Books in March ’14

This month saw the end of the third period of the school year, the period break – or “break”, as I had two exams to take and an essay to co-write – and the beginning of a new class, that of Text Analysis II for Comparative Literature. As a result, about half of this month’s reading has been for class, and the other half romance because of its readability, which is to say I can cram a romance novel between required reading without having to worry about not finishing it in time.

A short note on my classes: Science Fiction & Fantasy is running smoothly, and I very much enjoy it. Our teacher is fantastic and so knowledgeable, and just a pleasure to listen to. I’ve liked most of what we’ve read in class, and this week it’s my turn to share my lecture journal entry with the class. Fortunately, I get to write about Jeff VanderMeer’s short story “Errata”, which I just read and enjoyed a whole lot.
Another thing concerning classes is that the exams I sat during break week yielded pleasant results. I didn’t expect to pass Classics of Literary Theory, but managed to scrape a 2/5! The other exam was on romance novels – and I aced it! It was also unexpected, as I wasn’t completely satisfied with my answers when I left the exam, but clearly something has gone very right. This result has encouraged me to seriously consider doing my master’s thesis on romance literature.

Enough with news now! On to the books read!

 

Jane Austen: Emma

 

Emma is the culmination of Jane Austen’s genius, a sparkling comedy of love and marriage.

Emma Woodhouse is introduced to us as ‘handsome, clever and rich’ and, according to Jane Austen, a heroine ‘which no one but myself would like’. Yet such is Emma’s spirited wit that, despite her superior airs and egotism, few readers have failed to succumb to her charm.

The comedy turns on Emma’s self-appointed role as energetic match-maker for her sweet, silly friend Harriet. Emma herself, meanwhile, is confidently immune to the charms of the male sex. Her emotional coming of age is woven into what Roland Blythe has called ‘the happiest of love stories, the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories, and a matchless repository of English wit’.

(Back cover of Penguin Popular Classics 1994 paperback)

It has been quite a while since I last read Emma. This time it was for an essay – a friend and I collaborated on a scrutiny on the humour in the 1996 Miramax adaptation and the 2009 BBC mniseries. Although I concentrated largely on the funny bits, I also took the chance to savour everything I’d forgotten. Emma is truly delightful, and I made a small self-discovery: I seem to find all the vulgar characters the most amusing. Mrs Elton is so contrary it is hard not to laugh at her. It is also evident that Mr Elton’s courting is very frustrating and the scene after the Christmas party never ceases to make me want to tear my hair off.

Published: 1815

Pages: 367

 

Mary Balogh: A Matter of Class

 

From New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh comes a classic historical tale that sizzles with romance and unforgettable drama.
Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by birth, a factor that pains him and his father, Bernard Mason, within the Regency society that upholds station above all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbour and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.
Thought Bernard wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Bernard serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.
(Inside flap of the 2010 Vanguard Press hardcover)

(I actually removed the last line of the blurb; it didn’t really describe the book and gave away something I felt was better left unsaid.)

I cannot speak too highly of this novella. It’s expertly crafted, very amusing, and plays to the conventions of the genre admirably. I was completely enthralled and already know I’ll need my own copy. The ending is perhaps slightly unbelievable, but I would not dwell on that and instead enjoy this excellent specimen of Regency romance.

Published: 2010

Pages: 190

 

Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

 

Yet another thing I’ve read for class. This one eludes me. I can’t seem to quite get the grasp of it. Somehow it reminds me of Basil Hallward and his attraction to Dorian Gray. There are a lot of motives that I cannot seem to connect. Perhaps this story requires a little distance before it can be understood; I certainly hope class discussion will open it up for me.

Published: 1912

Translation: “Kuolema Venetsiassa” by Oili Suominen (1985)

Pages: 77

 

Stephanie Laurens: The Reasons for Marriage

 

Miss Lenore Lester was perfectly content with her quiet country life, caring for her father, and having no desire for marriage. She took steps to remain inconspicuous when managing her brothers’ house parties and tried her best to show indifference – but to no avail! The notoriously charming Jason Montgomery – Duke of Eversleigh – could easily see behind Lenore’s brilliant disguise and clearly signalled his interest.

Thought Lenore hid behind glasses and pulled-back hair, she couldn’t disguise her beauty. However, she remained determined not to be thrown off balance by this charming rake. The Duke of Eversleigh, though, was equally determined to loosen the hold Lenore had on her heart.

(Back cover of MIRA books paperback)

This is the first Stephanie Laurens novel I really enjoyed. Because I haven’t cared for her early novels or the ones where romance is blended with suspense, I have been hesitant to pick up her books and have merely skirted around them. My closest library is, alas, rather short of romance, and so I gave up and picked this one up on my last turn there, figuring I might as well since the back cover sounded alright.

What a good idea. Turns out I did have a very good time with this book. It was interesting to try to predict whether this was to be a seduction or a marriage of convenience, or indeed both. I liked the hero and heroine, although the latter’s reason for not marrying did not convince me. In the beginning the communication between the pair was open, but as soon as Lenore – the heroine – is convince to a marriage of convenience with the duke, the communication dies. This, of course, is their major barrier, and a great (although also somehow satisfying) frustration to the reader. The focus on the novel is therefore not on what will convince her to marry, but on what will drive them to finally admit or show their feelings for each other. I must say the duke goes a bit over the top in the end, and it somewhat flattened the emotional charge, but I let that slide.

It is a very good romance novel. I very much recommend this one. It is the first one in the Lester family novels, and if the library has the rest I’ll be pleased to see what happens to Lenore’s brothers.

