Monday, 31 December 2012

Heiress Without a Cause - Sara Ramsey

After the disappointment of Summerset Abbey, I was really looking forward to something actually light and with a guaranteed happy ending. Where else to look but a romance novel? Romance novels are oddly like old timer sitcoms: no matter what trouble the protagonists get themselves into, you know it will all be solved by the ending of the book. 

This book is the first in a series called The Muses of Mayfair, a group of young women that all have hobbies that aren't very proper for women of their station. Madeleine, our heroine, for example, loves the theatre and would love to be an actress. Unfortunately for her, back in these days, the theatre is only for women with loose morals and Madeleine is definitely not that. So, with a disguise at hand, she takes to the stage for what she thinks will simply be a two week engagement playing Hamlet. How is she to know what a success she will be, attracting even some of the ton to the performance?

Our hero, meanwhile, is William "Ferguson" Avenel, the son of a duke who ran off to Scotland years ago and has only just arrived back in London due to his father's death. Years ago he left behind this life and wants to get all the arrangements done with quickly so he can get back to Scotland and his life of hiding. When he sees Madeleine at a party, he thinks she will be the perfect chaperone for his two younger half-sisters. She is a spinster and of very high moral standing. He doesn't, of course, expect to find out her secret and fall in love with her.

This being a romance novel, you pretty much know what you're going to get when you go into it. Ferguson and Madeleine are going to fall in love. People may find out Madeleine's secret but it's not going to hurt her in any major way. Ferguson will get over his problems with his dead father and become the kind of duke people want him to be. It's all about how we get there, though.

While I enjoyed Heiress Without a Cause, I didn't really think it was anything special, either. I did enjoy the Hamlet references but the plot was nothing new and there were some really melodramatic bits with her getting into a fight with her best friend and quasi-sister that seemed a bit much. 

However, I really liked this introduction to The Muses of Mayfair. I think the series has a lot of potential and would like to read about Ellie, Ferguson's sister, in particular. You can kind of see in this novel what Ellie's story is going to be but it looks much more interesting and dramatic than the others. 

I will probably read more in the series when I feel the need for something light and happy. You really can't beat a romance novel for that and Regency Romance is the best. 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Summerset Abbey - T.J. Brown

After all of the somewhat serious books that I had been reading the past little while, I was really looking forward to something a bit lighter. Summerset Abbey looked like a sure thing when I saw it on Netgalley and I immediately downloaded it when I saw I was approved. Nothing like a little Edwardian romance to lighten the mood.

Except it really didn't.

Summerset Abbey is set in 1913, an era that was just on the border of the old world of privilege and the  new world of suffrage. The book follows three young girls: sisters Rowena and Victoria, the daughters of a nobleman and Prudence Tate, the girl brought up with them as a sister but actually the daughter of a governess. Although the girls have enjoyed a life of privilege so far, reality has just slapped them in the face at the beginning of the novel when their father dies.

With the death of their father comes also a loss of independence. They are put in the care of their uncle, a man who has much different views on what is appropriate and inappropriate for women of their stations. The girls must move into Summerset Abbey with their relatives. Prudence, once basically a sister, is turned into the ladies maid of her two best friends. Victoria rails against all of the changes but Rowena, overcome with grief and new responsibility, begins to sink under the pressure.

The novel explores how the three girls deal with the changes to their lives. Each girl is forced to give up something their love and deal with a harsh new reality. It's very gripping narrative.

As I was reading Summerset Abbey, I was really hooked. I just had to keep reading to see when, exactly, something positive was going to happen for Prudence. Prudence was always my favorite character from the get go. She wasn't overly dramatic like Victoria nor was she a bit of a stick in the mud like Rowena. She had the hardest going of it and I just wanted to see things work out for her. As every reader does, I suppose.

The book meanders along, telling different tales without actually uncovering all that much. Tales of their uncle's cruelty are hinted at but not fully explained until later in the novel. What I was most interested in, the true story behind Prudence's mother, was a big driving force of the novel and when it was revealed, I did feel moderately satisfied.

It's what happened after that that annoys me so much. You have this book that is just driving, driving driving towards a finale and then, at the last second, it just drops. The last chapter was a bit of a joke. After all the rooting you've done so far, you feel a bit cheated. Sure, that ending is perhaps more realistic than what I may have wanted to happen but it comes out of nowhere and completely unsettles the reader. I was terrifically disappointed.

While the writing is well done and the characters interesting (even if I did want to smack Rowena a bit), ultimately, it was a bit of a let down. This looks to be a trilogy which is promising. However, I just read a summery on Goodreads of the next book and it doesn't look as if it's going to resolve what the first book ends with. It looks a bit like the privileged girls will get a happy ending and Prudence gets none. True to fact, perhaps, but not to my taste.

Summerset Abbey will be available from Gallery Books in January 2013.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

I had heard of Ready Player One when it came out last year. It was hailed as an amazing new science fiction voice in the market. When I saw it on the shelves at work, I knew I had to read it.

Ready Player One is set in the 2040s, after the internet has basically been turned into a giant, all immersive separate world which people rarely leave called the OASIS. The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, has recently died and left a very interesting will: there are three keys that open three gates within the OASIS. Whoever finds all three keys and completes all three gates will win ownership of his estate and OASIS with it. And thus, the great hunt begins.

Our protagonist, Wade Watts, is your average computer geek. He lives in a dystopian RV park with his aunt and spends all of his time locked within the OASIS. He doesn't have the money to level up or buy weapons so he's very low level but has friends in high(er) places. He has spent the past year trying to decipher the puzzle of the first key, along with the rest of the world. However, something special happens to Wade: he actually solves it.

Ready Player One is a ridiculously fun read. It's a strange mix between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Matrix and the entire decade of the 1980s. Since Halliday was a teenager in the 80s, all the hunters have to know pretty much anything that could halfway be related to the decade. There are more geek references than you can stamp your foot at.

The story is interesting if a bit typical. What's really fun are all of the throwaway references, the characters quoting ridiculous 80s trivia as if it's the holy grail which, for them, it is. Even narration bits have references in them. It's very silly but very fun.

I enjoyed the story overall. I definitely read it rather quickly. It's a bit predictable but never in a bad way. You know things will ultimately go well for Wade, he'll get the girl and win the contest, blah blah blah but along the way are fun characters, silly side quests and more nostalgia than most people can even think of.

It's fun. If you consider yourself any sort of geek, I think you should check it out.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Every Last One - Anna Quindlen

I was given Every Last One by a friend and coworker at my last internship on my last day. She said it was her favorite book by this author, one of her favorite books in general and I had to read it. Although it didn't look like the kind of book I would pick up on my own, I always trust friend recommendations (or at least give them a chance) so I took it happily and decided to read it next.

Every Last One tells the story of Mary Beth Latham, a suburban mother in a typical family situation. She's married to Gene, an eye doctor, with a somewhat successful practice. She has three children: Ruby, the oldest and a free spirit who loves writing and is enjoying her senior year of high school, and two twin 14 year old boys, Alex, the sporty one that is a stereotypical popular high school boy and Max, a bit depressed and introverted who has trouble making friends. Mary Beth herself has a popular landscaping business that is doing quite well.

The first half of this book explores all these characters through Mary Beth's eyes. We see everyone's hopes and dreams, the trials of every day life. It's a very well written slice of every day life and you really get a feel for the characters and connect with them.

Halfway through the book, however, things take a dramatic turn. With just two pages, the entire plot line has changed and things are completely different.

