This novel takes a historical event I am already very interested in—the doomed Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage—and turns it into a h...moreThis novel takes a historical event I am already very interested in—the doomed Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage—and turns it into a horror story. A lot of what Simmons does is interesting: the character arcs of two of the main players, Captain Francis Crozier and Dr. Goodsir, are very well done, and there are some excellent set pieces—in particular a staging of Edgar Allen Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" amid the snow drifts and the polar ice. However, this was one of those books that I finished and immediately went, "Man! There is absolutely NO REASON for this thing to have been 800 pages long!"
Seriously. None. I got that the conditions were cold and nasty the first thousand times, and the atmosphere, while good, was nowhere near excellent enough to merit sustaining an 800-page narrative. At one point while reading and encountering an especially long action sequence, I joked to a friend, "Clearly, this is a MAN book." By which I meant: size, apparently, does matter, and very much.
So while there were aspects of this book I enjoyed, it never really moved, or even gripped, me. It was mostly just long, and kind of unpleasant.(less)
I hesitated for more than a year, trying to decide if I actually wanted to read this last, unfinished Aubrey/Maturin book. In part, this is because bo...moreI hesitated for more than a year, trying to decide if I actually wanted to read this last, unfinished Aubrey/Maturin book. In part, this is because books left unfinished by authors who have died make me sad just inherently, and it's also because I so liked how the 20th book, Blue at the Mizzen, ended. But eventually I cracked, as I knew I would, and I'm pleased to report that I'm very, very glad I did. The book is unfinished, true—there's less than three chapters here—but in that small space, there's more of what I love: Jack and Stephen's friendship, and Stephen being fiendishly clever, and! and! Jack and Stephen being reunited with their families, which made me so happy, and which was pretty much the only thing that could make the ending of Blue at the Mizzen any more perfect. The only frustrating thing about this edition, which reproduces both O'Brian's handwritten manuscript and the typescript he made of it, is that when the typescript ends, they don't bother (or they balked at) transcribing the rest of the handwritten stuff. I guess they were worried about making a mistake, because O'Brian's handwriting is fucking impossible. Impossible! Fortunately, I did not have to resort to beating my head against the book, or writing Norton a nasty note, because of course some kind soul on the internet had transcribed it for those of us (me!) with less adept deciphering skills. I love the internets.
And I love Jack and Stephen. They are among the all-time greatest fictional characters for me. 20 books, or 20-almost-21, can never be enough. I guess I'll just have to start over at the beginning and read the series again. (less)
This was my first Heyer, and a wonderful introduction it was. Such a romp! The central premise involves cross-dressing—a brother and sister essentiall...moreThis was my first Heyer, and a wonderful introduction it was. Such a romp! The central premise involves cross-dressing—a brother and sister essentially swapping roles to prevent the brother, who took part in the Jacobite Rebellion, being arrested—but there's also their conman father, and lots of duels, and a conniving gentleman who keeps trying to get an innocent young heiress to elope with him. It's terrific fun, and I really liked the characters, especially practical Prudence, who does very well in her adopted role of an 18th Century gentleman. The two romances—Prudence and the sleepy-eyed Sir Anthony, who actually sees more than he lets on, and her brother Robin-goes-by-Kate and the flighty young heiress—are both very enjoyable, the maturity of the former making up for the silliness of the latter. Though I do worry for Prudence, and the validity of her happy ending. To experience the freedom of living as a man and to then have to go back to being "a lady"—well, that would suck, in my opinion. But *waves hands* I shall try not to impose too much of my modern sensibility on this book, because it really was a blast to read.(less)
I started reading this to try to de-stress. I've never actually read an out-and-out romance before, but I heard Quinn wrote fluffy and fun regencies,...moreI started reading this to try to de-stress. I've never actually read an out-and-out romance before, but I heard Quinn wrote fluffy and fun regencies, and her style, at least at the beginning, was lively and engaging. However, as the novel progressed, more and more things began to annoy me. First, Quinn does something with POV that really bothers me, and which I am trying to delicately explain here without giving away the book's central mystery, slight as it is. Basically, Quinn has a revelation in this book that makes me completely distrust one of the characters' POVs. It's annoying and cheap, but I would have been able to let it go and enjoy the rest of the book were it not for all the sex. The long, interminable, squickily worded sex scenes! Now, I'm sure you all know that I very much like reading and writing about sex. I honestly don't understand how so many people in fandom can do something so well while so many professional authors are terrible at it. This book has some of the most off-putting sex scenes I've ever read outside of actual badfic. First, there's the unrealistic factor—two unmarried aristocrats in regency England attempting to get it on in a moving carriage as it flies through the streets of London; then there's the "eww" factor—virgins who are deflowered when they don't seem to even know what the actual sex act entails and before their twu luv can bother to explain it to them since he'd rather just be shoving it in there; and finally, there's the snooze factor. This was me trying to read the umpteenth sex scene in this book: "It was agony. It was ecstasy. She had been born for this man. As she reached to touch his member he turned to her with lust-drenched eyes and...Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..."