Published: 1994

Pages: 362

 

Lisa Kleypas: Mine Till Midnight

 

Amelia Hathaway is the oldest of four sisters and has only one brother to drive her mad. They live a genteel but impoverished life until they come into an unexpected inheritance. Amelia tries her best to rein in her colourful and unmanageable siblings to match society’s expectations. Until the mysterious, extremely wealthy half-gypsy Cam Rohan appears.

The irresistible attraction between Amelia and Cam poses a huge problem for both of them. However, as Amelia deals with a multitude of problems, including trying to save her alcoholic brother Leo from ruin, she finds herself turning to Cam Rohan, whose friendship turns into a passion that neither of them can deny…

(back cover of Piatkus 2007 paperback)

I had only read one Kleypas novel before, and incidentally it was the last novel in the Hathway series, to which Mine Till Midnight is the first.

Now, I did again like the hero and heroine. Cam is unapologetic and steady, which is a nice feature in a romance novel; Amelia’s problems and internal barriers are relatable and logical. I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for some supernatural aspects and the former-suitor-turned-traitor trope, but thankfully those were kept down a bit and clearly served the romance plot instead of becoming equally important.

Another thing that bothered me, and usually does when it comes to a series of romances, is that the relationship between Win and Merripen was also given time within this narrative. I prefer my romances independent. I do like interlacing, but not to this extent. If I read the next novel in the series – which features Win and Merripen as protagonists – I will want their whole courtship in that book. Giving bits of other relationships than the hero and heroine’s without seeing the courtship through tends to leave me feeling less satisfied than a fully concluded plot. It also smells slightly like a marketing trick. But I’m digressing now, and should stop before I go too deep.

Published: 2007

Pages: 360

 

Nora Roberts: Rising Tides

 

Ethan Quinn shares his late father’s passion for the ocean, and he is determined to make the family boat-building business a success. But as well as looking out for his young brother Seth, the strong but guarded Quinn is also battling some difficult home truths.

Grace Monroe, the woman Ethan has always loved but never believed he could have, is learning that appearances can be deceptive. For beneath Ethan’s still, dark waters lies a shocking past. With Grace’s help, can he overcome the shadows that haunt him and finally accept who he is?

(back cover of Piatkus 2010 paperback)

This is the second book in the Chesapeake Bay series, the first of which I read last month. I picked the second one up purely because it happened to be on the shelf at the library I went to to get my class reading. Unfortunately, I do not think I’ll continue with this series. This is due to no fault in Roberts’s style or craft – well, the point of view pounced around a bit too swiftly in this one, at least to me tastes – but just the fact that I can’t find any interest in the characters. The Quinn brothers fall absolutely flat for me, what with their superior looks and prowess. Perhaps I enjoy the rakes too much, and the Quinns are by no means rakish. They’re good, sensible guys with dark pasts – in short, the kind of wounded heroes the heroines need to heal in order to achieve the perfect happiness together.

This is turning into an analysis of the series rather than the book, but in short, it was readable and enjoyable to a degree, but I don’t think I’m interested enough about the last two Quinns to hunt down the books. Maybe I’ll pick them up if they happen my way, but I won’t be going to any trouble for them.

Published: 1999

Pages: 361

 

H. G. Wells: The Time Machine

 

This is such a classic it’s almost embarrassing that I hadn’t read it until it was a class requirement. I’m not sure I liked it, as such. The frame story appeals to me quite a lot, for some reason, perhaps because of its function in respect to the Time Traveller’s story. The latter I found long-winded and slow, apart from the wonderful morlocks. Yes, I liked the morlocks. To back up our reading, we were given a chapter from a book to read (and I would like nothing better than to tell you what book it was from, but for some god-only-knows reason our teacher never provided us with the information) and let me tell you, The Time Machine is an excellent look into contemporary late-Victorian science and world view! Absolutely fascinating, and if you aren’t a fan of the rambling style of the Victorians, I can recommend this novella just for the content. My knowledge of the degeneration theory and such matters is not great, but with that in the background of reading makes this story more enjoyable. I would therefore advice you find an edition with a good introduction, as it would be certain to touch on these matters and explain them to some extent.

Published: 1895

Pages: Around 70-80; I read an ebook and the pagination was all over the place

 

Peter Carey: Jack Maggs

 

‘Look at me,’ said Tobias Oates insistently. ‘Look into my eyes – I can take away this pain.’ Maggs peered at Oates as if through a heavy veil. The little gent began to wave his hands. He passed them down, up, down. ‘Watch me,’ said Tobias Oates, and Jack Maggs, for once, did exactly as he was told.

Peter Carey’s new novel, set in London in 1837, is a thrilling story of mesmerism and possession, of dangerous bargains and illicit love. Jack Maggs, raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia, in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush townhouse in Great Queen Street? And why is Jack himself an object of such interest to Tobias Oates, celebrated author, amateur hypnotist and fellow-burglar – in this case of people’s minds, of their histories and inner phantoms?

In this hugely engaging novel one of the finest of contemporary writers pays homage to his Victorian forebears. As Peter Carey’s characters become embroiled in each other’s furtive desires, and increasingly fall under one another’s spell, their thirst for love exacts a terrible, unexpected cost.

(Back cover of Faber and Faber 1997 hardcover)

Another book for class. The teacher is the same one who ran the course on Postmodern Historical Novel (a class which I did not like) and therefore we’re reading a couple of postmodern works.

