March 2015 reads

>> Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A mixed month. Some solidly enjoyable reads, but also a few duds, including (especially!) some I was sure were going to be great.

1 - Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold: B+
review coming soon

Miles is sent to Komarr to investigate an accident that might be sabotage, gets involved in another mystery and meets a woman. I enjoyed this very much, but it lacks the compulsive quality of the previous few books.

2 - The Rescue Man, by Anthony Quinn: B+
review here

Reread for my March book club. It's set in Liverpool during World War II and the 1860s. The main character during the WWII sections is an architect who is making a record of Liverpool's noteworthy buildings right before the war starts. To hurry the process he decides to substitute drawings for photographs, and that's how he meets a photographer couple in whose lives he becomes very involved. During the war, he also becomes a rescue man, part of the crews going into bombed buildings and getting people out. And all the while, he's researching and reading the diary of a famous architect from the 1860s.

 I thought the WWII sections were as fantastic as I did the first time I read the book. Their account of what it would have been like to live in a city during a heavy blitz felt vivid and believable. They were also full of characters I cared about. And this time I liked the 1860s sections even more, because last year my friends and I spent the Heritage Open Day visiting the works of Peter Ellis, the architect Quinn's character is based on. It's fantastic stuff. And by coincidence, one of my friends had also got tickets for a tour of the Hardmans' House. The Hardmans were a photographer couple, much like the characters in this book, and their house (which served as their studio and business) has been preserved as it was in the 40s and 50s. I'm not sure if the characters here were based on the Hardmans, but I suspect they might have been, and having seen their house really enhanced my enjoyment of those sections.

This is a love letter to Liverpool, and since I share that love, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

3 - The Reece Malcolm List, by Amy Spalding: B
review coming soon

YA. It features a young woman going to live with her long-lost mother, a famous author, after her father dies. The main character was a bit too passive for my taste, but I was interested, especially in her relationship with her mother.

4 - The Magicians, by Lev Grossman: B
review coming soon

This is billed as Harry Potter for adults, with a young man suddenly being offered a place into a college for magic. The worldbuilding is really cool and I enjoyed that aspect, but I found it hard to care about the characters. They do feel realistic, though!

5 - Kiss of Steel, by Bec McMaster: B-
review here

This is steampunk with vampires. A young woman on the run from a powerful aristocrat finds refuge in the rookeries, where the hero rules. An ok read, but it lost steam (haha!) along the way.

6 - Flirting With Disaster, by Victoria Dahl: B-
review coming soon

The reclusive heroine is on the run and living under a false name. The hero is a US Marshall working on a case in the neighbourhood, exactly the sort of person she doesn't want becoming curious about her past. Not as good as Dahl's usual books, I'm afraid.

7 - Heartless, by Mary Balogh: DNF
review here

This was written 20 years ago and it shows. Very dated, with a martyr heroine, an unbelievable villain and a pretty offensive characterisation of the Evil Other Woman.

8 - Talon, by Julie Kagawa: still listening
review coming soon

Audiobook. YA featuring a dragon-shifter heroine trying to pass for a normal human and avoid the attentions of an organisation devoted to hunting those of her kind. I'm reading this for my book club, otherwise I would have abandoned it after the first chapter. It hasn't got any better.

9 - The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin: still reading
review coming soon

This is an old one, from the late 70s. I haven't got very far into it, but I picked it up because it was described as being really clever and a bit like the game Clue!


Barb in Maryland 1 April 2015 at 22:02  

I DNF'd The Magicians because I refused to spend time with people I really didn't like. His world building was interesting, but not enough to overcome my dislike of the characters.
The Westing Game was one where I read it too late. I finally read it last year and enjoyed it. But I would have loved it, I think, if I had read it at age 12 or so. However, I was long past 12 when it first came out in 1978. I'll be interested to read your reaction.

Rosario 2 April 2015 at 06:44  

I think the reason why I was able to keep reading in spite of not liking the characters was that I never felt Grossman was telling me I should like them. That makes all the difference to me.

I'm really struggling with The Westing Game. The characters feel so cartoonish! I'm about to give up on it, I'm afraid!

Darlynne,  2 April 2015 at 15:40  

I thought I was the only one who couldn't get into THE MAGICIANS, after multiple attempts. Maybe I'll try again without worrying about caring for the characters. Thanks.

Christine,  2 April 2015 at 17:48  

Flirting With Disaster by Dahl was a huge bust for me. It's the first book of hers I DNF'd. I just couldn't get through it. I didn't like the heroine or the hero and I was just so bored by it. The setup sounded great but the execution was just bland. Usually the chemistry between her couples sizzles but a good third of the way through the book I didn't feel any chemistry between the two let alone a connection. I think the hero completely lost me when he saw that the heroine creates artwork for medical textbooks and had an eight year old child's reaction to it "ooh she paints surgical pictures with body parts, she is icky and creepy!" This guy is a cop? Oh please. I just could not make myself finish the book, it felt like work rather than enjoyment. Based on your grade you must have ended up liking it quite a bit more than I did.

Rosario 3 April 2015 at 09:41  

Darlynne: Yes, I think that's the way to do it. To me, the world-building was worth it.

Christine: I actually liked both, and I thought the conflict was interesting enough, but for the first time with a Dahl book, I felt the sex got in the way. I was bored by it and kept wanting to skim and get back to the actual conflict.

Marianne McA,  3 April 2015 at 14:41  

It's some time since I read The Magicians, but my favourite part was that he evoked that feeling you occasionally get as a child-reader - where a written world becomes in some sense real for you - and then made it actually real for his characters.
I didn't read on in the series because of the women characters.

One of my daughter's friends wrote a play as a teenager wherein - and he didn't notice this until the girls in the group pointed it out - he killed every female character. The next year he wrote a play about a talented and tormented young male playwright, who all the female characters fell in love with - though, as mere women, they couldn't properly appreciate his genius. (Some of them did survive.)

Grossman is a much, much better and more sophisticated writer, but I felt there were faint echoes of that mindset in his writing.

Rosario 4 April 2015 at 07:41  

Marianne: Oh, yes, I did have a real issue with Grossman's treatment of his women characters. I wasn't sure for most of the book if he was doing it self-consciously, as yet another way to show how morally bankrupt his characters were. By the end, though, I got the feeling the problem was not with the characters but with the narrative.

I think I will give the second book a chance, in the hope that aspect will improve, but I'm not too hopeful.

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