I...I want to like romances? I do. I love romantic fiction. I love the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. I love smutty fanfic, for god's sake! So I don't know what the deal is. But I do know I certainly don't want to read about the agony and ecstasy of some inappropriately shirtless dweeb's member. Call me crazy.(less)
There are a couple of really cool things about this book. One, it's about Georges Méliès, film pioneer and director of A Trip to the Moon, which I'm w...moreThere are a couple of really cool things about this book. One, it's about Georges Méliès, film pioneer and director of A Trip to the Moon, which I'm willing to bet you know even if you don't recognize that title or his name. (Picture a rocket sticking out of the eye of the man in the moon...) Two, the book is designed so it's like a silent movie: drawings are interspersed with text, so you get part of the story visually and part from the text (with more emphasis on text than there would be in a film, naturally). It's like a different approach to the graphic novel, and in that respect it's very, very cool. The story did less for me; it's intended for 9 to 12-year-olds, and I found it a bit simplistic (which is too bad, because there are other children's books that I find complex even now). Still, I think if I had read it when I was younger, I'd have been enchanted (I certainly remember Selznick's The Houdini Box with tons of fondness), and even now, even just as an objet d'art, it's lovely.(less)
The first in a sort of spin-off series from the Outlander books, which I have not read. Or rather, I started reading Outlander but stopped after abou...moreThe first in a sort of spin-off series from the Outlander books, which I have not read. Or rather, I started reading Outlander but stopped after about 100 pages because I just couldn’t get into it. I had a similar problem here. This is historical fiction, set in mid-18th Century England. (A period I was pretty appalled to realize I have rather limited knowledge of; limited, I mean, to Tom Jones—and not even the book, the movie!) Lord John Grey is a fairly interesting character: he’s gay, the first man he loved died tragically, and the second is in another country and in love with someone else. The plot seems like it could be interesting too: Grey accidentally observes that the man who’s engaged to his young cousin has the pox and must find a way to break off the engagement; there’s also a murder that may or may not be connected. Right away you’ve got promise of trips into London’s underbelly, full of brothels and molly-houses. And yet…I just couldn’t get into it, man! I mean, unlike Outlander, I did manage to finish, but I just never felt engaged, never felt involved. It’s not that it was bad—although the several chapters of infodump toward the end were not my favorite thing ever; in fact, I’m sure lots of you would actually enjoy it quite a lot. I think this may just be one of those things where a certain author’s style just doesn’t work for me. I’ll recognize that something is good or at least competent, but it’s just not for me. Based more on style than on topic, which seems odd, but I guess it can happen. The synapses fail to connect. I can’t get emotionally involved, and thus I can’t really care about what I’m reading.(less)
An epistolary novel about a 12-year-old Jewish kid from Brooklyn who becomes best friends with a star baseball player in the early 1940s. This is utte...moreAn epistolary novel about a 12-year-old Jewish kid from Brooklyn who becomes best friends with a star baseball player in the early 1940s. This is utter pap, but…well, okay, I’m embarrassed to admit that I quite liked it. Joey is one of those impossibly clever and erudite 12-year-olds, and the premise is ridiculous—not just the becoming-best-friends-with-a-ballplayer part, but the fact that Joey and Charlie, the New York Giants’ 3rd baseman, also go on to meet President Roosevelt, Humphrey Bogart, etc. Like I said: ridiculous, and there are shades of Forrest Gump that make me gag. Yet…it’s sweet, and very funny, and Charlie is just the type of character I tend to fall for: someone who puts a lot of effort into appearing brash and tough but is a secret softie. And I have to admit that the all-too-inevitable ending made me cry.(less)
Most fandom people I've talked to either love or at least rather like this book, but it seems it's my turn to feel all "bwah?" and left out, as Punk d...moreMost fandom people I've talked to either love or at least rather like this book, but it seems it's my turn to feel all "bwah?" and left out, as Punk does with The Dreyfus Affair and Siria does with Swordspoint. I hated it. I despised pretty much all the characters, other than Hugh and Rupert—Leonie was irritating, and Avon was just creepy. I know he was supposed to be "Satanas"—the devil of a man who isn't really that bad, but I found him neither enjoyably naughty nor charming; he was just kind of slimy. The idea of him and Leonie being together really skeeved me out, not because of the age difference—I actually like an age difference, when it's done well—but because of the power dynamic, I guess. All the power was Avon's, both practically and emotionally, and throughout the whole book Leonie was worshipful of him and he condescending towards her. Ew. I also didn't see the slash at all; Hugh was one of the few nice characters, as I said, so I guess it could be construed that he put up with Avon because he was in love with him, but Avon didn't seem particularly gay to me—he was just an 18th Century dude who lived in France and was a bit of a vain ass. The overall package was not appealing, and neither was this book, which is too bad, because I really enjoyed the only other Heyer I've read, The Masqueraders.
