Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

The To Be Read Stack is every avid reader’s best friend and mortal nemesis in equal measure. We love that there’s always a new story to explore right at our fingertips, but…the thing is just so damn high! Seriously! It’s like friggin’ Everest! I feel like I need gear for it!

 

So that’s what this post is. I’m naming and shaming: naming my fave authors (and fave-to-be authors), and shaming myself into actually finally finishing some of them and cracking on with the rest.

 

I’ll be honest, part of why I’m doing this is because my mother and sister are mowing down books at a rate of one every few days, and there was a time in my life (at my first college, when I had hours between classes and no social life), where I nearly matched that pace. I miss that. These days, I’m mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted to the point where I find myself rewatching documentaries on Netflix. How did I become that person?

 

So now I have the stack here and in my face, I’m going to be again that girl who was always seen with a book.  But because my stack is so huge, this will be done in instalments. This is the first ten.

 

In order of priority:

 

1) Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth

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Date purchased: June 3, 2014 (Thank you, Amazon)

Genre: Fantasy/Historical/and a little Historical Fantasy (Yes, they’re all different)

Pages: 538

Page I’m on: 371

Back blurb: Charlotte-Rose de la Force, exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV, has always been a great teller of tales. Selena Leonelli, once the exquisite muse of the great Venetian artist Titian, is terrified of time. Margherita,  trapped in a doorless tower and burdened by tangles of red-gold hair, must find a way to escape. Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together in a compelling tale of desire, obsession and the redemptive power of love.

Why I like it: Forsyth’s style is familiar, fresh, and wonderfully poetic. I have always had a strong affinity for Rapunzel, which is why I got this in the first place, and each of the women have a connection to the tale: Charlotte-Rose’s story, ‘Persinette’ was one of the oldest versions of the tale, the more familiar Grimms version being based on a story which was itself based on this one. Margherita is the girl in the tower, and Leonelli is the witch who put her there. It’s also a beautiful window into the glorious court of the legendary Louis XIV as well as an exploration of Renaissance Venice, as well as having a distinct ‘fairytale kingdom’ feel. There is a passage I particularly liked described Margherita’s birthday lunch:

‘A small bunch of margherita daisies was in a fat blue jug, and three sweet oranges sat in an earthenware bowl. Coarse brown bread stood ready on a wooden board, next to a bowl of soft white cheese floating in golden oil and thyme sprigs. Soup made with fish and clams and fennel and scattered with sprigs of parsley steamed in a big clay pot.’

Excuse me while I mop up my drool.

She also describes a tea shared between nuns that I couldn’t help but replicate:

‘”Let me see, what tea shall I make us today? St John’s Wort to make us happy; rose hips and elderflower to make us healthy; motherwort to make us wise; and a spoonful of honey to make us sweet.”‘

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I’m exactly that big a nerd

It’s a bit grassy for my taste, but whatever.

Reason I need to finish it: 3 years is long enough, don’t you think? And I actually enjoy it, it’s not like I just *couldn’t* finish. Maybe I’m savouring it.

Yeah, that sounds better than the literally nothing answer I have.

 

2) The Courtiers, by Lucy Worsley

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Date purchased: August 16, 2015

Genre: Non-fiction

Pages: 334 (not counting Acknowledgements, Notes, or Index)

Page I’m on: 112

Back blurb:  Kensington Palace is now most famous as the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, but the palace’s glory days came between 1714 and 1760, during the reigns of George I and II . In the eighteenth century, this palace was a world of skulduggery, intrigue, politicking, etiquette, wigs, and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like switchblades and unusual people were kept as curiosities. Lucy Worsley’s The Courtiers charts the trajectory of the fantastically quarrelsome Hanovers and the last great gasp of British court life. Structured around the paintings of courtiers and servants that line the walls of the King’s Staircase of Kensington Palace-paintings you can see at the palace today-The Courtiers goes behind closed doors to meet a pushy young painter, a maid of honor with a secret marriage, a vice chamberlain with many vices, a bedchamber woman with a violent husband, two aging royal mistresses, and many more. The result is an indelible portrait of court life leading up to the famous reign of George III , and a feast for both Anglophiles and lovers of history and royalty.

Why I like it: Lucy Worsley is hilarious and adorable as a person, and her sense of humour is splashed all over the pages. However, it is in itself an informative read that is immensely valuable to me, since I’m writing about a court very similar to this one.

Reason I need to finish it: I need to understand this lifestyle fully before I can bring it to life in my own story.

 

3) A Conspiracy of Paper, by David Liss

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Date purchased: My sister bought this YEARS ago, but gave it to me on February 8, 2017

Genre: Historical Fiction

Pages: 437 (not counting Historical Note, Acknowledgements, Reader’s Guide, or excerpt from A Spectacle of Corruption)

Page I’m on: 12

Back blurb: Benjamin Weaver, a Jew and an ex-boxer, is an outsider in eighteenth-century London, tracking down debtors and felons for aristocratic clients. The son of a wealthy stock trader, he lives estranged from his family—until he is asked to investigate his father’s sudden death. Thus Weaver descends into the deceptive world of the English stock jobbers, gliding between coffee houses and gaming houses, drawing rooms and bordellos. The more Weaver uncovers, the darker the truth becomes, until he realizes that he is following too closely in his father’s footsteps—and they just might lead him to his own grave. An enthralling historical thriller, A Conspiracy of Paper will leave readers wondering just how much has changed in the stock market in the last three hundred years. . . .

