Tag Archives: julia quinn

Books in May ’14

May is gone, and I’m late with this post due to a family thing yesterday and my computer refusing to work after it was over. So let’s not draw this out – here be the books!

 

Mary Robinette Kowal: Without A Summer

 

Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with award-winning short stories and beloved novels featuring Regency pair Jane and David Vincent. In Without A Summer, the master glamourists return home, but in a world where magic is real, nothing – not even the domestic sphere – is quite what it seems.

Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside, and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects – and mood – will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and the increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

(Back cover of the Tor paperback)

Some of you may remember that Shades of Milk and Honey was my WOW book of last year. I loved it, and I loved Glamour in Glass – and Without A Summer continues that line. I think it better than it’s predecessor, vastly intriguing and oh so pleasant to read! Kowal’s period detail is wonderful and reading her you may trust you are in good hands. I very warmly recommend this series! It is magic mixed with history and, although light in style, takes on many important issues of the family circle and doesn’t shy even from the most difficult of topics. Janeites will also recognise the copious parallels to Emma!

This is one of my favourite series, and this book is excellent. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on the next instalment, Valour and Vanity!

Published: 2013

Pages: 349

 

Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

 

Lucien di Fontein has grown up an outsider; one of the Orfano, the deformed of the Kingdom of Landfall. He is lonely, tormented by his difference and a pawn in a political game. The reclusive king and his majordomo rule Landfall from the vast castle of Demesne, but the walls are no barrier to darkness from without. Or within.

Landfall is a harsh world of secrets and rivalries, where whispers are as lethal as blades, where control is fragile and the peace waits to be broken. Lucien will have to rely on more than just his blade to protect the ones he loves.

Den Patrick’s richly imagined high fantasy introduces a memorable new hero. His is a story that will delight those who love Locke Lamora and Titus Groan alike.

(Back cover of Gollancz trade paperback 2014)

Yes, even I sometimes manage to read something the same year it comes out. What did you expect? Locke Lamora has been mentioned, political intrigue promised, and a fantastic title presented.

As a whole, I find this book rather average. Well, perhaps a little above average. There are some things that bothered me, but also a lot to admire. I shall break this review into bullet points, because I feel that is the clearest way to explain both my qualms and approvals.

Pros:

  • Despite being numerous, fight scenes do not get boring; very alive, very well described
  • The worldbuilding works well, although it took me a while to catch on. This is likely more me than the book, as I tend to skip scenery.
  • When the dialogue is witty, it really is witty! And it’s good in general.

 

Cons:

  • Some unnecessary repetition of details; they get underlined but aren’t all that significant.
  • I’m not too happy with the female characters. This gets a bit better towards the end, but the inaction and the very traditional roles they’re cast in grates.
  • Lucien spends a lot of time sleeping or unconscious; surely there are other wise of transitioning from one scene to another?
  • So. Many. Fires.

 

In general, I think it’s a nice, enjoyable book. I also think that Patrick has a lot of potential, which he will reach through more experience; this reads very much like a first novel. I will also mention that this edition could have used another round of proofreading, as there was a lot of punctuation missing and a few typos. The latter didn’t bother me as much as the former.

I will definitely read the next one as well, because I think there’s something here. It just needs some improvement to really snare me.

Published: 2014

Pages: 321

 

Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves

 

I will leave out the blurb and, indeed, a review. This was my third reading and it was conducted mostly to take notes and to see if there was anything I missed earlier.

Published: 2013

Pages: 598

 

M. C. Beaton: The Taming of Annabelle

 

From the moment the honey-tressed young Annabelle meets her sister Minerva’s intended, Lord Sylvester, she develops a secret passion for him that obsesses her. Now she is determined to take him away from Minerva – no matter what.

But Annabelle hadn’t reckoned on Lord Sylvester’s best friend, Peter, who falls in love with her and decides to tame her growing passions for the wrong man.

(Back cover of Constable & Robinson paperback)

This is the second book in The Six Sisters series. I hadn’t read Beaton before, but decided to get it from the library when it happened to sit there on the shelf.

Thing is, I’m too old for this book. This would work wonders for a teen reader; it’s quite fun and introduces the Regency period very well, with several rather entertaining explanatory paragraphs here and there. The plot is a bit childish, but so is the main character, and at times Annabelle annoyed me to no end. Peter hardly behaves any less childishly despite being 35 (I think) and that does not quite sit with me.

This book, and I assume the others in the series, could work well as easy introductions to Regency romance. The Taming of Annabelle is fun, but for older readers it may be too shallow. I would say a 13–15-year-old would be more in the target readership, and I would not hesitate to recommend this to someone of that age with an interest in romance.

