Category Archives: Monthly

Books in April ’13

Hello, sweet readers! It is the end of month, and you know what that means in this blog! YES! You get to hear what I read this month!

It was a rather stressful month, although nowhere near in the scale of February. I handed in my candidate’s essay (can I get a cheer for that?), finished a bunch of school things, and today celebrated Walpurgis Night! I had to leave early though, since I might get called to work tomorrow, but I had a bunch of fun!

Anyway, on to the books now!

 

Stephanie Laurens: The Lady Chosen

Tristan Wemyss, Earl of Trentham, never expected he’d need to wed within a year or forfeit his inheritance. But he is not one to bow to the matchmaking mamas of the ton. No, he will marry a lady of his own choosing. And the lady he chooses is the enchanting neighbor living with her family next door. Miss Leonora Carling has beauty, spirit and passion; unfortunately, matrimony is the last thing on her mind . . .

To Leonora, Tristan’s kisses are oh-so-tempting, but once bitten, forever shy, she has determinedly turned her back on marriage. But Tristan is a seasoned campaigner who will not accept defeat. And when a mysterious man attempts to scare Leonora and her family from their home, Tristan realizes he’s been given the perfect excuse to offer his services–as protector, seducer and, ultimately, husband.

(Goodreads)

The romance parts and the detective parts could have been better blended, I felt, and more carefully balanced: at times it felt like there were two books smashed into one. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Bastion Club gents, them being fun and attractive to boot ­– quite the perfect heroes for series of romance novels. The heroine Leonoroa, however, annoyed me. Her aversion to marriage was flat and the trauma that lead to it could have been used to a more dramatic effect. In fact, the whole book could have kicked the drama up a notch – but just a notch, mind. Too much drama isn’t good, but a little bit is good. I’m also more partial to public scandal than private ones, as the high society of Regency England loved scandal, and, frankly, public scandal is very difficult to deal with.

Still not a fan of Laurens, but I have another book in the Bastion Club series waiting. I’m eager to see whether it’s better than this first book.

Published: 2003

Pages: 460

 

Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies

After a brutal battle with the underworld that nearly destroyed him, Locke and his trusted sidekick, Jean, fled the island city of their birth and landed on the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But even at this westernmost edge of civilization, they can’t rest for long—and are soon back to what they do best: stealing from the undeserving rich and pocketing the proceeds for themselves.

This time, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the most exclusive and heavily guarded gambling house in the world. Its nine floors attract the wealthiest clientele—and to rise to the top, one must impress with good credit, amusing behavior… and excruciatingly impeccable play. For there is one cardinal rule, enforced by Requin, the house’s cold-blooded master: it is death to cheat at any game at the Sinspire.

Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way up the nine floors… straight to Requin’s teeming vault. Under the cloak of false identities, they meticulously make their climb—until they are closer to the spoils than ever.

But someone in Tal Verrar has uncovered the duo’s secret. Someone from their past who has every intention of making the impudent criminals pay for their sins. Now it will take every ounce of cunning to save their mercenary souls. And even that may not be enough…

(Goodreads)

Once again, I reread this book. I do these things – I have already read Lies this year, and there is to be a read-along on tumblr in the summer, which means I’ll be reading both books soon, and I just don’t like the idea of having read RSURS fewer times. So there. Now there is balance in the world!

As usual, Red Seas is wonderful. It makes me grin and squeal and sigh and shout and cry. So very wonderful!

Published: 2007

Pages: 630

 

Brandon Sanderson: Warbreaker

T’Telir, capital of Hallandren, is a colorful city by the sea where gaily dressed crowds bustle through sunny streets and worship heroes who have been reborn as gods. Ruled by the silent, mysterious God King, the pantheon is nourished by offerings of Breath, the life force that keeps them alive and youthful.

Exiled in Idris, the former royal family reluctantly betrothed a princess to the God King. Arriving in T’Telir, she finds both the city and the marriage are not at all what she expected. Her only ally is Lightsong, a god who is skeptical of his own divinity, who fears that war with Idris is inevitable.

Meanwhile, another new arrival in T’Telir, one who bears the sentient sword Nightblood, makes cunning plans based on the unique magic of Hallandren, which uses color to focus the power of the Breath – plans that could change the world.

(Tor paperback back cover)

Took the first opportunity to read my wonderful find of a free book. And boy, did I love it! Sanderson is truly a brilliant world-builder. While his style is not something that would have me devour his books, I still find myself up at night reading just one more chapter. It happened with Warbreaker, as it did with the Mistborn trilogy.

The characters were wonderful. With Sanderson, you can trust no one is unimportant or a mere tool with no personality. They are all human, all believable, and no one goes without a part in the story. And there’s always another bloody secret. I just love that. I swear, I lost bunches and bunches of hair because I tore it out in frustration when I realised I didn’t see something coming, although I should have. It’s amazing.

Warbreaker got me out of a period of avoiding fantasy. I cannot tell you how relieving that is. It’s been a while since I’ve read any unfamiliar fantasy and I’ve had trouble immersing. It’s probably because my mind has constantly been on school, but now I could really lose myself into T’Telir and forget about work for a while.

You really should read Warbreaker if you haven’t. It is a standalone, it is wonderful, it is engaging, and it is a thrill. I loved all the characters, I loved the city, I loved the system of magic (explained very simply and clearly, which I thoroughly appreciate), and I’m rearing to read more Sanderson now. Elantis, Alloy of Law and Way of Kings, here I come!

Warning: I cried in the end. A lot. So prepare your poor feelings and have tissues at hand.

Published: 2009

Pages: 652 (Tor 2010 paperback)

 

Sean Thomas Russell: Under Enemy Colours

1793: the thunder of cannon fire echoes across the English Channel, chilling the stoutest hearts…

The French Revolutionary War threatens to wreak havoc across the English Channel. As the Royal Navy mobilizes its fleet, the frigate HMS Themis is ordered to patrol French coastal waters.

On deck is young Lieutenant Charles Hayden. With an English father and a French mother, he must earn the trust of officers and men. Now he finds himself acting as a bulwark between the Themis’s tyrannical Captain Hart and the mutinous crew. As disaffection turns to violence, Hayden is torn between honour, duty and saving his ship…

A sweeping and epic maritime adventure set during the momentous first clashes of the Napoleonic Wars, Under Enemy Colours is a masterpiece in the tradition of Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell.

(Penguin 2007 paperback back cover)

A friend recommended this book to me a couple of years ago, when my historical interest circled around Admiral Nelson and the naval part of Napoleonic Wars. Although my interests have no adjusted themselves slightly differently, I still wanted to read this one.

It was alright. I’m not familiar with sailing by any measure, and, quite honestly, if I hadn’t read Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies for landlubber explanations for how a ship works I don’t know how I would have fared. It’s not too bad in terms of vocabulary, so don’t let that turn you away from the book – it’s manageable and some things do get explained (but not so many as would make the reader feel they’re being patronised, a thing that is very good in my books).