Why I like it: 1) the language. Liss has a very old-fashioned style of narrating that really does harken back to 1719, and 2) I really don’t understand the South Sea Bubble at al. People keep trying to explain it to me but


Stock markets. Please illustrate, using historical verbiage, complex characters, and fictional scenarios, please! Thank you!

Reason I need to finish: I just don’t understand this nonsense. Also, again, the time period is relevant to my interests and the emergence of the stock market was a huge part of life back then. Also, it’s not mine. I’m sure my sister doesn’t mind, but I hate having other people’s stuff forever.

 

4) My Uncle Oswald, by Roald Dahl

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Date purchased: Hell, who knows? Copyright 1980, so probably sometime in the early 2000’s

Genre: Fiction. Erotica? Humour?

Pages: 205

Page I’m on: 160

Back blurb: Volume XX of the diaries of Oswald Hendryks Cornelius, word for word as he wrote it…

Aside from being thoroughly debauched, strikingly attractive, and astonishingly wealthy, Uncle Oswald was the greatest bounder, bon vivant and fornicator of all time. In this instalment of his scorchingly frank memoirs he tells of his early career and erotic education at the hands of a number of enthusiastic teachers  of discovering the invigorating properties of the Sudanese Blister Beetle, and of the gorgeous Yasmin Howcomely, his electrifying partner in a most unusual series of thefts.

Why I like it: So…did you guys know Roald Dahl wrote porn? It’s not even subtle either, it’s right out there. A novel about Spanish Fly. Yeah.

Reason I need to finish it: As above, it belonged to my sister. I’ve had it for probably 12 years now, and I’ve only got 40 pages left. Why haven’t I finished it yet?

 

~I’ll be cruising the Med in May, so maybe by that time, I’ll be ready to pack:

 

5) Merde Actually, by Stephen Clarke (Disclaimer: this is not the edition I have)

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Date purchased: Another loan, given to me in, I believe, 2011 by a friend

Genre: Fiction, humour

Pages: 448

Page I’m on: Ehh, I want to say 75. I used to have a really cute bookmark, but I started using it as a hairpin.

Back blurb: A year after arriving in France, Englishman Paul West is still struggling with some fundamental questions: What is the best way to scare a gendarme? Why are there no health warnings on French nudist beaches? And is it really polite to sleep with your boss’ mistress? Paul opens his English tea room, and mutates (temporarily) into a Parisian waiter; samples the pleasures of typically French hotel-room afternoons; and, on a return visit to the UK, sees the full horror of a British office party through Parisian eyes. Meanwhile, he continues his search for the perfect French mademoiselle. But will Paul find l’amour eternel, or will it all end in merde? In his second comedy of errors, Paul West continues to sabotage the entente cordiale.

Why I like it: It’s pretty funny. I don’t always get the jokes because I don’t have the casual love/resentment the British have toward France, but the friend who loaned it to me did. I’m reading it more for her than anything. Well, bookmarking it, really.

Reason I need to finish it: My poor friend, she’s been waiting for 6 years for me to finish. It’s about time. And the font is pretty big, in fairness.

 

~If I need more than one book, I’ll take:

 

6) The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley

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Date purchased: Christmas gift 2013. God, was it really that long?

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Pages: 482 (Not counting Acknowledgements, About the Author, and Reading Group Guide)

Page I’m on: 44

Back blurb: Myfanwy Thomas awakes in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, her only hope of survival is to trust the instructions left in her pocket by her former self. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization and this person wants her dead. As Myfanwy battles to save herself, she encounters a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and an unimaginably vast conspiracy. Suspenseful and hilarious, THE ROOK is an outrageously inventive debut for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.

Why I like it: It’s pretty fun so far. And I love a Welsh protagonist with a nigh unpronounceable name. But beyond that, it’s been a while since I read any of it, so I can’t honestly say what exactly I enjoyed about it. But I will let you know when I’ve finished.

Reason I need to finish it: It’s been almost 4 years! Can you believe that?? It feels like I’ve only had it a few weeks. Souls, I’m getting old…

 

~and maybe also:

 

7) The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson

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Date Purchased: Sometime in 2015. It went on sale when I was visiting in Britain, and I’m pretty sure I ordered it when I got home.

Genre: Urban fantasy

Pages: 290

Page I’m on: 88

Back blurb: A new threat haunts the streets of London…

Rory Deveaux has changed in ways she never could have imagined since moving to London and beginning a new life at boarding school. As if her newfound ability to see ghosts hadn’t complicated her life enough, Rory’s recent brush with the Jack the Ripper copycat has left her with an even more unusual and intense power. Now, a new string of inexplicable deaths is threatening London, and Rory has evidence that they are no coincidence. Something sinister is going on, and it is up to her to convince the city’s secret ghost-policing squad to listen before it’s too late.

