Category Archives: Monthly

Romance in September ’12

Mary Balogh: The Temporary Wife/A Promise of Spring

The Temporary Wife

Miss Charity Duncan has no illusions about Lord Anthony Earheart’s proposal. The arrogant aristocrat has made it painfully clear what he wants: a wife who will enrage the father he despises and then disappear from his life. In exchange, Charity’s family will receive the money they desperately need. But after Charity agrees to this mockery of matrimony, she soon discovers a startling fact: She has fallen for Anthony, and breaking their marriage vows may also break her heart.

A Promise of Spring

Grace Howard has every reason to be devoted to Sir Peregrine Lampman. After all, the gallant gentleman rescued her from poverty by making her his bride. Even more nobly, he did not withdraw his affection after she confessed to a youthful folly that had compromised her virtue. But Grace did not tell the whole truth about the handsome lord who betrayed her – and now the one thing she’s kept from Perry threatens to destroy her last chance at true love.

(back cover of Dell 2012 edition)

Another two-in-one. The trouble is, I already read The Temporary Wife in July, on my way home from Finncon, and have no notes on it. And, as it goes with these light books, I have very little recollection of it, except that things got cute towards the end.

A Promise of Spring has lots of qualities that recommend it to me. First of all, the heroine is a full ten years older than the hero. Theirs is a marriage of convenience, but there is affection from the beginning. She’s had an illegitimate child years ago, and he still wishes to marry her after finding out about it. (Not spoilers, these! This all happens in the beginning!) But there’s a part of her story that’s a lie, a seemingly small lie, that then consumes them both and prevents their happiness. Absolutely delightful – but the ending is lame and disappointed me.

Published: 1997/1990 Signet

Pages: 245/254

So really, only one Romance, but I wanted to keep it separate. I sort of hope I will have more time to read Romance in the near future, but could happen I won’t. Would like to get some Heyer read though…

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Books in September ’12

Well. Let me tell you, it’s been a stressful month. Pro-sem reading, text analysis for comparative literature requires weekly reading (plus essays), the Finnish academic writing class has lots of annoying little things to do… Thankfully, it’s just two more weeks of this kind of intensive no-free-time studying, and then I can relax a little. And, you know, maybe read some fantasy for a change.

There’s also been fun stuff though – season’s end party for work (I came second in a quiz about all sorts of details of selling ice cream), all the freshmen parties, new friends, old friends, and, of course, pro-sem conversations. Yes, I love the pro-sem, despite the stress it puts me through. We have a good group.

But, no matter if it’s fun or not, all this interferes with normal reading schedules. Out of the books bellow, only two first ones (plus one in the romance post) have been my own decisions. Rest are required.

 

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

Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Professor James Moriarty – wily, snake-like, fiercely intelligent, terrifyingly unpredictable – and Colonel Sebastian ‘Basher’ Moran – violent, politically incorrect, debauched. Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike.

A one-stop shop for all things illegal, from murder to high-class heists, Moriarty and Moran have a stream of nefarious visitors to their Conduit Street rooms, from the Christian zealots of the American West, to the bloodthirsty Si Fan and Les Vampires of Paris, as well as a certain Miss Irene Adler…

(back cover of Titan Books 2011 edition)

Now, I have to say I might actually prefer the adventures of Moriarty and Moran to those of Holmes and Watson: the former are much more twisted and crafty, and criminals to top that – always an interesting quality in a character.

The adventures in this book touch on the original Holmes cases, but mostly have little to do with the Thin Man of Baker Street, as he is usually referred to by Moran, who in Newman’s book fills the shoes of Watson as the narrator. Moriarty gets illustrated very nicely, and we even meet his two brothers, which gives as all the three James Moriartys. (The situation gets explained, no worries!) The book is also filled with allusions to English literature, as you can guess from the title, some of them explained in the footnotes (inconveniently at the end of the book and often rather lengthy) and some not. I can’t be sure how many of the allusions I missed, but I think I got a lot of them, even with my limited experience of the English classics.

