Tag Archives: jane austen

Books in March ’14

This month saw the end of the third period of the school year, the period break – or “break”, as I had two exams to take and an essay to co-write – and the beginning of a new class, that of Text Analysis II for Comparative Literature. As a result, about half of this month’s reading has been for class, and the other half romance because of its readability, which is to say I can cram a romance novel between required reading without having to worry about not finishing it in time.

A short note on my classes: Science Fiction & Fantasy is running smoothly, and I very much enjoy it. Our teacher is fantastic and so knowledgeable, and just a pleasure to listen to. I’ve liked most of what we’ve read in class, and this week it’s my turn to share my lecture journal entry with the class. Fortunately, I get to write about Jeff VanderMeer’s short story “Errata”, which I just read and enjoyed a whole lot.
Another thing concerning classes is that the exams I sat during break week yielded pleasant results. I didn’t expect to pass Classics of Literary Theory, but managed to scrape a 2/5! The other exam was on romance novels – and I aced it! It was also unexpected, as I wasn’t completely satisfied with my answers when I left the exam, but clearly something has gone very right. This result has encouraged me to seriously consider doing my master’s thesis on romance literature.

Enough with news now! On to the books read!

 

Jane Austen: Emma

 

Emma is the culmination of Jane Austen’s genius, a sparkling comedy of love and marriage.

Emma Woodhouse is introduced to us as ‘handsome, clever and rich’ and, according to Jane Austen, a heroine ‘which no one but myself would like’. Yet such is Emma’s spirited wit that, despite her superior airs and egotism, few readers have failed to succumb to her charm.

The comedy turns on Emma’s self-appointed role as energetic match-maker for her sweet, silly friend Harriet. Emma herself, meanwhile, is confidently immune to the charms of the male sex. Her emotional coming of age is woven into what Roland Blythe has called ‘the happiest of love stories, the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories, and a matchless repository of English wit’.

(Back cover of Penguin Popular Classics 1994 paperback)

It has been quite a while since I last read Emma. This time it was for an essay – a friend and I collaborated on a scrutiny on the humour in the 1996 Miramax adaptation and the 2009 BBC mniseries. Although I concentrated largely on the funny bits, I also took the chance to savour everything I’d forgotten. Emma is truly delightful, and I made a small self-discovery: I seem to find all the vulgar characters the most amusing. Mrs Elton is so contrary it is hard not to laugh at her. It is also evident that Mr Elton’s courting is very frustrating and the scene after the Christmas party never ceases to make me want to tear my hair off.

Published: 1815

Pages: 367

 

Mary Balogh: A Matter of Class

 

From New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh comes a classic historical tale that sizzles with romance and unforgettable drama.
Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by birth, a factor that pains him and his father, Bernard Mason, within the Regency society that upholds station above all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbour and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.
Thought Bernard wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Bernard serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.
(Inside flap of the 2010 Vanguard Press hardcover)

(I actually removed the last line of the blurb; it didn’t really describe the book and gave away something I felt was better left unsaid.)

I cannot speak too highly of this novella. It’s expertly crafted, very amusing, and plays to the conventions of the genre admirably. I was completely enthralled and already know I’ll need my own copy. The ending is perhaps slightly unbelievable, but I would not dwell on that and instead enjoy this excellent specimen of Regency romance.

Published: 2010

Pages: 190

 

Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

 

Yet another thing I’ve read for class. This one eludes me. I can’t seem to quite get the grasp of it. Somehow it reminds me of Basil Hallward and his attraction to Dorian Gray. There are a lot of motives that I cannot seem to connect. Perhaps this story requires a little distance before it can be understood; I certainly hope class discussion will open it up for me.

Published: 1912

Translation: “Kuolema Venetsiassa” by Oili Suominen (1985)

Pages: 77

 

Stephanie Laurens: The Reasons for Marriage

 

Miss Lenore Lester was perfectly content with her quiet country life, caring for her father, and having no desire for marriage. She took steps to remain inconspicuous when managing her brothers’ house parties and tried her best to show indifference – but to no avail! The notoriously charming Jason Montgomery – Duke of Eversleigh – could easily see behind Lenore’s brilliant disguise and clearly signalled his interest.

