Second read, after almost two decades. I've always been a fan of the epistolary, and Lady Susan, to me, is a perfect example of how well one can tellSecond read, after almost two decades. I've always been a fan of the epistolary, and Lady Susan, to me, is a perfect example of how well one can tell a tale using such a simple (and in this case, short) form. However, this is certainly not one of my Austen favorites. The wittiness, the social manners, the humor--all the trademark Austen standards are present in this novella. I can honestly say I enjoyed it now as much as I did years ago, but in the end, I'm still not a fan of Lady Susan herself. As a character, she is rich and deeply nuanced, and the lady can certainly justify everything she does with no qualms whatsoever.
But where I've loved almost all the other Austen heroines--Fanny Price, Elizabeth Bennett, Elinor Dashwood, Anne Elliot, Emma Woodhouse, heck, even naïve and annoying Catherine Morland had an endearing quality about her--there is something about Susan Vernon that leaves me cold.
Yes, I know she was written to be unlikable and manipulative. Yes, I know she was meant to be unscrupulous, an anti-hero(ine). By today's standards, she'd fit in quite well in certain circles. And I personally believe Austen had tons of fun writing Lady Susan, especially since she goes unpunished at the end.
Still, it is largely because of my reaction to her that I'm giving this 3-stars. I like liking my protagonists. So in the end, it's not her. It's me. ...more
If you like Harlequin romances, but only the PG-13 versions, then this book is for you.
If you like Columbo, or Murder She Wrote, thenHmmm, let's see.
If you like Harlequin romances, but only the PG-13 versions, then this book is for you.
If you like Columbo, or Murder She Wrote, then this book is for you.
If you like characters like Mr. Rochester or Mr. Darcy, but are willing to settle for their third cousins, twice removed, then this book is for you.
And if you loved The Lovely Bones, and totally fell for 14-year old Susie Salmon, well, you may not quite be drawn to 16-year old Lucrezia de Medici Este.
I guess that's what got to me. It's a second- (maybe even third-) rate mystery. You have a plucky heroine asking all the wrong questions and bumbling about a new place, raising all sorts of trouble, for herself and others. You have her husband, a prickly, vain, arrogant snoot who reminds me of the sods 80s romantic heroines always fell in love with. You know the type: tall, dark and handsome; made with equal parts brash conceit and barely hidden misogyny; excessively rich; great in bed (despite that PG-13 rating). The guy you love to hate. Yet deep down inside is a soft and squidgy center, and really, we all know he's just looking for the right partner to bring out the ooey-gooey in him. And that heroic side of his comes out once the heroine is in danger, and guess who comes to her rescue! (Yeah, not a huge surprise at all...)
Then don't forget the dead girl. Because the dead girl always has to give her side of the story. Except that unlike Susie Salmon, this dead girl is not very likable. She's all vitriol and spite and everything not nice. She swears like a sailor, and has a libido like one, too. But that's not why she's unlikable - she's unlikable because she's completely unapologetic, she's vindictive, and is a bit of a psychopath.
I don't know. The mystery wasn't that great. There were too many coinky-dinks. However, it was well-written, and I appreciated that Elizabeth Loupas used Browning's My Last Duchess as a jumping-off point. But even the most well-written narrative can't be saved by a weak plot and fairly unlikable characters.
One good thing that came out of it? I now know a tad bit more about Italian history. It got me interested enough to do some research into the Estes. And I truly did find Barbara of Austria a fascinating historical figure; I just wish more was written about her in the histories. ...more
I'm just going to put this out there: I'm neither a big reader of vampire lit nor of mobster lit. While I enjoy movies and TV shows about both genres,I'm just going to put this out there: I'm neither a big reader of vampire lit nor of mobster lit. While I enjoy movies and TV shows about both genres, for whatever reason, I've never been that interested in reading about either. It just wasn't my cup of tea.
I think that's what surprised me about this book. Because it is about Vampires. And it is about mobsters, and while it could've been very easy for this to devolve into two very tired cliches, it didn't. And here I was, thoroughly enjoying the ride.
A large part of that enjoyment was because it's a character-driven piece. New York City in the 30s is as much a character in this novel as Faolan, our hero, is. He's got his sidekicks, Frank and Rod and Miranda and all the other guys, all loyal and all fairly well-drawn. He's got his enemies--Killian and Rothstein, both of whom are nuanced and not just evil for the sake of being evil. No, they can pretty much justify their actions so that you, as a reader, feel conflicted.
And really, when it comes down to it, Faolan's an anti-hero. This guy is not a good guy, not by any stretch of the imagination. Deep down, I always thought that he was trying to hold onto his humanity even after he'd been turned. Part of me always thought that this was, to a certain degree, a story about redemption. I don't think the author would agree with me on that, but that's what I got out of it.
Equally violent (because what would a vampire/mobster novel be, without violence?), romantic, funny, haunting and chilling in turns, this narrative has pretty much everything going for it. One of my favorite parts is when Frank brings Faolan back to his place, and Faolan realizes just how messed up Frank is, with his collection of spiders. Definitely one of the funniest scenes in the entire book. Faolan's romance with Stephanie is beautiful, almost as beautiful as his remorse over his wife, Colleen. And chilling? A scene early on in the book, involving Frank, Faolan and a young boy, is still with me.
