Category Archives: Monthly

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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Books in April

I never expected April to be such a good reading month. Easter holidays of course helped, along the fact that I spent those in the country without internet access or indeed a computer. And since it snowed on the night we arrived, there was no work to be done outside, either, so my time was spent “studying” and reading. (The former included half-heartedly going through grammar exercises and reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Swedish.)

So be warned – this is a list of nine books.

Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage

Elliott Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, has just acquired unwilling guardianship of Stephen Huxtable, the new young Earl of Merton. If he were to marry Stephen’s eldest sister, he would have the eligible wife he needs and she would be able to look after launching her younger sisters into society. It would be a comfortable arrangement all around. However, Vanessa, the middle sister, thinks otherwise. Margaret loves another man and has a secret agreement with him. And so Vanessa steps up as the sacrificial offering.

(back cover of Dell 2009 edition)

Let me start by saying that I like this book and am completely prepared to like other books by Balogh as well. The style is not too heavy and not too light but very amusing and readable. The period is set with casual mentions of all sorts of details in food, architecture, dress, and social customs. Marriage of convenience is a much-used plot point, and Balogh brings very little into it that I with my limited experience haven’t seen, but it is nevertheless very enjoyable. The characters are believable, and Vanessa’s feelings towards her deceased first husband are, I’m sure, familiar to many. The plot is perhaps a little slow – although that did not slow my reading even a little – and the scapegoat was not used to full capacity. The latter fault, I understand, has to do with the subsequent parts of the series. The hero is likable and the heroine a woman of sense, something that always finds favour with me. There is, once again, sex, but it is not disturbing. I believe I said previous month that the sex in Stephanie Laurens’s books did not bother me – well, compared to Balogh, it is positively offensive. (As, indeed, is Balogh’s compared to the subtlety of Georgette Heyer.)

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 388

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Seeing as I have discussed this book at some length in this blog just recently, I suggest you refer to the Favourites post. If you have read the book, feel free to see also the Read-Along posts – beware of spoilers.

Published: Gollancz 2006

Pages: 537

Mary Balogh: Then Comes Seduction

In a night of drunken revelry, Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, gambles his reputation as London’s most notorious lover on one woman. His challenge? To seduce the exquisite, virtuous Katherine Huxtable within a fortnight. But when his best-laid plans go awry, Jasper devises a wager of his own. For Katherine, already wildly attracted to him, Jasper’s offer is irresistible: to make London’s most dangerous rake fall in love with her. Then Jasper suddenly ups the ante. Katherine knows she should refuse. But with scandal brewing and her reputation in jeopardy, she reluctantly agrees to become his wife. Now, as passion ignites, the seduction really begins. And this time the prize is nothing less than both their hearts.…

(Goodreads)

I find this second instalment in the Huxtable Quintet very, very similar to the first one, discussed above. The meeting of the hero and heroine is where these two books differ the most: while Vanessa and Elliott meet under very proper circumstances, Katherine and Jasper’s first actual meeting is far cry from proper. After the three-year gap the story really kicks off. There are horrible rumours, disgusting relatives, a question of guardianship and, after a fashion, a duel over the lady’s honour. It is all very sweet, and the book is most definitely entertaining (I spent a four-hour drive reading it and a couple of hours afterwards reading it), but it is not as good as First Comes Marriage. I don’t quite buy the breaking of the barrier between the lovers, and Jasper’s logic is not very clear, but the end is lovely in any case. I would have liked to have more repercussion of the rumours, as I don’t believe the solution the main characters come to will quell all the wacking tongues.

So a marriage of convenience and the finding of love. Very basic, but clichés become clichés because they work, and even if it doesn’t really work in two books in a row. It does not make me think ill of Balogh.

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 419

Jane Aiken Hodge: The Private World of Georgette Heyer

Lavishly illustrated, and with extracts from her correspondence and references to her work, ‘The Private World of Georgette Heyer’ reveals a formidable and energetic woman with an impeccable sense of style and above all, a love for all things Regency.

(Goodreads)

To write the biography of a person as quiet about her personal life as Georgette Heyer is a difficult task. This also explains the superficial quality of Aiken Hodge’s book: there is very little said about Georgette Heyer as a person, but much more about her as a writer. If you have read Heyer’s books, you know she was a subtle writer and a meticulous researcher. Of that, there is a whole lot in this biography. The only more personal titbits are the quotes from her letters, which I found hilarious. Despite the lack of actual information the book creates an idea of what kind of woman she was – shy but professional, only really comfortable in her small circle of friends.

