Category Archives: Monthly

Books in May ’14

May is gone, and I’m late with this post due to a family thing yesterday and my computer refusing to work after it was over. So let’s not draw this out – here be the books!

 

Mary Robinette Kowal: Without A Summer

 

Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with award-winning short stories and beloved novels featuring Regency pair Jane and David Vincent. In Without A Summer, the master glamourists return home, but in a world where magic is real, nothing – not even the domestic sphere – is quite what it seems.

Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside, and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects – and mood – will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and the increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

(Back cover of the Tor paperback)

Some of you may remember that Shades of Milk and Honey was my WOW book of last year. I loved it, and I loved Glamour in Glass – and Without A Summer continues that line. I think it better than it’s predecessor, vastly intriguing and oh so pleasant to read! Kowal’s period detail is wonderful and reading her you may trust you are in good hands. I very warmly recommend this series! It is magic mixed with history and, although light in style, takes on many important issues of the family circle and doesn’t shy even from the most difficult of topics. Janeites will also recognise the copious parallels to Emma!

This is one of my favourite series, and this book is excellent. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on the next instalment, Valour and Vanity!

Published: 2013

Pages: 349

 

Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

 

Lucien di Fontein has grown up an outsider; one of the Orfano, the deformed of the Kingdom of Landfall. He is lonely, tormented by his difference and a pawn in a political game. The reclusive king and his majordomo rule Landfall from the vast castle of Demesne, but the walls are no barrier to darkness from without. Or within.

Landfall is a harsh world of secrets and rivalries, where whispers are as lethal as blades, where control is fragile and the peace waits to be broken. Lucien will have to rely on more than just his blade to protect the ones he loves.

Den Patrick’s richly imagined high fantasy introduces a memorable new hero. His is a story that will delight those who love Locke Lamora and Titus Groan alike.

(Back cover of Gollancz trade paperback 2014)

Yes, even I sometimes manage to read something the same year it comes out. What did you expect? Locke Lamora has been mentioned, political intrigue promised, and a fantastic title presented.

As a whole, I find this book rather average. Well, perhaps a little above average. There are some things that bothered me, but also a lot to admire. I shall break this review into bullet points, because I feel that is the clearest way to explain both my qualms and approvals.

Pros:

  • Despite being numerous, fight scenes do not get boring; very alive, very well described
  • The worldbuilding works well, although it took me a while to catch on. This is likely more me than the book, as I tend to skip scenery.
  • When the dialogue is witty, it really is witty! And it’s good in general.

 

Cons:

  • Some unnecessary repetition of details; they get underlined but aren’t all that significant.
  • I’m not too happy with the female characters. This gets a bit better towards the end, but the inaction and the very traditional roles they’re cast in grates.
  • Lucien spends a lot of time sleeping or unconscious; surely there are other wise of transitioning from one scene to another?
  • So. Many. Fires.

 

In general, I think it’s a nice, enjoyable book. I also think that Patrick has a lot of potential, which he will reach through more experience; this reads very much like a first novel. I will also mention that this edition could have used another round of proofreading, as there was a lot of punctuation missing and a few typos. The latter didn’t bother me as much as the former.

I will definitely read the next one as well, because I think there’s something here. It just needs some improvement to really snare me.

Published: 2014

Pages: 321

 

Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves

 

I will leave out the blurb and, indeed, a review. This was my third reading and it was conducted mostly to take notes and to see if there was anything I missed earlier.

Published: 2013

Pages: 598

 

M. C. Beaton: The Taming of Annabelle

 

From the moment the honey-tressed young Annabelle meets her sister Minerva’s intended, Lord Sylvester, she develops a secret passion for him that obsesses her. Now she is determined to take him away from Minerva – no matter what.

But Annabelle hadn’t reckoned on Lord Sylvester’s best friend, Peter, who falls in love with her and decides to tame her growing passions for the wrong man.

(Back cover of Constable & Robinson paperback)

This is the second book in The Six Sisters series. I hadn’t read Beaton before, but decided to get it from the library when it happened to sit there on the shelf.

Thing is, I’m too old for this book. This would work wonders for a teen reader; it’s quite fun and introduces the Regency period very well, with several rather entertaining explanatory paragraphs here and there. The plot is a bit childish, but so is the main character, and at times Annabelle annoyed me to no end. Peter hardly behaves any less childishly despite being 35 (I think) and that does not quite sit with me.

This book, and I assume the others in the series, could work well as easy introductions to Regency romance. The Taming of Annabelle is fun, but for older readers it may be too shallow. I would say a 13–15-year-old would be more in the target readership, and I would not hesitate to recommend this to someone of that age with an interest in romance.

Published: 1983

Pages: 250

 

Elizabeth Bear: Shoggoths in Bloom

 

Shoggoths in Bloom: A compilation of short science fiction and fantasy from Elizabeth Bear – tales of myth and mythic resonance, fantasies both subtle and epic in tone; hard science fiction and speculations about an unknowable universe. This collection, showcasing Bear’s unique imagination and singular voice, includes her Hugo- and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winning story “Tideline” and Hugo-winning novelette “Shoggoth in Bloom”, as well as an original, never-published story. Recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a World Fantasy, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick nominee, Bear is one of speculative fiction’s most acclaimed, respected, and prolific authors.

(Back cover of the Prime paperback)

Now, understand that I’m very bad at reading collections of short stories. Very bad. I manage one a year, if I try hard, and it can be slow going without a plot to pull me.

I didn’t have my usual troubles with Shoggoths.

Bear is amazingly versatile in her writing, and I promise you a swoon over how much research has gone into every single story in this collection. I am both enamoured and awed. If you read short story collection this year, read this one.

I cried at the end of the first one. Several made me uncomfortable, in the way good SF should. Two hit me really hard in my current situation in life, and I draw strength from them. And oh, I think I’ve found my favourite short story. Well, a new one for the small list of the ones I love: “The Cold Blacksmith” took me and chewed at my heart and now, days later, I’m still not over it.

Published: 2011

Pages: 329 (20 short stories)

 

Julia Quinn: Just Like Heaven

Honoria Smythe-Smith, the youngest daughter of the eldest son of the Earl of Winstead, plays the violin in the annual musicale performed by the Smythe-Smith quartet. She’s well aware that they are dreadful but she’s the sort who figures that nothing good will come of being mortified, so she puts on a good show and laughs about it.

Marcus Holroyd is the best friend of Honoria’s brother Daniel, who lives in exile. Marcus has promised to watch out for Honoria, but he faces a challenge when she sets off for Cambridge determined to marry by the end of the season. She’s got her eye on the only unmarried Bridgerton, who’s a bit wet behind the ears. When her advances are spurned, can Marcus swoop in and steal her heart in time for the musicale?

(Back cover of Piatkus 2011 paperback)

I don’t find the blurb terribly accurate. Just wanted to say that. I also want to say that my primary motive for reading this book is the rather hilarious dedication – “And also for Paul, even though when I went to him for medical advice to save my ailing hero, he replied, ‘He has to die.’”

I’m not particularly fond of this sort of “We have known each other since we were children and I am starting to realise I actually love you” romance. Not that I don’t occasionally enjoy it, but at least at this instance I was not in the mood for it. I also found this book rather flat and it failed to raise any particular feelings. It served its purpose of something light and quick to read, but apart from that, hardly memorable.

Published: 2011

Pages: 374

 

Mary Balogh: The Proposal

 

Lady Gwendoline Muir has experienced her fair share of tragedies in her short life: she lost her husband to a freak accident, and developed a limp after falling from horseback. Still young, Gwen is sure that she’s done with love, and that she will never be married again.

Gwen tries to be content with her life as it is, and to live through the marriages of her brother and her cousin and best friend, Viscountess Ravensburg. She’s happy for them, and for years that is enough for her… until she meets Lord Trentham – a man who returned from the Peninsular War a hero, but is unable to escape the bite of his survivor’s guilt. For he might just be the man who can convince her to believe in second chances.

