Looking at my AWW list, I have at least five other books (beyond this one) that I want to review before I finally wrap up and say goodbye to the chall...moreLooking at my AWW list, I have at least five other books (beyond this one) that I want to review before I finally wrap up and say goodbye to the challenge for 2012 (and get stuck into the 2013 challenge). But I'm going to start at the end with the book I finished this afternoon: Jane Caro's book about Princess Elizabeth, Just a Girl.
Disclaimer number 1: While I really like Jane Caro's public stance on a lot of things, I got into a twitter tiff with her earlier in December, and there were things in the book that reminded me of other attitudes of hers I have issues with. Except where I mention these issues, I've tried very hard to keep my discomfort with the author away from my review of the book.
Disclaimer number 2: I read a fair amount of Historical Fiction, and am pretty much over Princess and Queen Elizabeth I.
It strikes me as a bold move to write ones first novel about a woman so often written about as Princess Elizabeth Tudor. I'll say at the outset that I think this book was better than Alison Weir's travesty of a novel, but not as good as Philippa Gregory's "The Virgin Queen". I haven't yet read Jean Plaidy's Tudor books, so I can't give a comparison there. As I said above, I'm kind of over Elizabeth. She gets written about so often, both in non-fiction and fictional treatments. She has plays and films and I keep reading them (watching them), but to be honest, if this one hadn't been by Jane Caro (who we saw at this year's Write Around the Murray) and if I hadn't needed a quick-ish read to finish off the AWW 2012 challenge, I might not have picked this one up for a lot longer.
It's an interesting structure, all this thinking on the night before Elizabeth's Coronation as Queen. Except for the one element that Caro made up, I know my Elizabeth well enough that nothing is all that new. It just seemed to me that none of the characters lived in the way that they do in Gregory's books - neither Thomas Seymour nor Philip of Spain really seemed all that threatening or skeevey, whereas in Gregory they're that little bit oily. Elizabeth's insecurity next to Jane Grey was an interesting element, and yet Jane was a complete shadow, as was Robin Dudley, sadly. Overall, I wanted it to be better than I felt it was.
One thing kept throwing me out of the story: each time one of Caro's characters - particularly Elizabeth herself - preached religious tolerance. I found it sad that Caro's characters could manage what she has not been able to herself (she's fond of insulting the mere concept of being a person of faith, or certainly it seemed that way at Write Around the Murray and on Twitter,) particularly when I think her depiction of Elizabeth's tolerance was a little broader than it was in reality.
As with another recent read, if Goodreads had half stars, I'd be making use of them here. It would be 3 1/5 stars if it could be, but I just couldn't bring myself to up the level to four.(less)
Apparently her first, and there were moments that grated (Roger de Clovely?) I rather wonder how she would have written it if she was writing it now,...moreApparently her first, and there were moments that grated (Roger de Clovely?) I rather wonder how she would have written it if she was writing it now, as I know certain aspects would be different.(less)
Possibly one of the most engaging Bastions I've read so far, due to the depth of the mystery on the one hand, and the intransigence of the heroine on...morePossibly one of the most engaging Bastions I've read so far, due to the depth of the mystery on the one hand, and the intransigence of the heroine on the other. I simply adore a heroine who refuses to let the hero coddle her, and in Letitia that's exactly what the reader has. She is awesome, in the true sense of the word. She refuses to let Derne, Dalziel, or any of the Bastion club overrule her, and she is as much a part of solving the puzzle as any of them.
For as much of a puzzle as there is to solve.
Of course, I'm coming at this book from the wrong angle entirely, having already read the book in which Dalziel's true identity is revealed and the traitor hunted to ground. In fact, I read that book quite some time ago. And yet, I still think this one of the most engaging Bastion Club novels of the series.
I have to admit that I really don't tend to expect much of a Laurens: an enjoyable romp, Regency-style balls and accoutrements, and a happy ending.
The Edge of Desire gave me all this, and a frolicking, rolicking mystery as a side dish. Twelve points to Stephanie Laurens!(less)
There was a thing in the paper about Breaker Morant, which got me reading about the Boer War/South African War (I'm sorry, I've grown up with it being...moreThere was a thing in the paper about Breaker Morant, which got me reading about the Boer War/South African War (I'm sorry, I've grown up with it being the "Boer War". I'm a girl guide. I suspect it will always be the Boer War to me.) Which reminded me that I had this book on my shelves.
In the last two days I've read from the South African War to where the book ends in 1995. I certainly plan to go back and read from the beginning through to 1900 sooner rather than later.
