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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 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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Books in January

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

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

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

Translation: V. Hämeen-Anttila 1909

Pages: 238

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

Published: Gollancz 2007

Pages: 628

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

Published: Avon Books 2010

Pages: 377

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

Published for the firts time: 1965

Pages: 380

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

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

Translation: J. A. Hollo

Pages: 532

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

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

Translation:

Pages: 64

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

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

Translation: Ulla-Liisa Heino 1969

Pages: 499

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

Published: Jonathan Cape 2001

Pages: 372

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

Published: Scholastic 2008

Pages: 454

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

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

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