Category: Books

What I Watched: Is There Any Other Game in Town?

Before we talk Game of Thrones, let’s check in with my reading list. Last week, I finally got around to reading A Scandalous Life, the biography of Lady Jane Digby by Mary S. Lovell. For those, like me, who are not familiar with that name, Lady Jane was a woman who gave up on social conventions pretty early in her life, and chose a (romantic) path well off the beaten track for her time; after a notorious aristocratic divorce, liaisons with various other men (including an emperor), her third and last husband was an Arab sheikh who was some 20 years younger than her. Viewed from a contemporary perspective, her choices don’t seem all that radical (when compared to say, the matrimonial career of Elizabeth Taylor), but it was heady stuff for the 19th century.

Lovell is one of my fave historical biographers, and I really enjoyed her writing (as always) and her perspective on the subject in this book. I wish she had included less extensive and frequent excerpts from other people’s writings to or about Lady Jane, but that’s a small quibble — I just hate long embedded quotes in any context. (That’s a bit of a lawyer in-joke.) What I liked a lot was the fact that Lovell acknowledged all of the privilege that allowed Lady Jane to rebel without suffering too much for it; she was exceptionally beautiful in an age when female beauty still counted for more than anything else, including intelligence and education (which she also possessed), and she had a relatively supportive (wealthy and titled) family who never fully abandoned her. In other words, she had a fairly substantial “safety net” throughout her life. This doesn’t fully detract from the fact that Lady Jane did take considerable risks that other women in her position did not, but it puts her choices in context — something I appreciate in a good biography.

Anyway, Lady Jane’s life was filled with juicy and/or thrilling episodes, which makes me think it is definitely overdue for a biopic treatment. Just think of the (male) eye candy! Or indulge me while I do. Ahem.

Moving on.

GAME OF THRONES TIME.

Requisite spoiler warning, blah, blah, blah.

Things are really zipping along now, eh? I mean, literally — people are traveling back and forth across all of Westeros in no time at all. I, for one, am not complaining. I will reiterate what I said earlier; the writers shouldn’t have dawdled in seasons 5 and 6, and we wouldn’t be in this situation of glossing over really cool events and reunions. But since we are here, we might as well get through it as expeditiously as possible. The title of episode 5 was a bit of a misnomer since we spent all of 5 minutes at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, but it was decently paced and delivered lots of thrills.

Speaking of which … the true Targaryen heir has been revealed! By Gilly! As a book reader, I feel vindicated in my years-long speculation on this point. I mean, it was a widely-shared speculation but still. It is official canon now! Now I just can’t wait for everyone to find out. Picture that mic drop moment; I want an entire episode devoted to various characters’ reactions to that news. Of course, the show ain’t got time for that but I hope they make whatever they can spare worth the wait. If only they could resurrect Catelyn Stark so someone could tell her. I HATED Catelyn for the way she treated Jon.

Speaking of the Starks, here’s a question: are Catelyn’s girls getting played by Littlefinger as easily as their mother did? And if so, are the results going to be similarly disastrous? The answer is probably “no”, if only because Arya and Sansa have All Knowing Bran on their side. Surely, he will sort out any misunderstandings before things get out of hand. With that said, I’d much rather find out that Arya and Sansa have been luring Littlefinger into a trap by pretending to be at odds. That would be infinitely preferable to sisterly squabbles, round 2. My prediction after this episode was that Littlefinger would meet his end courtesy of Arya, wearing Sansa’s face and using Bran’s dagger. Someone reminded me that the only way Arya can use a face is by killing its original owner so … scratch that. Even better, maybe she can use Catelyn’s face (which, IIRC, we’ve seen at the Temple of the Many Faced God or whatever that place in Braavos was called). Littlefinger would think he was having the best dream of his life and then, BAM! Dead.

Yes, I have been thinking about this.

Quick hits:

– I have actually not watched the early seasons of GoT (I read the books and jumped straight into season 4), so I missed Gendry’s original storyline, but I am DOWN for Gendry 2.0: Bromance Bugaloo. How cute was Gendry and Jon’s meet-cute? So cute. “You’re shorter than your dad.” Heh. Also, truth.
– I freaking love Ser Davos. He is probably my second fave character now.
– Poor Tormund and his doomed love for the “big woman”.
– Speaking of which, what are your bets on which of the Magnificent Seven/Suicide Squad, North Edition are making it back alive and well? Mine: Jon (for sure); the Hound (too much unfinished business); Jorah (ugh, but very likely); Gendry (that bromance is too hot). I really, really hope that Tormund makes it back — I’ve grown fond of that ginger bastard — but I have a bad feeling about his chances. Beric, Thoros and the others … toast. Or, I should say, wight fodder.
– But also … this whole bright-a-wight-back-to-convince-Cersei-to-join-forces is the dumbest thing. I like Tyrion, but what the hell, man?
– Aww, Drogon likes his step-daddy.
– Dany shares Drogon`s feelings, obvi. Jorah, you`ve still friend-zoned. Hahahaha! (Did I mention how much I hate Jorah?)

