Monthly Archives: January 2013

Books in Janruary ’13

Hello, friends!

Gods, has January felt long! School has been rather exhausting, especially towards the end of the month, but I’ve managed some books, and certainly more than I thought I did! I’m kind of hoping I could maintain this reading speed, but that seems unlikely, considering that the time to apply for exchange starts tomorrow and the candidate’s essay due date looms.

It’s not much in evidence on this blog, but I’m a big Tarantino fan. Django Unchained premiered in Finland just a couple of weeks ago, and yes, I have seen it. I didn’t write a review, but if someone’s interested I could do it.

I’m still fuming about Anna Karenina. I’ve taken to reading newspaper reviews on it and disagreeing with them – mostly because it looks like no one has read the book. Sigh.

Anyway, now to the main event – the books!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

‘… once again Mr Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents.

Evil masterminds beware! Sherlock Holmes is back! Ten years after his supposed death in the swirling torrent of the Reichenbach Falls locked in the arms of his arch enemy Professor Moriarty, Arthur Conan Doyle agreed to pen further adventures featuring his brilliant detective. In the first story, ‘The Empty House’, Holmes returns to Baker Street and his good friend Watson, explaining how he escaped from his watery grave. In creating this collection of tales, Doyle had lost none of his cunning or panache, providing Holmes with a sparkling set of mysteries to solve and a challenging set of adversaries to defeat. The potent mixture includes murder, abduction, baffling cryptograms and robbery. We are also introduced to the one of the cruellest villains in the Holmes canon, the despicable Charles Augustus Milverton. As before, Watson is the superb narrator and the magic remains unchanged and undimmed.

(Back cover of Wordswoth Classics 2008 edition)

After Gardner’s Moriarty failed to hold my interest, I decided to finally get on with the ACD canon. My obsession with the character of Colonel Moran was kept back by the fact that I had never read the story he appears in – “The Empty House” – and so this was my main incentive.

As a whole, I liked this collection of stories better than the previous ones. Doyle has clearly advanced as a writer, and the mysteries are more complicated: the previous ones are, for those familiar with detective stories, easy to deduce and the clues are put forward with virtually no red herrings. In Return, there were a couple of cases I managed to piece together (sans motives, though) even with my limited knowledge of detective fiction, but some simply sucked me in because I couldn’t focus on the right details.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience. Returning to both the Baker Street boys and Victorian London was a great relief, and a good start to the year.

First published: 1905

Pages: 303 (Wordsworth Classics 2008)

Stephen Fry: Moab Is My Washpot

Moab is my Washpot is in turns funny, shocking, tender, delicious, said, lyrical, bruisingly frank and addictively readable.

Stephen Fry’s bestselling memoir tells how, sent to a boarding school 200 miles away from home at the age of seven, he survived beatings, misery, love, ecstasy, carnal violation, expulsion, imprisonment, criminal conviction, probation and catastrophe to emerge, at eighteen, ready to try and face the world in which he had always felt a stranger.

When he was fifteen, he wrote the following in a letter to himself, not to be read until he was twenty-five: ‘Well I tell you now that everything I feel now, everything I am now is truer and better than anything I shall ever be. Ever. This is me now, the real me. Every day that I grow away from the me that is writing this now is a betrayal and a defeat.

Whether the real Stephen Fry is the man now living, or the extraordinary adolescent now dead, only you will be able to decide.

(Back cover of Arrow Books 2011 reissue)

Fry’s style is rather rambly, which took some getting used to after Doyle’s precise way of carrying a plot, but he never strays too far and always returns to where he took a by-path. I enjoyed myself, and although it was slightly disconcerting to read about the growing up of a person I hold in high esteem – and Fry’s life has been more chequered than I expected, even with a little background knowledge – it was also very interesting. I could relate to some of the feelings he expressed and explained, which of course made me read with more gusto than I perhaps otherwise would have.

I’d recommend the book to fans of Stephen Fry. If you can take the style, you’ll enjoy it. You get used to it fairly quickly, I promise.

Published: 1997

Pages: 436

Mary Balogh: The Dark Angel/Lord Carew’s Bride

Dark Angel

Jennifer Winwood has been engaged for five years to a man she hardly knows but believes to be honorable and good: Lord Lionel Kersey. Suddenly, she becomes the quarry of London’s most notorious womanizer, Gabriel Fisher, the Earl of Thornhill. Jennifer has no idea that she is just a pawn in the long-simmering feud between these two headstrong, irresistible men – or that she will become a prize more valuable than revenge.