Published: 2011 Titan Books

Pages: 467 (plus annotations)

 

Geoffrey Trease: Byron – A Poet Dangerous to Know

 

This little book gives a quick look into Lord Byron’s life, and I think it has been meant for students of literature, as it really only covers the essentials and some well-known facts. There was very little I didn’t know, but getting the whole story more or less chronologically was nice. I also chose the book for it’s brevity, as I’m not sure how interested I’m in his travels and final times in Greece, and a longer biography would undoubtedly dwell on these for much longer than I could bear. However, I would have been more interested in some of the minor characters of Byron’s life, such as Lady Caroline Lamb and Claire Clairmont, both a little cuckoo if you ask me. But then again, I just need to get my hands on their biographies.

You will feel sorry for poor George in the end, though. He was a good man, if a little imbalanced.

Published: 1969

Pages: 135 (plus a map, bibliography, and timeline with essential years)

 

Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity.

She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

(Goodreads)

What can I say? Jane Eyre is a rather wonderful book. Being the only Brontë I’ve ever read, I can’t compare the sisters, but what I can do is compare different adaptations. The 2006 BBC adaptation (with the brilliant Ruth Wilson and wonderful Toby Stephens) is so strong in my brain and such a well-made mini-series that I see the milieu and actors while I read.

This was also my second time reading the book, and we had to mark scenes and bits we liked for class. I noticed for the first time that there’s some foreshadowing regarding Rochester’s secret (don’t want to spoil it for those of you who might not have read it yet) and Jane is actually rather funny when she cares to be.

In class people seemed to be most concerned about Mr Brocklehurst and his hypocrisy, or Jane’s very modern comments on the equality of sexes. Then there was me, raving about one of Jane’s most emotional lines and how it’s rarely delivered with real feeling in screen adaptations. Ahem.

First published: 1847 Smith, Elder & co.

Pages: 548 (Wordsworth Classics 1992 paperback edition)

 

Martin Amis: Time’s Arrow

In Time’s Arrow the doctor Tod T. Friendly dies and then feels markedly better, breaks up with his lovers as a prelude to seducing them, and mangles his patients before he sends them home. And all the while Tod’s life races backward toward the one appalling moment in modern history when such reversals make sense.

(Goodreads)

Okay. Wow. This novella takes some getting used to, but blimey, when you get into it, it’s kind of fabulous. Everything happens backwards: people walk backwards, drool their drinks into glasses, converse backwards. The first chapter is a small struggle while you try and reset your brain to understand the backwards chronology, but once it gets easier you can ignore the little things and concentrate on figuring out what is on Tod’s conscience. It works like a detective story, and you get to piece the picture together with what clues you get.

Tod being a doctor, some scenes get rather gory – just think about an emergency room that works backwards, with people coming in fine and leaving with bleeding scars – so if you’re queasy I recommend caution. It’s worth reading despite the gross bits, and I’m a little sad I had to get through it in such a hurry. Will definitely be rereading!

Translation was very good, although in a few places English crept through. Then again, I’d be hard put to figure out any way of translating those bits, so can’t really complain. Want to reread in English though.

Published: 1991

Translation: Seppo Loponen (Otava 1992)

Pages: 167

 

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Considered by many to be Dickens’s greatest work, this is a timeless story where vindictiveness and guilt clash with love and gratitude. Enriched by a cast of unforgettable characters, from the orphan Pip to the convict Magwitch and the bitter Miss Havisham.

(Goodreads)

I know I read this in June. But it’s a good thing I reread it for pro-sem, because last time the BBC mini-series was too strong in my head; I enjoyed the book much better now that I’ve got some distance. I still found some bits unnecessary, but they bothered me far less. Pip I don’t like – he’s annoying. The most interesting people are Estella and Miss Havisham, although who really caught my attention this time was Mr Jaggers. There’s a hard professional for you! His speech on the importance of knowing all the facts, which put Mr Wopsle to his place, impressed me beyond all expectations, and it was one of the scenes I marked down for class.