One thing I really enjoyed about this change is that I did not see it coming at all. Also, since Mary Beth is in a bit of a haze while everything goes on around her, the writing is very vague, so that the reader pieces together what has happened around the same time that Mary Beth does. I was reading this section on a train with a friend and kept popping out of the book going, "Oh my God! I think this happened!" and then two minutes later, "No wait! I think it's worse than that!" It was a very effective method and I'm very impressed.

The rest of the book asks questions that I generally had no answer to and that was very interesting. I like books that push me like that, to imagine situations that could happen to me that I would never even consider in normal life. These sections were a bit hard to read but in a good, challenging way. It never felt stale or trite but always real and emotional.

I'm very impressed with Quindlen. She has a great style and by halfing her book like she does, she makes it completely compelling. You spend half the book getting to know the characters so that when the change comes, you care so much. I read the end of the book on a train, tearing up and trying not to cry. It's a very powerful book, something that won't leave you after you've read it. 

I would recommend this book to anyone. It is powerful and compelling, asking questions and making statements that everyone should think about, even if it hurts to. I really enjoyed it and completely understand why my friend gave it to me.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Pure - Andrew Miller

I borrowed Pure from my friend Katrina because I had heard really good things about it. It had won the Costa back in 2011 and I remember friends reading it right after the award was announced. I was curious about it.

Nevermind that when people asked what I was reading and I responded, "Oh, a book about renovating a cemetery," I got some great looks.

Pure tells the story of a young noble(ish) man, Jean-Baptiste Baratte. It's 1785 and he has just finished a program to become an engineer. He gets called to Versailles and is nervous to see what kind of assignment the higher ups have given to him. What he finds out is that they want him to clear a cemetery.

The cemetery of les Innocents has become so overrun that the filth is settling in to the groundwater. You can taste putrid air in the breath of the locals. The city wants to get rid of it and raze the ground. Baratte is the man they want to do it.

The story explores the way Baratte deals with this new task (that he really doesn't want) and how he grows as a man and as an engineer during the ordeal. It also explores the lives of a few of the locals of the neighborhood: Ziguette Monard, daughter of the family Baratte is staying with and a girl who has loved looking at the cemetery for years, Armand, the musician who still plays the organ in the abandoned church, Heloise, the woman just as out of place as Baratte, and Jeanne, the young granddaughter of the sexton who has grown up around the rubble. All of these lives will intertwine as a great task is undertaken.

What really impressed me about Pure is how readable it is. Although a historical fiction on a somewhat obscure (or at least, rarely written about) time period, it reads as if it were happening in front of the reader's eyes. Baratte is completely relatable and all of the characters feel very real. Although I read this book over two weeks before writing this review, I still remember all of them very distinctly and have feelings that I directly relate to each of them. Miller creates real personalities with his characters and it shows a real depth of understanding.

The subject matter, as well, is never boring. Ultimately, this is a book about an engineering project, something I would normally not touch with a ten foot pole. I became interested, however, in how exactly they were going to raze a cemetery, something mostly underground. I became curious about things I normally wouldn't care about and actually felt like I was understanding what I was reading, not skimming through on my way to a better passage. There aren't long, unwieldy paragraphs with technical terms or whole pages of boring engineering talk. It is easy to follow and not overly descriptive, something many historical novels fall into.

I'm very impressed with Pure. I really enjoyed it and read it very quickly but it has stuck with me. I would recommend this to anyone that would like to read something a bit heavier but not too "literary," if that's the right term. It's a good book that isn't overly pretentious and I very much enjoyed it.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

This book was recommended to me by one of my coworkers at Random House. I had forgotten to bring a book, despite knowing that I would finish The Mad Scientist's Daughter that day and asked her to recommend a book for me to grab. She thought about it and then, discounting the answers to her preference questions, handed me The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. "It doesn't fit what you told me," she said, "but you have to read it."

I had heard of it before, of course. It had gotten great press when it had been published the year before and seemed to be everywhere for a few months. I hadn't been particularly interested at the time but if someone I trusted to have good taste was telling me I should read it, I would happily give it a go.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake tells the story of Rose, a young girl living with her father, mother and older brother in LA. Everything in her life seems to be going well until, on her ninth birthday, she takes a bite of the cake her mother baked for her and is hit with a sense of overwhelming despair. From then on, young Rose can taste the emotions of whoever made the food she eats. Sandwiches taste of anger. Cookies taste of longing. And now Rose can't escape secrets she never wanted to know about the people she loves.

The idea behind this book is very original and I really enjoyed Bender's writing style. It's a quick read, chapters short and kept interesting. Rose is very likable and watching a young girl trying to deal with such an adult problem is unique and heartbreaking. 

I was a bit thrown off by the way the plot progresses. The book is divided into four sections and each section, though obviously by the same author, is very different from the others. At one point, two thirds of the way through the book, I had completely forgotten about Rose's ability because it hadn't been spoken of in so long. I still can't decide if I think that's a strength or a weakness of the narrative. 

It definitely keeps the reader hooked, curious as to what exactly is going to happen to Rose and her family. Her brother, Joseph, overshadows a bit at times and there is an overlying mystery of what exactly is going on with him. I enjoyed Joseph's story but at the same time, felt that it took away a bit from Rose, things that I would have wanted to explore with her story. It was interesting but it was also a bit overpowering.

The book is very good, though. It keeps the reader turning pages with curiosity and interest. I very much enjoyed it and would recommend it. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Mad Scientist's Daughter - Cassandra Rose Clarke

You know when you start to read a book and you know it's good but it's also not particularly your cup of tea? That you probably wouldn't have read it if you knew this is what it actually was? Even though the cover warned you that it was heartbreaking? Yeah.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter follows the life of Catarina Novak, the daughter of Daniel Novak, a preeminent engineer in robotics. Of course, we never learn all that much about it because we start following Cat at the age of 8, when she is much too young to understand what her father does. She's a young girl that enjoys running through the forest and catching fireflies. 

One night, when she comes back with a jar full of fireflies, there is a young man standing on the porch with her father. Finn, Cat comes to understand, is an android but the only one of his kind. He becomes Cat's tutor and as she grows older, her friend and something more.

The book follows Cat from the ages of 8 to roughly mid-thirties, I would say. In that time, society changes around her, as robot rights get bandied around and Cat tries to find herself in a world that doesn't appreciate her feelings for Finn (who she doesn't even know if he can reciprocate) while also doesn't want someone who fails at the sciences. And so, much like the forests of her youth, Cat wanders through life a bit aimlessly.

This book is so sad. This is what I mean when I say I probably wouldn't have picked it up. It's not that tragic kind of sad, where there's some sort of heroic sacrifice (His Dark Materials) or a tragic twist (Never Let Me Go) or just the sense of the end of an era (Lord of the Rings). No, this is that kind of numbing sadness that pervades the entire novel, as you watch Cat wander through her life, not finding joy in anything but brief moments. Sometimes it felt like it physically pained me to keep reading. I don't demand my books be happy by any means but it felt like deliberately making myself miserable.

However, this is not to say the book isn't good. The book is rather wonderful. Clarke has managed to create a world that is at once recognizable and foreign. There are robots and vice stands and tales of the old ways before the disaster. However, there's also marital troubles, dating the wrong guy and raising children. It pulls off what I personally think is the most important part of science fiction: creating a world that feels real and solid without having to actually spend time to explain it. It's all there in the tiny details, fleshing out the world Cat and Finn inhabit.

Clarke is also a wonder at drawing up fully recognizable characters. The reader knows Cat by the first fifty pages, completely inside her head and watching as the excitable young girl becomes to melancholy adolescent to the unfulfilled young adult. She grows and changes and feels and never seems unconvincing. All of her characters have a bit of that in them. Finn is also very real, changing in small, nearly unnoticed ways as the book progresses. In a way, Finn is also growing, becoming more human, despite his best efforts.

