This week’s prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is “opening lines”, and I definitely have some favourites to share, ranging around my shelves! I’m sure I’ve done a favourite first lines before for TTT, but it’s been so long — and I have some new answers.
Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.”
This one gets me every time — it’s funny and playful, and though the mystery at the heart of this book is rather sad and pathetic, there are some amazing bits playing Peter and Harriet off against each other for wit and banter, and I adore it.
The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, by K.J. Charles: “I am, my friends agree, a fairly easy-going sort of chap, not quick to anger or to fear. Thus, when I came to live in Caldwell Place, I paid no mind to the screams in the night, which could well have been foxes or cats (never mind that they sprang from the empty air of my bedroom). I scarcely objected to the muffled moans, which could have come from a neighbour’s pleasures (if the house had not stood alone, with no neighbour for a mile to either side). But I did feel it was a bit much when the walls began to bleed.”
Bahahaha. This is not technically quite the opening lines, but shush.
A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab: “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”
Had me at hello.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
It’s not just that I love the book, but also that I love the story of that opening line (scribbled on a student’s exam paper during marking) and I love the way it immediately begs a whole bunch of questions.
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell: “The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.
They meant no harm.”
Technically not the opening lines, but from the very brief prologue, and a complete oh shit what — …which the book amply lives up to!
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
I will never be over this book, though it’s been a long time since I read it. “Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” Opening and closing lines are burned into my heart!
The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente: “Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her, and flew to her window one evening just after her eleventh birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds, in the shanty-towns where the Six Winds live.”
Whimsical and fairytale-like and yet also with unusual details. Sign me up!
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells: “I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”
Murderbot, your style speaks to me from the very first moment.
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”
I still haven’t read this book properly, but this opening line still sticks in my head.
The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff: “From the Fosseway westward to Isca Dumnoniorum the road was simply a British trackway, broadened and roughly stalled, strengthened by corduroys of logs in the softest places, but otherwise unchanged from its old estate, as it wound among the hills, thrusting further and further into the wilderness.”
This is perhaps a more personal choice than the others: not the most compelling opening for someone who doesn’t know the delights that lay ahead (Marcus! Cottia! Cub!) — this book is a window into my childhood, when this was one of the books I read to bits, and one of the ones that has stood up best because of Sutcliff’s careful sketching in of the Romano-British world as she understood it. I have no visual imagination and yet there are some scenes in this book I could almost draw.
So there you go! What are your favourite first lines? Did you do something different for this week’s theme, if you joined in? Link me!
It’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday, and this time the prompt is “reasons why I love X”. I chose to talk about the romance genre, because I think most people here originally followed me for my SF/F reviews, and my taste has been expanding a lot in the last couple of years. I still love SF/F, but I’ve tried to abandon any snobbery about any genres and just give more things a try, and now I read about the same amount of romance as I do SF/F! So… why is that?
There are happy endings. It’s not the ending, it’s the journey. I know that the couple are going to be happy at the end, but I don’t know exactly how they’ll get there. This really appeals to me, especially lately: I don’t really like not knowing the ending. I don’t really like sitting with anxiety about how things are going to turn out. I don’t need to know all the details, but I need to know everyone will be safe and happy at the end.
It’s often a quick read. I love the fact that there’s so much available that I can read in the space of one bath or in one sitting. I’ve lost my attention span for 6-book epics, I’m afraid. There are shorter mysteries and fantasies and SF novellas and so on, I know! But I’ve tapped into a pool of just-short-enough novels here and it’s perfect.
There’s a lot of diversity. I know there remain huge problems with romance fandom when it comes to diversity, but I know exactly where to turn for the sort of characters I like. I was overjoyed when I first dipped my toes into actually reading romance and the first thing I received to review was An Unsuitable Heir, by K.J. Charles. Finding Pen Starling at that moment was wonderful.
There’s so much out there! Okay, this is actually true of every genre, but it’s a relatively new genre for me, so there are so many surprises and new stuff waiting!
Romance pairs with so many other genres. A lot of the romance I read is actually also fantasy, or mystery, or historical fiction, and sometimes all three at once. You don’t have to stick with just one flavour!
It’s usually focused on characters and relationships. I love some amazing world-building, I really do. But I usually need characters I can get invested in, and by its very nature romance tends to focus on that dimension of the story.
