Sunday, April 23, 2017

Old Favorites Time

Going to cheat, or shortcut a bit - after reading the books I took on my trip, I didn't get back to the library (still haven't) so I returned to the land of old favorites.  Since I've read / reviewed all of these previously, I figure it's good enough to just do a single post.  Lucky you and me.

Cotillion - this is one of those GHs that goes up and down in my estimation.  On the one hand, Freddy is a dear and it's a sweet story (not *too* much other stuff, though rather a lot of it in the end).  On the other... the romance is quite subtle. I think last time I read it I may have been pleasantly surprised by the romance, but this time, I feel more like I expected more than what I got.  No question I love Heyer, but more and more, I feel like it's not even necessarily about the romance.  Probably it's I who am less interested in the romance, and so have higher standards. Regardless, loved the book.  Just didn't finish off feeling like it was better than I expected.

Verdict: 5/5

Frederica (out of order, but this is the other GH on the list) - common theme here. Now this one has a fantastic romance, mostly because such a good part of it is from Alverstoke's POV.  On the other hand, WAY too much other stuff going on, with Frederica's tiresome families (who I do not find particularly winsome).  And yet.. reading this, I enjoyed the romance but I knew it was coming (like every good line I've memorized already).  and even though the family antics are as uncharming as ever, it's still a good story.  Seriously, I am such a biased judge.  I like these books way too much.

Verdict: 5/5

The Blue Castle - romance here quite subtle, and more subtle even than I remembered. And the whole first part with her family is just depressing. I really don't even feel it's realistic (like really, whose family dislikes them that much?) But anyway - lovely little book, not much going on but, you know, it's short.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

Verdict: 5/5

The Morning Gift - but wait, didn't I just read this? well yes. I guess I enjoyed it *that* much. Talk about romance. This book seriously is romance perfected. I do not know what it is about it (previous reviews may speculate more). I just know that I had zero problem picking it up a mere few months after the previous reading and thoroughly enjoying it (meaning despite knowing what was coming, the emotional moments still delivered).

Verdict: 5/5

Persuasion - Obviously, can't get much more romantic than the actual story here.  But what I found interesting was that I didn't find the actual *style* to be that romantic.  I was surprised at how aware Anne was the entire time of still being in love with Captain Wentworth, and how much more aware she was of his interest in her when he came to Bath.  Takes a little from the angst of it somehow.  Still.  Peerless in quality of course.  Story to not be beat. Also, one of the shorter JAs.

Verdict: 5/5

Elemental Fantasy

Hello again.  After Pesach already and I never even finished my reviews from my January vacation.  Tsk tsk.  For a while, I procrastinated by not reading much but I've amassed quite the list by now.  Time to get on it.  Not that I can really remember what I thought of books I read in January.  But tally ho.  The last library book from my trip was the next in the Sharon Shinn Elements series, this one fire (Corinne).  So much for what I remember :) I think I found this book faster moving than the Air book I read earlier (didn't stall in the middle).  Don't think I liked the main character as much. Seriously cannot even remember who she ends up with! Wow now I feel like I'm going crazy. Could it be she doesn't end up with anyone? I'm starting to think that.  Oh no, phew, got it. She ends up with Foley, the guard. Meh.  More unequal romance. This one doesn't even have the excuse of being a prince in disguise.  So yeah the romance didn't do it for me. Book itself wasn't bad, pretty interesting, decent world building.  Entertainment.

Verdict: 3/5

Friday, February 3, 2017

Society Romance - Nothing To Sneeze At

Moving on with the backlog - before I left on the trip, I, of course, had to pick up a new stash of books. I did a quick trip to the library, but 1) had my kids with me and 2) really running through my backlog of books from my library break, so only got out two books.  Not too bad, really.  The first of the two I picked up was the latest Lauren Willig, The Other Daughter.  (She has some collaborations as well, but meh, we'll see about those.)  I had decent expectations for the book, since the first two stand-alones were both pretty good.  But not HUGE expectations, since neither was a "real" romance in my favorite style (i.e. angsty for the right reasons :)) The snippets of this book I had read on the website made it sound pretty appealing too, capable young heroine and dashing man, 'twixt the wars.

So first thing - this book dispenses with the modern component that makes the book a time slip! Just a regular old historical.  And though I've mostly enjoyed the modern story in other books, I didn't really mind - I don't really love the way the story gets broken up.  One good story is good enough for me, you know?  So what of the story? Well first of all, expectations met in terms of the hero and heroine, he attractive, debonair, and nice underneath it all, she virtuous, capable, and charming when she needs to be.  What else? Well the plot was um... rather thin. I'm not sure whether I've thought about this too much with other Willig books, but just the fact that I did think about it with this one is not a great sign :) I mean, really, why exactly does Rachel have to masquerade as anything? Didn't really get it. Though admittedly, the ending does make it clear that it was probably a futile task.

The ending is also a bit sadder than maybe it needed to be (sorry for spoilers) - Rachel's father really was heartbroken all those years ago, and therto e's really nothing to be fixed now.  But I suppose that's somewhat in keeping with the other two stand-alones, which certainly are not unalloyedly joyous in their conclusions.

Writing is good, on par with other books.

But who cares about all this? What about romance??? Of course you are saying :) Well... this one was definitely more of a traditional romance than the others. Simon and Rachel don't know till the end that they are in love with each other, and there are definitely some angsty moments (jealousy of others, misconstrued motives, all that).  For whatever reason though, I couldn't *quite* get into it - maybe it was just the total lack of anything from Simon's POV? Not even subtle hints.  I feel like that's somewhat unusual, LW usually does have some male perspective. (Oh yes, now I remember, it definitely is, she even mentioned it in the Acknowledgements as a new style for her).  So it was a good romance, but I couldn't *really* enjoy.