(Back cover of Piatkus 2012 paperback)

Now we’re talking. I have been eager to start the Survivors’ Club series, of which this one is the first. Balogh writes very believable and mature characters and does it with such certainty that it is hard not to fall in with them – and indeed, why would you even want to avoid that? Some of you know of my penchant for wounded heroes, and that is exactly what this book, along with the rest of the series, provides. Trentham is particularly interesting for his utter bluntness; I don’t think I’ve read a Regency romance where sex is so explicitly discussed (never crudely, though – Balogh is never crude).

The charm of this book is mainly in the characters. When it comes to plot, it’s rather straightforward and un-dramatic, which I feel speaks of Balogh’s skill as a writer: the lack of drama does not diminish the experience or slow the reading, quite the opposite. There was a little too much retelling of moments from another point of view, but I hope that is only a lapse in this book and won’t occur in the rest of the series, the next of which I have waiting.

Published: 2012

Pages: 309

 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Idiot

 Returning to Russia from a sanitarium in Switzerland, the Christ-like epileptic Prince Myshkin finds himself enmeshed in a tangle of love, torn between two women—the notorious kept woman Nastasya and the pure Aglaia—both involved, in turn, with the corrupt, money-hungry Ganya. In the end, Myshkin’s honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.

(Goodreads)

Not too fond of this one. It is obvious that Dostoyevsky was in need of money while writing this, and the serialisation is so obvious it was at times painfully dull going – there is a confession latter that lasts for three chapters (some 40 pages) and it largely unrelated to the plot. However, some of the characters – particularly Nastasja Filippovna and Rogozin (I’m using the Finnish version of the names) – were very interesting, and the last few chapters are excellent in their dramatic flair, although I wouldn’t say they are worth reading the whole thing. However, I’m glad I’ve read it and can now move the next Dostoyevsky to my more immediate list.

Published: 1868

Translation: Olli Kuukasjärvi

Pages: 829

 

Alexander Pushkin: Eugene Onegin

 

Eugene Onegin is the master work of the poet whom Russians regard as the fountainhead of their literature. Set in imperial Russia during the 1820s, Pushkin’s novel in verse follows the emotions and destiny of three men – Onegin the bored fop, Lensky the minor elegiast, and a stylized Pushkin himself – and the fates and affections of three women – Tatyana the provincial beauty, her sister Olga, and Pushkin’s mercurial Muse. Engaging, full of suspense, and varied in tone, it also portrays a large cast of other characters and offers the reader many literary, philosophical, and autobiographical digressions, often in a highly satirical vein. Eugene Onegin was Pushkin’s own favourite work, and it shows him attempting to transform himself from romantic poet into realistic novelist.

(Goodreads)

Now this was very much my thing! I started reading a bit sceptically, although I’ve long wanted to read this, and my, it was an absolute pleasure! Pushkin is much more fun than I’d expected, I wasn’t bored by his nature descriptions at all, he is very intertextual, and there is some damn good drama, although some of the motivations elude me. Nonetheless, very very good!

Published: 1823–31

Translation: Lauri Kemiläinen 1935

Pages: 242

 

Currently reading:
Andrei Belyi: Peterburg

That’s it for May!

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Books in April ’14

Hello, friends! It is time for book things again! This month was alright, although I had hoped to read one book more – but no matter. Spring is usually a time of reading slumps for me, so considering, this is pretty well. And look, not a single romance novel! What on earth is going on?

 

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

 

It is the summer of 1956. Stevens, an ageing butler, has embarked on a rare holiday – a six-day motoring trip through the West Country. But his travels are disturbed by the memories of a lifetime in service to the late Lord Darlington, and most of all by the increasingly painful recollection of his friendship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. For the first time in his life, Stevens is forced to wonder if all his actions were for the best after all…

The Remains of the Day is a sad and humorous love story, a moving and witty meditation on the democratic responsibilities of the ordinary man, and a poignant tale of thwarted idealism. Characterized by the grace and subtlety for which Kazuo Ishiguro’s work has been acclaimed, it is his finest novel so far.

(Back cover of Faber & Faber 1989 hardcover)

A friend has recommended Ishiguro to me, and therefore I was delighted to see him on our reading list – nothing forces you to finally pick up an author than requirement! And I must say, I am by no means displeased.

Ishiguro’s style is amazingly beautiful and graceful, and his command of language is superb. There is very little action in this novel, but it is still very compelling and grabs you. Dignity is a big issue, and I found it fascinating to watch it discussed by the first-person narrator Stevens, who seems to have lost himself in his strive to be dignified and as good a butler as possible. And I disagree with the back cover’s description when it comes to “humorous love story”; to me, it seemed simply tragic. Perhaps the task of writing an essay on the book affects me in this, but I saw the relationship to Miss Kenton as a strong example of how out of touch Stevens is with his own emotions and normal interaction on a personal level.

I recommend this book, although I will have to read more Ishiguro to determine how much I actually like him. The Remains of the Day is, however, without a doubt excellent.

Published: 1989

Pages: 245

 

Peter Ackroyd: Chatterton

 

In this remarkable detective novel Peter Ackroyd investigates the death of Thomas Chatterton, the eighteenth-century poet-forger and genius, whose life ended under mysterious circumstances. Fusing themes of illusion and imagination, delusion and dreams, he weaves back and forth between three centuries, introducing a blazing cast of Dickensian eccentrics and rogues, from the outrageous, gin-sipping Harriet Scrope, an elderly female novelist, to the tragic young poet, Charles Wychwood, seeker of Chatterton’s secret… They find more riddles than answers from their search.

This entertaining comedy is at once hilarious, and a thoughtful exploration of the deepest issues of both life and art.

(Goodreads)

Let’s get this straight at once: I think that blurb rather misleading. I would not call Chatterton a detective novel: rather than following any conventions of that genre, it offers layers and layers of lies, misconceptions, delusions, forgery, fakes and pretention, and ties the whole lot together with a bit of the supernatural in a nice tribute to the Romantics. I also would not agree that it is an “entertaining comedy”; I certainly didn’t read it as such. I was left feeling rather uncomfortable and grim, although also found myself nodding sombrely by the end of the novel.

Ackroyd explores the whats and whys of forgery and plagiarism in a rather nice way, offering points of view. Unfortunately, I didn’t take to the supernatural aspect of this novel quite like I took to it in The Fall of Troy by the same author; in Chatterton, I felt it overused and a little too guiding.

If you pick this up and your copy doesn’t have a colour picture of Henry Wallis’s painting, Chatterton (1856), look it up. It not only features rather prominently in the story but is also actually a very nice painting. It is also in the painting, I think, that the layers of fakeness lie the heaviest.

Published: 1987

Pages: 234

 

Toni Morrison: A Mercy

 

In the 1680s the slave trade was still in its infancy. In the Americas, virulent religious and class division, prejudice and oppression were rife, providing fertile soil in which slavery and race hatred were carefully planted and took root.

Jacob is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a smallholding in the harsh North. Despite his distaste for dealing in ‘flesh’, he takes a small slave girl, in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, ‘with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady’, who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Florens is hungry for love, at first from the older servant woman at her new master’s house; but later, when she’s sixteen, from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives…

And all of them have stories: Lina, the native American servant, whose tribe was decimated by smallpox; their mistress Rebekka, herself a victim of religious fervour back in England; young Sorrow, daughter of a sea captain, who’s spent too many years at sea to be quite… normal; and, finally, there’s Florens’s own mother back home in Maryland.

This is their blight – men and women inventing themselves in the wilderness. A Mercy reveals what lies under the surface of slavery, and the opening chapter of the story of sugar, that great maw which was to eat up millions of lives. But at its heart, like Beloved, this is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter in a violent ad-hoc world – a world where acts of mercy, like everything else, have unforeseen consequences.