The first thing I found out about Jack Maggs was that it is, ostensibly, an adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations. I think this is a debatable point, although I do see why that could be argued. I’m not going to go into detail here, because I think that my theories might guide a prospective reader’s reading too much, but do not be alarmed if you haven’t read Great Expectations but want to read this book: it’s an adaptation in a traditional sense and works perfectly wells on its own. Or so I imagine – I happen to like Great Expectations quite a lot and so read this very much through that.

It is a rather entertaining book, and it takes quite some thinking. It is also very much Neo Victorian, which I do not particularly enjoy but can’t really pin down what it is that displeases me about it. This is, however, all personal inclination. I still say Jack Maggs is a good book, and once I got into the rhythm of it and it becomes clear that everyone has a past and a secret, it became so much more enjoyable.

Published: 1997

Pages: 328

 

So that’s it for March! I notice I’ve stopped including what I’m currently reading and what books I have bought each month, so let’s get back to that, shall we?

Currently reading:
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

Books bought:
Mary Robinette Kowal: Without a Summer (third in the Glamourist Histories)
Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (just ordered it and can’t wait to get it!)
Elizabeth Bear: Shoggoths in Bloom (also just ordered and waiting impatiently!)

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Books in February ’14

This month’s reading consisted pretty much entirely of required reading. Not that I did not enjoy myself; as you will see I’m rather enthusiastic about a couple of the books!

 

Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’

Ancient, beautiful Manderley, between the rose garden and the sea, is the county’s showpiece. Rebecca made it so – even a year after her death, Rebecca’s influence still rules there. How can Mxim de Winter’s shy new bride ever fill her place or escape her vital shadow?

A shadow that grows longer and darker as the brief summer fades, until, in a moment of climactic revelations, it threatens to eclipse Manderley and its inhabitants completely…

Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece weaves a special magic that no-one who reads it will ever forget.

(Back cover of Arrow 1992 paperback)

Oh wow. I really enjoyed this book. What amazes me most is how consistently I liked it all the way through, despite the annoyance and frustration the main character stirred in me. And there was even a plot twist I didn’t see coming! I highly recommend this; it’s gothic suspense with a dash of romance if you feel inclined to see it – and I hasten to add that I didn’t really much see it – and very engaging after the couple first chapters. I thought it was going to be a chore to read, as this was assigned reading for the romance novel exam I’m taking in a few days, but I ended up devouring it.

Published: 1938

Pages: 397

 

Helen Fielding: The Bridget Jones Omnibus – The Singleton Years

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones’ Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

Over the course of the year, Bridget loses a total of 72 pounds but gains a total of 74. She remains, however, optimistic. Through it all, Bridget will have you helpless with laughter, and — like millions of readers the world round — you’ll find yourself shouting, “Bridget Jones is me!”

The Edge of Reason

The Wilderness Years are over! But not for long. At the end of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget hiccuped off into the sunset with man-of-her-dreams Mark Darcy. Now, in The Edge of Reason, she discovers what it is like when you have the man of your dreams actually in your flat and he hasn’t done the washing-up, not just the whole of this week, but ever.

Lurching through a morass of self-help-book theories and mad advice from Jude and Shazzer, struggling with a boyfriend-stealing ex-friend with thighs like a baby giraffe, an 8ft hole in the living-room wall, a mother obsessed with boiled-egg peelers, and a builder obsessed with large reservoir fish, Bridget embarks on a spiritual epiphany, which takes her from the cappuccino queues of Notting Hill to the palm- and magic-mushroom-kissed shores of …

Bridget is back. V.g.

(Goodreads)

Yet more reading for the romance exam! This omnibus, as may probably be inferred, contains the two first Bridget Jones novel, Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Edge of Reason – as many may know, a third one came out last fall.

I’ve seen the movies countless times and really enjoy them, and so when I finally had a no-options excuse to read the books, I jumped at it. It has been truly enjoyable: I find Bridget easy to relate to (as who hasn’t been on a diet, or worried about relationships, or made resolutions that go forgotten the next day?) and felt Fielding catches very well the essence of what it is like to be a woman. I also find Bridget less silly and ignorant than she is portrayed in the films; she may not know geography or politics, but she references culture aptly and easily, which appealed to me very much.

A fun thing is also that Bridget’s way of writing her diary is very catchy, and I found myself imitating her style unconsciously for about a week after I’d finished reading.

These books are absolutely good fun, so if you’re in need of something light and easy to read yet relatable, it’s a good option. And I don’t mean just relatable to women, despite what I said of thinking it a very good insight into a woman’s world; my father, the creature who thinks anything I enjoy is, by default, silly and useless, enjoyed this book. He recommended it to me when I once mentioned I might like to read it. So it’s not just women who get it.

Published: 1996/1999

Pages: 310/422

 

Pamela Regis: A Natural History of the Romance Novel

The romance novel has the strange distinction of being the most popular but least respected of literary genres. While it remains consistently dominant in bookstores and on best-seller lists, it is also widely dismissed by the critical community. Scholars have alleged that romance novels help create subservient readers, who are largely women, by confining heroines to stories that ignore issues other than love and marriage.

Pamela Regis argues that such critical studies fail to take into consideration the personal choice of readers, offer any definition of the romance novel, or discuss the nature and scope of the genre. Presenting the counterclaim that the romance novel does not enslave women but, on the contrary, is about celebrating freedom and joy, Regis offers a definition that provides critics with an expanded vocabulary for discussing a genre that is both classic and contemporary, sexy and entertaining.