I would have wished for even more clashes between Hayden and Hart, but I’m sure they’ve been carefully chosen in order to keep things reasonable at the end of the book. What is of course interesting in the setting of the book is Hayden’s parentage: being half French and half English was not easy during the wars. That is used to nice effect. My favourite character, though, was young Mr Wickham, whose name offended my Janeite mind at first, but he grows on you very quickly.

Under Enemy Colours is part of a series, and I think I may read the sequel, A Battle Won. Nice books if you’re into ships and the Napoleonic Wars but don’t care for info dumps.

Published: 2007

Pages: 527

 

Agatha Christie: Murder Is Easy

Luke Fitzwilliam does not believe Miss Pinkerton’s wild allegation that a multiple murderer is at work in the quiet English village of Wychwood and that her local doctor is next in line.

But within hours, Miss Pinkerton has been killed in a hit-and-run car accident. Mere coincidence? Luke is inclined to think so–until he reads in the Times of the unexpected demise of Wychwood’s Dr. Humbleby…

(Goodreads)

This is only the second Christie I have read, and I have seen the film version just very recently. Therefore, this was a bit of an unfortunate choice of reading, considering I knew full well the identity of the murderer – but it was engaging nonetheless, not least because I know the adaptation rather well and could easily trace the changes.

I must say the murderer’s motive in the book felt much more satisfactory in the book than in the adaptation, although the latter was undeniably more dramatic. It did change my view of the character though, and while the film version made them more human I do understand the book character better.

I’ll be posting more about my relationship to Christie shortly, as I’m thinking of making her my summer project. You know, to keep the little grey cells working! Summer vacation means no university work, but I certainly don’t want it to mean no academic pursuits!

Published:1939

Pages: 254 (Harper Collins 2010 facsimile edition for the Crime Club)

 

P.G. Wodehouse: Much Obliged, Jeeves

When the infamous book, kept under lock and key at the Junior Ganymede Club goes missing it is up to the imperturbable Jeeves to save the assorted reputations of all those whose private lives are detailed within it. Many people including Bertie Wooster, rescued from imminent marriage, and even Augustus the cat have cause to be much obliged to Jeeves.

(Vintage 1990 edition back cover)

I come from a family who reads Wodehouse, so it is with some embarrassment that I admit how few of them I’ve read myself. They are always delightful: Wodehouse’s language is a treat, although as an EFL student I don’t always quite understand all the gags. In this one, I felt some recurring jokes were used a little too frequently, but then again, I did read this is one day and therefore was more inclined to notice these repetitions. Had I taken my time, they probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all.

Published: 1971

Pages: 192 (Vintage 1990 edition)

 

Books bought:

I ordered three books, and so far have received one in tact (Trollope’s The Way We Live Now) and another one damaged (David Copperfield; the replacement should arrive any day now). King of Thorns hasn’t arrived yet. I also bought Gaskell’s Cranford since it was on sale, and found yet another book on the recycling shelf, this time at the Department of Modern Languages at uni. That book was Elizabeth Bear’s All the Windwracked Stars. I will post a picture of all these once I get everything gathered together!

Currently reading:

Redshirts by John Scalzi (and boy am I loving it!)

 

That’s it for April! I don’t start doing regular shifts at work until June, so I hope May will be filled with books! I’m very much behind compared to last year, by some ten books, but then again, I knew this year would be busy and that there wouldn’t be as much time to read…

Anyway. I’m so happy spring is here and that school is ending!

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Books in March ’13

Spring is finally here. Yay! It’s been a dark, depressing, and stressful winter, but now I’ve unwinded and feel optimistic about things again. I had my candidate’s essay presentation, a terrifying situation for someone with performance anxiety, but it went very well and I’m pleased. Then rolled on the Easter holidays, which I’m currently enjoying. Next week I will return to my essays and schoolwork, but for one more day I’m going to just relax and enjoy reading.

At the beginning of March I spent a few days with my friend in Amsterdam. I didn’t get around to writing about it, but I assure you, Amsterdam is a wonderful city and well worth a visit! I really enjoyed it, not least because language is not an issue there: it’s probably the most international city I’ve ever been to!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four

When a beautiful young woman is sent a letter inviting her to a sinister assignation, she immediately seeks the advice of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.

For this is not the first mysterious item Mary Morstan has received in the post. Every year for the last six years an anonymous benefactor has sent her a large lustrous pearl. Now it appears the sender of the pearls would like to meet her to right a wrong.

But when Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick Watson, aiding Miss Morstan, attend the assignation, they embark on a dark and mysterious adventure involving a one-legged ruffian, some hidden treasure, deadly poison darts and a thrilling race along the River Thames.

(Back cover of Penguin Sherlock Holmes Collection edition)

Of course I know I enjoy ACD’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but this one was just really great. I don’t know whether it came at a good moment or whether it was just brilliant, but I enjoyed myself so much I dreaded finishing it and having to pick up something else.

The romance-y bits with the good Dr Watson and Miss Morstan were, I felt, a little annoying, as they seemed kind of unrelated and the whole affair didn’t seem reasonable, but as someone pointed out, men see love in a different way from women, so maybe it’s just that?

Published: 1890

Pages: 153 (Penguin Sherlock Holmes Collection 2011)

Lucy Worsley: Courtiers – The Secret History of the Georgian Court

Kensington Palace is now most famous as the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, but the palace’s glory days came between 1714 and 1760, during the reigns of George I and II . In the eighteenth century, this palace was a world of skulduggery, intrigue, politicking, etiquette, wigs, and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like switchblades and unusual people were kept as curiosities. Lucy Worsley’s The Courtiers charts the trajectory of the fantastically quarrelsome Hanovers and the last great gasp of British court life. Structured around the paintings of courtiers and servants that line the walls of the King’s Staircase of Kensington Palace—paintings you can see at the palace today—The Courtiers goes behind closed doors to meet a pushy young painter, a maid of honor with a secret marriage, a vice chamberlain with many vices, a bedchamber woman with a violent husband, two aging royal mistresses, and many more. The result is an indelible portrait of court life leading up to the famous reign of George III, and a feast for both Anglophiles and lovers of history and royalty.

(Goodreads)

I love Georgians, but my interest has so far focused on the fourth George. This book, however, concentrates on the first two Georges, their consorts, and the people who inhabited their courts. Each chapter is named after a central person, such as Peter the Wild Boy, but don’t exclusively look at only the title person. It was certainly interesting to get a view of the feuds between father and son, queens and lovers, and what the people who witnessed it all thought of these complicated games of power.

Published: 2010

Pages: 334

John Fowles: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

In this contemporary, Victorian-style novel Charles Smithson, a nineteenth-century gentleman with glimmerings of twentieth-century perceptions, falls in love with enigmatic Sarah Woodruff, who has been jilted by a French lover.

Of all John Fowles’ novels The French Lieutenant’s Woman received the most universal acclaim and today holds a very special place in the canon of post-war English literature. From the god-like stance of the nineteenth-century novelist that he both assumes and gently mocks, to the last detail of dress, idiom and manners, his book is an immaculate recreation of Victorian England.

