Reading Diaries: Super Spies, Sexy Witches, and Shakesdude

Cover: Bill Bryson's  ShakespeareMegan: This month I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare bio. My reading time is still more constrained than I’d like, so I’ve been reading it on my Kobo whenever I can get a few minutes to myself. I’ve not read much Bryson but I’ve been told that this book is the Brysoniest. It feels like a conversation with an especially stimulating friend; smart, funny, and always illuminating.

Some of you might remember the film Anonymous from a few years ago. Yet another Shakespeare bio, this one adhered to the theory that Shakespeare must have been titled, gentry at the very least, because there was no way that a common man could have created that famous poetry. There’s a certain mystery to Shakespeare — we don’t know all that much about him outside of the work, save that he left his third best bed to his wife, and appeared in court a few times, died on a certain day, signed an assortment of documents — and when there’s mystery around such a huge literary figure, interested parties will make attempts to claim that figure. Personally, I’m super hostile to the Aristocrat Shakespeare position and Anonymous, which was so in love with the idea, had me shrieking at the TV and throwing popcorn.

Bryson’s bio, on the other hand, is much more historic, being based both on the scraps of solid historical details we know about Shakespeare, and the history of our positions on Shakespeare. When we know so little about a man, our opinions of him and just as interesting, if not more, than the facts. And as a Shakespeare nerd — I’ve read it all guys, ALL OF IT — I’m happy to report that Bryson isn’t about finding the right reading of the work and the man, so much as exploring his and our, well, humanity. How Shakespearean!

So that’s what I’ve been reading, along with some long long magazine journalism (mmm mmm).
What have you read this month that really impressed you? What have you read that disappointed you?

Claire: Aristocrat Shakespeare seems such a small, reactive position! All of my reading on this is Horrible Histories and more recently The Shakespeare Secret and The Shakespeare Curse, but … come on. Clever people are not a recent invention.

Of course, I only recently moved away from Stratford Upon Avon, which probably answers for my complete acceptance of “he was an average guy who moved to London and got famous.” That’s how it’s told there, that’s the history I walked through every week, those are “the facts.” Shakespeare above the bank, Shakespeare in the graveyard, Shakespeare in the birthday parade and sometimes wandering around as part of the ghost tour, Shakespeare in the classroom — all forming a solid foundation of he was just a guy from town who wrote things.

Rhys Ifans as Aristocrat Shakespeare
Rhys Ifans as Aristocrat Shakespeare, listening in on more interesting people, no doubt.

What have I been reading? I read a little bit of Casino Royale yesterday, but only to make fun of it. (Bond has blue eyes, a slightly messy flop of black hair over his forehead, and a facial scar, btw. #canon Maybe THAT’S the British Classic Dan Radcliffe should have played)

Megan: I find Aristocrat Shakespeare is especially popular with the deferent and with gatekeepers. And it’s a position that helps to freeze him in time, isn’t it? He’s not lpart of a vibrant, iving history of performance — he’s something a bit beyond us, an incomparable genius whose work will never be matched the likes of idk … post-colonial poets, rappers, and feminist theatre companies. Like you say, it’s such a narrow position. It’s a scared position.

The Bond novels have their devotees, even among literary critics. How are you finding the writing? (I mean, Bond is Bond. Never gonna make that character progressive and forward-thinking.)

Cover: Casino Royale, Ian Flemming. Sexay editionClaire: I’d have to read a whole novel (I haven’t for a good few years), but I think the writing is pretty bad. I wrote a bit about an excerpt from Moonraker in my big Horowitz retrospective and it doesn’t seem to get better — very short sentences, absolutely inexpressive. A chapter from Casino Royale is like “Bond had nothing to do for an hour or so. He lay on the bed. He thought about what might happen and what could. He thought about everything. Then it was time to get ready. He wondered what the other characters would do. He was ready to go down to the party, so he did.”

I can enjoy adventure novels, action novels about highly competent men and STUNTS, but so far I can’t see why Bond is the guy. Maybe I’ll have to bite the bullet and read another whole one, so I can have an officially valid opinion.

