Unfinished opera singers and mathematicians

>> Saturday, April 02, 2016

TITLE: The Queen of the Night
AUTHOR: Alexander Chee

Ah, this book. It sounded great. The world of opera in 1870s Paris. A heroine who's the most famous soprano of her time and has a mysterious past. An intriguing plot, in which our heroine, Lilliet, is offered every singer's ambition: a role written specifically for her, only it turns out to be based on her own past, which very few people know.

I tried. I really did! I read over 100 pages of it before giving up. I liked some aspects of it: the setting is lovingly and lusciously described, and the plot was as interesting as promised. However, you really need characters that make sense. Lilliet is paper-thin. By the time I stopped reading I knew a lot about what had happened to her in the past, but I knew nothing about her as a person. I didn't understand why she'd react in the ways I was told she'd reacted and didn't know why I should care about what happened to her. The other characters were just as sketchily drawn, but I could have lived with that, if Lilliet had felt more real. I wasn't crazy about the writing, either. It felt a bit pretentious and it also felt like it worked to distance the reader from the characters.

I picked this one up mainly due to raves in a bookish podcast I really like, called All The Books! I love the enthusiasm of the two presenters and they've sold me on quite a few books already. However, I don't think I've actually liked any of them, so I guess I need to accept these two people and I just have very different tastes. Too bad.


TITLE: Sweet Deception
AUTHOR: Heather Snow

This was yet another failed attempt at getting back into historical romance. I'd liked a previous Heather Snow title well enough before, so I picked this one up next. The plot concerns Derick Aveline, an English nobleman who's been working as a spy during the Napoleonic Wars. His last mission before he returns to civilian life is to catch a traitor operating in the very same area as his country estate. When he gets there he finds himself faced with a murder, and his childhood friend Emma determined to investigate. See, Emma's taken on her magistrate brother's duties since he had a stroke, and she means to keep them.

There's nothing really wrong with this book. The fact that I gave up after 80 pages or so is simply due to me having read way too many books just like this. It felt tired, and many of the tropes were amongst my least favourites. I've had it up to here with gentleman spies. The heroine is still nursing a childhood crush on the hero, and has been more or less pining for him all the time he was away. She's some sort of mathematical genius, but the bit of the book that I read really didn't convince me that she was. I will quite happily read all these elements if the book has other things going for it or if the author is doing something novel or interesting with them, but that just wasn't the case here. I didn't buy the characters or the situation, and it felt very "only in a romance novel".



Bona Caballero 2 April 2016 at 10:34  

What a pity, two DNFs in a row! I was quite interested in the Opera singer story. I like opera and I'd love to read a romance novel well written and set in that world. I see that 'The Queen of the Night' is not that one. I'll have to keep on waiting.

Rosario 2 April 2016 at 11:01  

I know, very annoying (although they weren't quite in a row; I tend to have a bit of a backlog of reviews to post and it seemed to fit to post these two together). The Chee book sounded so good, too. I was really feeling in the mood for a juicy opera story, but this one just didn't work for me at all.

Liz Mc2 3 April 2016 at 22:22  

Miranda Neville has a romance about a Regency opera diva coming out any minute. I've liked her books in the past.

I feel the same way about All the Books! (It doesn't help that they haven't always read the books themselves but are just talking about things with buzz, though they have often read a surprising number of them). Sometimes I flag books I hear about there, but I think their taste differs from mine and they often are kind of vague in their enthusiasm (what, exactly, IS a beautiful sentence?) and don't give me a good feel for what the books might be like. I also have grown very cynical about book world enthusiasm and how independent-minded vs publisher-driven it really is.

Rosario 5 April 2016 at 08:48  

Oh, thanks for that! I've been meaning to give Miranda Neville another try for a while (I read a couple that were not great, but I've been told they're not her best), so that might be a good one to pick.

Glad it's not just me with All The Books! They do seem to be genuinely excited about the books themselves, but I listen to quite a few book-related podcasts, and I notice they all talk about the same books at around the same time, so there's clearly a fair bit of publisher push behind them. Actually, the biggest giveaway is that my US bookish podcasts will all talk about one set of books, my UK ones will all talk about a different set, even when the books are out at the same time internationally. Clearly publicists in action!

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