Guess why I love March? Because it’s the first spring month! Not that it hasn’t snowed and been cold, but the sun is slowly starting to show her face for more significant amounts of time per day. Things get easier now that we get some light every day. And reading is of course much more pleasant in natural light.
Neil Gaiman: American Gods
It was high time for me to read this book. I’ve been meaning to do it for years, even bought it last year, and now I’ve finally done it!
After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the minutes, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace… Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman’s epic new novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America.
I admit I was slightly disappointed. I’ve heard so much good about the book, so many of my friends claim it one of the best things they have ever read, and all this praise has obviously raised my expectations too high.
Don’t misundertand: it is a good book. It is one of those reads you get to piece together as you go on, and it can be a lot of fun. There are great themes like belief, remembering your roots and sacrifice. There are great characters you grow to like. But somehow I find it hard to be excited. I was not at the edge of my seat. I did not stay up to the wee hours of the morning because I just had to read another chapter. It didn’t suck me in like I wanted it to.
* cue lych mob of Gaiman fans *
Don’t anyone be discouraged by what I have said. Neil Gaiman is not considered among the best fantasy authors of our time, nor, I am sure, is American Gods considered his best work, for nothing. It is safe to say that it’s me, not him.
Published: William Morrow 2001
Pages: 635 (Headline Review 2005 edition)
Gregory Maguire: Out of Oz
I read the first three books in the Wicked Years series a couple of years ago, when Wicked the musical was coming to Helsinki and a friend of mine wanted to see it. He had already read the books, so he made me do that too – and I’m not complaining. I had been read the Wizard of Oz when I was a kid, although the book got lost and I never got to know how it ended, and I had not seen the movie. I think this has been an interesting order to learn about the story: I feel such great sympathy towards Elphaba – the Wicked Witch of the West – that I almost cried when she died in the movie and everyone was so happy.
The marvelous land of Oz is knotted with social unrest: The Emerald City is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, Glinda is under house arrest, and the Cowardly Lion is on the run from the law. And look who’s knocking at the door. It’s none other than Dorothy. Yes, that Dorothy.
Amid all this chaos, Elphaba’s granddaughter, the tiny green baby born at the close of Son of a Witch, has come of age. Now, Rain will take up her broom in an Oz wracked by war.
I suppose I liked the book. It was slow at times almost to the point I thought I couldn’t finish, but then the action picked up again and I managed over a hundred pages without even noticing. We meet a whole lot of familiar characters, and even though I survived this read without having to re-read the three first ones, a little repetition would not have hurt. Fortunately, Maguire has taken the time between the publishing A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz to consideration and provided the readers with little family trees, timelines and summaries of previous events in the beginning of the book. In general it’s a nice book, but mostly driven by the reader’s wish to see how things end – will Shell Thropp be overthrown? What happened to Liir? To Glinda? Personally I found Liir’s daughter Rain extremely annoying for the most part of the book, so be warned.
Those who have seen/heard the music of the Broadway soundtrack can also amuse themselves spotting references to the lyrics. I found a few, a couple of them so glaring I had to put the book down for some time to let out some steam.
Published: William Morrow 2011
Pages: 578 (Headline Review 2011 edition)
Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire & Mockingjay
Of these books I won’t provide summaries, in case someone has not read the first one. Say no to spoiling!
I see very little point discussing these books completely separately, so here we go. I have heard people say that Catching Fire is the weakest book in the series, and some people say Mockingjay is the weakest. I’m inclined to think the former – Catching Fire feels like a filler between the basic construction of the plot and the real action that then takes place in Mockingjay. This is not to say it’s a bad book! I ate it up the in much the same way I did The Hunger Games. There are more characters introduced, and several of them are more interesting than the ones in the love triangle.
The way Collins handled said triangle is nice and subtle, and even though I admit I knew how it would end around the time I started Mockingjay, I could not be sure how we could get to that situation. On reflection, I also like the end of the serious extremely well, although I can see it might have disappointed a certain type of reader. To me it was believable and in a way suitably open – there’s a lot left unexplained.
