Thoughts on the second round…

book of lifeWhen I first read the book, several things REALLY bothered me. Top among them was the fact that in a book that should be tying everything up, Harkness began introducing new threads and characters. Now, as any academic writer can tell you: you NEVER introduce new information in your conclusion!

However, I thought she might be turning this into a series rather than just a trilogy. [I don’t know if it is true, but it seems plausible given the fact that BoL reads more like a transition than an actual ending.] Once that thought sunk in, I wasn’t as irritated by the book on the second read-through.
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Things that are still not good:

1. Gallowglass. Never once in SoN did I have the impression that G was more than a loyal, kick-ass friend and ally. Now he has been turned into some pathetic thing and it feels incredibly untrue to the character! It also (unintentionally?) sets Diana up as the “look at how everybody is in love with me” kind of woman–which seems antithetical to who she is.

This felt like Harkness was grasping at straws to either create family tension–which is unnecessary–or that she just wanted to stretch the length of the novel.

2. The anticlimactic everything (or, how there is NOTHING at stake in this book)…

A. Babies. Yeah, she has ’em. Yep, they get names. Blah blah blah. Mostly, they just sit there being part of the background.

B. The Congregation. Seriously? I know writing about board meetings is a bit dull, but essentially Diana walks in, waffles around a bit, and–poof–the end of the covenant. How was this body of people any threat to anyone?

C. Benjamin. He’s the “big bad” and somehow he’s hidden from the Congregation (and the entire deClermont clan) for hundreds of years. And, even though he’s caught Matthew and is doing his level best to breed with captive witches, no one feels in jeopardy (even the tortured Matthew). In the end he just falls away with very little effort.

I’m not sure how Benjamin became the “big bad” for this story. He never seemed like much more than a passing side-thread in either of the other books. And now, in book 3, he is some super-psychopath? It just didn’t work for me.

3. New characters (with new threads to tug…)

Janet Gowdie (conveniently the granddaughter of Benjamin+witch). Fernando (only previously mentioned in Bk 1). The Madison coven folks. The London coven folks. More congregation members. The students working in the lab.

4. Parade of former characters without much import tied to them (basic name dropping to show “I was here”).

Sophie/Nathaniel/baby Margaret/Agatha. Philippe. Emily. Rebecca/Stephen.

5. Minor characters who just show up as plot devices: Chris, Jack, Father Hubbard, Alain, Marthe, Timothy.

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What do I think on a second read?

I still think the book isn’t up to scratch–there are too many loose connections that fail to execute the story properly as an end to a trilogy. She needed another year and at least two more serious revisions to get that plot sewn up.

I know I am in the minority (according to most publishing standards), but I would have been much happier to wait for a good book than to sit through one that was published too soon.

A second chance

book of lifeOK.  I am going to give The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness–the final book her trilogy–a second chance.  I loved the first two!  So I am wondering if maybe I misjudged the whole thing as I raced through it the first time (see my initial reaction on Goodreads).  Was I too hasty?

I don’t want to be angry with this book.  I want it to do everything it should do (and do it well.)

Perhaps reading it through a second time–taking it in slowly–will let me know if I was completely off base.  However, it might just irritate me more to know I was not wrong the first time!

King Solomon’s Mines

I said I’d get around to writing about this.  Don’t hold your breath.

  • Book:  King Solomon’s Mines
  • Author:  H. Rider Haggard
  • Publication year:  1885

King Solomon Mine coverThis book is supposed to be the genesis of all “lost world” genre books.  But, to me, it screams bigoted colonialism which pisses me off in any genre.  I don’t like the view (especially when it is author driven and not just character driven) that anyone–no matter race, gender, or beliefs–should be written off as a simpleton just because of a difference in technology and customs.

Yes.  I could be diplomatic and say Haggard was a creature of his time and values.  Well, times change.  Novels don’t.

If you can get around the arrogant “white man is the superior being” language in the text, the tale isn’t dreadful.  It does feel a bit simple–more like a teenage adventure tale–but there are still twists and turns to be had:  a lost brother, a treasure hunt, treachery, tribal civil war, witches, almost certain death, and stalagmite-bodies of dead kings.  Oh, and–in case you forgot where you were–the obligatory great-white-hunter scene of wanton destruction of animals.

