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A Dance With Dragons – Spoilers Within

I’ve been MIA around here because I have been dedicating myself to A Dance With Dragons, the fifth instalment in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy masterpiece.

I literally just finished reading it, so I’m still a little breathless from the ending. The books in this series are all so long and so complex (the names alone…there are so many to keep track of that it’s a good thing Martin has an appendix of all the families and their relationships to each other to keep track of everyone) that sometimes you get a little lost. But the endings. The endings are always spectacular.

If you haven’t read the fifth one yet, this post will probably have some spoilers. I put off reading A Dance With Dragons for a long time because I wanted to buy it in paperback to match the Costco set of 4 I already had (hello? Paperback Princess?). But my friend ended up dropping it off for me to read, eager to share it with someone else so she could talk about it.

First off, even though this one is good, the 3rd book (A Storm of Swords) is still my favourite. That one was all twisty and turny and mindblowingly awesome. In terms of moving the plot forward, the third one was pivotal. I’m not sure that any of the others will compare with the brilliance of the epilogue alone. That said, A Dance With Dragons does deliver. And the dragons finally fly! Probably not the way we may have envisioned (namely with Dany riding triumphantly on one of them, on her way to claim the Iron Throne) but they fly. Here’s what I learned from this book: do not mess with dragons.

It is just another book in a series so there is a LOT left unanswered. Where is Sansa? What’s going to happen to Tyrion? Is Jon Snow OK? What is the deal with Arya? And Varys! Did not see that coming! It was also grotesque in parts. So grotesque that another friend warned me about eating while I was reading, namely: don’t do it. She was not kidding. This one chapter where Reek is still in the dungeons and he’s eating a live rat? Even now that makes me want to hurl. Martin has an obscene imagination complete with heads on spikes, dog soup, burning men alive, diarrhea and lots and lots of blood and guts.

I thought that the sixth book was set to be released this fall but it turns out that I was mistaken. It will be a while before I find out exactly what will happen to Cersei, Arya or Tyrion – the next book, tentatively titled The Winds of Winter, is still being written.

Make no mistake though, when it is ready, it will have been worth the wait.

 

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George R.R. Martin

I’m in the middle of reading the fourth instalment of the A Song of Ice and Fire series: A Feast for Crows.

This basically means that I am dead to the book world for at least another week. These books…Have you read them? Of course you have, the entire world is obsessed. You know what didn’t help? The amazing-ness of the HBO Series.

Before I started reading this one (having given myself a few weeks to rest and recuperate after the heart stopping, life over-taking conclusion of the third book) I had heard that this one wasn’t that good. That compared to the other books, this one you just kind of have to slog through to get to the reward that is the 5th book.

And I have to say that I disagree!

I was told that A Feast for Crows was filled with chapters of characters that were of no consequence to the overall story. That you would read a chapter about a character and then you would never see that character again. That the chapters are called things like The Butcher. And maybe they are. But having plowed through three books before this one, I kind of feel like Martin knows what he’s doing? And that there is no such thing as a chapter that doesn’t matter? You might not get the significance now, but I guarantee it comes back later.

The other thing that people seem to have an issue with is that (and this might constitute a SPOILER, I’m not sure…maybe don’t read this next part since I’m not sure if it will ruin it for you) there’s no Starks in this one. It’s all the Ironborn and the Lannisters. I will say that I’m missing some Bran and Arya chapters but we got some Jon Snow and the Lannisters are definitely just as interesting. I don’t know that Martin ever intended for this series to be all about the Starks.

And the Ironborn? Are awesome. Asha? Fantastic. She is so kick-ass! The whole kingsmoot thing is brilliant and I’m really looking forward to finding out how this all wraps up. I was told that around page 700 things really start to take off and Book 4 suddenly becomes exciting reading. But like I said, I already kind of like it!

OK the SPOILER section is over now.

So this was really just a note to say that George R.R. Martin has once again taken over my life and I have no time for anything else. He’s a tough master that way, Martin is. He takes over your life and you might not even see all your favourites make it through the whole book.

I guess that’s what makes them so great.

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My Top Reads of 2011

It is the end of the year, and as per tradition dictated by the masses, here are the top 10 books that I read this year. You should know that these weren’t necessarily published this year and they are in no particular order but they were all awesome and should you be looking for something to read, maybe check out my list.