Published: 1983

Pages: 250

 

Elizabeth Bear: Shoggoths in Bloom

 

Shoggoths in Bloom: A compilation of short science fiction and fantasy from Elizabeth Bear – tales of myth and mythic resonance, fantasies both subtle and epic in tone; hard science fiction and speculations about an unknowable universe. This collection, showcasing Bear’s unique imagination and singular voice, includes her Hugo- and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winning story “Tideline” and Hugo-winning novelette “Shoggoth in Bloom”, as well as an original, never-published story. Recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a World Fantasy, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick nominee, Bear is one of speculative fiction’s most acclaimed, respected, and prolific authors.

(Back cover of the Prime paperback)

Now, understand that I’m very bad at reading collections of short stories. Very bad. I manage one a year, if I try hard, and it can be slow going without a plot to pull me.

I didn’t have my usual troubles with Shoggoths.

Bear is amazingly versatile in her writing, and I promise you a swoon over how much research has gone into every single story in this collection. I am both enamoured and awed. If you read short story collection this year, read this one.

I cried at the end of the first one. Several made me uncomfortable, in the way good SF should. Two hit me really hard in my current situation in life, and I draw strength from them. And oh, I think I’ve found my favourite short story. Well, a new one for the small list of the ones I love: “The Cold Blacksmith” took me and chewed at my heart and now, days later, I’m still not over it.

Published: 2011

Pages: 329 (20 short stories)

 

Julia Quinn: Just Like Heaven

Honoria Smythe-Smith, the youngest daughter of the eldest son of the Earl of Winstead, plays the violin in the annual musicale performed by the Smythe-Smith quartet. She’s well aware that they are dreadful but she’s the sort who figures that nothing good will come of being mortified, so she puts on a good show and laughs about it.

Marcus Holroyd is the best friend of Honoria’s brother Daniel, who lives in exile. Marcus has promised to watch out for Honoria, but he faces a challenge when she sets off for Cambridge determined to marry by the end of the season. She’s got her eye on the only unmarried Bridgerton, who’s a bit wet behind the ears. When her advances are spurned, can Marcus swoop in and steal her heart in time for the musicale?

(Back cover of Piatkus 2011 paperback)

I don’t find the blurb terribly accurate. Just wanted to say that. I also want to say that my primary motive for reading this book is the rather hilarious dedication – “And also for Paul, even though when I went to him for medical advice to save my ailing hero, he replied, ‘He has to die.’”

I’m not particularly fond of this sort of “We have known each other since we were children and I am starting to realise I actually love you” romance. Not that I don’t occasionally enjoy it, but at least at this instance I was not in the mood for it. I also found this book rather flat and it failed to raise any particular feelings. It served its purpose of something light and quick to read, but apart from that, hardly memorable.

Published: 2011

Pages: 374

 

Mary Balogh: The Proposal

 

Lady Gwendoline Muir has experienced her fair share of tragedies in her short life: she lost her husband to a freak accident, and developed a limp after falling from horseback. Still young, Gwen is sure that she’s done with love, and that she will never be married again.

Gwen tries to be content with her life as it is, and to live through the marriages of her brother and her cousin and best friend, Viscountess Ravensburg. She’s happy for them, and for years that is enough for her… until she meets Lord Trentham – a man who returned from the Peninsular War a hero, but is unable to escape the bite of his survivor’s guilt. For he might just be the man who can convince her to believe in second chances.

(Back cover of Piatkus 2012 paperback)

Now we’re talking. I have been eager to start the Survivors’ Club series, of which this one is the first. Balogh writes very believable and mature characters and does it with such certainty that it is hard not to fall in with them – and indeed, why would you even want to avoid that? Some of you know of my penchant for wounded heroes, and that is exactly what this book, along with the rest of the series, provides. Trentham is particularly interesting for his utter bluntness; I don’t think I’ve read a Regency romance where sex is so explicitly discussed (never crudely, though – Balogh is never crude).

The charm of this book is mainly in the characters. When it comes to plot, it’s rather straightforward and un-dramatic, which I feel speaks of Balogh’s skill as a writer: the lack of drama does not diminish the experience or slow the reading, quite the opposite. There was a little too much retelling of moments from another point of view, but I hope that is only a lapse in this book and won’t occur in the rest of the series, the next of which I have waiting.

Published: 2012

Pages: 309

 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Idiot

 Returning to Russia from a sanitarium in Switzerland, the Christ-like epileptic Prince Myshkin finds himself enmeshed in a tangle of love, torn between two women—the notorious kept woman Nastasya and the pure Aglaia—both involved, in turn, with the corrupt, money-hungry Ganya. In the end, Myshkin’s honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.

(Goodreads)

Not too fond of this one. It is obvious that Dostoyevsky was in need of money while writing this, and the serialisation is so obvious it was at times painfully dull going – there is a confession latter that lasts for three chapters (some 40 pages) and it largely unrelated to the plot. However, some of the characters – particularly Nastasja Filippovna and Rogozin (I’m using the Finnish version of the names) – were very interesting, and the last few chapters are excellent in their dramatic flair, although I wouldn’t say they are worth reading the whole thing. However, I’m glad I’ve read it and can now move the next Dostoyevsky to my more immediate list.