I really did enjoy this book, even if it made me mildly depressed. It's very well written and creates a compelling story. Just don't read it as a pick me up. 

The Mad Scientist's Daughter is out in February 2013 from Angry Robot.

Monday, 3 December 2012

City of Dark Magic - Magnus Flyte

Who doesn't love a bit of urban fantasy in their life? When I saw the snippet for City of Dark Magic on Netgalley, I immediately requested it. It sounded absolutely delightful. 

City of Dark Magic tells the story of Sarah Weston, a PhD student studying music (particularly Beethoven) in Boston. At the beginning of the story, she gets invited to spend the summer doing research in Prague where a vast collection of previously lost artifacts are currently being studied and documented in order to put a museum together. She also finds out that her mentor and PhD Advisor, who had been over working on the collections, has unfortunately passed away in an apparent suicide. 

Of course, Sarah makes her way over there and encounters a vast and eclectic mix of characters (academics make the best characters, I swear) as well as the mysterious presence that is just Prague, itself. As she studies and investigates, darker plans seem to come to light and there may just be a lot more going on in the city than first appears.

I've been checking on Goodreads and it seems like this book is either a love it or hate it. I can see how it would be so, as well. It definitely has its pros and cons. I think I will tackle the cons first.

Gratuitous sex. Let's just get it out there. There are a few sex scenes that were uncomfortable and definitely did not need to be included. I'm thinking of the first sex scene especially when I type this. It comes out of nowhere, before we are even properly invested in the characters, has no bearing on the plot and makes us judge Sarah, if only a little bit. Why? Why is that there? It is definitely unneeded and alienates readers more than titillates them. I feel like I'm always harping on this but it's true: Sex scenes are fine as long as they serve a purpose. Unless a person has picked up an erotic novel, they want storytelling, not cheap thrills. Stop with the random sex.

The other big problem this book had was, to be honest, too much plot. It felt like Flyte wanted to get in every single idea he'd had while planning this novel and gosh darn it if it didn't fit, he'd make it. Several threads are picked up and then not explored at all. There's a bit with a Golden Fleece that comes in in the last fifty of so pages out of nowhere and then, while not forgotten, is really not explored much, either. Very exciting characters that could have been explored much more (I'm thinking Nico and Pols here) are just side characters that help Sarah on her way but don't affect much. There's too much and by not focusing, the reader has too much to deal with and can't focus on the actual narrative. 

On the plus side, however, all these threads do make it a book that's hard to put down, if only because you genuinely have no idea what's going to happen next. That's how I felt. With all of these different narratives running through the plot, I was confused but excited. It's a quick moving book, short chapters helping the plot speed along to the conclusion. I thought the climax at the party was very well drawn out and handled. That bit was definitely well plotted and written. I was excited to read the book and even if it was ultimately underwhelming, it was fun while it was being read.

I enjoyed reading City of Dark Magic, even if it ultimately left me a bit confused. I think a sequel exploring the Golden Fleece idea (and Nico and Pols!) would be very much welcomed.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Unhallowed Ground - Daniel Mills

Unhallowed Ground is a novella set in the 1890s in New England, telling the story of young Henry Feathering and his experience at Bittersweet Lodge. He first travels to the lodge when his sister dies and his uncle who resides there becomes his only living relative. On his way, he runs into the St. James siblings, Justice and Clemency who are visiting cousins that live in the same town. Henry falls in love with Clemency and intends to marry her. His uncle, however, seems averse to this idea.

I have to say that the first sixty or so pages of this novella are wonderful. They are written in a delightful style that has a real 1890s feel to it. There is the feeling of creeping darkness about Bittersweet Lodge, the worrying overtones that accompany Henry and Clemency's engagement. This whole sense of wrong that overhangs the whole story creates a great atmosphere that really keeps the reader going.

It's in the last five or so pages that the novella falls apart. Being a novella, Mills knew he only had so many pages to conclude this story he's been weaving. For whatever reason, however, it seems like it came out of nowhere to him. Strings and connections that the reader has been waiting make sit ignored in the corner while the climax becomes a confusing set a paragraphs that are hard to decipher. Even the narrator at the end admits that it feels like a bunch of puzzle pieces that have not come together. Each piece is very intriguing and interesting, they just never come together to create that perfect picture.

I really wanted to like this book and I definitely did for most of it. I'm just disappointed in the slapdash ending that seems a bit like a cop out. The painting, the death, the grave, the aunt, Clemency's behavior. All of it had the potential to be a story of tragedy and loss but instead it becomes a bit of a confused mess. I want more in my ghost stories or at least a ghost I can point to and know why.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Pantomime - Laura Lam

Pantomime is a book I picked up on a whim from Netgalley. It looked kind of interesting and I was feeling like a good fantasy/YA novel after finishing some rather heavy other reading. It looked right up my alley. 

Pantomime tells the story of two characters, Iphigenia "Gene" Laurus, a nobleman's daughter who hates life in skirts and uptight manners and Micah Grey, a runaway who joins the circus as an aerialist's apprentice. Both have a secret they're dying to keep and an interesting connection to their world that even they aren't aware of yet.

I absolutely adored Pantomime. Not only did it create an interesting world that is once both recognizable and foreign to the reader but I could honestly say that I had no earthly idea what was going to happen next. The world of R. H. Ragona's Circus of Magic was intricately woven, each character feeling real and knowable. I always think books set in circuses are interesting and this one, by also having fantasy involved, was definitely a new and exciting take on the idea.

Mostly, though, I was incredibly excited by and interested in the way Lam plays with gender. In this book, no character is defined by gender but gender becomes fluid, as Micah and Gene explore different aspects of their character and try to determine just what they want to be. I really, really enjoyed this as I've seen a few characters similar to Micah and Gene in recent books that I don't think managed to use this malleable gender idea to the same degree. In this, it doesn't seem weird or foreign or odd but just a natural instinct to explore and create. I absolutely loved this and wish more books would explore this idea as Lam has, without prejudice but with a simple curiosity.

I can honestly say that, as I was reading, I had no idea where the book was going and in fact, it surprised me many a time. There is one instance roughly halfway through the book where you realize something about Micah and Gene where, although I had all the clues to put it together, I never actually caught on until that moment. I remember I was reading it on the train and genuinely went "…ooooooh!" I can't remember the last time I was that surprised by a reveal. I'm honestly very impressed. It definitely added to my opinion of the book.

I really enjoyed Pantomime and look forward to the next book in the series because, the way the book ended, there has to be another coming. I want to know more about Gene, more about Drystan (who I love!) and see what all of this Penglass nonsense is about. More please, Miss Lam!!

Pantomime comes out in February 2013 from Strange Chemistry.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

[Duel Review] Night Has a Thousand Eyes - Cornell Woolrich

The first thing I have to say about this book is that every time I think about it, I get this song stuck in my head. Which isn't a horrible thing because I like that song but I can't be grooving out to late fifties pop songs all my life, Woolrich.

Night is a classic 40s detective noir novel. Late one night while walking home, a young detective meets a girl about to jump off a bridge. When he gets her down, she's nearly catatonic and tells him that she's terrified of the stars. He takes her to an all night cafe and slowly the story pours out of her, a story about predictions and family histories and coming death. With that, a race against time begins as the young detective gets the rest of his team involved in the case.

The idea of this novel is great. I love detective novels, I love race against time novels, everything should have come together to meld into a really great, fast paced narrative. For me, though, it just never seemed to until the very end. I really enjoyed Jean telling her story in the beginning, as she went through the events that took her to the bridge. After that, though, there is a jarring transition to Detective Shawn's police department and characters the reader is never introduced to all of the sudden have the center floor. It was a bit hard to jump in feet first like that, even if I did want to know what was going on.

