One of my best friends gave me this book, a lovely battered copy with golden yellow pages that she'd had with her for years. That was a while ago andOne of my best friends gave me this book, a lovely battered copy with golden yellow pages that she'd had with her for years. That was a while ago and I wish I had come to this earlier.
I thought this was going to be one of those weepy fallen women stories the Victorians seem to love so much. However, while this book does seem like an inspiration for Hardy's Tess Durbyfield and Eustacia Vye, Eliot's characterization is much more nuanced and her plot less likely to make you want to drink yourself to death after you finish reading the book. Hetty is more sympathetic than you would expect - especially during her journey to find Arthur - although I found the constant descriptions of her as "round" and "soft" irritating - it made me feel like I was reading about a doughnut instead of a human being.
I was surprised to find that the digression in the middle of the story, where Eliot talks of genre painting and her approach to realism in writing , was less disruptive. Maybe it's because I love Dutch art for the same reasons but this is, in my opinion, how an author should insert an opinion piece into a work of fiction (I'm talking to you, Leo Tolstoy).
What I didn't like was Dinah giving up her own ambitions towards the end of the book, just like Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch. She was portrayed far too much as a saint, and not being very religious myself, I couldn't be particularly interested in her as a nice, godly girl, but I did like her better when she is torn between love for another man and her love of God - it made her easier to relate to. And I loved the scene where she and Adam meet at dusk....more
I thought I was going to adore this right when I read the first line - "It was as black in the closet as old blood." Flavia, in theory, is an amazingI thought I was going to adore this right when I read the first line - "It was as black in the closet as old blood." Flavia, in theory, is an amazing character but after a few chapters she begins to be far too insistently precocious. My biggest grouse though, was with the plot and the climax could have been tied up at least ten pages earlier if the author hadn't wanted to be dramatic. I did however like the little historical anecdotes, about postage of course, but also the clameur de haro. And bonus points for quoting Ernest Dowson. It's still a good book and I'd want to check out the rest of the series....more
This book was such a curate's egg. The writing was lovely, almost tactile. The very first scene in the book stood out right in front of me as I read iThis book was such a curate's egg. The writing was lovely, almost tactile. The very first scene in the book stood out right in front of me as I read it, I imagined it all candlelight and winter shadows. Most of the characters are well written and I like the touch of the unreliable narrator that Cathy has.
However, there is little of the promised gothic in this apart from that. Rob is strangely featureless and bland, despite his importance in the story. The second half of the book is where the story derails. Characters return, weakening the impact of their departure; others permeate the pages but remain indistinct even when brought back into focus. The ending in particular is weak and does not tie in with the course of the story in my opinion. I think I'd have rather read about Harry and Liza Callan.
I initially picked up this book because of my interest in the period of history in which it is set but there was very little to tie it to the world outside, even WWI passes through the insularity of the story and the characters with only a ghost of an impact. Still, that might be an intended feature of a story that seems to explore the different shades of isolation.
Should the author take to writing poetry, though, I think I should like to read it very much....more
I always thought that Indian mythology deserves to get more street cred than it does. The Immortals of Meluha attempts to do this, but it doesn't quitI always thought that Indian mythology deserves to get more street cred than it does. The Immortals of Meluha attempts to do this, but it doesn't quite succeed. The back of the book states that the author is a "boring banker turned happy author". I am glad that writing has brought Amish Tripathi happiness but you don't doubt the boring banker bit once you start reading.
This is not a bad book, but it is a pretty badly-written one. It drips with that terrible MBA-textbook English that makes fiction sound like a brochure for haemorrhoid medication. Some of the writing is so clunky and out of place that you wonder how it got past any editor. For example, there is a scene in the beginning of the book where Shiva's tribe, having survived a massacre by a rival tribe, makes the difficult decision to leave their home in Tibet for India. They are met by an "orientation officer" and directed to the "registration desk". In 1900 BC. I practically cried when I read that bit, I'm not even kidding.
The editors must have been charmed enough by the story and the characters to look past the painful writing, and I can understand why. For all the shortcomings in his writing, Tripathi is a good world-builder. His Meluha is imaginative and complex and you can see how much thought he has put into even the most insignificant details. I particularly liked the battles, which went beyond simple adrenaline and blood, concentrating on strategy as well.
What impressed me most, though, was the surprisingly layered attitude of the book. Tripathi avoids lapsing into a black and white view with paper heroes and straw villains. Meluha might be the gold standard for empires but it is also a rigidly stratified society with questionable philosophies. Swadeep might be a chaotic mess of a city (I laughed out loud at the obvious shout-out to Bombay) but one which values freedom and individual choice. Through Shiva, the book asks if the truth of our beliefs might not be more complex than we imagine it to be. This extends to the characters as well, most of whom are believably human with both flaws and strengths.
The swearing, pot-smoking Shiva of the story makes for very likeable protagonist; a frank and forthright reluctant messiah in the finest tradition of frank and forthright reluctant messiahs, although his fanboying over Ram seems out of character. Sati was a refreshing change from the decorative, bland, arm candy that Bollywood loves and she had one of the most epic fight scenes in the book. Shiva and Sati's relationship, though slightly mawkish at times is, on the whole, well sketched out and easy to root for.
