Where I got the book: my local library. A book club read. WARNING: A BIT SPOILERISH.
This novel kept me on my toes, and therefore interested. It starte...moreWhere I got the book: my local library. A book club read. WARNING: A BIT SPOILERISH.
This novel kept me on my toes, and therefore interested. It started out with a fairly familiar trope, where the main character is recovering from an accident and can’t remember her life before, but as time goes on she realizes that people are keeping something from her. And then she begins to find letters hidden around her house, and realizes she had a lover—now who WAS that guy anyway?
So we began with a little mystery, and I kind of assumed that the story would center around Jennifer’s attempts to find out about her past. And then things got a little more interesting as we learned Jennifer’s husband was making his fortune by mining that new wonder material, asbestos.
Oh-oh. Nothing like a little historical hindsight to make the informed reader prick up her ears (although, I wonder, what of the generation that never had to worry about asbestos removal?) So OK, this novel was going to have a certain historical dimension, and being set in the early 60s it had that whole Mad Men double standard going—wives were expected to be decorative, good at housekeeping, eager to produce children and, above all, faithful, while men—well, if a man was playing the field, it was his wife’s fault for not keeping him interested. And everyone got to consume as much booze, smoke as many ciggies and pop as many pills as they liked, because there was nothing wrong with needing a little something to keep you going.
But then, before I was expected it to happen, we got into Jennifer’s Great Love Story, which was beautiful and tragic and poignant and all that. Only I began to feel like the author was making excuses for Jennifer—yes, her husband was a bore and a boor, but he hadn’t technically done anything wrong and her Great Love began to seem like the indulgence of a spoiled brat rather than a realistic relationship.
And then all of a sudden we jumped into the new millenium and INTO PRESENT TENSE and I was annoyed, because I was happy in Mad Men Land and wanted to hear more about the asbestos. You don’t get to mention asbestos without the reader expecting something nasty to happen. But there’s no asbestos in 2003, and who was this Ellie woman, mooning after the Man Who Very Obviously Will Not Leave His Wife instead of getting on and doing her job? I began to worry if this was going to be a novel about women whose entire object in life was to have affairs.
And then the story made a couple of abrupt right turns and came up with one major twist I really hadn’t anticipated, and a couple of minor ones, and by that point I was ready to give it five stars. I would knock off half a point for some poor grammar and expressions that didn’t belong to the Sixties if half points were allowed, but overall my final impression of this novel was of an entirely enjoyable read from the lighter end of the literary fiction pool. This is the kind of novel that goes down pretty quickly, so it’s not a bad choice to take to the beach or on a plane ride.
Although, now the glow of the last seventy or so pages has faded, I wish Moyes had made more of the asbestos thing, but that would have been a different type of novel. And I wish I’d been able to fall in love with the characters a bit more, but seriously it now seems to take about 2,000 pages for me to fall hard for a character, so YMMV if you’re less of a cynical old bat than I am. Anyway, five stars for being enjoyable and making me want to read it instead of doing something productive.(less)
Where I got the book: my local library. A book club read.
Hoo boy, they made me read a YA supernatural fantasy. Do you know how much that HURTS? First,...moreWhere I got the book: my local library. A book club read.
Hoo boy, they made me read a YA supernatural fantasy. Do you know how much that HURTS? First, I have issues with YA in general because of the wish fulfillment angle. I feel like this genre is the stepping stone between Disney and real life, with way too much Disney still lingering.
YA = you deserve to achieve your dream. Real life = nobody deserves anything. Hard work, a little luck, and avoiding a felony conviction will get you through a pretty decent life.
YA = Twoo Wuv comes like a lightning bolt from heaven. From heaven! Real life = Learn the difference between Twoo Wuv and real marriage, choose wisely, and then resolve to stay married through the inevitable tough times because divorce ain’t easy or cheap. Staying unmarried is a solid option.
YA = Appearance is SO important. Real life = for most of us, beyond about the age of 40 being healthy is more important than looking like Barbie. If you’re lucky, you’ll live far more of your life in those decades where looking like Barbie is less important than happiness and health.
