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Books in December

Last day of the year. Feels a little festive – and then again, I never really liked the number 2011. 2012 has much nicer symmetry to it, don’t you think?

As ever, this month was about books. For the first part it was a lot of schoolbooks, but as soon as Christmas holidays started I was very much glued to the lovely blocks of paper. I managed quite a lot of them, compared to previous months, but I also had more leisure time.

So let’s start this thing off.

The latest book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance with Dragons, came out earlier this year, and a friend was good enough to lend me her copy. To my disappointment I did not like this book as well as the previous ones. The various points of views were scattered and did not feel as controlled as before, and we only briefly visit some of the characters from the earlier books. This is, of course, to let the readers know what came of the maddening cliff hangers left in the last book, and my guess is if I had waited for five years to find out I would have been very happy indeed. However, I read the fourth book only a short while ago, so the little bits did nothing for me. I find this to be a doldrums in the series: stagnant and slow.

Published: Harper Voyager 2011 (I read Bantam Books 2011)

Pages: 959

Julia Quinn’s Everything and the Moon, the first book in the Lyndon Sisters series, was meant as a break from doorstopper-sized books, and as such it did its job. It is a Regency romance, and as I happen to be particular about the genre, I did not much like this one.

I will borrow the blurb from the author’s website (http://www.juliaquinn.com):

Seven years ago she broke his heart…

When Robert Kemble stumbles across Victoria Lyndon in hedgerow maze, he can’t believe his eyes. The girl who’d torn him in two, who let him plan on elopement and then left him standing by the side of the road, was suddenly within arm’s reach, and even though his fury still knew no bounds, she was impossible to resist…

Seven years ago he left her all but ruined…

Victoria’s father had told her an earl would never marry a vicar’s daughter, and he was right. Robert had promised her marriage, then danced off to London while she suffered the shame of a foiled elopement. But even though Victoria doesn’t particularly enjoy her new life as a governess, when Robert offers her a job of a different sort—his mistress—she refuses, unable to sacrifice her honor, even for him.

But Robert won’t take no for an answer, and he vows to make her his, through any means possible. Can these star-crossed lovers learn to trust again? And is love really sweeter the second time around?

My misgivings with this book are as follows:

  • Style is not what one expects from a Regency romance. Expressions are at times too modern, and nothing kills the mood like unresearched diction.
  • Victoria is intended as an independent woman, but she often lapses into pathetic pining and the traditional there-is-no-way-he-loves-me.
  • From the first page, the story is very mushy, and overly sweet. I think there were eyes like deep pools, which is unforgivable. (I regret not writing the description down.)
  • Despite the possibility I will be labelled a prude I have to say I do not like sex in my Regency romance, thank you very much. It simply does not fit.
  • The plot gets boring when the truth of what actually happened on the night of their elopement becomes known to Robert – and this happens around the middle of the book.

The only positive comment I have in my notes is that Robert is quite amusing when he cares to be. There was a conversation about hedgehogs living in sin that made me giggle.

I have read the second part of the series, Brighter Than the Sun, which I did like better. That one I can almost recommend.

Published: Avon Books 2007 (I read Piatkus 2009)

Pages: 372

The next books are not in the order I read them but in groups.

I had wanted to read Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin books for a long time and finally borrowed three from a friend: Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief, Arsène Lupin vs Sherlock Holmes , and 813.

I love thieves, and Arsène Lupin is the best of them. He is a conman, confident, clever, and uncatchable. He is always cheerful, always wins – and never resorts to killing. That is central in some of Leblanc’s work. If there is a murder, you know it was not Lupin, for he does not need to stoop to violence to get what he wants. (And make no mistake – he will get what he wants.)

All the books I have read so far were charming, and I am going to try and read all of them!

Published: 1907/1908/1910

Translation: Jalmari Finne 1967/ Jalmari Finne 1967/ V. Hämeen-Anttila 1990

Pages: 182/204/426

My holiday project was to read the whole Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. The project was success, and I enjoyed it.

I did not love the books with a passion, but I did like them. I will refrain from saying much about the plot for the fear of giving away too much – just know that there is rebelling against the governmental status quo and looking for the prophesied Hero of Ages. The plot is one of my favourite things about the series. There are clues you can pick up, ignore, or miss, and when you finally think you have things figured out your leads turn out to be red herrings. I prefer a more subtle kind of manipulation than Sanderson’s, the kind I cannot easily detect even after I know the truth. I am not saying that it bothered me much during reading: I went through the books fairly quickly in about ten days.

These books work as a mystery, and that is their charm. There is a lot of telling-not-showing with the minor characters, but I can forgive that simply because Sanderson is not afraid to kill off characters you grow to like.

So for anyone craving for a little brain exercise, I recommend this series.

Actually, read it anyway. It is a nice occupation. The order of books is the Final Empirethe Well of Ascensionthe Hero of Ages. There is also a standalone novel located in the same universe. It came out this year and is called the Alloy of Law. I have not read it yet myself, but I have a feeling it would be better to start with the trilogy.

Published: 2006/2007/2008 (Gollancz 2009)

Pages: 643/763/724

So that is all. I have two more weeks of vacation, and there will definitely be panic reading before school starts again. I’m about that start with Leblanc’s the Hollow Needle, which will b followed by the Countess of Cagliostro.

I also got some books for Christmas – our family agrees beforehand what to get each other so there will be no disappointments, although no surprises either. I got both of the books I had wished for:

Richard Hopton: Pistols at Dawn – A History of Duelling

William Gibson: Brief History of Britain – 1660-1851

I also bought a couple of books last week:

Georgette Heyer: Frederica

J. R. R. Tolkien: the Hobbit

Lots to read! I hope next year will be even fuller of books than this year was – for you all!