Overall - old fashioned (well, somewhat) nobility, society tale with little other plot to distract, and solid romance. Why would I complain? Well I wouldn't.  And yet

Verdict 4/5 - Why not 5/5? Do I really not think it's a better book than Ashford Affair? It should be, by my standards, right? Probably that one got the benefit of being a first read.  4/5 is nothing sneeze at, certainly. One day I may even reread :) Oh wait never mind, I gave Ashford Affair 4/5. Good, now I feel this is a fair rating :)

Far Away From Home

Vacation has come and gone (it was wonderful) and, with it, a decent backlog of book reviews (of course).  First up - the second book I had taken out of the library along with That Summer, on that Friday afternoon trip - the next Flavia de Luce.  This is the book that brings us the change of scenery - away from the English countryside, to the cold corridors of a Canadian girls boarding school.  There's definitely what to be lost from Flavia's family's, friends', and neighbors' absence.  Does the presence of the teachers and pupils of Miss Bodycote's make up for it?

Maybe not entirely, but certainly the old-fashioned boarding school has its own charm.  Certainly for me, it has a similar far-away old-fashioned comfortable feel as old England.  And if the students can't quite compete with Dogger, Mrs Mullet, and the village, they are certainly new and interesting.  So I don't entirely mind the change of scenery.

I feel though, that with the loss of Buckshaw and the village, the book turns more in the direction of its immediate predecessor - less about life + Flavia's little investigation, more about some serious stuff going on.  Flavia spends a lot of time trying to figure out what exactly is going on at the school, not as much figuring out the dead body.  It all comes together of course - but the tone is different when Flavia is part of the mystery, not just solving it.  More confusing, less cluesy.  Of course, the story of the dead body gets resolved in the end, but I'm not sure how much of a resolution it was.  We find out that Miss Bodycote's is a school for spies, but we knew that already.  And what they do or what it's about isn't really clear.

And with that, if I remember correctly (pretty bad I don't, it hasn't been *that* long, I think I finished this on the plane on the way to CA, which was last Wednesday night), Flavia ends the book journeying back to England. So what was the point of this interlude? I'm not quite sure actually (it would probably help if I remembered better :))

So basically, we lose the village and much of the light-hearted tone.  Flavia herself, while just as capable, does seem a bit out of her depth in this mysterious place.  And the plot itself doesn't *quite* tie up all the lose ends.   With all, Flavia is a pretty talented young lady and the boarding school is an enlivening place. So I guess I didn't mind too much that I, like Flavia, felt a bit lost throughout this book.

Verdict: 3/5

Thursday, January 12, 2017

That Author

Well, I was told I needed to find a substitute for food to help me diet.  Only thing that could possibly be is books, right? So, though I had no more time than in previous weeks, I felt I had to fit in a trip to the library (to aid me in my diet, of course :)) So on Friday afternoon, I took my little girlies and went. It was a short trip, it being Friday afternoon, and it being kids at the library. I quickly went to a few known authors and grabbed some books.  First one, of course, Lauren Willig.  I was excited to read her next stand-alone, given how much I enjoyed the Ashford Affair.  Well-written, historical romance with a modern-day accompaniment. The next one after Ashford was That Summer, so I took that one (not that there's really any reason to go in order).

That Summer, like all the other LWs, is a story about a modern woman examining history, and we get the usual two love stories.  And like The Ashford Affair, I think it was well-crafted and well-written.  So let's get to the stories themselves - first, Victorian England.  Unlike the Ashford Affair, where the ending was clear from the beginning of the story, and the story itself was extremely familiar, I was not at all clear where this story would end up.  Very appealing in a way, a little bit of mystery :)  As the book progressed, I could see this would not be one of the angst romances I so love - it was one of the ones where the couple are kept apart by external obstacles, and not their feelings. Bor-ing! And the ending... well there was a good reason I couldn't figure out how this one would end up.  Was not exactly a happy ending.  With all that... well written, interesting, engaging story, and nothing too painful.  Can't *really* complain.

As for the modern romance - really, it felt a little perfunctory.  I'm not sure why, it was a typical chic lit romance of ups and down, misunderstandings and sweet moments before the reconciliation.  But it just felt like..  I don't know, I wasn't convinced.  Also, in this one, the modern story is much less about unraveling the history from the 1800s, and more about unraveling the heroine's own history.  Not quite as much fun (you know it's not going to be fun when there's history to unravel from someone's own life).   Really, nothing to complain about in this story either, I just wasn't feeling it.

So - basically, this story was well-written, in a genre I am eminently comfortable in, and nothing in the plot (even the ending) was unspeakably offensive to me. At the same time, the main oomph of the romance was just not there, and for whatever reason, I missed it (more than in the Ashford Affair, which also didn't really have a fantastic romance - maybe it was before the modern romance was better in that one. Or maybe it was just my mood, expectations, whatever). Anyway...

Verdict: 3.5/5

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Perfect Romance

Still stuck on my usual, and in the mood for an old favorite, I picked up The Morning Gift.  I really am so boring, when did I last read this? Last year? But you know, it's just so so good.   In previous readings,  I have noted that Ruth's habit of "living deep" and the way everyone seems to be so enamored of it are not particularly appealing, but I can ignore it and just enjoy the rest of it. On this reading, I have to say, it didn't even particularly bother me.  Not sure what it was, whether I'm just getting less finicky or there is something I appreciated more, probably mostly the former.  But regardless, I didn't even have that to annoy me.   There was still the sadness of WWII, no getting around that, but as before, it isn't really enough in the forefront to be too much of a disturbance.

Which leaves me free to enjoy the meat of this book... succulent, delicious prime rib in this case.  Seriously, I do not think there is another book with so many "moments".   So much time together, such a perfect balance of angst with lightness, so much unspoken but there if you read between the lines.  I mean I'm just wishing I had brought it with me to reread, it was that good.  I don't even quite know how or why, but this book is pretty close to perfection for what it is.

Verdict: 5/5

Favorite Short

Having finished Twilight, I had some hope of returning the library (well I always have hope of that), and so picked up something small to tide me over one Shabbos - The Ordinary Princess.  Read and reviewed before, of course, this is a lovely little book that loses nothing in reading after reading. Supremely easy to read (I read part of it out loud to my kids, they didn't appreciate it, but liked hearing the word princess), a charming tale with no tension, and a wonderful happy ending. I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the lessons of this book, it's a typical fairy tale with questionable morality, but you know, all in good fun.  Go Perry and Amy.