(Dust jacket of Chatto and Windus 2008 hardcover)

I don’t really get Morrison. She’s an alright author and I recognise that she discusses important issues, but somehow the books always elude me. I have read The Bluest Eye and Beloved before, and especially the latter completely escaped me. I don’t know why; perhaps the ideas run so deep I can’t see them.

But boy, do I appreciate the way A Mercy is put together. I went in expecting to read from the point of view of maybe two characters – easy mistake to make, I’d say, when there is first a focalised third person narrator and then a stylistically very distinct first person narrator – but turns out there are many focalisers. It’s always delightful when all characters are accounted for! The central character is Florens, whose story we follow from her on perspective throughout the novel, with the other characters getting their space around her chapters. I haven’t quite pieced together what this does, and perhaps I will reread the book at some point (you know, when I’m a little older and hopefully wiser) and see if it makes more sense.

Generally speaking, I like A Mercy much better than I liked Beloved, although I believe the latter is more hyped. I think A Mercy is more feminist, about women and their interactions and worldviews and changes, and that at the moment appeals to me.

Published: 2008

Pages: 165

 

Elizabeth Bear: Undertow

 

A frontier world on the back end of nowhere is the sort of place people go to get lost. And some of those people have secrets worth hiding, secrets that can change the future – assuming there is one…

André Deschênes is a hired assassin, but he wants to be so much more. If only he can find a teacher who will forgive his murderous past – and train him to manipulate odds and control probability. It’s called the art of conjuring, and it’s André’s only route to freedom. For the world he lives on is run by the ruthless Charter Trade Company, and his floating city, Novo Haven, is little more than a company town where humans and aliens alike either work for one tyrannical family – or are destroyed by it. But beneath Novo Haven’s murky waters, within its tangled bayous, reedy banks, and back alleys, revolution is stirring. And one more death may be all it takes to shift the balance…

(Back cover of Bantam Spectra 2007 paperback)

Let’s see. Political intrigue? Check. Assassin? Check. Awesome ladies? Check. Slightly confused? Check. So basically Undertow has a lot of things I really really like. Yes, even the confusion is nice. Being confused means you need to think a bit. I took this book with me to the country for a holiday and therefore didn’t push myself as much as I should have, and I’m disappointed in myself because of that, but we’ll let that be and call it a perfect excuse to reread the book.

Much of the confusion is because of my unfamiliarity with SF and not by any means because of Bear. She writes in a way that explains without dumping lots of technical detail (something I’m always afraid of when I start an SF novel) and she engages you from the beginning. I particularly love the shifts and twists in the story: the beginning made me expect things and then it turns out nothing is what I expected it to be. And let me tell you, I love Cricket. So much. I can’t even explain how much I love her.

While not my favourite book ever, Undertow is definitely an excellent read. It keeps you on your toes and your brain active, even if you’re merely pleasure reading like I was. It doesn’t let you off easy, I can promise you that!

Published: 2007

Pages: 332

 

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Quantum Thief

 

Jean de Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy – from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to steal their thoughts, to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of the Moving Cities of Mars.

Except that Jean made one mistake.

Now he is condemned to play endless variations of a game-theoretic riddle in the vast virtual jail of the Axelrod Archons – the Dilemma Prison – against countless copies of himself.

Jean’s routine of death, defection and cooperation is upset by the arrival of Mieli and her spaceship, Perhonen. She offers him a chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self – in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed…

(Back cover of Gollancz 2010 paperback)

Finally got around to rereading Quantum Thief, and boy, am I glad I did! The first time I was tripped up by the physics and other science things; this time it was much easier to keep an eye on the details and to follow the plot and its implications. And I love it, even better than I did before. The craft is beautiful, and the ease with which Rajaniemi uses all the hard SF stuff is magnificent and lulls you into its pull whether you actually understand it or not.

Published: 2010

Pages: 330

 

Catherynne M. Valente: Silently and Very Fast

Fantastist Catherynne M. Valente takes on the folklore of artificial intelligence in this brand new, original novella of technology, identity, and an uncertain mechanized future.

Neva is dreaming. But she is not alone. A mysterious machine entity called Elefsis haunts her and the members of her family, back through the generations to her great-great-grandmother—a gifted computer programmer who changed the world. Together Neva and Elefsis navigate their history and their future, an uneasy, unwilling symbiote.

But what they discover in their dreamworld might change them forever . .

(Goodreads)

This novella gave me so much trouble. Part of this is because it’s fairly complicated in structure; part, because I consider it rather hard science fiction; and part, because I read it for class where I knew I would be expected to say something intelligent about it. (I didn’t manage that, in case you were wondering.) The narrative is not linear, there are retold fairy tales between the story of Elefsis the AI, and I just got very confused, trying to analyse it during the only reading I had time for. I recommend you read this twice; once to see what’s going on, another time to see how the parts actually play together.

But occasionally frying your brain is healthy, and I really want to try some of Valente’s novels!

Published: 2011

Pages: 82

 

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince

 

On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrödinger box.

He is doing the job for his patron, and owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not.

The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack.

The thief is nearly dead, the ship is being eaten alive.

Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him.

And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

There are many stories that can be told even in a thousand nights and one night, but these two will twist, and combine. And reality will spiral.

In Hannu Rajaniemi’s sparkling follow-up to the critically acclaimed, international sensation The Quantum Thief, he returns to his awe-inspiring vision of the universe and we find out what the future held for Earth.

(Back cover of Gollancz 2012 paperback)

I like Fractal Prince even more than I like Quantum Thief. It is truly a compelling story that twists and turns and I think I may need a third reading to really explain it to myself. All I can say is, read it. Read them both. I promise you, it’s amazing. Just now I said I’m not good with hard sci-fi. Well, Rajaniemi is exactly that. And I still love these books. They are written so well it doesn’t even matter if you understand everything or not; it’s a damn good ride in any case.

As an extra incentive, the last book in the trilogy is coming out this summer, so now’s a good time to pick them all up!

Published: 2012

Pages: 300

 

So that’s all for April! School has more or less ended, so I hope to get to a good reading pace soon (unless glorious online friends distract me, which they will, bless them) and hopefully this will be a bookish summer!

To finish this off, the usual things.

Books bought:
The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick
Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

Currently reading:
Without A Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal (third in the Glamourist Histories series, loving it so far!)

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Books in March ’14

This month saw the end of the third period of the school year, the period break – or “break”, as I had two exams to take and an essay to co-write – and the beginning of a new class, that of Text Analysis II for Comparative Literature. As a result, about half of this month’s reading has been for class, and the other half romance because of its readability, which is to say I can cram a romance novel between required reading without having to worry about not finishing it in time.

A short note on my classes: Science Fiction & Fantasy is running smoothly, and I very much enjoy it. Our teacher is fantastic and so knowledgeable, and just a pleasure to listen to. I’ve liked most of what we’ve read in class, and this week it’s my turn to share my lecture journal entry with the class. Fortunately, I get to write about Jeff VanderMeer’s short story “Errata”, which I just read and enjoyed a whole lot.
Another thing concerning classes is that the exams I sat during break week yielded pleasant results. I didn’t expect to pass Classics of Literary Theory, but managed to scrape a 2/5! The other exam was on romance novels – and I aced it! It was also unexpected, as I wasn’t completely satisfied with my answers when I left the exam, but clearly something has gone very right. This result has encouraged me to seriously consider doing my master’s thesis on romance literature.

Enough with news now! On to the books read!

 

Jane Austen: Emma

 

Emma is the culmination of Jane Austen’s genius, a sparkling comedy of love and marriage.

Emma Woodhouse is introduced to us as ‘handsome, clever and rich’ and, according to Jane Austen, a heroine ‘which no one but myself would like’. Yet such is Emma’s spirited wit that, despite her superior airs and egotism, few readers have failed to succumb to her charm.

