Monthly Archives: August 2012

Books in August ’12

So. End of August. Summer pretty much over. It’s sort of a good thing, as you can see from my previous post, but on the other hand I’ll miss the sun. You can already feel the darkness and depression creeping in… But we’ll fight it! And books will help!

My regular shifts ended two weeks ago, and the last shift was a week ago, so I’ve had slightly more time to read. Still not my usual speed, but much better than July!

 

Mark Lawrence: Prince of Thorns

When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king…
It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him–and he has nothing left to lose. But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?

(Goodreads)

Of course, the first book in the Broken Empire trilogy had to be reread in anticipation of the second part. I’ve been putting of the reread in fear I wouldn’t like the book as well as I did the first time around – but that fear proved unnecessary. By chapter two (starting on page 6) I was in love again. I read slower this time, and noticed a whole lot more. Usually I’m not big on personal reflection, but when Jorg does it, I just can’t seem to get enough. Something’s broken in his head, I swear, and that makes attractive reading!

Published: Harper Voyager 2011

Pages: 373

 

Ellen Kushner: The Privilege of the Sword

Reread for bi-monthly favourite – you can read more about it here!

 

J. B. Priestley: The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency 1811-1820

The Regency Period is perhaps the most romantic of British history. It was an age which swung between extremes of elegance and refinement, and depths of sodden brutality. The central figure is the Prince Regent, Prinny, and though he sometimes appears as a gigantic spoilt child, he was famously good company and a notable patron of the arts. The author portrays the personalities of the giants of the romantic age – Byron, Shelley, Sheridan, Wordsworth, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott; Davy Faraday and Macadam; Turner, Constable and Cotman – to name a few. It was an age of extravagance; an age marked by great eccentricities and prodigous jokes; the luddite riots; the Battles of Waterloo and Peterloo; the first waltzes and the first locomotives.

(Goodreads)

Ah, the Regency period, how I love thee! Priestley’s book takes some getting used to, since it is a little different from your general history book. As he says in the foreword, this book sprung from his love of the period, and it shows throughout the reading. He tends to say things like, “This would be interesting but there’s not enough room in this book to discuss it” too often, and sometimes dismisses topics simply because they don’t interest him personally, but on the other hand he goes through the Regency (1811-1820) year by year, introducing hot topics of the year and explaining the on-going war with Napoleon in a way that spreads it nicely instead of info-dumping it. After you get it into it, you really get into it – the last 150 pages I just devoured. Very interesting, very entertaining! Even those averse to history would, I think, enjoy this one.

Published: Heinemann

Pages: 293

 

E. L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey

 A book that started out as a simple Twilight fan fiction, but then turned into a bestseller phenomena on its own.

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

(Goodreads)

Err… Yeah. This book? Thinly veiled fanfiction, with annoying characters. If you publish, make sure the style is suitable for print. If you write genre – in this case romance – be aware of the conventions. And for heaven’s sake, hire a good editor.

Y’all know I read both romance and fanfiction. This one is such an average mix of both it could work as an example of what fanfiction on average looks like. I have to give a point for the end though – not what happens, no no no, way too predictable when you know it’s A) first in a trilogy and B) based on Twilight, but Christian’s emotion was nicely conveyed, at least to my romantic sensibilities.

My friend is having the time of her life reading these. She asked whether I intend to read the sequels, seeing as the whole business is so funny. I said I wouldn’t buy them or get them from the library, but if she bought them I would read them.

She bought the rest of the series. Oh well. It’s not like they take a long time to read…

Published: Arrow Books 2012

Pages: 514

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

 Eleven of the best and most popular tales of the immortal sleuth include “Silver Blaze,” concerning the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”; “The Greek Interpreter,” starring Holmes’ even more formidable brother, Mycroft; and “The Final Problem,” the detective’s notorious confrontation with arch-criminal Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

(Goodreads)

There’s very little I can say about Sherlock Holmes that hasn’t been said, that people don’t know. So I’m not going to even try. They are exciting, and fun, and an excellent work-read. (I spent a rainy Sunday reading it. Double wages for doing practically nothing but reading, oh yeah!) Some of the stories I remember from the Granada series, but most of them were new to me. The collection ended in “The Final Problem”, which brought emotions to the surface.