This is a biography that can be read for the entertainment value. It is a typical biography in that it probably makes the subject look better than it in reality was, but this time I did not mind it. Because my admiration towards Heyer comes not from her persona but from her style and dedication to detail, it was a pleasure to get a peek to her writing process and the pictures taken from her research notebooks.

Published: Bodley Head 1984

Pages: 208 (Bodley Head 1984 hardcover edition)

Agatha Christie: Murder On the Orient Express

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer. Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again.

(Goodreads)

This is the first Christie book I have ever read. Shocking, I know. I would not have read one now had I not been at the country and out of books. Well, not exactly out of books, but out of books I had meant to read. I wanted a short read for the car ride, and ended up picking this one from the shelf.

The experience was a little disturbed by the fact that I love watching Christie adaptations on TV, and had seen this one as recently as last year. Even though I usually forget who the murderer is and can re-watch detective stories with ease, this one is too memorable for that. What I did not remember was the details, which made the book after all enjoyable. But it is the ending that makes it worthwhile in my books – and if you tend to read detective stories and for some reason have not picked this one up yet, I recommend you do so. It is a great puzzle!

Published: Collins Crime Club 1934 (copyrighted to Agatha Christie 1933)

Pages: 191 (Fontana 1974 edition)

Mary Balogh: At Last Comes Love

Only desperation could bring Duncan Pennethorne, the infamous Earl of Sheringford, back home after the spectacular scandal that had shocked even the jaded ton. Forced to wed in fifteen days or be cut off without a penny, Duncan chooses the one woman in London in frantic need of a husband. A lie to an old flame forces Margaret Huxtable to accept the irresistible stranger’s offer. But once she discovers who he really is, it’s too late—she’s already betrothed to the wickedly sensual rakehell. Quickly she issues an ultimatum: If Duncan wants her, he must woo her. And as passion slowly ignites, two people marrying for all the wrong reasons are discovering the joys of seduction—and awaiting the exquisite pleasure of what comes after….

(Goodreads)

There is little I can say about this book after having discussed the two previous parts in the series. This one involves the eldest Miss Huxtable, Margaret, and her marriage of convenience. I did like this one better than the Then Comes Seduction and, it might be, First Comes Marriage. This one has a through-and-through sensible main character, an illegitimate child, and a lately widowed first love. Mostly, though, it is similar to the previous parts in the series and thus very pleasant and fun read but nothing exactly special. Still more historically accurate than many other Regency Romances.

I’m not sure “Duncan” is a very Regency name, but I haven’t checked so can’t be sure. It didn’t sound right in any case.

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 386

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

As I read this book in order to refresh my memory for the Favourites post this month, you can read what I have to say about it here.

Published: Gollancz 1990

Pages: 383 (Corgi 1991 paperback edition)

Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals

Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork – not the old-fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.

The prospect of the Big Match draws a likely lad with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dm but beautiful young woman, who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt. (No one knows anything much about Mr Nutt, not even Mr Nutt, which worries him, too.)

As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed for ever. Because the thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.

(Doubleday 2009 hardcover cover)

It has been a long time since I’ve last read Terry Pratchett, and it seems I need to reacquaint myself with his way of pretty much ignoring the plot. I’m not very familiar with football, which may mean I missed quite a few jokes, but not so many that I’d really notice. I don’t think this was Pratchett at his best by all means – and I do prefer a little more plot – but I was entertained once I got the hang of it. It took me a long time to finish it, which was partly due, again, to the lack of plot and the fact that the Internet is full of wonders.

With regret I have to say I can’t recommend this book. Experienced Pratchettists may want to take a look at it, but it’s not one to start acquainting yourself to Discworld with.

Published: Doubleday 2009

Pages: 400 (hardcover edition)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?

(Goodreads)

There were two reasons I decided to read this book. The first one was that I had never done so before. The other was that my DVD of the second season of BBC’s ingenious Sherlock (of which I plan on raving about at some later time) arrived.

I have nothing negative to say. It’s an engaging book, even if you remember the story. It’s exciting and it’s fun, and I liked it better than Agatha Christie, which could probably be explained by my inclination towards pre-1900 literature. Sherlock Holmes is an interesting chap, and although Watson at times seems a little too simple it’s nothing unbearable.

Sherlock’s mention of his case of Vatican cameos had me giggling. Oh Moffat and Gatiss, you guys have used everything!