The pacing is good -- it slows down when it needs to, but when it amps up, it's all action all the time. Very much like Faolan's killing groove.
And the writing: Brian McKinley can write. He has an easy way with words. He knows when to use it sparingly, he knows when to give it a bit more. The writing is solid, the narrative is tight, the characterization is on point.
My main reason for not giving it 5-stars is because there were parts where I thought some foreknowledge of this Vampyr world was required. It's a fairly complex world, and all the terms --- reeve, adjutor, etc. --- weren't immediately transparent. But in the grand scheme of things, that's a small thing.
For the first half of the book, I was very confused. Is this non-fiction? It's written almost like a biography. But it's not. But it doesn't read likeFor the first half of the book, I was very confused. Is this non-fiction? It's written almost like a biography. But it's not. But it doesn't read like fiction. At all. What am I reading??
Needless to say, while this was a fantastically written novel and I was very drawn into the story of the Opium Eater and his daughter, I was also very keenly aware that, while this is supposed to be historical fiction, the lines between fiction and history were very tenuous, indeed. And maybe it's because of these blurred lines that it's been touted as one of these year's best works.
Did that distract? Sometimes. Especially when Morrell would start a sentence with "Back in the 1850s...." He had a tendency to be didactic, almost to a fault. Then again, it was these little immersive lessons in Victorian culture that gave so much of the authenticity and flavor to the novel. I will say, however, that the use of third person omniscient, while common in most nineteenth century writing, sometimes served to pull me out of the time period because the narrator's voice was so strong and so obviously of this time period.
Nevertheless, this was a really good read. Taut and thrilling, with wonderful character development, it was certainly a fun ride. And, as Morrell points out, the real-life DeQuincey was the father of a host of things we take for granted these days (e.g., coining the term "subconscious" long before Freud, serving as inspiration to both Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, thereby setting the path for the modern mystery and detective extraordinaire, etc.).
Definitely a solid four stars. If I hadn't been distracted by the ever present feeling of today, I'd have given it five stars....more
This was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thinThis was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thing. I didn't hate the book. I actually liked it, especially the last 20% of the story. That part had my attention. That part was really good and hit all the right spots. But why did I have to slog through 80% (470+ pages) to get to the good stuff? And here's the thing: I don't mind a lot of set-up; I don't mind a ton of exposition. I don't mind if the author takes their time to really create their world and set the characters just so. In the right hands, this could've been a well-crafted, intelligent, poignant 4-star read. But it wasn't. It wasn't set-up properly. I think I'm being generous giving it 2-stars, since I was constantly barraged with inanities (toilet paper shortages in 2055 being one of them along with a variety of one-dimensional characters in both the 1320s and the future).
It was such a great concept: we now have the technology to time travel. We understand the physics behind it. Let's send a historian back to the 1300s! But oops, something goes wrong (we don't know what) and the historian is stuck in the middle of the plague. And back in the future, they're trying to get her back.
As a concept, it would've worked as either a character study or a sci/fi story. And on both levels, to a certain degree, it did. During the last 20% of the book. Which is much too late. There was so much else (ummm...80% worth) that made it tedious and...unreadable...that I was tempted at least half a dozen times to put it down and say "I give up." (Anyone who's read my reviews in the past will know that no, I don't do that sort of thing, much to the detriment of my own mental health...I will stick with it to the bitter end, especially if I've paid for the book.)
So what didn't I like about it?
Well, to start off with, why would anyone write a time travel story and then create a world where the most technologically advanced thing that's been invented (other than time travel, of course) is a video phone. A video phone that doesn't record messages (where, oh where, has voicemail gone? There were answering machines in the 90s!). There are no cell phones. There are no personal computers. The concept of e-mail is non-existent. So is internet research. Oh, and everything was on paper! People wrote things left and right, on paper!
Many things we take for granted these days seem to be unavailable in 2055. Which is bizarre. I grew up in the 80s. I was in college in the 90s. I had a computer in my teens; I saw my first cell phone in 1992. I was e-mailing in the late 80s. Surely it isn't a huge stretch of the imagination to extrapolate the tech that was available and say "65 years later, this is what we would have."
Well that was point one. Point two is sort of related. Say you're writing a novel in the 1990s about the future (e.g., 2055), why would England--Oxford, to be specific--in 2055 be very much like 1960s England? Either a) the author wasn't very technologically savvy about the tech available in the 1990s, b) the author wasn't very speculative about the tech that would be possible/available 60+ years in the future, or c) the author just lacked the requisite amount of imagination required to write sci/fi.
(c) doesn't suit me as the answer since Connie Willis is a six-time Nebula award winner. She's also won the Hugo awards. Two of the biggest sci/fi awards out there. So it has to be (a) or (b). Oh, and I thought it absolutely laughable that Oxford in 2055 was so puritanical that having a boy, in college, kissing a girl in the hallway, was enough to send the adults into apoplexy! Kissing! In 1320, sure. But 2055? In college? Just didn't make sense.
