Monthly Archives: June 2012

Romance in June ’12

So here are the romance novels I devoured during June! For explanation and the fantasy/SF/literary fiction, see previous post.

This month was Balogh only, which I wouldn’t say is a bad thing.

Mary Balogh: The Secret Pearl

He first spies her in the shadows outside a London theatre, a ravishing creature forced to barter her body to survive.

To the woman known simply as Fleur, the well-dressed gentleman with the mesmerizing eyes is an unlikely savior. And when she takes the stranger to her bed, she never expects to see him again. But then Fleur accepts the position as governess to a young girl… and is stunned to discover that her midnight lover is a powerful nobleman. As two wary hearts ignite – and the threat of scandal hovers over them – one question remains: will she be mistress or wife?

(Back cover of Dell 2005 edition)

The best thing about Mary Balogh is the way I get immersed in them. The drama in most of them is just delicious. In this book, the there is not one but two people between the main characters: the duke’s wife, and Fleur’s cousin. Of course, the duke acts very strangely considering the period, hiring a prostitute to be his daughter’s governess, but then again that is what sets him apart from other people. He’s different physically as well (another plus!), having been severely injured in the Battle of Waterloo.

The Secret Pearl is so far the most melancholy of Balogh’s books. And I liked it. It is a good change from light-hearted romance – and the ending of this book makes sense to me.

Published: 1991

Pages: 399 (Dell 2005 edition)

Mary Balogh: A Secret Affair

Constantine Huxtable, who takes a new mistress in London every spring, meets his match in the notorious Hannah, widowed Duchess of Dunbarton, who refuses to take no for an answer when she decides that he will be her lover for the Season. But both harbor secrets, and in the uncovering of them they begin to fall in love.

(marybalogh.com)

This fifth and last book in the Huxtable Quintet ties all the loose ends from previous books neatly, finally tells the story of Constantine, the second cousin of the Huxtable main family, and packs a couple of surprises – and fails to impress. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but there’s nothing special, either. It is wonderful to finally find out what Constantine has been doing all throughout the series, and what really went on with his now-deceased brother, but it is all non-surprising. Overall a neat book though. As a romance novel, this one has the most conventional ending of the entire quintet.

Published: Dell 2010

Pages: 368

And there’re the romances! Is this system good?

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Books in June ’12

Hello hello!

Although my reading time was largely eaten up by work during the last two weeks of June, I managed a respectable amount of books – two of which were on the list, yay!

This month, I’ll do a little twist with this monthly thing. I’m sure it will be easier and more pleasant to you guys if I split the monthly post into a romance and a fantasy/SF/literary post. We’ll see how that works! Here’s the latter, and it will be followed up by the romance books.

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Great Expectations (1861) is a favourite among many Dickens readers. In addition to its endearing hero, Pip – a blacksmith’s boy, desperate to escape his humble background – the story is populated by a vivid cast of characters, from the convict Magwitch to Miss Havisham who, jilted long ago, still wears her wedding down and, for revenge, schools the beautiful young Estella in the art of malice towards men.

When Pip receives a legacy and promptly leaves for London to become a gentleman, only then does he begin learning about the gulf between appearances and reality.

(Back cover of the Arcturus edition)

BBC’s wonderful new series of this book was just recently aired here, and I loved it to bits. I’d of course thought of reading this book anyway, but what really pushed me into it was the series.

This is not something I say often, so take notice: the series was better than the book. I know it’s Dickens, and it has merits, but it was a two-week struggle for me. Oliver Twist didn’t give me this kind of trouble. Great Expectations is rambly. It has a lot of bits that seem completely unnecessary, although some of them give a better sense of minor characters. But do we really need to get a better feeling of the minor characters? Not really. I’m most interested in Miss Havisham and Estella, and was hoping that the book would shed more light on them. Didn’t happen, unfortunately, and most of the book I got through by thinking of the series, to make it more interesting. (I mean, Herbert Pocket was played by Harry “Viserys” Lloyd, quite charmingly I might add!)