Thought Lenore hid behind glasses and pulled-back hair, she couldn’t disguise her beauty. However, she remained determined not to be thrown off balance by this charming rake. The Duke of Eversleigh, though, was equally determined to loosen the hold Lenore had on her heart.

(Back cover of MIRA books paperback)

This is the first Stephanie Laurens novel I really enjoyed. Because I haven’t cared for her early novels or the ones where romance is blended with suspense, I have been hesitant to pick up her books and have merely skirted around them. My closest library is, alas, rather short of romance, and so I gave up and picked this one up on my last turn there, figuring I might as well since the back cover sounded alright.

What a good idea. Turns out I did have a very good time with this book. It was interesting to try to predict whether this was to be a seduction or a marriage of convenience, or indeed both. I liked the hero and heroine, although the latter’s reason for not marrying did not convince me. In the beginning the communication between the pair was open, but as soon as Lenore – the heroine – is convince to a marriage of convenience with the duke, the communication dies. This, of course, is their major barrier, and a great (although also somehow satisfying) frustration to the reader. The focus on the novel is therefore not on what will convince her to marry, but on what will drive them to finally admit or show their feelings for each other. I must say the duke goes a bit over the top in the end, and it somewhat flattened the emotional charge, but I let that slide.

It is a very good romance novel. I very much recommend this one. It is the first one in the Lester family novels, and if the library has the rest I’ll be pleased to see what happens to Lenore’s brothers.

Published: 1994

Pages: 362

 

Lisa Kleypas: Mine Till Midnight

 

Amelia Hathaway is the oldest of four sisters and has only one brother to drive her mad. They live a genteel but impoverished life until they come into an unexpected inheritance. Amelia tries her best to rein in her colourful and unmanageable siblings to match society’s expectations. Until the mysterious, extremely wealthy half-gypsy Cam Rohan appears.

The irresistible attraction between Amelia and Cam poses a huge problem for both of them. However, as Amelia deals with a multitude of problems, including trying to save her alcoholic brother Leo from ruin, she finds herself turning to Cam Rohan, whose friendship turns into a passion that neither of them can deny…

(back cover of Piatkus 2007 paperback)

I had only read one Kleypas novel before, and incidentally it was the last novel in the Hathway series, to which Mine Till Midnight is the first.

Now, I did again like the hero and heroine. Cam is unapologetic and steady, which is a nice feature in a romance novel; Amelia’s problems and internal barriers are relatable and logical. I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for some supernatural aspects and the former-suitor-turned-traitor trope, but thankfully those were kept down a bit and clearly served the romance plot instead of becoming equally important.

Another thing that bothered me, and usually does when it comes to a series of romances, is that the relationship between Win and Merripen was also given time within this narrative. I prefer my romances independent. I do like interlacing, but not to this extent. If I read the next novel in the series – which features Win and Merripen as protagonists – I will want their whole courtship in that book. Giving bits of other relationships than the hero and heroine’s without seeing the courtship through tends to leave me feeling less satisfied than a fully concluded plot. It also smells slightly like a marketing trick. But I’m digressing now, and should stop before I go too deep.

Published: 2007

Pages: 360

 

Nora Roberts: Rising Tides

 

Ethan Quinn shares his late father’s passion for the ocean, and he is determined to make the family boat-building business a success. But as well as looking out for his young brother Seth, the strong but guarded Quinn is also battling some difficult home truths.

Grace Monroe, the woman Ethan has always loved but never believed he could have, is learning that appearances can be deceptive. For beneath Ethan’s still, dark waters lies a shocking past. With Grace’s help, can he overcome the shadows that haunt him and finally accept who he is?

