Tag Archives: series

Books in June ’12

Hello hello!

Although my reading time was largely eaten up by work during the last two weeks of June, I managed a respectable amount of books – two of which were on the list, yay!

This month, I’ll do a little twist with this monthly thing. I’m sure it will be easier and more pleasant to you guys if I split the monthly post into a romance and a fantasy/SF/literary post. We’ll see how that works! Here’s the latter, and it will be followed up by the romance books.

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Great Expectations (1861) is a favourite among many Dickens readers. In addition to its endearing hero, Pip – a blacksmith’s boy, desperate to escape his humble background – the story is populated by a vivid cast of characters, from the convict Magwitch to Miss Havisham who, jilted long ago, still wears her wedding down and, for revenge, schools the beautiful young Estella in the art of malice towards men.

When Pip receives a legacy and promptly leaves for London to become a gentleman, only then does he begin learning about the gulf between appearances and reality.

(Back cover of the Arcturus edition)

BBC’s wonderful new series of this book was just recently aired here, and I loved it to bits. I’d of course thought of reading this book anyway, but what really pushed me into it was the series.

This is not something I say often, so take notice: the series was better than the book. I know it’s Dickens, and it has merits, but it was a two-week struggle for me. Oliver Twist didn’t give me this kind of trouble. Great Expectations is rambly. It has a lot of bits that seem completely unnecessary, although some of them give a better sense of minor characters. But do we really need to get a better feeling of the minor characters? Not really. I’m most interested in Miss Havisham and Estella, and was hoping that the book would shed more light on them. Didn’t happen, unfortunately, and most of the book I got through by thinking of the series, to make it more interesting. (I mean, Herbert Pocket was played by Harry “Viserys” Lloyd, quite charmingly I might add!)

So if you want to read Dickens, I don’t think this one would impress. I still intend to read David Copperfield, hoping it would be a mix between Expectations and Oliver.

This was also a book off my summer reading list! Hooray!

First published: 1861

Pages:  445 (Arcturus Books)

Douglas Hulick: Among Thieves

Ildrecca is a dangerous city, if you don’t know what you’re doing. It takes a canny hand and a wary eye to run these streets and survive. Fortunately, Drothe has both. He has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers from the dirtiest of alleys to the finest of neighbourhoods. Working for a crime lord, he finds and takes care of trouble inside his boss’s organization – while smuggling relics on the side.

But when his boss orders Drothe to track down whoever is leaning on his organization’s people, he stumbles upon a much bigger mystery. There’s a book, a relic any number of deadly people seem to be looking for – a book that just might bring down emperors and shatter the criminal underworld.

A book now conveniently in Drothe’s hands…

(Back cover of Tor 2010 edition)

In preparation for the second book in Hulick’s series of Tales of the Kin, I reread the first one. I was hoping I would like it more than last time. Nope. It is a good book, and it’s very hard for me to figure out whether there is anything wrong with it. It comes so unbelievably close to breaking the barrier between kinda interesting and totally awesome. In the end, it’s just a little too polished, a little too clinical to really get to me. The story is interesting, the characters relatable and my, do I love the jargon, but something is clearly missing.

However, I do like this book. I’ve given it three stars on Goodreads, and ma teetering on the brink of four. Exciting to see how the second book, Sworn in Steel, will be. I’m hoping it will lose all that keeps me from completely immersing myself into Among Thieves while keeping everything that makes me like the book.

Published: Tor 2011

Pages: 414

Eleanor Herman: Sex with the Queen – 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics

In royal courts bristling with testosterone—swashbuckling generals, polished courtiers, and virile cardinals—how did repressed regal ladies find happiness?

Anne Boleyn flirted with courtiers; Catherine Howard slept with one. Henry VIII had both of them beheaded.

Catherine the Great had her idiot husband murdered and ruled the Russian empire with a long list of sexy young favorites.

Marie Antoinette fell in love with the handsome Swedish count Axel Fersen, who tried valiantly to rescue her from the guillotine.

Princess Diana gave up her palace bodyguard to enjoy countless love affairs, which tragically led to her early death.

In this impeccably researched, scandalously readable follow-up to her New York Times bestseller Sex with Kings, Eleanor Herman reveals the truth about what has historically gone on behind the closed door of the queen’s boudoir.

(Goodreads)

I’ve been meaning to read this book forever, and now I finally got around to it. It was vastly entertaining, although I suspect one would have to hold a special place for popular history in their heart to really enjoy it. This book does not offer you solid facts and brutal truths; it’s about love, intrigue and the occasional politics, and concentrates more on the scandal than anything else.

To any Finns who might find themselves interested: the translation is not the best possible, and some word choices are awkward, not to mention some grammatical structures. These don’t spoil the experience too much, but it gets rather annoying when you can see what the original sentence has been, even if it has been an idiomatic expression in English.