Verdict; 5/5

My Sadly Low Taste

Well, I've left myself get behind again and the pressure is on.  Let's see if I can scrape out some mildly entertaining reviews, despite the books no longer being fresh in my mind :) Back before Thanksgiving, I had still not gone to the library (well I still haven't), and, though I heart my Heyer of course, I was looking for something slightly more novel (limited of course, to my home collection).   After a survey, I ventured upon some long-untrodden ground - Twilight.

The background - back when the first movie came out, I got really into this series for like a few months. Watched the movie (more than once :)), read the books, online fandom, all that.  I was so into them, I bought the books for rereading.  But I think I only got about halfway through the second before my interest wained, and I don't think I picked up the books again.  They really are atrocious - terribly written, over-dramatic, Mary-Sueish, sensationalist, even creepy.  But still. Romantic :) So I ventured on them once more.

Twilight (the first one), is really amazingly badly written - so bad it's good type. The prose is dry yet florid, there is very little story up until the end, and it's really weird that a 110-year old guy likes a high school student and a high school student likes a monster.   Sentiments like "if I weren't crazy, I'd say away" don't help this.  On top of that, there's the Mary-Sueness I mentioned, how everyone for some reason is just obsessed with Bella.  But with all, at some point, I just started enjoying the book.  Interestingly enough, I think that point was when the plot actually started to pick up, *after* the initial will-they-won't-they is mostly complete. I say interestingly, because usually, that's exactly what I enjoy reading - once they're together, it's kind of boring.  But with this, I guess the will-they-won't-they was just weird, and the follow up had some actual plot. I'm not saying it was riveting, but I don't know, there's something about it that keeps me, at least, reading.

Once I finished Twilight, I had to read Midnight Sun, of course (actually, did I even finish it? I might have read the two simultaneously).  If Twilight is basically fanfic, Midnight Sun is actual fanfic, but by the author herself - and my favorite type of fanfic, namely, guy's POV.  It is so much more romantic to read what is going in Edward's mind over Bella's.  But of course, not the most stellar writing. Not what I'm reading it for, hein?

So once I was fully immersing myself in the Twilight world, next step had to be the movies.  Of these, I had only seen the first one before, since the rest came out after my short-lived obsession was over (I've seen it more than once though).  The first movie is really bad - of course it's always fun to see characters brought to life, but it was just so dark, unnecessarily - and weirdly abrupt, like if I didn't know the story I don't know if I'd even follow half the conversation.  Still fun though - Robert Pattinson really isn't too bad looking, in used that movie at least ;)

So once finished with the book, the accompanying fanfic, and the movie, I moved on with the series (by the way, this was mostly done over Thanksgiving weekend, which is how I managed to have the time to fit all this in).  Next up was New Moon. This was one is the least fun, since Edward's barely in it.  But to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed it anyway - the plot thing again.  It is *so much* better written than Twilight.  Never was a huge fan of Jacob, and still am not, but the rivalry between him and Edward doesn't really exist (it's always Edward) so it's not too annoying from that point of view. Bella is as Mary-Sueish and strange as ever, but you know, you get to it. And remembering the short except from Edward's POV I had read earlier, I could easily imagine his side, which did make it more romantic. Basically, this book wasn't too hard to get through, and the ending certainly picks up.  Once I finished the book, I moved on the movie (maybe it wasn't in that order, might have started the next book first, but whatever).  This movie is *much* better than the first - actually mostly coherent, rather than just picking up random scenes from the book.  And it somewhat interesting to see some of the more mythical elements depicted - the Volturi and werewolves. Also, I hadn't watched it before, so it had the charm of novelty.

Book #3 - Eclipse - this is the one where I couldn't even remember what happened.  Basically, this is the story of Edward and Jacob fighting over Bella, but like I said, there's never really a question.  It's always Edward - and not only because Bella likes him better, but really he's just a better and cooler person. So that's fun.  And the book continues the trend of better writing/plot compared to Twilight.  Third movie same as second, much better than the first as well.

Book #4 - The whole first part of this book is wish fulfillment, so a bit silly, but eh, I can read about the vampire's fabulous lifestyles.  The second part of the book is a pretty fun plot, what with the gathering of the vampires and outsmarting the Volturi.  Movies (there were two for this one) reflected that - wish fulfillment in the first one, and more action in the second.  Altogether, satisfying enough ending.

I would say I thoroughly enjoyed my immersion into Twilight. Watching the movies definitely helped, as did doing the whole thing at once. This is the kind of thing you can only enjoy when you're so into it you can ignore all the flaws.  So don't know when I'll have a chance to do this again, but it was a fun experience.

Verdict: 3/5 (I really, really can't rate these books higher, I'm sorry :))

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Grand Story

I finished my library books and needed something else.  In the mood of total indulgence, I selected a tried-and-true Heyer, The Grand Sophie.  This was one of my first Heyers, and, while I've loved it since that first time, it has gone up and down in relative estimation over the years.  The romance is not the *most* satisfying; Charles Rivenhall not the most dashing of heroes; too much other stuff going on.  Such have been the minor complaints I have had about this book over the years. On this read (and earlier ones as well, don't get me wrong), I appreciated what made this the book the Sps recommended as a starter - Sophie's completely indefatigable, unsinkable self.  She is never at a loss, schemes to perfection, and stays the best of friends and relatives in the process.  Great fun, great gun, ya know? This is not a book where there is any tension (not that GHs generally have too much of it).  Sophie masterminds it all from start to finish.  I love it when the main character does that.  And even better, Charles keeps up with her every step (otherwise it would be no fun - no thanks to humbled love interests).  And speaking of love interest, don't get me wrong, there's a good serving of romance here too.  So a main character that really might be GH's most fun creation, and alls-well-that-ends-well ending without too much complication in the interim, and a nice dose of the good stuff (romance that is).  Squee!