Not only is it the epic love story of two people of insight and imagination seeking escape from the cant and tyranny of their age, ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ is also a brilliantly sustained allegory of the decline of the twentieth-century passion for freedom.

(Goodreads)

The first out of three required books for the post-modern historical novel class. I liked the style and the detail, but disliked the occasional bits where there was clear condescension towards the Victorians and constant reminders that the novel has been written during the 1960s. Some of the historical details were elaborated on too much to my liking, although that is naturally a personal preference: I consider myself fairly familiar with Victorian England, and therefore not everything needs a page-long explanation.

I was also strongly reminded of two Victorian books while reading: Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, in the way in which the narrator works (metalepsis and the difficulty of categorizing him), and Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in the way the plot worked. It was not quite the same plot, particularly towards the end, but there are some of the same elements in the beginning.

I suppose it was a nice book, but I have a dislike towards post-modernism (as well as modernism). Our teacher went on and on about how modern a woman Miss Woodruff is, but I merely found her annoying and incomprehensible.

Published: 1969

Pages: 399

Lisa Kleypas: Love in the Afternoon

She harbors a secret yearning

As a lover of animals and nature, Beatrix Hathaway has always been more comfortable outdoors than in the ballroom. Even though she participated in the London season in the past, the classic beauty and free-spirited Beatrix has never been swept away or seriously courted… and she has resigned herself to the fate of never finding love. Has the time come for the most unconventional of the Hathaway sisters to settle for an ordinary man—just to avoid spinsterhood?

He is a world-weary cynic

Captain Christopher Phelan is a handsome, daring soldier who plans to marry Beatrix’s friend, the vivacious flirt Prudence Mercer, when he returns from fighting abroad. But, as he explains in his letters to Pru, life on the battlefield has darkened his soul—and it’s becoming clear that Christopher won’t come back as the same man. When Beatrix learns of Pru’s disappointment, she decides to help by concocting Pru’s letters to Christopher for her. Soon the correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher develops into something fulfilling and deep… and when Christopher comes home, he’s determined to claim the woman he loves. What began as Beatrix’s innocent deception has resulted in the agony of unfulfilled love—and a passion that can’t be denied.

(Goodreads)

I ordered this book from the library for one reason only: I stumbled upon the information that this book contains a hedgehog. Yes, as bizarre as that may sound, that was the real reason. This is also the first book of Kleypas’s that I have read.

The first thing that caught me was my own expectations. I thought I was starting a Regency romance – when a man returning from war is mentioned in context of historical romance I tend to automatically think of Waterloo – but, thankfully, there was a date on the very first page, indicating this was actually Victorian, post-Crimean, to be precise. Not that it changed my reading very much: I merely didn’t feel scandalised when waltz was danced at an assembly (or some such detail).

In general, I found the plot a little blotchy. I would have liked the conflict to remain unsolved for longer, although I’m sure there are plenty of readers who would like this book exactly because there is no particularly dramatic barrier between the hero and the heroine. There was also too much explaining, and by that I mean, little trust in the reader’s knowledge of the era. I know, I know, things must be explained and people will learn them, but here it was too explicitly done for my taste. In some scenes, conversation didn’t feel quite naturally exactly because of the explaining: anyone living in England around the late 1850s would have known exactly who Nelson was, without further explanation.

But this one made a very nice Saturday’s reading, and kept me from stressing too much. Took me seven hours to read, which was exactly what I needed: a few hours of distraction from schoolwork.

Published: 2010

Pages: 317 (Piatkus Books 2010)

Peter Ackroyd: The Fall of Troy

Sophia Chrysanthis is initially dazzled when the celebrated German archaeologist, Herr Obermann, comes in search of a Greek bride who can read the works of Homer and assist in his excavations of the city he believes is Ancient Troy.

But Obermann’s past turns out to be full of skeletons and when a young American arrives to question the archaeologist’s methods and dies of a mysterious fever, Sophia wonders just how far he will go to protect his vision of Troy. Soon a second, British, archaeologist arrives, only to fall in love with Sophia, and as their relationship begins to parallel their Ancient Greek counterparts events move towards a gripping and terrible conclusion.

(Back of the Vintage 2007 paperback)

Another required book for the post-modern historical novel class. Having established that I do not like the genre, this one came as a pleasant surprise, despite the teacher having spoiled it thoroughly in class. I’m not going to spoil you about the contents. Suffice to say it’s very intriguing, and Obermann’s character in particular. He’s sly, narcissistic, and completely obsessed with finding the ancient city of Troy. The story is loosely based on the excavations of an archaeologist called Schliemann in the late 19th century – this knowledge is helpful in setting the time, although even knowing it I kept forgetting this was a book set in the late 1800s and not the early decades of the 1900s. (Too much Poirot, I expect.)

Do read it. Once Obermann’s character starts to reveal itself, the book is a real page-turner. I was up half the night finishing it!

(The things I saw in it are very different from the ones the blurb picks up, so I don’t think it’s all that accurate, but obviously there are lots of ways to read it!)

Published: 2006

Pages: 215 (Vintage 2007 paperback)

Toni Morrison: Beloved

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.

(Goodreads)

Third and last of the required books! I’ve read one of Morrison’s works before – The Bluest Eye when I was, I think, in high school – and so she’s not completely new to me. I have to say that the first book I read left a much deeper impression, perhaps because of the topic.

However, Beloved was very interesting. It’s a puzzle, and you get new pieces as the story proceeds. Questions are answered just as you stopped thinking about it. Information comes from several points of view, and the narrative time jumps back and forth in a way that requires some attention. I read fairly quickly, this being a school requirement, but at a normal pace you’re sure to get a lot out of it.

Having said that, I’m not at all sure what exactly happened in the book. It veers towards the magical, and that leaves the story rather open.

Also, some scenes made my brain create visual images on basis of Tarantino’s Django Unchained. I was reminded of the film on occasion.

Published: 1987

Pages: 275

Julia Quinn: Splendid

American heiress Emma Dunster has always been fun-loving and independent with no wish to settle into marriage. She plans to enjoy her Season in London in more unconventional ways than husband hunting. But this time Emma’s high jinks lead her into dangerous temptation…

Alexander Ridgley, the Duke of Ashbourne, is a notorious rake who carefully avoids the risk of love… until he plants one reckless kiss on the sensuous lips of this high-spirited innocent. Soon sparks – and laughter ­– fly when these two terribly determined people cross paths during one very splendid London spring Season…

(Back cover of Piatkus 2010 edition)

Splendid is Quinn’s first book, and, as she herself states in the foreword, not as refined as her subsequent novels. The point of view jumps erratically and the names (especially those that are not known to the current PoV character) jump with them, creating a little confusion as to whether characters are already acquainted or not. The plot works, but is drawn out too much at the end – the final scrape the characters find themselves in feels unnecessary. Also the fact that Alex has returned from war but shows no sign of this (this is brought up briefly in a casual remark) bugs me.