Before I read These Old Shades, I was planning to read The Grand Sophy soon, but now I'm not so sure; Shades turned me off, and I also heard that Sophy has a really ugly Jewish stereotype in it. Those of you who've read it: what do you think?(less)
After loving The Jane Austen Book Club so much, I was really expecting to love this, too; however, I found it disappointing. It's Fowler's first nove...moreAfter loving The Jane Austen Book Club so much, I was really expecting to love this, too; however, I found it disappointing. It's Fowler's first novel, published more than a decade before Book Club, and I guess it shows—Sarah Canary contains a great cast of characters, including a struggling feminist and a Chinese immigrant whom I loved, and it makes evocative use of its setting, the Pacific Northwest in the early 1870s. Yet nothing really seems to come of the various bar fights, the river boat chase, the escape from the mental institution, the kidnapping, or the tiger attack. I closed the book feeling like neither the actual plot nor—worse—the emotional plot had really resolved.
I'm still very interested in reading more of Fowler's work, because I love that she's willing to genre-blend and she creates really memorable characters. This book, however, felt like the efforts of a really interesting novelist that just utterly failed to work.(less)
This was apparently required reading for the leaving cert for some of my Irish friends. I wish I'd been made to read such wonderful(ly slashy) things...moreThis was apparently required reading for the leaving cert for some of my Irish friends. I wish I'd been made to read such wonderful(ly slashy) things in high school! The plot revolves around WWI and class consciousness and male friendship, and it's a painful but beautiful story that I'm glad I spent my last day in Ireland sitting outside in Merrion Square reading. Even in less fantastic locations, this book still shines.(less)
Having now read the entire Lymond series, I can say with certainty that this is my favorite installment: it's just a roller coaster of emotional and p...moreHaving now read the entire Lymond series, I can say with certainty that this is my favorite installment: it's just a roller coaster of emotional and physical turmoil all the way through, and I mean that in the best way possible. As for the climatic chess game: I'm still sweating. This is the best thing I read all...whatever year that was. 2004, I think.(less)
Oh, the angst! Angst, angst, angst—both internal, in the lives of the characters; and external, in my life, as I tried to stay calm with the end of th...moreOh, the angst! Angst, angst, angst—both internal, in the lives of the characters; and external, in my life, as I tried to stay calm with the end of this series rapidly approaching—and failed, miserably. But never fear: I survived the experience with only minor trauma (er, that was someone else who had to set the book down one chapter from the end and go cry in the bathroom for an hour), as you'll I'm sure survive if you read these books. Which you should. Like, right now.(less)
Reread, although the last time I read this YA novel I was actually in the intended age group. To my happy surprise, it is just as good as I remember....moreReread, although the last time I read this YA novel I was actually in the intended age group. To my happy surprise, it is just as good as I remember. Based on an Iraqi legend, the novel follows Buran, one (the Elizabeth Bennet one, to be precise) of seven daughters of a poor father. To help her family get some badly needed money (and to avoid having to marry anyone unpleasant), Buran dresses up as a boy and sets off to make her fortune. Enter: one prince, and oh man, it's just so much fun. There's a truly fantastic scene where a disguised Buran and Prince Mahmud go for a walk at dusk, and then—as boys do—decide to play a little chase-y chase-y. When Mahmud catches Buran, he pins her against a wall and they have a total moment—at which point Mahmud of course has a minor gay freak out. I loved that scene when I was younger; I should not have been at all surprised when I grew up to be a slasher.
