So, another series is over and, I'm afraid to say, for me the ending was just meh. Unfortunately, this appears to be the fate of so many series these...moreSo, another series is over and, I'm afraid to say, for me the ending was just meh. Unfortunately, this appears to be the fate of so many series these days. The Soookie Stackhouse, Georgina Kincaid and Dante Valentine books all immediately spring to mind. Like the first two of these three, the main problem with the Parasol Protectorate series, I think, is that there just was not enough plot for the five books and the series went on for longer than the author is convincingly able to sustain the storyline.
This last instalment takes place two years after the ending of the previous book with Lord and Lady Maccon still residing in Lord Akeldama's closet. The latter is the legal guardian to Prudence, the infant inconvenience who is now a toddler causing a lot of havoc and keeping Lord Akeldama, all his drones and the majority of the Woolsey werewolf clan on their toes. That is, until Alexia receives a summons from Matakara, Queen of the Alexandria hive and the oldest living vampire and the Maccons, along with the Tunstells and their troupe whom they take along as cover, set out for Egypt where, inevitably, they encounter adversity, mystery and adventure, leading to the series being very neatly wrapped up and tied up with a bow (a very oversize one with pink and turquoise stripes, to fit in with the general atmosphere).
Where with the previous book I was a teensy bit bored, with this one, I was a lot bored. In fact all of the first half of this book was just filler, with the author re-visiting some of the more memorable places and characters from the previous books - the hat shop now run by Biffy, the Woolsey Hive (with notable appearances from Countess Nadasdy and Mabel Dair), the fleeting return of Felicity Loontwill in a flurry of spite, the sudden reappearance of Lady Kingair (in the nude in certain placess, no less!) and a single appearance of Guatve Trouve (to deliver a replacement parasol) to name but a few.
The charm and humour of the earlier books has fizzled to a point where a lot of it read like bad panto tipping over into complete absurdity at several points (yes, I am talking about the hideous trouser ripping episode involving Tunstell and the overabundance of silly names). Most of the book could have been illustrated with images like these:
Not a great visual backdrop.
After the leasurly self-indulgent intro, the actual story and the wrap up were far too rushed and felt desperate and emotionally manipulative. (view spoiler)[Two major caracters die or are on the point of dying only to be miraculously rescued a few pages later, for crying out loud. (hide spoiler)] But the most disappointing thing of all, is that the main mysteries of the books - the Order of the Brass Octopus, the nature of the soulless/soulstealers (what/why/how are they?) etc - remain unanswered pretty much completely, unless you count the fact that Alexia's abilities are discovered to be cancelled out when she is submerged in water (I am not even going to mark it as a spoiler because, really, after five books, that is what we find out?!?).
Having said that, there were a few things that I liked which saved this from being a one star disaster. While I still feel that too many pages were dedicated to it, I did like the relationship between Biffy and Lyall. It was nice to have a homosexual relationship which was genuinely sweet and not reduced to riduculousness. I admire the fact that Alexia stays human and the elegant solution introduced by Carriger to deal with Connall's immortality and that Alexia never descends to the depth of Bella's vanity to obsess about her aging. But the thing I like most of all is the fact that, unlike in the vast majority of urban fantasy and PNR, Alexia remains very much her own person, with her own separate interests, friends and responsibilities and does not immediately turn into a woman-sized appendage of her virile sexy werewolf of a husband, entirely subsumed into his world, beliefs and persona. I can respect that. And I still love certain characters enough (Madame Lefoux and Lord Akeldama please make your way onto the stage) to be content to simply watch them. I almost feel nostalgic already. Almost.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
After I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement....moreAfter I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement. It is disturbing in a very obvious big way because of the subject matter but also in a very subtle and understated way because there is very little actual violence or gore on the pages.