YA = Belonging is SO important. Real life = Most of us learn to live with the feeling we don’t really belong exactly anywhere. It’s called being an individual.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone has a good plot and good writing, let’s say that up front. This is why there are three stars up there instead of two, and I can see it’s considered excellent in its genre by readers of that genre. It got at LEAST negative one star for annoying the heck out of me from beginning to end, but I acknowledge it brings in a whole bunch of tropes that work very well with readers still in the first flush of youthful idealism, to wit:
Powerful heroine: check Punk hair: check Tattoos: check Man in her life is an a-hole: check Exotic and trendy locations: check Deviant art: check Yearning: check Devoted friend she can't be truthful with: check Resentment of more powerful adult figures: check Longing for more responsibility: check Will save the world: almost certainly check Ambiguity as to which side she's on: check
Added to which the heroine is gorgeous, has naturally blue hair, is a martial arts expert, has an amazing figure, gag gag gag. When she became incredibly rich AND could fly, I nearly threw the book across the room but it’s a library book and we don’t do that with public property.
And then there was a good dose of Heroine Stupidity because when you’ve been brought up with Rule Number One being Do Not Go Through That Door, not going through that door would be a good move.
And then there was a gigantic backstory dump at about the three-quarter mark, during which I practically forgot what the main story was about.
And then the HUGE COME ON for the next book at the end. I understand this is standard for series of this kind, but it doesn’t fly in adult fiction. Do not, if you wish to avoid my wrath, end a book with “To Be Continued…”
And then there was the cover, which looks like someone photoshopped a mask picture over a moody-girl picture, said “yeah, good enough” and added the font. My impression of the cover wasn’t helped by my aversion to feathered masks.
OK, that’s going to have to be enough. Well written, decent plot, I hated it because it’s just not my book.(less)
A Storm of Swords, first of its name, being the third book in the series yclept A Song of Ice and Fire bu...moreWhere I got the book: audiobook from Audible.
A Storm of Swords, first of its name, being the third book in the series yclept A Song of Ice and Fire but henceforth known as Game of Thrones for that is a way cooler title, forsooth. . . . There will now be a fifty-year pause while the reviewer tries to think of a way of telling you about this book without including any spoilers. . . . Because, while the first two books had a lot that happened in them, they were more about world- and character-building and getting the war in Westeros under way while moving Dany . . . from place to place and from weakness to power. OK, that much hasn’t changed and Dany is still basically moving from place to place and from power to more power while at the same time fighting off the boyzz who love her or want to use her, which when you’re a nubile teenage Mother of Dragons is pretty much the same thing.
(view spoiler)[Damn. I don’t think I’m the only one who wants to see the scene where Dany gets out of bed nekked and Ser Jorah kisses her. Amiright? (hide spoiler)]
And meanwhile in Westeros, OH SH*T THAT DIDN’T JUST HAPPEN DID IT?
For those of you who are desperately combing through reviews to find out how the books relate to the TV series, A Storm of Swords is Seasons 3 and 4, with some smallish deviations but not all that many. I listened to much of this sometimes on the same DAY I watched the matching TV episode in season 3, which was surprisingly satisfying. Personally I don’t have any problem with spoilers—the story’s still there, whether you know what’s going to happen or not, and sometimes knowing where the journey ends just makes me all the more eager to find out HOW we get there. After all, do you mind re-reading or re-watching a favorite story just because you already know what’s going to happen? You don’t, right? In fact, knowing how things are going to turn out makes it possible for you to focus on all the small linking bits that lead up to the important events.
When it came to season 4, I don’t have HBO so I just read the TV recaps to make sure there wasn’t a major divergence, and now all I have to do is wait like a YEAR for it to be available for streaming because I can’t be bothered chasing illegal downloads, it’s bad enough when the kids cause nasty letters from Comcast to land in our mailbox. I can wait, and in fact the experience kind of makes me realize what Dany is going through.
The Red Waste of Time that could be spent watching season 4 . . . time to get real, HBO, and realize that delaying market access just eats into your profits like the desert wind eats away the red, red rocks.
So, the TV series aside and still trying to avoid spoilers, what happens in A Storm of Swords . . . is that a whole load of chickens come home to roost. This is when the storylines that GRRM has set up in the first two books begin hurtling to earth, usually throwing up a whole bunch of new storylines and characters along the way that’ll have to be dealt with later.
