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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 Janruary ’13

Hello, friends!

Gods, has January felt long! School has been rather exhausting, especially towards the end of the month, but I’ve managed some books, and certainly more than I thought I did! I’m kind of hoping I could maintain this reading speed, but that seems unlikely, considering that the time to apply for exchange starts tomorrow and the candidate’s essay due date looms.

It’s not much in evidence on this blog, but I’m a big Tarantino fan. Django Unchained premiered in Finland just a couple of weeks ago, and yes, I have seen it. I didn’t write a review, but if someone’s interested I could do it.

I’m still fuming about Anna Karenina. I’ve taken to reading newspaper reviews on it and disagreeing with them – mostly because it looks like no one has read the book. Sigh.

Anyway, now to the main event – the books!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

‘… once again Mr Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents.

Evil masterminds beware! Sherlock Holmes is back! Ten years after his supposed death in the swirling torrent of the Reichenbach Falls locked in the arms of his arch enemy Professor Moriarty, Arthur Conan Doyle agreed to pen further adventures featuring his brilliant detective. In the first story, ‘The Empty House’, Holmes returns to Baker Street and his good friend Watson, explaining how he escaped from his watery grave. In creating this collection of tales, Doyle had lost none of his cunning or panache, providing Holmes with a sparkling set of mysteries to solve and a challenging set of adversaries to defeat. The potent mixture includes murder, abduction, baffling cryptograms and robbery. We are also introduced to the one of the cruellest villains in the Holmes canon, the despicable Charles Augustus Milverton. As before, Watson is the superb narrator and the magic remains unchanged and undimmed.

(Back cover of Wordswoth Classics 2008 edition)

After Gardner’s Moriarty failed to hold my interest, I decided to finally get on with the ACD canon. My obsession with the character of Colonel Moran was kept back by the fact that I had never read the story he appears in – “The Empty House” – and so this was my main incentive.

As a whole, I liked this collection of stories better than the previous ones. Doyle has clearly advanced as a writer, and the mysteries are more complicated: the previous ones are, for those familiar with detective stories, easy to deduce and the clues are put forward with virtually no red herrings. In Return, there were a couple of cases I managed to piece together (sans motives, though) even with my limited knowledge of detective fiction, but some simply sucked me in because I couldn’t focus on the right details.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience. Returning to both the Baker Street boys and Victorian London was a great relief, and a good start to the year.

First published: 1905

Pages: 303 (Wordsworth Classics 2008)

Stephen Fry: Moab Is My Washpot

Moab is my Washpot is in turns funny, shocking, tender, delicious, said, lyrical, bruisingly frank and addictively readable.

Stephen Fry’s bestselling memoir tells how, sent to a boarding school 200 miles away from home at the age of seven, he survived beatings, misery, love, ecstasy, carnal violation, expulsion, imprisonment, criminal conviction, probation and catastrophe to emerge, at eighteen, ready to try and face the world in which he had always felt a stranger.

When he was fifteen, he wrote the following in a letter to himself, not to be read until he was twenty-five: ‘Well I tell you now that everything I feel now, everything I am now is truer and better than anything I shall ever be. Ever. This is me now, the real me. Every day that I grow away from the me that is writing this now is a betrayal and a defeat.

Whether the real Stephen Fry is the man now living, or the extraordinary adolescent now dead, only you will be able to decide.

(Back cover of Arrow Books 2011 reissue)

Fry’s style is rather rambly, which took some getting used to after Doyle’s precise way of carrying a plot, but he never strays too far and always returns to where he took a by-path. I enjoyed myself, and although it was slightly disconcerting to read about the growing up of a person I hold in high esteem – and Fry’s life has been more chequered than I expected, even with a little background knowledge – it was also very interesting. I could relate to some of the feelings he expressed and explained, which of course made me read with more gusto than I perhaps otherwise would have.

I’d recommend the book to fans of Stephen Fry. If you can take the style, you’ll enjoy it. You get used to it fairly quickly, I promise.

