Tag Archives: charles dickens

Books in December ’12

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

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

And so on to business!

Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

Holy cow.

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

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

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

I just wish Mills had written more books.

Published: 2007 Michael Joseph

Pages: 350 (Penguin 2008)

P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

Published: 1934

Pages: 173 (Harper Collins 2008)

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

First published: 1843

Pages: 90 (Purnell Books 1980 edition)

Diana Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle

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

Published: 1986 Methuen Children’s Books Ltd

Pages: 302 (Harper Collins 2005 edition)

 

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

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

First published: 1877

Translation: Eino Kalima 1975

Pages: 493+428

Cassandra Clare: City of Bones

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

Published: Walker Books Ltd 2007

Pages: 442

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

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

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

(back cover of Headline Review 2005 edition)

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

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

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

Published: 1996 BBC Books

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

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: 1925

Pages: 163 (Wordsworth Classics 1993)

There be the books read in December.

Books bought (also last month’s):

 

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

Currently reading:

Moriarty by John Gardener

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

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Books in 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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Summer Reading: Conclusion

Okay, so classes start today and summer reading time is over! Didn’t do too well… But you’ll see that from the list:

SUMMER READING LIST 2012

Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace

China Miéville: The City and the City

Brandon Sanderson: Alloy of Law + The Way of Kings

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Graham Greene: Brighton Rock

Lev Grossman: The Magicians

Brent Weeks: The Night Angel Trilogy (Way of Shadows/Shadow’s Edge/Beyond the Shadows)

Frank Abagnale: Catch Me If You Can

Robin McKinley: Sunshine

 

So, uh… yeah. I’m pretty happy with this though.

But now it’s autumn and time for new books and new adventures!

I’m off to class now. Giddy!

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Announcement: School Excitement and Victorian Novel

I’ve been so excited about this for a couple of days now. I’m starting my pro-seminar this fall, and had my fingers crossed that I’d get into the class that was my first choice (because nothing else would really do) – and I got in! Hooray!

The title of the course is Victorian Novel. Yup, you can probably see why I’m so excited. I like the teacher, too, so I’m all set to go. However, this pro-sem means my reading list will be very limited during September and the first half of October. We plough through six books in seven weeks, and as you will see in a moment, they are not exactly your lightest reading. Who knows, maybe I will have time for other books as well, but I seriously doubt it.

So here’s what I will be reading:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Middlemarch by George Eliot

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

The combined number of pages is 3,447.  I’m sort of taking a deep breath and getting ready for a period of intensive reading. We’ll see whether I’m absolutely fed up with Victorians by the time the period break rolls around… Hopefully not, because I’ll be doing this for quite a while after that, too!

So there it is. I wanted to share this, partly because I’m so excited and partly because now you know there will be lots of Victorian stuff lying around my blog. I’m thinking of doing Operation Classic reading diaries for these books (three of which I’ve read once already) and maybe musing on some stuff we go through in class. But we’ll see how I’ll go about this once the class starts next week.

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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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Summer Reading List 2012

Last summer my reading list contained ten books, of which I read three. That does not mean I only read three books, but I was kind of amused by my inability to stick to a list. So this year I have a list as well, and we’ll see if making it public helps me finish it. (Doubt it.) Summer naturally starts when school ends, which in this case is around mid-May (last hand-in date is 21st or something) and reading time ends when classes start again in the beginning of September. If I start a new book from the list a couple of days before I have to immerse myself into the horrid amount of classes I need to take in the autumn it still counts.

This year’s list is longer than last years. I tried to put all kinds of different books there, although I left out Romance because they are mostly impulse reading. I haven’t counted books that are coming out during the summer either, because there’s no guarantee when I can get to them. (Cf. the sad case with Anne Rice’s Wolf Gift)

SUMMER READING LIST 2012

Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace

China Miéville: The City and the City

Brandon Sanderson: Alloy of Law + The Way of Kings

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Graham Greene: Brighton Rock

Lev Grossman: The Magicians

Brent Weeks: The Night Angel Trilogy (Way of Shadows/Shadow’s Edge/Beyond the Shadows)

Frank Abagnale: Catch Me If You Can

Robin McKinley: Sunshine

So that would be thirteen books, assuming the Way of Kings comes in two parts. Right now I feel confident I can do this, despite work and changing moods, but then so I always do when I’m compiling these lists. But last year I didn’t take into account the different genres, so we’ll see if that helps!

What are you planning to read this summer?

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Happy Birthday Mr Dickens!

On this day, February 7th 1812, a great man called Charles Dickens was born. His works, such as the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-1837), Oliver Twist (1837-1839), David Copperfield (1849-1850), and Great Expectations (1860-1861), are among of the most remarkable in English literature.

I have just returned from the small celebration of his bicentennial, organised by some of the British professors at my university. All smartly dressed, they took turn narrating Dickens’s life and acting out scenes from his novels. They had their audience laughing in fits with their quite accomplished renditions of characters such as Sam Weller and Mr Bardell in the Pickwick Papers. We saw David Copperfield in love with the eldest Miss Larkins, Oliver Twist asking for more, and Mrs Nickelby recalling a roast pig – and during the latter my stomach was cramping from laughter.

I feel this was an excellent way to remember Mr Dickens, who, after all, himself entertained his audiences on his tours by acting out his books – all by himself! Of this we will have a taste, when one of the professors performing today will try to re-enact bits Dickens’s American tour. I will be attending that event as well, and this time I might wear a top hat.

 

Happy birthday, Mr Dickens! Thank you for the good work – I hope you could have been buried where you had wanted to, but there are certain things expected for a man of such national importance.

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