I'm more keen now than ever to read Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom" as well as his new book, which I'm hinting strongly at for a Christmas present.(less)
First verse novel I've read, and certainly not one that I'd intended to start with. I expected that one day I'd get around to reading some of Stephen...moreFirst verse novel I've read, and certainly not one that I'd intended to start with. I expected that one day I'd get around to reading some of Stephen Herrick's work, or Elizabeth Fensham, or Eva Sandall. But I was shelving books at work and came across this book by Bernadine Evaristo, a name I'd heard a lot on 50books_poc. And I looked at the blurb and read a little bit of the book, and it was like the book reached out and grabbed me. It's the most amazing combination of language and setting and anachronism and fabulosity: Londinium in 211; a Roman emperor who is apparently an historical figure (I know little to no Roman history beyond what you get in Shakespeare and the Bible); with this overlay of today's language mingled with Latin phrases, images from both times, from all times... characters like Z and Venus and A who are simply magnificent in the way they are depicted and constructed and used. And all of this in verse.
As I said, the book reached out and grabbed me. I do like poetry, so the verse aspect didn't hold much fear for me. And the individual chapters were reasonably short (something I had wondered about in relation to verse novels - I've never been much for epic poetry, although I will go back to trying some of the greats again one day.) It was the language and imagery that were the strongest pull for me, however. The layering and the casual feel to this complex construction of worlds - the way that Z could get away with referring to a toga as Armani and it simply *working*. Her voice is strong and cheeky and disarming and confronting all at once. She's a silly little girl at times (only 18 by the end of the book) and does silly things, but there's this core of strength that she would have to have had to stay herself as long as she did. And that's there in the character, from the beginning.
I think it helped the effect of the book that I now have a better idea of London than I did a year ago. I would have missed whole geographic layers of humour and play if I couldn't picture in my mind what she was talking about in these journeys into the 'jungle of Notting Hill' for example. I am recommending this book so very highly: I'm only sorry that it's a little too explicit for me to recommend it as part of high school study of Roman times, because I think kids who read it deeply enough would get a real kick out of it. But the eroticism (which I loved, by the way) is a little too much for high school reading, I suspect.(less)
As this review is primarily for 50books_poc, it's going to focus on the illustrations by Shaun Tan. Having said that, the story (comments by three gen...more As this review is primarily for 50books_poc, it's going to focus on the illustrations by Shaun Tan. Having said that, the story (comments by three generations of a family on the importance of the Moreton Bay Fig that forms part of the town's war memorial, now threatened by 'progress') is stunning, and raises multiple issues/discussion points that my small group at the Hebrew Scriptures intensive I did recently had a great deal of fun discussing.
The illustrations, though - oh, the illustrations. Shaun Tan, what can you say? In this book he has a number of full-page, wordless spreads, and he makes the most of each of them. The most startling and the one that makes the most impression (from my perspective) is the one that immediately follows the clearest statement of "You can't fight City Hall". To the far right of the spread is the memorial statue, a soldier standing over his rifle, as they do at an ANZAC Day service at each corner of any War Memorial in the country. Across the rest of the page drift leaves. You can imagine the leaves drifting across in a winter wind, or more ominously, flying across the statue from where the chainsaws have attacked the Fig tree.
Although the book calls (as you can probably tell) on some incredibly Australian images of memorialisation and the recollection of war (the WWI spread may be more generally iconic, however), I think it would have a fairly universal appeal, at least within the Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth/British Empire nations. (That said, Australia has a particular relationship with each of the three wars mentioned (the two World Wars, and the Vietnam War) that would not necessarily resonate in the same way in the USA, for example.)
In any event, the illustrations don't just complement the text, they extend it. They bring the issues of progress, environment, memorialisation and war into far more stark relief than the words can do alone. Like all of Tan's work, it is utterly awesome, and so layered and complex that every reading will reveal something further. Shaun Tan is a national treasure, and the sooner Australia in general realises this, the better. (less)
"Leviathan is as much about possible futures as alternate pasts.... That's the nature of steampunk, blending future and past." - Scott Westerfeld
I read the majority of this book on the train on the way back from our trip to the Melbourne Zoo. I was only able to read it because Michelle, being sensible, had packed a tree book along with her Kobo. So when my Kobo started to act up and wouldn't actually turn on (dammit), I started reading Leviathan instead.
I've been wanting to read this since it first came out, but it has languished on the 'to read' pile in part because Scott Westerfeld is a white, American male, and thus doesn't fill ANY 'special category' for reading challenges (by which I mean those 'challenges' I give to myself, rather than specific challenges.)
Anyway - I really enjoyed it. Love Nora Barlow, especially love Deryn (even though Deryn isn't a particularly feminine name to me... Scott, you're married to an Australian, surely Justine explained the evil that is Derryn Hinch?) - but then I generally love 'girl-dressed-as-boy' narratives.
Anyway. I really enjoyed the steampunk aspect, even if the beasties do worry me on occassion (I can't see "Leviathan" the ship as anything but an actual-although-modified whale, and the idea of harnessing it to a gondola... I don't know.
But I certainly enjoy the world-building, the games being played with history, and the general mood of the book. Behemoth is somewhere in the Chez Stutters collection, and I won't be surprised if I finish that one by Christmas. (I also have to dig out Richard Harland's Liberator and read it. Perhaps December will be my "books by white men" month?(less)