However, for a first work, nice, although I do not generally take to American heroines.

Published: 1995

Pages: 396 (Piatkus 2010 edition)

Julia Quinn: Dancing at Midnight

When a suitor tells Lady Arabella Blydon that he’s willing to overlook her appalling bluestocking tendencies on account of her looks and fortune, she decides to take a break from the Marriage Mart. So during an extended stay in the country, she never expects to meet Lord John Blackwood, a wounded war hero who intrigues her like no other man.

Lord John has lived through the worst horrors of war, but nothing could have been as terrifying to his tormented heart as Lady Arabella. She is intoxicating, infuriating… and she makes him want to live again. Suddenly he’s writing bad poetry and climbing trees in the pitch-dark night, just so he can dance with her. But when the harsh light of day replaces the magic of midnight, can this tormented soul learn to love again?

(Back cover of Piatkus 2009 edition)

A sequel to Splendid, this book concentrates of Emma’s cousin Belle. This book is already obviously better crafted than its predecessor, although the points of view are still erratic. I do like the heroine and hero though: Belle is stubborn and a bluestocking to the bone. I did not appreciate the old let-him-think-I’m-going-to-marry-someone-else trick, but at least she had the decency to be ashamed of it. John’s trauma and self-loathing weren’t quite believable, and he, like Alex in the previous book, doesn’t have much of a trauma of the war itself, although he is still slightly paranoid of unexpected noises and a light sleeper.

My favourite character, without a doubt, is Belle’s chaperone. If you read the book you’re sure to see why.

I did like Dancing at Midnight better than Splendid, and I hope the third book in the trilogy proves to be the best of them. Now I only need to get it from the library…

Published: 1995

Pages: 375 (Piatkus 2009 edition)

A much better month than the last, I must say. I feel quite accomplished! Hopefully I can keep this speed up.

Currently reading:

Stephanie Laurens: The Lady Chosen, first book in the Bastion Club series

Books bought this month:

Amsterdam has a Waterstone’s and an American Bookcenter. And an English Bookstore. I can’t pass a chance to buy Heyer for my collection, Courtiers I got half price ­– and you won’t believe how I got Warbreaker! My library has a rotation shelf (my unofficial word for it: a shelf you can put your unwanted books on and take whatever’s there) and suddenly I noticed someone had left Sanderson there. I still can’t believe my luck. I got a free Sanderson! 😀

One more month of school! Happy Easter, and enjoy the spring!

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Books in February ’13

The end of the month snuck up on me! I thought it was Friday and not Thursday! Oh well…

February turned out to be a very bad slump month. I started a couple of books but ended up abandoning them, lazed around online, and wrote stuff for school. I took a course on Medieval and Early Modern Ireland, a fun class but a lot of reading included, which also ate at my pleasure reading. I doubt I’ll do any better during March and April, but by the summer I intend to pick up some speed!

Georgette Heyer: Pistols for Two

Affairs of honour, affairs of the heart, and all the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has made her own are exquisitely revived in these eleven short stories of the Regency.

(Goodreads)

This one is a collection of Heyer’s short stories, all of them Regency – and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed every single one! They are written in the typical Heyer style, but I found them even better executed than her novels: there is a twist in each story, and I kept guessing what it was only a couple of lines before it was revealed. Very thrilling, I tell you, to feel like you are a step ahead of the story! Mind you, if you are not into romance you might not enjoy them to the same extent I did, but they’re worth it for the technical skill and beautiful prose.

Published: 1960

Pages: 205 (Arrow Books edition; 13 short stories)

Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

(Goodreads)

I was positively surprised. I knew absolutely nothing about this book, and actually picked it up solely because I have a mini series adaptation of it starring Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, and Rupert Graves. But turns out I really enjoyed the book. I was a little surprised that it begins with a male perspective, as it’s not something you would expect from a Brontë (I may sound like I know what I’m talking about, but actually Jane Eyre is the only Brontë sister novel I’ve read before this, so don’t be fooled), but the female voice comes to play before halfway. Some of the diction shocked my 19th century sensibilities, which was actually rather refreshing, although I’m not completely convinced I liked it. Not the author’s fault, obviously.

It could happen I’ll return to this book sometime in the future. It’s the kind of story that I think will change when you grow older.

Published: 1848

Pages: 378 (Penguin Popular Classics 1994 edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

Yup, I reread this again! And guess what! This time I finally pieced together the back story and people’s motivations! And it feels fantastic!

You can read more about Sharp Teeth in its favourites post!

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen?

Which important Austen characters never speak? Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call one another, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen’s brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals the inner workings of their greatness.

In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction. Readers will discover when Austen’s characters had their meals and what shops they went to; how vicars got good livings; and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? illuminates the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and daring as a novelist. It uses telling passages from Austen’s letters and details from her own life to explain episodes in her novels: readers will find out, for example, what novels she read, how much money she had to live on, and what she saw at the theater.
Written with flair and based on a lifetime’s study, What Matters in Jane Austen? will allow readers to appreciate Jane Austen’s work in greater depth than ever before.

(Goodreads)

Mullan’s book caught my eye at the bookstore. As an Austen-fan, I’m always ready to learn more about her books, and boy, does Mullan bring out things one rarely thinks of while reading! The subtitle of the book, Twenty critical puzzles solved, tells you a lot: there are twenty topics discussed, among them the right way of proposing, money, and, perhaps my favourite, the importance of weather.

If you’re not a fan of Austen or unfamiliar with her works, I wouldn’t recommend this. Mullan goes to deep detail and doesn’t bother to explain the plots – which as it should be, since it frankly baffles me why anyone who hasn’t read Austen would even want to read this book. The chapters are short, 15–20 pages, so it makes wonderful regular night reading! I’m now eager again to read Austen’s novels again, just to see how much I have taken away from Mullan’s work: the details of people blushing, frequency of exclamation marks in the free indirect bits, and so on!

Published: 2012

Pages: 320 (Bloomsbury 2013 edition)

Books bought:

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen? (no picture this month since it’s just one book)

Currently reading:

David Mitchell: Back Story (not that David Mitchell, I’m talking about the comedic actor!)

I’m off to Amsterdam on Saturday, as the reading week has begun, and I will report about it when I get back! So meanwhile, keep reading!

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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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Books in December ’12

Hello everyone! ‘Tis time for the last monthly post of 2012. Christmas break ensured I managed to read a little more, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although I didn’t repeat last years all-night reading sessions. It makes me wonder whether I’m slowly starting to get old, but I keep telling myself it’s because I have to keep some sort of respectable sleep cycle going on, since I start research for my candidate’s essay pretty much as soon as the year turns. You’ll be hearing more about that later.

There is one thing I’ve neglected to do. Felix nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blog Award at the beginning of the month, and I even wrote the post, but never got around to finishing it, let alone publishing it. I will try my best to get it done during January! Thank you, Felix! ❤

And so on to business!

Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One

Iraq, 2004. Sgt. Dan Mills and the rest of the 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, were supposed to be winning hearts and minds. They were soon fighting for their lives…

Within hours of the battalion’s arrival in Iraq, a grenade bounced off one of their Land Rovers, rolled underneath, and detonated. The ambush marked the beginning of a full-scale firefight during which Mills killed a man with a round that removed his assailant’s head.

The mission had already gone from bad to worse. Throat-burning winds, blast bombs, and militias armed with AKs, RPGs, and a limitless supply of mortar rounds were the icing on the cake for Mills and his men. For the next six months–isolated, besieged, and under constant fire–their battalion refused to give an inch. This is the “breathtaking true chronicle of their endurance, camaraderie, dark humor, and courage in the face of relentless, lethal assault.”

(Goodreads)

Holy cow.

I’m more or less ignorant of what happened or is happening in Iraq, mostly because I don’t do politics, religion or war too well. This book explained some things, and I now feel like I have an inkling. Well, at least of what went on in Al Amarah.

What I most loved about this book is the great ratio of explaining and action. It’s perfectly suited for those of us who know next to nothing about modern warfare. Mills explains clearly what snipers do, what acronyms and codes mean, how things work when you’re posted out. The initial reason I picked this book up was for research on snipers, and boy, did I learn a boatload of important things! And it was engaging, too! Learning history is easier when it’s well written and feels like a story. Trust me, you’ll find affection for all the guys introduced. (Except maybe Gilly.)

My warmest recommendations. So engaging, so interesting, so well written for a description of war. I see I need to get more into this genre. And I’m definitely get my own copy of this.

I just wish Mills had written more books.

Published: 2007 Michael Joseph

Pages: 350 (Penguin 2008)

P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed. This classic series tells the story of the world’s most beloved nanny, who brings enchantment and excitement with her everywhere she goes. Featuring the charming original cover art by Mary Shepard, these new editions are sure to delight readers of all ages.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

(Goodreads)

I’ve listened to the Mary Poppins books on tape when I was little, and remember enjoying them very much. I suppose I did so now too – but not as much as I’d expected. I do enjoy Mary’s character: she’s so very stuffy and full of herself, and yet she has a softer side, which is seen most clearly during her Day Out with Bert.

Published: 1934

Pages: 173 (Harper Collins 2008)

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

One of the best-loved and most quoted stories of “the man who invented Christmas”—English writer Charles Dickens—A Christmas Carol debuted in 1843 and has touched millions of hearts since.

Cruel miser Ebeneezer Scrooge has never met a shilling he doesn’t like…and hardly a man he does. And he hates Christmas most of all. When Scrooge is visited by his old partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, he learns eternal lessons of charity, kindness, and goodwill. Experience a true Victorian Christmas!

(Goodreads)

To my utter surprise, I liked this one very much. The story is so familiar from all kinds of animated versions that I find the readability remarkable. True to Dickens’s style it gets a little rambly and there were indeed bits that did not feel relevant at all – but that’s 19th century literature for you, and there’s no way around it. The book is divided into clear sections and it’s an easy read for an evening. It’s at times even creepy! If you’re bored on Christmas eve and this one happens to decorate your shelves, it’s a good one to pick up for an evening’s entertainment.

First published: 1843

Pages: 90 (Purnell Books 1980 edition)

Diana Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle

Read for the monthly favourite post, which you can read here.

Published: 1986 Methuen Children’s Books Ltd

Pages: 302 (Harper Collins 2005 edition)

 

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

Acclaimed by many as the world’s greatest novel, Anna Karenina provides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfill her passionate nature – with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author’s own views and convictions.

Throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. As Rosemary Edmonds comments, ‘He leaves the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope to bring home the meaning of the brooding words following the title, ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

(Goodreads)

Yet another Russian classic. The motivation behind reading this one is of course the movie, which will (finally) come to Finland in January. I’m now very excited to see it, despite it being a British instead of a Russian production. I think you can expect a review!

The book is longish, but not a hard one to handle, so don’t be intimidated by the length. There are two main storylines that we follow: the story of the eponymous Anna Karenina (please note that if the names look funny it may be because I use the Finnish spellings) and Count Vronski, and that of Konstantin Levin and Kitty Štšerbatskaja. The comparisons between these couples build the moral of the story, and I did get a feeling that Anna Karenina is very much about what a good marriage should be like and how such a thing can be achieved.  Between dramatic scenes there is some social and religious commentary, mostly on Levin’s side, and it can get tedious, but I advise to brave it.

The characters, as in War and Peace, are well rounded and relatable. Mostly I did not like Anna, particularly towards the end, but she has her good sides just like everyone else. The dysfunctions in her relationship with Vronski are wonderfully depicted, and it is made perfectly clear in what ways they misunderstand and misread each other.

Some wonderful scenes include a horse race and Levin’s day out working in the field with the non-landed people. I feel certain that these, my favourite moments, are excluded from the movie since they do little for the plot, but I have my fingers crossed for a little bit of dangerous horse racing.

First published: 1877

Translation: Eino Kalima 1975

Pages: 493+428

Cassandra Clare: City of Bones

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.

(Goodreads)

There are two reasons why I picked this book up. The first is that I felt I should see what a fellow Potter fanficcer has been up to. The second, the film adaptation that is coming out soon-ish.

I can only say it was all right. It was easy to read, although at times I lost interest and had to fight to finish a scene. The story felt fractured and all the world building messy, and the relationship drama – of which, I’m sure you know, I am very fond – did little to impress me. The only character to catch my interest was Luke, friend of Clary’s mother, and he is present for less than half of the book. There were also some elements that are clearly paralleled with Harry Potter, like Hodge and his raven, but I would not say the book is a thinly disguised fanfic like Fifty Shades of Grey, although the style was very much that of a fairly new fanficcer, which took my by surprise seeing as Clare has experience of writing.

All in all, it is a tolerable book but I can’t say whether I’ll read the sequels or not. Maybe, if I happen upon them and feel like YA. I’m going to go see the movie, however, despite how crappy the trailer looks. Watching it, I wasn’t sure it was a movie about the book I was reading…

Published: Walker Books Ltd 2007

Pages: 442

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: neverwhere.

(back cover of Headline Review 2005 edition)

I really enjoyed this book. It was for some reason much easier to approach than American Gods, and I felt it was cleaner in outline. The characters were charming, and I grew particularly fond of Marquis de Carabas and, surprisingly, the main character Richard. There were some bits that were also used in Good Omens, but it was actually very nice, since it gave me a better idea of which parts of GO were written by Gaiman. Among other things, the assassins Mr Vandemar and Mr Croup initially reminded me a lot of the demons Hastur and Ligur, although I later also came to think of Mr Venable and Goyo in Sharp Teeth.

That is beside the point, however. What made this book particularly appealing to me is, without a doubt, London. The history of it and the places – I kept a map with both streets and tube stations at hand while reading – made the book so very delightful. I’m inspired now to read something on the history of London!