I did enjoy the way the characters were drawn, Tompkins in particular. The reluctant psychic has a really lovely apathetic and resigned air to him that I really enjoyed reading. I even warmed up to the other police detectives as time went on. I just wish we had gotten a bit more introduction before they were all of the sudden in the lead. Lt. Shawn and Jean were both interesting, perhaps only because they were in the center of the action but still. It did have the fast, out of nowhere romance of a noir piece but that's more stylistic than plot driven, I think.

Overall, I really enjoyed the plot. However, it seemed kind of like a very small story stretched out beyond its limits. I think it could have made an excellent short story just as well as it could have been a novel, if not better. Parts seemed written just to make a chapter longer rather than to add anything of significance. I would have even preferred if a few things that were explained in the last few pages were left to the imagination. This was definitely a story that could have left things hanging, although I suppose it did on some counts. 

Also, it has perhaps the most cringe inducing suicide reference I've read in a novel. I actually had to stop for a second and try and figure out how it even worked. Dear me.

I liked the book but I was never jumping up and down to read it. I wish it were a bit less dry and a bit more developed. The plot, however, was really interesting and if you like 40s detective fiction, then it's definitely up your alley.

This is my review of Woolrich's Night Has a Thousand Eyes. You can read Colin's review here.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Lilith - Toby Tate

I love a good horror story. Unexplainable things, mysterious voices, giant monsters, it's all up my alley. So, when I saw the description of a new book called Lilith, it sounded like just my kind of book. I was excited to read a horror novel and made it the next book for me to pick up.

Lilith tells the story of Hunter Singleton and his wife Lisa who are invited aboard the USS Gerald Ford in a group of media to write an article about the boat. However, strange things are afoot upon the ship. Crew members start doing strange things and as a deadly hurricane makes its way towards Manhattan, things take a turn towards the worst.

I wanted to like this book. I like monster books. I like spooky stuff. I'm not the hugest fan of military books but they can be really good. However, this book was hard to read. So many things rubbed me the wrong way and I could not get over it.

Firstly, the characters. Hunter is the definition of a Gary Stu, a character too perfect to exist in real life. He's charming and kind and has a super hot wife and at one point, a demon(?) kidnaps him to be her sex slave. Yes, that is a thing that happens. Also, he just so happens to have knowledge of everything forever. He was in the Navy, he's smart enough that the CIA lets him in on classified information and my personal favorite, as they are wandering some homeless tunnels, he criticizes the tunnels but understands that at least they're shelter because he was once homeless. … what?

This is the second book featuring Hunter and Lisa which is something I hadn't realized going in so I can forgive some lack of characterization due to not having read the first book. However, there is absolutely no character depth whatsoever. The only motivation I spotted in any of the characters in the entire book was lust. Because there is a lot of strange sex going on in this. Which leads me to another point:

There is a lot of strange sex in this book. Now, I get that sex is a thing that happens in a lot of books and most of the time, it fits in with the plot and the reader moves on. Not so here. There are random sex scenes between characters that will never be mentioned again. There is a disturbing amount of description about female characters and how exotic and hot they are whereas male characters are only described by what race they happen to be (aka I think one of the characters was black.) It felt creepily like reading someone's fantasies than a forward plot development. Although there was a reason for the sex, it still was gratuitous and uncomfortable for the reader.

Something also gratuitous and uncomfortable for the reader was the amount of Navy speak going on in the text. I get that using jargon is helpful for creating atmosphere and believability but between the amount of it and the fact that none of it was explained, it made it incredibly hard to follow what characters were talking about. I still don't know what the CHENG was, although I think it was a person. Or maybe a robot. Or maybe a sex robot? This reader will never know. Or she will because she just googled it. However, I shouldn't have to google "CHENG navy" to find out it meant Chief Engineer. Because an author can just write that. 

I'm going to skip over the fact that the main villain hates the Navy because a sailor ran over her dog when she was a child. That just feels like rubbing salt in the wound at this point.

To be honest, it's a miracle I made it through the whole book. It became more about giggling through its absurdity than actually reading it very early on. I would not recommend this book and I would honestly wonder how this got published in the first place. There is a lot of good horror out there. Don't waste your time with this.

Lilith comes out in January from Dark Fuse.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Fifty Shades of Mr Darcy - William Codpiece Thwakery

Yes, this is a book than exists. It is a parody of both Fifty Shades of Grey and Pride and Prejudice and describes itself as 'for people who love Pride and Prejudice and hate Fifty Shades of Grey.' As I fit both of those categories and I could use a bit of a giggle, I gave it a go.

This is usually the part of the review where I give a basic plot outline. I don't know if I really need to do it for this book. It's exactly what you think it is. An entertaining device is that it continues to break the fourth wall, mentioning things from Shades that wouldn't be around during the 1820s and then laughing at itself. 

Also, Mr. Collins is Phil Collins. And they have him quote his own songs repeatedly. It is much funnier than it should be.

As it is a parody novel, it does try a bit hard at times, making jokes out of nothing and doing its best to remain funny. However, it has some great material to work with and the juxtaposition of a horribly written pretty vulgar novel with the ultimate in manners and subtlety makes for some great lines. 

"Mr Darcy had made no protestations of love. In fact, he had made his intentions plain from the outset. 'I do not make love, Miss Bennet,' he had told her. 'I bonk. I have it off. I get my end away. I roger. I boff.'"

"Mr Bennet, you will, of course, be paying a visit to Mr Bingley when he comes into the neighborhood.'

Mr Bennet raised his eyes at last. 'If he shoots, plays pool or has a shed, I shall. If he is one of those newfangled metrosexuals, I shall not.'"

"Mr Darcy stared at her for a long moment. His brow creased, and his expression was pained, as if he was torn between two choices - a cheese sandwich vs tuna mayo, maybe, or between pride and desire.

All of a sudden, he stood and gave a curt bow.

'Laters, Baby,' he said stiffly, and turned upon his heel."

It's silly and short but good fun if you're in the mood for some laughs. If any of those quotes had you giggling, you should pick it up.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Frozen - Mary Casanova

I received the galley of Frozen from NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press. I thought the book looked very interesting and wanted something halfway serious to read, considering I had something quite silly to read as well and knew I need to break it up. Something mysterious and historically sounded right up my alley.

Frozen tells the story of Sadie Rose, a teenager growing up in the early twenties in small town Minnesota. She was taken in by a wealthy family when she was found as a child by the body of her frozen mother. She has been mute ever since. She has few memories of her mother and has grown up feeling a bit like an outsider as the family, despite loving her, has still yet to adopt her over ten years later. 

At the start of the story, Sadie Rose finds some photographs in the shed one day while the family is out and realizes that they must be pictures of her mother. With the introduction of this new stimulus, Sadie finds memories returning to her and her voice beginning to work for the first time in years. But she also finds a wariness to speak and new suspicions being raised about her past.

Something I really liked about Frozen was its setting. Although the twenties as a period are quite vogue right now, it's always the flappers, bootleggers and jazz musicians that tend to get the attention. This took that same era and looked at it from another angle. Sadie has heard talk that women's right to vote may happen soon. She still worries about walking to town by herself and that it's inappropriate for her to go out on a canoe with a boy. This is a new and refreshing time period to read a book set in and I really enjoyed it. The research was clearly there and the world felt fully realized.

The plot itself is also very intriguing. You know right from the start that Sadie has a mysterious past that is obviously going to be explored as the book goes on. Why is Sadie mute? What happened to her mother? Is there something nefarious with her newfound family? 