First published: George Newnes 1902

Pages: 174 (Penguin Popular Classics 1996 edition)

I didn’t buy many books this month, mostly because that budget got blown on those DVDs – and I’m not regretting one bit, because Sherlock is totally worth every penny! The books I got from an online auction. If you’re wondering about the one with Xena on the cover, it’s doctorate called Time of Fandom. The full title of the other one is a bit hard to read, but it’s Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? – What REALLY happened in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? It’s a collection of essays, and I’m saving it up for work reading.

I also got Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, but for some reason forgot it from the photo. I wanted to get it because of BBC’s new awesome mini series. Watch it! You won’t regret it!

Currently reading:

Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Kaarina Nikunen: Faniuden aika (Time of Fandom – for an essay)

Happy May Day, people! 😀

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Books in March

Guess why I love March? Because it’s the first spring month! Not that it hasn’t snowed and been cold, but the sun is slowly starting to show her face for more significant amounts of time per day. Things get easier now that we get some light every day. And reading is of course much more pleasant in natural light.

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

It was high time for me to read this book. I’ve been meaning to do it for years, even bought it last year, and now I’ve finally done it!

After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the minutes, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace… Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman’s epic new novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America.

(Goodreads)

I admit I was slightly disappointed. I’ve heard so much good about the book, so many of my friends claim it one of the best things they have ever read, and all this praise has obviously raised my expectations too high.

Don’t misundertand: it is a good book. It is one of those reads you get to piece together as you go on, and it can be a lot of fun. There are great themes like belief, remembering your roots and sacrifice. There are great characters you grow to like. But somehow I find it hard to be excited. I was not at the edge of my seat. I did not stay up to the wee hours of the morning because I just had to read another chapter. It didn’t suck me in like I wanted it to.

* cue lych mob of Gaiman fans *

Don’t anyone be discouraged by what I have said. Neil Gaiman is not considered among the best fantasy authors of our time, nor, I am sure, is American Gods considered his best work, for nothing. It is safe to say that it’s me, not him.

Published: William Morrow 2001

Pages: 635 (Headline Review 2005 edition)

Gregory Maguire: Out of Oz

I read the first three books in the Wicked Years series a couple of years ago, when Wicked the musical was coming to Helsinki and a friend of mine wanted to see it. He had already read the books, so he made me do that too – and I’m not complaining. I had been read the Wizard of Oz when I was a kid, although the book got lost and I never got to know how it ended, and I had not seen the movie. I think this has been an interesting order to learn about the story: I feel such great sympathy towards Elphaba – the Wicked Witch of the West – that I almost cried when she died in the movie and everyone was so happy.

The marvelous land of Oz is knotted with social unrest: The Emerald City is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, Glinda is under house arrest, and the Cowardly Lion is on the run from the law. And look who’s knocking at the door. It’s none other than Dorothy. Yes, that Dorothy.

Amid all this chaos, Elphaba’s granddaughter, the tiny green baby born at the close of Son of a Witch, has come of age. Now, Rain will take up her broom in an Oz wracked by war.

(Goodreads)

I suppose I liked the book. It was slow at times almost to the point I thought I couldn’t finish, but then the action picked up again and I managed over a hundred pages without even noticing. We meet a whole lot of familiar characters, and even though I survived this read without having to re-read the three first ones, a little repetition would not have hurt. Fortunately, Maguire has taken the time between the publishing A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz to consideration and provided the readers with little family trees, timelines and summaries of previous events in the beginning of the book. In general it’s a nice book, but mostly driven by the reader’s wish to see how things end – will Shell Thropp be overthrown? What happened to Liir? To Glinda? Personally I found Liir’s daughter Rain extremely annoying for the most part of the book, so be warned.

Those who have seen/heard the music of the Broadway soundtrack can also amuse themselves spotting references to the lyrics. I found a few, a couple of them so glaring I had to put the book down for some time to let out some steam.

Published: William Morrow 2011

Pages: 578 (Headline Review 2011 edition)

Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire & Mockingjay

Of these books I won’t provide summaries, in case someone has not read the first one. Say no to spoiling!

I see very little point discussing these books completely separately, so here we go. I have heard people say that Catching Fire is the weakest book in the series, and some people say Mockingjay is the weakest. I’m inclined to think the former – Catching Fire feels like a filler between the basic construction of the plot and the real action that then takes place in Mockingjay. This is not to say it’s a bad book! I ate it up the in much the same way I did The Hunger Games. There are more characters introduced, and several of them are more interesting than the ones in the love triangle.