Published: 1868

Translation: Olli Kuukasjärvi

Pages: 829

 

Alexander Pushkin: Eugene Onegin

 

Eugene Onegin is the master work of the poet whom Russians regard as the fountainhead of their literature. Set in imperial Russia during the 1820s, Pushkin’s novel in verse follows the emotions and destiny of three men – Onegin the bored fop, Lensky the minor elegiast, and a stylized Pushkin himself – and the fates and affections of three women – Tatyana the provincial beauty, her sister Olga, and Pushkin’s mercurial Muse. Engaging, full of suspense, and varied in tone, it also portrays a large cast of other characters and offers the reader many literary, philosophical, and autobiographical digressions, often in a highly satirical vein. Eugene Onegin was Pushkin’s own favourite work, and it shows him attempting to transform himself from romantic poet into realistic novelist.

(Goodreads)

Now this was very much my thing! I started reading a bit sceptically, although I’ve long wanted to read this, and my, it was an absolute pleasure! Pushkin is much more fun than I’d expected, I wasn’t bored by his nature descriptions at all, he is very intertextual, and there is some damn good drama, although some of the motivations elude me. Nonetheless, very very good!

Published: 1823–31

Translation: Lauri Kemiläinen 1935

Pages: 242

 

Currently reading:
Andrei Belyi: Peterburg

That’s it for May!

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Books in May ’13

May turned out to be busier than anticipated. My intention was to catch up with reading and get through 13 books. I wasn’t supposed to be working yet, so that wasn’t supposed to be a problem: well, not all things go according to plan. I’ve been working since the beginning of the month. But I still managed nine books. That would have been ten if I hadn’t had a surprise shift today.

There was some unpleasant paper stuff that I needed to take care for university as well, but that is now more or less sorted.

What with all the work, now that my only co-worker got sick leave on the busiest weekend in all spring, I was hard pressed to get this post out at all. So you guys better enjoy it!

John Scalzi: Redshirts

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

(Goodreads)

I have no idea why I’ve been putting this book off. I really enjoyed it. Without spoiling much, I can say it is hilarious and emotional and so meta I’m surprised I liked it, but I did. It’s a quick read, written in a light style, and accessible to people with a rather limited acquaintance with science fiction television like myself.

Just… go grab it. It’s really worth it.

Published: 2012

Pages: 314 (Tor hardback)

Agatha Christie: Elephants Can Remember

Hercule Poirot is determined to solve an old husband and wife double murder that is still an open verdict! Hercule Poirot stood on the cliff-top. Here, many years earlier, there had been a tragic accident. This was followed by the grisly discovery of two more bodies — a husband and wife — shot dead. But who had killed whom? Was it a suicide pact? A crime of passion? Or cold-blooded murder? Poirot delves back into the past and discovers that ‘old sin can leave long shadows

(Goodreads)

For a practiced reader, even one of only my experience, the clues in this one were fairly obvious. The general feeling I got was that this book was produced in a hurry – at times it read like drafts and bits that had been forgotten in. I did enjoy it, nonetheless, and am looking forward to the movie that will air June 9th!

Published: 1972

Pages: 256 (Harper Collins facsimile edition 2009)

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr Ripley

Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—immortalized in the 1998 film starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gywneth Paltrow—is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels.

(Goodreads)

I watched the movie first, and, frankly, liked that better than the novel; it was more complicated and the ending so heart-breaking I was upset for a good few hours afterwards. My notes say, ‘fairly nice, although nothing spectacular’. Highsmith’s style is a bit on the heavy side, and reading this relatively slim novel took me a surprisingly long time (granted, I did most of the reading at work). I found Tom Ridley to be an interesting character, and the workings of his mind were fascinating to follow. I’m not sure if I’ll look to the sequels, but I might, some day.

Published: 1955

Pages: 249 (Vintage 1999 edition)

Gillian Gill: Agatha Christie

A little too heavy on the summaries of some of the novels, but at the same time I must give credit where credit is due – only a few endings were spoiled, and Gill warned of that in the introduction. Fortunately for me, I have seen the screen adaptations of the ones with spoilers, so they were not really even spoilers to me.

This biography is nice and concise, and the major focus is on the effect Christie’s life had on her writing. I did like the way it is divided to chapters, but am not so sure about the composition. I’m fond of a more linear approach.

Published: 1990

Pages: 208 (plus notes)

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

As regards this blog, this book is a bit problematic. What I know of my own readership (and I realise that is very little), it doesn’t include too many Finns – and Tanssi yli hautojen has not been translated into English. But I did read it, so I want to discuss it, and therefore I’ll do my best to explain it.