Verdict: 5/5

A Turn of the Page

Well it's been a while... I had one last book to review of my library haul, the one I was so excited about after the last book of my last library set - the next Flavia de Luce.  I finished it over Succos but, since I had no more library books, just took me a while to get to this review.  So anyway - I was excited to read this book because 1) I very much enjoyed the one before this and 2) the ending of the last book left open some juicy possibilities - namely, Harriet's return.

Well, as I maybe should have guessed, Harriet's return was not really that - merely, they found her body and returned it to Buckshaw.  Not just not the happy ending we could have had - but, in fact, very sad, as the de Luce's had to confront the certainty of Harriet's death.  So quite a bit more serious for that reason alone.

But that was really the least of the differences in this book from previous ones.  The mystery in this case is not the murder of a random villager, with Flavia pottering around and solving it in her own way.  There is a murder, but it takes second fiddle to Flavia's exploration of her mother's past.  Definitely somewhat interesting to get a backstory but we lose much of the country village charm of the earlier books. And on top of that, uh wow, quite the backstory.  Spies, heroes, villains - not your staid old English family.  I mean, it's cool that Colonel and Harriet were so awesome, and makes some sense, seeing their talented offspring. But it's a bit of a leap from past books.

And at the conclusion, even more of a leap. We are asked to believe that Flavia is specially tasked with taking over the mantle of the family business (spying and whatnot).  And that her sisters' resentment of her is rooted in jealousy of her position. And that she now has to be taken away to be properly educated. It's all just rather out of the blue.

But I suppose Alan Bradley was getting bored with the old formula and wanted to move things along. I get that.  Now, I guess, we'll get some new mysteries set at Flavia's boarding school? Guess we'll see.  I hope wherever they are, they are back to their old charming form, not too full of backstory.

Verdict: 2.9/5

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Romance with Drama Stuffing

 Sometime in the summer, Peryl commented on how much she loved the new Marisa de los Santos.  The Edison library only had the ones I've already read, so I didn't take it out in the summer, but East Brunswick had the new one, so it made the Succos list.  I was definitely mildly excited to read it, because Peryl had liked it so much, but only mildly because 1) sorry Peryl, I just don't trust you ;) and 2) I have mildly enjoyed her previous books.  Here's what can be expected from them -  Definitely some romance, a good, solid romance.  Drama, drama, drama. Some serious stuff - I'm now starting notice some serious family stuff.  And good writing, if florid.  Honestly, it's hard to remember if I had all those expectations in mind, since this book delivered on them so patly. But if I didn't, I should have.

So let's go into each of those elements in a little more detail :) The romance - Persuasion-type old lovers reunite. Nicely drawing out the angst/suspense for the course of the book.  And certainly a lovely couple.  Not exactly the focus of the book, but, eh, that's expected.

Drama - Every relationship is meant to be, or doomed to fail.  Larger than life characters (born to be famous, uncannily omniscient).  Painful significance of every incident every decision.  You know the drill (or I do).

Serious family stuff - Well this one was really taken up a notch.  This is not your typical broken family.  Treated cruelly by his own father, Wilson rejects his "first" family completely and obsesses over his second.  And even after they reconcile, he remains unrepentant.  As a narrative device, it works, but pu-lease.  Totally, ridiculously, over the top.

And then there's the writing.  Yes, it's florid, altogether too full of similes and metaphors and turns of phrases.  But yes, it's good.  Good enough that despite all that other stuff I just talked about, this was still an enjoyable read. I mean, I wouldn't attribute that to the writing entirely - it did have the romance, the characters were mostly eminently likeable, and the subject matter generally wasn't terrible, but it takes some talent to keep a book like this moving.  And move it did - I had no problem finishing it Shabbos afternoon instead of sleeping. So points for that, and, yes, I will be looking forward to her next one (I may even read the ones she wrote together with her husband, which appear to be YA).

Verdict: 3.75/5

Friday, October 28, 2016

Close Enough, Better than a Cigar

Continuing on my Succos reading spree, we have Lauren Willig's first stand-alone.  I finished the Pink Carnation series during my summer reading and then went back to the stand alones now.  As you may recall, I've found the Pink Carnation series to be less satisfying than it used to be.  The writing somewhat too flippant, even anachronistic, the romances too similar / not angsty enough, the plots a distraction.  I was ready to move on, and I think so was Lauren Willig, which is why she started on this (even before the series was finished).

The first stand-alone, The Ashford Affair, was written a few years ago, and, while there were lots of updates / teasers when it was written, some of them aren't fresh in my mind.  I think it was supposed to be inspired by Out of Africa, which I haven't read, and the Mitford sisters, which I have (at least The Pursuit of Love).  It *strongly* reminded me of the latter (like I think it deliberately followed the plot line of a poor but practical cousin and belle-of-the-ball debutante who runs off with husband after husband), and reminded me, too, of other books / plots that I couldn't even bring to mind. I knew exactly what would happen, not just because the book didn't keep it a secret, but because you just know that's the type - happy-ish ending but not without some tear-jerking.  It actually bothered me how familiar it all seemed, still not sure if that's only because of the Mitford / Downton Abbey side, or whether I really have read more in the same vein.  So much for the familiarity of the setting  / plot.

What about what really matters? Well, first of all, this was, like all of LW, a "time slip" novel, where the modern-day heroine learns about her ancestor's past.  My initial thought was that this device is unnecessary and distracting, the historical plot was enough and the modern story could not be fleshed out enough to be enjoyable. But I was wrong.  It was actually quite enjoyable and well told, and quite a good romance.  There was definitely a little bit too much melodrama about the discovery of Grandma Addie's past (not to mention that it was difficult to reconcile the dignified old woman Clemmie knew with the historical Miss Addie Gillecote).  But thoroughly enjoyable romance novella.

Back to the historical story, other than being shades of the Mitfords and mostly predictable, was it good? For one thing, it was not written in the, frankly, a bit silly style of the PC series, but in a more serious tone, in keeping with the more serious story.  I think it was a good trade-off. I don't need the seriousness of complex relationships and the shadow of WWI, orphans, and influenza, but the writing was a pleasure.  And I guess I really do just like historical England, because even though it was not my time period and there was all that serious stuff, I was still totally happy to read it.  The romance was also not my type (star-crossed lovers, not will-they-won't-they) but still satisfying in the end I guess.