The comedy turns on Emma’s self-appointed role as energetic match-maker for her sweet, silly friend Harriet. Emma herself, meanwhile, is confidently immune to the charms of the male sex. Her emotional coming of age is woven into what Roland Blythe has called ‘the happiest of love stories, the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories, and a matchless repository of English wit’.

(Back cover of Penguin Popular Classics 1994 paperback)

It has been quite a while since I last read Emma. This time it was for an essay – a friend and I collaborated on a scrutiny on the humour in the 1996 Miramax adaptation and the 2009 BBC mniseries. Although I concentrated largely on the funny bits, I also took the chance to savour everything I’d forgotten. Emma is truly delightful, and I made a small self-discovery: I seem to find all the vulgar characters the most amusing. Mrs Elton is so contrary it is hard not to laugh at her. It is also evident that Mr Elton’s courting is very frustrating and the scene after the Christmas party never ceases to make me want to tear my hair off.

Published: 1815

Pages: 367

 

Mary Balogh: A Matter of Class

 

From New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh comes a classic historical tale that sizzles with romance and unforgettable drama.
Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by birth, a factor that pains him and his father, Bernard Mason, within the Regency society that upholds station above all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbour and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.
Thought Bernard wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Bernard serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.
(Inside flap of the 2010 Vanguard Press hardcover)

(I actually removed the last line of the blurb; it didn’t really describe the book and gave away something I felt was better left unsaid.)

I cannot speak too highly of this novella. It’s expertly crafted, very amusing, and plays to the conventions of the genre admirably. I was completely enthralled and already know I’ll need my own copy. The ending is perhaps slightly unbelievable, but I would not dwell on that and instead enjoy this excellent specimen of Regency romance.

Published: 2010

Pages: 190

 

Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

 

Yet another thing I’ve read for class. This one eludes me. I can’t seem to quite get the grasp of it. Somehow it reminds me of Basil Hallward and his attraction to Dorian Gray. There are a lot of motives that I cannot seem to connect. Perhaps this story requires a little distance before it can be understood; I certainly hope class discussion will open it up for me.

Published: 1912

Translation: “Kuolema Venetsiassa” by Oili Suominen (1985)

Pages: 77

 

Stephanie Laurens: The Reasons for Marriage

 

Miss Lenore Lester was perfectly content with her quiet country life, caring for her father, and having no desire for marriage. She took steps to remain inconspicuous when managing her brothers’ house parties and tried her best to show indifference – but to no avail! The notoriously charming Jason Montgomery – Duke of Eversleigh – could easily see behind Lenore’s brilliant disguise and clearly signalled his interest.

Thought Lenore hid behind glasses and pulled-back hair, she couldn’t disguise her beauty. However, she remained determined not to be thrown off balance by this charming rake. The Duke of Eversleigh, though, was equally determined to loosen the hold Lenore had on her heart.

(Back cover of MIRA books paperback)

This is the first Stephanie Laurens novel I really enjoyed. Because I haven’t cared for her early novels or the ones where romance is blended with suspense, I have been hesitant to pick up her books and have merely skirted around them. My closest library is, alas, rather short of romance, and so I gave up and picked this one up on my last turn there, figuring I might as well since the back cover sounded alright.

What a good idea. Turns out I did have a very good time with this book. It was interesting to try to predict whether this was to be a seduction or a marriage of convenience, or indeed both. I liked the hero and heroine, although the latter’s reason for not marrying did not convince me. In the beginning the communication between the pair was open, but as soon as Lenore – the heroine – is convince to a marriage of convenience with the duke, the communication dies. This, of course, is their major barrier, and a great (although also somehow satisfying) frustration to the reader. The focus on the novel is therefore not on what will convince her to marry, but on what will drive them to finally admit or show their feelings for each other. I must say the duke goes a bit over the top in the end, and it somewhat flattened the emotional charge, but I let that slide.

It is a very good romance novel. I very much recommend this one. It is the first one in the Lester family novels, and if the library has the rest I’ll be pleased to see what happens to Lenore’s brothers.

Published: 1994

Pages: 362

 

Lisa Kleypas: Mine Till Midnight

 

Amelia Hathaway is the oldest of four sisters and has only one brother to drive her mad. They live a genteel but impoverished life until they come into an unexpected inheritance. Amelia tries her best to rein in her colourful and unmanageable siblings to match society’s expectations. Until the mysterious, extremely wealthy half-gypsy Cam Rohan appears.

The irresistible attraction between Amelia and Cam poses a huge problem for both of them. However, as Amelia deals with a multitude of problems, including trying to save her alcoholic brother Leo from ruin, she finds herself turning to Cam Rohan, whose friendship turns into a passion that neither of them can deny…

(back cover of Piatkus 2007 paperback)

I had only read one Kleypas novel before, and incidentally it was the last novel in the Hathway series, to which Mine Till Midnight is the first.

Now, I did again like the hero and heroine. Cam is unapologetic and steady, which is a nice feature in a romance novel; Amelia’s problems and internal barriers are relatable and logical. I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for some supernatural aspects and the former-suitor-turned-traitor trope, but thankfully those were kept down a bit and clearly served the romance plot instead of becoming equally important.

Another thing that bothered me, and usually does when it comes to a series of romances, is that the relationship between Win and Merripen was also given time within this narrative. I prefer my romances independent. I do like interlacing, but not to this extent. If I read the next novel in the series – which features Win and Merripen as protagonists – I will want their whole courtship in that book. Giving bits of other relationships than the hero and heroine’s without seeing the courtship through tends to leave me feeling less satisfied than a fully concluded plot. It also smells slightly like a marketing trick. But I’m digressing now, and should stop before I go too deep.

Published: 2007

Pages: 360

 

Nora Roberts: Rising Tides

 

Ethan Quinn shares his late father’s passion for the ocean, and he is determined to make the family boat-building business a success. But as well as looking out for his young brother Seth, the strong but guarded Quinn is also battling some difficult home truths.

Grace Monroe, the woman Ethan has always loved but never believed he could have, is learning that appearances can be deceptive. For beneath Ethan’s still, dark waters lies a shocking past. With Grace’s help, can he overcome the shadows that haunt him and finally accept who he is?

(back cover of Piatkus 2010 paperback)

This is the second book in the Chesapeake Bay series, the first of which I read last month. I picked the second one up purely because it happened to be on the shelf at the library I went to to get my class reading. Unfortunately, I do not think I’ll continue with this series. This is due to no fault in Roberts’s style or craft – well, the point of view pounced around a bit too swiftly in this one, at least to me tastes – but just the fact that I can’t find any interest in the characters. The Quinn brothers fall absolutely flat for me, what with their superior looks and prowess. Perhaps I enjoy the rakes too much, and the Quinns are by no means rakish. They’re good, sensible guys with dark pasts – in short, the kind of wounded heroes the heroines need to heal in order to achieve the perfect happiness together.

This is turning into an analysis of the series rather than the book, but in short, it was readable and enjoyable to a degree, but I don’t think I’m interested enough about the last two Quinns to hunt down the books. Maybe I’ll pick them up if they happen my way, but I won’t be going to any trouble for them.

Published: 1999

Pages: 361

 

H. G. Wells: The Time Machine

 

This is such a classic it’s almost embarrassing that I hadn’t read it until it was a class requirement. I’m not sure I liked it, as such. The frame story appeals to me quite a lot, for some reason, perhaps because of its function in respect to the Time Traveller’s story. The latter I found long-winded and slow, apart from the wonderful morlocks. Yes, I liked the morlocks. To back up our reading, we were given a chapter from a book to read (and I would like nothing better than to tell you what book it was from, but for some god-only-knows reason our teacher never provided us with the information) and let me tell you, The Time Machine is an excellent look into contemporary late-Victorian science and world view! Absolutely fascinating, and if you aren’t a fan of the rambling style of the Victorians, I can recommend this novella just for the content. My knowledge of the degeneration theory and such matters is not great, but with that in the background of reading makes this story more enjoyable. I would therefore advice you find an edition with a good introduction, as it would be certain to touch on these matters and explain them to some extent.

