Lavinia’s Book of the Month: March 2017

A Brief Word

First, an admission and an apology. I had originally earmarked this for Chapter and Verse’s February pick, but through indolence and negligence it got pushed back; I doubt anyone even remembers February by now, so I’m calling it Book of the Month for March.

This is not Lavinia’s fault, but mine. A thousand apologies.

Nick

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

I was given this book several years ago (three; so sorry) by a friend who I trust in all things. But because beneath this veneer of being a responsible citizen I am a deeply awful person I only just got around to reading it. A couple of things put me off.

Firstly, the last piece of “art” I interacted with about the circus was the film Water for Elephants, which was super dull, and I guess I thought this book would be full of people feeding elephants in the night-time. I also thought it was a children’s book, because of the gorgeous cover and decorated pages, and I just wasn’t in the mood for one of those.

night circus 1.jpg           night circus.jpg           night circus 2.jpg

Well, boy, was I sorry that I had put it off. The Night Circus is absolutely magical. The titular circus is a magical travelling affair, and the venue for a contest between two magicians of opposing schools of thought, carried out through their protégés. I’m not going to give too much away, but it’s an absolutely brilliant book. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like magic and fantasy
– You’re keen on a “steampunk” aesthetic
– You enjoy fun

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You don’t like fantasy

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Find this book on Amazon!

 

Lavinia’s Books: May and June

Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends. As Lavinia has been busy with the release of the last part of her Queen of the North trilogy, and with the upcoming paperback edition of the series, we’ve decided to put her May and June choices back-to-back.

The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood

edible woman.jpgAn oldie, but a goodie. The Edible Woman is one of the older and less well-known of Atwood’s works, but it is by far my favourite. I’m slightly cheating because I re-read it rather than read it for the first time this month, but here it is.

The Edible Woman tells the story of Marian, a woman who works at a survey company and is engaged to Peter, a boring man who likes to have sex in the (dry) bathtub. She tries to run away from him (literally), is collected, scolded for being silly, and returns to her life. But the quiet frustrations of everyday sexism – microaggressions, perhaps we could call them now – wriggle under her skin, and Marian finds herself going progressively off her food.

The Edible Woman is a wonderful book, because it is so subtle. All of the little niggles and digs are small and everyday. There is nothing wrong per se with Peter. There is nothing wrong per se with Marian’s life. There’s something about her frustration which is so real, and something about the way it manifests – in the quiet refusal of more and more food – that is at once so real and immediate and so keyed in to a tradition hundreds of years old of women silently objecting to their circumstances by refusing to eat, from fasting nuns in the early middle ages to suffragettes in the early twentieth century. When you can’t control anything else, you can refuse to eat.

This book is also so much more than a feminist parable. It’s funny, it’s light, it’s ambiguous at the end – we are left with the question: who is trying to consume whom?

I would highly recommend this as a first Atwood for anyone who is yet to read her, one for Atwood lovers, and one to re-read. It’s perhaps the most mundane of her works in terms of subject matter (most similar in tone to Cat’s Eye), but in this ordinary setting she achieves so much. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like humour with an edge
– You have ever been a woman

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You secretly (or indeed openly) hate women

 

everyday sexism.jpgEveryday Sexism – Laura Bates

June’s Book of the Month is (!) a non-fiction book.

This book was lent to me by a kind and beloved friend, and I thought it would just be everything I knew, set out in nice neat statistic form. I’ve seen Laura Bates talk, and she presents a very clear-cut case. She’s angry – of course she is – and utterly sick of this shit, but she’s calm. Ordered. Logical. This book is the same. Broken up sensibly into neat categories and set out with factoids and headings, it is a very rational book.

I found it quite emotional to read. I expected to a little, but I was surprised by the toll certain sections took. Would I say it was a fun read? No, I don’t think I would, but it is an important one. To tackle a problem that affects all of us – because sexism is not just women’s problem – we must see it for what it is. Systemic.

You’ll love this book if:
– You’ve been dismissed in one too many conversations and told that ‘feminism is irrelevant’
– You don’t mind looking hard facts in the face
– You want to be armed with cold hard info the next time you get into an internet dispute with a Reddit neckbeard (jk; they don’t care about info)

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You are sensitive to sexual violence and harrassment triggers
– You have ever unironically used the #notallmen hashtag

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Find The Edible Woman on Amazon
Find Everyday Sexism on Amazon

 

Lavinia’s Book of the Month: April

Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends.

The Lady and the Unicorn – Tracy Chevalier

Just like her famous novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn imagines the female muses behind the bewitching and beautiful Lady and the Unicorn tapestries now in Paris’s Musée de Cluny. If you haven’t seen the tapestries, you really should: they’re gorgeous.