Mika Waltari (1908–1979) is one of the best-known Finnish authors, and his best-known work in Finland as well as internationally is The Egyptian (orig. Sinuhe egyptiläinen). It’s impossible to find a list of Books You Must Read Before You Die without having The Egyptian in it, not in this country. Having said that, I haven’t actually read it. Tanssi yli hautojen (lit. trans. Dance over Graves) is my first proper experience of Waltari, except for some short stories and the Komisario Palmu (Inspector Palmu) films.

Tanssi yli hautojen is about the romance between Tsar Alexander I of Russia and a Finnish bourgeoisie girl, Ulla Möllersvärd. This is a fact of history: the two met when Alexander came to the Diet of Porvoo in 1809. In this diet, it was decided that Finland was not to be directly a part of Russia, but could keep the old laws and ways, as well as have autonomy. Waltari describes the anticipation and the resentment the Finns felt towards the Russians, as well as the cultural differences Alexander observes when he crosses the border.

I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s charming and made me giddy on several occasions, and I look forward to reading it again sometime. Maybe even writing my minor thesis on it?

Published: 1944

Pages: 282 (WSOY 2009)

Mary Balogh: A Summer to Remember

Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensberg, is cool, dangerous and fast becoming one of London’s most notorious rakehells – and marriage is the last thing on his mind. But Kit’s family has other plans. Desperate to thwart his father’s matchmaking, Kit needs a bride fast. Enter Miss Laure Edgeworth. A year after being abandoned at the altar, Lauren has determined that marriage is not for her. When these two fiercely independent souls meet, sparks fly – and a deal is hatched.

Lauren will masquerade as Kit’s intended if he agrees to provide a passionate, adventurous, unforgettable summer. When the summer ends, she will break off the engagement rendering herself unmarriageable and leaving them both free. Everything is going perfectly – until Kit does the unthinkable and begins to fall in love. A summer to remember is not enough for him. But how can he convince Lauren to be his, for better, for worse, and for the rest of their lives?

(Piatkus 2010 back cover)

I really liked this one. The hero is likeable, the heroine is more or less sensible, and their relationship progresses not in an absolute rush but at a nice pace that’s not so fast as to be unbelievable but fast enough to keep the book going without too long gaps.

An excellent read for the summer months, if you like romance! There are also other books revolving around the characters mentioned in this book, and I’m actually rather curious to see Freyja Bedwyn’s story, as I disliked her a whole lot in this one.

Published: 2002

Pages: 376 (Piatkus 2010)

Julia Quinn: An Offer from A Gentleman

As the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Penwood, Sophie Beckett has never been accepted in polite society. And since her father’s untimely death, her step-mother has made her life doubly hard, forcing her to work as an unpaid servant. Sophie’s days are pure drudgery, until one night her fellow servants conspire to help her attend the Bridgerton masquerade ball.

There she meets her very own Prince Charming, handsome Benedict Bridgerton and falls head over heels in love. Benedict is equally smitten, but when the clock strikes midnight Sophie is forced to flee the ballroom, leaving only her glove in his hand…

(Piatkus 2011 back cover)

Not too keen on this one – it was nice, but as usual in Quinn the main conflict gets solved too early for good dramatic effect. The end, I admit, was very sweet! The dialogue is a bit dramatic though, and the Cinderella adaptation was a bit too obvious, especially considering how it got abandoned halfway through the novel.

Also, I’m miffed that I don’t think I figured out who Miss Whistledown is and therefore there’s nothing to it but to read the whole Bridgerton series. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Published: 2001

Pages: 358 (Piatkus 2011)

Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

(Goodreads)

I do love Diana Wynne Jones, but I do not care for children as main characters. This was a slight problem with this first novel in her Chrestomaci series, as the main character is decidedly a child. The Chrestomanci himself is an interesting character, and if someone can promise me there is more of him in the subsequent books in the series I’ll be happy to read them as well. Actually, reading the other books is a good idea in another respect as well: the proper story seems to start at the very end of this novel, which annoyed me a great deal.

Tim Stevens’s illustrations must be mentioned. The edition I got from the library had a less than appealing cover, but the chapter illustrations made everything better!

Published: 1977

Pages: 267 (Collins Modern Classics 2001)

Mark Lawrence: King of Thorns

The second book in the Broken Empire series, Lawrence takes his young anti-hero one step closer to his grand ambition.

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.

A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

(Goodreads)

Finally had the chance to read this!

As with Prince of Thorns, I would be hard pressed to tell you what exactly happens during the course of the novel. The realisation that I don’t know bothered me for a while, until I came to the conclusion that it is because of the same reason that keeps me from actually understanding what happens in Hannu Rajaniemi’s novels: I get distracted by the prose. It doesn’t even matter much what happens, when I can have beautiful sentences that sound good in my head.

Having said that, I was confused by the mixture of past and present whenever they were in the same chapter. The time layers were a bit hard to follow, especially while distracted by beautiful words, and I kind of wish there had been more line breaks to signal time change.

Things I like about this novel include the older Jorg, whom I find to be more approachable, and, as with Prince, the way the novel’s old world – our world – is referred to. It makes me giddy every time I spot a word that looks weird but sounds terribly familiar, like “dena” and the cemetery.

