the inspiration for it....The setting for the story was inspired by Greece, but it isn't Greece and this isn't a Bronze Age culture that Gen lives in...There's no specific date in our world that correlates to development of Gen's world, but it is certainly more like the Byzantine period than classical Greece." (Extras, p. 2) She does a fantastic job of building a world and culture that seem familiar but are not overly reliant on real-world facts and dates and that, above all, feel alive and real. The use of stories, especially in this book, really helps that, as well as the wonderful descriptions of the landscape. I noticed these particularly in my latest re-read and was reminded a bit of Rosemary Sutcliff, although it's an entirely different land they're describing. In fact, if you're a Sutcliff fan, you may be amazed to find a description of an object featured in several Sutcliff books making an appearance. There's also a quote from Howl's Moving Castle (the book), which is later repeated in The King of Attolia.

Wow, that was all fairly coherent.

A few favorite quotes:
"This was no time to demonstrate unsuspected abilities" p. 40
"I noticed that I had ceased to be 'Gen' and had returned to being a kind of unreliable animal, like a cow that's prone to wandering away." p. 126

"The magus, in spite of his dogged pursuit of world sovereignty for Sounis, was a reasonably honest man." p. 179

"The people on the stairs were sucked down in our wake, and by the time we'd left the dark entrance hall and crowded into the doorway of the brightly lit throne room, I felt like the center of a circus on the move. All we needed was dancing bears." p. 259

Book source: my personal library (I own all three and have pre-ordered the fourth)
Megan Whalen Turner's Wikipedia page
The series's Livejournal community

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January 2016

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