The_Lady_and_the_unicorn_Desire.jpg

In The Lady and the Unicorn we switch between multiple perspectives: Nicholas, the artist; Claude, the daughter of the patron and one of the figures Chevalier suggests that the tapestry depicts; her mother, the inspiration for some of the other figures; and characters at the Brussels lissier that weaves the tapestries, including Alienor, the weaver’s blind daughter who loves her garden and can feel colours in the wool.

The book is pacy, sensory and engrossing. Just as the tapestries themselves potentially express the senses of sight, taste, touch and smell, the book is loaded with sensuous and sensory description. Nicholas is the most beguiling character – a swaggering artist and incorrigible slut, he is nonetheless able to charm the reader as much as the various women who fail to see through the self-interest in his charms. Chevalier gets the balance just right – Nicholas is a jerk, but he’s a jerk you can’t help but love. Perhaps it’s something to do with his seemingly supernatural ability to bring even the nervous virgins he encounters to the giddy heights of pleasure without too much of an effort (!). This is a far cry from the rather wide-eyed ingenue Griet in Girl with a Pearl Earring – and in my personal opinion is much more charming.

I completely adored this book. It was over too quickly, but that was because I couldn’t put it down. I love these tapestries, and I loved Chevalier’s imagining of their production. From my perspective, a must-read!

lady and the unicorn chevalier.jpgYou’ll love this book if:
– You like historical fiction
– You like romance
– You like books
– You can read

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You have no taste

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Find this book on Amazon

Lavinia’s Book of the Month: March

Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends.

The Grave – Diane Dickson

diane dickson.jpgI couldn’t tell how much I was enjoying Diane Dickson’s The Grave until I lost my Kindle charger and ran out of battery 60% of the way through, and felt as though I was suffering from a grave emergency. The Grave is a fast-paced gritty crime thriller. I’m actually not a regular crime fiction reader, and I stumbled across Dickson’s book because we are published by the same publishing house, and I thought I’d give it a try. 

We open with a body being disposed of, and we (or I!) think we know what’s going to happen, but the story unfolds with many twists and surprises. The story follows Samuel, a secretive man with a dark past, and Sylvie, a fragile young woman with a difficult history. Samuel lives in the forest, so for a while this story made me think of that Dolly Parton song where she falls in love with a weird forest man called Joshua (listen to it now), but that’s by-the-by. Samuel’s savvy, together and strong, and Sylvie’s constantly in tears. But (and I don’t want to say too much about this) the story and the characters are deeper than that: Samuel is also vulnerable; Sylvie is also strong. And what feels at the beginning as if it could turn into a male-orientated crime story with a female accessory, quickly diverts from that and offers so much more. 

You’ll love this book if: 
– You like mystery/crime fiction with a twist 
– You’re looking for something gritty 
– You’d like typical crime grit but with some decent female characters for a change 

You might want to avoid this book if: 
– You’re sensitive to graphic violence and graphic sexual violence 

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Find this book on Amazon
 

Lavinia’s Book of the Month: February

Our new feature. Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends.

seacrest 2.jpgThe Seduction of Sophie Seacrest – Mary Campisi

I got this book free through a BookBub promotion and I was looking forward to a bit of frivolous romance fiction. I was not disappointed. If you haven’t signed up for BookBub yet go and do it immediately! Free books and offers every day tailored to your interests – what more could you want?

But back to the matter at hand: The Seduction of Sophie Seacrest. This booked ticked all of the boxes for historical romance fiction. And I mean all of them. Bodices were ripped. Swoons were swooned. Our hero is a tall, dark handsome stranger, returned from a mysterious life at sea with a dark secret. He assumes a false name and returns to his family estate. His family are old enemies of the Seacrest family who live nearby. The daughter, Sophie, is beautiful (of course) with auburn hair and flashing eyes. She’s wilful, too, defying the conventions of society by being universally considered gorgeous and desirable and being wholeheartedly well-liked by everyone she meets. Sophie’s just your typical virgin capable of multiply orgasmic sex at the drop of a hat (or the rip of a bodice). Your typical girl next door. The scene is set, and romance and intrigue can begin! Throw in a mysterious avenger, a sick little sister that needs Sophie’s care and an unpleasant suitor who she almost has to marry.

There were no surprises in this book, but we don’t read romance fiction of this kind for surprises. It’s true-to-type, steamy and entertaining. There’s lots of steamy assignations and society intrigue, so if that’s your bag, read away!