And this is what frustrates me the most, that a well-conceived story like this should be hampered by such juvenile writing, especially when the author's earnestness is evident. I think this would have been better off as a screenplay for a big-budget Hollywood-style blockbuster (although hopefully, with better acting) where the clever ideas and engaging plot could be in focus....more
I'd been looking for this book for almost year since a friend recommended it. When I finally started reading it, it was on a chilly day after work, wiI'd been looking for this book for almost year since a friend recommended it. When I finally started reading it, it was on a chilly day after work, with three blankets and the beginnings of a prodigious flu attack. So I don't know if it was the fever but I knew I was going to like this book when I burst into tears a few pages in, on reading Fielding's gorgeous and heartbreaking description of old Newfoundland:
"After it rained, the schooners would unfurl their sails to let them dry, a stationary fleet under full sail, the whole harbour a mass of flapping canvas you could hear a mile away. How high those sails were. If they had not been translucent, they would have cast a shadow in the evening halfway across the city. Instead, in the evening, in the morning, the sun shone through the sails and cast an amber-coloured light across the harbour and the streets, a light I have not seen in twenty years."
I've noticed that whenever I read books that span years and decades, I like the beginning more than the end, as if I were nostalgic for the past myself. I did like the first few sections of this book more, although there wasn't anything in the end to particularly dislike. I liked the beginning simply because I liked the younger Smallwood more than the older one. The Smallwood of the early chapters is the perfect underdog that you can't help but root for, even admire. His determination, the way he navigates his believably volatile family life, the compassion he feels for the whalers - you can literally see him as he is being built.
Unfortunately, Smallwood loses some of his charm for me after the New York arc, mainly because of his bad decisions; whether it's his spinelessness with Squires and his poor judgements once he assumes the reigns or his decision to make a loveless marriage of convenience while continuing to be fascinated by another woman. But this is merely my personal attitude to Smallwood - I have the terrible habit of treating fictional characters as real people and feeling disappointed when they make bad decisions and proud when they make good ones. The story remains engaging and I understand why Smallwood would act thus and certainly his decisions do move the story forward. Besides, based as the story is in actual events, I understand the constraints on the author. It's just that the younger Smallwood was someone I would want to be friends with, the older one was not.
Interestingly, it was the opposite when it came to Fielding. I didn't like her at first, and I don't know if I can say I likeed her in the end, but she became more and more engaging as the book progressed. Fielding is surly and somewhat uni-dimensional through Smallwood's eyes - it is only through her journal and her columns that she comes alive. They contained some of the best writing in the book, acidly funny and intelligent at the same time and yet underneath all that, strangely sentimental. Her Julius Caesar pastiche of a counterattack to Smallwood and Prowse was genius; it made me laugh out loud - as did most of her writing - but the strong emotional core of the piece was evident.
At the same time, there are lapses in the storytelling. The plot can get weak at points with convenient coincidences scattered around. And the riddle about the letter and Hines' melodrama at church took away from the story. While Smallwood and Fielding's relationship is the heart of the book, I thought it could have been told better; it was trite in parts and difficult to understand in others. The last few chapters were hurried and I would have liked to read more about Smallwood's actual ascension to power after all that buildup.
And yet, the book shines because of its writing, which perfectly complements the land it writes about, equal parts beautiful and stark; whether it is Fielding's memories of ships or Smallwood's journeys through the remote islands and lost lands of Newfoundland. Johnston combines dry humour with wit and heart, and this is what made this book such a great read. That, and his talent for creating believable, nuanced characters and scenes that stay with you after the story is done....more
I am not a huge fan of the Glamourist series but I find the magic system and the Regency setting interesting enough to follow the books. The third booI am not a huge fan of the Glamourist series but I find the magic system and the Regency setting interesting enough to follow the books. The third book takes on the Luddite uprisings, substituting weavers for glamour creating cold mongers. I was also impressed by the fact that the book recognises the multiethnic nature of British society even at the time and avoids the blanket whitewashing of most books and movies set in the period. The characters in the series have managed to be surprisingly nuanced and that, with the relationship between Jane and Vincent, is one of the stronger points of this book. Jane manages to be a nuanced character, with doubts and prejudice but with the courage to change both of them.
The writing can be a bit indifferent at times, and a little breathless at others but it is overall much better than the second one. I still think that this series is not living up to its potential. So far, the books are merely good, but they might be great. This book was probably the best in the series and I hope the newer ones will continue to develop and capture that spark it needs to be a truly amazing series of books. ...more
I didn't really enjoy this except as a vaguely interesting history textbook. The whole Mount Shiranui subplot that takes up much of the second volume,I didn't really enjoy this except as a vaguely interesting history textbook. The whole Mount Shiranui subplot that takes up much of the second volume, while a shade more entertaining than reading about company politics felt out of place within the larger narrative. I could not see much of a point to it - why was the author trying to inject Indiana Jones and the (Japanese) Temple of Doom in a book about a shipping clerk? Enomoto (and the whole cult for that matter) was so ridiculously over the top that I found it hard to take that subplot seriously.