I doubt I’ll reread this series (at least no time soon), but it’s great entertainment with an important message. It’s a pity Twilight took over the world instead of The Hunger Games (although now that the movie is out there is hope) – I would rather have teens reading about fighting an unfair and cruel system than about a very unhealthy relationship. (And Hunger Games is better written, too.)
Published: Scholastic 2009/2010
Richard Morgan: Steel Remains
Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don’t know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteren of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire’s slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives…
Archeth – pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race – is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire’s borders.
Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe’s petty gods.
Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.
If the violence and sex in George R R Martin’s books offend you, or you are confused by the time jumping in The Lies of Locke Lamora, you should probably steer clear from this book.
The beginning is so very promising: it’s funny, quirky and exciting – but the fun stops pretty much there. The things introduced are left to the beginning and not returned to, not even in the end. I had great trouble remembering any other names than those of three protagonists – more or less staying in their own chapters – and was constantly confused as to who was who. The timelines were confusing for the most part, and the basic plot evaded me. There were aspects I liked, too – the beginning and the ending, the storylines that in the end intertwine – but they were pretty much killed by the effort it took me to get through these three and a half hundred pages. I even contemplated abandoning it around halfway, but decided to go through with it to see if it would get any better. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
I’m rather disappointed – I so wanted to like Richard Morgan. Maybe I’ll give a shot to his SF novels, to see if those are more to my liking.
Published: Gollancz 2008
Pages: 344 (Gollanzc 2008 hardback)
Stephanie Laurens: The Promise in a Kiss
When a handsome man literally falls at her feet while she’s walking through a moonlit convent courtyard, Helena knows he must be there for a scandalous liaison. Yet she keeps his presence a secret from the questioning nuns – and for her silence the stranger rewards her with an enticing, unforgettable kiss. What Helena does not know is that her wild Englishman is Sebastian Cynster, Duke of St. Ives.
Seven years later, Sebastian spies Helena from across a crowded ballroom. This heiress is dazzling London society with her wit and beauty, tantalising all the eligible men with the prospect of taking her hand in marriage. But Helena is not looking for just any husband. She wants an equal, a challenge – someone who can live up to the promise of that delicious, never-forgotten kiss.
(back cover of Piatkus paperback 2010)
I’d previously read only one book by Stephanie Laurens, and wasn’t much impressed by it. A couple of weeks ago, however, I got into this extensive Regency kick, and because of some decisions I have made I picked up this book along with another Regency Romance.
This one is part of the Cynster family saga. In Goodreads it has been listed as part 7.5, and in the story’s timeline it is the first one: these are the parents/grandparents of the Cynster family that is described in the series.
The Promise in a Kiss is not at all bad, as far as Regency Romances go. I don’t usually care for sex in Regencies, but here Laurens manages to handle it in a way that didn’t really bother me. (Although I wish she would not have referred to the male organ as a “staff”. It was hilarious, and I’m not at all sure that scene was supposed to be funny…)
Otherwise I have very little to complain about. As a personal preference I would have liked to see more dancing and carriages and less strolling, but for each their own. Helena’s husband hunting is fun for a while, and it would remain so, if she would seriously entertain any other possibilities than monsieur le duc. I like both of the main characters well enough, but even better is the villain of the story, Helena’s guardian Fabien. Some minor characters were treated with little care where I would have liked to know what came of them.
As you can see from the summary, the plot is very conventional, and it is indeed treated with more or less conventional means. The romance itself is very sweet.
There is also a duel of swords in a gallery at night. If that is not epic, I don’t know what is.
Published: Avon Books 2001
Pages: 377 (Piatkus 2010 edition)
I also bought a bunch of books this month!
The treasure of the pile is the Finnish translation of Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub. I got it cheap from an Internet auction – I’m excited to see how one does Regency in Finnish! (The title translates back to The Devil Falls in Love – I don’t find that as much fun as the original title, but I suppose it does the job. Rather unimaginative, though.)
- Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora (Duh!)
- Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage (Yes, yet another Regency…)
- Pamela Regis: A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Highly interesting!)
So on to April! A month and a half of school to go until summer! Yay for summer!