Published: 1895

Pages: Around 70-80; I read an ebook and the pagination was all over the place

 

Peter Carey: Jack Maggs

 

‘Look at me,’ said Tobias Oates insistently. ‘Look into my eyes – I can take away this pain.’ Maggs peered at Oates as if through a heavy veil. The little gent began to wave his hands. He passed them down, up, down. ‘Watch me,’ said Tobias Oates, and Jack Maggs, for once, did exactly as he was told.

Peter Carey’s new novel, set in London in 1837, is a thrilling story of mesmerism and possession, of dangerous bargains and illicit love. Jack Maggs, raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia, in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush townhouse in Great Queen Street? And why is Jack himself an object of such interest to Tobias Oates, celebrated author, amateur hypnotist and fellow-burglar – in this case of people’s minds, of their histories and inner phantoms?

In this hugely engaging novel one of the finest of contemporary writers pays homage to his Victorian forebears. As Peter Carey’s characters become embroiled in each other’s furtive desires, and increasingly fall under one another’s spell, their thirst for love exacts a terrible, unexpected cost.

(Back cover of Faber and Faber 1997 hardcover)

Another book for class. The teacher is the same one who ran the course on Postmodern Historical Novel (a class which I did not like) and therefore we’re reading a couple of postmodern works.

The first thing I found out about Jack Maggs was that it is, ostensibly, an adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations. I think this is a debatable point, although I do see why that could be argued. I’m not going to go into detail here, because I think that my theories might guide a prospective reader’s reading too much, but do not be alarmed if you haven’t read Great Expectations but want to read this book: it’s an adaptation in a traditional sense and works perfectly wells on its own. Or so I imagine – I happen to like Great Expectations quite a lot and so read this very much through that.

It is a rather entertaining book, and it takes quite some thinking. It is also very much Neo Victorian, which I do not particularly enjoy but can’t really pin down what it is that displeases me about it. This is, however, all personal inclination. I still say Jack Maggs is a good book, and once I got into the rhythm of it and it becomes clear that everyone has a past and a secret, it became so much more enjoyable.

Published: 1997

Pages: 328

 

So that’s it for March! I notice I’ve stopped including what I’m currently reading and what books I have bought each month, so let’s get back to that, shall we?

Currently reading:
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

Books bought:
Mary Robinette Kowal: Without a Summer (third in the Glamourist Histories)
Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (just ordered it and can’t wait to get it!)
Elizabeth Bear: Shoggoths in Bloom (also just ordered and waiting impatiently!)

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Books in February ’14

This month’s reading consisted pretty much entirely of required reading. Not that I did not enjoy myself; as you will see I’m rather enthusiastic about a couple of the books!

 

Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’

Ancient, beautiful Manderley, between the rose garden and the sea, is the county’s showpiece. Rebecca made it so – even a year after her death, Rebecca’s influence still rules there. How can Mxim de Winter’s shy new bride ever fill her place or escape her vital shadow?

A shadow that grows longer and darker as the brief summer fades, until, in a moment of climactic revelations, it threatens to eclipse Manderley and its inhabitants completely…

Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece weaves a special magic that no-one who reads it will ever forget.

(Back cover of Arrow 1992 paperback)

Oh wow. I really enjoyed this book. What amazes me most is how consistently I liked it all the way through, despite the annoyance and frustration the main character stirred in me. And there was even a plot twist I didn’t see coming! I highly recommend this; it’s gothic suspense with a dash of romance if you feel inclined to see it – and I hasten to add that I didn’t really much see it – and very engaging after the couple first chapters. I thought it was going to be a chore to read, as this was assigned reading for the romance novel exam I’m taking in a few days, but I ended up devouring it.

Published: 1938

Pages: 397

 

Helen Fielding: The Bridget Jones Omnibus – The Singleton Years

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones’ Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

Over the course of the year, Bridget loses a total of 72 pounds but gains a total of 74. She remains, however, optimistic. Through it all, Bridget will have you helpless with laughter, and — like millions of readers the world round — you’ll find yourself shouting, “Bridget Jones is me!”

The Edge of Reason

The Wilderness Years are over! But not for long. At the end of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget hiccuped off into the sunset with man-of-her-dreams Mark Darcy. Now, in The Edge of Reason, she discovers what it is like when you have the man of your dreams actually in your flat and he hasn’t done the washing-up, not just the whole of this week, but ever.

Lurching through a morass of self-help-book theories and mad advice from Jude and Shazzer, struggling with a boyfriend-stealing ex-friend with thighs like a baby giraffe, an 8ft hole in the living-room wall, a mother obsessed with boiled-egg peelers, and a builder obsessed with large reservoir fish, Bridget embarks on a spiritual epiphany, which takes her from the cappuccino queues of Notting Hill to the palm- and magic-mushroom-kissed shores of …

Bridget is back. V.g.

(Goodreads)

Yet more reading for the romance exam! This omnibus, as may probably be inferred, contains the two first Bridget Jones novel, Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Edge of Reason – as many may know, a third one came out last fall.

I’ve seen the movies countless times and really enjoy them, and so when I finally had a no-options excuse to read the books, I jumped at it. It has been truly enjoyable: I find Bridget easy to relate to (as who hasn’t been on a diet, or worried about relationships, or made resolutions that go forgotten the next day?) and felt Fielding catches very well the essence of what it is like to be a woman. I also find Bridget less silly and ignorant than she is portrayed in the films; she may not know geography or politics, but she references culture aptly and easily, which appealed to me very much.

A fun thing is also that Bridget’s way of writing her diary is very catchy, and I found myself imitating her style unconsciously for about a week after I’d finished reading.

These books are absolutely good fun, so if you’re in need of something light and easy to read yet relatable, it’s a good option. And I don’t mean just relatable to women, despite what I said of thinking it a very good insight into a woman’s world; my father, the creature who thinks anything I enjoy is, by default, silly and useless, enjoyed this book. He recommended it to me when I once mentioned I might like to read it. So it’s not just women who get it.

Published: 1996/1999

Pages: 310/422

 

Pamela Regis: A Natural History of the Romance Novel

The romance novel has the strange distinction of being the most popular but least respected of literary genres. While it remains consistently dominant in bookstores and on best-seller lists, it is also widely dismissed by the critical community. Scholars have alleged that romance novels help create subservient readers, who are largely women, by confining heroines to stories that ignore issues other than love and marriage.

Pamela Regis argues that such critical studies fail to take into consideration the personal choice of readers, offer any definition of the romance novel, or discuss the nature and scope of the genre. Presenting the counterclaim that the romance novel does not enslave women but, on the contrary, is about celebrating freedom and joy, Regis offers a definition that provides critics with an expanded vocabulary for discussing a genre that is both classic and contemporary, sexy and entertaining.

Pamela Regis is Professor of English at McDaniel College and the author of Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crévecoeur, and the Influence of Natural History, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

(Back cover of the University of Pennsylvania Press paperback 2007)

There is no contest: Regis’s book is without a doubt the most quoted study on romance novels, certainly since its first appearance in 2003. I have probably mentioned the book before, as I think highly of it and find that it contains interesting and important information about the romance genre. If you are interested in the subject, this book is an absolute must-read. It is well written, clear, and explores the genre at length, although towards the end (and the year of its publishing) the analysis becomes slightly more difficult to find in the description and discussion of the newer novels.

I adore it, and have just recently acquired my own copy – I got sick of getting it from the library as I often feel the need to quote it in one conversation or another.

Published: 2003

Pages: 207

 

Margaret Atwood: Lady Oracle

Joan Foster is a secret writer of Gothic romances. When her outrageously feminist book, Lady Oracle, becomes a bestseller, everything in her life changes.

To escape her deteriorating marriage, her affair with an artist, and the criminal urges of a fan, Joan embarks on an act that is at once her most daring and creative: she fakes her own death and begins a new life.