(back cover of Piatkus 2010 paperback)

This is the second book in the Chesapeake Bay series, the first of which I read last month. I picked the second one up purely because it happened to be on the shelf at the library I went to to get my class reading. Unfortunately, I do not think I’ll continue with this series. This is due to no fault in Roberts’s style or craft – well, the point of view pounced around a bit too swiftly in this one, at least to me tastes – but just the fact that I can’t find any interest in the characters. The Quinn brothers fall absolutely flat for me, what with their superior looks and prowess. Perhaps I enjoy the rakes too much, and the Quinns are by no means rakish. They’re good, sensible guys with dark pasts – in short, the kind of wounded heroes the heroines need to heal in order to achieve the perfect happiness together.

This is turning into an analysis of the series rather than the book, but in short, it was readable and enjoyable to a degree, but I don’t think I’m interested enough about the last two Quinns to hunt down the books. Maybe I’ll pick them up if they happen my way, but I won’t be going to any trouble for them.

Published: 1999

Pages: 361

 

H. G. Wells: The Time Machine

 

This is such a classic it’s almost embarrassing that I hadn’t read it until it was a class requirement. I’m not sure I liked it, as such. The frame story appeals to me quite a lot, for some reason, perhaps because of its function in respect to the Time Traveller’s story. The latter I found long-winded and slow, apart from the wonderful morlocks. Yes, I liked the morlocks. To back up our reading, we were given a chapter from a book to read (and I would like nothing better than to tell you what book it was from, but for some god-only-knows reason our teacher never provided us with the information) and let me tell you, The Time Machine is an excellent look into contemporary late-Victorian science and world view! Absolutely fascinating, and if you aren’t a fan of the rambling style of the Victorians, I can recommend this novella just for the content. My knowledge of the degeneration theory and such matters is not great, but with that in the background of reading makes this story more enjoyable. I would therefore advice you find an edition with a good introduction, as it would be certain to touch on these matters and explain them to some extent.

Published: 1895

Pages: Around 70-80; I read an ebook and the pagination was all over the place

 

Peter Carey: Jack Maggs

 

‘Look at me,’ said Tobias Oates insistently. ‘Look into my eyes – I can take away this pain.’ Maggs peered at Oates as if through a heavy veil. The little gent began to wave his hands. He passed them down, up, down. ‘Watch me,’ said Tobias Oates, and Jack Maggs, for once, did exactly as he was told.

Peter Carey’s new novel, set in London in 1837, is a thrilling story of mesmerism and possession, of dangerous bargains and illicit love. Jack Maggs, raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia, in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush townhouse in Great Queen Street? And why is Jack himself an object of such interest to Tobias Oates, celebrated author, amateur hypnotist and fellow-burglar – in this case of people’s minds, of their histories and inner phantoms?

In this hugely engaging novel one of the finest of contemporary writers pays homage to his Victorian forebears. As Peter Carey’s characters become embroiled in each other’s furtive desires, and increasingly fall under one another’s spell, their thirst for love exacts a terrible, unexpected cost.

(Back cover of Faber and Faber 1997 hardcover)

Another book for class. The teacher is the same one who ran the course on Postmodern Historical Novel (a class which I did not like) and therefore we’re reading a couple of postmodern works.

The first thing I found out about Jack Maggs was that it is, ostensibly, an adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations. I think this is a debatable point, although I do see why that could be argued. I’m not going to go into detail here, because I think that my theories might guide a prospective reader’s reading too much, but do not be alarmed if you haven’t read Great Expectations but want to read this book: it’s an adaptation in a traditional sense and works perfectly wells on its own. Or so I imagine – I happen to like Great Expectations quite a lot and so read this very much through that.

It is a rather entertaining book, and it takes quite some thinking. It is also very much Neo Victorian, which I do not particularly enjoy but can’t really pin down what it is that displeases me about it. This is, however, all personal inclination. I still say Jack Maggs is a good book, and once I got into the rhythm of it and it becomes clear that everyone has a past and a secret, it became so much more enjoyable.

Published: 1997

Pages: 328

 

So that’s it for March! I notice I’ve stopped including what I’m currently reading and what books I have bought each month, so let’s get back to that, shall we?