But in any case it was an entertaining book, and I think I will read its predecessor, Sex with the King as well.

Published: William Morrow 2005

Translation: Maria Lyytinen (Gummerus 2008)

Pages: 311

Patricia Briggs: Cry Wolf

Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack… and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’d learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer- and son- of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.

Charles insists that not only is Anna his mate, but she is also a rare and valued Omega wolf. And it is Anna’s inner strength and calming presence that will prove invaluable as she and Charles go on the hunt in search of a rogue werewolf- a creature bound in magic so dark that it could threaten all of the pack.

(Goodreads)

I didn’t think I’d read more Briggs, but my current werewolf kick left me little choice. It wasn’t for nothing – this first book in the Alpha and Omega series suited me much better than the Mercy Thompson series. The unfortunate part is that you apparently need to read Mercy books, at least the first one, to know what’s going on in Alpha and Omega. It’s probably not absolutely necessary, but I think it’s helpful, as Cry Wolf explains but not in much width. One of the reasons I think I might like this series more is the leading lady, Anna, whom I find much more relatable than Mercy. And Mr Alpha, Charles, is nice as well. In other words, the main characters don’t bug me, which is always a good sign. This series is also more about werewolves, seeing as both the main characters are of the species, and it feels better than having a shapeshifter around.

So I would recommend Cry Wolf over Moon Called, although you benefit from reading the latter first. We’ll see if reading the second Mercy book is helpful with reading the next Alpha and Omega book.

Published: Ace 2007

Pages: 307 (Orbit 2009 edition)

Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver

Grace and Sam share a kinship so close they could be lovers or siblings. But they also share a problem. When the temperature slips towards freezing, Sam reverts to his wolf identity and must retreat into the woods to protect his pack. He worries that eventually his human side will fade away and he will be left howling alone at the lonely moon. A stirring supernatural teen romance.

(Goodreads)

I was in the country when I read this, and boy, did my fingers itch to get to a keyboard so I could type out what I thought! (I have old-fashioned notes for this. A full page of them.)

First of all, there’s an interesting twist to the whole being-a-werewolf thing in this book: temperature. Basically, when the weather gets cold, you turn if you have been bitten. For the summer, you get to be human. Until you get older. This is something I haven’t seen before, and as such it appealed to me.

HOWEVER. The plot progresses slowly, and I felt this series (yes, it’s a trilogy) could have been just put to one book. The love story between the POV-characters Grace and Sam doesn’t feel real, and Grace is probably a cousin to Bella Swan as far as personality is concerned. Sam I liked a whole lot, as well as his father figure Beck. Sam even managed to get a few tears out of me towards the end of the book, which was well done. Unfortunately, this is not enough to make me read the rest of the series. The mysteries left unsolved in the end are not interesting enough, and the chemistries between people are rather predictable.

Next up, a spoiler that I need to get out of system. Only read if you’ve already read the book or have absolutely zero interest in it:

You can’t give meningitis to someone by injecting blood from someone who has it. Meningitis spreads by droplet infection. Also, I don’t think it’s a good idea to inject blood into someone without checking blood type. Not sure what effect a small amount would have, but I wouldn’t do it at all. The point of wanting to someone to get infected with meningitis was to give them a really high fever. I consulted my father the doctor, and he said typhoid fever would be a much better solution.

The point of the spoiler in short: I wish authors did their research. Ugh.

Not going to read the rest of the series. Just not interesting enough. A shame, as I wanted to like it – but just as I’d heard, it’s pretty much just Twilight with werewolves.

Robin McKinley: Sunshine

There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts. Vampires never entered her mind. Until they found her.

(Goodreads)

Sunshine has some features that are familiar from my previous experiences with McKinley, most prominently the heavy descriptions and the self-reflection the main character goes through. This book wasn’t exactly like I imagined it would be, but it was good nonetheless. It doesn’t exactly offer anything new on vampires, which was surprisingly… fresh. The vampires are not the point. It’s about the society, and about how Sunshine fits into it, and how she sees and understands herself.

McKinley has a very firm grasp of her craft, and you can trust her books to be quality. Just don’t expect any light conversation or frivolous humor – McKinley makes the latter dry, without losing any of the fun. You’re in good hands if you decide to go with her.

Published: Berkeley Publishing 2003

Pages: 405 (Jove 2004 edition)

So here’s the not-romance books this month! In these ones I’ll also add the “currently reading” and “books purchased” bits, just as usual.

Currently reading:

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

Books bought this month:

Ahem. That’s quite a lot, I know, but my bookstore had 20% off all the paperbacks, so… Yeah. And I got my first salary. And it was my birthday this month (although that got me only one book). And we went second hand book shopping with Kay. So… Yeah. I also bought Redshirts by John Scalzi, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Oh, and I got my dad Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies for his birthday. I’ll read it once he’s done.

So there it is! Next up: the romance post!

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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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