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Books in September

So, September’s up, and I’m here to tell you what I read this month!

I started Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall in August, but finished it in September, so it counts. It tells the story of Thomas Cromwell, who was King Henry VIII’s chief minister between 1532 and 1540. Between these years fall some very interesting instances, for example Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Usually seen as a cold, calculating man, Mantel shows us a more humane Cromwell, who takes good care Cardinal Wolsey and does his best to keep his family safe. This is not a book to read in a hurry (as I did): the style is rather heavy, chapters are long, and you have to be constantly aware of who is who and what is going on. If you stick with it, it gets very interesting, and I even felt it ended too soon. But no fear! There will be a sequel, which, I read, is under work and will be called the Mirror and the Light. It’s on my to-read list, and I will be reading Wolf Hall again before that. With more time.

Published: Picador 2009

Pages: 604

Wolf Hall was already slightly school-related (I’m taking a course on the Tudors), and the next book continued on that vein. Homer’s Odyssey is required reading for a course, and since I have a friendship with the classics, it wasn’t too hard to pick it up. For those who are for some reason unaware of what it’s about, I’ll give a brief summary. Odysseus (or Ulysses, if you’d prefer) is returning home to his family after the Trojan War, but the journey is more complicated than you’d think. The war has already lasted ten years, and his way home is just as long. He is out of favour with some gods, who then vex him and his ship, and all kinds of adventures follow. We have Circe, the sirens, the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis… everything you’ve heard of but maybe didn’t link with this epic.

The version I read was a Finnish translation – I don’t speak any Greek, unfortunately, old or modern – and, as there were two choices, I chose the more prosaic one instead of the ghastly hexameter. The story itself is amusing, although it suffers some for being so familiar. Odysseus as a character is ridiculously perfect and knows it far too well, which can get rather annoying. Those are the major problems, but they don’t make the reading as much of a pain as one might think. Perhaps I’m blinded by the status Odyssey has as a classic epic, but I find myself fond of it despite its shortcomings. It’s an easy read, too – as long as you go with a prose version.

Published: somewhere between 800-600 BC

Translation: Pentti Saarikoski 1972

Pages: 250

After that dose of considered-serious literature I was free to lay my hands on a book I’d been eyeing since I bought it sometime in the end of August. Mark Lawrence’s debut fantasy novel Prince of Thorns, the first book in the Broken Empire series, was a positive surprise. I’d heard good things, and thought the opening lines (“Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead.”) catchy enough. The blurb didn’t sound too good, but I’ve read bad blurbs before. The story sucked me in by chapter three – which starts from page 11. We meet the main character, Jorg, when he is 13-going-on-14, and we find him with his Brothers on the road. Things happen, and it becomes clear that Jorg is not exactly normal. Soon we see glimpses of his past and can start to understand where he comes from, who he is, and what motivates him. We also get information on his Brothers in small snippets between the short chapters, which I found utterly charming. To those who are wary of the fantasy world: fear not! This is an easy world to slip into. It’s like an alternate version of our own, with familiar history and places.

For a couple of summers now I have found a book that particularly WOW!ed me. I have a feeling this will the WOW of 2011. It has first person point of view, which I’m not a fan of; Lawrence pulls it off. It has a young teen, which only a few authors can write with any credibility. Lawrence pulls that off.

There will be a sequel, too. I’m anxiously waiting for that now!

Published: Harper Voyager 2011

Pages: 373

Finally I got George R. R. Martin’s A Fest for Crows! It is the fourth part of A Song of Ice and Fire series (you know, the one they’ve started a TV series on! Game of Thrones is the first book, and the first season).  I will not say much about the plot, since many people are starting the series now, but there were a couple of small surprises. Martin never fails to have me gasping and going “What? No! Not possible! I must have misunderstood!”

It took me a long time to read this, and I didn’t think it was as good as the previous parts, but I liked it all the same. I’m on the library waiting list for A Dance with Dragons – I have my fingers crossed that the 45 people before me make quick work of it and that I have it by Christmas.

Published: Harper Voyager 2006

Pages: 854 (not counting the appendixes)

Yesterday, then, I read another course requirement book, a Greek tragedy: Medea by Euripides. Medea was Jason’s wife (the guy who went to get the golden fleece), and in the beginning of the story Jason has a new wife, a king’s daughter, and Medea is distraught. She screams and yells, and finally the king himself exiles her. She begs for a day to figure out what she’ll do, and then proceeds to scheme and plot. Lots of blood and deaths ensue. The Greeks knew how to be dramatic.

What you learn from Medea is definitely how to rage. She’s one angry woman, she is. This is a surprisingly entertaining play, or then it was just the translation I had. It’s always a pleasure to read the Greeks, anyway. I recommend trying; Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is quite wonderful.

Published: 431 BC (first performed)

Translation: Kirsti Simonsuuri 1999(?)

Pages: 50

I also bought some books this month, mostly for school. Two for Comparative Literature, one for English (Renaissance Literature and Culture by Lisa Hopkins and Matthew Steggle) and Ellen Datlow’s new urban fantasy anthology Naked City. Right now I’m on my way to the post office, to get Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede.

Currently I’m reading Glen Duncan’s the Last Werewolf, which has been waiting for me since before I got A Feast for Crows. Martin was more urgent, though, so the werewolf had to wait.

I’m thinking of doing some sorts of posts during the upcoming month, provided I find the time. But I will return at the end of October to tell you of the books I’ve read!

Read! It’s good for your brain.

Wil

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