The intensity got really high towards the end, and I was absolutely blown away. I kid you not, I gasped out loud on the bus and then kept grinning like a maniac.

I can’t wait for Emperor of Thorns. I also have a budding hope Lawrence would write a female main character next, as I enjoy Katherine a whole lot!

Published: 2012

Pages: 597

Books bought:

Again, no picture, because I was an idiot and left my camera in the country. Instead I’ll just tell you, although I’m not sure anymore what I got and when. But let’s try.

Agatha Christie: At Bertram’s Hotel

Appointment with Death

After the Funeral

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

Margaret C. Sullivan: The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World

Currently reading:

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (and enjoying it very much indeed)

That’s all for me for this month! I doubt I’ll be posting much during the summer ­– as I said, work keeps things hectic. I’ve abandoned Project Christie, and the only immediate plan of anything but regular monthly posts is the Finncon report, which hopefully I can manage!

Happy beginning of summer, everyone!

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Books in March ’13

Spring is finally here. Yay! It’s been a dark, depressing, and stressful winter, but now I’ve unwinded and feel optimistic about things again. I had my candidate’s essay presentation, a terrifying situation for someone with performance anxiety, but it went very well and I’m pleased. Then rolled on the Easter holidays, which I’m currently enjoying. Next week I will return to my essays and schoolwork, but for one more day I’m going to just relax and enjoy reading.

At the beginning of March I spent a few days with my friend in Amsterdam. I didn’t get around to writing about it, but I assure you, Amsterdam is a wonderful city and well worth a visit! I really enjoyed it, not least because language is not an issue there: it’s probably the most international city I’ve ever been to!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four

When a beautiful young woman is sent a letter inviting her to a sinister assignation, she immediately seeks the advice of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.

For this is not the first mysterious item Mary Morstan has received in the post. Every year for the last six years an anonymous benefactor has sent her a large lustrous pearl. Now it appears the sender of the pearls would like to meet her to right a wrong.

But when Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick Watson, aiding Miss Morstan, attend the assignation, they embark on a dark and mysterious adventure involving a one-legged ruffian, some hidden treasure, deadly poison darts and a thrilling race along the River Thames.

(Back cover of Penguin Sherlock Holmes Collection edition)

Of course I know I enjoy ACD’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but this one was just really great. I don’t know whether it came at a good moment or whether it was just brilliant, but I enjoyed myself so much I dreaded finishing it and having to pick up something else.

The romance-y bits with the good Dr Watson and Miss Morstan were, I felt, a little annoying, as they seemed kind of unrelated and the whole affair didn’t seem reasonable, but as someone pointed out, men see love in a different way from women, so maybe it’s just that?

Published: 1890

Pages: 153 (Penguin Sherlock Holmes Collection 2011)

Lucy Worsley: Courtiers – The Secret History of the Georgian Court

Kensington Palace is now most famous as the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, but the palace’s glory days came between 1714 and 1760, during the reigns of George I and II . In the eighteenth century, this palace was a world of skulduggery, intrigue, politicking, etiquette, wigs, and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like switchblades and unusual people were kept as curiosities. Lucy Worsley’s The Courtiers charts the trajectory of the fantastically quarrelsome Hanovers and the last great gasp of British court life. Structured around the paintings of courtiers and servants that line the walls of the King’s Staircase of Kensington Palace—paintings you can see at the palace today—The Courtiers goes behind closed doors to meet a pushy young painter, a maid of honor with a secret marriage, a vice chamberlain with many vices, a bedchamber woman with a violent husband, two aging royal mistresses, and many more. The result is an indelible portrait of court life leading up to the famous reign of George III, and a feast for both Anglophiles and lovers of history and royalty.

(Goodreads)

I love Georgians, but my interest has so far focused on the fourth George. This book, however, concentrates on the first two Georges, their consorts, and the people who inhabited their courts. Each chapter is named after a central person, such as Peter the Wild Boy, but don’t exclusively look at only the title person. It was certainly interesting to get a view of the feuds between father and son, queens and lovers, and what the people who witnessed it all thought of these complicated games of power.

Published: 2010

Pages: 334

John Fowles: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

In this contemporary, Victorian-style novel Charles Smithson, a nineteenth-century gentleman with glimmerings of twentieth-century perceptions, falls in love with enigmatic Sarah Woodruff, who has been jilted by a French lover.

Of all John Fowles’ novels The French Lieutenant’s Woman received the most universal acclaim and today holds a very special place in the canon of post-war English literature. From the god-like stance of the nineteenth-century novelist that he both assumes and gently mocks, to the last detail of dress, idiom and manners, his book is an immaculate recreation of Victorian England.

Not only is it the epic love story of two people of insight and imagination seeking escape from the cant and tyranny of their age, ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ is also a brilliantly sustained allegory of the decline of the twentieth-century passion for freedom.