Laura: I have to say I have a ridiculous fondness for the Bond novels, and have read (I think) all of them. None of them are good, but they do at least get more entertaining than Casino Royale, if also ludicrously more offensive (Goldfinger, just….no), since that was the very first book and Ian Fleming (a spy himself: actually, his life is a million times more interesting than Bond’s) not the greatest of writers.

I read the most recent addition to my favorite sci fi series, The Expanse: Cibola Burn, by James S.A. Corey, and just for kicks, I’ve been rereading the rest of the series to get back up to this new one. The Expanse is great: it has some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever seen and a wide variety of kickass female characters including but not limited to: an Executive Officer with a talent for ops, a Martian Marine, and a grandma who runs the UN from behind the scenes. There’s a large spectrum of ages, races, and sexual orientations, and a pretty impressive breakdown of what a political structure spread out through the solar system would look like.

The series starts slow, but it’s all worldbuilding: by the time things start going wrong, it’s clear that the previous pages have all been masterful set up to get us to where the dominos can fall.

Christa: About five years ago I bought this set of James Bond novels from a used bookstore because I thought they looked all retro and cool. I have yet to read a single one of them. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them though. They’re so colourful.

Cover: Sara Barron's The Harm in AskingI’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick right now which is extremely unusual for me, but sometimes I need something completely different. I read Sara Barron’s The Harm in Asking which was so inappropriate but hilarious. Very Augusten Burroughs-esque. And I’m currently listening to the audiobook of I Am Malala which is amazing. She is incredible and I am floored by her bravery and intelligence. And last but not least I’m reading Katherine Howe’s newest novel, Conversion, which is a modern spin on the Salem Witch trials. I found it a bit slow at first but now that the girls have started “twitching” things are picking up and it is turning into quite the page turner. I like how heavily social media and the news play into the story — particularly how they fan the flames of panic and twist information.

Angel: I’m still a bit hungover from the Shopaholic series, and, thanks to Random House Canada, now about 3/4 of the way through an ARC of the seventh book, Shopaholic to the Stars. They’re entertaining, but I try not to think about them too critically, because the main character can be very over-the-top. It’s a fun series to read, though the charm might wear off for some readers after the first three books.

Cover: Conversion, Katherine HoweI’ve also read Conversion, and it was surprising to say the least. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it for most of my reading experience, but that changed near the end of the book. I’m looking forward to discussing it with other readers, because of how polarizing I think the reactions are going to be.

Up next, I’m going to be starting I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and I am super excited about it.

Christa: Angel, I am looking forward to discussing Conversion with you!

Lana: I listened to I Am Malala on audiobook, too. Her story totally blew me away, plus the voice actor was wonderful. I’ve never read a James Bond book before, but judging them based on the movies (I know, I know), I have no intention of ever reading them. EVER.

Right now I’m continuing with my Jonathan Lethem kick and am reading You Don’t Love Me Yet. I heart his writing. It’s like he’s taken snapshots of peoples’ thoughts and then described them in the most eloquent way possible. Outside of that I’m also reading Adrian Tomine’s Summer Blonde, and it is lovely.

Kayleigh: I just finished the short fiction anthology Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Most of the stories are fantasy, some are not, but all of them are about rogues in some form or another. Anthologies are almost always a mixed bag, but this is a strong collection with a wide variety of authors (and too many to list here). Gillian Flynn’s “What Do You Do?” is a promising mystery but, like Gone Girl, collapses under the weight of its own twists and “the Dr. Moriarty genius sociopath did it” resolution. Paul Cornell’s “A Better Way to Die” finds his Jonathan Hamilton character Cover: Rogues Anthology, GRR Martinfacing a dangerous opponent– the younger version of himself. But the big reason OI bought this big green brick of a book is “How The Marquis Got His Coat Back,” a sequel story to Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Neverwhere is one my most beloved books and Gaiman’s talked about writing “Marquis” for years, so actually holding the story in my grubby little paws was a joy. Don’t expect Neverwhere 2 — it’s only a short story, after all — but it’s a fun and very welcome return to London Below, and the Marquis is such a great, dastardly rogue. It was worth the wait.