The way Collins handled said triangle is nice and subtle, and even though I admit I knew how it would end around the time I started Mockingjay, I could not be sure how we could get to that situation. On reflection, I also like the end of the serious extremely well, although I can see it might have disappointed a certain type of reader. To me it was believable and in a way suitably open – there’s a lot left unexplained.

I doubt I’ll reread this series (at least no time soon), but it’s great entertainment with an important message. It’s a pity Twilight took over the world instead of The Hunger Games (although now that the movie is out there is hope) – I would rather have teens reading about fighting an unfair and cruel system than about a very unhealthy relationship. (And Hunger Games is better written, too.)

Published: Scholastic 2009/2010

Pages: 391/390

Richard Morgan: Steel Remains

Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don’t know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteren of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire’s slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives…

Archeth – pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race – is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire’s borders.

Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe’s petty gods.

Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.

(richardkmorgan.com)

If the violence and sex in George R R Martin’s books offend you, or you are confused by the time jumping in The Lies of Locke Lamora, you should probably steer clear from this book.

The beginning is so very promising: it’s funny, quirky and exciting – but the fun stops pretty much there. The things introduced are left to the beginning and not returned to, not even in the end. I had great trouble remembering any other names than those of three protagonists – more or less staying in their own chapters – and was constantly confused as to who was who. The timelines were confusing for the most part, and the basic plot evaded me. There were aspects I liked, too – the beginning and the ending, the storylines that in the end intertwine – but they were pretty much killed by the effort it took me to get through these three and a half hundred pages. I even contemplated abandoning it around halfway, but decided to go through with it to see if it would get any better. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

I’m rather disappointed – I so wanted to like Richard Morgan. Maybe I’ll give a shot to his SF novels, to see if those are more to my liking.

Published: Gollancz 2008

Pages: 344 (Gollanzc 2008 hardback)

Stephanie Laurens: The Promise in a Kiss

When a handsome man literally falls at her feet while she’s walking through a moonlit convent courtyard, Helena knows he must be there for a scandalous liaison. Yet she keeps his presence a secret from the questioning nuns – and for her silence the stranger rewards her with an enticing, unforgettable kiss. What Helena does not know is that her wild Englishman is Sebastian Cynster, Duke of St. Ives.

Seven years later, Sebastian spies Helena from across a crowded ballroom. This heiress is dazzling London society with her wit and beauty, tantalising all the eligible men with the prospect of taking her hand in marriage. But Helena is not looking for just any husband. She wants an equal, a challenge – someone who can live up to the promise of that delicious, never-forgotten kiss.

(back cover of Piatkus paperback 2010)

I’d previously read only one book by Stephanie Laurens, and wasn’t much impressed by it. A couple of weeks ago, however, I got into this extensive Regency kick, and because of some decisions I have made I picked up this book along with another Regency Romance.

This one is part of the Cynster family saga. In Goodreads it has been listed as part 7.5, and in the story’s timeline it is the first one: these are the parents/grandparents of the Cynster family that is described in the series.

The Promise in a Kiss is not at all bad, as far as Regency Romances go. I don’t usually care for sex in Regencies, but here Laurens manages to handle it in a way that didn’t really bother me. (Although I wish she would not have referred to the male organ as a “staff”. It was hilarious, and I’m not at all sure that scene was supposed to be funny…)

Otherwise I have very little to complain about. As a personal preference I would have liked to see more dancing and carriages and less strolling, but for each their own. Helena’s husband hunting is fun for a while, and it would remain so, if she would seriously entertain any other possibilities than monsieur le duc. I like both of the main characters well enough, but even better is the villain of the story, Helena’s guardian Fabien. Some minor characters were treated with little care where I would have liked to know what came of them.

As you can see from the summary, the plot is very conventional, and it is indeed treated with more or less conventional means. The romance itself is very sweet.

There is also a duel of swords in a gallery at night. If that is not epic, I don’t know what is.

Published: Avon Books 2001

Pages: 377 (Piatkus 2010 edition)

I also bought a bunch of books this month!

The treasure of the pile is the Finnish translation of Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub. I got it cheap from an Internet auction – I’m excited to see how one does Regency in Finnish! (The title translates back to The Devil Falls in Love – I don’t find that as much fun as the original title, but I suppose it does the job. Rather unimaginative, though.)

Currently reading:

  • Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora (Duh!)
  • Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage (Yes, yet another Regency…)
  • Pamela Regis: A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Highly interesting!)

So on to April! A month and a half of school to go until summer! Yay for summer!