Looking forward to getting started with The Return of Sherlock Holmes and finally officially meeting my current character-to-obsess-over, Colonel Sebastian Moran!

First published: George Newnes 1894

Pages: 200 (Dover Thrift 2010 edition, wonderful edition this!)

 

Glen Duncan: Talulla Rising

 When I change I change fast. The moon drags the whatever-it-is up from the earth and it goes through me with crazy wriggling impatience . . . I’m twisted, torn, churned, throttled—then rushed through a blind chicane into ludicrous power . . . A heel settles. A last canine hurries through. A shoulder blade pops. The woman is a werewolf.

The woman is Talulla Demetriou.
She’s grieving for her werewolf lover, Jake, whose violent death has left her alone with her own sublime monstrousness. On the run, pursued by the hunters of WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena), she must find a place to give birth to Jake’s child in secret.
The birth, under a full moon at a remote Alaska lodge, leaves Talulla ravaged, but with her infant son in her arms she believes the worst is over—until the windows crash in, and she discovers that the worst has only just begun . . .
What follows throws Talulla into a race against time to save both herself and her child as she faces down the new, psychotic leader of WOCOP, a cabal of blood-drinking religious fanatics, and (rumor has it) the oldest living vampire.
Harnessing the same audacious imagination and dark humor, the same depths of horror and sympathy, the same full-tilt narrative energy with which he crafted his acclaimed novel The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan now gives us a heroine like no other, the definitive twenty-first-century female of the species.

(Goodreads)

Second part in The Last Werewolf  trilogy, Talulla Rising is almost better than the first part. Duncan has an amazing way with words, seriously. I’m completely enamoured by his way of putting things, describing the transformation into a werewolf, the cultural allusions (not as many and not as clever as in The Last Werewolf, or maybe they are too subtle and clever for me to recognise), the action. All beautiful. If you have never tried Duncan, do!

Published: Canongate 2012

Pages: 425

 

Currently reading:

Professor Moriarty and the Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman

Books bought:

Erm. It’s getting better, is it not? The pile isn’t as ridiculously big as in the last couple of months. It’s still more than I promised myself I’d buy, but hey – my bookstore still doesn’t have King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, so that needed recompensating! Lots of ACD, as you can see: I’m trying to familiarize myself with the original canon now that the tease words for the third season of BBC’s Sherlock have been announced and I want to be part of the guessing game.

Next week we’ll take a look at how I did with the summer reading list!

Happy autumn, people!

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Announcement: School Excitement and Victorian Novel

I’ve been so excited about this for a couple of days now. I’m starting my pro-seminar this fall, and had my fingers crossed that I’d get into the class that was my first choice (because nothing else would really do) – and I got in! Hooray!

The title of the course is Victorian Novel. Yup, you can probably see why I’m so excited. I like the teacher, too, so I’m all set to go. However, this pro-sem means my reading list will be very limited during September and the first half of October. We plough through six books in seven weeks, and as you will see in a moment, they are not exactly your lightest reading. Who knows, maybe I will have time for other books as well, but I seriously doubt it.

So here’s what I will be reading:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Middlemarch by George Eliot

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

The combined number of pages is 3,447.  I’m sort of taking a deep breath and getting ready for a period of intensive reading. We’ll see whether I’m absolutely fed up with Victorians by the time the period break rolls around… Hopefully not, because I’ll be doing this for quite a while after that, too!

So there it is. I wanted to share this, partly because I’m so excited and partly because now you know there will be lots of Victorian stuff lying around my blog. I’m thinking of doing Operation Classic reading diaries for these books (three of which I’ve read once already) and maybe musing on some stuff we go through in class. But we’ll see how I’ll go about this once the class starts next week.