A repressed, lonely, unstable young man, Frederick Clegg wins the lottery. Clegg has been fascinated and secretly "in love" with Miranda, a beautiful art student for quite some time. So when his aunt and cousin (who are his entire family) very conveniently depart for Australia to never return, he gradually starts putting a plan together to kidnap Miranda and keep her captive. It's a bit of a contrived set up but an easy one to swallow in the context of the book.
Clegg is a butterfly collector and classic sociopath, completely unconcerned for and unable to empathise with the feelings of others, even the object of his devotion, and with a very strong tendency to rationalise and blame others for his behaviour. Miranda is simply an object to be put on a pedestal.
"I am one in a row of specimens. It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I’m meant to be dead, pinned, always the same, always beautiful."
Miranda's feelings and desires are as irrelevant to Clegg as those of a postage stamp to a philatelist. We are told of the preparations he makes to kidnap Miranda in a cold emotionless voice and as though most of them happened by accident without any real intent on his part.
"The van was the one really big luxury I gave myself. It had a special fitting in the back compartment, a camp bed you could let down and sleep in; I bought it to carry all my equipment for when I moved round the country, and also I thought if I got a van I wouldn’t always have to be taking Aunt Annie and Mabel around when they came back. I didn’t buy it for the reason I did use it for. The whole idea was sudden, like a stroke of genius almost."
"In one of the Sunday papers I saw an advert in capitals in a page of houses for sale. I wasn’t looking for them, this just seemed to catch my eye as I was turning the page."
"All this time I never thought it was serious. I know that must sound very strange, but it was so. I used to say, of course, I’ll never do it, this is only pretending."
Yes, I was tidying in the nude, tripped over a hoover and my penis just got stuck in the nozzle, honest.
Yet all the time the reader can see Clegg going through very thorough and meticulous preparations for what he is about to do, buying a van, a house, outfitting and securing the cellar, cutting himself off from all outside contact, trying to foresee every eventually and all of this in a remarkably detached and unfeeling way, except for some flickers of pride, a sense of achievement and satisfaction at his own work and cleverness.
Many readers appear to have felt a lot of sympathy for Clegg, yet I have to confess I never did. He does not appear able to see that what he is doing is morally objectionable and there are clearly some abandonment issues from his childhood (his father died when he was two and his mother left him to be brought up by a strict and emotionally vacuous aunt) but there is nothing particularly horrific lurking in his past, no particular trauma that might explain how he became what he is. Here's what happened but I never meant it to turn out the way it did, it's not my fault, there is nothing wrong with me is the leitmotif of Clegg's narration.
"I thought, I can't get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she's with me, she'll see my good points, she'll understand. There was always the idea she would understand. I only wanted to do the best for her, make her happy and love me a bit."
Yet this is interspersed with such obvious meaningless little lies and self-delusions that he almost reads as pathetic. Despicable as well as horrifying.
The middle portion of the book is narrated from Miranda's point of view in a form of a diary she secretly keeps. While this does cover the same time period as Clegg's narration so we effectively get two versions of the same event, I thought it was quite powerful and necessary in terms of showing Miranda as a person, with her own feelings, hopes desires and flaws.
This was a very unsettling and uncomfortable read but one that I think will stay with me for a long time. It painted a vivid and complex picture of the power dynamic between captive and captor and, though it feeds on that basic fear of evil things lurking in the dark and being powerless, unable to escape that evil, it never felt emotionally manipulative. (less)
I needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying...moreI needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying booker shortlisted novels several years ago, back when I was still keen to impress myself and fellow commuters with my reading choices.
The books starts with a funeral of Molly Lane, a member of that happy breed of fabulous women who has a horde of ex and current lovers with all of whom she remains friends. We never learn much else about her but she is not important, since she is merely a plot device and the people who matter are the three ex-lovers who attend her funeral. Every single one of them is a self-absorbed, self-aggrandising selfish snob and they set on their course towards a resolution which is both hilarious and tragic.
