This past month...

>> Friday, May 30, 2008

... I've been spending all my days here:

doing this:

But now exams are all done, and the computer can come on, so I hope to resume posting soon. I just hope there's still people coming here to visit... this past year's blogging has been a bit erratic, to say the least!


Another quick round-up

>> Thursday, May 01, 2008

A few books I don't have all that much to say about (though when I start writing, it will probably turn out to be looooong. I'm inconsistent and wordy like that):

TITLE: The Fourth Bear
AUTHOR: Jasper Fforde

I'm probably the one person on this world that prefered The Big Over Easy over the Thursday Next books, even over my favourite, The Well of Lost Plots. The Fourth Bear is the sequel to TBOE, and it's just the same mix of intrincately intertwining storylines, each as insane (and clever and funny) as the others, but all peopled with characters with hearts.

The plot? Too much going on to list, but the basics are that even after the heroics of TBOE, Jack is still in bad standing at the Nursery Crime division. The Gingerbreadman ("—sadist, psychopath, cookie—", as described in my book flap) has escaped and is on the rampage. But Jack, the man who originally caught him, isn't allowed to go after him. Instead, he's to investigate the disappearance of Henrietta "Goldilocks" Hatchett, who vanished after visiting the isolated residence of three bears. Add (among many, many others) some competitive cucumber growing, porridge quotas, Punch and Judy as marriage counselors and Jack's not-so-surprising identity struggles, and you've got a fantastically funny, smart and entertaining book.

Like with the first book, which makes this all work so well is that our characters (main characters, at least), react to all this absurdity as real people would, and Fforde makes you care for them.

Wonderful series, I never would have imagined police procedurals and nursery rhymes could mix so well!


TITLE: Superstition
AUTHOR: Karen Robards

Superstition had a very interesting set-up. The heroine, Nicole, is a reporter working for a news magazine. Her latest hoping-for-a-breakout project is to conduct a live séance at a house in her hometown which was the site of a bloody murder 15 years earlier. The séance is to be done by her mother, who Nicole knows is a genuine psychic. The séance is not quite a flop but inconclusive. But then, right afterwards and only metres from the house, Nicole stumbles upon another victim, killed with the same MO as that of the earlier murders. The hero, former big-town-cop with big issues Joe Franconi investigates.

And that was about as far as I got. I would have loved to know what was going on, but Oh. My. God. This was SLOOOOOOOOW. I'm not exactly surprised, because I had the very same problem with the last Robards I read (Whispers At Midnight), but it seems to have got worse, because while with some effort I could get through WAM, I couldn't manage to get past the halfway point of this one. Robards takes pages and pages and pages to narrate things that are not that complicated, and I kept getting the urge to put the book down.

It also didn't help that I was seriously unimpressed with Joe's investigative abilities, as well as with his inexplicable willingness to divulge confidential details of the case to Nicole... a journalist, for heaven's sake! Eh, in fact, pretty much everyone seemed to be purposely dumb and to behave in unreasonable ways.

I liked the basics of the plot and enjoyed the Southern Gothic atmosphere, but my time is short and my supply of good books is long.


TITLE: A Christmas Journey
AUTHOR: Anne Perry

This Christmas short story tackles the themes of redemption and expiation, but I didn't find it as powerful and insightful as I hoped I would.

At the beginning of the story, Isobel Alvie makes a needlessly cruel comment about Gwendoline Kilmuir, a fellow guest at the house party they're attending. Gwendoline kills herself later that night, and every other guest blames Isobel for it. The host, a kindly man, proposes an alternative to the almost certain ostracism that Isobel will suffer if (or rather, when) the story about what she said comes out. He proposes that Isobel undertake a kind of pilgrimage to expiate her sins. She's to travel to Scotland to break the news to the mother of the dead woman, deliver her daughter's last letter and explain her (Isobel's) role in the tragedy. If she does that, the rest of the guests promise to keep quiet.

The story is narrated by Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, a friend of Isobel who ends up accompanying her in the harrowing journey. Perry veterans will recognise her as the formidable old lady in the Thomas Pitt series. Well, this story takes place years before that, when Vespasia is a young wife and a recognised beauty. I've always found this character very interesting and looked forward to getting some insight into her. Unfortunately, while we do get some interesting reflections on her life and her general sense of dissatisfaction and ennui, it was more of a teaser than anything else, and ended up being too little.

So that was a bit of a wash. How about Isobel's pilgrimage to expiate her sins? I thought that was a fascinating concept, but then it becomes a bit diluted when the whole thing turns into a mystery (well, Perry is a mystery author, after all) and it becomes clear that there might be a lot more behind Gwendoline's decision after all. So in the end, it's not so much about expiation and redemption, because does the woman actually need to expiate anything? The thing just lost much of its power with this.

MY GRADE: Disappointing, but not awful. A C+.

TITLE: Taken By The Viking
AUTHOR: Michelle Styles

Another one I couldn't finish (and no, I really do finish most of what I read, it's just that these round-ups are the perfect place for DNFs).

I was very intrigued by the setup and the opening scenes, especially because I'd just been to Dublinia, an exhibition in (duh!) Dublin about the history of the city, and there was a whole fascinating section about the vikings. Among other things, there were explanations about how and why raids like the famous one on the monastery of Lindisfarne in the 8th century might have happened, so it was interesting to see Ms. Styles take on that. The hero, Haakon, and his party don't come there to raid, just to make use of the historically accurate "banking" services offered by the monks, and a tragic instance of miscommunication results in the bloody raid. However, I was a bit ambivalent about how heroine Annis ends up as a captive, in a way that makes her come off as a twit but at least keeps Haakon from being a honourless, ungrateful bastard. But ok, I was enjoying myself.

But once the action reached Norway, my enjoyment went way down and then disappeared. I loved the setting and the vivid sense of place Styles was able to create, with many details about what everyday life at a settlement might be like, but the characters and the plot... blergh. I'm might not be being totally fair to Ms. Styles, because my main problem was probably not so much to do with the book itself, but with how the action brought me back to the kind of old-school bodice-ripperish captive narratives I used to detest so much when I first started reading romance.

The well-born heroine being forced to be a servant at the hero's household and to do backbreaking/unpleasant tasks that put her in physical discomfort, the mistress of the house who makes her life hell, with the help of another of the servants, a total slut who envies our heroine for being so beautiful and so obviously NOT a servant and for having caught the master's eye, etc., etc. And when we got to the scene where she's being molested by some of the men of the household and the hero, on having to rescue her, accuses her of provoking them and being a tease, I gave up. It might have got much better soon thereafter, but I was out of patience.

Like I say, I'm possibly being unfair to the book, so if you don't have my extreme allergy this kind of plot points, you might like it much better.



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