Why I like it: I LOVED Name of the Star. LOVED. I read it three times through without pausing. It ripped out my heart, flattened it into pages, wrote on it everything I love about London, and read it back to me. It spoke to me on a deep spiritual level that very few books have been able to find. So naturally, I had to find the sequel.

Reason I need to finish it: I love it. I need to read it.

 

~If I’m home by then, I’ll get back to:

 

8) The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander

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Date purchased: Sometimes before August 4th, 2016

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 186 (Not counting Prydain Pronunciation Guide, About the Author, or a sneak peek at The Black Cauldron)

Page I’m on: 103

Back blurb: Since The Book of Three was first published in 1964, young readers have been enthralled by the adventures of Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his quest to become a hero. Taran is joined by an engaging cast of characters that includes Eilonwy, the strong-willed and sharp-tongued princess; Fflewddur Fflam, the hyperbole-prone bard; the ever-faithful Gurgi; and the curmudgeonly Doli―all of whom have become involved in an epic struggle between good and evil that shapes the fate of the legendary land of Prydain. Released over a period of five years, Lloyd Alexander’s beautifully written tales not only captured children’s imaginations but also garnered the highest critical praise.

Why I like it: I’ve loved Lloyd Alexander pretty much as long as I could read, long before my obsession with Wales. I remember the Black Cauldron Disney movie being ‘too dark’ according to my parents, so instead, I read the book, and absolutely LOVED it. I went on to read everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. But I was a kid, so I don’t remember many of the details, and as a devotee in my personal life of Welsh mythology, I do enjoy a dratamised version. While the cartoon isn’t really as bad as it’s touted, it’s still awful, and difficult to watch more than once. Trust me, don’t let it colour your feelings about the original work. It is pure genius.

I count this entry to stand for the entire 5-book series, I just didn’t want to make a separate entry for each one.

Reason I need to finish:  Because I love it and my inner child giggles with delight every time I pick it up.

 

~Since that will take months,

 

9) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories, by Washington Irving

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Date purchased: Another gift, given to me, I believe, for my birthday in 2015. Don’t remember

Genre: Supernatural Historical Fiction

Pages: 862

Page I’m on: Haven’t started

Back Blurb: This volume features the full contents of three of Washington Irving’s best-loved story collections– The Sketch Book; Tales of a Traveller; and Wolfert’s Roost and Other Papers–including the classic tales “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Rip Van Winkle,” and “The Spectre Bridgeroom.”

Why I like it: While I have read the Legend of Sleep Hollow numerous times (every year in October), I have not yet opened this 3-part behemoth. My grandmother got it for me, and I have to say I’m impressed. It is enormous, and I’m excited to read his other stuff. Like A Conspiracy of Paper and The Courtiers, much of his work is set in a time period that relates to my own stories and it helps keep me in the mood to explore that era.

Reason I need to finish: Dude, I need to start, first! But also because I do enjoy a bit of Irving at the holidays.

 

~By that time, it’ll probably be Christmas, so…

 

CHRISTMAS MURDER MYSTERIES! I intend to read at least one!

 

~Then it’s off to Guatemala for a few weeks, so I’ll take:

 

10) Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies, by Victoria Dunn

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Date purchased: Gifted to me in…I want to say May of 2015.

Genre: Humour

Pages: 304

Page I’m on: Haven’t started

Back Blurb: Saving the world isn’t enough; Alice needs to save all of the zombies too. Without violating their zombie rights.

Formerly a mediocre telephone psychic placating callers with fortune cookie platitudes, Alice Murphy is a Sensitive at Odyssey International—an organization dedicated to stomping out the supernatural wherever it rears its sparkly head—and partner to the mostly indestructible Enhanced Agent Wellington Wolfe. When rumours of zombies at the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells reach Odyssey Head Office, Alice and Wellington head off to save the townsfolk and the zombies.

But they might not even make it to Wales when a secret stowaway breaks out of their plane’s luggage compartment. Now the zombie plague is spreading at 25,000 feet, complicated by the moral dilemma that zombies just might be people too! Decaying, infectious, bitey people….

Why I like it: I haven’t actually started, but hey, Welsh zombies, am I right? Also, my sister apparently knows the author and says her sense of humour is right up my alley. So I’ll give it a go. Why not?

Reason I need to finish: Because it was a gift and I live with my sister and if I take much longer…

~~~~

And those are just the top ten, in hardcopy. Stay tuned for the next ten and my Kindle TBR. And this list will probably have to be amended as I travel, for instance, because you can’t take a book you only have 40 pages left of when you’re going to be travelling. Don’t be silly.

Of course, if I’m a good girl (hey, don’t laugh!) and I finish things ahead of schedule, I can bump books up and buy new ones! Hooray!

So, if I love all of these books so much, why has it taken literally years to finish some of them? I’d love to blame it on the writing, the travelling, the family obligations, and so forth (and to a certain degree, that’s fair). But the truth is that I have a terrible inability to stick with one damn thing all the way to the end. You should see my craft room full of half-started projects, and don’t even get me started on my ‘Story ideas’ folder! (Really, don’t)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, now that I have a road map, I have a lot of reading to catch up on!

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