Pamela Regis is Professor of English at McDaniel College and the author of Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crévecoeur, and the Influence of Natural History, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

(Back cover of the University of Pennsylvania Press paperback 2007)

There is no contest: Regis’s book is without a doubt the most quoted study on romance novels, certainly since its first appearance in 2003. I have probably mentioned the book before, as I think highly of it and find that it contains interesting and important information about the romance genre. If you are interested in the subject, this book is an absolute must-read. It is well written, clear, and explores the genre at length, although towards the end (and the year of its publishing) the analysis becomes slightly more difficult to find in the description and discussion of the newer novels.

I adore it, and have just recently acquired my own copy – I got sick of getting it from the library as I often feel the need to quote it in one conversation or another.

Published: 2003

Pages: 207

 

Margaret Atwood: Lady Oracle

Joan Foster is a secret writer of Gothic romances. When her outrageously feminist book, Lady Oracle, becomes a bestseller, everything in her life changes.

To escape her deteriorating marriage, her affair with an artist, and the criminal urges of a fan, Joan embarks on an act that is at once her most daring and creative: she fakes her own death and begins a new life.

With a much-needed respite from her life, Joan Foster begins to examine it – in this compelling, ironic, and touching novel by Margaret Atwood, one of today’s most acclaimed authors.

(Back cover of Fawcett Books 1990 paperback)

And another exam book. I must say I find the back cover description slightly misleading – the book starts much less dramatically. This, like Rebecca, I started to buy into very early on, and could relate to the main character Joan even more than I did to Bridget Jones; Bridget resonates on a more general level, Joan on a personal one. This is also the first book by Atwood I have read, and I really liked it. She is clearly very in control of her craft, as the bits of Joan’s Gothic romances seem to me perfectly genre-appropriate, yet her general style is nowhere close to that style of writing. There is a faint element of the occult, which I did not care for, although I’m certain if I think about it more I’ll see a clearer connection between the Gothics Joan writes and the novel itself.

Published: 1976

Pages: 380

 

Nora Roberts: Sea Swept

After years of fast living and reckless excitement, Cameron Quinn is called home to help care for his adopted brother Seth, a troubled young boy not unlike Cameron once was. Dark, brooding and fiercely independent, Cameron finds his life changes overnight as he has to learn to live with his brothers again.

Old rivalries and new resentments flare between the passionate Quinn boys as they try to set aside their differences. But when Seth’s fate falls into the hands of Anna, a tough but beautiful social worker, the tide starts to turn. She alone has the power to bring the Quinns together – or tear them apart…

(Back cover of Piatkus 2010 paperback)

This novel is the first one in the Chesapeake Bay Quartet, and is the first contemporary American romance novel I remember ever reading. Regis discussed the whole series in A Natural History of the Romance Novel, and I got intrigued.

Again, the back cover leads you slightly astray. It seems to imply a relationship drama involving Anna and all the three grown-up Quinn brothers, something that does not happen; from the start, this is clearly the story of the courtship of Anna and Cameron.

Anyway. It took some getting used to the idea of a contemporary setting after all the Regencies I’ve read, but not as much as he cultural difference between the UK and the US. The language tripped me up and made me pause from time to time, although naturally less and less the more I read. The romance itself is nice, and the mix of family relationships and business with the romance worked very well. Roberts is clearly a good writer, and the prose flows effortlessly. My only qualm is the fact that, as a part of a series, even though the courtship plot is completed, there are so many loose ends left hanging that it annoys me. I may read the second part in the series, but we will see. In any case, it has been a good exercise in broadening my reading habits a tiny bit and getting out of my absolute comfort zone (i.e. Regency) when it comes to romance novels.

Published: 1998

Pages: 359

 

Leo Tolstoy: What Is Art?

Read for an exam in Comparative Literature: we got to choose a classic of literary criticism, and I went with Tolstoy for two reasons. One, because I like his writing. Two, because I knew this one includes a rant about how horrible and not artistic Wagner’s operas are. No one resents like Tolstoy!

I recommend this one, if only for the amusement factor. The first third is a bit of slow going as he goes through pretty much every book and essay written on the subject of aesthetics, but once his gets going with his own thoughts and examples it gets interesting. Note also that the first appendix is titled, ‘More bad poetry’. I dare you not to be fond or at least amused by this grumpy Russian.

Published: 1898 (original title Tshto takoje iskusstvo)

Translation: Mitä on taide? By Martti Anhava 2000

Pages: 277

 

Currently reading:

Emma by Jane Austen
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

I meant to be finished with Emma by today, but after reading compulsively all month I’ve found it hard to concentrate in the last couple of days. I’m starting to pick up pace again, however, and hope to be done with both Currently Readings by the end of next week. You know, just in time for Text Analysis II, which includes reading a novel a week and writing essays of them…

Anyway. Onwards to March! I’ve got an essay to co-write, two exams to take, and lecture journals to write!

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Books in January ’14

So I’m back to monthly wrap-ups! I almost forgot it was the last of the month, too. Reading has been impeded by various distractions, including the Gentleman Bastard Sequence fandom and the fact that I have a book exam on romance novels and another exam on the classics of literary theory, both in the beginning of March, one after the other. And on top of that, a course on literary adaptations, which takes its sweet time as well.

But enough excuses, this is what I managed this month:

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger

[unfortunately I have returned the copy I had to the library and Goodreads does not have a summary]

I picked Christie from the library because hey, what better to read during the break than a good whodunit? The reason for choosing this particular mystery was that I love the TV adaptation – which means that I remembered who the murderer was and even the motive, but this caused very little trouble. What I found interesting is that the adaptation adds very little, which in my experience isn’t all that usual: a lot of the Christies you see on television add lots of red herrings and side plots to the fairly straightforward narratives. This one does not, which tells a lot about the way this book is executed. I can wholeheartedly recommend this!