So now that my opinion has changed, I do recommend this book, if you’re capable of ignoring the main character.

Or, if Dickens isn’t your cup of tea, watch the 2011 BBC mini. Great cast, beautiful mis-en-scene, and everything unnecessary has been cut off the script. Oh, and there’s a new movie out soon, with quite a cast – Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch… Looking forward to that!

In class we discussed following things:

  • Differences between the endings of Jane Eyre and Great Expectations
  • Love as described by male/female author, interpretation by male/female reader (Apparently the feeling of love derives from different chemicals in women and men, and that women in general love someone they feel safe with and men a woman they for some mysterious reason prefer over all the other women. We have one guy in the class, and when asked he said he didn’t really feel the love Jane feels for Rochester, but he totally got the love Pip feels for Estella. It’s completely the other way around for me, so I found this very interesting.)
  • Whether middle-aged men can still be passionately in love (This kept on throughout the class, and it was a lot of fun xD)

First published: 1860-1861

Pages: 445 (Arcturus Publishing 2010 paperback edition)

 

Andrzej Zaniewski: Rat

This novel leads the reader into the mind and universe of a rat and in doing so, transforms one of nature’s most despised animals into a creature representative of us all.

(Goodreads)

This was sort of interesting, although I only got into it in very short sections. The world of a rat is very violent and insecure, and some of the scenes were very heart wrenching – a young female losing her young, for example – and some just plain disgusting. Then again, at times it was rather boring and confusing, particularly when we were told to pay special attention to the narrator, which switches POV frequently and to no end I can fathom.

The book was originally written in Polish, and as I know nothing about said language I can’t say for sure, but I think Finnish ate some of the meaning in the POV changes. In Finnish it is not necessary to use personal pronouns in first or second person because those can be replaced by inflections, but I feel it would have been better to have the pronouns. It would have been very clumsy Finnish though, so I might reread the book in English at some point and see whether that makes a difference.

Published: 1993 (original title Szczur)

Translation: Kirsti Siraste

Pages: 169 (WSOY 1994)

 

George Eliot: Middlemarch

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.

[…]

(Goodreads)

I would have enjoyed it, probably, if I’d had a little more time. This is not a book you want to rush through, because it can get heavy at times – and after a tough night of reading it I was too tired to pay attention to a rather important plot point and was confused for the next sixty or seventy pages. (Turns out it was less dramatic than I’d hoped…) The characters are interesting though. The problem is that in the beginning you can’t be sure who is going to be important and end up paying attention to the wrong people. The main characters – Dorothea, Mr Casaubon, Dr Lydgate, Rosamond and Fred Vincy, Will Ladislaw, Mary Garth – are turned round and round until you’ve seen all sides of them and probably hate most of them. Rosamond, for example, amused me greatly in the beginning, with all her romance and sillyness, but soon after she turned completely insufferable.

As a novel this is very different from Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. The narrator is omniscient, and there are so many characters whose head you get to visit it gets overwhelming from time to time. It’s also very wordy, and sometimes I wondered how on earth Eliot manages to make simple things last for pages and pages.

But, as it is one of the biggest classics of English literature, I’m happy to have read it. I think I’m going to re-watch the TV-series when I find some time, as it would be interesting to do a little comparison.

First published: 1871-1872

Pages: 746 (plus annotations; Oneworld Classics 2010 edition)

 

Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

(Goodreads)

On rereading, the two sides of this book became even more pronounced than the first time. There is the romance side of things, and there is the social commentary side. Of course this novel contains, as the title already suggests, lots of comparisons between things, and I think this dual plot is one of them. Just as north and south, master and man, wealth and poverty have their points and can co-exist, so can cutesy love and a serious message be weaved into one work. And it works beautifully.