So if you want to read Dickens, I don’t think this one would impress. I still intend to read David Copperfield, hoping it would be a mix between Expectations and Oliver.

This was also a book off my summer reading list! Hooray!

First published: 1861

Pages:  445 (Arcturus Books)

Douglas Hulick: Among Thieves

Ildrecca is a dangerous city, if you don’t know what you’re doing. It takes a canny hand and a wary eye to run these streets and survive. Fortunately, Drothe has both. He has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers from the dirtiest of alleys to the finest of neighbourhoods. Working for a crime lord, he finds and takes care of trouble inside his boss’s organization – while smuggling relics on the side.

But when his boss orders Drothe to track down whoever is leaning on his organization’s people, he stumbles upon a much bigger mystery. There’s a book, a relic any number of deadly people seem to be looking for – a book that just might bring down emperors and shatter the criminal underworld.

A book now conveniently in Drothe’s hands…

(Back cover of Tor 2010 edition)

In preparation for the second book in Hulick’s series of Tales of the Kin, I reread the first one. I was hoping I would like it more than last time. Nope. It is a good book, and it’s very hard for me to figure out whether there is anything wrong with it. It comes so unbelievably close to breaking the barrier between kinda interesting and totally awesome. In the end, it’s just a little too polished, a little too clinical to really get to me. The story is interesting, the characters relatable and my, do I love the jargon, but something is clearly missing.

However, I do like this book. I’ve given it three stars on Goodreads, and ma teetering on the brink of four. Exciting to see how the second book, Sworn in Steel, will be. I’m hoping it will lose all that keeps me from completely immersing myself into Among Thieves while keeping everything that makes me like the book.

Published: Tor 2011

Pages: 414

Eleanor Herman: Sex with the Queen – 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics

In royal courts bristling with testosterone—swashbuckling generals, polished courtiers, and virile cardinals—how did repressed regal ladies find happiness?

Anne Boleyn flirted with courtiers; Catherine Howard slept with one. Henry VIII had both of them beheaded.

Catherine the Great had her idiot husband murdered and ruled the Russian empire with a long list of sexy young favorites.

Marie Antoinette fell in love with the handsome Swedish count Axel Fersen, who tried valiantly to rescue her from the guillotine.

Princess Diana gave up her palace bodyguard to enjoy countless love affairs, which tragically led to her early death.

In this impeccably researched, scandalously readable follow-up to her New York Times bestseller Sex with Kings, Eleanor Herman reveals the truth about what has historically gone on behind the closed door of the queen’s boudoir.

(Goodreads)

I’ve been meaning to read this book forever, and now I finally got around to it. It was vastly entertaining, although I suspect one would have to hold a special place for popular history in their heart to really enjoy it. This book does not offer you solid facts and brutal truths; it’s about love, intrigue and the occasional politics, and concentrates more on the scandal than anything else.

To any Finns who might find themselves interested: the translation is not the best possible, and some word choices are awkward, not to mention some grammatical structures. These don’t spoil the experience too much, but it gets rather annoying when you can see what the original sentence has been, even if it has been an idiomatic expression in English.

But in any case it was an entertaining book, and I think I will read its predecessor, Sex with the King as well.

Published: William Morrow 2005

Translation: Maria Lyytinen (Gummerus 2008)

Pages: 311

Patricia Briggs: Cry Wolf

Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack… and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’d learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer- and son- of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.

Charles insists that not only is Anna his mate, but she is also a rare and valued Omega wolf. And it is Anna’s inner strength and calming presence that will prove invaluable as she and Charles go on the hunt in search of a rogue werewolf- a creature bound in magic so dark that it could threaten all of the pack.