With a much-needed respite from her life, Joan Foster begins to examine it – in this compelling, ironic, and touching novel by Margaret Atwood, one of today’s most acclaimed authors.

(Back cover of Fawcett Books 1990 paperback)

And another exam book. I must say I find the back cover description slightly misleading – the book starts much less dramatically. This, like Rebecca, I started to buy into very early on, and could relate to the main character Joan even more than I did to Bridget Jones; Bridget resonates on a more general level, Joan on a personal one. This is also the first book by Atwood I have read, and I really liked it. She is clearly very in control of her craft, as the bits of Joan’s Gothic romances seem to me perfectly genre-appropriate, yet her general style is nowhere close to that style of writing. There is a faint element of the occult, which I did not care for, although I’m certain if I think about it more I’ll see a clearer connection between the Gothics Joan writes and the novel itself.

Published: 1976

Pages: 380

 

Nora Roberts: Sea Swept

After years of fast living and reckless excitement, Cameron Quinn is called home to help care for his adopted brother Seth, a troubled young boy not unlike Cameron once was. Dark, brooding and fiercely independent, Cameron finds his life changes overnight as he has to learn to live with his brothers again.

Old rivalries and new resentments flare between the passionate Quinn boys as they try to set aside their differences. But when Seth’s fate falls into the hands of Anna, a tough but beautiful social worker, the tide starts to turn. She alone has the power to bring the Quinns together – or tear them apart…

(Back cover of Piatkus 2010 paperback)

This novel is the first one in the Chesapeake Bay Quartet, and is the first contemporary American romance novel I remember ever reading. Regis discussed the whole series in A Natural History of the Romance Novel, and I got intrigued.

Again, the back cover leads you slightly astray. It seems to imply a relationship drama involving Anna and all the three grown-up Quinn brothers, something that does not happen; from the start, this is clearly the story of the courtship of Anna and Cameron.

Anyway. It took some getting used to the idea of a contemporary setting after all the Regencies I’ve read, but not as much as he cultural difference between the UK and the US. The language tripped me up and made me pause from time to time, although naturally less and less the more I read. The romance itself is nice, and the mix of family relationships and business with the romance worked very well. Roberts is clearly a good writer, and the prose flows effortlessly. My only qualm is the fact that, as a part of a series, even though the courtship plot is completed, there are so many loose ends left hanging that it annoys me. I may read the second part in the series, but we will see. In any case, it has been a good exercise in broadening my reading habits a tiny bit and getting out of my absolute comfort zone (i.e. Regency) when it comes to romance novels.

Published: 1998

Pages: 359

 

Leo Tolstoy: What Is Art?

Read for an exam in Comparative Literature: we got to choose a classic of literary criticism, and I went with Tolstoy for two reasons. One, because I like his writing. Two, because I knew this one includes a rant about how horrible and not artistic Wagner’s operas are. No one resents like Tolstoy!

I recommend this one, if only for the amusement factor. The first third is a bit of slow going as he goes through pretty much every book and essay written on the subject of aesthetics, but once his gets going with his own thoughts and examples it gets interesting. Note also that the first appendix is titled, ‘More bad poetry’. I dare you not to be fond or at least amused by this grumpy Russian.

Published: 1898 (original title Tshto takoje iskusstvo)

Translation: Mitä on taide? By Martti Anhava 2000

Pages: 277

 

Currently reading:

Emma by Jane Austen
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

I meant to be finished with Emma by today, but after reading compulsively all month I’ve found it hard to concentrate in the last couple of days. I’m starting to pick up pace again, however, and hope to be done with both Currently Readings by the end of next week. You know, just in time for Text Analysis II, which includes reading a novel a week and writing essays of them…

Anyway. Onwards to March! I’ve got an essay to co-write, two exams to take, and lecture journals to write!

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Books in January ’14

So I’m back to monthly wrap-ups! I almost forgot it was the last of the month, too. Reading has been impeded by various distractions, including the Gentleman Bastard Sequence fandom and the fact that I have a book exam on romance novels and another exam on the classics of literary theory, both in the beginning of March, one after the other. And on top of that, a course on literary adaptations, which takes its sweet time as well.

But enough excuses, this is what I managed this month:

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger

[unfortunately I have returned the copy I had to the library and Goodreads does not have a summary]

I picked Christie from the library because hey, what better to read during the break than a good whodunit? The reason for choosing this particular mystery was that I love the TV adaptation – which means that I remembered who the murderer was and even the motive, but this caused very little trouble. What I found interesting is that the adaptation adds very little, which in my experience isn’t all that usual: a lot of the Christies you see on television add lots of red herrings and side plots to the fairly straightforward narratives. This one does not, which tells a lot about the way this book is executed. I can wholeheartedly recommend this!

Published: 1942

Pages: 299

Ellen Kushner: Swordspoint

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.

(Goodreads)

Swordspoint remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and it only seems to get better the more you read. When describing the plot to someone one starts to wonder what exactly it is that happens in the book, only to realise that there actually isn’t much in terms on dramatic action, but boy, is there a lot of political intrigue going on! This time around I was most struck by the relationship between Alec and Richard, and the ending hit me hard and will require some further thought the next time around. Absolutely a masterpiece, this novel is.

Published: 1987

Pages: 286

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

[Do I need to introduce this book again? I think not. I have it tagged.]

I know, I know. Yet again. But how could I not reread these books, particularly now that Republic of Thieves is finally out and there is so much to draw together? I got fascinated by Sabetha’s absence in this one – it reveals a lot about the other gang members, especially taking into consideration what we learned of their relationships in Republic. This is what I love about rereading a series: you start to pay attention to things like this and find new things to think about and words you previously just read gain new meaning.

Lies, like Swordspoint, is one of my favourite novels of all time. If you look at the Scott Lynch tag here on my blog, you’ll see I absolutely rave about this series.

Published: 2006

Pages: 530

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twentieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”

(Goodreads)

This was my third time reading this novel, and I must say, the two years between readings had done much. I found it even more enjoyable than before, and was much more attuned to nuance. My understanding of Mr Darcy is now much better, and I must say this time around I really enjoyed Caroline Bingley, with her see-through attempts regarding Darcy and her malice towards Elizabeth. Absolutely delightful!

Published: 1813

Pages: 262

China Miéville: The City and the City

China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other – real or imagined.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.

With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & The City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic lengths.

(Back cover of Macmillan 2009 paperback)

The only novel-length text we are reading for the Science Fiction and Fantasy class. I must say I’m not overly fond of this. I read it with a focus on the detective plot, which wasn’t entirely satisfactorily executed, but I did enjoy the way the two cities function in regard to each other. It was what made the story complicated, but I’m not sure it was not unnecessarily complicated. I hope to gain some insight on Monday when we have a class discussion on it.

Published: 2009

Pages: 312

That is January. I apologise for the paltry commentary – several of the books were rereads and I only finished City and the City some minutes ago, so there has not been time for it to settle in my mind yet.

February will include the rest of the books for the romance exam, and hopefully some Regency romance, and something for the adaptation class. It is hard to plan ahead with reading at the moment, but here’s to trying!

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Books in June ’13

Let me tell you, it has been a busy month again! Work leaves me little free time, and what I have of it I tend to spend with friends. And I still have to take care of all the exchange business (like, you know, finding an apartment…) and studies and everything.

But I do manage to read, so here you guys go!

 

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal has never pretended to be a hero. There is, after all, little heroic about robbing graves, being chased around by torch-bearing mobs, and selling your soul to the devil. All routine inconveniences, however, when your business is raising the dead.

But now Cabal wants his soul back. He needs his soul back.

It means a trip through festering bureaucracy of Hell and a bet with Satan. It means that, in return for his own soul, Cabal must gather one hundred others.

Given control of a diabolical carnival – created to tempt to contentiousness, to blasphemy, argumentation and murder, but you can also win coconuts – and armed only with his intelligence, a very large handgun, and a total absence of whimsy, Cabal has one year. One year to beat the Devil at his own game.