I was surprised, because I enjoyed this quite a lot more than I thought I would. I settled on three stars but it's somewhere in between three and four. I didn't expect it to be funny yet it was. Not in an obvious laugh out loud kind of way but the more I think about it the funnier it is. It's a great example of an enjoyable read about despicable people and it's under 200 pages long. (less)
I am generally a very sceptical person. I am an atheist, I don't believe in the supernatural and most conspiracy theories make me laugh. Unless I have...moreI am generally a very sceptical person. I am an atheist, I don't believe in the supernatural and most conspiracy theories make me laugh. Unless I have seen it or there is (or I think there is) hard scientific fact (or respectable theory) confirming whatever it is, I am not going to believe in it. So, despite the many glowing reviews of this book on this site from people whose opinions on literature I have come to respect, I still didn't really believe that a collection of short stories about kissing written for young adults could be awesome or something I would enjoy.
How wrong I was. This book is Awesome with a capital "A". It is beautiful, clever, poetic, magical and sweet without being twee with that delicious undercurrent of darkness which marks out the best fairy tales. The writing is fantastic, lyrical without being flowery and spicy in a way that makes you want to taste the words and shape them with your mouth and roll them around on your tongue. Almost every page provided a sentence or a passage that would make me stop in my tracks and just read and re-read it and wonder.
I am not overly-familiar with the mythologies which inspired these stories. I have never read Christina Rosetti's "Goblin Market" to which the first story alludes. The second story seemed like a retelling of the Orpheus descending into the underworld to retrieve Eurydice myth (which I vaguely remember) but with a Buddhist (or is it Hinduist?) twist (colour me clueless in respect of the latter) and the last story is, apparently, based on Zoroastrianism which I have just looked up on Wikipedia (it is also known as Mazdaism, which made me heh but only coz I iz very immature) and it apparently used to be one of the largest world religions but I have never heard of it up till now. I have heard of Zarathustra but only by proxy of hearing about Also Sprach Zarathustra a book by Nietzsche (not read) and a piece of music by Strauss (heard the bit that was in 2001: A Space Odyssey which is possibly one of the dullest movies ever but I am going off on a tangent here). Anywho, the fact that I was unfamiliar with this stuff did not detract from my enjoyment in the slightest (I generally don't tend to let my ignorance get in the way of things).
These stories managed to bring a bit of magic into my prosaic middle-aged life, where a kiss is mostly just an everyday meaningless meeting of lips and reminded me of a time when a kiss (or the idea of it) was a world changing, life altering, devastating thing. The last story was probably my favouriute, just because it was longer and more layered and complex than the others but they are all fantastic. So, thank you to all the goodreads reviewers who have lead me to this book which otherwise I would not have picked up in a million years (I'm with those who think the cover is hideous) and I hope that all of you other sceptical readers out there will give it a chance.(less)
Did not enjoy this one at all (in case this is not clear from my one star rating). The Eyre Affair was one of those books that sounded brilliant in su...moreDid not enjoy this one at all (in case this is not clear from my one star rating). The Eyre Affair was one of those books that sounded brilliant in summary but, sadly, turned out less than stellar in reality.
The book is set in the 1980s in an alternative universe where England appears to be a state overrun by various divisions of special services agents (SpecOps), police and a shady above the law weapons producing Goliath corporation, the Crimean war between England and Imperial Russia has raged on for over 130 years (where France and the Ottoman Empire fell out of the picture, as well as how this fits in with the two world wars, which I got the impression, still happened, is not entirely clear) and Wales is a sovereign socialist republic (fashioned after USSR, although clearly lacking quite the same scale and brute force factor).