I only have two complaints, really, which are that Mahmud makes the leap from "I like my male best friend!" to "OMG, he must be a chick!" a bit too fast and too easily, and that their final reunion scene doesn't quite have the impact I would like. But those are both minor. I need to somehow acquire my own copy of this. And hey, besides this and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, does anybody know of any other good crossdressing/genderfuck-y YA novels?(less)
Really fabulous novel about growing up in Birmingham, England, in the ’70s. Coe tackles all the usual adolescent woes, but also politics and history a...moreReally fabulous novel about growing up in Birmingham, England, in the ’70s. Coe tackles all the usual adolescent woes, but also politics and history and music and culture and… If this were a fantasy novel, I’d call it amazing world-building. Instead, Coe makes the real world—one I’ve never experienced, true, but a world that did exist—come alive so vividly.
I acquired this book last year, I believe on the recommendation of one of Nick Hornby’s Believer columns, and it sat on my shelf until I remembered it was set in England in the ’70s, hello Life on Mars connection. And it does capture sense of place much as that show does: color and texture and the taste of the food and the clothes people wore and the music—lots and lots about the music… And of course, this is all the more impressive as Coe does all of this without the aid of sets and costumes and actors. This is some amazingly lively prose, here. He switches POV a lot, which was at first confusing, as there are a lot of characters and it’s initially tough to keep track of who is related to whom, and who is crushing on whom, and who is a total scumbag. But once you get a little farther in, it’s incredibly easy to get gloriously lost amongst the excerpts from the school newspaper and the letters and diary entries—there’s even a bit of a Molly Bloom’s soliloquy pastiche at the end, and it all, amazingly, works. The ending’s a bit abrupt—a surprise set-up for a sequel—but it’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel that felt so alive, so full of real people, and real human tragedy and humor and life. What a wonderful surprise.(less)
Romance. Another attempt by me to read romance. Another failed attempt. I wanted to like this, I really did: it's one of Eliza’s favorites, and the pr...moreRomance. Another attempt by me to read romance. Another failed attempt. I wanted to like this, I really did: it's one of Eliza’s favorites, and the premise sounded really fun: Christian St. Clair is a foppish, shallow, fashion-obsessed society darling (read: gaygaygay!); little do his upper-class admirers know, he’s also the Peacock, a Robin Hood-like defender of the poor (read: and a manly man! In the height of his manliness!). Also there’s some girl and they fall in love and stuff. That sounds like a good read, right?
Well, it wasn’t—at least not for me. I never liked Christian—I found him to be one of the least-convincing Robin Hood-types ever, possibly because the majority of the book takes place in high society; Michaels apparently just trusts us to assume that the Peacock’s daring-do is daring-done while we’re not looking. I also never felt like I got a handle on his love interest, Gabrielle (who Michaels randomly starts referring to as Gaby in the narration for one chapter before going back to using Gabrielle again; see my review of Bimbos of the Death Sun for more about how that DRIVES ME CRAZY). Much of the plot depends on Christian thinking Gabrielle is dumb, and then there are multiple reveals of “No, really she’s clever! She’s known all along!” despite the fact that the only examples we see of her reasoning are much closer to the “dumb” end of the scale. The whole thing—plot, characterization, the witty repartee that’s really not that witty—just seems so faux.
And then there’s one of the stupidest third-act plot moves I’ve ever seen. Also a lame and far too-easy resolution. Though I suppose, in the book’s favor, the sex scenes weren’t as awful as in Romancing Mister Bridgerton?
I was relieved to be done with this. That’s really not the reaction you want to have.(less)
Sex and sand and kidnappings in 19th-century Egypt. Daphne is a brilliant language scholar who, as a woman, has to hide her brains and let her brother...moreSex and sand and kidnappings in 19th-century Egypt. Daphne is a brilliant language scholar who, as a woman, has to hide her brains and let her brother take credit for her genius. Rupert is an English gentleman, but also a bit of a bruiser, who pretends to be stupider than he is. Daphne’s brother is kidnapped, Rupert is coerced into helping her (and she into accepting his help), and along the way fall in love and tear each other’s pants off.