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Books in February

Okay, so this month I’ll be doing things a little differently. Since I have absolutely no talent in summarising books I have thus far avoided it, but I don’t think that is the way to go in the end. So from now on, I will find a short summary to attach to the book (source will naturally be indicated), and then just go on as I have before.

Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South

A friend told me several years ago that I should watch the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and back then I decided I would for once read the classic before seeing it. This promise got fulfilled during the first week of February, and boy, am I glad I did it!

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)

I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Gaskell’s language is very easy to fall into, and the story – originally published as a newspaper serial – rolls on very nicely. Gaskell is not as clever as Jane Austen, refined like her friend Charlotte Brontë, or teller of a complicated story like Charles Dickens, but her prose is a pleasure, and Mr Thornton has now risen to one of my favourite classic gentlemen. I’m looking forward to seeing the adaptation!

First published: 1854-1855

Pages: 403 (Wordsworth Editions 2002)

Julia Quinn: What Happens In London

It seems I cannot keep away from Julia Quinn’s books. This time I found myself reading What Happens in London, the second book in the Bevelstoke series (third one being the Quinn I read previously – I’m not very good at this, am I?).

When Olivia Bevelstoke is told that her new neighbor may have killed his fiancée, she doesn’t believe it for a second, but still, how can she help spying on him, just to be sure?  So she stakes out a spot near her bedroom window, cleverly concealed by curtains, watches, and waits… and discovers a most intriguing man, who is definitely up to something.

Sir Harry Valentine works for the boring branch of the War Office, translating documents vital to national security.  He’s not a spy, but he’s had all the training, and when a gorgeous blonde begins to watch him from her window, he is instantly suspicious.  But just when he decides that she’s nothing more than a nosy debutante, he discovers that she might be engaged to a foreign prince, who might be plotting against England. And when Harry is roped into spying on Olivia, he discovers that he might be falling for her himself…

(http://www.juliaquinn.com)

The book was merely entertaining. The characters were nothing special, the plot was nothing special, and the humour I’ve previously found redeeming in her work was largely missing. Once again, a rather serious subplot was dealt without much care and the author largely depending on the reader, leaving me to wonder whether the traumatized little brother was necessary at all. The “villain” could have been more consistent in character, and I actually found his bodyguard Vladimir more interesting. The language is, as usual, off, and I still have a hard time trusting Quinn’s background research. However, the book is good for a day’s entertainment, so in that capacity it is more or less worth picking up.

Published: 2009

Pages: 328 (Avon Books 2009)

Jane Austen: Persuasion

After Quinn I was in need of some good and reliable Austen. Persuasion is one of my favourites, perhaps because it is rather different from her other works:

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

(Goodreads)

This book is so subtle it is an absolute thrill to read. Little gestures, words, expressions mean so much, and feelings that once were return gradually. There is little else I can say about the book without spoiling the ending, but be prepared: this book includes the most beautiful letter I have ever read!

First published: 1818 (posthumous)

Pages: 230 (Penguin 1975)

Georgette Heyer: The Spanish Bride

Shot-proof, fever-proof and a veteran campaigner at the age of twenty-five, Brigade-Major Harry Smith is reputed to be the luckiest man in Lord Wellington’s army. But at the siege of Badajos, his friends foretell the ruin of his career. For when Harry meets the defenceless Juana, a fiery passion consumes him. Under the banner of honour and with the selfsame ardour he so frequently displays in battle, he dives headlong into marriage. In his beautiful child-bride, he finds a kindred spirit, and a temper to match. But for Juana, a long year of war must follow…

(back cover of the Arrow Books edition 2005)

The Spanish Bride was not exactly the romance I thought I was going to get, although the romance bits are just as sweet as Heyer always makes them. Most of the time, however, is devoted to the war. The army marches from city to city in Spain – I found that the book might do with a map – and waits for action. The battles are scarce, but they are not the interesting thing anyway. The characters have been real: in the foreword Heyer mentions several autobiographies she read while doing research, and the authors of those are met. I feel like I understand Lord Wellington’s character, and seeing as how scrupulous a researcher Heyer is, I am not doubting her vision.

The only thing I felt a little queasy about was the age difference between husband and wife. Harry is twenty-five when they marry, Juana only fourteen. To a modern reader this looks suspicious, but we must remember it was not exactly out of the ordinary in the day. Juana is also very mature, so one does not keep thinking of her age but instead her admirable spirit.

In short, as a history lesson this book is excellent, especially if you, like me, learn better from fiction than pure facts.