(Goodreads)

I didn’t think I’d read more Briggs, but my current werewolf kick left me little choice. It wasn’t for nothing – this first book in the Alpha and Omega series suited me much better than the Mercy Thompson series. The unfortunate part is that you apparently need to read Mercy books, at least the first one, to know what’s going on in Alpha and Omega. It’s probably not absolutely necessary, but I think it’s helpful, as Cry Wolf explains but not in much width. One of the reasons I think I might like this series more is the leading lady, Anna, whom I find much more relatable than Mercy. And Mr Alpha, Charles, is nice as well. In other words, the main characters don’t bug me, which is always a good sign. This series is also more about werewolves, seeing as both the main characters are of the species, and it feels better than having a shapeshifter around.

So I would recommend Cry Wolf over Moon Called, although you benefit from reading the latter first. We’ll see if reading the second Mercy book is helpful with reading the next Alpha and Omega book.

Published: Ace 2007

Pages: 307 (Orbit 2009 edition)

Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver

Grace and Sam share a kinship so close they could be lovers or siblings. But they also share a problem. When the temperature slips towards freezing, Sam reverts to his wolf identity and must retreat into the woods to protect his pack. He worries that eventually his human side will fade away and he will be left howling alone at the lonely moon. A stirring supernatural teen romance.

(Goodreads)

I was in the country when I read this, and boy, did my fingers itch to get to a keyboard so I could type out what I thought! (I have old-fashioned notes for this. A full page of them.)

First of all, there’s an interesting twist to the whole being-a-werewolf thing in this book: temperature. Basically, when the weather gets cold, you turn if you have been bitten. For the summer, you get to be human. Until you get older. This is something I haven’t seen before, and as such it appealed to me.

HOWEVER. The plot progresses slowly, and I felt this series (yes, it’s a trilogy) could have been just put to one book. The love story between the POV-characters Grace and Sam doesn’t feel real, and Grace is probably a cousin to Bella Swan as far as personality is concerned. Sam I liked a whole lot, as well as his father figure Beck. Sam even managed to get a few tears out of me towards the end of the book, which was well done. Unfortunately, this is not enough to make me read the rest of the series. The mysteries left unsolved in the end are not interesting enough, and the chemistries between people are rather predictable.

Next up, a spoiler that I need to get out of system. Only read if you’ve already read the book or have absolutely zero interest in it:

You can’t give meningitis to someone by injecting blood from someone who has it. Meningitis spreads by droplet infection. Also, I don’t think it’s a good idea to inject blood into someone without checking blood type. Not sure what effect a small amount would have, but I wouldn’t do it at all. The point of wanting to someone to get infected with meningitis was to give them a really high fever. I consulted my father the doctor, and he said typhoid fever would be a much better solution.

The point of the spoiler in short: I wish authors did their research. Ugh.

Not going to read the rest of the series. Just not interesting enough. A shame, as I wanted to like it – but just as I’d heard, it’s pretty much just Twilight with werewolves.

Robin McKinley: Sunshine

There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts. Vampires never entered her mind. Until they found her.

(Goodreads)

Sunshine has some features that are familiar from my previous experiences with McKinley, most prominently the heavy descriptions and the self-reflection the main character goes through. This book wasn’t exactly like I imagined it would be, but it was good nonetheless. It doesn’t exactly offer anything new on vampires, which was surprisingly… fresh. The vampires are not the point. It’s about the society, and about how Sunshine fits into it, and how she sees and understands herself.

McKinley has a very firm grasp of her craft, and you can trust her books to be quality. Just don’t expect any light conversation or frivolous humor – McKinley makes the latter dry, without losing any of the fun. You’re in good hands if you decide to go with her.

Published: Berkeley Publishing 2003

Pages: 405 (Jove 2004 edition)

So here’s the not-romance books this month! In these ones I’ll also add the “currently reading” and “books purchased” bits, just as usual.

Currently reading:

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

Books bought this month:

Ahem. That’s quite a lot, I know, but my bookstore had 20% off all the paperbacks, so… Yeah. And I got my first salary. And it was my birthday this month (although that got me only one book). And we went second hand book shopping with Kay. So… Yeah. I also bought Redshirts by John Scalzi, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Oh, and I got my dad Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies for his birthday. I’ll read it once he’s done.