Published: 1942

Pages: 299

Ellen Kushner: Swordspoint

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.

(Goodreads)

Swordspoint remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and it only seems to get better the more you read. When describing the plot to someone one starts to wonder what exactly it is that happens in the book, only to realise that there actually isn’t much in terms on dramatic action, but boy, is there a lot of political intrigue going on! This time around I was most struck by the relationship between Alec and Richard, and the ending hit me hard and will require some further thought the next time around. Absolutely a masterpiece, this novel is.

Published: 1987

Pages: 286

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

[Do I need to introduce this book again? I think not. I have it tagged.]

I know, I know. Yet again. But how could I not reread these books, particularly now that Republic of Thieves is finally out and there is so much to draw together? I got fascinated by Sabetha’s absence in this one – it reveals a lot about the other gang members, especially taking into consideration what we learned of their relationships in Republic. This is what I love about rereading a series: you start to pay attention to things like this and find new things to think about and words you previously just read gain new meaning.

Lies, like Swordspoint, is one of my favourite novels of all time. If you look at the Scott Lynch tag here on my blog, you’ll see I absolutely rave about this series.

Published: 2006

Pages: 530

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twentieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”

(Goodreads)

This was my third time reading this novel, and I must say, the two years between readings had done much. I found it even more enjoyable than before, and was much more attuned to nuance. My understanding of Mr Darcy is now much better, and I must say this time around I really enjoyed Caroline Bingley, with her see-through attempts regarding Darcy and her malice towards Elizabeth. Absolutely delightful!

Published: 1813

Pages: 262

China Miéville: The City and the City

China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other – real or imagined.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.

With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & The City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic lengths.

(Back cover of Macmillan 2009 paperback)

The only novel-length text we are reading for the Science Fiction and Fantasy class. I must say I’m not overly fond of this. I read it with a focus on the detective plot, which wasn’t entirely satisfactorily executed, but I did enjoy the way the two cities function in regard to each other. It was what made the story complicated, but I’m not sure it was not unnecessarily complicated. I hope to gain some insight on Monday when we have a class discussion on it.

Published: 2009

Pages: 312

That is January. I apologise for the paltry commentary – several of the books were rereads and I only finished City and the City some minutes ago, so there has not been time for it to settle in my mind yet.

February will include the rest of the books for the romance exam, and hopefully some Regency romance, and something for the adaptation class. It is hard to plan ahead with reading at the moment, but here’s to trying!

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2013 in Books

2014 has begun, and that means it’s time to look at stuff I read last year!

BOOKS READ 2013

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Return of Sherlock Holmes
2. Stephen Fry: Moab Is My Washpot
3. Mary Balogh: Dark Angel/Lord Carew’s Bride
4. J.R.R. Tolkien: Silmarillion
5. Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora x2
6. Georgette Heyer: Pistols for Two
7. Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
8. Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth
9. John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
10.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four
11.  Lucy Worsley: Courtiers – The Secret History of the Georgian Court
12.  John Fowles: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
13.  Lisa Kleypas: Love in the Afternoon
14.  Peter Ackroyd: The Fall of Troy
15.  Toni Morrison: Beloved
16.  Julia Quinn: Splendid
17.  Julia Quinn: Dancing at Midnight
18.  Stephanie Laurens: The Lady Chosen
19.  Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies x2
20.  Brandon Sanderson: Warbreaker
21.  Sean Thomas Russell: Under Enemy Colours
22.  Agatha Christie: Murder Is Easy
23.  P. G. Wodehouse: Much Obliged, Jeeves
24.  John Scalzi: Redshirts
25.  Agatha Christie: Elephants Can Remember
26.  Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr Ripley
27. Agatha Christie: At Bertram’s Hotel
28.  Gillian Gill: Agatha Christie
29.  Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen
30.  Mary Balogh: A Summer to Remember
31.  Julia Quinn: An Offer from A Gentleman
32.  Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life
33.  Mark Lawrence: King of Thorns
34.  Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer
35.  Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal: The Detective
36.  Torsten Ekman: Aleksanteri I: keisari ja isänmaa
37.  Agatha Christie: Appointment with Death
38. David Lodge: Small World
39.  Agatha Christie: After the Funeral
40.  Georgette Heyer: Bath Tangle
41.  Mary Balogh: The Famous Heroine/The Plumed Bonnet
42.  Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute
43.  Desiree Monet: In His World 1
44.  Jonathan Strahan (edit.): Fearsome Journeys
45.  Mary Robinette Kowal: Shades of Milk and Honey
46.  Mary Robinette Kowal: Glamour in Glass
47.  Colin Dexter: Service of All the Dead
48.  Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game
49.  Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan: Beyond Heaving Bosoms – The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels
50.  Kelly McClymer: The Fairy Tale Bride
51.  Courtney Milan: The Governess Affair
52.  Julia Quinn & Eloisa James & Connie Brockway: The Lady Most Likely
53.  Mary Balogh: The Secret Mistress
54.  Julia Quinn: Minx
55. Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
56. Jillian Hunter: A Wicked Lord at the Wedding
57. Eloisa James: The Duke Is Mine
58. Mary Balogh: A Christmas Promise
59. Jillian Hunter: The Duchess Diaries
60. Gaelen Foley: My Irresistible Earl
61. Eloisa James: Enchanting Pleasures
62. Mary Balogh: A Precious Jewel
63. Tracy Anne Warren: My Fair Mistress
64. Eloisa James: When the Duke Returns
65. Eloisa James: A Duke of Her Own
66. Shannon Hale: Austenland
67. Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights
68. Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London
69. Rainbow Rowell: Fangirl
70. Saladin Ahmed: The Throne of the Crescent Moon
71. Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
72. Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves x2
73. William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet
74. Jo Barrett: Nothing to Recommend Her
75. Beverley Kendall: All’s Fair in Love and Seduction
76. Aileen Fish: His Impassioned Proposal
77. Leigh LaValle: The Misbehaving Marquess
78. Ruth Ann Nordin: The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife
79. Larry D. Benson (edit.): Alliterative Morte Arthure
80. Ann Lethbridge: Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress
81. Oscar Wilde: Salome
82. Eloisa James: Winning the Wallflower
83. Eloisa James: When Beauty Tamed the Beast
84. John Cleland: Memoirs of Fanny Hill
85. Nathaniel Lee: Lucius Junius Brutus
86. Elizabeth Bear: Dust
87. Mary Elizabeth Braddon: Lady Audley’s Secret
88. Ally Condie: Matched
89. Sherwood Smith: A Posse of Princesses
90. Eloisa James: The Ugly Duchess
91. Tracy Anne Warren: His Favourite Mistress
92. Eloisa James: Midnight Pleasures
93. Tracy Anne Warren: The Accidental Mistress
94. Loretta Chase: Don’t Tempt Me