For the first two thirds of the book, the plot surges on, drawing you through with references to prostitution, bootlegging and murder. There's obviously something shady in Sadie's past. There are also colorful characters that she encounters, from Owen the local boy to Victor the reformer to Trinity, the party girl. Each escapade ties the story closer to the ultimate mystery and keeps you reading.

When I got to about two thirds in, though, I looked at how many pages where left and began to worry that Casanova wouldn't have time to wrap up all the plots that she had gotten going. There were only so many pages and a lot more the reader needed to know. That is the only disappointment I found in this book: it wraps up too quickly and neatly. Some things that really needed to be explored more where paved over in order to give the book a neat ending. Sure, Sadie comes into her own and gains her own voice, so to speak, but it seems that she recovers from some facts too quickly and doesn't explore other mysteries that one would think she would want to know more about (a certain unexplained death comes to mind.) When the book ended, I felt there was too much that hadn't been explained satisfactorily to me. I wanted more.

So I suppose that's not the worst criticism: to have wanted more. I did enjoy the characters, especially the manic depressive Trinity who added some Zelda Fitzgerald-esque drama into the mix. I just wish more would have been explored.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Wolves in Winter - Lisa Hilton

I honestly don't even know where to start with this one. I was given it to read by my friend Lizzy who was doing work experience at its publisher at the time. She had just finished it and had liked it, although she had issues with it. I'll read pretty much anything, like historical fiction and thought the cover looked cool. I'd give it a go.

Wolves in Winter tells the story of a girl named Mura Benito. Born to a Nordic mother and a Spanish father in Toledo 1492, she has very interesting coloring and is seen as abnormal by the people of the town. When her father is taken in by the Inquisition, Mura's life of fending for herself and trying to find a place in the powerful political machinations of the day begins.

Mura (also known as Mora) is passed around from place to place. She's in the court of the Medici's, she's on the road with circus performers, she's a priceless slave for the Countess of Forli. In each place, things become difficult for Mura, she makes new friends and enemies and always counts on only herself for her own survival.

Is this book interesting? Yes. The plot jumps from place to place, in important parts of Italy's history. The only downside is that the back cover of the book gives away the plot for about two thirds of the novel. There aren't any real surprises because you already know where Mura's journey is going to take her. I was disappointed by that. 

Another thing that is a bit confusing is the writing style. For the most part, it is consistent and easy to follow. Even when there are "mystical" things happening, such as the visions Mura has at times, there isn't an issue with the writing style. It's when it comes to specifying things that may be important, such as some physical differences with Mura and other girls, that the author is incredibly vague, even though it is a very important plot point. It's very frustrating.

Overall, though, the main issue I have with the book is the author. The author just makes me uncomfortable. When you google her, the first result after her homepage is an article she wrote for The Guardian several years ago about her views on cheating. Although I try not to let my views on the author cloud my reading of the book (and I didn't find the article until after I had read it), I still found myself looking back at the book with a weird feeling in my gut. Although I did like parts of the book, I don't know if I could read another Hilton again.

If you like historical fiction or are curious about this time period, I would say give it a go. However, be prepared for really working to decipher what Hilton's trying to hint at in the story. Most of the time, it's rather important and will confuse the heck out of you if you don't figure it out in time.

Wolves in Winter comes out today (November 1, 2012) from Atlantic Books.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

I first read A Tale of Two Cities when I was fourteen years old for my freshman year English class. I can distinctly remember sitting on the couch in the family room, contentedly reading and finishing the book a good week before we were supposed to. I fell in love with it then and there. 

Ten years passed and recently I heard that a cousin of mine who is in high school himself was having trouble with the book and my uncle wanted me to tutor him. I was happy to do it but I realized that I should probably reread the book myself as years had passed and I only barely remembered the plot. 

A Tale of Two Cities tells the story of the Manette family and those around them in the period before and during the French Revolution. At the beginning of the novel, Doctor Manette is freed from the Bastille after eighteen years of imprisonment. He is reunited with his daughter who is eighteen herself and thought her father dead. Years pass and they find themselves tangled up in the dealings of Charles Darnay, a young Frenchman who is on trial for espionage against England. Different events in the lives of all the characters fluctuate and coalesce until the dramatic conclusion, set against the backdrop of the Reign of Terror.

Now, I'm not a huge Dickens fan. I think he can tell a good story and create some interesting characters but he is ridiculously wordy. Now, of course, we all know why he was wordy (he was paid by the word) but that doesn't make it any easier to get through. A Tale of Two Cities is one of his shorter novels, the version I read was only 270 pages. Most Dickens are monsters. Thus, I think it's actually a pretty good first Dickens, a chance to stick your toe in and see if you like it.

The other great thing about Tale is that it is actually a compelling story and is tightly woven so that every detail fits in to the end and there's no meandering through the middle of the novel, as Dickens is prone to. Although the sentences take their time to get to the point, the novel is quite atmospheric and filled with forward momentum. Years are passed by in a few paragraphs to get on to the next dramatic point. There's no lingering.

Of course, the other thing I love about Tale is Sydney Carton, one of the characters. A once promising young lawyer that has had too much adventure and drink, he ends up taking the case of Charles Darnay when we first meet him. He and Darnay become foils for each other, perfect reflections with opposite characteristics. Although Darnay may be the better man in theory, I have been in love with Carton since I first finished the book. He's the anti-hero, the man who wishes he could do better but knows his best days are behind him. Carton absolutely shines in the second half of the book. He is definitely the best part of the narrative.

I cried the first time I finished Tale of Two Cities and I cried this time, too. The last two chapters have some absolutely beautiful moments that are poetically written. The part where Sydney takes the woman's hand, Sydney's thoughts that end the novel. That is what story writing should be about, moments like those. 

If you're a Dickens fan but never made it around to Tale, I'm sure you'll love it. If you're someone who never really read Dickens, give it a try. It's a shorter read and a good story. It may be a bit wordy but it has good things to say.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Partials - Dan Wells

The first thing my flatmate said when she saw me reading Partials was "Oh no wait, let me guess. You're reading a dystopian YA novel?" It's true that the YA dystopia trope is really very overdone, especially these days. With the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the like, it's clear that this is a genre that sells and does well. However, as I've told many people over the past few months, dystopia has always been a big feature of YA literature. I can remember reading tons of dystopian fiction growing up, Shade's Children by Garth Nix being one of my favorite books. I have my own theories as to why dystopia works so well for the YA genre, puberty and changes reflected in dystopian worlds where children now find themselves having to fend for themselves for the first time, but I think dystopias are something that will always be a part of the YA genre. 

The other thing I love about dystopias is, although they share a common thread of a world in need of rebuilding, they are always vastly unique and intriguing. A good dystopia needs a ton of world building and a new and inventive plot if it's going to work. The reader needs to know what the new world is, how it functions, and why the protagonist is in the position that they're in or will soon become. It requires a ton of imagination and talent to create good dystopian fiction and I admire people who can do it well.

On that note, let's move on to Partials. Eleven years previous to the opening of the book, humanity was almost completely wiped out by a disease called RM and a group called Partials. Partials were created by gene manufacturers to be the perfect soldiers and fought in a war between the Americans and the Chinese. However, they rebelled against humanity and ultimately won the war. Our heroine is Kira, one of the few humans left that resides in a small community in what used to be New York. She works in the hospital and is in a group of researchers trying to find the cure to RM. 

See, the problem is that the disease that killed most of humanity is still around and has been killing all infants born since its introduction. Thus, humanity is dying out, the youngest known human being fourteen. To combat this, not only are the doctors studying the disease but every woman age eighteen and above has to be pretty much perpetually pregnant, the thinking being that one day a baby will be born immune and can be studied. Kira, however, is positive they have somehow missed something and decides that they have to study a being that hasn't been seen in eleven years but is definitely immune to the disease: the partials.