The protagonist, Thursday Next (yes, really), is a thirty something female SpecOps LiteraTech agent and a Crimean War veteran is pulled into an investigation of the evil wrongdoing of a criminal mastermind by the name of Acheron Hades, because the said villain used to be her professor and she is able to identify him by sight. Hades is wanted internationally for murder, theft, extortion, kidnap and the like and is the most diabolically villanous indestructible evil villain you could ever hope to imagine. Did I mention he is evil? OK. Along the way Thursday meets a Goliath Corporation operative named Jack Schitt, is reunited with her former fiance Landen Parke-Laine, learns that her mad scientist uncle Mycroft (these names just keep on coming and, after a while, they stop being amusing) has built a potentially world-changing device which the Goliath corporation is bent on acquiring at any cost and ends up in the Jane Eyre manuscript with drastic consequences.
I don't think I liked anything about this book. It tried to be very very clever and failed miserably. The whole eclectic mix of alternative version of history, blurring of boundaries between fictional and physical realities, time travel and time rifts, literary allusions, vampires and so on just didn't work for me. The writing was cliched, uninspired and very rough around the edges. Fford is the kind of writer who has his heroine pick up a mirror and describe what she sees in order for us to learn that she is plain, middle aged and dark haired. The characterisation was extremely poor with most (I mean all, really) of the characters being just two-dimentional cartoons with amusing names. I note that the book has been labelled as a "mystery", however, one knows exactly how the book is going to end as soon as the "mystery" is concocted. And the ending was just an awful box ticking exercise resulting in some sort of nightmarish phantasmagoria of answers popping out jack-in-a-box style all over the place without so much a s a by-your-leave. Yet somehow it inspired the kind of apathy where I couldn't even be bothered to get angry at it. I spent almost two weeks dragging myself through this book and my give-a-fuck-o-meter was at about minus 20 the entire time.
If I could put one sentence on the front of the book it would be "abandon all logic ye who enter". In some respects it reminded me of The Hitchhikers' Guide, just much less clever and much less witty.(less)
OK, so much as I love the characters, I have to admit I was a teensy bit bored throughout most of this book.
Alexia is very heavily pregnant in this la...moreOK, so much as I love the characters, I have to admit I was a teensy bit bored throughout most of this book.
Alexia is very heavily pregnant in this latest instalment but she does not let the infant inconvenience get in the way of her usual antics, investigating a warning by a nearly demented ghost that an attemt on the Queen's life is being planned. Alexia and Connall are completely reconciled with barely a mention of his inexcusable (in my view) behaviour in the previous book, the vampires are continuing with their attempts to assassinate the unborn child (the nature of which still remains largely mysterious) and, by proxy, Alexia until an ingenious (although, personally, I thought it was rather crappy) solution to appease them is proposed which leads Lord and Lady Maccon to move into Lord Akeldama's closet and Madame Lefoux appears unusually distressed and preoccupied.
I thought the pacing of this book, overall, was very slow. The plot line took forever to get anywhere and the things that were revealed about Alexia's father seemed somewhat irrelevant and inconsequential. By this point in the series, I was kind of hoping we would learn more about Alexia's soulless state, the reason why Floot keeps so conspicuously schtum about Mr. Tarabotti and the nature of the child. However, no such luck.
I was also somewhat taken aback by some of Alexia's decisions and actions. Her rushing to the aid of Countess Nadasdy who has tried to get Alexia killed on countless occasions felt especially unrealistic.
The cover deserves a particular mention as well, in that I cannot believe how excruciatingly awful it is. The lady on the cover looks half bold and dressed for a Christmas panto performance. It really was not helpful to have that ridiculous image imprinted on one's mind when reading the book. (less)
I'm not, I'm afraid, a huge fan of steampunk. It's not that I mind it, so much. I find some of the ideas quite intiguing. I like steampunk drawings an...more
I'm not, I'm afraid, a huge fan of steampunk. It's not that I mind it, so much. I find some of the ideas quite intiguing. I like steampunk drawings and artwork, I used to enjoy Jules Verne as an adolescent and Brazil is one of my favourite films of all time. It just doesn't rock my world, I suppose. Or, to put it another way, it's not of itself enough to have some dirigibles and goggles to make a book for me.