And there was some point about halfway through this book that the series became utterly compelling for me. I stopped bitching about Roy Dotrice’s narration and just let the whole thing sweep me along, this big loose, flabby cheesecake of a story studded with delicious characters, the Lannisters being the cherries on the top. I don’t know what it is about the Lannisters but I LOVE them. They’re my favorite dysfunctional family ever. I need to go back over this book and find this scene where Tywin is speaking and it’s just like the key to the whole Westeros universe. And then in the TV series where he just STARES at Joffrey . . . . And the absolute best punchline, that’s taken at least the length of two books to set up, occurs in this book. I was screaming YESSSSS in my car.
And my heart broke a little several times during the reading of this book. I’ve ended up caring about the characters and seven hells, GRRM plays with them like the cruellest, coldest bastard of a god you could possibly imagine. He doesn’t get it all right— (view spoiler)[ I agree with the TV producers about Lady Stoneheart, because leave the woman some dignity. (hide spoiler)] and could have done a whole lot more to tighten up his story but gods be good, I hope he lives to write the rest of it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Where I got the book: purchased at an author event. Signed. I know the author.
This is the second book in Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series. I’m ve...moreWhere I got the book: purchased at an author event. Signed. I know the author.
This is the second book in Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series. I’m very slowly working my way through it, having enjoyed the first book enough that I was willling to give the second a try. I have three or four historical mystery series I dip into from time to time when I need some relaxation reading—I expect plausibility rather than painstaking historical accuracy, perhaps a little bit of a continuing romance story, and enough fun and fluff to keep me turning the page. I also like such books not to insult my intelligence, and they get higher points if they pique my interest in one or more aspect of history.
And A Poisoned Season did well on all counts. It continues Lady Emily’s interest in all things Greek and her obsession with getting Greek artifacts out of private possession and into museums, although naturally she’s not progressive enough to insist they actually be returned to Greece. The Greek theme is worked into the plot via the messages (containing classical Greek quotations) that Emily receives from her stalker, but on the whole it’s downplayed as the main mystery plot involves artifacts belonging to Marie Antoinette and a Bourbon claimant who turns up in London. Yes, the Greek and the French do sit a little awkwardly together, which is the problem of giving your heroine a very specific interest early on in a series.
The background for the mystery is the London Season, the marriage market for the aristocracy. This was the matter on which Alexander piqued my historical interest, as she has some interesting points to make about the whole love vs. strategy dilemma of Victorian aristocratic matchmaking and also develops Emily’s relationship with her mother. The post-dénouement ending (not spoiling it for you) came a bit too abruptly for me, but I’m hoping this will be one of those series where spanners will be thrown into the emotional works with satisfying regularity.
My verdict is that I’m engaged in this series and will continue with it when the urge to relax with a historical mystery arises.(less)
What was fact and what was fiction? That was the question in my mind after I finished Mrs. Poe. It tells th...moreWhere I got the book: e-ARC from NetGalley.
What was fact and what was fiction? That was the question in my mind after I finished Mrs. Poe. It tells the tale of Frances (Fanny) Osgood, who is pretty much unknown today but was a hugely popular writer in the mid-1800s, writing poetry and children's books mostly, I think. I had to stop and look her up in Wikipedia about halfway through, because I needed to know more or less where the line between reality and fiction fell, which is the trouble with novelized lives. Anyway, Frances may or may not have had an affair with Edgar Allan Poe during the final years of his wife's short life. They certainly did publish an exchange of flirtatious poems in the review of which Poe was an editor, and lots of people saw fire where there was smoke, and her husband wasn't around much...
But who, seriously, can ever know the truth of such a matter? The biographical novelist inserts herself into the gap between knowledge and possibility, and the reader needs to understand this and take everything that's written with a fairly large pinch of salt. I enjoyed the possibilities: the childlike/childish wife, the female writer skimming along the edge of destitution who discovers that being linked in scandal with a famous author is the way to sudden success, the tortured Poe-t whose work is dark for a reason - all quite reasonable projections of what might have been.
I enjoyed Cullen's writing (except that she mentioned Poe's dark-lashed eyes 1,000,000 times), and loved the more realistic parts of the novel, particularly the gatherings of New York literati and the depiction of a city still emerging from the agricultural age, building itself around the characters as they interact. I did NOT like it nearly as much when strange things started happening to Frances--I felt as if the writer (or her editor), realizing that not a whole lot was actually happening in the novel 'cept a whole lot of yearning, decided to stick in some action. But I LIKED the yearning. I'm kind of a sucker for the slow build of passion under the tight-laced veneer of Victorian propriety, and would have been quite happy to have had just THAT story. That's the beauty of literary fiction--you don't have to have a whole lot of action for it to be good.