There aren’t usually world-ending stakes, or they aren’t the forefront of the story. Okay, in e.g. Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk, there’s a kind of world-in-peril thing… but mostly you end up wanting to know if Whyborne and Griffin end up making friends again. This is a feature and not a bug for me and my current tastes!
Self-publishing is really strong in this genre. I don’t know if there are pockets of self-publishing out in SF/F where everything’s going really well, but I don’t know of them, and it feels like romance authors have got it down. Often amazing covers, great support for one another, good editing… and well-formatted ebooks at a reasonable price (honestly, I’d pay more for them).
Trope-y goodness. Sometimes it’s really fun to see an author take on a clichéd idea and play with it. I’m here for your enemies-to-lovers, your there-was-only-one-bed, your last minute realisations. Do it — and surprise me!
It really annoys some people. Okay, this is petty, but after someone had a meltdown about me being too “smart” to read romance (having three degrees only makes you a certain kind of smart, as anyone who has ever watched me fumbling through adulthood can attest), I can’t help but really enjoy existing to confound people’s expectations of what a romance reader looks like.
So there you go! Excited to see what other people have been gushing about this week — and don’t worry, if you comment here, I’ll visit you back as soon as I can!
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is about books you’ve abandoned… so let’s have a look at my Shelf of Abandoned Books. The thing is, I’m a mood reader, so for one reason and another it’s fairly common for me to end up putting down a book in the middle. Here’s the tour!
Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Fantasy, set in a sort of China analogue. This is actually a reread and I have no idea why I stalled. I think I just got busy? It’s actually a book I really enjoy, and the opening always sticks with me so much — the idea of the loneliness Tai feels there, lying the ghosts to rest… I don’t even seem to have left a bookmark in! Mystery.
Heartstone, by Elle Katharine White. Fantasy romance. I definitely just got distracted with this one — it has dragons! It was cool! But then stuff happened.
Hild, by Nicola Griffith. Historical fiction, about Hild of Whitby. There are things I loved about this — mostly the lush language — but ohhh it’s so slow.
A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland. Fantasy, featuring a crotchety old man being cranky and a cinnamon roll who keeps falling in love with pretty boys. I thiiiink I was just pretty depressed and meh about a lot of things, and I wasn’t able to concentrate for long enough to just finish this. Oops. It’s one I’m more or less constantly thinking about picking back up! Even though it must be coming up on a year since I started it.
The Subversive Stitch, by Rozsika Parker. Non-fiction about embroidery and femininity. I had this from the library stacks (and oh gosh they were suspicious about signing it out to me; I guess I do not look like their idea of someone who can take care of an old book) and ended up just returning it because I was getting through it so slowly. I have my own copy now, but I think I’ll have to restart it. I’ve lost the thread (ha) of the argument.
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. Speculative fiction — Jesuits in space, only it’s dead serious. And heartbreaking. This was a reread, and I just couldn’t face what I remembered was coming…
The Story of Wales, by John Gower. Non-fiction, about the history of Wales. Just kind of lost interest; it’s not the most riveting.
The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley. Romance with a touch of fantasy and historical fiction; they’re mindreaders who get on the track of a historical story, trying to figure out what happened. I love Kearsley normally; I think I just wasn’t in the right mood for it.
Salt, by Mark Kurlansky. Non-fiction. It’s basically the history of salt, and it’s really scatterbrained and kinda meh. Also, someone mentioned that they have doubts about the accuracy of his books, and he doesn’t seem to have much sourcing, and… I’m sceptical now, and will probably DNF this for good.
Banewreaker, by Jacqueline Carey. Fantasy, another reread: basically a take on What If Sauron Had A Point. It does a really great job, but I seem to have just fallen out of it. I think maybe I picked up something else… oops!
So there you go — now you know how capricious I can be! Do you DNF books? Or shelve them for later? Or are you with a book to the bitter end, no matter what?
A Top Ten Tuesday post? Oh yes! I’ve been meaning to pick the habit back up for a while. This week’s theme is “Things I’d Have at My Bookish Party”… and I’m not really the party type. But here’s some ideas…
Books. I mean, obviously, right? But seriously, I’m not so much for dressing up or book-themed stuff. I’d need actual books. And by that I mean something you can read, so of course comics are fine and ereaders are fine and audiobooks are fine if you listen to them with earbuds. I’m not gatekeeping what counts as a book. Read fanfic on your phone if you like! The point is that a bookish party should involve at least some time spent rapt and focused on a narrative.