But, as is to be expected to generate hope for any adventuresome reader:

So we left it. Perhaps, in some remote unborn century, a more fortunate explorer may hit upon the “Open Sesame,” and flood the world with gems. But, myself, I doubt it. Somehow, I seem to feel that the tens of millions of pounds’ worth of jewels which lie in the three stone coffers will never shine round the neck of an earthly beauty. They and Foulata’s bones will keep cold company till the end of all things.

Here lies the adventure of King Solomon’s Mines.

  • Did I enjoy this book?  Not in any particular way.
  • Will I read this book again?  That is highly unlikely without a specific reason for doing so.
  • Will I attempt to read more H. Rider Haggard?  I may give it one more shot.

PS.  If you do go digging in to this novel, you might hear the echoes of other adventure stories as you go.  While this book’s attitudes may rub me the wrong way, I do think this book has made serious ripples in the literary pond…

The Lies of Locke Lamora!

If I could convey my enthusiasm for this book, I might kick you in the shins until you felt compelled to read it.  Or pinching.  Yes, most definitely pinching with squealy-girl screeches.

Holycrapitiswayawesomeandyouhavetoreaditnowdammit!

lies of locke lamoraDetails

  • Book:  The Lies of Locke Lamora
  • Author:  Scott Lynch
  • Publication:  2006

I have been hearing about this book for several years but haven’t gotten around to reading it until now.  What the hell was I thinking?!  However, one great thing about my laziness is that I have two new books in the series to continue…but, like everyone else, will have to wait on the remainder.

This book was beyond excellent.  While it is technically a fantasy novel–and I mean that in the way that says “technically”–because this is a made up world and there are unique creatures and magicians and other curiosities that make a world “real.”  However, the non-recognizable is made commonplace by the fact that this is a story about a heist, a coup, and revenge.  Essentially, it is all about a small gang called the Gentleman Bastards and the lovably devious Locke Lamora in particular.  The fantasy fades into the background…

The interweaving storylines–the past with the present–while not really a new style, seem to be particularly effective for this story.  It made for a rich, full world by filling in little corners and shadows with detail that might not have been there had the story been structured differently.

As I listened to the book, it reminded me of some wild crossbred version of Charles Dickens, The Little Rascals, and those black and white crime movies (think Edward G. Robinson, Peter Lorre, etc.).  The book is witty and amusing and beautifully written.

The audiobook was narrated by Michael Page.  Page uses different voices to separate the characters–which is not always the case when listening to an audiobook–but it works so well with this novel.  Highly recommended.

  • Will I read it again?  Hell, yes.
  • Will I be continuing on to the next two books in the series?  Hell, yes.
  • Do I recommend this book?  With an ever-enthusiastic pinch, a kick in the shin, and a squeal!
  • Thoughts?  Scott Lynch is a brilliant new writer.  I can’t wait to see where he goes next!

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On to my next book:  The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Again: Cold Days

The first time I read Jim Butcher’s Cold Days was not long after my library got it incold days (last December).  I read it in a mad rush trying to gobble up the latest Dresden adventure…and it left me a little unsure of what to say.

So, a few days ago, I sat down with some knitting and listened to the audiobook again.  I feel better prepared to talk about it.

I enjoyed the book because it is Dresden and I am sucked in no matter what.  Butcher is an endlessly entertaining writer and, let’s face it, James Marsters is no slouch as a voice for the audiobook.

What I think:

1.  This is the “turning” book.  This novel marks the first steps of a new path for Dresden and there isn’t much overt movement for the character internally because: A) he’s really off balance after becoming the Winter Knight and being “dead;” B) there are too many new things popping up to worry about old things; and C) the time clock is very short and doesn’t allow much deep interpersonal interaction–it’s more of a “info now, emotion later” kind of discourse.  Essentially, this is a new beginning and all the threads are being sussed out.

2.  Changes gutted Dresden’s world in every way–no home, no hope, no life.  His world flipped upside down:  he has a daughter (previously unknown) and in danger; he finds out that he isn’t invincible (and is made helpless); he finds out to what depths he will sink to do what he  thinks is right.  Much like the moment in Harry Potter #4 when Potter discovers that Voldemort CAN get to him (will kill anyone to do so) and there is no one who can save him but himself, Dresden is given a nasty shock of reality.  There is nothing but raw reaction to everything that happens.