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943, Betty Smith). Pretty sure that I am the last person on the planet that has read this book. I feel like this book was always hovering on the periphery of my world, but I never paid enough attention to realize how incredible this book is. It’s one of those classic books where nothing really happens except for mundane every day things. At least, the everyday for Francie and her family in Brooklyn in the beginning of the 20th Century. Nothing I can say will do justice to the quiet brilliance of this book so if you haven’t already read it, read it.
  2. Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (2010, David Sturrock). I feel like Matilda changed my life. I was a young disciple of Roald Dahl’s so how could I turn up an opportunity to get to know the man behind of some of the best stories of my childhood? The man behind The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and of course, Matilda, was kind of a curmudgeon. As he got older, he embraced his mantle as a teller of children’s tales, but for most of his life, he resented his adult stories being overlooked. It was a surprising and intimate, if not always favourable, portrait.
  3. The Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley. I’ve posted about my love for these books before. I read the first three this year, I look forward to reading the 4th one in 2012. They are a refreshing take on the classic murder mystery, told with an incredible sense of humour and style. The series starts off with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, carries on with The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag and A Red Herring Without Mustard and so far, concludes with I’m Half Sick of Shadows. So now you know and you can read accordingly.
  4. The Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin. I know that I was a little late on the uptake on this one, but I can’t remember the last time I was so invested in a story and it’s characters. Martin actually makes me afraid to turn the page. Yes, the story will advance, but it may not always turn out well for my favourites. I’ve read the first three books so far and they are a commitment. They will take a long time to get through but the pay off is huge. And if you can’t see yourself reading the books, watch the first episode of the HBO series and see if you still feel the same way.
  5. The Imperfectionists (2010, Tom Rachmann) was an incredible read. I loved every story, every chapter, every character. I loved the way that the story was constructed so that each chapter took you home with a different character, carried you along in time so that you could still check in with characters from other chapters and see how they’ve fared. It’s a bit of a sad read when you realize that it is also a commentary on the state of the newspaper industry today but the melancholy is worth it.
  6. The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI 1895-1952 (1990, Sarah Bradford). Despite the popularity of The King’s Speech last year, I still find that George VI is one of those monarchs that is overlooked, despite the extraordinary sacrifice that he made for his country. This biography tells the story of the man who wasn’t supposed to be king, but who wore the crown with dignity and aplomb after his brother abdicated in favour of a divorcee. Ultimately, the shy, quiet younger brother of Edward VIII would pay for this heavy burden with his life, the stress of the job proving to be too much for him.
  7. Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (2008, Mary Henley Rubio). I always assumed that the creator of Anne of Green Gables would be very similar to her heroine: sunny, imaginative and wonderful. After reading this biographical masterpiece, I know that that is not the case. The woman who would make Prince Edward Island the internationally known home of this most famous of her characters, spent most of her adult life living in Ontario in circumstances that she didn’t much care for. She was depressed, took all sorts of medications that poisoned her from the inside out, and had horribly dysfunctional relationships with her husband and sons. This book was illuminating and brilliantly put together, making it a compulsive, as well as informative, read.
  8. The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008, Muriel Barbery). I wrote a post about this book so I know that you know how much I love this book. This is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever had the pleasure to read. What Barbery can do with language is incredible. The story is tragic and sweet and ordinary and the ending…it left me in tears and it stayed with me long after I had finished it.
  9. The Age of Innocence (1920, Edith Wharton). This is one of the books that I read this year that I know I will read again. Obviously it is an excellent book – a Pulitzer Prize winning book in fact, the first one for a woman. But sometimes those grand award winners are stiff and difficult to read, relevant to their time, but somehow lost in the translation of time. This is not one of those books. While it is the story of 1870s New York (what an uppity place!), it is ultimately the story of love and loss and duty and all the things that make for a respectable life. Told from the perspective of a man, and so masterfully done that I forgot almost the whole way through that this was in fact, written by a woman.
  10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003, Mark Haddon). This won a bunch of awards back in 2003 and had been on my list for a long time but I’m not sure why it took me so long to read it. A wonderfully quirky murder mystery that ends up having nothing to do with murder at all and everything to do with the human condition and all the flaws that make up our relationships with each other. Loved it.

So there you have it, my top 10 books that I read this year. I’m sure that I overlooked some but its not easy to choose your top 10 books in a year! Hopefully you found a title that sparks your interest!

Happy New Year!

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64 out of 65

It’s the second to last day of 2011 and I did not reach my goal of reading 65 books this year and am unlikely to achieve it with errands to run tomorrow before a New Years’ Eve party.

I’m not going to lie – I’m bummed. Last year when I reached my 75 books read goal it felt good. And my timing was so perfect that I finished the final book on December 31st. I finished book #64 this morning (The Sisters Brothers) and searched my shelves in vain for something that might be read in less than 24 hours.

Alas.

Instead of celebrating my accomplishment, I will reflect on what it was like for me this year to try and read 65 books.

In one word? Stressful.

My other half pointed out fairly early in the process that 65 books seemed like a lofty goal and when I said that I had managed to read 75 in 2010 he quickly pointed out that I had been unemployed for about 4 months in 2010, during which time I was easily reading 4 books a week. The glory days. Aside from having no money and the stress of searching for a job.

This year, I was constantly calculating where I was in the process, what percentage of book goal I had achieved, looking at some books, less for the merit in terms of story telling or interest and purely for page count and quick-readability. I counted The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a 54 page novella and Peter Pan, a hardly challenging children’s play, among my books because they padded my stats.

I left off reading magazines because they interfered with my book stats and War and Peace is still sitting on my shelf, untouched, because I knew that one would take me ages and I had already made the serious error in choosing to read Daniel Deronda, a beast of a George Eliot book that took me the better part of 2 months to plow through.

My point is that this is no way to read. I’m not sorry that I read any of those books. I loved reading them. But at some points I was more worried about reaching my goal than I was concerned with what I was reading. And for a lover of reading and books, this is no way to be.

I will still have a goal for 2012. But it will be far more reasonable and achievable so that when I’m in the right frame of mind, I will pick up War and Peace and read it and enjoy it.

On an unrelated note, I realize that I have, once again, been horribly remiss in posting about any of the books that I have read. This is partly, once again, because I was a slave to George R. R. Martin’s genius and partly due to holiday induced laziness. But I am going to be working on a series of catch up posts that will be published over the coming days to try and make up for some of that.