Quiet. There can be talking about books! Lots of talking about books, even! But there’s got to be a quiet corner to hide in and actually read.
Teddy bears. No judgement here. I’m 30 and my favourite reading companion is still Helen Hippo, with me since I was two days old.
…Or other fuzzy reading companions. If your pet can be quiet and cuddle while reading, I’m all for it. Bring back my nan’s dog from when I was a child and I could prop my book on him, warm my feet under him, lie back to back with him… Okay, he’d have a shock that I’m not little anymore, but I’m pretty sure he’d take it all in stride. (Bunnies are banned from this party, on account of their propensity to nibble books.)
Snacks. For me, particular books require particular snacks. The Hobbit is forever Werther’s Originals, for instance. Everyone should bring their own favourite snack.
Pyjamas. If they’re comfortable, at least. For me, my soft grey jammies or my WRU jammies, please. Ideal for just sprawling out with a book.
Blankets. We’re going to curl up and read, after all!
The right sort of people. You’re all invited, of course! At least if you enjoy all the above.
A browsing session in a bookshop. Especially if the party involves meeting new people! Shopping for books with people is my absolute #1 way to break the ice, and it’s stood me in good stead in the past. There’s always gonna be something to talk about even if your tastes don’t coincide.
Presents. I don’t mind being a hobbit and giving other people presents. In fact, that’s a lot of fun. Maybe everyone buys someone else a present! I don’t know, presents are good.
I’m sure other people are coming up with amazing themed parties, but I’m easily overwhelmed by lots of noise and people, so… a party which would actually be quiet and cosy and rejuvenating sounds good.
This week’s topic is “Rainy Day Reads”, and like imyril, I can’t help reading that as books for a metaphorical rainy day. So here are five books I always turn to when I want a comfort read — and five books I’ve been saving for a rainy day.
Comfort Reads for a Rainy Day:
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. I mean, come on, you knew I was going to say it. I adore the decency of Maia — he’s not perfect: he can be petty and waspish and he does things he regrets, and he’s not always the sharpest crayon in the box either, but he tries his damnedest and he wins hearts (including mine) because of it. <3
Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart. I used to be rather snobbish about these even as I enjoyed them, so here I am eating humble pie. There’s something about Mary Stewart’s ability with settings and her masterful heroes that works, even as I get annoyed with them — the hero of this book does not comport himself beautifully, to say the least. But there is some lovely stuff about grief, and learning to love again, and… I don’t know! It just works for me. It helps that Charity is a badass.
A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. It made me cry in the bath, but it’s still a favourite. It’s all… warm and squishy, even as it’s occasionally upsetting and harrowing.
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. It’s a newcomer to the list, I’m sure — I think I’ve written a comfort reads list before, at least — but I’ve been craving it when feeling down and ugh-y, so I guess it qualifies by now! I’ve read it twice, and I really kinda just want to read it again. Now.
A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. Which is funny, considering I didn’t love it the first time I read it. But it grew on me, rather the same way that Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey grew on me. (And I read them both at around the same time, actually…)
Books I’ve Been Saving for a Rainy Day:
Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. I’ve actually started it now, but for a while there it was just sat on my pile, gently tempting…
The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, by Toby Wilkinson. I might have an odd idea of comfort, but… there’s something nice about having this waiting for me somewhere along the line. I hope it’s a good overview, and not too similar to John Romer’s volumes, but either way I’ll probably enjoy it for the familiar magic of Egyptian archaeology and history.
The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin, illustrated by Charles Vess. Technically, the story isn’t new to me, but this illustrated version will be! It promises to be a real pleasure, which I’ve been putting off for the right moment, when I need it!
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. I did actually start this, got partway through it, got distracted, and then sort of ‘banked’ it to await the full series. Which is all out now and has been for some time, but I know it’ll be good, so… it just kind of waits there.
Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch. To the eternal frustration of Lisa and Mum. I’m in no hurry to be left hanging for the next book like I was after Red Seas Under Red Skies, people!
And an honourable mention to The Tethered Mage, which imyril has been tempting me with on Litsy all this week…
It’s been a while since I did a Top Ten Tuesday post, almost since That Artsy Reader Girl started hosting, but this theme was irresistible to me. This week, the prompt is Ten Things That Make Me Pick Up A Book. The first five relate to what makes me buy a book in the first place; the second five refer to what makes me read the book in a particular moment!
