Monday, 8 December 2014

Reopening again in 2015

Not too much fanfare.

Just going to start reviewing again.

Think I've taken enough of a break.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

Yes, it's more 19th Century literature. :) After Germinal, I thought I'd share one of the books I'd enjoyed.

I'd never read Hardy before starting this course, I think I had it in my head that he was one of these writers that killed all his characters off. (If you haven't guessed, at the moment, everybody dying at the end of the book is not one of my favourite plot developments - kind of ironic as I've just started reading Game of Thrones.)

Now, this may be the case for Hardy's other novels, but not here.

So the plot - Bathsheba Everdene has three suitors - a shepherd (Gabriel Oak), a farmer (Boldwood) and a soldier (Troy). The story follows the events over the course of a farming year.

This was actually a really easy read, and in some ways the plot reminded me of a soap opera. Even the dialogue
"...she has her faults," said Gabriel..."And the greatest of them is - well, what it is always."
"Beating people down; ay, 'tis so."
"O no."
"What, then?"
Gabriel,...glanced back to where he had witnessed her performance over the hedge, and said, "Vanity."

You've got adultery, death, madness, reversal of fortune, in some ways the plot wouldn't be out of place on Emmerdale. And from the start you are rooting for Gabriel to end up with the girl, even though Bathsheba does treat him badly.

There's a point at the beginning of the story, when Gabriel's fortunes take a turn for the worse, that I knew what was coming up, I anticipated it - and even said "Oh no!" out loud whilst reading. (Apart from anything else because I'm a dog lover) It had the inevitability of watching a car crash. You could see what was going to happen but there was no way of stopping it. I think the phrase "You bitch." also escaped my mouth later on. I think this is the only book on the course (so far) where I got so involved with what was happening on the page.

So as much as I wouldn't recommend Germinal as a first 19th Century novel, I would recommend Far From the Madding Crowd.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Germinal by Emile Zola

I'm reading quite a bit of nineteenth century fiction at the moment, as I'm studying for an English lit. degree. So may as well post my thoughts here, just in case any of you are tempted by 19th century novels. Spoilers will ensue.

Man goes to work at a mine, tries to set up a union, things get out of hand, lots of people die, the situation reverts to what it was before he turned up (only worse).

This is the one book of the course (so far) that I have hated, and really resented that I've had to take time out from reading something that I may have enjoyed.

I can appreciate it as a literature  - if I have to. I can see what the experiment is - the characters having to follow this predetermined genetic pathway. But Gods it is depressing and really not the sort of thing I want to read at the moment. I also don't believe that everything always has to end badly, that people (characters) have no redeeming characteristics.

Whilst I can appreciate it as literature, as a story it has perhaps a handful of redeemable characters and all you can say about them is that they're not as bad as the rest. Most everybody dies - including the animals - some characters are lucky and just die, others get raped or castrated first.

Just not how I want to spend my limited reading time.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Master and God by Lindsey Davis

I read this a while ago, actually have read quite a few books over the past months. This one I received as an ARC.

I must confess I am a big fan of the Falco "detective" series (set in Rome a few years earlier during the rule of Vespasian) also written by Lindsey Davis but had never read any of her historical novels before. And I had a slightly mixed response to Master and God.

Set during the rule of the Emperor Domitian, Master and God charts his rule through the eyes of two of his subjects - Gaius, a Praetorian Guard, and Hairdresser Flavia Lucilla. Now I'm pretty sure that the idea here is that because we are experiencing events through the eyes of two "ordinary" characters that we feel the terror of Domitian's rule more acutely than we otherwise would. However, I'm not sure I ever felt the threat and terror of Domitian as much as I needed to. I knew that the ordinary people were living in dangerous times because I was told, but I didn't get a complete sense of underlying fear - it was a time of disappearances where the wrong word could mean the end of your life but it felt a little safer than I think it needed to. You know how when you watch a television series every week and you know that even when the main characters are in dire peril they are still somehow going to survive - this had a similar feel. Maybe this was also because the parts which focus on Domitian are somewhat drier, so I didn't feel he was as present as perhaps he should have been in the story. Even when he wasn't 'on page' I feel that I should have had more of a sense of the threat of his presence.