That’s a rather satisfying list, considering how worried I was that the exchange semester would hold me back. I got through quite a lot of romance in August though, so that sort of balanced out the quieter months – and as you can see, the last couple of weeks of the year were romance-heavy as well. My goal at Goodreads was 70 books, and I’ve clearly over-read it with 94. Some of the titles on the list are novellas and plays so they are shorter, but I decided they count.

Now, let us announce the WOW of the year! To those who don’t know, every year I choose one book that rocked my socks off. The rules are that it cannot be by an author I’ve read before, and it must be the first book by that author I’ve read. Here are the previous WOWs:

2009 – Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora)
2010 – Ellen Kushner (Privilege of the Sword)
2011 – Mark Lawrence (Prince of Thorns)
2012 – Sgt Dan Mills (Sniper One)

and for 2013

Mary Robinette Kowal (Shades of Milk and Honey)!

I’d heard about Shades of Milk and Honey here and there, and when I found it and the sequel Glamour in Glass from the book sale at Finncon I decided I might as well give them a go. I read the first page of SoMaH and almost screamed because it was so up my street and no one ever explained how much for me the book was! It’s Regency, it’s romance, it’s a bit mystery, it’s magic, and it’s just amazing. As a Janeite I appreciate all the nods towards Austen’s work, and as a lover of mannerpunk – well. It’s just perfect.

Other books who are on my list for this year’s favourite are John Scalzi’s Redshirts (it took my by surprise and I was very upset after finishing it), Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker (it would have been WOW of 2013 had I not read Mistborn a couple of years ago), Peter Ackroyd’s The Fall of Troy (which I liked a lot against all expectations) and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (reading which I put of for years and years).

So I suppose that’s it for 2013! I bought quite a lot of books, among them two copies of Republic of Thieves, lived abroad, met a lot of people, sunk deeper into romance… A lot of good stuff. This year, I’ve set my reading goal to 85 books, to be adjusted as I see how this year unfolds. I also promise to read at least one Russian classic, since I slacked in that respect in 2013 – I haven’t decided which one I want to read, but I think it’s going to be either Brothers Karamazov or Doctor Zhivago. And I also want to reread War and Peace, but that may have to wait.

Blog-wise, my resolution is to return to regular blogging and book reviewing, so keep an eye on this spot!

That’s it from me. Have a really good year 2014, everyone!

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The Disruption

I Aten’t Dead!

Some of you will have noticed that I more or less disappeared halfway through the Republic of Thieves read-along. At that point, I started stressing about midterms and moving, and then the rest of 2013 just flew by. I’ve been so drained of energy that I haven’t even liked the thought of opening Word and starting to write. I’ve been in need of a break.

Well, I’ve had a break now, and I feel ready to return to blogging! I already do it on tumblr, and if any of my readers are there I hope you get in touch! All Lynch fans may be interested to know that during the fall the Gentleman Bastards Chat started happening, first on tinychat and now on IRC. The chat is open all day, every day, but Friday is the official day that sees most of the traffic. Everyone is welcome to join – instructions on how to find us can be found here.

I will wrap up the year as usual. There will be a list of books read and the reveal of WOW of the year. I’ll ponder on how and what I read during the year, the whys and why nots, and take a look at what might be happening in 2014.

So see you guys in a couple of days! I hope everyone had a good Christmas and that your New Year’s will be cracking!

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Republic of Thieves Read Along – Weeks 2 & 3

Last week, I didn’t get around to answering any questions. Why? Because during the weekend I was in Brighton, meeting Scott and fellow Right People. Without my laptop. So I think I may be excused. This week, I’m doing both last and this week’s questions though!

WEEK TWO

Blood And Breath And Water: Patience tells Locke that the ritual to save him is serious business. She wasn’t kidding… What did you make of this scene, and do you think any of it might (perhaps literally) come back to haunt Locke?

I don’t think the pain and such will come back to haunt him, but oh, I do hope the ghost Bug will keep nagging at him because it was amazing! My heart was racing as I read it in the middle of the night! It was unexpected, and discomfiting, and I loved it! And I like sins-written-in-the-eyes thing, absolutely gorgeous.