Gaskell’s prose is very easy and delightful, although a little on the dramatic side of things – I haven’t yet made up my mind whether it’s intentional mockery or just Gaskell’s way of doing things, but I have high hopes of finding out when I eventually read her Wives and Daughters.

I warmly recommend this book. Gaskell is among the less-known authors of the Victorian period, but, I think, well worth attention.

First published: 1854-1855

Pages: 403 (plus introduction and annotations; Wordsworth Editions 2002 edition)

 

So that’s it for September! Pro-sem intensive reading period is halfway through, and I think I’ll survive it. It’s another thing will I manage the other courses I should get done during the next couple of weeks…

Books bought this month:

Getting better. I finally got my hands of Wolf Gift, after having craved for it since February. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is something I’ve wanted to read but never got around to, and having it at home is helpful – when I get the impulse I can just grab it now instead of hunting it around libraries. And guess what? I didn’t buy Grass King’s Concubine. I won it off a giveaway on Goodreads. My first time winning! Looking forward to reading it, but when that will happen, I can’t say. So many books, so little time…

And finally! The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi! Squee! I’ve so been looking forward to this! I hoped I’ll have the chance to reread The Quantum Thief before getting to this, but I doubt it, as I want to have this baby read before the Book Expo in October, where Rajaniemi will be participating a panel and most likely signing.

Currently reading:

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (which I’m loving)

 

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Books in August ’12

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

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

 

Mark Lawrence: Prince of Thorns

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

(Goodreads)

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

Published: Harper Voyager 2011

Pages: 373

 

Ellen Kushner: The Privilege of the Sword

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

 

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

Published: Heinemann

Pages: 293

 

E. L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

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

Published: Arrow Books 2012

Pages: 514

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

First published: George Newnes 1894

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

 

Glen Duncan: Talulla Rising

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

Published: Canongate 2012

Pages: 425

 

Currently reading:

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

Books bought:

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

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

Happy autumn, people!

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Books in July ’12

Well, there goes the idea of separating romance from other books. It’ll be back, don’t worry, but this month’s post is embarrassingly short as it is and doesn’t need to be chopped up. And when I say embarrassing… In a way that’s not true, but you’ll see why. On with the show!

Brent Weeks: The Way of Shadows

I’ve been giving Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy for years, and finally made the decision to tackle it. And I liked the first book. It was good.

However, it didn’t blow my mind. The beginning was my favourite part: we witness Azoth’s first meeting with the “wetboy” (an assassin but better, and with Talent) Durzo Blint, just before we’re familiarized with Azoth’s life as a street rat in the bad side of town. And it’s very enjoyable. We then follow along as Azoth grows up, and the main plot point reveals itself as we go on. The prose is easy to read and the chapters are short, so this is not a long read despite the amount of pages. The characters are interesting, although I had a hard time trying to remember who is who and why exactly are they important, which means I didn’t get as invested in the story as I would have liked to. Another turn-off would be the classic Chosen One business, which has never sat well with me.

I’m afraid this series will suffer the same fate as Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy did with me: I’ve read the first one and kind of liked it, but haven’t gotten around to continuing the series. It’s a pity, but not everything can please. Give it a shot! I’m pretty sure a year ago I would have loved this, and maybe I will continue next year and wonder why I didn’t get the brilliance at once. Timing is all.

Published: 2008 Orbit

Pages: 645

Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch

Now this is a prime example of a book where absolutely nothing happens but it still keeps you reading. Brilliant. I’ve probably said it before, but let me say it again – Heyer is as close to Austen as you can get without actually reading Austen. In this book, it took some time and effort to tell apart the characters – there’s a myriad of them, and then you have to remember first names and surnames and titles – and the ending came so suddenly I was a little baffled, but other than that, a very enjoyable read. The language is just wonderful, and there were a lot of Regency insults! (My particular favourite is ‘vulgar mushroom’.)

First published: 1962 Heinemann

Pages: 297 (Arrow Books 200 edition)

Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace

You won’t believe how I proud I am of myself for having read this. Seriously. War and Peace is one of those books I’ve always thought I’ll read when I’m old and smart – and I promise you, I consider myself neither.

