Tag Archives: neil gaiman

Books in December ’12

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

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

And so on to business!

Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

Holy cow.

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

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

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

I just wish Mills had written more books.

Published: 2007 Michael Joseph

Pages: 350 (Penguin 2008)

P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

Published: 1934

Pages: 173 (Harper Collins 2008)

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

First published: 1843

Pages: 90 (Purnell Books 1980 edition)

Diana Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle

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

Published: 1986 Methuen Children’s Books Ltd

Pages: 302 (Harper Collins 2005 edition)

 

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

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

First published: 1877

Translation: Eino Kalima 1975

Pages: 493+428

Cassandra Clare: City of Bones

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

Published: Walker Books Ltd 2007

Pages: 442

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

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

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

(back cover of Headline Review 2005 edition)

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

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

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

Published: 1996 BBC Books

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

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: 1925

Pages: 163 (Wordsworth Classics 1993)

There be the books read in December.

Books bought (also last month’s):

 

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

Currently reading:

Moriarty by John Gardener

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

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Books in April

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

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

Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage

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

(back cover of Dell 2009 edition)

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

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 388

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

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

Published: Gollancz 2006

Pages: 537

Mary Balogh: Then Comes Seduction

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 419

Jane Aiken Hodge: The Private World of Georgette Heyer

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: Bodley Head 1984

Pages: 208 (Bodley Head 1984 hardcover edition)

Agatha Christie: Murder On the Orient Express

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

Pages: 191 (Fontana 1974 edition)

Mary Balogh: At Last Comes Love

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: Dell 2009

Pages: 386

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

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

Published: Gollancz 1990

Pages: 383 (Corgi 1991 paperback edition)

Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals

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

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

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

(Doubleday 2009 hardcover cover)

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

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

Published: Doubleday 2009

Pages: 400 (hardcover edition)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

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

First published: George Newnes 1902

Pages: 174 (Penguin Popular Classics 1996 edition)

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

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

Currently reading:

Scott Lynch: Red Seas Under Red Skies

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

Happy May Day, people! 😀

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Favourites: Good Omens

It’s time for another favourite! I should probably point out that these favourites are not in any particular order – I mostly decide which one to introduce depending on the time of year and my own mood.

FAVOURITES

NEIL GAIMAN & TERRY PRATCHETT: GOOD OMENS

Published: May 1st 1990 Gollancz (UK) / Workman (US)

Pages: 288

 

According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter – the world’s only totally reliable guide to the future – the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea…

There’s a mix-up with the baby Anti-Christ.

There’s a demon driving a 1926 black Bentley.

There’s an angel who runs a rare books shop.

There’s a technically challenged Witchfinder Private.

There’s a professional descendant.

And there’s the Apocalypse.

Sir Terry Prachett was one of the first fantasy authors I read with a passion. I was perhaps twelve, when a friend of mine gave me Equal Rites and Hogfather and told me to give them a shot. She did not make a misjudgement – I did like Discworld, as soon as I got the hang of it (which I still maintain takes a couple of books). For a couple of years I read whatever translated Discworld novels I could find from the library, but all too soon I realised there were no more translations available. So, at the age of fourteen, I wandered to the English shelves at the bookstore and picked up Good Omens, mostly because I had read a lot about it online and because it said ‘Pratchett’ on the cover. My English was not good and I understood very little, and around page 80 I gave up.

Two years later, after I had started reading in English and, as a result, gotten better at it, I thought I would try again. It was one of the best thoughts I have had.

The blurb tells you the plot pretty much as simply as it is possible to put. It’s a difficult one to explain without giving away too much, and I’m not going to even try. What I can say about the book, however, is that it’s hilarious. It’s fairly easy to see which bits are probably Gaiman and which Pratchett, particularly if you’ve read both, but they work together splendidly. My particular favourite bits tend to be the discussions between the angel Aziraphale (former Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden) and the demon Crowley (former Serpent in the Garden of Eden); after all, when you spend thousands of years with someone, a friendship tends to form, no matter what side you are on. I don’t think it’s possible to read their legendary Drunk Conversation with a straight face. Another favourite is a certain Rider of the Apocalypse who runs a diet and fast food company – his bits have some of my favourite quotes. (You can see I haven’t quoted anything. This is because they A) often require the whole setting to work or B) might spoil the fun reading them yourself provides.)

I’ve talked of this book so many times and to so many people I hardly know what more to say about it. I don’t think I know anyone who wouldn’t have liked it: some people like the light jokes Pratchett makes, and some the steadfast storytelling Gaiman is so good at. For me, this book combines the best of both. I still love Pratchett’s humour and parody (read Macbeth first and then pick up Wyrd Sisters – that was a lot of fun!), but the light heartedness is getting to be a little too light, as much as it pains me to admit it. This is why Good Omens is so perfect: it’s balanced, gripping, and incredibly funny.

On the cover of my copy there’s a recommendation from Time Out that sums it all up very neatly:

“Heaven to read, and you’ll laugh like hell”

Oh, and maybe I should warn you about it, because not everyone likes it – there are footnotes. Not in the scale of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but footnotes nonetheless. And they make me chuckle, too.

My poor copy is a little battered. I’ve tried to protect it by taping the corners and spine, and here’s to hoping it’ll last. (Might have to get a hardcover at some point in life.)

You need to read this. That’s all you need to know.

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Books in March

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

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

* cue lych mob of Gaiman fans *

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

Published: William Morrow 2001

Pages: 635 (Headline Review 2005 edition)

Gregory Maguire: Out of Oz

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

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

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

(Goodreads)

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

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

Published: William Morrow 2011

Pages: 578 (Headline Review 2011 edition)

Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire & Mockingjay

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

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

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

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

Published: Scholastic 2009/2010

Pages: 391/390

Richard Morgan: Steel Remains

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

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

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

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

(richardkmorgan.com)

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

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

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

Published: Gollancz 2008

Pages: 344 (Gollanzc 2008 hardback)

Stephanie Laurens: The Promise in a Kiss

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

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

(back cover of Piatkus paperback 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: Avon Books 2001

Pages: 377 (Piatkus 2010 edition)

I also bought a bunch of books this month!

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

Currently reading:

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

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

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