So there it is! Next up: the romance post!

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Favourites: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

It’s no secret that I’m a total and complete potterhead. I read the first book at the age of nine or ten, fell in love around age twelve, and when the last book came out it was about a month after my 17th birthday. I’m of the Potter Generation and grew up with Harry, and he has a special place in my heart even though I don’t list J. K. Rowling among my favourite authors (anymore). It’s practically all my tween and teen years. Yes, I’ve always been into other fandoms as well, but Harry Potter is the one I’m most comfortable with. A book has never made me cry like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows did.

However, the seventh book is not my favourite. The favourite ranking inside the series varies, but number one is always the same.

FAVOURITES

J. K. ROWLING: HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

Published: July 8th 1999 Bloomsbury (UK)/ Scholastic (US)

Pages: 317 (UK) / 435 (US)

I think it’s not exactly necessary to summarise the book here, so I won’t. If you haven’t read the series, but are going to and don’t want to get spoiled, don’t read any further. I’m not going to be cautious about details or what happens in the latter books.

About a year ago I admitted to myself I’ve grown out of the first two books. It’s perfectly obvious why people older than me never fell in love with Harry the way people my age did. But the third book is getting more mature, if only slightly. It’s not nearly as dark as the fourth one, no, but it’s not as straightforward as the first two. It’s the calm before the storm. Voldemort is not seen in person; Harry learns new things about his parents and their lives; he meets new people who have a previous connection to him.

The characters are what make me a very biased judge of this book. Remus Lupin is the biggest literary crush I’ve ever had, and honey, it’s still on. He’s a good man who has suffered a lot, and in this book I believe we witness some of the best things that have happened to him in thirteen years, maybe even more. He gets a job, he meets the son of some of his best friends, and gets his living best friends back. Okay, so the friendship situation is more complicated than that with Peter and things finally coming together and making sense about the Fidelius Charm, but anyway. I’m very partial to the Marauders, who are introduced in this book. That’s one of the things that endear this particular book to me.

Mr Moony presents his compliments to Professor Snape, and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people’s business.

Mr Prongs agrees with Mr Moony, and would like to add that Professor Snape is an ugly git.

Mr Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a Professor.

Mr Worm tail bids Professor Snape good day, and advises him to wash his hair, the slimeball.

It’s very hard to pinpoint the reasons for my love of this book. I’m just utterly comfortable with it. It has a neat plot. I don’t know it all by heart anymore, not the way I used to, but close enough so I can only look at details while reading if I want to. There are all the tensions and relationships between the adult characters that weren’t much there in the first two books. It’s just delicious.

For a course on audiovisual culture and society, I wrote an essay on fandom. Initially the chosen fandom was Harry Potter, and I managed a couple of pages before it became evident a change of fandom was in order. I’m in too deep, and it’s hard to see anything to do with Potter objectively. That’s how it is with this book, and the reason why this introduction/explanation is so short. I recognise that it’s not the most brilliant prose since Austen or Wilde. I’m well aware that it’s not the most intellectual book ever. But it is a part of a great story, and a cornerstone in my becoming a fantasy reader.

Oh, and rereading the series after the last book is an exciting and emotional experience. I can heartily recommend it. You keep noticing the little details that will be significant later on.

Besides, I read somewhere that rereading is good for your brain.

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Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

One of the most anticipated films of this summer has been the second Snow White film this year, Snow White and the Huntsman. I went to see it.