In the end of the day, it wasn't my *ideal* setting or story, but it was close enough to both to be thoroughly enjoyable, due to the excellent execution.  Definitely looking forward to the next one (and the one after that, already published, and the one after that, still to be published :))

Verdict: 4/5

Friday, October 21, 2016

Silly Fluff Without the Fun

Next up, an author I did not forget last time, but that you haven't seen yet - Sophie Kinsella. Last time,  I figured I'd get the next in the Shopaholic series, but as it turned out I didn't get the next one, I got one that I had already read. When I realized that, I was just not interested in reading it, and really just not all that interested in the series at all.  So I moved on the stand-alones for this one.  Now Sophie Kinsella's stand-alones have, I would say, a mixed track record.  In general, she's a pretty funny author, and some of these are definitely funnier than others.  From a romance aspect, there's also a lot of variation, some quite enjoyable and others just missing some necessary elements.  There's also the point that it seems like all of her characters are the same - silly girls and brooding boys.  Doesn't sound like I like these books all that much, right? Like I said, it varies.

Moving on to this particular book, it had a strike against it right away because it was about two people. That almost always means at least one story that's not as interesting and always means not enough time given to each.  Strike to was that one of the two sisters has a kid - not that I have anything against kids of course :p Just complicates things.  One of the two sisters is the usual Kinsella flighty sprite, the other is somewhat more refreshingly down to the earth. Their menfolk are, respectively, refreshingly down-to-earth and a brooding male.  The romances are actually both potentially interesting - persuasion-type reconciliation and P&P hate-at-first-sight.  So - an ok mix of potential and meh.

But unfortunately, it didn't even live up to that mix.  Most of the book consisted of Fliss (down-to-earth sibling) ruining Lottie (flighty one)'s honeymoon.  Like really. We just go from incident to incident.  Some interaction with Fliss and her guy, though not much. None with Lottie and her guy (who is not the one on the honeymoon with her).  Sigh.  Quite a disappointment. I was really just trying to get through this silly book. Which incidentally, was also continuously inappropriate (Sophie Kinsella books vary on this front as well).

So yeah, a miss. We'll see what the next one is like.

Verdict: 2/5

Prosaic Fantasy

Well the summer's haul of books was back at the library, but there was a holiday coming up - needed to have something to read over Succos! So on Sunday, Erev Succos, I made the trip out to the East Brunswick library (Edison library closed on Sundays) and picked up a new batch of new reads. So exciting :) First one I chose was Sharon Shinn, who I happened to have overlooked when picking out books last time (might have overlooked her this time as well, but I fortuitously noticed the books when passing by).  I got out the one that looked to be oldest-since-the-last-one-I-read. I hadn't remembered before looking through the books, but she had started a new series with the last one I had read.  I had liked the first one, and so was happy to read the second. (I happened to have just checked her website and she started another new series around then as well, not sure if I'm interested in those as they look quite different from her usual. We'll see I guess).  Anyway, I didn't really remember the first book in the series, other than that I'm pretty sure I liked it.   But I know Sharon Shinn's style well, so I knew what to expect. Fantasy, obviously.  Finely crafted world, plenty of romance but also plot.  A certain 'earthy' morality, less prudish than the historical world that the fantasy ones echo.  This was a familiar read.

As far as this book in particular goes - well, first of all, the couple from the first book, Zoe and Darian, were quite present in this one, and their positions and personalities kind of made me wish I was reading that one instead :) They are cooler and more powerful than our current hero and heroine.  Well, actually, it turns out that Rafe has some serious royal lineage, and he's a pretty cool guy and Josetta holds her own. But still. Anyway more than that, the romance here was *not* my kind of romance.  As was made clear by the book jacket (though I had hopes it would not be the case) this was not a suspenseful, angsty kind of romance - it was an external obstacles keep them apart, and not even really so apart, one. BO-RING! I really should just give up reading these for romance at all :) And honestly, I'm not as picky about romance as I used to be, since I don't read that much anyway (and so often with romance it's a trade-off with decent writing). So to some extent, I guess I enjoyed the fantasy / story elements as well.  But 1) that got old too fast, 2) it really was just a little too silly, especially when it became clear that the "elements" that govern Welce society are particular to Welce, and not even neighboring countries, 3) I thought it was silly how much time was given to the "invention" of all these things we have in our world, as if a magical society would come up with exactly what we did and 4) just a little too much plot, sorry.   I was able to read the book, but honestly somewhat impatient for it to end.

And there was one more thing - the use of what seems to be an autistic child as a plot device.  Didn't love that. Too sad. Also too much of our world, in the same vein as the invention of airplanes and cars.

So bottom line, the world itself wasn't bad, but the romance was lacking and the plot couldn't quite make up for it.

Verdict: 2.75/5

Friday, October 14, 2016

Livening up Idyllic England

Well, I finished the last of my library books. Was two weeks ago already, in between was Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, so I've been busy. Also semi-deliberately not reading the usual :) Now it's Shabbos again and I have not been back to the library to get more books, so oh well there. But meanwhile, let's get to that outstanding review.  The last of the library books was another familiar author, Alan Bradley of the Flavia de Luce series.  There have actually been 3! new Flavias since I last read one, but I only picked up the first of these for my trip.  I like Flavias mostly because of the setting (and by setting, I mean not just the time and place, but the tone) I think (English countryside in the fifties) and definitely somewhat for Flavia herself, a... unique... preteen whose detecting capabilities (among others) are admirable.  The mysteries are fine as mysteries go, you know I'm not much for mysteries per se.

This book delivered much of the same bucolic countryside, unflappable Flavia, and host of English-village side characters.  The mystery was, I think, also similar (TBH, I do not much recall the previous mysteries ;)).  What I would say about this mystery (which I think is common to the series) is that there is almost an over-abundance of clues.  It seems like the answers could be gotten much sooner, or that many of them will be red herrings, the way the plot, and Flavia's mind, jumps from point to point without resolving any of them. But in the end (as far as I recall), it's mostly all resolved to satisfaction by Flavia. Like I said, I don't read the books for the mysteries, so the framing of the narrative in terms of clue-finding is not very important to me, but I am happy it's all resolved, nice and neatly.