What worked for me most were the characters of the ordinary people. Lindsey Davis has a brilliant way of getting you into the heads of her characters and making them real, partly I think through her ability to write colloquially which makes you feel as if you are there. I felt invested in the relationship that gradually developed between Gaius and Lucilla. They were very much two people caught up in situations that were beyond their control that they just had to make the best of. I think that where it didn't work for me as an historical novel, it absolutely worked as a story of two people from different worlds gradually coming together in a strong relationship. Lindsey Davis has a way of writing characters so that the reader appreciates not only what they say and do, but also what their motivations are, how they are thinking and how they judge the situations in which they find themselves.
'I respect you.'
'Don't insult me. You are a disgrace, Vinius.'
'So my wives tell me.'
She stormed off. The dog, who knew how to make choices, slunk after her.'
These are flawed people but they are all the more compelling because of that. Overall then, I very much enjoyed the book and would definitely try another historical novel by Lindsey Davis, though I think my first love will always be the Falco series. I think she makes the Roman era come alive and if you haven't read her work before I would definitely recommend it.

(Hopefully not too bad for my first review back

Monday, 24 December 2012

That's it for 2012

Okay, 2012 kind of sucked as a year of blogging. So I'm going to write it off - what little there is left of it - and start again in 2013. Happy Holidays to everyone and see you in the New Year!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

I'm back...kind of

Eeek. It seems I haven't posted for about six months. Who knew time could go that fast. I haven't posted mainly because I've mostly been reading 19th century novels for the lit. course I'm doing and I'm not really sure how interested people are in hearing my opinions about them. Plus, writing about them is slightly too much like work. And blogger is now completely different as well - serves me right for not posting for so long.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Dead Beat - Jim Butcher

I actually finished this back in January, but hadn't got round to writing a review - have a couple of other reviews that are waiting to be written like this one. I know I read this back in January because it's the book I read to get me out of my reading funk, and the note I wrote at the beginning of my A4 piece of paper says - sometimes you have to go back to go forward - it probably felt really deep at the time.

Dead Beat is the seventh (I think) in the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher. I stalled out on this series because I was reading the US published books and then a UK publisher picked them up and publishing order and everything went kablooey.

I hate when that happens.

Anyway, this one is all about necromancers. If my feeble memory (and badly written notes) of what I read in January is anything to go by. Mavra (the very nasty vampire) is blackmailing Harry into getting something called the Word of Kemmler for her. If he doesn't do it, she's going to drop his friend Karrin (the policewoman) in the shit. So Harry agrees. Unfortunately he's not the only one after the Word, and the six other necromancers, who are also after it, don't have such noble motives as saving their friends from a metaphoric pile of poo.

This was one series that I always intended to get back to reading. I'd been slightly worried that I wouldn't remember the story so far, but Jim Butcher manages to weave in the relevant bits of plot you need to know from previous books without it feeling exposition heavy.

There are so many things I love about this book, but what has to stand out most is the brilliant dialogue and how the characters spark off each other.

I love the fact that Harry and Thomas (his half-brother) are now living together. Their relationship isn't smooth sailing, little things irritate Harry (who has probably been living on his own for too long) but he has a deep concern for Thomas.
'You want to talk?'
'If I did , I'd be talking.'
I'm very interested to see how this develops over the coming books, especially as Thomas feels he is doomed. But the sibling relationship is not completely bleak, there are positive aspects to having your brother live with you.
'...How are you as a sounding board?'
'I can look interested and nod at appropriate moments,' he said.
I also think the scene where Butters mistakes them for lovers rather than siblings is quite amusing.

Special mention has to go to Mouse the dog and Butters the Medical Examiner. Mouse is just a phenomena, is he something more or is he just a dog. And Butters is a very human being who ends up in the middle of the conflict between Harry and the necromancers. He's not brave, he's something of a coward in fact, but ultimately he has to deal with the situation in which he finds himself.

One other thing I must mention - but not in too much detail as I don't want to spoil it - is how the relationship Harry has with his father is developed here. In a book which is very much concerned with necromancy and the raising of the dead, the scenes which take place between Harry and his father are very moving and beautifully written.

As regards continuing arcs, the figure of Lasciel the fallen angel is a prominent part of the book. I have to admit this is a part of the story that hasn't stuck too well in my memory. But I found her to be quite chilling and more than able to cut Harry down to size with a few well chosen words.
She regarded ne steadily and said, 'You aren't nearly as funny as you think you are.'
She doesn't appear often but when she does Jim Butcher manages to pull off (in her) a perfect combination of charm and menace.

This book is pretty much a non-stop action ride, with blistering dialogue and great characters. When you read a lot of urban fantasy it can lose its impact but this book reminds me why I love the genre so much. Recommended - but you need to read the preceding books in the series first.