Monthly Archives: April 2012

Books in April

I never expected April to be such a good reading month. Easter holidays of course helped, along the fact that I spent those in the country without internet access or indeed a computer. And since it snowed on the night we arrived, there was no work to be done outside, either, so my time was spent “studying” and reading. (The former included half-heartedly going through grammar exercises and reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Swedish.)

So be warned – this is a list of nine books.

Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage

Elliott Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, has just acquired unwilling guardianship of Stephen Huxtable, the new young Earl of Merton. If he were to marry Stephen’s eldest sister, he would have the eligible wife he needs and she would be able to look after launching her younger sisters into society. It would be a comfortable arrangement all around. However, Vanessa, the middle sister, thinks otherwise. Margaret loves another man and has a secret agreement with him. And so Vanessa steps up as the sacrificial offering.

(back cover of Dell 2009 edition)

Let me start by saying that I like this book and am completely prepared to like other books by Balogh as well. The style is not too heavy and not too light but very amusing and readable. The period is set with casual mentions of all sorts of details in food, architecture, dress, and social customs. Marriage of convenience is a much-used plot point, and Balogh brings very little into it that I with my limited experience haven’t seen, but it is nevertheless very enjoyable. The characters are believable, and Vanessa’s feelings towards her deceased first husband are, I’m sure, familiar to many. The plot is perhaps a little slow – although that did not slow my reading even a little – and the scapegoat was not used to full capacity. The latter fault, I understand, has to do with the subsequent parts of the series. The hero is likable and the heroine a woman of sense, something that always finds favour with me. There is, once again, sex, but it is not disturbing. I believe I said previous month that the sex in Stephanie Laurens’s books did not bother me – well, compared to Balogh, it is positively offensive. (As, indeed, is Balogh’s compared to the subtlety of Georgette Heyer.)

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 388

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Seeing as I have discussed this book at some length in this blog just recently, I suggest you refer to the Favourites post. If you have read the book, feel free to see also the Read-Along posts – beware of spoilers.

Published: Gollancz 2006

Pages: 537

Mary Balogh: Then Comes Seduction

In a night of drunken revelry, Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, gambles his reputation as London’s most notorious lover on one woman. His challenge? To seduce the exquisite, virtuous Katherine Huxtable within a fortnight. But when his best-laid plans go awry, Jasper devises a wager of his own. For Katherine, already wildly attracted to him, Jasper’s offer is irresistible: to make London’s most dangerous rake fall in love with her. Then Jasper suddenly ups the ante. Katherine knows she should refuse. But with scandal brewing and her reputation in jeopardy, she reluctantly agrees to become his wife. Now, as passion ignites, the seduction really begins. And this time the prize is nothing less than both their hearts.…

(Goodreads)

I find this second instalment in the Huxtable Quintet very, very similar to the first one, discussed above. The meeting of the hero and heroine is where these two books differ the most: while Vanessa and Elliott meet under very proper circumstances, Katherine and Jasper’s first actual meeting is far cry from proper. After the three-year gap the story really kicks off. There are horrible rumours, disgusting relatives, a question of guardianship and, after a fashion, a duel over the lady’s honour. It is all very sweet, and the book is most definitely entertaining (I spent a four-hour drive reading it and a couple of hours afterwards reading it), but it is not as good as First Comes Marriage. I don’t quite buy the breaking of the barrier between the lovers, and Jasper’s logic is not very clear, but the end is lovely in any case. I would have liked to have more repercussion of the rumours, as I don’t believe the solution the main characters come to will quell all the wacking tongues.

So a marriage of convenience and the finding of love. Very basic, but clichés become clichés because they work, and even if it doesn’t really work in two books in a row. It does not make me think ill of Balogh.

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 419

Jane Aiken Hodge: The Private World of Georgette Heyer

Lavishly illustrated, and with extracts from her correspondence and references to her work, ‘The Private World of Georgette Heyer’ reveals a formidable and energetic woman with an impeccable sense of style and above all, a love for all things Regency.

(Goodreads)

To write the biography of a person as quiet about her personal life as Georgette Heyer is a difficult task. This also explains the superficial quality of Aiken Hodge’s book: there is very little said about Georgette Heyer as a person, but much more about her as a writer. If you have read Heyer’s books, you know she was a subtle writer and a meticulous researcher. Of that, there is a whole lot in this biography. The only more personal titbits are the quotes from her letters, which I found hilarious. Despite the lack of actual information the book creates an idea of what kind of woman she was – shy but professional, only really comfortable in her small circle of friends.