The reason I picked this book up now is that BBC’s Radio 4 is doing a recording of the book, and the cast is amazing: James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Sir Anthony Head, Benedict Cumberbatch… I believe it should be airing early 2013 and it’ll be available internationally on BBC iPlayer. I’m very much looking forward to it!

Published: 1996 BBC Books

Pages: 372 (plus introduction, different prologue, interview, reading group discussion questions) (Headline Review 2005, author’s preferred text edition)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald announced his decision to write “something new–something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” That extraordinary, beautiful, intricately patterned, and above all, simple novel became The Great Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known. A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning–” Gatsby’s rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream. …

(Goodreads)

Once again, a book read in anticipation of the movie adaptation. This was a hard one to get into. It might be my lack of understanding of 1920’s America and its society, but it was only around halfway through that I started understanding what the significance of events was, and if the book had been longer I may have abandoned it. When the plot picks up it really picks up though, and finally we got to the kind of drama I understand – mistresses, somewhat creepy and obsessed love, death.

It remains a mystery to me as to why Gatsby is considered such a great work of American literature, but for each their own. I personally preferred Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited” (read for class).

Published: 1925

Pages: 163 (Wordsworth Classics 1993)

There be the books read in December.

Books bought (also last month’s):

 

Beyond Heaving Bosoms I got for the candidate’s essay. It’s probably not a proper source, but it’s a lot of fun so I don’t mind owning it. I decided quite soon after reading Sniper One that I needed my own copy, and Moriarty Papers was a must-have.

Currently reading:

Moriarty by John Gardener

That’s all from me! I hope you guys have a fun time celebrating the new year! I’ll see you tomorrow with a collective post and the WOW of the year 2012!

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Books in November ’12

Hello hello hello hello hello, and welcome, to the – ! Okay too much QI. I apologise.

This has been a measly month when it comes to books. School has been really busy, and I’ve been so lazy to read anything after the Victorian pile we did. Hopefully Christmas holidays will allow me more time to read – I plan to have a whole ten days off school stuff between a Television Studies essay and writing the first draft of my thesis. I have some books I plan to read, but we’ll be seeing about those later.

Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift

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Man or monster?

Anne Rice reinvented the vampire legend. Discover what she’s done with the werewolf myth.

After a brutal attack, Reuben finds himself changing. His hair is longer, his skin is more sensitive and he can hear things he never could before.

Now he must confront the beast within him – or lose himself completely.

(Back cover of Arrow Books edition)

I started reading Anne Rice in the first year of high school, and stopped sometime during the third year. So in a way, starting The Wolf Gift felt a little like coming home. I actually tried to start quite another book, but it didn’t draw me in immediately. Wolf Gift did. And it was such an engaging book I had a hard time putting it down from time to time to attend to school stuff.

Rice doesn’t do to werewolves what she did to vampires, though she brings up a new twist to werewolf lore. But that is something you will have to find out on your own. What you might want to know is that Wolf Gift is not just horror – it’s also a thriller, a philosophical work, and just beautiful prose. It’s not heavy, despite the frequent descriptive bits, and it’s a good one to have with you if you commute. You get easily sucked into the story, and the characters are very likable, although I felt some of them remained somewhat flat. On the other hand, this leaves open the possibility of other books dealing with werewolves. And I would like that very much.

Published: 2012

Pages: 580 (Arrow Books paperback edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

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Reread for the fave post, so you can just click here and read why I love this book to tiny little bits.

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

Jules Verne: The Castle of the Carpathians https://i2.wp.com/i43.tower.com/images/mm100788706/castle-carpathians-jules-verne-paperback-cover-art.jpg

The descriptions of the quaint villagers of Werst, their costumes, manner of living, and belief in the supernatural world would in themselves prove an interesting narrative, but when coupled with the exciting adventures of Nic Deck, the two Counts, the cowardly Doctor, and the beautiful La Stilla, the story is undoubtedly one of the most enchanting ever offered.

This mysterious tale takes place in the area which in just a few years would become known as Dracula’s homeland. Jules Verne has the knack of it. He knows how to make the scientifically romantic story. You might not know what a “nyctalop” was, but if you saw one flapping his wings around the dark fortress in the Carpathians, you would run for it, as did Nic Deck.. Orfanik is head conjurer, and in his trial he explains how he brought into play for a wicked purpose a variety of ingenious inventions.

(Goodreads)

Second book for the fantasy course in Comparative Literature. I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. It starts slowly, switches characters around before we actually meet the main character, and unfortunately the end is rather predictable if you know anything at all about Verne. It wasn’t particularly scary, or even very exciting. The main character’s history was, I grant, interesting, but it is not enough to make me like the book. Translation, of course, can be a part of my disinterest, as the Finnish used was adequate but not exactly compelling.

First published: 1892

Translation: Pentti Kähkönen 1978

Pages: 211 (WSOY 1978 edition)

Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows

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Meek little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad. In the almost one hundred years since their first appearance in 1908, they’ve become emblematic archetypes of eccentricity, folly, and friendship. And their misadventures-in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars, and their Wild Wood-continue to capture readers’ imaginations and warm their hearts long after they grow up. Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie. This Penguin Classics edition features an appendix of the letters in which Grahame first related the exploits of Toad.

(Goodreads)

I didn’t like this one too much. Of course, it is a classic children’s story – and I hear I liked it a lot when I was a kid – but right now it felt very slow-paced, and some of the chapters felt unnecessary. That is, of course, partly a rather charming detail that tells a lot about the time the book was published: “The Wayfarer” is about as important to The Wind in the Willows and the Tom Bombadil interlude is to The Lord of the Rings, and neither section would be printed today. It seems that in the first half of the 20th century relevance and progressing plot weren’t quite as important, at least not in Britain – could this have something to do with the tradition of serially published novels? I don’t know, but I’m inclined to think so, as also the Victorian novels seem to have these unnecessary bits that make me want to bang my head against the table. Well, not when I’m reading for enjoyment, but when I’m in a hurry and not particularly fond of the book it’s among the most annoying things.

The Wind in the Willows is very English in style, and the style is very similar to The Hobbit, or rather the other way around. The class distinctions and propaganda are clearly there, with the “good” animals representing the middle and upper classes, and the weasels and stoats standing in for the working class. My favourite character might be Mr Mole – he undergoes some delightful character development, unlike the other characters. He reminds me a little of Neville Longbottom.