“Wait, what about the new Game of Thrones story?” Okay, not-so-fun fact: “The Rogue Prince, Or, The King’s Brother” is the first Game of Thrones anything that I’ve read or seen. Now I don’t have to turn in my nerd badge under penalty of beheading! I did enjoy it, but it’s very dense for its short length, and packed with dates and details and elaborate (inbred) family trees. As a first exposure to the Targaryen family, it’s interesting, but I probably would have gotten more out of it if I was a regular reader of the series.

In fact, several of the stories besides Martin’s and Gaiman’s are short stories with ties to longer novels or book series, and while they stand on their own, “would I be enjoying this more if I knew the entire series?” was a common thought while reading it. Rogues felt like a lot of smaller pieces that didn’t quite assemble a whole.

Carolina: Like Kayleigh, I’m reading the Rogues anthology. Although I love Neil Gaiman, I have to admit I was actually anxious to read the George R.R. Martin new A Song of Ice and Fire short story (sorry Neil! <3). So I read “The Rogue Prince, or, The King’s Brother” yesterday, and the rest is still waiting in line.

It’s a bad short story. It doesn’t have a climax, it doesn’t have an end. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone that isn’t a Martin nerd (me). It’s a historical work, as it’s supposed to be written by a historian many years after the happenings, in a dry, factual and (trying to be) impartial tone, which I appreciate a lot but many people don’t (again, Martin nerd…). But it works a thousand times better in “The Princess and The Queen,” his other short story that begins just at the end of A Rogue Prince. But hey, it has dragons!

Kayleigh: *reading same book high-five*

Ardo: I’ve read The Queen of The Tearling (Erika Johansen) and The Truth About Alice (Jennifer Mathieu). Both are fantastic and will be getting reviews written up. The Truth About Alice is told in four alternating perspectives that all have their truths/views on Alice and it does a great job at dealing with the culture of slut shaming. The Queen of The Tearling is a great YA fantasy with a great, non conventional protagonist and I’m not happy that Emma Watson is portraying her since Watson is skinny and fair skinned. I definitely recommend both.

I’m currently reading The Silkworm but reading has been hard while fasting (it’s Ramadan!). I get distracted easily. I did buy a lovely book, Kamal Jann, written by Dominique Eddé who is a Lebanese-French writer. The book is translated from French and it’s gotten a lot of buzz. Definitely a book by and about diverse individuals so I’m tempted to put down J.K. Rowling in favour of that.

Wendy: My first Bond book was You Only Live Twice, which was the last book published by Fleming. I listened to the audiobook because I was desperate to listen to something by my favourite narrator, Simon Vance, and that’s just about all the library had to offer. I really enjoyed it though, mostly because Vance is amazing, but because the book was actually interesting. It offered the reader a very broken Bond, though he is still the best at what he does. M concludes that the only way to help him is to send him on an impossible mission. Either he’ll succeed, or die trying.

I’m currently listening to Stranger in a Strange Land. After last week’s Word of the Day, “grok,” I figured I should finally review the word’s source material. I’m also reading the book as part of my Worlds Without End Bucket List Reading Challenge. I want to read some of the influential authors of speculative fiction. I’ve taken particular interest in the male authors to see how they treat female characters. I’ve heard some pretty bad things about some, while others I’ve seen improve as time passed. In Stranger, Gillian Broadman sweeps into the chapter full of self-confidence, gumption, curiousity and control, breaking hearts with a flirtatious smile. A few chapters later, when she meets up with the one man whom she might consider to be more, she’s suddenly dumbed down. We’ll see what happens with her next…

Cover: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK JemisinJamie: I just read the first of the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

I am sad to report that although it wasn’t a bad book, it was not my cup of tea. I am not a fan of first person narrative, and the book was told from the point of view of one of the main characters. I was told “heroes who are people of color! villains who are not!” and while that was true, it was more a political intrigue thing than I cared about.