And isn’t that, perhaps, just a little heroic?

(Back cover of Headline 2009 paperback)

This book was recommended to me based on my love of one of Locke Lamora’s made-up identities, the type of character I’ve now come to call Fastidious Vadran. The person who recommended this really hit the nail on the head – Johannes Cabal is exactly what I like. Very grumpy and indeed very fastidious, he seems to be the kind of character who has crooked morals and stops at nothing to achieve his own ends.

But there’s more to him than that, and Howard plays that out in this first book with skill. It’s very amusing in a vein of Terry Pratchett, while the subject material veers more towards Neil Gaiman, and I can promise you, this book does not fail to tug at your heartstrings amidst the laughter.

I very warmly recommend this book! I’m not one to go for books about necromancers, as that particular art doesn’t appeal to me, and would never had picked Johannes Cabal up had it not been recommended to me. Now that I have read it, I can honestly say I would have sorely missed out.

Published: 2009

Pages: 335

 

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Detective

For necromancer Johannes Cabal, dealing with devils, demons and raising the dead is pretty much par for the course. But when his attempt to steal a rare book turns sour, he is faced by a far more terrifying entity – politics.

While awaiting execution for his crime, Cabal is forced to resurrect an inconveniently deceased emperor. Seizing his chance, the cunning Cabal engineers his escape, fleeing the country on a state-of-the-art flying ship.

But the ship has more than a few unpleasant surprises, including an unwelcome face from the past and the small matter of some mysterious murders. Cabal may work with corpses but he has absolutely no intention of becoming one. Drawn into a deadly conspiracy, is he shuffling dangerously close to the end of his mortal coil?

Johannes Cabal is back – a little older, a little wiser, but just as sharply funny, cuttingly sarcastic, and unexpectedly violent as ever.

(Back cover of Headline 2010 paperback)

Yes, I jumped right to the second part. This one I enjoyed even more than I did the first one, mostly because it plays a lot with the conventions of detective fiction – including a murder within confined quarters and a revelation scene in the best whodunit style – and I could really enjoy all the genre jokes. It’s also even more entertaining when it comes to humour than its predecessor.

I have an ever-growing soft spot for Cabal. Impatient, annoying, grumpy, darling man!

Published: 2010

Pages: 365

 

Torsten Ekman: Aleksanteri I: Keisari ja isänmaa

I’m sorry, another book in Finnish! Although this is translated from Swedish, there is no English translation, as far as I know. My apologies.

The title is at first misleading: the book is not strictly a biography of Alexander I. He is the main character, so to speak, but more attention is directed towards Finland and how the events of the Napoleonic Wars link different European countries. It’s often hard to tie Finland into the Napoleonic Wars: at the beginning of them, Finland was still a part of Sweden, whereas from 1808 onwards it became an autonomic part of Russia. This book truly helped me see these events in a wider context, with the focus naturally on the relationship between Finland, Russia and Sweden.

But I must say the translation was not very good. Lots of incorrectly inclined Finnish, some that made my shudder in disgust (“Rehbinder ei tietänyt”) and just general oddness. I have not checked, but this is probably a mark of the translator being either in a hurry or just very lost in the interlingual twilight zone – either way, they haven’t been able to step back from the original text in order to see the target language in the right light. (I’m not blaming, I do that myself whenever I have to translate something…)

But in general, it’s a nice primer to what went on around that time. I liked it, and can now confidently continue on to more in-depth works on the subject.

Published: 2011 (original title Alexander I. Kejsare och fosterland)

Translation: Martti Ahti 2013

Pages: 300

 

Agatha Christie: Appointment with Death

A tyrannical old martinet, a mental sadist and the incarnation of evil. These were only three of the character descriptions levelled at Mrs. Boynton, the matriarch who kept her family totally dependent on her. But did she really deserve to die on the excursion to beautiful Petra? Hercule Poirot hears about the murder and feels compelled to investigate-despite the family’s request not to do so. Do they have something to hide and, if so, can they keep it hidden from this master sleuth?

(Goodreads)

This Christie was originally on my project list, as the film version really appeals to me. I did enjoy the book, although concentrating on it was a little hard due to the strong visual memories from the film and the fact that work was busy at the time I was going through this one and had to read it in a very fragmented fashion. Nonetheless, it’s a gripping Christie, despite my trouble remembering what was the novel and what the film.

Published: 1938

Pages: 303

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Read this time for the read-along going on in Tumblr! I finished a little early.

The reasons why I love this book can be found in a previous post here.

Published: 2006

Pages: 530

 

David Lodge: Small World

Veteran rivals for an exclusive academic chair (recently endowed with $100,000 a year) do scholarly battle with each other in what the Washington Post Book World called a “delectable comedy of bad manners . . . infused with a rare creative exuberance”. From the author of the award-winning Changing Places.

(Goodreads)

This one was recommended to me by my father. We don’t really share an opinion on literature, but about this he was absolutely right – I loved it. Small World is funny, surprisingly gripping after you figure out who is who and how it’s structured, and probably even more deeply entrenched in literary jibes than I can recognise (I intend to read it again at some future date with the objective of dissecting it better). This is clearly a well thought out novel and consequently a pleasure to read. I particularly recommend it to those interested in literary theory, although it’s entertaining even if you’re just a general book lover like yours truly.

Published: 1984

Pages: 339

 

Agatha Christie: After the Funeral

When Cora is savagely murdered with a hatchet, the extraordinary remark she made the previous day at her brother’s Richard funeral suddenly takes on a chilling significance. At the reading of Richard’ s will, Cora was clearly heard to say: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it… But he was murdered, wasn’t he?”

In desperation, the family solicitor turns to Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery…

(Goodreads)

Yet another Christie! This time I remembered the killer very well, even the clues leading up to them, but I nevertheless enjoyed this one very much! Perhaps one of the clues is a little too obviously a clue, but it’s hard to say, as it was one of the clues I remember from the film.

Published: 1953

Pages: 378

 

That is all I managed this month!

Books bought:

Michael Gregorio: Critique of Criminal Reason

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal: Fear Institute

Honno (edit.): Wooing Mr Wickham

Jonathan Strahan (edit.): Fearsome Journeys

Venetia Murray: An Elegant Madness

…It is actually possible I bought other books as well, but the months are a little blurred in my mind.

Currently reading:

Georgette Heyer: Bath Tangle

 

Next weekend is Finncon! I will try and report about it!

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Books in May ’13

May turned out to be busier than anticipated. My intention was to catch up with reading and get through 13 books. I wasn’t supposed to be working yet, so that wasn’t supposed to be a problem: well, not all things go according to plan. I’ve been working since the beginning of the month. But I still managed nine books. That would have been ten if I hadn’t had a surprise shift today.

There was some unpleasant paper stuff that I needed to take care for university as well, but that is now more or less sorted.

What with all the work, now that my only co-worker got sick leave on the busiest weekend in all spring, I was hard pressed to get this post out at all. So you guys better enjoy it!

John Scalzi: Redshirts

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

(Goodreads)

I have no idea why I’ve been putting this book off. I really enjoyed it. Without spoiling much, I can say it is hilarious and emotional and so meta I’m surprised I liked it, but I did. It’s a quick read, written in a light style, and accessible to people with a rather limited acquaintance with science fiction television like myself.

Just… go grab it. It’s really worth it.

Published: 2012

Pages: 314 (Tor hardback)

Agatha Christie: Elephants Can Remember

Hercule Poirot is determined to solve an old husband and wife double murder that is still an open verdict! Hercule Poirot stood on the cliff-top. Here, many years earlier, there had been a tragic accident. This was followed by the grisly discovery of two more bodies — a husband and wife — shot dead. But who had killed whom? Was it a suicide pact? A crime of passion? Or cold-blooded murder? Poirot delves back into the past and discovers that ‘old sin can leave long shadows

(Goodreads)

For a practiced reader, even one of only my experience, the clues in this one were fairly obvious. The general feeling I got was that this book was produced in a hurry – at times it read like drafts and bits that had been forgotten in. I did enjoy it, nonetheless, and am looking forward to the movie that will air June 9th!