First published: 1908

Pages: 207 (Oxford Children’s Classics 2008 edition)

Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army

http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQhAntfU20E9E8afE-3_ydeZ0GTDcpmcEW5FjCsH0S4jLmlPCilpjR-awot

In 1815, beneath the aegis of the Army of Occupation, Brussels is the gayest town in Europe. And the widow Lady Barbara Childe, renowned for being as outrageous as she is beautiful, is at the centre of all that is fashionable and light-hearted. When she meets Charles Audley, the elegant and handsome aide-de-camp to the great Duke of Wellington himself, her joie de vivre knows no bounds – until the eve of the fateful Battle of Waterloo…

(Back cover of Arrow Books edition)

As my initial plan was to write my thesis about things happening around the Battle of Waterloo, it was very natural to pick up this book of Heyer’s. I’d read The Spanish Bride before and was ready for the war descriptions, although in this book they definitely contain many more names and detailed information about the position of troops et cetera. If you’re completely unfamiliar with what went on during the battle, I advise you to do some light reading on it before starting, if just to acquaint yourself with the main personage and the leaders. This book is absolutely riddled with people who really existed, and I was at times bummed because I wasn’t sure if someone was real or fictional.

There are also characters from Heyer’s earlier books, including my favourites from The Devil’s Cub! I may have squealed in delight when I realised they were present.

Even more than with The Spanish Bride, this book contain two main storylines: the first one is the courtship of Barbara and Charles, and the other one, naturally, the war. They fit together admirably, although are still very clearly distinguishable from each other.

The prose is usual Heyer: Austen-esque, witty, and very flowing. As always, be prepared for long sentences. When you get used to it you don’t have to think after every comma, What does this refer to again? Trust me, it’s worth it.

First published: 1937

Pages:  427 (Arrow Books 2004 edition)

A. A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh

http://loveliteraturelife.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/milne_pooh.jpg

To my surprise I really enjoyed Winnie the Pooh. It’s a pleasant read, easy to get through, and at times so accurate in its way of describing things I’m starting to feel disappointed I wasn’t introduced to it earlier in life. I’m even planning on getting my own copy, as particularly some of Eeyore’s scenes really made an impact on me. This, I think, is a very good children’s book. Easy, fun, and yet meaningful. Well done, Mr Milne – well done!

First published: 1926

Pages: 161 (E. P. Dutton 1998)

So that’s it.

Books bought:

I’ve bought a few books, but they haven’t arrived yet except for one: Wellington – Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford. I’ll take a picture of the books for next month!

Currently reading:

Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One (Loving it so much)

I wish you all strength for the rest of the year – I know I’m stressed and can’t wait for the holidays!

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Books in October ’12

This month saw the end of the Victorian madness – well, more or less. I managed to include a couple of books just for my own pleasure, but it was quickly back to school again. I’ve just realised that this is how it will probably be until summer, as I’ve managed to choose a lot of courses with several books to read. And on top of that all the background reading for the final paper. Oh well. There’s always retirement for reading what you wish…

William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair

Two young women, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, leave Miss Pinkerton’s Academy together. They are friends, yet the witty and flirtatious Becky looks set to outdo the passive, sweet-natured Amelia with her ruthless determination to grab what she can in life. And so all kinds of battles and fortunes are won and lost against a backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.

Thackeray’s satire on corruption at every level of English society is rightly subtitled ‘a novel without a hero’, since none of its characters have improved themselves by the end. However, it was a success from its first appearance in 1847 and remains one of the greatest comic novels.

(back cover of Arcturus 2010 edition)

At first, it wasn’t at all what I’d expected, although very amusing and rather engaging. Then, around halfway, I was so stressed and tired it was a pain to read. The brutal schedule did very little for this book – but oh gods, when I got to the end, I was completely in love. It’s funny, and insightful, and full of wonderful characters, although all of them have their flaws. It’s Regency. There’s the war. There’s the society. There’s life.

Writing coherently about this book is a little hard, as I’m so enamoured. I hope a reread will sort my head further and get my out of the general feeling of awesome and into the reasons why it is so great.

I’m seriously looking forward to working more with this book. Just… gaah. I want to watch all the adaptations and just get immersed into it.

You can also read about me drooling over the 2004 film adaptation here.

First published: 1847-1848

Pages: 719 (Arcturus 2010 edition)

Orhan Pamuk: The White Castle

From a Turkish writer who has been compared with Borges, Nabokov, and DeLillo comes a dazzling novel that is at once a captivating work of historical fiction and a sinuous treatise on the enigma of identity and the relations between East and West.
In the 17th century, a young Italian scholar sailing from Venice to Naples is taken prisoner and delivered to Constantinople. There he falls into the custody of a scholar known as Hoja–“master”–a man who is his exact double. In the years that follow, the slave instructs his master in Western science and technology, from medicine to pyrotechnics. But Hoja wants to know more: why he and his captive are the persons they are and whether, given knowledge of each other’s most intimate secrets, they could actually exchange identities.
Set in a world of magnificent scholarship and terrifying savagery, The White Castle is a colorful and intricately patterned triumph of the imagination.

(Goodreads)

Another required read for text analysis. Another read-it-quick-as-you-can novel.

I didn’t really care for this one. I’m really bad with modern and post-modern literature. It’s not all bad, of course not, I’ve read good ones, but it seems to me like everything that becomes popular in literary fiction feels somehow… pretentious.

It’s probably just me though. I like straightforward stories, not clever angles from which to look at life.

But I digress. The White Castle addresses identity – always an interesting topic – and doppelgangers. For the most part I couldn’t really identify with the characters, but later on I sort of recognised myself in Hoca (if you’ve read it, let me assure you, I’m not as crazy but understand where the crazy comes from) and from then on found more interest in reading. The end plays with you, and you get to play detective for a couple of pages, but unfortunately the very ending somewhat disappointed me.

Published: 1985 (original title Beyaz Kale)

Translation: Kalevi Nyytäjä (from the English translation by Victoria Holbrook 1990)

Pages: 216 (Loisto 2006 paperback)

Anthony Trollope: Barchester Towers

This 1857 sequel to The Warden wryly chronicles the struggle for control of the English diocese of Barchester. The evangelical but not particularly competent new bishop is Dr. Proudie, who with his awful wife and oily curate, Slope, maneuver for power. The Warden and Barchester Towers are part of Trollope’s Barsetshire series, in which some of the same characters recur.

(Goodreads)

Well written and amusing in its sarcasm, but really, the interior design of a house or who gets to be dean are not subjects I thrill in. The prose is, however, very neat and pleasant to read, and by no means very heavy. There is a romance plot as well as the drama of the religious circles of Barchester, and they blend very nicely together. Second in the series of books situated in the town of Barchester, it suffers very little from the reader not being acquainted with the first part, The Warden. I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, but sort of enjoyed Barchester Towers nonetheless.

First published: 1857

Pages: 586 (Penguin English Library 2012 edition)

Herta Müller: The Passport

The Passport is a beautiful, haunting novel whose subject is a German village in Romania caught between the stifling hopelessness of Ceausescu’s dictatorship and the glittering temptations of the West. Stories from the past are woven together with the problems Windisch, the village miller, faces after he applies for permission to migrate to West Germany. Herta Müller (Herta Mueller) describes with poetic attention the dreams and superstitions, conflicts and oppression of a forgotten region, the Banat, in the Danube Plain. In sparse, poetic language, Muller captures the forlorn plight of a trapped people.