That`s it for another week. Share your GoT thoughts and speculation in the comments; ditto for reading rec`s — I promise to return to regular What I Read posts soon!

What I Read: Empires Edition

A couple of weeks ago, I found a random biography of Napoleon III at the thrift store, so of course I bought it. It’s my reading catnip; I love French rulers — they have the messiest personal lives, which makes for excellent reading for someone with my superficial interests. Gossip is always fun, and historical gossip is among the best. Napoleon III and His Carnival Court (John Bierman) is nicely peppered with gossipy bits. The titular emperor — step-grandson and nephew of the great Napoleon — was an interesting character, with an active personal life. Married to the former Eugenie de Montijo, daughter of a Spanish noble and the preeminent fashion plate of her time, Napoleon had dalliances with a bevy of beautiful women from all over the continent. His rule, known as the Second Empire, coincided with a flowering of French culture and style. It also marked the heyday of the grandes horizontales (high class courtesans), whose world was immortalized by Emile Zola in the classic novel Nana — one of my favourite 19th century books, along with Zola’s Pot-Bouille.

Sadly, this biography does not appear to be available on Amazon Prime at this time, so I recommend Zola to you instead (think Balzac, but earthier). Or, if you want to read more about real-life famous French courtesans (including the inspiration for Zola’s Nana), try The Courtesans by Joanna Richardson. I also recommend Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed the World, which has nothing to do with Napoleon III and only a little with his namesake ancestor, but is a very entertaining science read.

In other news, I watched The Incredible Jessica James on Netflix and it was really good. A pretty straight-forward rom-com plotline, but with great dialogue and really engaging performances (and a nicely diverse cast). Highly recommend.

And, of course, Game of Thrones.

Mandatory spoiler warning.

I am throwing this extra paragraph in for anyone who needs it to X out of here. It’s not too late. Go. Come back on Monday for more non-GoT, fashiony stuff.

Are we alone now? Onwards.

I really enjoyed last week’s episode. OK, that’s an understatement. I loved it. I still feel like the show is dragging its feet on some of the plotlines — the Stark kids need to hurry up and put that Chekhov’s dagger to good use, for example. I love Littlefinger (he used to be my second fave character on the show, behind Jon — don’t even ask) but his time is over. Similarly, if the show is dead set on having Jon and Dany engage in incest-y shenanigans (it really sounds like a terrible idea when one puts it like that, doesn’t it?) then they might as well just get to it. They still have zero chemistry, but maybe Davos will narrate their hook-up for our benefit and then maybe it will seem somewhat plausible. Davos could sell anything, to anyone.

But none of that matters because the battle between the Lannisters and the Dothraki (and Drogon, of course) was everything we could have wanted it to be. I’m glad that HBO hasn’t burned (haha) through all of its CGI budget prior to this episode, because that was one amazing spectacle. I was on the edge of my seat for the last 15 minutes or so of the episode, even though I knew that neither Dany nor Jamie were going to die — Dany because she hasn’t shagged Jon yet (kidding but not really), and Jamie because he hasn’t killed Cersei yet. I think Drogon was and is equally safe, though I know some people are speculating that the spear was poisoned. I don’t think that’s likely. To be honest, I was afraid that Bronn was going to die. Clearly, his plot armor is as strong as Arya’s last season. I do hope he dumps the Lannisters soon, because they ain’t worth staring down the business end of a dragon as far as I’m concerned.

Other quick thoughts:

– I really struggled to understand some of Sansa’s reactions to her siblings, particularly to Arya’s mock fight with Brienne. I don’t know if that was just a questionable acting choice on Sophie Turner’s part or intended to be foreshadowing of some kind of inter-familial strife. I would love for the Stark kids to pull together — see my comment above regarding Littlefinger, but also in general — so I hope it was the former.

– I am guessing that Jaime is about to become a prisoner YET AGAIN, which is going to be interesting if it means that he and Tyrion are reunited.

– Destroying the grain carts? Maybe not the best move, Dany. Winter is coming and all.

– An Arya-Brienne-Hound reunion? I am THERE!!

Lastly, a confession. After watching the last episode, I caved and ended up tracking down a summary of the season 7 leaks online. I won’t discuss them here because, judging by what we’ve seen so far, they seem to be legit. I will say that while some of (purported) twists served to confirm my own speculations, others came as complete surprises. Oh, and one more thing: I have no idea how they are going to cram everything that is still supposed to happen this season into 3 episodes. It makes me really excited for Sunday night. THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GO DOWN.

Join me in my GoT speculation (or book talk) in the comments. Happy Friday!

What I Read: Teen Dream Edition

This edition of What I Read is brought to you by thrift and synchronicity. Allow me to explain. A few weeks ago, I thrifted copies of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and Tana French’s The Secret Place. Around the same time, my husband’s habit of getting sucked into watching crappy movies on TV (and pulling me in along with him) sent me down a rabbit hole that left me binge-watching Skins on Netflix. What do they all have in common? Teenagers. And all I can say is: teenagers, man. Thank God I’m not one anymore.