Published: 1997

Pages: 436

Mary Balogh: The Dark Angel/Lord Carew’s Bride

Dark Angel

Jennifer Winwood has been engaged for five years to a man she hardly knows but believes to be honorable and good: Lord Lionel Kersey. Suddenly, she becomes the quarry of London’s most notorious womanizer, Gabriel Fisher, the Earl of Thornhill. Jennifer has no idea that she is just a pawn in the long-simmering feud between these two headstrong, irresistible men – or that she will become a prize more valuable than revenge.

Lord Carew’s Bride

Love has not been kind to Samantha Newman, but friendship has. When her emotions are rubbed raw by the reappearance in her life of a villain who had broken her heart some years before, she turns with gratitude to the kindly Hartley Wade, with whom she had developed a warm friendship when she mistook him for a gardener during a visit to the country. She accepts his proposal, expecting a quiet, safe, undemanding marriage. She does not know that Hartley is the Marquess of Carew and that he loves her passionately–and believes she returns his feelings.

(Back cover of Dell omnibus edition 2010/marybalogh.com)

I haven’t read romance in a while, and devoured these two in one day. This was my second time reading them, and yes, Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew is still my favourite romance novel hero.

Published: Signer Regency 1995

Pages: 308/285

J. R. R. Tolkien: Silmarillion

The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of Tolkien’s World. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them, such as Elrond and Galadriel, took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils.

The three Silmarils were jewels created by Fëanor, most gifted of the Elves. Within them were imprisoned the Light of the Two Trees of Valinor before the Trees themselves were destroyed by Morgoth. Thereafter the unsullied Light of Valinor lived only in the Silmarils; but they were seized by Morgoth and set in his crown, guarded in the fortress of Angband in the north of Middle-earth.

The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of Fëanor and his kindred against the gods, their exile from Valinor and return to Middle-earth and their war, hopeless despite their heroism, against the great Enemy. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindalë is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabêth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Númenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, which are narrated in Lord of the Rings.

(First leaf of the Unwin paperback 1979 edition)

I managed to shock a friend of mine by telling her this was my first time reading Silmarillion. I tried it about ten years ago, when I’d just gotten into Tolkien, but put it down after about fifty pages. Reading it now, it was still slow going, particularly because I like dialogue better than description and I can’t stand extensive family trees or geography, but it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I remembered. What I did enjoy was making a stylistic comparison between this book, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. Tolkien is the master of style, and I would love to write my stylistics essay for Academic Writing on him would not the teacher be the one choosing the material. But maybe someday I will write something on the subject in my own time.

The experience was a lot like reading a religious work. I’m not saying it’s a good or a bad thing; it was merely different to what I usually like to read.

And, of course, the languages were a source of delight. Particularly the mountain pass of Calacirya amused me. (I here assume that /y/ is pronounced as [j], which would make the pronunciation sound like the Finnish word ‘kalakirja’, which means ‘fish book’, ‘book on fish’. Add to this the fact that in this pass was raised the hill of Túna, and I’m sure you see why I’m amused.)

Published: George Allen & Unwin 1977

Pages: 367 (plus genealogies, notes on pronunciation, index of names, appendix) (Unwin paperback 1979 edition)

Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…

(Back cover of Gollancz 50 edition)

I know, I know. Locke Lamora again. I couldn’t help myself! It is by far the most comfortable book I can pick up from my shelf, and after Silmarillion I needed something more explosive and fast-paced.

I’ve discussed this book so many times on this blog I’ll forgo that for now, but you’re more than welcome to read the Favourites post I wrote on it, or to go through the Read-Along posts, the first one of which is here.

Published: Gollancz 2006

Pages: 530

There it is. I think this year will include a lot of re-reading.

No books bought all month, despite the sales: I take some pride in this self-control! But the fact is, I just don’t have time to read, and so amassing new books feels a little foolish.

Currently reading:

Pistols for Two by Georgette Heyer (collection of Regency short stories, I love them so much!)

Goodbye! I hope you had a nice January; let us now proceed with the year!

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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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