This is a biography that can be read for the entertainment value. It is a typical biography in that it probably makes the subject look better than it in reality was, but this time I did not mind it. Because my admiration towards Heyer comes not from her persona but from her style and dedication to detail, it was a pleasure to get a peek to her writing process and the pictures taken from her research notebooks.

Published: Bodley Head 1984

Pages: 208 (Bodley Head 1984 hardcover edition)

Agatha Christie: Murder On the Orient Express

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer. Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again.

(Goodreads)

This is the first Christie book I have ever read. Shocking, I know. I would not have read one now had I not been at the country and out of books. Well, not exactly out of books, but out of books I had meant to read. I wanted a short read for the car ride, and ended up picking this one from the shelf.

The experience was a little disturbed by the fact that I love watching Christie adaptations on TV, and had seen this one as recently as last year. Even though I usually forget who the murderer is and can re-watch detective stories with ease, this one is too memorable for that. What I did not remember was the details, which made the book after all enjoyable. But it is the ending that makes it worthwhile in my books – and if you tend to read detective stories and for some reason have not picked this one up yet, I recommend you do so. It is a great puzzle!

Published: Collins Crime Club 1934 (copyrighted to Agatha Christie 1933)

Pages: 191 (Fontana 1974 edition)

Mary Balogh: At Last Comes Love

Only desperation could bring Duncan Pennethorne, the infamous Earl of Sheringford, back home after the spectacular scandal that had shocked even the jaded ton. Forced to wed in fifteen days or be cut off without a penny, Duncan chooses the one woman in London in frantic need of a husband. A lie to an old flame forces Margaret Huxtable to accept the irresistible stranger’s offer. But once she discovers who he really is, it’s too late—she’s already betrothed to the wickedly sensual rakehell. Quickly she issues an ultimatum: If Duncan wants her, he must woo her. And as passion slowly ignites, two people marrying for all the wrong reasons are discovering the joys of seduction—and awaiting the exquisite pleasure of what comes after….

(Goodreads)

There is little I can say about this book after having discussed the two previous parts in the series. This one involves the eldest Miss Huxtable, Margaret, and her marriage of convenience. I did like this one better than the Then Comes Seduction and, it might be, First Comes Marriage. This one has a through-and-through sensible main character, an illegitimate child, and a lately widowed first love. Mostly, though, it is similar to the previous parts in the series and thus very pleasant and fun read but nothing exactly special. Still more historically accurate than many other Regency Romances.

I’m not sure “Duncan” is a very Regency name, but I haven’t checked so can’t be sure. It didn’t sound right in any case.

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 386

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

As I read this book in order to refresh my memory for the Favourites post this month, you can read what I have to say about it here.

Published: Gollancz 1990

Pages: 383 (Corgi 1991 paperback edition)

Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals

Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork – not the old-fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.

The prospect of the Big Match draws a likely lad with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dm but beautiful young woman, who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt. (No one knows anything much about Mr Nutt, not even Mr Nutt, which worries him, too.)

As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed for ever. Because the thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.

(Doubleday 2009 hardcover cover)

It has been a long time since I’ve last read Terry Pratchett, and it seems I need to reacquaint myself with his way of pretty much ignoring the plot. I’m not very familiar with football, which may mean I missed quite a few jokes, but not so many that I’d really notice. I don’t think this was Pratchett at his best by all means – and I do prefer a little more plot – but I was entertained once I got the hang of it. It took me a long time to finish it, which was partly due, again, to the lack of plot and the fact that the Internet is full of wonders.

With regret I have to say I can’t recommend this book. Experienced Pratchettists may want to take a look at it, but it’s not one to start acquainting yourself to Discworld with.

Published: Doubleday 2009

Pages: 400 (hardcover edition)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?

(Goodreads)

There were two reasons I decided to read this book. The first one was that I had never done so before. The other was that my DVD of the second season of BBC’s ingenious Sherlock (of which I plan on raving about at some later time) arrived.

I have nothing negative to say. It’s an engaging book, even if you remember the story. It’s exciting and it’s fun, and I liked it better than Agatha Christie, which could probably be explained by my inclination towards pre-1900 literature. Sherlock Holmes is an interesting chap, and although Watson at times seems a little too simple it’s nothing unbearable.

Sherlock’s mention of his case of Vatican cameos had me giggling. Oh Moffat and Gatiss, you guys have used everything!