(Goodreads)

The first out of three required books for the post-modern historical novel class. I liked the style and the detail, but disliked the occasional bits where there was clear condescension towards the Victorians and constant reminders that the novel has been written during the 1960s. Some of the historical details were elaborated on too much to my liking, although that is naturally a personal preference: I consider myself fairly familiar with Victorian England, and therefore not everything needs a page-long explanation.

I was also strongly reminded of two Victorian books while reading: Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, in the way in which the narrator works (metalepsis and the difficulty of categorizing him), and Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in the way the plot worked. It was not quite the same plot, particularly towards the end, but there are some of the same elements in the beginning.

I suppose it was a nice book, but I have a dislike towards post-modernism (as well as modernism). Our teacher went on and on about how modern a woman Miss Woodruff is, but I merely found her annoying and incomprehensible.

Published: 1969

Pages: 399

Lisa Kleypas: Love in the Afternoon

She harbors a secret yearning

As a lover of animals and nature, Beatrix Hathaway has always been more comfortable outdoors than in the ballroom. Even though she participated in the London season in the past, the classic beauty and free-spirited Beatrix has never been swept away or seriously courted… and she has resigned herself to the fate of never finding love. Has the time come for the most unconventional of the Hathaway sisters to settle for an ordinary man—just to avoid spinsterhood?

He is a world-weary cynic

Captain Christopher Phelan is a handsome, daring soldier who plans to marry Beatrix’s friend, the vivacious flirt Prudence Mercer, when he returns from fighting abroad. But, as he explains in his letters to Pru, life on the battlefield has darkened his soul—and it’s becoming clear that Christopher won’t come back as the same man. When Beatrix learns of Pru’s disappointment, she decides to help by concocting Pru’s letters to Christopher for her. Soon the correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher develops into something fulfilling and deep… and when Christopher comes home, he’s determined to claim the woman he loves. What began as Beatrix’s innocent deception has resulted in the agony of unfulfilled love—and a passion that can’t be denied.

(Goodreads)

I ordered this book from the library for one reason only: I stumbled upon the information that this book contains a hedgehog. Yes, as bizarre as that may sound, that was the real reason. This is also the first book of Kleypas’s that I have read.

The first thing that caught me was my own expectations. I thought I was starting a Regency romance – when a man returning from war is mentioned in context of historical romance I tend to automatically think of Waterloo – but, thankfully, there was a date on the very first page, indicating this was actually Victorian, post-Crimean, to be precise. Not that it changed my reading very much: I merely didn’t feel scandalised when waltz was danced at an assembly (or some such detail).

In general, I found the plot a little blotchy. I would have liked the conflict to remain unsolved for longer, although I’m sure there are plenty of readers who would like this book exactly because there is no particularly dramatic barrier between the hero and the heroine. There was also too much explaining, and by that I mean, little trust in the reader’s knowledge of the era. I know, I know, things must be explained and people will learn them, but here it was too explicitly done for my taste. In some scenes, conversation didn’t feel quite naturally exactly because of the explaining: anyone living in England around the late 1850s would have known exactly who Nelson was, without further explanation.

But this one made a very nice Saturday’s reading, and kept me from stressing too much. Took me seven hours to read, which was exactly what I needed: a few hours of distraction from schoolwork.

Published: 2010

Pages: 317 (Piatkus Books 2010)

Peter Ackroyd: The Fall of Troy

Sophia Chrysanthis is initially dazzled when the celebrated German archaeologist, Herr Obermann, comes in search of a Greek bride who can read the works of Homer and assist in his excavations of the city he believes is Ancient Troy.

But Obermann’s past turns out to be full of skeletons and when a young American arrives to question the archaeologist’s methods and dies of a mysterious fever, Sophia wonders just how far he will go to protect his vision of Troy. Soon a second, British, archaeologist arrives, only to fall in love with Sophia, and as their relationship begins to parallel their Ancient Greek counterparts events move towards a gripping and terrible conclusion.

(Back of the Vintage 2007 paperback)

Another required book for the post-modern historical novel class. Having established that I do not like the genre, this one came as a pleasant surprise, despite the teacher having spoiled it thoroughly in class. I’m not going to spoil you about the contents. Suffice to say it’s very intriguing, and Obermann’s character in particular. He’s sly, narcissistic, and completely obsessed with finding the ancient city of Troy. The story is loosely based on the excavations of an archaeologist called Schliemann in the late 19th century – this knowledge is helpful in setting the time, although even knowing it I kept forgetting this was a book set in the late 1800s and not the early decades of the 1900s. (Too much Poirot, I expect.)

Do read it. Once Obermann’s character starts to reveal itself, the book is a real page-turner. I was up half the night finishing it!

(The things I saw in it are very different from the ones the blurb picks up, so I don’t think it’s all that accurate, but obviously there are lots of ways to read it!)

Published: 2006

Pages: 215 (Vintage 2007 paperback)

Toni Morrison: Beloved

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.