I am also beginning to get slightly fed up with vampires and werewolves. Pure oversaturation. So it is, perhaps, no surprise that this one took me forever to finish. To be fair, I have been manically busy, had family visiting and have been away some of the time but still, it has taken me over three weeks to finish this book, an it is not particularly long.
I loved how the book is written and the characters are still all larger than life with some new exciting members added to the cast but there was absolutely no spark between Alexia and Connal and the story line lacked momentum to really draw me in. I couldn't care less about the mystery and what the cause of the "plague" was, to be honest. Until the very few last pages the only thing keeping my attention was watching the characters and listening to the way they talk. And then... this is the astonishing part... there was a slight twist, a few words and, just like that, I was hooked and couldn't wait to get through the next book in the series. (less)
Once upon a time there lived a werewolf. And his name was Jacob. Uhhummm.
I suppose the idea was to take the paranormal genre conventions and to put th...moreOnce upon a time there lived a werewolf. And his name was Jacob. Uhhummm.
I suppose the idea was to take the paranormal genre conventions and to put them on their head… or rather back on their feet where they belong.
Jacob (Jake) Marlowe of Glen Duncan's imagination is very very far from a walking talking impersonation of every female fantasy which has inhabited almost every urban fantasy book in recent years. This werewolf is a foul mouthed, smoking, hard-liquor drinking, emotionless sex engaging, layered character. Jake has lived for over two hundred years and though he does not look it, he feels it. He has had enough of life and living (even though living is all there is), he is desperately lonely and is ready to just… end:
"For ten, twenty, thirty years now I've been dragging myself through the motions. How long do werewolves live? Madeline asked recently. According to WOCOP around four hundred years. I don't know how. Naturally one sets oneself challenges – Sanskrit, Kant, advanced calculus, t'ai chi – but that only addresses the problem of Time. The bigger problem, of Being, just keeps getting bigger. (Vampires, not surprisingly, have an on-off love affair with catatonia.) One by one I've exhausted the modes: hedonism, ascetism, spontaneity, reflection, everything from miserable Socrates to the happy pig. My mechanism's worn out. I don't have what it takes. I still have feelings but I am sick of having them. Which is another feeling I am sick of having. I just… I just don't want any more life."
Duncan has given a much needed injection of masculinity to his werewolf but has avoided making him into a grotesque emotionless Rambo-style* action hero (*I have not seen a single Rambo move, so I have no idea whether Rambo is in fact emotionless, but you get the gist). It was also nice that the lycanthropy wasn't used simply to give the hero an air of mystery and an excuse for constant brooding. Being a werewolf in this world means being a monster. There is nothing romantic or mysterious about. You don't get any super strength or transformation at will or become unnaturally hot. Being a werewolf means being transformed once a month and killing and eating people. (view spoiler)[Sometimes people you love. (hide spoiler)] It is brutal, it is ugly, it is horrific and for the rest of the time you have to live with yourself:
"The first horror is there's horror. The second is you accommodate it."
Werewolves are hunted and exterminated by the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP) until, at the start of the book, the hero finds out that he is the only one left and is, therefore, next on the list. Which he does not mind much, until, that is, fate intervenes and certain events unfold and then, suddenly, everything is changed.
The plot was by and large uncomplicated and moved things along nicely without getting in the way. It was a good balance of action and reflection, overall. And reflection is what I mostly loved about this book. Glen Duncan has a way with words. His style seemed fresh and different to me and he is clever and witty and peppers his narrative with literary allusions ("Reader, I ate him." and "Talulla, light of my light, fire of my loins… Ta-loo-la: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate… Ta. Lu. La." particularly cracked me up) and cultural observations (e.g. "Humanity's getting its metamorphic kicks elsewhere these days. When you can watch the alchemy that turns morons into millionaires and gimps into global icons, where's the thrill in men who turn into wolves?" and "Two nights ago I'd eaten a forty-three-year-old hedge fund specialist. I've been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants.") and his sentences were a joy to read (e.g. "The snow was coming down with the implacability of an Old Testament plague."). Duncan is also (as one of the other reviewers referred to him) "wonderfully obscene" and, frankly, any book that features a woman who has a c*nt which has a mind like Lucifer deserves to be read.