Lord Carew’s Bride

Love has not been kind to Samantha Newman, but friendship has. When her emotions are rubbed raw by the reappearance in her life of a villain who had broken her heart some years before, she turns with gratitude to the kindly Hartley Wade, with whom she had developed a warm friendship when she mistook him for a gardener during a visit to the country. She accepts his proposal, expecting a quiet, safe, undemanding marriage. She does not know that Hartley is the Marquess of Carew and that he loves her passionately–and believes she returns his feelings.

(Back cover of Dell omnibus edition 2010/marybalogh.com)

I haven’t read romance in a while, and devoured these two in one day. This was my second time reading them, and yes, Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew is still my favourite romance novel hero.

Published: Signer Regency 1995

Pages: 308/285

J. R. R. Tolkien: Silmarillion

The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of Tolkien’s World. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them, such as Elrond and Galadriel, took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils.

The three Silmarils were jewels created by Fëanor, most gifted of the Elves. Within them were imprisoned the Light of the Two Trees of Valinor before the Trees themselves were destroyed by Morgoth. Thereafter the unsullied Light of Valinor lived only in the Silmarils; but they were seized by Morgoth and set in his crown, guarded in the fortress of Angband in the north of Middle-earth.

The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of Fëanor and his kindred against the gods, their exile from Valinor and return to Middle-earth and their war, hopeless despite their heroism, against the great Enemy. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindalë is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabêth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Númenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, which are narrated in Lord of the Rings.

(First leaf of the Unwin paperback 1979 edition)

I managed to shock a friend of mine by telling her this was my first time reading Silmarillion. I tried it about ten years ago, when I’d just gotten into Tolkien, but put it down after about fifty pages. Reading it now, it was still slow going, particularly because I like dialogue better than description and I can’t stand extensive family trees or geography, but it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I remembered. What I did enjoy was making a stylistic comparison between this book, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. Tolkien is the master of style, and I would love to write my stylistics essay for Academic Writing on him would not the teacher be the one choosing the material. But maybe someday I will write something on the subject in my own time.

The experience was a lot like reading a religious work. I’m not saying it’s a good or a bad thing; it was merely different to what I usually like to read.

And, of course, the languages were a source of delight. Particularly the mountain pass of Calacirya amused me. (I here assume that /y/ is pronounced as [j], which would make the pronunciation sound like the Finnish word ‘kalakirja’, which means ‘fish book’, ‘book on fish’. Add to this the fact that in this pass was raised the hill of Túna, and I’m sure you see why I’m amused.)

Published: George Allen & Unwin 1977

Pages: 367 (plus genealogies, notes on pronunciation, index of names, appendix) (Unwin paperback 1979 edition)

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…

(Back cover of Gollancz 50 edition)

I know, I know. Locke Lamora again. I couldn’t help myself! It is by far the most comfortable book I can pick up from my shelf, and after Silmarillion I needed something more explosive and fast-paced.

I’ve discussed this book so many times on this blog I’ll forgo that for now, but you’re more than welcome to read the Favourites post I wrote on it, or to go through the Read-Along posts, the first one of which is here.

Published: Gollancz 2006

Pages: 530

There it is. I think this year will include a lot of re-reading.

No books bought all month, despite the sales: I take some pride in this self-control! But the fact is, I just don’t have time to read, and so amassing new books feels a little foolish.

Currently reading:

Pistols for Two by Georgette Heyer (collection of Regency short stories, I love them so much!)

Goodbye! I hope you had a nice January; let us now proceed with the year!

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Movie Review: Anna Karenina

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So I finally saw this movie. I’ve been waiting for it. I like novel adaptations, but I also like to read them before seeing them, which is why I didn’t see the latest Wuthering Heights. With this, I went to the trouble of the book – rather excellent, by the way – and so went to see the film right when it came out.

The word that kept repeating itself in my head throughout the movie was, “Ridiculous.”

Joe Wright is a decent director, I suppose, but I would keep him away from the great classics of literature, particularly if he insists casting Keira Knightley. Atonement was a good film, I even liked it better than the book and Knightley was good, but nope, she’s just not what a period drama needs. Someone will accuse me of being shallow now, but Knightley is hardly what an ideal woman in the 19th century looked like. And those mid-1800s dresses do require breasts to look their best. I’m sorry if I sound harsh, I don’t like to be, but that really bothers me.

But back to the film itself. It’s in the line of recent movies that lack deep feeling: the new Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and The Duchess (for the most part but not as bad as the other two) are brought to mind. Maybe it’s the filmmakers themselves to prefer it, or maybe it’s what they expect the audience to enjoy, I don’t know. Personally, I would like to see more soul-wrenching emotion. (You know the 2006 mini series of Jane Eyre? Watch Ruth Wilson deliver Jane’s response to the proposal. I’m always impressed by it.) A story like Anna Karenina gives the actors the chance to portray intense emotion, and I didn’t see it here.

