October 2013 reads

>> Friday, November 01, 2013

Fewer than usual this month, but on the other hand, no duds. I'll take that!

1 - Barrayar, by Lois McMaster Bujold: A
review coming soon

Audiobook. This one continues the story where Shards of Honor left off. Cordelia is now Lady Vorkosigan, and expecting a baby. But with Aral named Regent for the underage Emperor, it's not a peaceful life. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I love Bujold's honourable, competent main characters and I love how they deal with what are really serious issues. Why on Earth didn't I continue with the series the first time??

2 - Thankless in Death, by JD Robb: B+
review coming soon

Eve and the team are after an entitled, self-absorbed arsehole who kills his parents for daring to ask him to get a job and move out, and then, having discovered a taste for killing, decides to get even with the multitudes whom he feels have slighted him. I liked it much better than I thought I would at the beginning.

3 - Troubled Waters, by Sharon Shinn: B+
review here

Reread in preparation for the release of the sequel in early November (I realised reading that blurb that I had no idea who the heroine was!). The books are set in a world dominated by the 5 elements. The heroine was born amongst the ruling families, but her father was disgraced and she grew up in exile. After her father dies, the King's advisor turns up to collect her, telling her she's meant to become the King's fifth wife. And so it all starts. As I noted in my review, it's a book with not much of a sense of peril, but it's still hugely enjoyable. I always sort of sink into Shinn's prose, and this was no exception.

4 - The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey: B+
review here

Reread for my book club (well, listened to the audiobook this time). Detective Alan Grant is laid up in hospital after an accident and very bored, so he uses his investigative techniques to look at the accusations that Richard III murdered the little Princes in the tower. The material is as fascinating as ever, and the structure really clever. I enjoyed it this time as well, but it really is very partisan. Also, this time around I particularly noticed some of the more dated elements, such as the difference between the cultured, upper class characters (all of whom are interested in and appreciative of the new point of view Grant offers them) and the working class characters (who refuse to consider it at all). The narration by Derek Jacobi really made clear (quite in line with the tone of the text, really) how patronisingly working class characters are dealt with. Other elements, such as the personalised, even somewhat defferential care Grant gets in an NHS hospital (in which he stays for weeks on end for what's basically a broken leg!) are just as much of the time the book was written in (the 1950s), but charming, rather than infuriating.

5 - The Testament of Mary, by Colm Tóibín: B+
review here

On the Man Booker shortlist. Mary of Nazareth reminisces about the events of her son's life. Short, but her ambivalence about what's going on, as well as the way the brutality of the crucifixion is brought to life, pack a punch. It's a fascinating perspective.

6 - Appointment With Death, by Agatha Christie: B
review coming soon

Audiobook. I chose this one as my next Christie because part of it is set in Jordan, including some really interesting scenes in Petra. That was great fun to read, as was the plot about the horrible, controlling matriarch, whose death is suspected to have been caused by someone in her family having had enough of her psychological torture.

7 - We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo: B-
review here

On the Man Booker shortlist. We follow the heroine from her childhood in Zimbabwe to her teenage years in the US. The first Zimbabwe-set part was good, but the second got really unfocused as the author just chucked in everything but the kitchen sink.

8 - The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri: B-
review here

On the Man Booker shortlist. The story of two brothers. One of them leaves Calcutta and settles in the US after completing his studies, the other becomes a revolutionary. I liked it, but it felt a bit too stretched and the really interesting themes at the beginning of the book then narrowed into something a lot less interesting.

9 - Stir Me Up, by Sabrina Elkins: B-
review coming soon

New Adult. The heroine is about to finish high school and is determined to become a chef, over her father's objections. The hero is a young veteran who had a leg blown off in the war, and is recovering at the heroine's house, as his aunt is her stepmother. I thought it started well, and I liked it, but I sort of gradually lost interest as the book progressed.

10 - Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell: Still listening
review coming soon

Audiobook. I've heard enough about this one to know it's supposed to be 6 different stories nestled within each other. So far I've had 3: a journal written by a 19th century man travelling in the South Pacific, letters detailing the escapades of a young English composer in 1920s Belgium and a noirish thriller set in the 1970s, starring a plucky reporter investigating a nuclear power station. I've enjoyed all of them in their own right (and knowing we return to each later made me feel ok about leaving them at quite key moments to move on to another), but in spite of some links (so far, each protagonist finds the previous story), I don't yet get why these stories have been put together in this book. I'm hoping this will become clearer.

11 - The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin: Still reading
review coming soon

I've actually only just started this one. I've been meaning to try one of Lin's China-set historicals for ages. So far, all I know is that the heroine is maidservant to a courtesan and the hero a client there. He seems like a bit of a wastrel so far, but I'm sure there'll be more to him.


Marianne McA,  1 November 2013 at 11:31  

Re: 'Barrayar' - I don't know if you get the author's afterword in audio books, but she explains that 'Shards' was a first book, originally including the start of 'Barrayar', which she lopped off to make 'Shards' the right length. She then wrote 4 or 5 of the later books before returning and finishing 'Barrayar'.
I just think it's a much better book than 'Shards', because she's a more experienced writer at that point. So if you happen to start reading the series with the reunited book,'Cordelia's Honor', there's an impetus to keep reading that 'Shards' alone might not give you.
(Bad news: you now have to read those 4 or 5 intervening books until Bujold's writing with that experience again. But Miles is compensation.)

I'll look forward to your review of Cloud Atlas - it rather baffled me. (Black Swan Green/ The Thousand Autumns, I liked very much.)

Rosario 2 November 2013 at 07:12  

The (very old) edition my friend has includes an interview with Bujold at the end, which was really nice. In it she does cover some of that, but not all. That's interesting that Shards was supposed to include the beginning of Barrayar. It felt like it closed at the right point when I read it. I think you are right that Barrayar is clearly the product of a more experienced writer, but I still adored Shards, so I think I'll be just fine with the next few books! :)

Baffled is a good description of how I'm feeling at the moment with Cloud Atlas. I'm enjoying each story, but I'm really, really not getting what are supposed to be the unifying themes... why this is a novel and not a collection of independent novellas all chopped up, so to speak. We'll see.

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