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Rant: Fifty Shades of Grey and the Importance of Research

Oh yes, I jumped the bandwagon and read the first book in E L James’s trilogy. This will not be a review as such, though. Other people have said pretty much everything I would say about it – Grace put it all very eloquently and amusingly, so I suggest you read what she had to say – and so I will do something a little different.

There’s two things that really got to me about the book. First of all, the style. It practically screams “mediocre fan fiction”. And before you jump to the conclusion that I have something against fan fiction – I don’t. I’ve been reading and writing it for about a decade, and there’s so much good stuff online it’s very impressive. What baffles me is that this particular one has been turned into a book, and with so little effort to conceal the fic origin. (I also suspect there was no editor at all. All the repetition, the same phrases and words used over and over – aargh!)

But now to the matter that’s been eating me since I read the line in the book. It is the importance of research, which I have ranted about before, namely in June when I read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. In Fifty Shades there is, towards the end, a scene where Ana dreams about Christian feeding her strawberries. Let me quote the offending bit:

“Eat,” he says, his tongue caressing the front of his palate as he enunciates the t.

– E. L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey, p. 442

Let’s get this straight. Here is a picture of the parts of your mouth:

The consonant [t] is not palatal. Try to say “eat” with your tongue touching the front of your palate, and you’ll get quite a nice lisp. Hardly attractive and very much reminiscent of Pratchett’s Igors. But why take my word? You can consult any table of the International Phonetic Alphabet (mine is in the back of Plag et al.’s Introduction to English Linguistics, second revised edition) and see that [t] categorises as a voiceless alveolar plosive (or stop, whichever name you prefer).

I know I’m picking nits here, but this is the kind of information that is not hard to obtain. And if you don’t feel like doing the research, then don’t put that kind of details anywhere.

Ahem. That’s all for me right now. Carry on.

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Favourites: The Privilege of the Sword

Time for another favourite book! This time we dive into the charming subgenre of Fantasy of Manners, also known as Mannerpunk – and my favourite of all fantasy subgenres, to tell the truth.

FAVOURITES

ELLEN KUSHNER: PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD

Published: Bantam Spectra 2006

Pages: 459

Series: Riverside (third published, second chronologically)

Welcome to Riverside, where the aristocratic and the ambitious battle for power in the city’s ballrooms, brothels, and boudoirs. Into this world walks Katherine, a well-bred country girl versed in the rules of conventional society. Her mistake is thinking they apply. For Katherine’s host and uncle, Alec Campion, a.k.a. the Mad Duke Tremontaine, is in charge here – and to him, rules are made to be broken.

When Alec decides it would be more amusing for his niece to learn swordplay than to follow the usual path to marriage, her world changes forever. Blade in hand, it’s up to Katherine to navigate a maze of secrets and scoundrels – and to gain the self-discovery that comes to those who master… THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD.

Ellen Kushner was a guest of honour at the 2010 Finncon. It was also my first time attending the con (or, indeed, any con), and I thought it would be a good idea to familiarise myself with the work at least one GoH. Neither Kushner nor Nalo Hopkinson could be found in the library, so off to the bookstore it was. The only Kushner available was The Privilege of the Sword, and it came home with me. And I fell in love with it.

Making sure that her fingers were well licked and dried, the Ugly Girl went to take a book from the pile on the mantelpiece. She sat by the window reading her treatise on mathematics, ignoring the duke as he received and donned his new shirt, received and interviewed an informant (who was not offered strawberries), received and made fun of a small but very ugly lamp meant as a bribe and finally went back to his fireplace excavations.

Although it is more YA than her other books, I still chose Privilege of the Sword as my favourite among the Riverside books. It’s light, witty, and fun – a growing up story of Katherine, a picture of Riverside after Alec has become Duke, and a delightful comparison of two girls; Artemisia Fitz-Levi has everything Katherine initially wanted, but all the beautiful dresses and exciting parties and numerous beaux don’t a happy life make.