(Goodreads)

Third and last of the required books! I’ve read one of Morrison’s works before – The Bluest Eye when I was, I think, in high school – and so she’s not completely new to me. I have to say that the first book I read left a much deeper impression, perhaps because of the topic.

However, Beloved was very interesting. It’s a puzzle, and you get new pieces as the story proceeds. Questions are answered just as you stopped thinking about it. Information comes from several points of view, and the narrative time jumps back and forth in a way that requires some attention. I read fairly quickly, this being a school requirement, but at a normal pace you’re sure to get a lot out of it.

Having said that, I’m not at all sure what exactly happened in the book. It veers towards the magical, and that leaves the story rather open.

Also, some scenes made my brain create visual images on basis of Tarantino’s Django Unchained. I was reminded of the film on occasion.

Published: 1987

Pages: 275

Julia Quinn: Splendid

American heiress Emma Dunster has always been fun-loving and independent with no wish to settle into marriage. She plans to enjoy her Season in London in more unconventional ways than husband hunting. But this time Emma’s high jinks lead her into dangerous temptation…

Alexander Ridgley, the Duke of Ashbourne, is a notorious rake who carefully avoids the risk of love… until he plants one reckless kiss on the sensuous lips of this high-spirited innocent. Soon sparks – and laughter ­– fly when these two terribly determined people cross paths during one very splendid London spring Season…

(Back cover of Piatkus 2010 edition)

Splendid is Quinn’s first book, and, as she herself states in the foreword, not as refined as her subsequent novels. The point of view jumps erratically and the names (especially those that are not known to the current PoV character) jump with them, creating a little confusion as to whether characters are already acquainted or not. The plot works, but is drawn out too much at the end – the final scrape the characters find themselves in feels unnecessary. Also the fact that Alex has returned from war but shows no sign of this (this is brought up briefly in a casual remark) bugs me.

However, for a first work, nice, although I do not generally take to American heroines.

Published: 1995

Pages: 396 (Piatkus 2010 edition)

Julia Quinn: Dancing at Midnight

When a suitor tells Lady Arabella Blydon that he’s willing to overlook her appalling bluestocking tendencies on account of her looks and fortune, she decides to take a break from the Marriage Mart. So during an extended stay in the country, she never expects to meet Lord John Blackwood, a wounded war hero who intrigues her like no other man.

Lord John has lived through the worst horrors of war, but nothing could have been as terrifying to his tormented heart as Lady Arabella. She is intoxicating, infuriating… and she makes him want to live again. Suddenly he’s writing bad poetry and climbing trees in the pitch-dark night, just so he can dance with her. But when the harsh light of day replaces the magic of midnight, can this tormented soul learn to love again?

(Back cover of Piatkus 2009 edition)

A sequel to Splendid, this book concentrates of Emma’s cousin Belle. This book is already obviously better crafted than its predecessor, although the points of view are still erratic. I do like the heroine and hero though: Belle is stubborn and a bluestocking to the bone. I did not appreciate the old let-him-think-I’m-going-to-marry-someone-else trick, but at least she had the decency to be ashamed of it. John’s trauma and self-loathing weren’t quite believable, and he, like Alex in the previous book, doesn’t have much of a trauma of the war itself, although he is still slightly paranoid of unexpected noises and a light sleeper.

My favourite character, without a doubt, is Belle’s chaperone. If you read the book you’re sure to see why.

I did like Dancing at Midnight better than Splendid, and I hope the third book in the trilogy proves to be the best of them. Now I only need to get it from the library…

Published: 1995

Pages: 375 (Piatkus 2009 edition)

A much better month than the last, I must say. I feel quite accomplished! Hopefully I can keep this speed up.

Currently reading:

Stephanie Laurens: The Lady Chosen, first book in the Bastion Club series

Books bought this month:

Amsterdam has a Waterstone’s and an American Bookcenter. And an English Bookstore. I can’t pass a chance to buy Heyer for my collection, Courtiers I got half price ­– and you won’t believe how I got Warbreaker! My library has a rotation shelf (my unofficial word for it: a shelf you can put your unwanted books on and take whatever’s there) and suddenly I noticed someone had left Sanderson there. I still can’t believe my luck. I got a free Sanderson! 😀

One more month of school! Happy Easter, and enjoy the spring!

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Books in February

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

Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South

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

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

(GoodReads)

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

First published: 1854-1855

Pages: 403 (Wordsworth Editions 2002)

Julia Quinn: What Happens In London

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

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

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

(http://www.juliaquinn.com)

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

Published: 2009

Pages: 328 (Avon Books 2009)

Jane Austen: Persuasion

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

First published: 1818 (posthumous)

Pages: 230 (Penguin 1975)

Georgette Heyer: The Spanish Bride

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

(back cover of the Arrow Books edition 2005)

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

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

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

Published: William Heinemann 1940

Pages: 422 (Arrow Books 2005)

John le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

Pages: 422 (Sceptre 2011)

George Orwell: Animal Farm

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

Published: Secker and Warburg 1945

Pages: 95 (Penguin 1989)

Patricia Briggs: Moon Called

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

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

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: January 2006

Pages: 288 (Ace Books mass market paperback 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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Books in January

January was a good month for reading, what with half of it spent on vacation with little else to do. The fact that I’m taking yet another history of literature class helped as well.