What's more interesting is Flavia's day-to-day life, which, I was little surprised at, actually evolves somewhat in this latest book (the blue one is the way I think of it :) It's actually called Speaking From Among the Bones).  Flavia's relationship with her sisters and her father deepens, Buckshaw is for sale... and a final cliffhanger about her mother! Very exciting :) I always wanted these books to go somewhere and now maybe they finally are. Excited to read the next book, which yay! is already published and readily available whenever I go get it ;)  And meanwhile, I continued to enjoy Flavia's peregrinations about Bishop's Lacey and chemical explorations in her lab and certainly look forward to more of that as well.

Verdict: 3.75/5

(update after searching for an image - there have actually been 5 new books, counting one just released. Wow this guy is as prolific as AMS :))

Friday, September 23, 2016

My Kind of World-Building

Well, vacation is over, just a speck in the distant past, but the book reviews remain ahead. One book I am still in middle of (priorities change when vacation ends... really just it worked out like that), but one I finished on vacation, just did not take the opportunity to review while I could. And now, now the memory is fading, the impression not as vivid as it once was, the details are hazy... Oh well, reviews must be done. SO

Continuing my list of favored authors, I picked up Jasper Fforde's latest (yes, his latest - he does take a while to write books :)), the next installment of the Thursday Next books.  Thursday is recovering from an assassination attempt and thus not quite on her game, so that's one fun element lost. But eh, that's not what I read these books for.  What do I read them for? Ah, the cleverness, of course! The books remind me of Terry Pratchett's in that the world they portray is not an arbitrarily imagined future, but a careful satire of our own, where the slightly illogical is transformed into the obviously ridiculous.  The Toast Marketing Board, law enforcement agencies dedicated to books, time travel, and creatures with unauthorized DNA, and (in this book), a stupidity surplus the government keeps an eye on.  All very tongue-in-cheek of course.  The tone is absurd yet subtle, and I enjoy the silly parallels between this world and ours.  Beyond that, there is a cleverness in the plots themselves, somewhat complex threads that all come together nice and neatly at the end.  And all with a light touch and ne'er a whiff of undue tension.

So yeah, that's why I read those books, and I'd say this one lived up to promise in that way.  Anything specific? Well, it didn't take place in the BookWorld, unlike some of the recent ones, which I think was somewhat of a loss, but that's ok.  As I said, I didn't particular enjoy the older, creakier Thursday who seemed somewhat behind Goliath most of the time.  And though  threads were resolved in the end, I thought some felt either anti-climatic or somewhat unfinished (the last one deliberately, as the next book will continue developing those).  But yeah, totally clever, totally funny, totally light fun, as anticipated.

Verdict: 4/5

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Universe That Just Keeps Giving

Took a break from my library haul to read the book eeeveryone's been talking about (well some people) - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Saw it in Batya's house (in CL, if you've forgotten or I haven't mentioned it :)) and was assured it was a quick read.  Expectations? Well I had already read a review of it that was somewhat positive, but heard some more negative feedback as well. So you know, not much.  Also, I'm somewhat out of the HP world - have only seen films 1-3, one time, read many of the books only once (though I have seen the end of the 7th movie (in a hotel this year, forgot whether in Mountain View or Florida) and I have read parts of the 7th book multiple times) - and I don't know them well enough to know all the ins and outs and tricky details etc. Or to care all that much, really. But I do care somewhat of course. And those details can be clever. So anyway, of course I was going to read this book.

So - yes, it's a quick read. It's a play, so much of the action is just missing (since we're not watching it).  But I think that was a plus in this case.  The point of this book was not so much to tell a story as to provide some final (or maybe not final, who knows) morsels of HP canon to the faithful, while not rocking the boat on the closure provided by #7.  So we knew that 1) we were going to see our old friends, as many as possible and 2) nothing was going to happen ultimately to wreck with that epilogue scene from the end of the series.  Because of 1), time travel was a natural choice, if a cheap device - if allowed reintroduction of characters like Snape (dead, of course) and the menace of Voldemort.  Time travel, though, being a cheap device, did tilt the story over in the direction of fan-fiction (what-ifs and whatnot).  From 2), we knew that all this wrecking with timelines would be solved to satisfaction, but I guess we knew that anyway.  Still, did somewhat remove the suspense...

A third element to the book's composition, which is predictable but maybe not as much, was the psychological exploration of Harry's psyche via his son.  The later books have gotten more into the those aspects of his character (and others, and and relationships, etc), so I guess it was natural that, from a distance of years, Rowling would go a bit wild with it.  It's all very plausible - honestly I don't think Harry was all that much of a likable character by the time we got through all his issues, and I guess making his son a Slytherin loner was good follow-through. If JK had wanted uncomplicated happiness, Harry and Hermione would have married. But I suppose this is a more interesting path.

So anyway, yeah.  Reads a bit like fan fiction, but quick and mildly clever in the time-travel solution.  If I liked the books more I'd probably have a stronger opinion one way or the other, but as it is, interesting follow up to well-written and engaging series. Would totally see the play.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Drama, Without the Romance

And of course, next had to be the second Bollywood book, A Bollywood Bride.  Of course, I had high hopes for this one following the first.  But... just going to get right to it, somewhat disappointed.  This one, rather than taking the fan-fiction level romance cue from A Bollywood Affair, took the drama, drama, drama of the hero's damaged childhood and subsequent healing.  This time, it's the heroine who needs some healing - and boy, she does.  Some serious stuff going on there.  Which, in and of itself, not a really a point in favor. But beyond that, what about the romance? Not what I'd call a chic lit romance at all! It wasn't about them discovering feelings for each other, it was about Ria fighting with herself and with Vikram about being together despite all that other stuff.