Of course, if one has read Swordspoint, this book also offers a look at Alec’s adult life, and let me tell you, it’s heartbreaking. Seriously.

We found the old armory, full of antique weapons and country things like boar spears. My teacher picked us out some old, blunt practice swords, and we started back through the hall.

Suddenly, he grinned at me. “Hey!” he cried. “On your guard!”

I raised my sword, and he retreated before me. “Don’t worry,” he called. “I’ll keep falling back – just come on!”

And so I advanced on him, all the way down the long gallery, driving the master swordsman back with my clumsy tipped blade, sweeping past the portraits and landscapes, the swathes of sheeting, the covered mirrors, over the polished parquet.

He fetched up against a door, his face bright with laughter, and spread his arms open to me. I sighted my spot, to the left of his breastbone, and lunged – but he deflected the point with the tiniest of motions and my sword jarred in my hand.

“You want to relax your grip,” he said, “but that was good: a nice, clean attack.” He was laughing, looking back down the length of the hall. “God, I’ve wanted to do that ever since I got here! Thank you.”

The foremost praise for Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer (not part of the Riverside series) has been the masterful handling of different points of view. In Privilege of the Sword, I feel, the POV business is absolutely beautifully executed. Katherine’s story is conveyed in first person, whereas other main characters are written in third person. The effect is quite wonderful, even if it sounds suspicious when thus explained. Trust me. It’s great.

One point I would like to make. Katherine gets a swords master to teach her to fence, and reading the scenes he appears in are reminiscent of Syrio and Arya in A Game of Thrones. It appears though that Kushner has not read ASOIAF and only recently found out the books have this little bit in common.

Just in case someone was wondering.

So get yourself some Kushner! If you haven’t read any, here, let me help you out by arranging the three books in reading order:

Swordspoint

Privilege of the Sword

The Fall of the Kings

There are also various short stories situated in Riverside, such as “Red-Cloak”, “The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death”, “Death of the Duke”, “A Wild and Wicked Youth”, “The Man with the Knives” and “The Duke of Riverside”. I have yet to read Wicked Youth and Duke of Riverside, but I can already tell you all these short stories are excellent.

Kushner gets you addicted. I swear. Give mannerpunk a shot!

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Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Actually, I saw this movie a week ago. Err. The fact that I’m managing a review only now should tell a lot.

It wasn’t a bad movie. I was dead tired and it was a morning show, and I was afraid I’d fall asleep. I didn’t. It was kind of cool. However, compared to the previous movies in the series, I’d place it between Batman Begins (which I didn’t like much) and The Dark Knight (which was awesome). It probed Mr Wayne’s head a lot without boring the audience to tears and keeping the action intact.

Probably the most-talked new character was Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, who, in retrospect, was a rather unnecessary character and pretty much the token awesome woman. I liked the bits where she went thieving and fighting, and the goggles were brilliant, but in general there was little interest in her.

There was just too much in this movie. Too many characters, too many sub-plots, too much rambling. Hardy’s Bane was mostly hilarious (my friend was of the opinion that Hardy was wasted in the role because you can’t see his face except for about a couple of seconds), although I did like the character, and even more when we come towards the end.

Oh the twist. The twist. Wasn’t expecting that. Gods. That made the movie for me.

I suppose you could go see it. The movie benefits of a big screen and booming sound effects. (Am I getting old, or was did Tennispalatsi just have the sounds on really loud?) And it got a few tears.

Oh, and props for Joseph Gordon-Levitt! He did very well! I watched a whole lot of 3rd Rock From the Sun when I was little, and it keeps baffling me how little Tommy has grown up and gotten to be such a good actor.

So yes. A kind of a messy ending to the trilogy. Impressive-looking, but don’t expect too much.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Michael Cane

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