Published: 1972

Pages: 256 (Harper Collins facsimile edition 2009)

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr Ripley

Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—immortalized in the 1998 film starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gywneth Paltrow—is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels.

(Goodreads)

I watched the movie first, and, frankly, liked that better than the novel; it was more complicated and the ending so heart-breaking I was upset for a good few hours afterwards. My notes say, ‘fairly nice, although nothing spectacular’. Highsmith’s style is a bit on the heavy side, and reading this relatively slim novel took me a surprisingly long time (granted, I did most of the reading at work). I found Tom Ridley to be an interesting character, and the workings of his mind were fascinating to follow. I’m not sure if I’ll look to the sequels, but I might, some day.

Published: 1955

Pages: 249 (Vintage 1999 edition)

Gillian Gill: Agatha Christie

A little too heavy on the summaries of some of the novels, but at the same time I must give credit where credit is due – only a few endings were spoiled, and Gill warned of that in the introduction. Fortunately for me, I have seen the screen adaptations of the ones with spoilers, so they were not really even spoilers to me.

This biography is nice and concise, and the major focus is on the effect Christie’s life had on her writing. I did like the way it is divided to chapters, but am not so sure about the composition. I’m fond of a more linear approach.

Published: 1990

Pages: 208 (plus notes)

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

As regards this blog, this book is a bit problematic. What I know of my own readership (and I realise that is very little), it doesn’t include too many Finns – and Tanssi yli hautojen has not been translated into English. But I did read it, so I want to discuss it, and therefore I’ll do my best to explain it.

Mika Waltari (1908–1979) is one of the best-known Finnish authors, and his best-known work in Finland as well as internationally is The Egyptian (orig. Sinuhe egyptiläinen). It’s impossible to find a list of Books You Must Read Before You Die without having The Egyptian in it, not in this country. Having said that, I haven’t actually read it. Tanssi yli hautojen (lit. trans. Dance over Graves) is my first proper experience of Waltari, except for some short stories and the Komisario Palmu (Inspector Palmu) films.

Tanssi yli hautojen is about the romance between Tsar Alexander I of Russia and a Finnish bourgeoisie girl, Ulla Möllersvärd. This is a fact of history: the two met when Alexander came to the Diet of Porvoo in 1809. In this diet, it was decided that Finland was not to be directly a part of Russia, but could keep the old laws and ways, as well as have autonomy. Waltari describes the anticipation and the resentment the Finns felt towards the Russians, as well as the cultural differences Alexander observes when he crosses the border.

I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s charming and made me giddy on several occasions, and I look forward to reading it again sometime. Maybe even writing my minor thesis on it?

Published: 1944

Pages: 282 (WSOY 2009)

Mary Balogh: A Summer to Remember

Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensberg, is cool, dangerous and fast becoming one of London’s most notorious rakehells – and marriage is the last thing on his mind. But Kit’s family has other plans. Desperate to thwart his father’s matchmaking, Kit needs a bride fast. Enter Miss Laure Edgeworth. A year after being abandoned at the altar, Lauren has determined that marriage is not for her. When these two fiercely independent souls meet, sparks fly – and a deal is hatched.

Lauren will masquerade as Kit’s intended if he agrees to provide a passionate, adventurous, unforgettable summer. When the summer ends, she will break off the engagement rendering herself unmarriageable and leaving them both free. Everything is going perfectly – until Kit does the unthinkable and begins to fall in love. A summer to remember is not enough for him. But how can he convince Lauren to be his, for better, for worse, and for the rest of their lives?

(Piatkus 2010 back cover)

I really liked this one. The hero is likeable, the heroine is more or less sensible, and their relationship progresses not in an absolute rush but at a nice pace that’s not so fast as to be unbelievable but fast enough to keep the book going without too long gaps.

An excellent read for the summer months, if you like romance! There are also other books revolving around the characters mentioned in this book, and I’m actually rather curious to see Freyja Bedwyn’s story, as I disliked her a whole lot in this one.

Published: 2002

Pages: 376 (Piatkus 2010)

Julia Quinn: An Offer from A Gentleman

As the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Penwood, Sophie Beckett has never been accepted in polite society. And since her father’s untimely death, her step-mother has made her life doubly hard, forcing her to work as an unpaid servant. Sophie’s days are pure drudgery, until one night her fellow servants conspire to help her attend the Bridgerton masquerade ball.

There she meets her very own Prince Charming, handsome Benedict Bridgerton and falls head over heels in love. Benedict is equally smitten, but when the clock strikes midnight Sophie is forced to flee the ballroom, leaving only her glove in his hand…

(Piatkus 2011 back cover)

Not too keen on this one – it was nice, but as usual in Quinn the main conflict gets solved too early for good dramatic effect. The end, I admit, was very sweet! The dialogue is a bit dramatic though, and the Cinderella adaptation was a bit too obvious, especially considering how it got abandoned halfway through the novel.

Also, I’m miffed that I don’t think I figured out who Miss Whistledown is and therefore there’s nothing to it but to read the whole Bridgerton series. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Published: 2001

Pages: 358 (Piatkus 2011)

Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

(Goodreads)

I do love Diana Wynne Jones, but I do not care for children as main characters. This was a slight problem with this first novel in her Chrestomaci series, as the main character is decidedly a child. The Chrestomanci himself is an interesting character, and if someone can promise me there is more of him in the subsequent books in the series I’ll be happy to read them as well. Actually, reading the other books is a good idea in another respect as well: the proper story seems to start at the very end of this novel, which annoyed me a great deal.

Tim Stevens’s illustrations must be mentioned. The edition I got from the library had a less than appealing cover, but the chapter illustrations made everything better!

Published: 1977

Pages: 267 (Collins Modern Classics 2001)

Mark Lawrence: King of Thorns

The second book in the Broken Empire series, Lawrence takes his young anti-hero one step closer to his grand ambition.

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.

A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

(Goodreads)

Finally had the chance to read this!

As with Prince of Thorns, I would be hard pressed to tell you what exactly happens during the course of the novel. The realisation that I don’t know bothered me for a while, until I came to the conclusion that it is because of the same reason that keeps me from actually understanding what happens in Hannu Rajaniemi’s novels: I get distracted by the prose. It doesn’t even matter much what happens, when I can have beautiful sentences that sound good in my head.

Having said that, I was confused by the mixture of past and present whenever they were in the same chapter. The time layers were a bit hard to follow, especially while distracted by beautiful words, and I kind of wish there had been more line breaks to signal time change.

Things I like about this novel include the older Jorg, whom I find to be more approachable, and, as with Prince, the way the novel’s old world – our world – is referred to. It makes me giddy every time I spot a word that looks weird but sounds terribly familiar, like “dena” and the cemetery.

The intensity got really high towards the end, and I was absolutely blown away. I kid you not, I gasped out loud on the bus and then kept grinning like a maniac.

I can’t wait for Emperor of Thorns. I also have a budding hope Lawrence would write a female main character next, as I enjoy Katherine a whole lot!

Published: 2012

Pages: 597

Books bought:

Again, no picture, because I was an idiot and left my camera in the country. Instead I’ll just tell you, although I’m not sure anymore what I got and when. But let’s try.

Agatha Christie: At Bertram’s Hotel

Appointment with Death

After the Funeral

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

Margaret C. Sullivan: The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World

Currently reading:

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (and enjoying it very much indeed)

That’s all for me for this month! I doubt I’ll be posting much during the summer ­– as I said, work keeps things hectic. I’ve abandoned Project Christie, and the only immediate plan of anything but regular monthly posts is the Finncon report, which hopefully I can manage!

Happy beginning of summer, everyone!

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