3.  Ghost Story felt like it was tying off loose ends in Dresden’s world.

4.  Murphy.  While Dresden has crushed on her for years, he never did much about it before Changes.  However, now with him being “alive” again and the Winter Knight, Karrin does not trust him (no matter how amusing she finds him).  I also can’t see either doing much to change the situation.  I might be reading it wrong, but this feels like a death knell for the crush–a kind of you-can’t-go-back-again, missed moment thing.

5.  I am very excited to see what is coming down the line…

The Classics Club: Northanger Abbey

This is an absolute must read!  I laughed all the way through.

Catherine Morland is a young girl with a very active imagination who is taken to Bath by friends of the family.  She meets all kinds of new people and, being a sheltered girl, doesn’t have any experience in dealing with fly-by-night friends or pushy would-be-suitors.  And, Mrs. Allen–the lady whom she is accompanying–really doesn’t offer guidance as she is more concerned with her own self and pleasure; however, Mr. Allen–when he makes any appearance at all–generally has his head screwed on tight.

Isabella Thorpe is a shallow young girl who befriends Catherine and drags her about from place to place so she (Isabella) can be admired.  First she sets after James Morland, Catherine’s elder brother, becomes engaged and then dumps him when she lands the stronger financial candidate, Captain Tilney, the heir and oldest Tilney sibling–but is eventually dumped by him.

John Thorpe, Isabella’s brother, is a school friend of James Morland.  The arrogant Thorpe is very heavy-handed about separating Catherine from anyone but himself; he changes her plans without her consent several times.

Henry Tilney is the one young person who talks sense to Catherine most of the time.  She actually develops feelings for him and wants to know him better (when not being thwarted by circumstance or Thorpe).

Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s sister, becomes a friend to Catherine.  She is kind and a bit shy.

General Tilney is quite overbearing to his children and exhibits many of the same characteristics of John Thorpe.  He is at the center of the dramas at the end of the book–and only one turns out to be an actual problem that didn’t stem from Catherine’s wild imagination.

Is this a typical Austen romance?  Yes, but we are treated to every wild imagining generated out of gothic tales which cause the “typical” to be hidden.  The imagination can easily swamp reality for Catherine–and the reader.

Will I read this again?  Absolutely!

I wish I had read this novel when I was fifteen or sixteen:  I adored horror novels–being scared was fun.  But, because of this, I still think twice (even after all these years) about walking over storm drains.  This novel might have made me take a look at my need for excitement and try to find an alternative path for it.  I probably wouldn’t have stopped reading horror novels, but I might have found something else to read in between to give myself a break!

  • Started:  end of August
  • Finished:  20 September, 2012

The Classics Club: Emma

Until about 2/3 of the way through, I found this book to be seriously dull.  I’ve seen commentary and articles about the book that discuss this being a portrait of domestic life during the time–the female confinement to household concerns and little adventure.  Perhaps that is the whole problem?

While it is true that the characters are operating under this weight of confinement, Emma is at once a brat and meddler.  She does things because she can or because it relieves the monotony.  Even toward the end of the book she admits to Mr. Knightley that she had called him George just once to see if he would chastise her for it, but when he didn’t rise to the bait she stopped.  She had no use for doing anything that wouldn’t cause a ruckus where she could be the center of attention.  In fact, she doesn’t start looking at her own behavior until Mr. Knightley takes her to task for being unforgivably rude to Miss Bates.  It seems that shame is the key to her transformation because nothing else Mr. Knightley said to make her aware of her small tyrannical behaviors before this had worked.

This kind of confinement seems to breed an underlying hostility into everyone and everything.  The men are allowed escape because they can galivant around as much as they please, but the women are stuck.  We can see the progression of unopposed domestic power:  Emma exercises her own will and vanity on those closest to her; Mrs. Elton, a newcomer, makes the attempt to dominate the lives everyone in the social circle; Mrs. Churchill forces everyone around her to obey her whims without fail and makes all miserable.  Without someone to check the run-away power trips, it is likely that Emma would also evolve into a Mrs. Churchill.