Let’s start with My Brilliant Friend. I liked it but I wasn’t wowed by it. I’m kinda struggling to figure out why it was a literary sensation, and there is no snark intended in that question. The writing was good and the story was interesting enough but it didn’t feel memorable to me. I liked Elena/Lenu, and I found myself identifying with her (I was once a young girl who self-identified as the “smart one” not the pretty or popular one). In contrast, Lila/Lina didn’t feel like a real person. She seemed to be this accumulation of different traits and impulses that didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense as a whole. The friendship between the two wasn’t necessarily what kept me turning the pages; I did get invested in the various other plot lines. Enough that I want to find out what happens next … though probably not quite enough to read the next book. Is it terrible for me to admit I’m thinking about reading the plot synopses of the other Neapolitan novels online?

Moving on, I have enjoyed reading all of Tana French’s books, though the plots have a tendency to leave me feeling like I’m still grasping for some resolution that’s just out of reach. It’s a bit frustrating, that, to be honest. Anyway, The Secret Place comes closest of all French’s books to a fulsome resolution of the main mystery at least, though there are still plot points that are never fully elucidated. I have given up trying to do that with these novels. This book was probably my favourite of hers, though I think that has to do a lot with the timing — I was reading it while in the midst of watching Skins so I was already immersed in the right “scene” which made it easy for me to connect to the characters’ POVs and made the book really come alive. Normally, I have zero interest in revisiting things that involve or are of interest to teenagers; I hated my own teenage years, and feel no nostalgia whatsoever. More on Skins in a moment.

The Secret Place also hit home because I attended an all-girls Catholic school in the UK when I was around the same age as the protagonists. I was not a boarder, but many of the inter-group dynamics were intimately familiar — once I allowed the memory floodgates to open. My school experience was miserable for entirely mundane reasons that did not involve murder, thankfully. There were no boys’ school near ours, a fact which a lot of us secretly or not-so-secretly lamented at the time, but reading this book made me very grateful for the fact. My friends and I still spent a good chunk of our “free time” talking about boys (mostly in the abstract), and I can’t imagine what it would have been like had we had actual subjects at close range upon whom to focus our attention. I think the book does a great job of getting into the mindset of teenage girls, though as an adult woman reading the book, I have to say that this mindset created an almost suffocating atmosphere. It was very effective in driving up the tension, which is a plus for a mystery novel, I suppose. As with her other books, French seems to delight in offering mysteries with a small, defined cast of suspects (in this case, two rival girl “gangs”). To her credit, this time around, I did not guess the identify of the killer until just before the “reveal”.

Ok, so let’s talk about Skins now. For the curious, the crappy movie that led me to the show was Jack The Giant Slayer. I was mildly taken aback to realize that the protagonist was played by the adorkable kid from About A Boy, which I mostly remember as one of the first movies, along with Bridget Jones’ Diary, that heralded the reinvention of Hugh Grant as a non-floppy haired (more or less redeemable) lovable rogue. This was at least his second or third reinvention, for those of us ancients who remember the Divine Brown-era Hugh Grant, but one of my faves. Anyway, the titular “boy” has, um, grown up. Which is not surprising because, um, FIFTEEN freaking years have passed since that movie came out — in real time, if not in my own head space. I find it best not to focus on what was “then” and simply, ahem, appreciate the present. If I have reached “creepy old dude” territory, I don’t want to know.

So, Skins. It’s one of those rare shows that portrays believable teenagers. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of My So-Called Life, though my own personal experience was more akin to Angela’s than, say, Michelle’s or Jal’s. Skins definitely has “soap opera-ish” elements in its DNA, but this generally didn’t come across as unrealistic; all teenagers have their inner drama queens, you know? Come to think of it, there wasn’t a single character with whom I identified most closely, but I grew fond of all of the main ones in the first “generation” (seasons 1-2). I think that’s almost certainly a function of my age; had I watched this show at 15-16, I’m sure my reaction would have been different. Now, I can’t help but look at these characters from the perspective of a mom, rather than a peer. I want to have come-to-Jesus talks with all of them, while simultaneously realizing how out of touch I would appear to them in that kind of situation. In a way, watching the show is a bit of a preview of what I will have to deal with in another decade or so. From that perspective, it’s kind of terrifying.

On the other hand, from the perspective of a former teenager, it’s kind of enlightening. Man, I dodged a bullet; I was a late bloomer with a really boring adolescence. As disappointing as I remember it being at the time, it allowed me to focus on my academics, and skip a lot of heartache by the sounds of it. Teenage boys, who were these mysterious creatures to me at 16, are often kinda terrible it turns out. Didn’t realize it at the time, glad I never got to find out first hand. Still, this was food for thought for me, as the mom of a (future teenage) boy.

With all that said, I think I am happy to be done with teenagers for a while. I don’t have anything in my Netflix queue at the moment, so feel free to send me some recc’s, but my reading agenda is grown-up all the way. I think I may tackle Rosamunde Pilcher’s Coming Home next, along with A Scandalous Life, a biography of the notorious Lady Jane Digby. Got other suggestions for me? Leave them in a comment.

Next week: winter has come, people! It’s time to talk Game of Thrones. Yessss!

Happy Friday!