So yeah... not really romantic.  Lots of drama.  Interesting Indian culture though.  And a romance in the sense that they get together at the end. And he's a great guy.  But still. A disappointment after the first, no question about it.

Verdict: 2.75/5

I Luv Bollywood

And now for something different. Well not that different ;) But new! Over the past years, I have of course seen many recommendations on austenprose, lauren willing, and wherever else. And of course, can't remember most of them, having not written them down. But one recent one that stuck in my head was the recommendation of The Bollywood Affair (or maybe it was for the second novel, which came out more recently).  Lots of positive stuff from the romance club, seemed worth reading. So I picked it up along (both books by the new author, Sonali Dev) on my recent library trip.

Bollywood, for anyone who didn't know, is the Indian film industry. I've only watched a few Bollywood movies (Aisha, based on Emma, and a few on Netflix) but I have *thoroughly* enjoyed what I've seen. Their rom-coms are so unapologetically rom-com.  Chock full of fun scenes and moments and whatnot.  And The Bollywood Affair is really a book version of that. It reads like fan fiction in the setup (arranged marriage, plane crash etc) and in the plot developments (accident + recuperation, wedding, night away together and all that).  It's so much fun, unashamedly. It was substantially less appropriate than the Bollywood films I see (which are squeaky clean) but that didn't bother me (though I honestly, I can do without).  And it didn't rely all on the physical stuff to build the romance - it was maybe a bit Mary Sue-ish in fact, with Mili's various talents and uniquely wonderful soul, and Samir's secret kindness, deep loyalty, and model good looks, but still, there's what to love in both main characters. And as for plot... not much ;) There's a lot of emotional squishiness to untangle (mostly on Samir's side) but easy enough to live with the drama.

This was a thoroughly fun book, most definitely quite close to fan fiction, but eh, not complaining. It was written decently enough and the Indian culture stuff was interesting.  Zipped through it (read instead of my Shabbos nap) and am eager to recommend to others :)

Verdict: 4/5

Culmination Kind of Flat

You might think that posting so recently after my last update, the latest review would be fresh in my mind. You'd be mostly right but... things go fast on vacation.  I'm already 3 books behind - so onward and upward.  As I mentioned in the last post, next on my list was, of course, the final Pink Carnation, Jane's story.  In contrast to #11 about a pair of minor characters and a plot that doesn't really tie in with the Pink Carnation's work at all, #12 features Jane herself as the heroine, in the thick of her spy war on Napoleon.  So it was going to be different for sure. I quite enjoyed #11, with its relative lack of plot and clean-slate characters, so the burden was on #12 to prove as enjoyable when back in the thick of the action.  On the other side was #10, Miss Gwen's story, which suffered from introducing us the the woman behind the parasol, and rendering the previously redoubtable heroine vulnerable.  And if this was a problem for Miss Gwen... Throughout the Pink Carnation series, Jane has remained ever calm and unruffled while pulling all the strings and knowing all the things.  So who wouldn't want to hear her love story?

Thus far we have the awesome Jane, ready for her hero.  As for the hero himself, I have nothing particularly bad to say of him, though I would say Jane is substantially more awesome (unlike her French counterpart and one-time flame The Gardener, but apparently he's destined for someone else (Lizzy) - two alpha spies can't work? whatever, I'm really fine with that).  But the issue comes down to the same thing as #10 - how to render the heroine sympathetic without damaging that sheen of omniscience? Personally, I don't know why Jane had to be rendered so vulnerable, but what do I know? Lauren Willig not only introduces us to her inner doubts (fine enough I guess) but moves the story along two years, placing her outside her old Paris network and outside the pale of polite society (disowned by her family).  Why, why, why? By making Jane so far from awesome, it deprives us of the treat of the coup de grace of Pink books.

So ok, let's try to judge the book on its own merits rather than as the culmination of the series.  As far as it goes, lots of spy plot, which is not a plus in my book.  Portuguese countryside instead of Regency London.  And the romance? I just feel like Pink romances are all the same - rather than a true angsty, suspensful back-and-forth true progression of a relationship, it's all professional interaction + an undercurrent of a certain type of tension, denying it because of said professional interaction, and culminating in a declaration. It just gets old, you know? Maybe it's really the way most romances go (at least those with more.. err.. physical description).  But these are the ones I read, so that's where I see the repetition. Anyway, yeah, it just felt like same, same, and not necessarily that enjoyable.

Oh well, right? Still, same as #10 - fast, easy read of a romance. Shouldn't be that critical. And looking forward to reading the standalones! Not hampered by any of the same-same (hopefully :)) And it was certainly fun to wrap it all up with the various characters.

Verdict: 3.5/5

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tangent Proves Worthy

And now, the first of my new library books.. it's boring I'm afraid :) Moving on the Pink Carnation series with #11, The Mark of  the Midnight Manzanilla.  If you recall, I did not enjoy #10 (book from my inaugural trip to the library), but wasn't sure how much of it was due to the protaganist (Miss Gwen) as opposed to a general descent in the series or to my own changing tastes. So this was a good opportunity to test which one it was.  #11 is about Sally Fitzhugh, quite a minor character in previous novels, and the Duke of Belliston, non-existent before this book.  Clean slate, as it were.

Sally reminds me a lot of previous heroines - practical, somewhat naive, valient, loyal, friendly - shades of Henrietta, Letty, Arabella etc.  Belliston is a brooding mystery man, in the mold of Lord Vaughn, Andre Joeun, and Colin himself.  So even more than with some of the previous books, there was a feeling of deja vu / been-there-done-that at the start.  But that being said, Sally is beautiful, confident, and unredoubtable.  Lucien, while he is withdrawn and mysterious, does not have the cold hauteur of Lord Vaughan, but an open and friendly personality once you "get to know him".  In other words, likeable, relatable hero and heroine.

The story is the usual - spies, murders, lots going on outside of the romance.  But fast-paced enough, taking place within the confines of London and aristocratic country society, involving a fake engagement, so nothing to complain about.  The romance not bad either... though honestly, these books are not actually the greatest romances - very little angst, and not enough suspense.  But a solid enough love story, definitely.   And, in some definite praise - 1) started reading the car on the way down to Maryland and enjoyed enough to get me quite a way through by the time we got there 2) disappointed by the Kerry Jennings Walsh loss in the semifinals, consoled myself by finishing the book before I went to sleep.  So I can say that I absolutely enjoyed this one.