No one–but, eventually, Mr. Knightley–holds Emma to account for anything.  Her father will not.  Her sister does not.  And, Mrs. Weston (Miss Taylor) is described:  “…the mildness of her temper hardly allowed her to pose any restraint; and the shadow of authority now being long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.”

And, Emma under her own guidance is dreadful.

But after Knightley’s whipcrack, Emma starts to examine the whole of her behaviors.  It seems (to me) a bit unrealistic that, after years of disciplinary neglect, that one serious comeuppance would actually work.  Emma in no way feels as sensitive as either Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice or Anne Elliot from Persuasion.  She really feels kind of blank–a bundle of willful ideas rather than anyone with actual feelings.  Austen tells us she has them–particularly after Knightley’s lecture on her conduct–but it doesn’t really ring true for me.

Will I read this book again?  Maybe–in a couple of years.  I listened to this by audiobook, but I am not sure having a physical book in front of me will improve the story much.  Maybe I am just in a snerty mood.  It just feels like a whole lot of writing with little “happening” except a few visits with friends and a lot of gossip and rumor.  Mr. Knightley’s frustration at Emma for meddling in the affairs between Harriet and Mr. Martin and his anger at her behavior toward Miss Bates feel like the only true moments of feeling through the book.  I guess I want more from a book than a few instances of amusement…

OK.  These are my haphazard thoughts for now…

Classics Club and Austen in August: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  So begins Austen’s second novel, Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813. 

I am a bit ashamed of myself for never making my way through the entirety of this novel before now.  Why?  Well, I blame Colin Firth.  Seriously.  I could never be bothered to read on when all I had to do was pop in a DVD.  And, well…just look at him.  **swoon**

To be honest, I thought that particular adaptation was quite equal to the novel.  However, there are certain places where the novel is superior for detailing feelings and certain elaborations that are just not possible to achieve through film.

What did I think of the book?

I am still uncertain how I feel about it.  Yes, yay for the girl getting the boy and whatnot and all the happy ending stuff.  But, as I look at the novel for other things, it leaves me with a large degree of uncertainty about what I would like to say about the whole thing.

Did I like the novel?  Very much.

Will I re-read it?  Most definitely.

Things I noted:

  • In reading from Susannah Carson’s compiled essays, A Truth Universally Acknowledged:  33 Great Writers on Why We Read Austen, I stumbled across a short piece by writer, Benjamin Nugent, about nerds.  He posits that the socially awkward folks like Mary Bennet or Mr. Collins are the nerds of the day–they can’t seem to really make a connection with societal expectations no matter how hard they try.  While I can agree that they are socially inept, I am wondering more why it is that they are the ones focused on moralizing over the behavior of others.  Certainly they are judgmental as many of the characters in this novel are, but they are morally judgmental without having the experience or sense to justify their waffling on.
  • I guess what really bothers me about the whole thing is that in a home with that many girls–regardless of the time period–I cannot believe that all five were absolutely civil in their actions to each other.  At no point is it ever mentioned–through all the moping about family behavior–that anyone ever did a damn thing to curtail anyone out of line.  Never do Elizabeth or Jane say a peep to their other sisters or even their parents about the issue.  And how on earth does Elizabeth manage to not to slap Lydia when she returns, proud-as-you-please, as Mrs. Wickham–still behaving like a spoiled brat without a care for the circumstances to which she has inflicted on the family?  As an older sister, I could not have been so kind nor could I have bothered with social niceties.  But maybe Austen wanted to provide an idealistic version of this kind of household regardless of the clashing personalities and behaviors?
  • For child rearing, I see the dreadful consequences of being raised to expect someone would give you everything one could want without being taught ambition to secure it for the future (Lydia/Wickham).  Darcy has the same kind of expectations except he is secure as the heir of an estate and not, as Wickham grew up, a favored child of a family friend; he has the responsibility of estate management and family weighing him down in the world.  In marriage, I see the long term results of an ill-considered partner in Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.  In Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas, while I see stupid reasons for marrying and a lack of romance or feeling, there is a similarity of character which may make the choice not truly devoid of logic–though not recommended.
  • Miss Bingley is a good foil for Elizabeth.  Lizzy, for all of her charm, is also quite a spiteful little thing–and sometimes she is spiteful just for the glee it brings to her.  Could she be just as shrewish as Miss Bingley?  Oh, I absolutely believe it, given the right set of circumstances, even though Austen tries to soften her edges by telling us she is amicable and likes to let the past go (which she never does).  I think here they just manage their commentary differently:  Miss Bingley to shame or denigrate character; Elizabeth to poke at ego; but both do it to feel superior.
  • The very last chapter seemed like a throw-away.  Isn’t there a better way to provide “what happened to…” commentary than just random paragraphs questionably arranged?  It just stopped so abruptly that I began to wonder if I wasn’t missing a page or two!