So a bit of a mixed bag, but I suspect this might be a novel worth a re-visit, and that's pretty rare these days. It also made me more interested in Poe - I hadn't realized he was considered a SEXY BEAST by the aforementioned tight-laced ladies, and find the idea intriguing.
Where I got the book: audiobook purchased on Audible.
So we continue on with Roy Dotrice’s idiosyncratic narration, and Westeros goes to hell in a hand...moreWhere I got the book: audiobook purchased on Audible.
So we continue on with Roy Dotrice’s idiosyncratic narration, and Westeros goes to hell in a handbasket. There’s a parallel here, I’m certain of it. To my mind, A Clash of Kings underscores (in blood) a major theme of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is this:
THERE IS NO CHIVALRY IN WAR.
I’m not enough of a GoT nerd (yes, really) to have read up on GRRM’s influences, but I imagine he read a few accounts of, say, the Hundred Years’ War and at the same time read the Arthurian legends, and saw the disconnect between the tales of lordly behavior and the brutal reality of medieval warfare and then came up with Sansa. I see Sansa as a central figure in the series, as she starts of dreaming of chivalry, gets taken right into the heart of what she sees as chivalrous society, and spends the next few years learning that it’s really all about a bunch of powerful factions vying for power, with the women and the ‘small folk’ forced to put up with whatever the powerful factions want to do to them.
Arya, on the other hand, gets to live the experience through the eyes of the ‘small folk’ as she pretends to be a boy traveling north to join the Night’s Watch. And she finds that as a common child without her name and her father to protect her, things are bad. In a war, the lot of a common child generally consists of starvation, beatings, threats of rape and psychological torture, and Arya’s death list gets pretty long in this volume. I doubt, somehow, that a real child in that particular world would have avoided being raped several times by now, but evidently even GRRM isn’t going that far. Arya remains resilient, but by now she’s learned how to kill and that, naturally, takes a toll on her psyche. In the last book Sansa and Arya start out with very different personalities, but they both have to learn to be tough in their own way—Sansa just takes longer.
One of the coolest moments in this book is changed in the TV series—Dany’s journey through the wonderland of the House of the Dead in Qarth. If I were the GoT nerd that I’m not, I’d be analyzing like crazy. One of the great things about these books is the sense of the past behind the story, a huge 8,000-year epic in which empires and whole races were destroyed, and that sense of dead-or-perhaps-not-quite-so-dead history is very strong during Dany’s wander through memory.
Some great fight scenes too, of course, notably the Battle of the Blackwater, although the Ser Davos viewpoint is decidedly not one of my favorites. Roy Doctrice reads him in a John Newton pirate voice that bugs the heck out of me.(less)
Like many people, I was attracted to Bellman & Black because it was written by the author of The Thirte...moreWhere I got the book: e-ARC from Edelweiss.
Like many people, I was attracted to Bellman & Black because it was written by the author of The Thirteenth Tale, which had stuck in my mind as an awesome story. Like many reviewers, I feel a bit let down by Setterfield’s latest excursion into the realms of the slightly creepy.
The story begins well—as a child, William Bellman kills a rook, and it is obvious from the rook-lore surrounding the story that this action is going to have its consequences. And then it takes forever to get anywhere near those consequences, as William grows up, leaves old relationships behind, marries and has children. During this part of the story I learned a great deal about dying cloth, which was pretty interesting, and loved Setterfield’s language as she painted vivid pictures of William’s life and the landscape in which he moved.
And then the story took a darker turn and William met Mr. Black and set up a department store for mourning goods. Again, fascinating details, world-building, and so on. And then the story really failed to go anywhere. I felt that a whole lot more could have been made of the link between the rook and the consequences, and of Mr. Black.
Setterfield is a great writer, there’s no doubt about that. I found myself easily comparing her prose style to such literary greats as Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence. But there’s more to a novel than just good writing. To make a book really sing you also need a rock-solid story that the reader can latch onto, that makes them nod their head and say “yes, that’s what should happen here”. To fail to do that produces a sense of disappointment, and that’s what I felt by about the last fifth of the book.
Still, if you’re into atmosphere and love Victoriana in general, you might enjoy this read. Two stars for the story but an extra star for the writing.(less)