I think the first thing a person notices about Partials is the fact that the book is long. Most young adult titles tend to be around three hundred pages. Partials is a whopping four hundred and seventy. It's not even that the print is strangely large or anything; it's just that the story is that intensive. I really appreciate what Wells has created. He spends a lot of time developing the world that Kira and her friends live in which kind of needed to happen because it's so vastly different. Although the book is long, it is still a quick read. I read the first seventy pages on a train ride to and from the movie theatre so it isn't impossible to get through, it just looks intimidating.

Also impressive is the amount of plot Wells puts into his novel. The focus changes about every hundred or so pages, keeping the reader on his or her toes. You don't even meet a main character until about two hundred pages in. This book could easily have been split into three but knowing it's the first in a series means that there is tons more to explore and I definitely am intrigued enough to read on. 

I have to admit that I found Kira a bit grating at times. She is rebellious to the point of just silliness at times. However, I really like how Wells created her. She is very smart and is also a scientific researcher. There are bits where she is doing laboratory tests and examining microbes and the like. Instead of skipping through it, Wells actually explores this and tries to explain the things Kira is seeing and tries to explain them. I was pleasantly surprised by this. Sure, it slowed the plot down a bit but it also added some really interesting information that indeed did come in handy later in the book. 

I was impressed with Partials and would love to read the next book. The book ends in both a comfortable and cliffhanger-y way. The plot of the first book is definitely resolved by the end but it leaves just enough questions and niggling thoughts to make you want to push on, just like a good first book should. If you're a dystopia fan, this is definitely up your alley.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

[Review Reaction] If on a winter's night a traveller - Italo Calvino

4 Questions about If on a winter's night a traveller

Colin and I have decided that the review reactions we've been doing have mostly been some strains of "I agree with the other person" and nothing super substantive. As a result, we've decided to instead ask each other a few questions about our views on the book. It should be more interesting. Here are my responses to Colin's questions for me. You can read Colin's reactions to my questions here.

1) What was the most enjoyable "novel" and the least? Why?

I'm going to cheat and pick two for my most enjoyable because there were two that I honestly would have loved to have kept reading. The first was In a network of lines that enlace, the story of the college professor that breaks into a house to answer the telephone. I think I liked that one because it felt like the kind of book I would read anyway, the book I would pick up at the library because it looked intriguing. My other favorite was Around an empty grave, the story of the cowboy that goes to find his mother. I really enjoyed that one because it wasn't the kind of book I would pick up randomly but by the end, I really wanted to know what was going on. I thought it had created a really interesting premise and I wanted to keep reading.

As for least favorite, I'm also going to have to go with In a network of lines that intersect. The main reason I have is that I honestly had no idea what was happening in most of it. It was one of those experiences where you're reading words and you think you're following along but you put it down after a paragraph and realize you have no idea what happened. I think this story had kaleidoscopes in it. Maybe.

2) As a female reader, how did you feel about the second person narrative when The Reader was clearly male?

To be honest, it really didn't faze me. When you pick second person narration in a fictional narrative, you're going to have to pick a gender at some point and as the author is male, it makes more sense for him to go with male. I understand how second person of a different gender seems odd but it never really mattered to me. I mean, this was a book written in 1979 in Italy. Clearly, even if it had a female narrator, it was going to be a foreign perspective. Sure, some things happen that wouldn't have happened had the narrator been female but The Reader was always a character, even if it was in second person, so I never really felt bothered by it.

3) What makes this book a classic?

I think what makes this book "a classic" is that it tackled difficult ideas in fiction in an original way. It dealt with ideas of reading and writing in highly metaphysical ways which was something that was just coming into vogue at the time of publication and he wrote it for a mass market audience. I bet this was the first time a lot of people actually sat down to think about the process of reading and what it could mean. Nowadays, the whole meta aspect of media is explored all the time and so I think some of the ideas in Winter's Night aren't as groundbreaking as they were when the story had just come out. However, it marked the beginning of a trend that still continues and that's why I think it's a book to be read by anyone who considers themselves "a reader" or "a writer."

4) Sum up this book in six words.

Man reads, explores meaning of reading.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Uninvited - Liz Jensen

This is another book I got off Netgalley. The minute I got the email that I had gotten access to it, I ran off to download it. I was very excited about this book and could not wait to get my hands on it.

The Uninvited tells the story of a rash of unexplained child attacks. Normal children, seemingly happy and well adjusted, start attacking family members for no reason. Meanwhile, our hero, Hesketh Lock, is sent on a strange business trip. He works for a company that helps corporations manage scandals. He is sent to Taiwan to investigate a whistleblower who seems to be more ashamed of himself than happy with what he's done.

Hesketh is an interesting main character. A man with Aspergers, he narrates the story with an interesting take as he views the world differently than many a protagonist would. He constantly reflects on a recently broken relationship, thinking back to why it broke up and how much he misses the boy he had become a surrogate father to. At first I thought all of the looking back and the pining was a bit much but it ties into the story about midway in a not unexpected but interesting way. Jensen even went a bit further than I thought she might have and I was impressed.

I honestly could not put this book down and finished it in about two days. There were twists and turns galore. At one point, I was reading the book on the train on my way to a friend's and actually gasped aloud. Definitely an edge of your seat thriller.

I was also impressed with how genuinely creepy Jensen is able to set the mood. Pulling off a "scary" book is one of the hardest things, I believe. When it comes to television and movies, the right atmosphere, lighting and music can set any scene but with literature, it all comes down to the right combination of words. I'm not usually frightened by books but there was a bit, when I put the book down after reading the chapter on the tower in Dubai, where I lay in bed and couldn't help but glance and make sure there wasn't an evil little girl in the room with me.

One thing that is absolutely lovely with this book is that every chapter drives harder and harder towards the end. Each chapter builds upon what it had before and creates a genuine and taut air of tension. I'm honestly surprised I managed to read it in two sittings. The only thing that disappointed me was that I felt the ending didn't quite live up to what came before. Was it a perfectly adequate and understandable ending? Yes. I just felt like there was a bit more coming, a new twist that ultimately was more expected than revelatory. It reminded me of Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. Which is a good thing because that book is amazing. Still, though, it felt expected, in the way it hadn't in that novel.

Overall, I did absolutely adore this. It was right up my alley, scary, thrilling and full of twists and turns. I would recommend it in a heartbeat. You will not be able to put it down. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Listeners - Harrison Demchick

The Listeners is a book I received a galley of through NetGalley. I thought the plot looked intriguing and I'm happy to read anything once. For some reason, I had gotten it into my head that it was a YA novel. After reading it, I'm pretty sure it's not a YA novel. It definitely had an interesting plot and narrative structure.

The Listeners tells the story of a boy named Danny. Danny has been in his house for heaven knows how long when the book opens, forced inside by a quarantine of the borough he lives in due to an unknown disease. His mother went out for toilet paper three days prior but has yet to return. As Danny eats his breakfast, he sees an infected person out on the street who shoots at him. This calls the cops over, who offer to trade Danny his mother's gun for supplies. However, they take a little more than that, as well. After the cops leave, two men appear and whisk Danny away with them. They are two Listeners.

The Listeners are definitely the main focus and idea of the novel. They are a brotherhood (no women are allowed in) that live together and work together to take out the cops, who they feel are corrupt. They are led by a 'prophet' named Adam and, ritualistically, cut off their right ear when they become a true Listener, so as to only hear the truth. Demchick has definitely created a stunning image and the chapter where the ritual is performed is extremely well written.