Snow White and the Huntsman has a nice, epic-y fantasy twist to it. There’s impressive magic, good actors, and complications enough. All this is nicely balanced, so the two hours ten minutes doesn’t feel too long. The actors do a good job, even Kristen Stewart, of whom I was very suspicious (we learn here that no one should be judged based on Twilight, except maybe Mrs Meyer). It’s visually very impressive, and the costumes are wonderful (they are done by Colleen Atwood, so no wonder). The colours are not very bright, which usually appeals to me, but these darker shades work for me very well anyway.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought I detected lots of references to other films. There were several shots that were reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the stag in the woods – you’ll know the scene when you see it – brought to mind Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The evil queen also has a brother, both of them fair-haired, and my mind instantly jumped to Cersei and Jaime from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Then again, my friend said he didn’t see any of these things in the film, so it might have been just my head working overtime. In any case it doesn’t disturb the movie in the least, and I think it was good to see it. I sort of question the title though – the Huntsman is a much smaller part of the story than it implies and there would have been more surprises if the title had been different. More important than the Huntsman is the fight for justice and good, although admittedly those make a lot less attractive title; Snow White and the Bad Queen is a boring and used title, although it would be more descriptive.

Go see it! It’s a good fairytale for the ones of us who are either too embarrassed to go with the regular versions or just wish to get some fantasy into their system. I don’t think I’ll watch this again very soon, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Well, alright, two things that bothered me: religion, as I don’t like my fantasy mixed with real religion and even less when it’s for no apparent reason, and that there really was nothing funny. I’m not sayin there should be something funny in every film, but when you can see the jokes and don’t laugh and realise that no one else is laughing either there’s something wrong.

But it’s still good entertainment. And you can play actor spotting!

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Director: Rupert Sanders

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell

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Movie Review: Iron Sky

The other day, I went to see Iron Sky. It has been surprisingly widely spread. The team behind it are mostly German, Australian and Finnish – which is a big reason why it was half of a must-see for me.

The main reason, however, is that it’s about Nazis from the moon.

Yup. It’s rather epic. Let me quote from the official website:

In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the Dark Side of the Moon. During 70 years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers.

When American astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) puts down his Lunar Lander a bit too close to the secret Nazi base, the Moon Führer (Udo Kier) decides the glorious moment of retaking the Earth has arrived sooner than expected. Washington claims the mission is just a publicity stunt for the President of the United States (Stephanie Paul), but what else could the man be but a scout for the imminent attack by Earth forces? The Fourth Reich must act!

Two Nazi officers, ruthless Klaus Adler (Götz Otto) and idealistic Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), travel to Earth to prepare the invasion. In the end when the Moon Nazi UFO armada darkens the skies, ready to strike at the unprepared Earth, every man, woman and nation alike, must re-evaluate their priorities.

Some people said it wasn’t so good. I didn’t agree. There were probably about twenty of us at the shows, seeing as it was two months after the premiere, and my friend and I were the only ones to laugh. (This might be because the rest of the audience was quite a lot younger than us. Or it might just be that our sense of humour is somehow weird.) It was a good story, it was fun, it was visually beautiful, and the special effects were surprisingly good. It helps if you’re interested in Nazis – and before anyone accuses me of anything, it’s a theoretical interest. And, ladies, SS uniforms.

So if you have a chance, go see it. It’s only about an hour and a half of your life, and even if it doesn’t blow up your mind or retinae, you’ll be thoroughly entertained. I’ll also take this chance to tell you guys how much I love multi-lingual films! This one has got only German and English (mainly the latter), but it’s immediately much nicer than just one language, in a film with more than one nationality.

Oh, and Stephanie Paul does so great I just start grinning every time I see her.

Moon Nazis! Go see!

Iron Sky (2012)

Director: Timo Vuorensola

Starring: Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Götz Otto, Stephanie Paul, Udo Kier, Peta Sergeant

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Lynchmob! Anything on this book?

I just got back from the bookstore, and I see they’ve stocked Rachel Aaron’s The Legend of Eli Monpress. Now, I’ve heard about it before, and I know it’s about a thief/thieves, and the cover looks really nice, and it has a little blurb saying “Fans of Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora will be thrilled with Eli Monpress”, and so I am interested. I’m not too sure about the thief commanding magic though, and the glance I took at the innards, while not repellent, did not exactly impress, either.

So, dear Lynchmob – has anyone read this? Heard about it? Should I buy it? (It’s kind of a good bargain – the whole three-book omnibus for 15€.) Is it good? Is it crap?

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