Orphan’s Moon: Back to the childhood of the Gentlemen Bastards, and here we get another ritual, this one in service to the Nameless Thirteenth. It looks as though it might be Locke vs. Sabetha, round two – but this time Locke seems to be a little slow on that uptake… Who do you think deserves to be given the final oath? Locke or Sabetha?

I’ve got to say I squealed with utter delight on seeing the title of this interlude. I was hoping we’d see it some day! It intrigued me when it was mentioned in RSURS, and now we got it! I’m an absolute sucker for rituals and rules and all that, so it really hit the spot.

As to the Locke-Sabetha rivalry, well. At this point it seems Locke gets the things Sabetha wants, which is unfair considering how much drive she has, how hard she works, how ambitious she is, as opposed to his kind of drifting to places and turning out to be a natural. I wished Sabetha had gotten the final initiation, although of course we knew Locke was getting it. But there was that small flickering of hope they’d both get it…

Across The Amathel: This chapter takes a breather for quite a bit of Eldren history, while Locke starts recovering. What do you think of the history lesson, and Patience’s ominous speculation regarding the Eldren? Is this something you’d like to know more about?

I’m not really concerned with the Eldren, never have been. I like cities and countries and cultures and societies, but am not all that infatuated by obscure mysteries – something that probably sounds odd coming from a fantasy reader, but there it is. Mannerpunk is my thing more than epic fantasies. Unless it turns out the Eldren were rather people-like, I’m fine with anything we’re revealed about them. I am, however, interested in the magi of Karthain, those high-and-mighty assholes. Very, very interesting, they are, and I definitely like it that their power is far from infinite and that they are far from invincible.

Striking Sparks: The gang’s off to Espara, after a bad summer and a pretty thorough dressing-down from Chains, and we finally get to the source of the book’s title – they’re bound for the stage! What are your thoughts on this latest ‘challenge’ and the reasons for it?

Oh-ho-hoo, I love the teenage Bastards! Especially the twins! They are such annoying little ass-hats that you can’t but love them! I completely understand Chains, I would need a break, too. He’s harsh with them at this point, sure, but if you’ve lived with surly teenagers you know how bloody annoying it can get.

The Five-Year Game: Starting Position: The election gets underway with a party (as you do) and before it’s even over, the Deep Roots party has problems – and not just thanks to Sabetha. What do you make of Nikoros and his unfortunate habit?

I think the addiction really adds to his character. It’s a touch that gives him an identity, above that of a tool. He’s a person, he’s got weaknesses, an inconvenience, no matter how helpful he tries to be. I like it.

Bastards Abroad: The gang arrives in Espara, and already they’ve got problems (nicely mirroring the Five Year Game!)… This aside, we’ve also seen some more of what seems to be eating at Sabetha. Do you sympathise with her, or is Locke right to be frustrated with her?

Of course I sympathise with Sabetha! Being the only lady in a group of guys can be tough, and when you don’t get your voice heard except for occasionally – yeah, it’s frustrating. And wrong. Locke’s reasons for frustration make sense because you see things mostly through his focalisation and therefore understand him a bit better (not to mention we’ve had time to adjust to him over the course of two books), but when you think about Sabetha’s position it’s pretty clear why she is how she is. She’s tough, and she has to be. Where is Nazca, they should hang out more.

As an extra, I want to say how much I love it when Locke starts arranging security matters. There’s an urgency and a drive, and I enjoy it so so much. It’s great fun to read, and you can just hear the wheels spinning in his head, the sheer effort and joy of thinking. Love it to death!

WEEK THREE

The election competition.  Sabetha isn’t wasting any time throwing pranks at Locke and Jean.  Mostly it seemed fairly harmless, or at least not overly serious, until they were kidnapped and put onto a ship and taken out to sea.  What did you make of Sabetha’s latest plan? And what did you think about the way she executed it?

I readily admit I did not see it coming, and then chided myself because of course it was coming. It’s what I like about these books in general though – I’m always one-upped. I never expect the things that happen. And it’s great. Plus I think it was a very good plan, and I love the attention to detail Sabetha puts into it. It shows she knows them inside out. And I really appreciate the twenty men she placed outside the door to take Jean down, one of the most amusing things so far!

During the escape overboard and Jean’s rather subtle nose dive into the water – I was curious about the lights Locke saw deep in the water when he was performing his rescue – Locke thought they looked different once he was under the waves which I suppose they would but he also had the feeling that he was being watched?  Do you think this relates back to the Eldren or some other presence?

They’re probably something to do with the Eldren, given that no one seems to know what they are. Maybe something related to the mist at Parlour Passage (in RSURS)? For some reason I’d like to think so, although it might be the way in which the phenomenon’s are described, with that eerie Moomin Ghost Ship tone, and the connection to water and ships.

Given that Locke hadn’t seen Sabetha for five years how did you think their first meeting together went (well, it wasn’t strictly speaking their first meeting of course – were you surprised that Jean and Locke hadn’t figured out that the woman pickpocket was Sabetha?) and also what did you make of Jean and Sabetha’s reaction to each other?

Again, one of my favourite scenes. You need to reread it to see what was going on, once you’ve read it once. Ever so amused! At some point I started suspecting this was Sabetha though, as what are the odds she would find such an accomplished pickpocket in Karthain, where the underworld is quite non-existent? No, there’s no one who could match Sabetha in that respect, and oh the pure joy of it! It’s always good fun to see Locke so outplayed. You think you’re so clever mister.