My pants, however, they just bored me out of. I found Chase’s interpretation of sexual tension to be incredibly dull: mostly Daphne just thinks about how Rupert makes her feel…strange…inside, and Rupert thinks about how he’d like to get Daphne naked. That’s exactly how it’s phrased every single time: “get her naked.” Rupert is boring and repetitive down to his very thought processes!
The villains, meanwhile, are likewise dull and thinly drawn, while the Egyptian “family” Daphne and Rupert accumulate—widow! baby! cute servant boy! mongoose!—seem very fakey fake, very faux adorable. The plots felt obligatory and meandering—mandatory scenes strung together with no real care about order. Like a checklist: you gotta have a trapped in a tomb scene, and a fall in the Nile scene, and a sandstorm scene… Yawn. It’s so clichéd!
But you know, I would have minded if the characters felt real to me, if I was at all invested in them. But they were so clumsily built on all tell and no show that they were nothing to me. They could have blown away with the sand and I wouldn’t have cared.
Similarly, this book is already winging its way to someone in Romania via BookMooch.(less)
Three novels, all of which are apparently steampunk-y, though not in the way I think of steampunk (I could be thinking of it wrong). In the first Quee...moreThree novels, all of which are apparently steampunk-y, though not in the way I think of steampunk (I could be thinking of it wrong). In the first Queen Victoria runs away and is temporarily replaced by a genetically engineered salamander-girl; in the second, a racist biologist is recruited to help a Dutch scientist and his African wife recover a much sought-after artifact; in the third, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman meet and do sex, kind of. Okay!
Each story was certainly interesting, but I didn't really like any of the characters (aside from Dickinson, they are all pretty much unlikeable) and everything that happened was more strange then meaningful. "Okay!", though flip, is really the most accurate record of my reaction that I could give. There's nothing to take seriously here.(less)
A rec from Wychwood, and a goodie. What seems like an ordinary English country house mystery has dark political motivations and implications, as Walto...moreA rec from Wychwood, and a goodie. What seems like an ordinary English country house mystery has dark political motivations and implications, as Walton gradually reveals more and more about this alternate 1949, one in a world where Britain made peace with Hitler in early 1941. Brr.
Walton does a great job of showing how ordinary, and in some cases, perfectly decent people can be affected by prejudice and by the removal of certain freedoms. Lucy, who carries half the POV, is a wonderfully-constructed character, and I really enjoyed watching her develop. The other characters, though none were so clearly-drawn, are also captivating. However, Walton does make one character choice that puzzles me: almost everyone in this book is gay, or at least bisexual, to the point where it began to seem a little ridiculous and bad-fanficcy. Because unlike in real life, in a novel that kind of thing is a choice—on the part of the author, and I'm really not sure what Walton was trying to say with it. Except maybe that when they think nobody's looking, even the crustiest Tories are all indiscriminately schtupping each other, the bloody hypocrites. Okay, but I already got that they were hypocrites, and also racists and very bad people. They don't need to be hypocritical, racist, very bad gay people, do they? Though on second thought, that does sound increasingly like the Republican party in this country. Never mind.
That little tangent aside: this was captivating and scary and much braver and true to itself than, say, Philip Roth's The Plot Against America; Roth kind of wusses out at the end of that one and makes everything okay again. Not so, here. Though there is a sequel coming—in just over a week, in fact. *wants*(less)
The fourth in the Temeraire series, and the one I've enjoyed the most since the introductory book. Which is to say, a lot. This one felt more tightly...moreThe fourth in the Temeraire series, and the one I've enjoyed the most since the introductory book. Which is to say, a lot. This one felt more tightly structured than the last, with the disease plot as a brilliantly chosen and terrifying centerpiece. I've never had a dragon, obviously, but the idea of losing one made me ache almost as much as the thought of losing one's daemon in His Dark Materials. The African setting really came alive; I love how we're getting to see how different cultures around the world have responded and adapted to dragons. And the ending...damn. Like a slap, that was—and a higher compliment than that I have difficulty conceiving. ;-)
If you're not reading this series, you really should be; I can't wait for the next book. And if you haven't been reading it, just think how lucky you are: you now have four wonderful novels to tide you over until the next one comes out. I'm envious!
I also have to add that I really enjoy the fact that, due to the wonders of the alphabet and the particular books I happen to have in my collection, Naomi Novik ends up shelved right next to Patrick O'Brian. It was meant to be! Though I better be careful not to buy any, say, Joyce Carol Oates. Don't you try anything, Joyce!(less)