The movie is much dominated – more heavily at the beginning – by a theatre motif. Things happen as if in a stage set, which took me by surprise and, quite frankly, almost put me off the whole film. I’ve tried to piece together a reason for this strong motif, but as of yet have very little that would be backed up by textual evidence. Another recurring thing was the moving train and its wheels, which keeps appearing from time to time, as if it were chasing Anna. The ball scene would also be an interesting one to analyze, although I was much distracted by the weird waltz that was the first trigger for “ridiculous”.  I will probably end up buying the DVD and watching the movie again, just to be able to analyze it and rid myself of this annoying feeling of not understanding the theatre motif. If someone has seen the film and has thoughts, please share! I’m open to theories!

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complete disaster. The theatre business is rather pleasant particularly at the beginning, where the tone is still light and airy. There are great roles played: I don’t usually care much for Matthew Mcfadyen, but his Stiva was excellent. Ruth Wilson, Michelle Dockery, and Shirley Henderson were charming in their own parts and I took great delight in seeing them. I must also applaud Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander for their roles as Levin and Kitty, because they actually had me in tears. This leaves me, more or less, with the leading males, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnsson, who both did sound work. Jude Law’s Karenin was the only character I would have liked to show a little less emotion, though.

Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson as Kitty and Levin – my favourite couple!

The film also gets points for including two scenes I particularly enjoyed in the book: Levin making hay with the peasants (much less impressive in the film but included nonetheless), the horse race (obscurely situated in a theatre, perhaps because Anna’s behaviour there is under inquisitive eyes – I really must look into this thing), and Levin seeing Kitty again after a long separation (again, much better in the book but very beautiful in the film).

The ladies are judging you!

Although I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I would have liked to, this was an interesting cinema experience. If you’re going to go see it, don’t expect your usual period costume drama. It’s simply not constructed that way. Try to enjoy the strangeness of it – but I do recommend the book much more than I’d recommend the film.

Anna Karenina (2012)

Diretor: Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnsson, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Kelly Macdonald

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Musings: Picking books and proseminar

Hello readers!

I’ve been very quiet for a long time. Apologies for that. The silence is due to two things: 1) Holidays have made me super lazy and phlegmatic, and 2) nothing has really happened. I’ve been reading very slowly, which might be due to the killer reading schedule I was on for the Victorian novel bit of the proseminar and couldn’t really shake once that was over. You get used to having a deadline with books, and it’s nice to get things read, but that also takes away some of the enjoyment. Much depends on the book, too, of course: if it sucks you in like a really good book does, you’ll read it pretty fast anyway.

I tried reading John Gardner’s Moriarty. When after six days I wasn’t even halfway through and found myself groaning whenever the book caught my eye, I decided to give it up. I hate to give up on a book, but it just wasn’t working. Sorry, Mr Gardner – your style wasn’t for me, at least not now. I’ll probably try again sometime in the future, when I actually feel like it.

Instead, I returned to the Victorians in the form of Sherlock Holmes, and it felt infinitely better. So I made a decision: this year, I will try and not force myself to read anything I don’t feel like reading. I can reread all I like, pick anything I want from the library without thinking about the few dozen books that are waiting for me at home, or, if I so choose, read several books at a time. The last one is a huge decision, because I’ve been reluctant to do that for ages. Uni courses forced me to do it in the fall term – that’s what you get, taking so many literature courses that include weekly reading – and I’m now convinced that it’s okay.

One reason for reading for my own pleasure whatever the heck I feel like reading is the proseminar and, consequently, the dreaded bachelor’s thesis (or candidate’s essay or prosem paper, I don’t really know what it’s supposed to be called) which I will need to hand in around the end of April. My chosen work is William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and my focus on the romance plot in it. Yup, that’s right. I’m going to be analyzing the whole George-Amelia-William situation. It’s going to be heaps of fun, if only I could manage to decide from where to start…

Spring term starts next Monday, and I’m thrilled to get back to routine and lectures and actual studying. The third period – the first half of the term – is a particular delight: I have only four lectures a week, all of them in English! This includes prosem (surprise!), Academic Writing with one of my favourite lecturers and a really good friend, and a course on Medieval and Early Modern Ireland.

So if I manage only end of month posts and maybe one other post a month, you’ll know why that is. And it might happen that the other post is ranting about research or Vanity Fair or writing. For that, I apologise in advance. Then again, the post titles will tell you what they include and you can skip them.

I still haven’t decided my bi-monthly theme for this year. I suppose I could do Authors, Book-to-Film Adaptations, or Book Covers. We’ll see. For the moment, I’m leaning towards authors.