The year got started with an Arsène Lupin book, this one called The Hollow Needle. It was entertaining enough, although my favourite gentleman thief got very little screen time. He was, more or less, replaced by the clever schoolboy detective Isidore Beautrelet, who turned out amusing enough. While this book was entertaining, I still maintain that Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief remains the best out of the four I have read.

Published for the first time: 1909 (original title L’Aiguille creuse)

Translation: V. Hämeen-Anttila 1909

Pages: 238

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch was a reread I could not resist any longer. It is the second part in the Gentleman Bastard sequence, and very close to as brilliant as the first part, The Lies of Locke Lamora. This book is mostly set at sea, on a pirate ship, and the main characters are in trouble, as usual.

Published: Gollancz 2007

Pages: 628

My library excursions lead me to the romance shelf, and I picked up yet another Julia Quinn book, this one called Ten Things I Love About You. A newer Quinn, this one was a much pleasanter read than the previous ones. The plot is more even, the characters are pleasant and relatable, and the language has improved. There are some clichés, of course, like the jilted, angry Earl, but those are a given in the genre. I felt Sebastian’s war trauma was not made the most of nor adequately solved, although it is nice to see an author trusting the reader enough to pick up the little pieces of information to see the answer for themselves. His writing career was a definite perk, and made me chuckle on several occasions. Annabel, the heroine, was believable, although I would have wished to see her keep her pragmatic streak up until the very end. There is no angst over her family though, for which I was glad.

Published: Avon Books 2010

Pages: 377

After this new romance, I felt the need to get back to Georgette Heyer, whose Frederica was an absolute treat to read. Heyer’s writing is amazingly subtle and refined. The opening of the book was slightly on the heavy side, reminding me of Austen’s Persuasion, but once one gets the hang of who is who the whole things becomes easy to follow. Those looking for the thrill of romance this book might not be the bull’s-eye, for the relationship between Frederica and the Marquis develops little by little – but when it finally gets to full kick towards the end of the book it is as sweet as anyone could wish.

Published for the firts time: 1965

Pages: 380

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was required reading, and to my great astonishment I enjoyed it. It gauges the mental world of Raskolnikov, as he is about to commit a murder and after the act itself. Although very little actually happens, one keeps reading, just to see whether he goes mad or not. Not a world classic for nothing.

Published for the first time: 1866 (original title Преступление и наказание)

Translation: J. A. Hollo

Pages: 532

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is known to many, and I dare say many have also read this novella. As an insectophobe I found it slightly disconcerting – all the description of Gregor’s insect body forced me to have breaks during the reading – but it was also interesting. I admit the finer details of the text are still lost to me, but I hope I will gain better understanding when we discuss the work in class. Worth a read, everyone – and it’s very short, too!

Published for the first time: 1915 (original title Die Verwandlung)

Translation:

Pages: 64

My father read me Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita when I was little, and that is why I chose to read it for class also. I remembered very little. The whole book kept taking me by surprise, and I had a completely new appreciation for its numerous characters and stories that intertwine in the end. Bulgakov is an excellent writer, and has an impeccable sense of humour. If you enjoy a satire, I dare say this will be to your taste. It was to mine.

Published for the first time: 1966-1967 (original title Мастер и Маргарита)

Translation: Ulla-Liisa Heino 1969

Pages: 499

I saw Atonement as a movie not too many months ago, so I had a firm grip of the events of Ian McEwan’s novel. I’m almost sure I like the movie better: the book was unevenly balanced, had some rather pointless bits, and it was hard to feel sympathy towards the main character Briony. I also found myself unwilling to read at times, which reflected in the time it took me to read this short-ish book. I doubt I will return to McEwan.

Published: Jonathan Cape 2001

Pages: 372

The last read of the month was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. With the movie coming and my friend recommending it, I decided to finally give the series a shot, and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. It was less gory, less intricate, and more about romance than I had expected, but it worked well. The writing flows very effortlessly, there is always something happening, and the reader feels for the characters, all of them. The cliffhanger ending, both in terms of political situation and the rapidly forming love triangle are currently bugging me. Getting the sequel, Catching Fire, from the library will take some time, but I’m hoping someone among my friends owns the books so I could borrow them.

Published: Scholastic 2008

Pages: 454

So that was January. I also read Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, but it did not make the list as it contained poems with no plot, and I do not think I am any authority on poetry. (These seemed rather Romantic. More like Coleridge than Wordsworth.)

Currently I’m reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and enjoying her style immensely.

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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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