I think the thing I liked more than even the plot itself was the narrative structure. This story is told in chunks. The chapters jump back and forth through time, following Danny through different parts of his journey with the Listeners and what he comes to believe and to doubt. Meanwhile, there are also 'respites' throughout, that offer a somewhat lengthy chapter from a random, usually only tangentially related character's point of view. This both fleshes out the world that the novel is taking place in and allows the author to explore more complex views than Danny has without questioning his protagonist. I found the respites maybe the most interesting parts of the novel, since you never quite knew what was going to happen with them. The chapter about the male nurse I found especially haunting. It could have been a short story on its own.

The way the plot twisted and turned, especially with its nonlinear fashion, made the book a quick read. Chapters were short and usually ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger. It kept you on your toes, although sometimes it was a bit too fast paced, racing through bits you would have to go and reread because you missed the significance of them the first time around.

Another really interesting idea was the disease, itself. Although it takes a typical zombie movie-esque formula, Demchick has invented a very interesting and somewhat more disturbing take on the stereotypical 'infected.' The sickos, as they are called, are normal people who begin growing boils all over their skin. However, for the most part, they remain conscious and aware of their surroundings, able to talk and communicate up until the point where, well, they can't. That's what makes them such interesting "monsters." Some can be communicated with, some are basically harmless as they've lost their awareness and some turn violent. It's just unknown when and why any of them will be the way they are. It adds complications and ethical questions into the plot more than a normal zombie situation, although, to be honest, it's not talked about all that much.

To be honest, as much as I liked this book, I think it needs a continuation or it's sunk. It has created a very interesting world and cast some questions on it. However, the last twenty or so pages are completely unfulfilling compared to the rest. Questions are brought up (especially one in regards to a picture found) that are not even thought about but briefly. I'm hoping that means a sequel is on its way. However, if this book is a stand alone, I don't know if I could recommend it. It's interesting but it asks more questions than it answers and not in a good way. It is the beginnings of a very good zombie novel but only the beginnings. There definitely  needs to be more.

The Listeners comes out in December from Bancroft Press.

Monday, 15 October 2012

[Duel Review] If on a winter's night a traveller - Italo Calvino

Okay, I picked the book for this month's duel review. I had been glancing at it in Waterstones for a few weeks beforehand as it sat on the two for one table and had been intrigued. During my friends and my "we finished our dissertation so let's buy all the books!" afternoon, I gave in to temptation and picked up a copy. As well as the back cover making it sound quite interesting, my friend Lizzy's coworker had been raving about it to her the weekend before so it seemed a good buy.

To be quite honest, I'm not entirely sure how to describe the novel. It is definitely nothing you've ever read before. I think I may just put the back cover blurb: 

You go into a bookshop and buy If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. You like it. But there is a printer's error in your copy. You take it back to the shop and get a replacement. But the replacement seems to be a totally different story. You try to track down the original book you were reading but end up with a different narrative again. This remarkable novel leads you through many different books including a detective adventure, a romance, a satire, an erotic story, a diary and a quest. But the hero of them all is you, the reader.

I guess, at first glance, it kind of sounds like a very intense 'Choose Your Own Adventure' novel. The Reader is the main character, although, to be fair, there are instances where you realize that the author is aware of the difference between The Reader and the reader. Which shows you just how incredibly meta this novel is. 

Although there is a semblance of plot about forged books and sneaky translators, this book, more than anything, is a treatise on books, on reading and writing. It makes you think about what a book means to you and what the written word means in general. It investigates what the point of novels are and what a writer must do to be a writer and if he does not do these things, doesn't that still make him a writer? 

One thing that you will either love or hate about the book is the format. Every other chapter follows the exploits of The Reader and what he does in search of the continuation of his book. Meanwhile, the chapters in-between are the beginnings of the novels that he is attempting to read. Each one is very different, even if they sometimes explore the same things. On the one hand, they seem out of place at times but on the other hand, they really do showcase the talent of Calvino as a writer. I really enjoyed each new beginning and I think it really helps the reader identify with The Reader. When you finish each snippet, you really are curious how it would continue. It also shows you what the importance of a great set up is and how (as stated towards the end of the novel) perhaps that anticipation, the small beginning that sets the reader up, is something that can never be lived up to, no matter how good the following subject matter is.

I can't say that I particularly liked the actual plot of the novel, as I found it a bit too heavy handed and took away from some of the more interesting passages about reading in general. Even though I usually despise second person, I think it was used incredibly effectively in this book. 

I do feel that this book was probably much more revelatory in the period it was published in (the early eighties), mainly because being meta has become more mainstream, with social media breaking down the wall between reader and author and media in general becoming more interested in exploring structure through its own medium (I'm thinking Community here). However, it still packs quite a punch and gives the reader a lot to think about.

I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who considers themselves "a reader" or "a writer." It has a lot to say on both topics and will genuinely  make you think. It's an inventive novel and well worth your time.

This is my review for If on a winter's night a traveller. Here is a link to Colin's review.

Monday, 8 October 2012

It's Not Me, It's You - Jon Richardson

I picked up this book on a lark while I was working at HarperCollins. The employee store was amazing and all paperback books were 25 pence. Since I happen to like Jon Richardson as a comic and picking up his book wouldn't put me back much, I picked it up in my mad buying spree. I thought it would be good, silly fun.

The book is a nonfictional look at Jon's life and more specifically, his love life. He has been single for eight years (when the book was written) and by going through a period of three days with him, the reader follows him as he thinks about the way he lives his life and how he feels this impairs his chances of finding happiness. 

What I really liked about this book is that it wasn't anything you expected. It has its funny moments, of course, but for the most part, this is a pretty intense look into the issues someone faces everyday. Jon's intense fear of failure and his need to do things his own way, not to mention his tendency to analyze every possible thing that could go wrong before taking a single chance stand in his way as he struggles to make himself text a girl that gave him her number a few nights before. And as Jon slowly explains the way his mind works, it makes you sympathize and root for him. There were definitely some moments where I could really sympathize with what he was saying and it definitely sheds light on things about my own life that I never really thought about. 

There are a lot of things that I really enjoyed his thoughts on and really made me think. I'm going to give you a few tasters:

"Friendship [is] something that transcend[s] physicality; it [is] almost purer than any love you could feel for a partner. The friends you make as a child who stay with you throughout your life do so not because they find you attractive, or they gain financially from your time together, but because something deep down connects the two of you. Because you have stayed with each other through more than one period of your evolution."

"Dreams are an excuse for unhappiness; they allow us to think we would be happier and healthier if only we had what we were looking for. Once that thing has been found and eternal bliss remains as unattainable as ever, then unhappiness takes on a life all of its own, unconnected to any one possession or person. It is an entity that cannot be controlled, cannot be defeated and comes and goes from your life entirely as it pleases like a drunken guest at a house party, staggering from room to room and bringing with them only chaos."

And my personal favorite:

"It is a source of confusion to me that as a child, say, in your first fifteen years, you learn more than you will ever learn in the same time period for the rest of your life. You learn how to walk and to talk, you learn about illness, death and about not getting your own way. You learn that life is sometimes unfair and that, for no reason at all, bad things happen to good people. You learn that there will come a time when all help ceases and you will be in sole charge of your own happiness and responsible for your own actions. You learn about money and what it is to be without it and you learn (if you are lucky) to ask questions about religion and what might exist beyond the world we know.

Not only this, but you must also get to grips with school, exams, bullying, physical education and physical attraction and the prospect of being poorly suited to success in both, not to mention the constant see-sawing of emotion caused by the hormonal changes going on in your body and doubts about sexuality and the consequences this might have on your future.