The most interesting thing about this book is the fact that it’s not hard. Not even remotely. It’s just long, and among the interesting stuff there are boring bits, no matter what kind of stuff you like. I was interested in the main characters and what happens in their lives, and so I found all the philosophy of history and war tedious, but you might find it the other way around. Anyway, if you want to get a nice picture of what went on in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, this is a good book to read. Tolstoy kept repeating names of people and places, so you’ll remember people like Kutuzov, Caulaincourt and Barclay de Tolly, and places like Borodino and Bagration. There are dates and very detailed descriptions of what went on, and a whole lot of Napoleon!

As I think most of my readers are fantasy oriented, there’s something I really want to raise up about this book. It’s a lot like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Seriously. Short chapters, usually following a character. Cliffhangers. You can’ be sure who dies, so beware of becoming attached. Much less scheming and virtually no incest, though, unless you count cousin/cousin. The characters are very well rounded, so you’ll end up hating the ones you initially liked and vice versa. A couple of characters mysteriously disappeared, not to be heard of again.

On Goodreads, I gave this book three stars. It’s a very nice book, and I recommend it. Not the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever read, but decent. (And the translation I read was excellent.) The edition I had was very approachable, too – four 400-500-page volumes in total.

If you’re for some reason interested in what went on in my head during this monster of a read, you can take a look at my reading diary.

First published: 1869 (original title Война и миръ – Voyna i mir)

Translator: Esa Adrian 1975

Pages: 432+495+492+446=1865

So that’s all I managed this month. In a way it seems pathetic, since it’s only three books (actually four, but as the fourth is part of an omnibus I’m not counting it here), but on the other hand, one of them was almost 2000 pages long. I think that evens things out nicely.

Bought this month:

I may have gone a little crazy. Most of these books were really cheap, though. The Lives of English Rakes was so so so cheap I just had to get it! The one to the right of it is Master and Margarita, by the way – I’m not sure I like the translation, because it’s not the same one my brother has, but we’ll see when I get to it… sometime next year maybe. Redshirts I actually bought in June, but it didn’t arrive until July.

Currently (re)reading:

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (<3)

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Romance in June ’12

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

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

Mary Balogh: The Secret Pearl

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

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

(Back cover of Dell 2005 edition)

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

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

Published: 1991

Pages: 399 (Dell 2005 edition)

Mary Balogh: A Secret Affair

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

(marybalogh.com)

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

Published: Dell 2010

Pages: 368

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

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Books in June ’12

Hello hello!

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

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

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

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

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

(Back cover of the Arcturus edition)

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

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

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

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

First published: 1861

Pages:  445 (Arcturus Books)

Douglas Hulick: Among Thieves

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

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

A book now conveniently in Drothe’s hands…

(Back cover of Tor 2010 edition)

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

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

Published: Tor 2011

Pages: 414

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

Published: William Morrow 2005

Translation: Maria Lyytinen (Gummerus 2008)

Pages: 311

Patricia Briggs: Cry Wolf

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: Ace 2007

Pages: 307 (Orbit 2009 edition)

Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin McKinley: Sunshine

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: Berkeley Publishing 2003

Pages: 405 (Jove 2004 edition)

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

Currently reading:

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

Books bought this month:

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

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

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Books in May

May was warm and nice, although it has also seemed long. It was also very busy, hence the astounding amount of romance – easy and quick to read. Let’s get to business, then.

Mary Balogh: Seducing An Angel

He is to be wealthy, wellborn, and want her more than he wants any other woman. Those are the conditions that must be met by the man Cassandra Belmont will choose as her lover. Marriage is out of the question for the scandalous widow who must now barter her beauty in order to survive. With seduction in mind, she sets her sights on Stephen Huxtable, the irresistibly attractive Earl of Merton and London’s most eligible bachelor. But a single night of passion alters all the rules. Cassandra, whose reputation is already in tatters, is now in danger of losing the one thing she vowed never to give. And Stephen won’t rest until Cassandra has surrendered everything – not as his mistress, but as his lover and his wife.