Getting a purchase
An author I love. You say “N.K. Jemisin”, “Marie Brennan” or “Guy Gavriel Kay”, and I say “now plz”. I’m not saying that these authors are infallible (why Ysabel, GGK?) but they have a good track record with me, and at the very least I know I enjoy their writing on a mechanical level.
A series I love. Even more so than #1, this is key! I was devouring Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books, and I will pounce on the latest in a series I’m loving.
It caught my eye. Mostly due to the cover. I mean, that’s what they’re designed for; I’m not ashamed of that! A bad cover won’t put me off, but a good one might just pique my interest. It won’t be the only factor, but it’ll definitely prompt me to give the book a longer look. One book I picked up on that basis was Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead! Hell of a cover.
Enthusiasm from certain friends and bloggers. I don’t think there’s a person in the world who shares my taste exactly (my wife isn’t a fan of Cherie Priest; my mother didn’t get why I love The Goblin Emperor so immoderately) but there are definitely people whose opinions will prompt me to check out a book. They include Mum, Lisa, my sister (though the influence mostly goes the other way), Calmgrove, imyril, Mogsy, anyone I know from of old in the Alternative World book club, and Jo.
It’s on a topic I’m currently interested in. Right now, if it’s about embroidery, fabric, sewing, Egypt, Byzantium, mummies, CRISPR, tuberculosis or flu, I want it! Honestly, if I don’t know much about the topic, I might well want it anyway (I love learning new things!), but my current preoccupations have an even better chance.
Time to read!
So, book. You’ve made it past the purchasing filter. How do you get me to read you? Well… some or all of the above should be true, and then it’s down to:
The first few pages. I’m terribly prone to picking up a book, reading a couple of pages out of mild curiosity, and then ending up reading the whole thing.
Book club pick. I run a book club based on my own total whim. There’s usually no voting on the exact book (though at the moment I’m asking for guiding votes on the genre to pick), and mostly I just pick up a book off my shelf that I would like to have read. Sometimes it’s something I’m hesitant about for no real reason, or something huge. Whatever it is, the book club pick usually persuades me to get on with it and read the book. Same goes for other book clubs — if I was a member of any at the moment — and readalongs. Which reminds me that I want to join the Wyrd and Wonder readalongs!
Comfort. This is mostly a reread thing, though there are some authors I’d read for comfort just on principle. If I’m reaching for Earthsea or The Dark is Rising, or particularly The Goblin Emperor and Dorothy L. Sayers, I might well be going through a rough time.
Mood. I don’t quite mean the same thing as #3, here. It’s more like what theme or tropes I’m in the mood for. Space opera, fantasy, non-fiction… I tend to go on a spree reading books of a certain genre or on a certain topic.
Contrariness and whim. If I’m not supposed to be reading it — say I’m supposed to do a readalong next month — I’ll probably read it now. Because… because I’m me. So there.
This week’s theme is Top Ten Books of the Year So Far — so armed with my statistics spreadsheet, let’s jump into mine: books I’ve read this year for the first time and rated four or five stars! I’m going to skip the non-fiction books, as I think people are less interested in those. I’ve also stuck to the first book if it’s a series, because I think it’s hard to judge a second book on its own and I think this list kind of works as recommendations!
A Matter of Oaths, by Helen C. Wright. I’m so glad I finally got round to reading this, because it really worked for me. If you’re a fan of Ann Leckie or Yoon Ha Lee’s work, I think this’d be right up your street. Becky Chambers, too.
In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan. Okay, Elliot is a dick but he’s a dick who tries to do the right thing, and I love his relationships with his closest friends. I think it’s a good one if you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On.
Arabella of Mars, by David Levine. This isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but it’s such a lot of fun. There’s a need for that when everything seems like crap around you, and I think a lot of people feel that way at the moment.
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang. This is just adorable and fun. I mean, unless you have a problem with a prince who likes to wear dresses and for whom things turn out great. If you are, you might not enjoy this blog in general and you definitely won’t enjoy this graphic novel.
War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull.A classic of fantasy literature, and one I found a heck of a lot of fun. Kinda like hanging out with the cool grandma of Kate Daniels and Toby Daye, this was an introduction to Where It All Began for urban fantasy.
It’s been a long time since I did a TTT post, I know! But this week’s prompt is a summer TBR (it says beach reads, but everything is a beach read for me or nothing is), and I thought I could use the chance to reflect on that. So here goes…
Blackout, by Mira Grant. I finished Deadline yesterday and I’m already itching to get onto this one. WHAT IS GOING ON.
Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee. I’m partway through it already, but I really need to shuffle it to the top of the pile and finish devouring it. I got a little dangerously into it during my exam period and put it aside for a while, but now I’m freeeee.
The Divine Cities trilogy, by Robert Jackson Bennett. I haven’t read the last book, despite being absolutely desperate for it at the time. I wanted to reread the first two, and time kept on catching up to me… bleh. But now I can!
Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett. I got an ARC of this, and I’m very excited by the sound of it, so here’s hoping Bennett will wow me again. (Spoiler: pretty sure he will.)
Starless, by Jacqueline Carey. I don’t think this is optional in any way. I have to read it. It’s Jacqueline Carey!
Only Human, by Sylvain Neuvel. The end of this trilogy! I grabbed it on release and… got busy, of course. You might be sensing a theme in my life.
Before Mars, by Emma Newman. Another one I got on release, but then got distracted from. Though I am at least partway through my rereads of the previous books in this case!
The Lost Plot, by Genevieve Cogman. Actually, I can’t believe I haven’t got to this one already. Again, I want to reread the previous books, though, and do it in a glorious binge.
The Testament of Loki, by Joanne Harris. I am still kicking myself that I didn’t buy a signed copy when I was shopping with my sister, but hey, I have the ebook! More glorious Loki twistiness incoming.
I Only Killed Him Once, by Adam Christopher. I’ve been a great fan of the Raymond Electromatic books, and I can’t believe this one has been sitting on my ereader awaiting me so long already.
Let’s face it, I have too many awesome books: my head might just explode. But I’ll be happy.
Top Ten Tuesday has moved homes! You can now find it at That Artsy Reader Girl‘s blog. Since I did want to post something about this topic — “bookish resolutions/goals” — I thought I’d join in again, at least for this week!
Read for joy. I still keep on reading books I think I “ought” to read, or picking up something from my backlog just because I was interested in it once and I no longer am. There’s space for that, when it’s a topic I want to learn about or something I’d like to comment on, but this year my resolution is definitely to read primarily for joy.
Write reviews within 24 hours of finishing the book. I used to do this, and then I fell into bad habits. No more writing of vague reviews because the book didn’t leave much of an impression and it’s been three weeks…
Keep up my practice of commenting on at least one other blog per day. I’ve been doing this almost every day for two years now, and it might not be ideal for my reading list — argh, so many books I want — but it’s a great way to keep in touch with other bloggers.
Earn my book purchases. Me and my wife have a system we call “Adulting: The Game”. We get stars for stuff we do towards various goals like keeping up with chores, eating more healthily, keeping up with class, taking care of our finances… I get to buy one book per twenty stars I earn. (But it’s okay for me to use Amazon vouchers, etc; that counts as gifts.)
Read from my backlog. Last year’s goal was 200, and I didn’t make it. This year… we’ll see. But I’m doing well so far, with eight of the ten books I’ve read being from my backlog.
Catch up with ARCs. I’m going to try to stop looking at Netgalley and requesting stuff. Of course, that’s partly fuelled by the fact that I can only “wish for” books from a lot of publishers on Netgalley now, but it’s also because I have one heckuva backlog there.
Give up on Goodreads. I used Goodreads to catalogue my books for years, but now I’m just using it as a way to get some book recommendations from reviewers I’ve known for years and to post my own reviews for them. Gone are the days of making any obsessive searches to get all my lists to agree.
Reread when I want. This kind of goes with “read for joy” — I love to reread, but I haven’t been doing it as much as I’d like because I feel like I should only be providing “fresh” content for my readers. Pffft, half the time people don’t even know that I’ve posted a review for a particular book before; there’s no drop in interest for my reviews of books I’ve reread. I think enthusiasm is more valuable to readers anyway.
Go to bed a little earlier than necessary to get in some time to read. Or, as me and my wife put it, “bookbed”. We did that a lot before Christmas, and it was nice. Time to resurrect it, if only because it’s entertaining to watch Lisa gasp and cuss as she reads James S.A. Corey’s books.
Read things that scare me. Whether that’s reading books about bugs, physics that turns my brain inside out, or just massive fantasy tomes that would squash my bunnies flat if I dropped them, it’s always good to challenge yourself. There’s a big place for comfort and familiarity in my reading repertoire, but it’s also important to step into the unknown.