Currently reading:
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

Books bought:
Mary Robinette Kowal: Without a Summer (third in the Glamourist Histories)
Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (just ordered it and can’t wait to get it!)
Elizabeth Bear: Shoggoths in Bloom (also just ordered and waiting impatiently!)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Monthly

Books in January ’14

So I’m back to monthly wrap-ups! I almost forgot it was the last of the month, too. Reading has been impeded by various distractions, including the Gentleman Bastard Sequence fandom and the fact that I have a book exam on romance novels and another exam on the classics of literary theory, both in the beginning of March, one after the other. And on top of that, a course on literary adaptations, which takes its sweet time as well.

But enough excuses, this is what I managed this month:

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger

[unfortunately I have returned the copy I had to the library and Goodreads does not have a summary]

I picked Christie from the library because hey, what better to read during the break than a good whodunit? The reason for choosing this particular mystery was that I love the TV adaptation – which means that I remembered who the murderer was and even the motive, but this caused very little trouble. What I found interesting is that the adaptation adds very little, which in my experience isn’t all that usual: a lot of the Christies you see on television add lots of red herrings and side plots to the fairly straightforward narratives. This one does not, which tells a lot about the way this book is executed. I can wholeheartedly recommend this!

Published: 1942

Pages: 299

Ellen Kushner: Swordspoint

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.

(Goodreads)

Swordspoint remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and it only seems to get better the more you read. When describing the plot to someone one starts to wonder what exactly it is that happens in the book, only to realise that there actually isn’t much in terms on dramatic action, but boy, is there a lot of political intrigue going on! This time around I was most struck by the relationship between Alec and Richard, and the ending hit me hard and will require some further thought the next time around. Absolutely a masterpiece, this novel is.

Published: 1987

Pages: 286

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

[Do I need to introduce this book again? I think not. I have it tagged.]

I know, I know. Yet again. But how could I not reread these books, particularly now that Republic of Thieves is finally out and there is so much to draw together? I got fascinated by Sabetha’s absence in this one – it reveals a lot about the other gang members, especially taking into consideration what we learned of their relationships in Republic. This is what I love about rereading a series: you start to pay attention to things like this and find new things to think about and words you previously just read gain new meaning.

Lies, like Swordspoint, is one of my favourite novels of all time. If you look at the Scott Lynch tag here on my blog, you’ll see I absolutely rave about this series.

Published: 2006

Pages: 530

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twentieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”

(Goodreads)

This was my third time reading this novel, and I must say, the two years between readings had done much. I found it even more enjoyable than before, and was much more attuned to nuance. My understanding of Mr Darcy is now much better, and I must say this time around I really enjoyed Caroline Bingley, with her see-through attempts regarding Darcy and her malice towards Elizabeth. Absolutely delightful!

Published: 1813

Pages: 262

China Miéville: The City and the City

China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other – real or imagined.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.

With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & The City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic lengths.

(Back cover of Macmillan 2009 paperback)

The only novel-length text we are reading for the Science Fiction and Fantasy class. I must say I’m not overly fond of this. I read it with a focus on the detective plot, which wasn’t entirely satisfactorily executed, but I did enjoy the way the two cities function in regard to each other. It was what made the story complicated, but I’m not sure it was not unnecessarily complicated. I hope to gain some insight on Monday when we have a class discussion on it.

Published: 2009

Pages: 312

That is January. I apologise for the paltry commentary – several of the books were rereads and I only finished City and the City some minutes ago, so there has not been time for it to settle in my mind yet.

February will include the rest of the books for the romance exam, and hopefully some Regency romance, and something for the adaptation class. It is hard to plan ahead with reading at the moment, but here’s to trying!

Leave a comment

Filed under Monthly

Books in February ’13

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

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

Georgette Heyer: Pistols for Two

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

(Goodreads)

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

Published: 1960

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

Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: 1848

Pages: 378 (Penguin Popular Classics 1994 edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

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

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

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen?

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: 2012

Pages: 320 (Bloomsbury 2013 edition)

Books bought:

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

Currently reading:

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Monthly

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Monthly