First published: George Newnes 1902

Pages: 174 (Penguin Popular Classics 1996 edition)

I didn’t buy many books this month, mostly because that budget got blown on those DVDs – and I’m not regretting one bit, because Sherlock is totally worth every penny! The books I got from an online auction. If you’re wondering about the one with Xena on the cover, it’s doctorate called Time of Fandom. The full title of the other one is a bit hard to read, but it’s Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? – What REALLY happened in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? It’s a collection of essays, and I’m saving it up for work reading.

I also got Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, but for some reason forgot it from the photo. I wanted to get it because of BBC’s new awesome mini series. Watch it! You won’t regret it!

Currently reading:

Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Kaarina Nikunen: Faniuden aika (Time of Fandom – for an essay)

Happy May Day, people! 😀

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Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-Along: WEEK 1

The first time I started Red Seas Under Red Skies, I’d had to wait a couple of months after Locke Lamora because of my last matriculation exams. Then, when the first chapter finally began, I squealed.

That still happens.

The game was Carousel Hazard, the stakes were roughly half of all the wealth they commanded in the entire world, and the plain truth was that Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen were getting beaten like a pair of dusty carpets.

What I wanted to mention first was the amazingly comfortable way Tal Verrar builds around you. For me, it’s a little too heavy on description and quite as masterful as the way Camorr was made, but the key word here is comfort. You get the feeling of Tal Verrar, and the money – particularly the money – is somehow very logical. When I read RSURS, it’s hard for me to remember what the currency in Camorr is. When reading Lies, solari and volani and centira slip my mind. The names are again easy to remember; Durenna, Corvaleur, Kosta, de Ferra, Stragos… I hate having to flip back pages to check who is who, and with Lynch I don’t have to do that because the names are easy.

“I suspect that drink has made you impulsive.”

“Drink makes me feel funny; the gods made me impulsive.”

Yes, there the alcohol is again, and at the very beginning! Carousel Hazard sounds like a fun game, even though I don’t care for cards all that much. And Kameleona – how awesome is that? You’d never get bored of it.

“Surely you boys can do simple sums. One plus one equals don’t fuck with me.”

I adore these two reminiscences. (Actually, all the reminiscences in this book, but we can get back to that later.) First there is Jean in Vel Virazzo, trying to cope and at the same time kick Locke’s arse. It’s amazing how he puts up with the moping angst!Locke. It’s just really amusing to watch how he gets Locke out of the inn and gets the fire burning again. One of my favourite conversations is this:

“That’s a sweet piece,” said Jean, briefly forgetting to be aggravated. “You didn’t snatch that off a street.”

“No,” said Locke, before taking another deep draught of the warm water in the decanter. “I got it from the neck of the governor’s mistress.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“In the governor’s manor.”

“Of all the – “

“In the governor’s bed.”

“Damned lunatic!”

“With the governor sleeping next to her.”

The night quiet was broken by the high, distant trill of a whistle, the traditional swarming-noise of the city watches everywhere. Several other whistles joined in a few moments later.

“It is possible,” said Locke with a sheepish grin, “that I have been slightly too bold.”

So good to get Locke back. It’s not long we have to suffer the idiot, but it’s enough. I hope we never see that again.

The second reminiscence, where they travel from Vel Virazzo to Tal Verrar, is interesting because we see some of the first steps of a big game. In Lies we saw a lot of preparations for touches and such, and had a couple of Locke’s I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-but-that-usually-works kind of starts, but not like this. This is a two-year job they’re talking about, and that takes more thinking.

There’s also so much sadness and quiet in this bit, what with missing the other Bastards (I’ve slept very little and almost cried when they mentioned Bug) and Locke bringing up the idea of retirement.

“Viscount Anonymous Unknown of Lashain – and his neighbour, Viscount Unknown Anonymous. There are worse fates, I suppose.”

At this point I confess I didn’t finish the section for this week – stupid grammar exam on Thursday, and I feel so guilty when I’m reading something else than Longman’s Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English – so I will leave abusing the Archon for next week when I’m hopefully less busy. For now I’ll just say I hate him. And the bondsmagi are not exactly gaining any favour.

Just thinking about those dicks makes me want to strangle someone.

“Jean, now you’re disappointing me. Gates? Ships? Please. This is us we are talking about. We could smuggle a live cow past every constable in this city, at high noon. Without clothes.”

It’s so good to be back with the Gentleman Bastards. I can’t keep the grin off my face reading Locke deal with Requin and producing those packs of cards. Once again, something I would like to see on the silver screen. It would be so awesome!