Published: William Heinemann 1940

Pages: 422 (Arrow Books 2005)

John le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins George Smiley’s chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.

(Goodreads)

I actually picked this book up simply because the movie was coming out here, and I decided I wanted to read the story first. I don’t usually read crime fiction, but this one left a pleasant impression of the genre. Even though I’m not good with history past the 19th century and the details of the Cold War are hazy, it did not hinder the reading. More difficulty I found in adjusting to le Carré’s rather lengthy and complicated style, but as usual, once one gets used to the rhythm it gets easier, and once all the characters are familiar the story really picks up. I would advise little breaks during the reading, to allow the different stories of the past and their details to sink in – and sometimes, if concentration has faltered at some point, it is necessary to go back a paragraph or two.

I think it likely I will read the other two books in this Karla trilogy, but the need to do so is not very pressing. Nevertheless, Tinker Tailor is a compelling read – although not the extent where I would keep glancing around me on the street, trying to spot legmen watching me. (I did keep my eye on the car with Czech license plates, though.)

Published: Random House (US) / Hodder & Stoughton (UK) 1974

Pages: 422 (Sceptre 2011)

George Orwell: Animal Farm

Animal Farm is the most famous by far of all twentieth-century political allegories. Its account of a group of barnyard animals who revolt against their vicious human master, only to submit to a tyranny erected by their own kind, can fairly be said to have become a universal drama. Orwell is one of the very few modern satirists comparable to Jonathan Swift in power, artistry, and moral authority; in animal farm his spare prose and the logic of his dark comedy brilliantly highlight his stark message.

Taking as his starting point the betrayed promise of the Russian Revolution, Orwell lays out a vision that, in its bitter wisdom, gives us the clearest understanding we possess of the possible consequences of our social and political acts.

(Goodreads)

Animal Farm happened to be on the shelf when I visited one of my regular libraries, and since I’ve long intended to read it, this was a good opportunity. And I liked it. A lot. Even though the story is familiar – from general knowledge of either literature or history – it is an engaging story. The parallels to the Soviet Union are clear as day, in all their unpleasantness. This is a rather neat novella, with a very clear outline. Those who have experience in the field of political satire might find it too easy, but a dabbler like me will enjoy the clarity. There are also some elements that are developed further in 1984, published only four years later.

Published: Secker and Warburg 1945

Pages: 95 (Penguin 1989)

Patricia Briggs: Moon Called

Since werewolves are my favourite paranormal creatures, I wanted to give the Mercy Thompson series a go.

Werewolves can be dangerous if you get in their way, but they’ll leave you alone if you are careful. They are very good at hiding their natures from the human population, but I’m not human. I know them when I meet them, and they know me, too.

Mercy Thompson’s sexy next-door neighbor is a werewolf.

She’s tinkering with a VW bus at her mechanic shop that happens to belong to a vampire.

But then, Mercy Thompson is not exactly normal herself … and her connection to the world of things that go bump in the night is about to get her into a whole lot of trouble.

(Goodreads)

As an urban fantasy novel, I suppose this one is a good one. The problem is, I’m increasingly feeling like this is not my genre – the first person narrative, the American cities, the weapons, the TV-series-like quality are not for me. Not that I wasn’t entertained by this book, quite the opposite! Briggs’s heroine Mercy is an independent, non-conventional woman, and the werewolf system she introduces is logical and believable. There is a lot of action and not a dull moment. However, I did not like her relationships to males (maybe excepting Zee), and, as much as I regret to say it, I’m finding I can barely stand vampires any longer. Of course, this is not Briggs’s fault in the least.

So if you like werewolves, urban settings, and fast-paced action, read it. I might eventually continue this series (currently six books long), but only if I want something light and quick to read.

Published: January 2006

Pages: 288 (Ace Books mass market paperback 2006

So this is what February was like. I also bought a few books from the Arkadia International Bookshop:

  • Baroness Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Jane Austen: Lady Susan/the Watsons/Sanditon
  • John le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

My order of Anne Rice’s Wolf Gift got cancelled, and I now need to wait for it some more, but I’m hopefully getting my hands on it next month. I’ve also ordered some other books, but more about those when they arrive.

Newsflash! I’m participating the Lies of Locke Lamora read-along in March! If you have a blog, and wish to take part for whatever reason, this (among others) is where you can express your interest: http://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/announcing-the-lies-of-locke-lamora-read-along/

I don’t know how long into March participating is possible, but thought I would mention it. This also means I will be posting more often than usual this coming month – you’ll be seeing a lot of fangirl talk.

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