So, the gang have arrived in Espara and already the plans have gone wrong through no fault of their own!  Jail for a year plus lose a hand for slapping a noble?? What do you think of the justice system in Espara and how does this bode for the gang?

Jasmer’s punishment serves to show that Esparans are not very tolerant, and you can only imagine the punishment for murder or some such crime. I will take this opportunity to say how much I like these little cities in the book. Espara is wonderful, by the sounds of it very small but having pretences at grandeur, and don’t even get me started on Lashain! I hope we go back there at some point, in the novels or in whatever short stories and novellas are forthcoming. Lashain seems like an excellent place for a game, a good place to exercise your attention to detail, with all the strict societal rules and the constant assessment of your peers. I’m only sad we didn’t stay there longer…

The acting company are finally coming together and we’re watching the gang as they try to read, act and grab the best parts – are you all ‘happy face’ with the whole theatre scenes or, sad face!  Also, I can’t help feeling like this whole storyline is a step out of character for the gang.  Any ideas of how it will play out?

Initially, I wasn’t too keen on the play: I don’t usually care for much recited fictional things inside fictional things, if you get my meaning. Having said that, I utterly enjoy the play The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death in Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword, and therefore feel inclined to give especially plays some consideration inside narratives. Republic of Thieves is so Shakespearean that the metre (or lack thereof) bothers me to some extent, although of course there’s no reason to expect it there.

On discussing the play on tumblr, there arose some speculation as to the characterization and the correspondence to the Bastards and their immediate circle – but that’s a conversation for later, I think.

We are also being introduced to a number of new characters, particularly Moncraine and Boulidazi.  What are your first impressions of these two and the other new characters in the Company and any particular likes or dislikes so far?

Jasmer is exasperating, but I kind of write him off as an artist and let him be. Boulidazi, though… He makes me uncomfortable. He’s not all that smart or sophisticated, but he’s not unobservant, and that spells trouble. He draws conclusions very much to Locke and Sabetha’s advantage here, but that is also a dangerous aspect, because he takes what he sees for granted and doesn’t really stop to ponder on alternative explanations.

And I have a soft spot for nobility, titles, the upper class society. The social history fan in me squealed with delight when he asked how he should address Locke and Sabetha. I’ve marked it down as “useful information”.

The rooftop scene and the apology.  How did it all go so wrong?  And how will Locke get out of this latest fix with Boulidazi?

I refer you to my previous answer. Boulidazi interprets things based on his observations and doesn’t really entertain any thoughts of other options. Dangerous, very dangerous.

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Republic of Thieves Read Along – Week 1

It is time for the read-along, and I’m running late! I’m always done with my reread, as I want to be done before next weekend and the Brighton meet-up, so bear with me – I have my book next to me so I can check what’s happened and when, as I don’t know this one as well as the previous ones yet. Let’s get on with the questions, shall we?

(Short note: These read-along posts will end up looking way different from those I wrote last year, mostly because I haven’t read with an eye out for quotations. I’m sad not to be able to do it that way again, but perhaps in the future.)

We get to reminisce with several old friends in this section – Calo, Galdo, Chains. How did you like this? Bitter sweet or happy dance?

Happy dance! Without a doubt a happy dance! Oh, how I missed the twins and Chains! The Sanzas are even more annoying than I remember them – or ever conceived them – and Chains is just himself, with a tad more unsolved mystery, which drives me up the walls. I’m not kidding. I want to know more about him.

Finally, the infamous Sabetha makes a physical appearance, albeit in Locke’s reminisces. What are your impressions? How do you think the romance, if there is to be one, will play out?

I’m not going to comment much on this, as my impressions have formed on basis of the book as a whole, and although I’m pretty sure it won’t wreck havoc on anyone’s perception of her, I’d rather be simple. Young Sabetha is all edges and sharp words, which makes me apprehensive of her: the only time she softens is when she takes the trio of misfits to the hanging, and even that doesn’t change my attitude towards her. But she is clever, oh so clever, and thinks extremely well on her feet. She has my respect, if not my affection.

After trying absolutely everything to save Locke, Jean still won’t give up. What did you think of that little pep talk he gave Locke concerning Patience’s offer of healing?

I was actually expecting more mourning on his part. Or rather hoped for it. But of course, Jean is practical and rather throws himself to work than wallows in his feelings – the very opposite of Locke, actually. We saw that in Red Seas, and we see it here. When he brings up Ezri in Lashain, well, that got me in tears. Actually, I’ll quote that here, just so I’m not the only one crying:

What are you going to tell the woman I loved? The woman who burned so you could have the slightest chance in hell of even being here in the first place? If I can get up and live with that every gods-damned day, then so can you, you son of a bitch.” (98)

Gods damn you, Jean Tannen. You and your bloody big heart.

Locke has a few caveats to working for the Bondsmage. Wise or just Locke grasping for some control over his life? What would you ask Patience?

I’d say it’s wise. Locke if someone knows about semantics, a feature that particularly appeals to me, and he knows you don’t make deals with this kind of people without making absolutely sure both sides know what is implied, what is offered, what is off the table. As to what I would ask of Patience, I don’t know. Largely the same things as Locke, and he got a couple that I wouldn’t have thought of.

At the end of this section, we see that all is not as Patience laid it out. How much do you think Patience knows of the plot to off Locke and Jean? Do you see it interfering in the rigged election?

This is Locke and Jean. If something can interfere with their life and plans and everything included, it will.

 

So that’s it for this week! I apologise for being short and saying very little, but I hope that as we get on I will have more to say and more time to write it down in a coherent, semi-intelligent fashion!

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