Thankfully Hay’s Code is not operating anymore. That would mean no chance of filming Gentleman Bastards – or at least the films would be very boring.

I digress. Until next week!

“Go on, eat your other core; it’s got a nice juicy pear wrapped around it.”

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Favourites: Good Omens

It’s time for another favourite! I should probably point out that these favourites are not in any particular order – I mostly decide which one to introduce depending on the time of year and my own mood.

FAVOURITES

NEIL GAIMAN & TERRY PRATCHETT: GOOD OMENS

Published: May 1st 1990 Gollancz (UK) / Workman (US)

Pages: 288

 

According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter – the world’s only totally reliable guide to the future – the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea…

There’s a mix-up with the baby Anti-Christ.

There’s a demon driving a 1926 black Bentley.

There’s an angel who runs a rare books shop.

There’s a technically challenged Witchfinder Private.

There’s a professional descendant.

And there’s the Apocalypse.

Sir Terry Prachett was one of the first fantasy authors I read with a passion. I was perhaps twelve, when a friend of mine gave me Equal Rites and Hogfather and told me to give them a shot. She did not make a misjudgement – I did like Discworld, as soon as I got the hang of it (which I still maintain takes a couple of books). For a couple of years I read whatever translated Discworld novels I could find from the library, but all too soon I realised there were no more translations available. So, at the age of fourteen, I wandered to the English shelves at the bookstore and picked up Good Omens, mostly because I had read a lot about it online and because it said ‘Pratchett’ on the cover. My English was not good and I understood very little, and around page 80 I gave up.

Two years later, after I had started reading in English and, as a result, gotten better at it, I thought I would try again. It was one of the best thoughts I have had.

The blurb tells you the plot pretty much as simply as it is possible to put. It’s a difficult one to explain without giving away too much, and I’m not going to even try. What I can say about the book, however, is that it’s hilarious. It’s fairly easy to see which bits are probably Gaiman and which Pratchett, particularly if you’ve read both, but they work together splendidly. My particular favourite bits tend to be the discussions between the angel Aziraphale (former Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden) and the demon Crowley (former Serpent in the Garden of Eden); after all, when you spend thousands of years with someone, a friendship tends to form, no matter what side you are on. I don’t think it’s possible to read their legendary Drunk Conversation with a straight face. Another favourite is a certain Rider of the Apocalypse who runs a diet and fast food company – his bits have some of my favourite quotes. (You can see I haven’t quoted anything. This is because they A) often require the whole setting to work or B) might spoil the fun reading them yourself provides.)

I’ve talked of this book so many times and to so many people I hardly know what more to say about it. I don’t think I know anyone who wouldn’t have liked it: some people like the light jokes Pratchett makes, and some the steadfast storytelling Gaiman is so good at. For me, this book combines the best of both. I still love Pratchett’s humour and parody (read Macbeth first and then pick up Wyrd Sisters – that was a lot of fun!), but the light heartedness is getting to be a little too light, as much as it pains me to admit it. This is why Good Omens is so perfect: it’s balanced, gripping, and incredibly funny.

On the cover of my copy there’s a recommendation from Time Out that sums it all up very neatly:

“Heaven to read, and you’ll laugh like hell”

Oh, and maybe I should warn you about it, because not everyone likes it – there are footnotes. Not in the scale of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but footnotes nonetheless. And they make me chuckle, too.

My poor copy is a little battered. I’ve tried to protect it by taping the corners and spine, and here’s to hoping it’ll last. (Might have to get a hardcover at some point in life.)

You need to read this. That’s all you need to know.

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Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-Along is go!

Today starts the second read-along of Scott Lynch’s awesometastic Gentleman Bastard Sequence! We had a whole lot of fun with the first book (well, I did, and I feel pretty certain I can speak for the other participants as well) and it has felt weird, not blogging on weekends. If you have want to join our jolly group, you can still do it – drop a word to any of the organizers on the list below and let them know!

Little Red Reviewer

Dark Cargo

My Awful Reviews

@ohthatashley (she posts at SF Signal)

The reading schedule will be as follows:

Part 1 – Beginning thru End of Chapter 3, discussion questions go out Thurs April 26, posts go up Sat April 28
Part 2 – Reminiscence “The Lady of the Glass Pylon” thru end of Chapter 6, discussion questions go out Thurs May 3, posts go up Sat May 5
Part 3 – Chapter 7 thru end of Chapter 10, discussion questions go out May 10, posts go up Sat May 12
Part 4 – Chapter 11 thru end of chapter 13, discussion questions go out May 17, posts go up Sat May 19
Part 5 – Chapter 14 to the end, discussion question go out May 24, posts go up Sat May 26

We ask that you don’t post until Saturdays, in case someone is still reading. (I think you all know the proper etiquette, but better safe than sorry.)