All of these issues are to be confronted night after night, staring up at the ceiling on your own with your brain fit to burst, in a single bed. Then suddenly you become an 'adult' and you are told that the inability to find someone with whom you can share a double bed is the single biggest failure you can make in life. Well, bullshit!"

To be quite honest, I kind of love this book. It's definitely not what it's marketed as ("So funny! You'll love it!," etc,) but that just makes it better. It's not a memoir, it's not some trivial joke book, it's a person with things to say and intelligent things, at that. Parts of Jon's book really resonated with me and I think they will with more people than are willing to admit to it. I absolutely loved it and if those quotes above appealed to you, than you'll like it, too.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Arabella - Georgette Heyer

The one thing I absolutely love about Georgette Heyer books is that you always know what you're going to get when you pick one up: you're going to get an absolutely lovely and completely innocent tale of wooing in the Regency period, complete with gaming debts, cynical young men and naive and trusting women. Will it make you think differently about anything? No, probably not. Will it make you smile for about three hundred pages? Absolutely.

Arabella is a classic Heyer book. Our heroine, Arabella Tallant, is on her way to London for her season. She doesn't have much money but has been taken pity on by her godmother that will sponsor her. On her way to London, however, her carriage breaks down and she seeks shelter from the rain in a nearby house.

This nearby house is of course owned by our male lead, Robert Beaumaris. Mr. Beaumaris is the Nonpareil of the season, setting all the fashion trends and dictating what is in and out in London. He's also worth quite a bit of money. He thinks Arabella is faking the carriage accident to get closer to him. When Arabella hears him confide this to a friend, in outrage, she hints that she's worth a great deal of money herself, to make him feel bad about his assumptions.

Mr. Beaumaris, of course, knows this is a pretense but runs with it, thinking it would be funny to make Miss Tallant the most sought after girl of the Season. And it works. But he finds himself falling for her, too. And Arabella has to start fending off fortune hunters that don't know that she doesn't actually have any money.

Georgette Heyer books are also absolutely lovely because they are romance novels written in the fifties. You know what Georgette Heyer doesn't mess with? All those sex scenes in modern romance novels. Instead of the prerequisite (at least) three sex scenes of a romance novel, Heyer just keeps it light and breezy, a complete courtship with an innocent but passionate young woman and a man impressed by her zeal. It's much more Jane Austen than Nora Roberts. Even her writing style is old fashioned but in a good way, that keeps you involved in the plot. 

Arabella was an absolutely lovely read, exactly what I needed at the time. It was short, it was sweet and it was romantic. It didn't change the world but it made for a good read.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science - Mary Roach

This is the third Mary Roach book I've reviewed on this blog and as such, I think you'll realize by now that I really like her. She takes subjects that interest her but that she knows little about, researches them and writes easily accessible and extremely interesting books. I'm a bit addicted to them.

The most recent book of her's I've read is Bonk. Bonk is all about the science behind sex. As such, it was kind of embarrassing to read on the train. However, despite the initial squirm you get pulling it out of your bag and determining if it's worse to let people see the cover or open it up on your lap and let your next seat over neighbor glance over and catch a sentence about vibrators, you're quickly pulled in.

The interesting thing about the science behind sex is just how recent everything is. Sex is such a taboo subject, especially in America, that most studies began, at the earliest, in the 1950s and even those were very scandalous and not taken super seriously. Beyond that, funding was near impossible because it was just so very hard to convince people that this was a thing that needed to be studied, let alone figure out how to get human test subjects for most of it. 

This book was extremely interesting and posed a lot of questions I didn't even realize where questions, let alone what the answers were. For instance, how does one actually investigate what happens in the vagina during sex? Seriously. That is a thing I have never pondered but once it's asked, you kind of just sit there and think "…yeah. How does that work?" The answer: penis camera.

Seriously, though. Stuff like that. Stuff you would never even think about. It's all there and in the humorous, curious style of Mary Roach. It's not for the faint-hearted, as most of her books are but it's very interesting and, yes, entertaining. Definitely worth a read, if only in the privacy of your own home.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Debutantes - Cora Harrison

One nice thing about being in a group of friends that all want to get into publishing is that we all tend to end up with extra books. In this case, a good friend had gotten a proof copy of Debutantes and thought it sounded like the kind of thing I'd like and so gave it to me. These are the best kind of friends to have. 

Debutantes tells the story of four titled but poor sisters growing up in an old house in the country in the early twenties. The oldest, Violet, is turning eighteen and wants nothing more than to go to London and be presented to court. Unfortunately, bad investment ideas ten or so years prior have left the family without much and they do not have the money to send Violet to London. And so, the girls begin plotting on how they can get their sister to the capital.

The novel does feel a bit cliche by having each of the four daughters extremely interested in something that was up and coming in the twenties. Violet is just the quintessential debutante. Poppy is obsessed with jazz. Daisy likes to direct and make films and Rose, the youngest, wants to be a writer. Although it's a bit much to swallow, it does add to the atmosphere and Daisy, especially, is fun to follow. Which is helpful as she's the narrator.

That is the thing I love the most about Debutantes: it doesn't follow the pattern you'd expect. Instead of a book following Violet and her triumphs and travails as she tries to get her time in London, you get a novel about Daisy, the plainest of the girls and how she tries to help her sister while also trying to make films and learn more about the mysterious family member who's trunk was discovered in the attic. By making the narrator not the obvious focus of the story, it keeps the reader on their toes. I had no idea how the book was going to end. Was Violet going to go to London? Yeah, most likely. Would she end up marrying that boy that was clearly in love with her? Not really a doubt. But what was going on with Daisy?

Does Debutantes follow all the rules of YA fiction? Pretty much. But it does so by inverting expectations and exploring side plots that could have easily been forgotten. The ultimate climax has nothing to do with Violet and everything to do with an important discovery made by Daisy. I was very impressed by the new and interesting directions taken by Harrison. This book is the first in a new series and I can honestly say that I have no idea what's going to happen in the next book but I'm very excited to find out. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Review Reaction - The Long Earth

This is a reaction to Colin's review of The Long Earth. He will be posting his reaction to my review soon.

I'm kind of glad that Colin and I had slightly differing opinions about this novel because otherwise this would be a very hard reaction to write. Well, no, I think overall we had pretty much the same opinion; it's just the little things. 

The problem with The Long Earth is definitely the dissonance between the long reaching and pretty epic possibilities allowed by the idea of the novel and the seemingly narrow main plot that goes along with it. I think we both pretty much agreed that the main plot dragged a bit. I thought Joshua and Lobsang were likable, if a bit boring at times but Colin pretty much didn't like them. I can see that, though. The characters are hard to relate to and I think I was only won over by a few dialogue exchanges that made me chuckle. If that hadn't of happened, I would be as stone faced as the rest of them.

I think the biggest difference Colin and I had about Long Earth is the inclusion of small chapters about other people. Colin felt that they were never "fully developed" and he would like to see them as "an actual addition to the main story." I see where he's coming from but I disagree. Because, in a way, they do add to the main story. Characters that have their own chapters are mentioned in passing in other chapters and add to the world creation of the novel. Beyond that, they allow the authors to explore aspects of the Long Earth that Joshua and Lobsang, by their natures, would never have encountered. I thought these bits were some of the best parts of the novel but also, that's probably the sci fi geek in me coming out. 

Colin doesn't think he'll read the sequels but I think I probably will. I think we both kind of felt lukewarm on this novel and that's understandable. It was a good book with a ton of flaws. I think what I'm discovering doing this duel review thing is less about the books and more that Colin and I have remarkably similar taste. :)