(Back cover of the Dell 2009 paperback edition)

Yes, the month kicked off with a romance again. Seducing An Angel is the fourth part in the Huxtable quartet – well, quintet, as there is one more book to go – and I found it delightfully different from the pervious three. The most glaring difference is the fact that the story does not start with a marriage, but with a seduction. The progress is nice and smooth, although I had some scruples with Cassandra’s stubbornness when it came to distrusting men. It’s logical, of course, since she has been betrayed by every single man in her life, but there is some sort of imbalance here that bothers me: on the one hand it’s hard to see how anyone could ever distrust Stephen, and on the other hand everything in my head is saying she should just keep away from men and keep living with her formers employees – who, by the way, are a factor that make the story so enjoyable. The former governess Alice and the cook/maid Mary both get their own stories, and no lose threads are left hanging for Cassandra’s small family. All the Huxtables are wonderfully kept in character throughout the series, as are their husbands and other recurring characters. The only one who remains mysterious now is their cousin Constantine, who will be the hero of the last book of the series.

There are some things in the language and etiquette that I would very much like to check. What peeves me most is the ball etiquette (yes, I did a class talk on it, so there was Research), and I’m fairly convinced unmarried siblings don’t dance with each other. (Cf. Austen’s Emma – “…You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”) Not sure how that changes upon marriage, but it rings wrong to have siblings dancing. Ever. Because it’s the frickin’ marriage mart.

Please pardon the rant. Regency is important to me.

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 388

Paul Torday: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Why does Dr Alfred Jones feel as though something is missing in his life? He has many reasons to be content. His job as a fisheries scientist is satisfactory, and he has just celebrated his twentieth wedding anniversary.

When he is asked to help create a salmon river in the highlands of the Yemen, Fred rejects the idea as absurd. But the proposal catches the eye of several senior British politicians. And so Fred finds himself forced to figure out how to fly ten thousand salmon to a desert country – and persuade them to swim there…

As he embarks on an extraordinary journey of faith the diffident Dr Jones will discover a sense of belief and a capacity for love that surprise himself and all who know him.

(Back cover of the Phoenix 2007 paperback edition)

I would never have picked this book up had there not been a movie based on it coming out. It’s also more than likely that I would not have had any interest in said movie if Ewan McGregor didn’t star in it. In general, there are a couple of things on the back cover that usually put me off: a person not happy with his pedestrian life, and the phrase extraordinary journey of faith, of which the first two are enough for me to make a face and put the book down.

That would have been a mistake. For a book that is concentrated on fishing it is very entertaining. Torday doesn’t bore the reader with infodumps, and even if you’re not familiar with fish or the Arabic culture it really doesn’t matter. There is a small glossary at the end where you can check most of the terminology. (My absolute favourite, the one I giggled over several times, was “salmonid”, particularly in the phrase “migratory salmonids”. I don’t know how funny that is to a fisheries specialist or even a native English speaker, but I think it sounds hilarious. Salmonids.)

A thing one might want to know before picking this book up is that it is not just straightforward prose. The story is told through several kinds of text, like entries from Dr. Jones’s journal, Miss Chetwode-Talbot’s correspondence with her fiancé, memos inside the NCFE, and – I kid you not – intercepted Al-Qaeda e-mail traffic. Don’t be daunted! Torday really pulls it off well, and there’s no fear of confusion once you learn who is who and who does what and so on. I was thoroughly pleased with this book, much to my own surprise. Not the read of the year, but a good piece of literary fiction. I’d heard it was very funny, but I wouldn’t say it was all that funny, although when you learn more about Dr. Jones in the beginning you can’t help but feel that he is a silly old dear and have to smile at the poor man. It gets slightly deeper towards the end, but not enough to be ridiculously soul-searching.