You’ll love this book if:
– You’re looking for a true-to-type historical romance
– You like tall dark handsome strangers
– You don’t mind female genitals being referred to as ‘her woman’s heat’

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You don’t want to take romance conventions with a pinch of salt
– You’re looking for a “serious” read.

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The Guinevere Trilogy – Lavinia Collins

GuinevereFirst, an admission. Lavinia Collins is a good friend of this blog. You may have read some of her guest posts here and on the Chapterhouse website, and the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted her hiding in our header picture. That said, we felt that her books deserved our attention. Lavinia is the author of three fantasy/romance trilogies, each set in the world of King Arthur, each taking on a different perspective. This first trilogy is written from the point of view of Queen Guinevere, and tells the story of her marriage to Arthur and [SPOILER ALERT] her subsequent affair with Arthur’s greatest knight Sir Lancelot.

What separates Collins’ work from other interpretations of the King Arthur legend is her focus on female experience. As she argues here, in most modern versions the female characters are less well-developed, serving mostly to move the story along, and have little agency of their own. The characters of Morgan and Morgawse, Arthur’s half-sisters, are often elided together, while Guinevere herself often seems to have little personality to speak of. Collins’ books turn this narrative on its head, giving each of these characters their own take on the story. The Guinevere Trilogy itself contains lashings of drama and romance, and references pre-Christian religion and the occult. There is a sense of a country in turmoil, uncertain of how to join up its wild and varying factions, stuck between one world and another. This sense is reflected in the mercurial Guinevere, torn between her different lives, kind at one moment and cruel the next. Having been pulled from her native land to marry her father’s conqueror at the opening of the story, and having had to adapt to a new religion and new customs overnight, we see Guinevere as conflicted in all things from the outset.

Set in a world where women have little power or autonomy, it’s wonderful to read an Arthurian story with a woman at the centre. The major pull of the book is the idea of a woman’s struggle to define herself and live her own life in a world defined by male interests. If that sounds up your street, you should definitely check it out.

profile2Reviewed by Nick

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Author Guest Post! Ten Fantasy Novels You Must Read (Or Re-read) – Part 2

Lavinia Collins, author of Arthurian #1 bestselling fantasy romance The Warrior Queen, picks the second half of her top ten must-read fantasy novels. 

She regularly blogs here, and you can follow her on Twitter here

 

magician's nephew5. The Magician’s Nephew and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – C S Lewis

If you’re only going to read some of the Chronicles of Narnia, make it these two. Tired of the Oh-So-Obvious Christian allegory of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Replace it with the guinea-pig-related genuinely batshit crazy antics of The Magician’s Nephew and the swashbuckling (including talking mouse) of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Just avoid The Horse and His Boy. That’s a filler novel if ever I saw one!

 

princess bride4. The Princess Bride – William Goldman

This is just a classic. Also, if you haven’t seen the film with Robin Wright then go away and watch it now, because you are not yet a fully formed human. Just look out for those rodents…

 

lathe of heaven3. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K Le Guin

Something a little bit more real-world gritty than the Earthsea books (which I also love, anyway). I guess it’s shading into sci-fi as well as fantasy, but I’m including it because I am the boss of my list. It’s great, but it will mess with your head. Prepare to never dream the same way again!

 

across the nightingale floor2. Across the Nightingale Floor – Lian Hearn

So I don’t know how far this counts as a fantasy, but it certainly read as a fantasy to me (there are people who can turn themselves invisible, and there’s the eponymous magical/mechanical floor). But it’s a pleasantly light touch of fantasy. “Magic” isn’t all over the place, but there are touches of it, along with a beautiful love story and plenty of intrigue. A lot of the Goodreads reviews complain of historical inaccuracy – I know nothing about Japanese history so this didn’t bother me, but I doubt that it would bother me in the slightest anyway. I think if anyone complained that my own novels did not historically reflect sixth-century Britain, I would tell them to grow up and develop a sense of fiction. Just by the by, also, Lian Hearn herself is a complete babe, and very lovely to overcome fangirly fans who shyly approach her via her Facebook page.

 

artemis fowl1. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer

Fantasy for teens at its best, IMHO. Colfer combines magic, technology and a boy with a girl’s name into a series of unputdownable (apparently a real word) fantasy novels that just writing this makes me want to immediately go away and read again.

 

So there they all are, my top ten. Many are old favourites, but there’s nothing wrong with that. A good book is a friend that lasts forever.

Love and kisses,

Lav ❤

 

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Guest post by Lavinia Collins

Lavinia Collins is the author of Arthurian #1 bestselling fantasy romance The Warrior QueenShe regularly blogs here, and you can follow her on Twitter here