And point three. (view spoiler)[This is what was in 80% of the story: Character complaints in 2055: a) There's something wrong, Badri says before he falls sick. (5% of the story) b) We're going to have a toilet paper problem. c) They've quarantined Oxford! There's a flu virus! You must shut down the time travel device! d) What do you mean, Badri's got the flu? He said "There's something wrong!" Someone figure out what went wrong! (10% of the story) e) Where will I put these bell ringers? Oh, and we're running low on toilet paper. f) Ugh, why are they playing so much Christmas music? (Um, could it be because it's Christmas time?) g) Didn't anyone hear that Badri said there was something wrong?! I know he's in a coma, but wake him up! (20% of the story) h) The bell ringers won't shut up! They're going to sue Oxford! They need ring bells elsewhere! i) Have you heard we're running low on toilet paper?! j) The phones are on the fritz. I can't see who I'm talking to. Oh no! However will I know what's happening? (25% of the story) k) OMG, we're running low on eggs and bacon! But don't worry, we have tons of brussel sprouts! l) There's a plague! It's the flu! No, it's virus! It's the viral plague flu! Oh, no, no one's had a cold in decades! Ack! Achoo! m) Badri, I know you've just woken up and you're sick and delusional, but what went wrong? Tell me! What went wrong?!? (30% of the story) n) Brussel sprouts?! Really? That's all we've got? And biscuits? o) Oh dear, we're running low on butter! What are we to do?!?!? (40% of the story) p) Kissing?!? Off to your room with you young man! q) I don't know what to do. The bell ringers want a room to practice in, and I have to ration the toilet paper! (50% of the story) r) Excuse me, I know you're sick, but have you been around any ducks or geese lately? No? How about within the last 8 days? Yes, I know there's a flu virus epidemic. Yes, I know we're running low on toilet paper. s) The phones are down!! I can't even get a dial tone! Now I can't see or talk to people! (People today say "What's a dial tone???) t) Oh no, one of the bell ringers has collapsed during practice! The horror! We can't continue this song! What are we to do?!? u) Brussel sprouts. That's all we have, is brussel sprouts. BRUSSEL SPROUTS!!! v) I managed to save some squares of toilet paper... (60% of the story) w) We MUST get to the net! We can't close the time machine down! x) What do you mean, we've been digging up graves from the 1300s? (70% of the story) y) Wait, viruses can last a looooooooooooooooooooong time. In the grave. Oh, and btw, we're out of toilet paper. z) Why won't the crazy old lady stop reading me Bible verses about pestilence and plague? How is this helping me, when I'm sick with the flu? aa) We're out of toilet paper!!! Aaaagggghhhh!!! ab) Aaaagggghhhh, brussel sprouts! Again! On Christmas!! And New Years. And during the Slaughter of the Innocents! Noooooo!!
Character complaints in the 1300s: a) That priest is an idiot. He doesn't know what he's doing. b) That guy has a pock-marked face. He must be a cutthroat! (Ho, cutthroat island!) c) You are an idiot! The plague is your fault! d) Oof! Get away from me, cow. I can't milk you. e) Stupid rat. I can't let you go free. You will infect everyone with your fleas. f) Stop staring at me, rat. You're much too intelligent looking! g) Oh, the horror! The priest forgot the words in Mass! h) Oh no! What a scary looking man! He must be the cutthroat! i) The priest is an idiot. He put the candles in the wrong place! j) Wait, the priest is the scary, scarred man? k) Get away from me, cow. I said I can't milk you right now! Don't you see people are falling ill all around us?! l) Wait, I'm confused. The scary scarred man is a cutthroat? m) Why is the maid always sleeping or running away? Well, that's it! The plague is her fault! n) I'm very confused. The priest sounded so kind while I was delirious and trying to recover from a virus. How can he be a cutthroat? o) I've been mistaken. The priest is very kind. He's just got a scarred scary face. p) Whine, whine, whine...whine, whine, whine. q) Moooooooooo...someone milk me. Please. My udders are sooooo full! r) Ugh, stupid cow! Get away from me! There's plague all around! I need to take care of all these dying people! *sob* *sob* s) Now I've got all the kids calling the priest a cutthroat. t) The priest is so sweet. I think I'm kinda falling for him. Even though he does look like a cutthroat... u) The priest is an idiot! He pinched the candle flames. The plague has to be his fault! v) Dang it cow! Get. Out. Of. My. Way! I can't milk you right now!! w) Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! x) And it goes on and on, in much of the same vein... (hide spoiler)]
What I did like: the Middle English. It brought tears to my eyes. (This is good.)
Ummm...what else did I like?
The donkey. The cow. Blackie the puppy. The intelligent, innocent rat. Colin.
I am convinced that Colin is the hero of the story, despite what the author would have me believe.
So...reading this has been an experience. I can definitely say that this story was an interesting ride, one I am likely never to go on again. And sorry, Connie Willis, but I will not be reading the other four books in the series. I think I've had my fill. I don't think I can handle being on pins and needles, waiting and worrying over whether there will be another tp shortage in the 2060s. ["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"]>["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"]>["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"]>...more