This post is ridiculously long. If you got to the end, I salute you! There’s no proper reward for doing that, though – sorry about that. Instead you get a picture of my background reading pile. (Had to take one back to the library as someone had reserved it – but I’ll either reserve it again or buy my own, because it’s a very interesting book! There’s also a couple more books I need to pick up from the library.)

Prosem research

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2012 in Books

Now is the time to take a look at what the heck I read all last year! After the list there’s also the announcement of the WOW of the year, which took me by surprise in every way.

The goal this year was 70 books. According to Goodreads I got to 73, because GR doesn’t count rereads, but I do, so my own counting gives me the much better result of 81 (different) books.

Books read 2012

1. Maurice Leblanc: The Hollow Needle
2. Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies x2
3. Julia Quinn: Ten Things I Love About You
4. Georgette Heyer: Frederica
5. Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment
6. Franz Kafka: Metamorphosis
7. Mikhail Bulgakov: Master and Margarita
8. Ian McEwan: Atonement
9. Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games
10. Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South x2
11. Julia Quinn: What Happens in London
12. Jane Austen: Persuasion
13. Georgette Heyer: The Spanish Bride
14. John le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
15. George Orwell: Animal Farm
16. Patricia Briggs: Moon Called
17. Neil Gaiman: American Gods
18. Gregory Maguire: Out of Oz
19. Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire
20. Suzanne Collins: Mockingjay
21. Richard Morgan: The Steel Remains
22. Stephanie Laurens: The Promise in a Kiss
23. Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage
24. Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora
25. Mary Balogh: Then Comes Seduction
26. Jane Aiken Hodge: The Private World of Georgette Heyer
27. Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express
28. Mary Balogh: At Last Comes Loves
29. Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
30. Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals
31. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles
32. Mary Balogh: Seducing an Angel
33. Paul Torday: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
34. Loretta Chase: Lord Perfect
35. Mary Balogh: Dark Angel / Lord Carew’s Bride
36. Charles Dickens: Great Expectations x2
37. Douglas Hulick: Among Thieves
38. Mary Balogh: The Secret Pearl
39. Eleanor Herman: Sex with the Queen
40. Mary Balogh: A Secret Affair
41. Patricia Briggs: Cry Wolf
42. Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver
43. Robin McKinley: Sunshine
44. Brent Weeks: The Way of Shadows
45. Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch
46. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
47. Mark Lawrence: Prince of Thorns
48. Elle Kushner: The Privilege of the Sword
49. J.B. Priestley: The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency
50. E.L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey
51. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
52. Glen Duncan: Talulla Rising
53. Kim Newman: Professor Moriarty and the Hound of the D’Urbervilles
54. Geoffrey Trease: Byron – A Poet Dangerous to Know
55. Mary Balogh: The Temporary Wife / A Promise of Spring
56. Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
57. Martin Amis: Time’s Arrow
58. Andrzej Zaniewski: Rat
59. George Eliot: Middlemarch
60. William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair x2
61. Orhan Pamuk: White Castle
62. Anthony Trollope: Barchester Towers
63. Herta Müller: The Passport
64. Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince
65. J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit
66. Nick Foulkes: Dancing into Battle – A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo
67. Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
68. Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift
69. Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth
70.  Jules Verne: The Castle of Carpathians
71. Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows
72. Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army
73. A.A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh
74. Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One
75. P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins
76. Charles Dickes: A Christmas Carol
77. Diana Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle
78. Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
79. Cassandra Clare: City of Bones
80. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere
81. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

It’s a good list, I think, yet it still feels like I read next to nothing. This is bookwormery for you – 80 books a year isn’t a proper pace at all! I’m terrified of 2013, since I will probably have less time to read…

On to the WOW of the year! WOW of the year is a book that I enjoyed very very much and took me by surprise. My rules say that it has to be an author I haven’t read before, so that unfortunately ruled The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi out (although it was definitely one of the best books I read). Previous WOWs have been

  • 2009 – Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora)
  • 2010 – Ellen Kushner (Privilege of the Sword)
  • 2011 – Mark Lawrence (Prince of Thorns)

This year was a little different, as I read very little new fantasy, and what I did read didn’t really enchant me. So, the WOW of 2012 is…

Sniper One by Sgt Dan Mills

I didn’t know I could enjoy a novel about war, let alone modern war. I do fine with 18th and 19th century warfare but I’ve always thought the modern stuff would be beyond me. Turns out it isn’t, not completely, and Mills’s book proved this to me. It’s engaging, exciting, and informative. A great read!

Other favourites this year, looking back at the list, have been the aforementioned The Fractal Prince by Rajaniemi, Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis, Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, and Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan. All the four Russian classics (Crime and Punishment, Master and Margarita, War and Peace, Anna Karenina) also turned out to be excellent.

That be year 2012. Let us move on to 2013!

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