I admired that the author found a great way to handle the question of slavery, but her writing style was so sparse that we only got tiny glimpses of the people and countries involved in the story through Yeine’s eyes. We got only tiny glimpses of the people from a descriptive standpoint.

Lana: Yes! I felt exactly the same way about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: it has a good premise but I was underwhelmed by the writing style.

Wendy: Meanwhile, I can’t get over the book. I definitely agree that the political intrigue was supposed to be major plot point, but is really only cursory (something that occurs in other books I’ve read by her), but I absolutely adore the characters. Specifically, the gods and their relationships, which continues in the series from different viewpoints. I read it a second time, knowing what I did and found it even more fascinating to watch the progression of the three main gods and their romance through Yeine’s eyes. I also loved that the gods were so human and integral to the story. In truth, this is their story, and that’s kind of how I came to accept the glossing over of the political aspects.

Sarah: Let’s see, before I got slammed with work, I read Lothaire, Dreams of a Dark Warrior, The Warlord Wants Forever, and Shadow’s Claim, all by Kresley Cole. These are the supernatural erotica I mentioned before that are giving me all the weird feelz. I am going through them like candy. It is totally a guilty pleasure that I know I need to write about.

I’m working on a long review about Long Hidden, and I just started I Chose to Die.

Claire: Kresley Cole! Her YA apocalypse tarot series was one of my Top 5 Sexy Witch Books picks. Do her adult books integrate class, and individual faults, as well as her teen stuff?

Cover: Feed, Mira GrantJamie: Oh, and I did just read the new Mira Grant Newsflesh novella: “The Day the Dead Came To Show And Tell.”

It’s short at only 121 pages, but it is hard hitting like you would NOT believe. Every time you stop to think “wow, what can Mira Grant throw at us that she hasn’t already shocked us with” she finds a new wa to do it.

The story takes place after the events of Feed, Deadline and Blackout. Alaric has been doing digging on an outbreak that took place in an elementary school.

Grant tells the story in flashback with Alaric’s comments to Mahir and Maggie as in-betweeners. Seeing one brave woman trying to save the lives of seventeen first graders and about as many kindegarteners is absolutely spine-tingling with suspense, once the action gets started. Grant’s work is full of scathing commentary on political issues we face in the real world, too, which is good for a rueful smile while you’re nail-biting your way through one of her stories.

Claire: Wow, that sounds great/tough! I’m gonna look Mira Grant out, I think.

Sarah: Not so much class, Claire. The later books deal a lot with overcoming physical trauma especially regarding sex, so there’s a Valkyrie who was raped before the book starts and a Sorcereress who was beaten almost to death. Both of their books have them dealing with fear and PTSD, and it works, strangely.

There is a lot of emphasis on how flawed individuals are and how that affects their relationships and communication, usually ending with an acknowledgment of how flawed everyone is and acceptance and love. And then sex. I’m assuming the YA books don’t have quite the same level of detail of these sex scenes,which is cool. I want to read them.

And the very first Mira Grant Newsflesh book is on my list to read (looks longingly at the pile of books in the to-read pile).

Cover: Kresley Cole, Poison PrincessClaire: As per the first book in that series, Poison Princess, there’s been no sex, some pool kissing, one accidental dick touch. Feelings about readiness for sex, or unreadiness, are a huge factor in the protagonists’s navigation of her feelings towards her love interest. It’s pretty compassionate!

Jamie: I’m the main troper on Mira Grant’s series, so I’m happy to see I’ve generated interest. Also, great to have somebody to squee with.

Angel: I’ve only read her SDCC story and it was excellent but it also freaked me out so much, I actually had a nightmare about being trapped there.

Jamie: Yeah, that one’s good too. Maybe I should save the Newsflesh stuff for halloween since it’s all with the creepsome, even though new content tends to come out during summer reading months…

Join us next month for more book chat!
Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.