Ok.  That was my two cents on P&P for the moment.  I may give it another read sometime during my Classics Club stint to see if what I think has managed to percolate enough to form a more coherent examination…

Classics Club: Anne of Avonlea

While the first book in the LM Montgomery series rolls along with one incident after another, Anne of Avonlea is more sedate.  Anne is older and staying in Avonlea to teach and help out Marilla with the farm–especially when they find themselves taking on a set of six year old twins as a family obligation.  The scrapes and hair-brained schemes belong less to Anne than to the wild child, Davy.  Now, that doesn’t mean that Anne doesn’t get into any trouble at all, but the problems are a little less frantic and more “could happen to anyone”–with the possible exception of the incident over Dolly the Jersey cow.

By the end, the twins are permanent residents at Green Gables, Rachel Lynde moves in, and Anne and Gilbert are headed off to college.  There is even a blue meeting hall, an engagement, and a wedding.  All in all, things are settling down in Avonlea as Anne grows up.

This book is ever so much more focused on moving couples together.  While I understand that is the way of things for people to pair off and marry–and probably a serious concern for girls at the time–it feels a bit thick for me in the 21st century and in some instances–like with Miss Lavendar and Mr. Irving–too contrived (sweeping romance novel-esque).  I do appreciate the fact that Anne, although she loves watching romance around her, understands that she is not quite ready to take that step.

What did I learn from this book?  Do not teach a parrot to swear. [I have parrots so this is an important lesson!]  In all seriousness, this book seems to demonstrate the value of family and community as a whole.  It makes me want to live in a very small town–or perhaps just wish the pace of our society were different.  Avonlea makes me feel that modern life is too rushed.  Perhaps there is something in learning to slow down and enjoy what comes.

I would recommend this book.  I can’t wait to jump in to the next one!

Stumbling into a book when you didn’t mean to…

Ok.  I was meandering through the Project Gutenberg book lists when I stumbled across a book I haven’t read since I was twelve:  Anne of Green Gables.  So what did I do?  I opened the file and began to read.

I only meant to read for a few minutes.

But then I found myself on Chapter 10 and so sucked in I forgot to care…my only goal was to get through the book.  And, here I am, done.

Shouldn’t I be doing something more patriotic on the 4th of July?  Barbecue?  Watermelon?  Splashing in a pool?  [No fireworks this year–we’ve got a fireworks ban because of the tinderbox vegitation.]  Actually, I’m not fussed.  As of writing this (near 7:30 pm) it is still 98 degrees outside.

I love this book as much now as I did when I was twelve.  Sometimes there is a comfort in knowing that a book I adored as a child can still impress me and move me as much now as it did then.  I felt the thrills of her achievements and the horrible sadness of the death of Matthew Cuthbert.  I remember being just as dreamy and unattentive to reality–though considerably less chatty; my imagination was my best friend as I was an only child until I was seven.

This book is definitely a must read for everyone.  We all have something in common with Anne and can find solace in both her drive to improve herself and her wild misadventures.  We’ve all had these moments.  What I really like is that Anne, while striving to be a better person, does not always manage it.  For example, she just can’t like the hateful Josie Pye even if she has to tolerate her.  She isn’t always successful at curtailing her temper or shelving her pride.

I don’t care that this is a novel written for younger readers.  Any book that can make me feel something–whether I laugh out loud or cry–is a book well worth the time spent pouring over it.  Granted, this is a fast read, but it speaks to a place inside that isn’t often touched by many books.

Perhaps I will spend the rest of the evening reading Anne of Avonlea!