I’m having trouble reading my current book – Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals – but I’ll work hard to finish it tonight and starting with beloved RSURS tomorrow!

Richer and cleverer than everyone else!

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Locke Lamora Read-Along: WEEK 5

Ila justicca vei cala

So we have come to this. The end of the Lies of Locke Lamora. I’m already feeling a little weird.

“Don’t worry, Jean. It’ll be nothing but a routine evening with the Duke and his entire fucking court, assembled in a glass tower six hundred feet in the air. What could possibly go wrong?”

The first question was about whether Locke lived up to his reputation as the Thorn of Camorr and whether he changed. This is the kind of question that requires lots and lots of thinking (and headaches) from me. I’m leaning towards saying that for the most part, Locke is as he has always been – we just see things we didn’t know he had. Of course, he has never been in a situation like this before, and the events being as traumatic as they were, there is bound to be change. But I think it doesn’t have time to become visible in this book.

Hard lessons were handed out; as many men learned to their sorrow, it’s impossible to be intimidating when one angry woman has your cock between her teeth and another is holding a stiletto to your kidneys.

I love the women of Camorr. Daughters of Camorr is one of my favourite bits, reminding us that you do not mess with Doña Vorchenza or Doña Sofia, who in this last section of the book shows great promise.

What I also like about Lynch’s world is that women have, if not perfect equality, something very close to it. They are in all the same professions as men, and they are just as tough. It is natural that Jean should not hold back fighting the Berangias sisters: it has been made clear that they are both merciless and dangerous. I suppose I did feel a little upset when Locke decked Doña Vorchenza, but although she is old she is tough, and it’s obvious she can take it. I like the way there is no mercy towards the women. In this setting it feels very natural.

“I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to play a little game I like to call ‘Scream in pain until you answer my fucking questions.’”

I’ll now skip a couple of questions and tell you how happy I am every single gods-damned time I read the scene where the Falconer finally gets what’s coming to him. Teaches that arrogant arse and his pet budgie some manners. You can just feel the satisfaction of revenge there. I think Locke gets more joy out of torturing the bondsmage than he gets from killing Anatolius. For some reason I feel that the Grey King was too hardened to suffer probably. Sure, he lost his sisters and must have been distraught, but there can’t have been much in killing a man who had already lost everything. Of course he had to die, I’m not saying that, but I sort of get the feeling that Locke doesn’t feel content afterwards. Then again, maybe that’s the thing with getting total revenge – you’re empty after that, there’s no goal.

A little like after finishing a good book, yes? It’s so amazing, and you’re so content, and then it ends, and it’s like nothing can take its place.

Just noticed how fitting the Grey King’s ship’s name is: Satisfaction.

I also want to point out that there is a cheer-inducing bit in the scene with the Falconer:

“Now, I can accept that it would be a bad idea to kill you. But when I finally let you slink back to Karthain, you’re going as an object lesson. You’re going to remind your pampered, twisted, arrogant fucking brethren about what might happen when you fuck with someone’s friends in Camorr.”

That’s right, you bastard.

This brings us nicely to question seven about the amount of profanities. I know some people don’t like them, but I do. I had a Finnish teacher once who explicitly gave us permission to swear in class, as long as we did not go to excessiveness. The reason? It’s part of the language, and that’s okay. That’s probably why Lynch’s dialogue is such a treat to read. The colourful profanities make it sounds natural and relaxed, as well as provide some flavour. So I say bring it on!

“Ibelius, let him alone; you are henpecking him without having the decency to marry him first.”

Thus draws to a close the awesomeness that has been the Lies of Locke Lamora Read-Along. I want to thank everyone involved, and of course the hosts in particular – it’s been a blast!

One question remains: When are we starting with Red Seas Under Red Skies?

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Concerning the Locke Lamora Read-Along

Just a heads-up – the last Locke Lamora post will be coming early next week. I just finished the book and all, but we’re going to our country house (not nearly as fancy as it sounds) for Easter holidays, and won’t be returning until Monday night. But the post will be up as soon as I get it written, so I’d say Tuesday morning at the latest.

Have fun reading the end – well, as much fun as possible at least. It’s great.

Have a happy Easter too!

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