Jacob, Orito and Ogawa are all pretty likable characters but Jacob comes across as a fool more than a romantic, to be honest. I cannot really fault the writing, even when it gets a little melodramatic and calculatingly sentimental. I especially liked the part when Magistrate Shiroyama observes, "This world... contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself." The ending is a little too overtly sentimental for my taste, and did not erase away any doubts as to what the point of this whole book was. ...more
It is true then, that sequels are almost always disappointing. I can't bring myself to really love any other books in this series after the first one.It is true then, that sequels are almost always disappointing. I can't bring myself to really love any other books in this series after the first one. I found the theme about aboriginal China interesting - it was something I hadn't really read much about before. But the writing was disinterested, it lacked the snap and spirit of the original. The plot felt indifferent and almost formulaic. Apart from being an interesting look at an ancient culture, I couldn't find much to enjoy here. ...more
I was expecting far too much from this book, I guess, because I loved The Bridge of Birds so much. It was readable enough, but I felt it lacked a certI was expecting far too much from this book, I guess, because I loved The Bridge of Birds so much. It was readable enough, but I felt it lacked a certain something, perhaps the epic scale of its predecessor. Master Li and Ox's trip into hell was interesting but I honestly found some parts, such as the one about the lizard man, downright disgusting. I think the characters of Moon Boy and Grief of Dawn could have been better developed. The reveal in the end did not have the smoothness of the previous book in this series, it seemed convoluted and forced. ...more
The Bridge of Birds is one of those utterly magical books that make you feel the way fairytales did when you were a kid.
It has colourful characters wThe Bridge of Birds is one of those utterly magical books that make you feel the way fairytales did when you were a kid.
It has colourful characters with just the right touch of quirk and other-ness that establishes heroes in a fairytale. It has humour that manages to be witty and bawdy, even a tad slapstick at times but in the best tradition of an old beloved yarn. And it has a pleasantly convoluted plot that ends in one of the best denouements I've read since Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I had an idea of the ending but it still left me amazed. It could only be described as epic. I could almost hear the click of the puzzle coming together, and as soon as I finished, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read the whole thing over again, and watch out for the little hints everywhere.
Definitely a new favourite and one that lends itself perfectly to multiple reads. ...more
I read this mostly out of curiosity (you have to admit, the title has an epic sound to it :P) and a hope to get back into the world of Jane Austen's bI read this mostly out of curiosity (you have to admit, the title has an epic sound to it :P) and a hope to get back into the world of Jane Austen's books. The "mystery" is actually incredibly dull and most of the book consists of awkwardly insistent references to Pride and Prejudice, my least favourite Austen work. Maybe if I cared for Elizabeth and D'Arcy, I'd have enjoyed this book more, but the plodding writing makes me doubt that. Honestly, my favourite part of the book was probably the cover. ...more
The sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey moves glamour to a more dramatic setting. I liked the idea of possible military uses for glamour, especially whThe sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey moves glamour to a more dramatic setting. I liked the idea of possible military uses for glamour, especially when contrasted with its usual aesthetic use in the beginning of the book. I also liked the author's technical explanations of glamour (I'm a sucker for books with footnotes, indices and glossaries).
However, the best part of this book for me was Jane and Vincent's relationship. I love the idea of a couple that is much more than just lovers, but are equal partners, trying to create something of value together.
On the other hand, I found that the writing faltered a little here - it felt more modern than the previous book. Surprising, considering the author's note describing her research to maintain the authenticity of the language. Perhaps it was the attempt to shift the scene to something more action-packed than the genteel Austenesque drawing room drama of the previous book, but again, Susanna Clarke's excellent Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu manage to talk of drawing rooms and battlefields while preserving the tone of the language.
In any case, I still like this series enough to want to continue with this. The next book seems to be about the Luddite uprising, and that should be rather interesting....more
I've realised that while writing out reviews is tiresome, reading them later is fun, the way reading a journal is fun because it lets you remember howI've realised that while writing out reviews is tiresome, reading them later is fun, the way reading a journal is fun because it lets you remember how you felt, and see if and how your opinions have changed. So I've decided to start reviewing (read: ranting to myself) again like I did for all the books I read in 2011.
I started this last year I think, and gave up halfway but my new found tolerance for Regency romances finally let me finish this.
It isn't a bad book really, despite feeling like a Pride and Prejudice fanfiction with hints of Sense and Sensibility in places. Jane is a likable protagonist and Melody is more layered than I would have expected. Vincent does have a Mr. Darcy-meets-Byron hangover but he redeems himself wonderfully with that sketchbook.
Ms. Kowal's concept of glamour is interesting. I love the way she describes the process in terms of textiles. My chief grouse is that you have this wonderfully poetic system of magic and you use it for home decor and makeovers. Though the author lampshades this towards the end, I'd love to see more applications for glamour in future books....more