(Goodreads)

Consisting of titled fragments, this work of Müller’s was a positive experience, once I realised it takes place in Romania, rather than Germany. Made more sense after that. It’s got lots of rather nice images and interesting metaphors, and most people in class said they needed or wanted to take time reading it, to better concentrate on the images. Some even considered it a hard read. Now, I may be just stupid or something, but I didn’t think it was all that hard. It took me a couple of hours to get through the about 100 pages, and I believe I got it. (But then again, I believe most of the participants in the class major in Comparative Literature and thus perhaps have a more analytical approach to reading than I do. Who knows.)

It’s very interesting, and I do recommend it. My second favourite of the six I’ve read for this course. (First being Time’s Arrow.) I find the English title rather unfortunate though – the Finnish translation used the original, and while the English one draws attention to the object of desire of the people in the book, the original is more attractive. Without any real knowledge on German, I believe it translates roughly to, “Man is a big pheasant on earth.”

Published: 1986 (originally Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt)

Translation: Raija Jänicke 1990

Pages: 110 (Tammi 1990 edition)

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince

‘On the day the Hunter comes for me, I am killing ghost cats from the Schrödinger Box.’

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 more stories than can be told even in a thousand nights and one night, but these two stories 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 the Gollancz trade paperback)

Okay. If you haven’t read The Quantum Thief, the first part in the trilogy, go do that now. Then you can get to The Fractal Prince. And I promise you they are both beautiful.

I didn’t have time to reread Quantum Thief, but I think this second book starts from about where the first one ended. Fractal Prince then turns out to be even more confusing than Quantum Thief, but, I think, the prose is more beautiful. I can’t really grasp a clear plot, a clear goal for the characters, but that doesn’t really matter. Jean, Mieli, and the new character Tawaddud are all interesting, as well as the spidership Perhonen. There’s several timelines that get confused, identities that you can’t be sure of, and some political intrigue which I liked immensely. There’s also more Finnishness in this book than the previous one, or perhaps I was just more attuned to it.

Sometimes I didn’t even understand a sentence, but loved it to bits. That, I think, tells a lot. Amazing prose. So engaging and magical. You don’t need to be a physics whiz to enjoy it. I hated maths, chemistry and physics in high school and do not read much science fiction, but this series has my heart.

Non-Finns who have read Rajaniemi – how do the names and words especially Mieli uses look to you? Mieli, Sydän, Perhonen, Kuutar, Ilmatar, koto, väki… I can’t really get enough distance to the words to not see what they mean and would love to hear what they sound like.

Published: Gollancz 2012

Pages: 300

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

(Goodreads)

It was nine years ago when I last read this book. I was thirteen. This was probably the first book ever that I like a lot but haven’t read every year, so the difference between my opinion then and opinion now was actually interesting to compare. It was also my first time reading it in English, so another first! Yay! This reread, by the way, was obviously because of the upcoming movie, which I can’t wait for…

It was more or less as I remember it. Bilbo is a darling, Gandalf is somewhat annoying, the dwarfs are fun. What felt really different though was the pacing. I had real trouble getting through the Battle of Five Armies before, and now I marvelled at how compactly the whole battle was described. I was so looking forward to it, and then it was only a few pages long. Slight disappointment there. In general the book felt much shorter.

What I really admire is Tolkien’s way of writing for children. It’s only very slightly less complicated than the way he writes for “adults”, but The Hobbit is also very obviously a story intended for children. But Tolkien is not patronising or condescending, and that is a true talent.

Published: George Allen & Unwin 1937

Pages: 276 (Harper Collins 75th anniversary edition)

Nick Foulkes: Dancing Into Battle – A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo

The summer of 1815 saw the final and desperate efforts of the European powers to usurp Napoleon’s reign over France.

The pivotal moment was unfolding in an age where war was a social occasion; the military urgency was matched only by the soldiers’ and their wives’ frantic efforts to keep apace of the lavish balls which were being thrown. The intention to deny war with frivolity persevered until 15 June, when the tension broke, and troops exchanged dance partners for weapons and prepared for battle.

Nick Foulkes captures the sense of what it was like to be at the very hub of events when the fate of Europe seemed to hang in the balance.

(Back cover of the Phoenix 2006 paperback)

I really enjoyed this book. It might be the fact that I’m getting really excited about my final paper topic, but it might also be the fact that the Battle of Waterloo and the days leading up to it were very confusing and interesting. The Britons in Brussels didn’t really grasp what was going on, did they?

Foulkes has drawn on a multitude of sources. The most interesting of those are diaries and letters, of such personages as Fanny Burney, Harry Smith, Thomas Picton, Thomas Creevey and Rees Howell Gronow. The book builds the picture of what went on during the Hundred Days that started when Napoleon escaped from Elba and guides the reader through the move of the British upper classes to Brussels and from thence to the battlefield. The Duke of Wellington is, naturally, a very prominent character in the book, but also the families of Capel and Richmond are much represented.

At first it may take a while to grasp the names and social positions of the people through whose reminiscences the world of society and war is shown, but towards the end this gets easier. I could recommend keeping a list, though, and I fully intend to do so on the second reading.

This is a very informative book, and perfectly suited for those who find plain war description heavy reading. The women of the time are amply represented, which is very delightful – my own favourite being Brigade-Major Harry Smith’s spirited Spanish wife, Juana, whose description of the panic on the road from Brussels to Antwerp is lively and a pleasurable read.

Published: Phoenix 2006

Pages: 230 (plus notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and index)

Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Conceived by a shy British don on a golden afternoon to entertain ten-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have delighted generations of readers in more than eighty languages. “The clue to the enduring fascination and greatness of the Alice books,” writes A. S. Byatt in her Introduction, “lies in language. . . . It is play, and word-play, and its endless intriguing puzzles continue to reveal themselves long after we have ceased to be children.”

(Goodreads)

First book to be read for the course titled “Classics of Fantasy Literature” (although I’m very tempted to call it “Classics of Children’s Literature”), Alice is something I’ve never gotten around to reading before. And I found it delightful. Carroll’s prose is flowing and pleasant to read, and doesn’t patronise. It’s absurd, but at the same time full of meaning and things you never thought of. I only wish I had been read this as a child! I also enjoyed how seamlessly the events of the book flow into one another, and you suddenly find yourself quite somewhere else than you were a couple of sentences ago.

It’s also a very quick read, which at this point in time is a definite plus in my books!

I hope I have time to read Through the Looking-Glass as well before I return this book to its rightful owner. I have a feeling I’ll enjoy that one even more.

First published: 1865

Pages: 115 (Wordsworth Classics 2001 edition: this edition actually has both of the Alice stories, as well as a 30-page introduction – I only read Wonderland)

So there you go again. You’ve already seen the books I bought this month, as they are all in the Edinburgh post. That leaves me one more thing to add to this post before leaving to Night Visions festival to see a werewolf movie!

Currently reading:

  • William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair (yup, rereading it already. Hunting down anything to do with the army.)
  • Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift (enjoying it so much!)

Happy Halloween, people!

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