I’m getting rambly. In short: it is well worth a read. And a nice book for summer, too, methinks. What with all the fish and desert and stuff.

I went to see the movie (premiered in Finland May 25th) and it’s WAY different. Very funny and very sweet, too, but the ending was not as good as in the book. I was supposed to write a review, but that never happened… But I recommend it. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt both do a wonderful job!

Published: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2007

Pages: 317 (Phoenix Paperback 2007 edition – this one also has reading group notes and discussion topics)

Loretta Chase: Lord Perfect

Ideal
The heir to the Earl of Hargate, Benedict Carsington, Viscount Rathbourne, is the perfect aristocrat. Tall, dark, and handsome, he is known for his impeccable manners and good breeding. Benedict knows all the rules and has no trouble following them—until she enters his life.

Infamous
Bathsheba Wingate belongs to the rotten branch of the DeLucey family: a notorious lot of liars, frauds, and swindlers. Small wonder her husband’s high-born family disowned him. Now widowed, she’s determined to give her daughter a stable life and a proper upbringing. Nothing and no one will disrupt Bathsheba’s plans—until he enters her life…

Scandalous
Then Bathsheba’s hoyden daughter lures Benedict’s precocious nephew into a quest for a legendary treasure. To recover the would-be knights errant, Benedict and Bathsheba must embark on a rescue mission that puts them in dangerous, intimate proximity—a situation virtually guaranteed to end in mayhem—even scandal!—if anyone else were involved. But Benedict is in perfect control of events. Perfect control, despite his mad desire to break all the rules. Perfect control. Really.

(lorettachase.com)

Like usual, I can’t seem to start a series from the beginning. Fortunately, that is not necessary with Regency Romances, and even though this is the third instalment of the Carsington Brothers series it was easy to get into it.

Chase is good. Really good. Anyone who reads historical literature knows how horrid it is when one can’t trust the author to know what they are talking about. With Chase, this is not a problem. I have no idea whether she really knows her details – although she has said in an interview she loves doing research, a relieving comment, that – but the reader can feel secure and concentrate on the book itself instead of details. Her writing is witty and fun, and as bored as I am of this attraction-even-before-introduction thing I’m fond of the characters.

However, the story feels a little flat, and the only thing really driving it are the characters. My notes also accuse the book of corny sex.

Published: Berkeley Sensation 2006

Pages: 280 (I’m terribly sorry, I messed up and didn’t check which edition I had…)

Mary Balogh: 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 really enjoyed both of these books. They are so dramatic I could barely stop reading. They are not completely believable when it comes to historical details, but that doesn’t seem to be necessary in the modern historical romance. Balogh has a way of writing compelling prose, however, and to a romance junkie I would say these two are a must. The heroes are lovable, although Thornhill is a mite conventional and I find myself partial to the crippled, insecure and oh-so-deeply-in-love Lord Carew. Of the heroines I prefer Jennifer from Dark Angel: she is more determined than her cousin Samantha, the heroine of Lord Carew’s Bride. If you’re looking for a little light summer reading, these are the books to take to the beach with you – or this book, rather, as they have recently published as an omnibus edition and I doubt they are unavailable separately.

Published: Signer Regency 1995

Pages: 308/285

So that’s it for May. I’m slightly disappointed in myself, having read so slowly and little, but let’s face it: May is the end of school, and that means a whole lot of work you technically could have done or at least started weeks earlier but never do. Let’s hope there’s more time in June, despite work! (I’ve just found out that the ice cream stall I’ll be working will be located less than ten minutes from my house. Yay!)

Currently reading:

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Happy summer everyone! Hope the weather’s good wherever you are, although I guess on the southern hemisphere that’s at the moment less likely than on the northern.

EDIT:// I have been so very careless with this update. I apologise. Here are the books I got this month – you can see a clear trend. 😛 The other are from the Bookdepository, but The Famous Heroine/The Plumed Bonnet is from my usual bookstore.

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