My main beef with this book is the same one the reviewer I linked to mentions. There is a twist two thirds of the way in and then too much plot and melodrama gets in the way and the hero's personality does a sharp veer off into… but this is major spoiler territory. If you really, really must know (view spoiler)[ Instalove happens. And I really really hate the instalove bollocks, no matter who does it or how well it is done. I even hated it in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Laini Taylor is a goddess. Plus Talulla essentially has the same narrative voice as Jake, which was annoying. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, v...moreThis book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, villains, thieves, madhouses, violence, lesbians, murder, love, betrayal and the kind of twists that will make your head spin.
It is a story of two girls, Sue and Maud, whose destinies are indelibly linked, though layer upon layer upon layer of deceit will need to be stripped away before it is revealed exactly what that link is.
Sue has been brought up among thieves, though she has been largely sheltered from the harsh realities of life in the poor part of Victorian London by the kind care of Mrs Sucksby, who earns her living by "farming" infants. Sue's life changes when she is drawn into a plot by Gentleman, Richard Rivers, to help him convice Maud Lilly, a rich but simple-minded heiress living in a gloomy country manor with her "scholar" uncle, to run away with him to marry, whereupon Maud would be stripped of her inheritance and deposited in a madhouse for safekeeping.
So the story begins but before too long you find out that practically nothing that you see in the first part is what it seems and there are lots of layers to peel away before we get to the root of it all.
The characters, including the secondary ones like John Vroom and Dainty, the servants at Briar, the nurses and other inhabitants of the madhouse and so on are vividly drawn and fascinating. Really, I do not have enough words to praise this book highly enough, suffice to say that all the glowing reviews (on this site and elsewhere) and accolades that this book has received are richly deserved and if you have not yet read this, you are in for a treat. (less)
I was a bit apprehensive starting this, having seen lots of negative reviews on GR. Now that I have read the book, I can certainly see why lots of peo...moreI was a bit apprehensive starting this, having seen lots of negative reviews on GR. Now that I have read the book, I can certainly see why lots of people would dislike it. However, this book's particular brand of quirky silly charm and no nonsense taking heroine worked for me.
Alexia Tarabotti is a parasol wielding fashion consious 26 year old spinster of unfortunate half Italian parentage and a rather large personality living in Victorian London. She is also a preternatural, i.e. does not have a soul.
So, the premise is a bit ridiculous and one of those things that you just need to swallow without thinking too much about it and, I'm sorry to say, Ms. Carriger dose not have a particular talent for the romantic parts, the story was also extremely predictable and a bit too farcical in places.
Despite all these flaws, and once I decided not to look at this as a romance, I did find that I was enjoying myself quite tremendously and constantly breaking into smile. The main charm of the book for me is that it is just full of Characters. The vast majority of them with a decidedly capital "C". Miss Tarabotti herself, the flamboyantly camp vampire Lord Akeldama, the vampire queen Countess Nadasdy who looks like a shepherdess, the BFF with a taste for hideous hats, the Beta werewolf Lord Lyall with a penchant for meddling and even the self-absorbed shallow mother were all quite delicious and made for a great read.
On the romance, I was at first disappointed that things were progressing quite so swiftly. I like the suspense to remain for a while and things to stay unresolved between the protagonists (I'm afraid I'm one of those people for whom the romance between Sookie and Eric started to fizzle after she boinked him while he couldn't remember himself and died an untimely death round about the part where they get married). In this instance, however, because the steam was quite underwhelming and the romantic suspense not that suspenseful to begin with, I'm thinking it will almost be better to have them married so that they can skip over those parts and plunge straight into the sardonically indulgent marriage part.