So.. conclusion? My dissatisfaction with the last book, probably mostly due to Miss Gwen rather than to a general decline in the series.  Change in taste definitely still somewhat there, but not enough so that I didn't enjoy a generic PC with a generic heroine.  Older, prickly leading ladies just not to my taste. What a snob am I.

Meanwhile, liked this book and certainly looking forward to #12, Jaaaane herself.  Will be somewhat funny to pick up the main thread of the series after this book was a complete tangent, but I have hope that Jane's story will be worth all the spy stuff.

Verdict: 4/5

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lesser Known Works of a Master

Hello again - I have been reading but lazy to do reviews, because it's been Heyerville. And then I moved on to P&P and figured it'd take a while to finish so I had time. But then... vacay! And before I left (yesterday) I went to the library and got 7! new books to read (squee).  All familiar authors.  So exciting to go to the library after a 4 year break :) Anyway, I put P&P down and picked the new books up. Finished one already, so it is *urgent* that I get those Heyers done. So here you are, weeks late (oh well).

The three Heyers are
   - April Lady
   - The Unknown Ajax
   - Faro's Daughter

These books are all not on my most-read or most-favorite Heyer list, but I have read them all more than once and I do own them all, so you know, second-tier.  And here's what I have to say (again) - GH is the maaaaan! I mean second-tier, schmecond-shmier! I enjoyed all these 3 *thoroughly*.

First, April Lady.  I always considered this book to be somewhat romantic, but for some reason did not love it. Maybe not enough romance? Too much else going on? Nell is, to put it elegantly, a simpleton? Maybe there's some truth to it, but I absolutely found the romance delightful and the story eminently readable.  I stayed up late reading it as I was enjoying it so much.  There are a lot of fun, subtle moments, and it's a real sweet story.

Next, Unknown Ajax. Now this one, I know I never enjoyed much because of the lack of romance / too much story.  It definitely has a lot of story - didn't bother me as much, but that's a general pattern, I care more about the writing and less about the story than I used to. But what stuck out here - the Major! What a character. Witty, kind, resourceful, strong, and wealthy and titled to boot ;) And in love with "our Anthea" Smushes.  I love this stuff.

Finally, Faro's daughter. Why doesn't this one make my favorites? Here I think the issue was probably more the characters themselves. Max Ravenscar is one of those all-powerful types who are too cool for the story's own good - you never want them humbled or beaten because that would get in the way of the mystique but the whole point of the story is to to see them humbled (with love). I will say that, though Deb battles Max she never really does humble him outside of the usual humbled by love part. Anyway, I would say that my impression of the book didn't really change in this case. I definitely found the battle between Deb and Max to be a bit ridiculous and not necessarily enjoyable reading, but overall it's still a GH (I also think I ranked this one a bit higher than the other two, at least than The Unknown Ajax, in previous readings).

Anyway, yeah so that's all I have to say on these. I heart GH, even those less familiar ones.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Powerfully Depressing Humor

My in-laws are the best thing ever to happen to my reading list in terms of sophistication.  I was at their house for Shabbos and once again, had no reading material of my own (possibly forgot to bring, possibly had none, do not remember), and so I selected a book from their shelves full of mostly classics (and some science fiction, thrillers of little interest to me).  (This is the fiction bookshelf, somewhere else in the house they have boxes of non-fiction that never got unpacked after the recent construction).  Dov said Catch-22 was Grandpa's favorite book and that he had found it hysterical, plus I always meant to read it, so it seemed a good choice. I started it then, and probably would not have bothered finishing it, but Dov took it home because he wanted to read it himself. Then I had nothing to read over Shavuos because I neglected to go to the library, and so I read most of it then.  So that's the when and the why. Now the what.

Catch-22 is a classic (of course) and thus I knew it would probably be 1) somewhat serious thematically and 2) well-written (see the title to my post about Slaughterhouse-5).  I also expected it to be quite witty, as Dov and Grandpa apparently find it to be. And no surprise, it was all of these.  Definitely very clever in the wordplay and in the carefully constructed absurdities of situation and character.  About the very serious themes of war and the "system".  And certainly, searingly powerful in its depictions of wartime on and off the battlefield, the muddy grit of army life and the petty machinations of the brass.  This was a book that stays with you.  As Yossarian loses friend after friend and the venal colonels, generals, and other officers fight it out among themselves, we keep on hoping, keep on getting frustrated, and keep on reading.  As wrenching as it is, the palpable absurdity of it all remains amusing.

But, but but but... though I could see the humor in it all, I couldn't see past it.  In the end of they day, I found the book incredibly sad, very depressing, and not really true.  Not only do all (or almost all) of Yossarian's friends end up dead, none of the good guys are punished. Yossarian himself (and Orr) escape the carnage, but does it really help that one man stands up to the bland cruelty of Catch-22? While the perpetrators of the system perpetuate still, with no check on their ambitions.  And of course, philosophically, while I know this world looks like a Catch-22 sometimes, we know it's far from that.  But I guess there's no point in trying to read these books while comparing them with Jewish philosophy. If everyone believed what I believe, there would probably not be many classics :) The book does do a superb job of painting a world that, while not our world, is far too close to it in its patent unfairness and lack of reward for goodness.  I guess I just can't see what's funny about it, even when it's told in such an amusing way.

Verdict: 4/5

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sometimes, Same Silly is Simpatico

And now for the second library pickup -  so I was in the library with two kids, not really the time for browsing. I just needed an author I could check for for quickly.  PG Wodehouse was the one who popped up - not sure why  - maybe because I think of his books as filler between others? Maybe because old libraries tend to have his book and this library looked pretty old? I think I had heard him mentioned somewhere in the relatively recent past and it just stuck in my head.  Anyway, that’s what I searched for, and that’s what I found - Jeeves and the Tie That Binds (I think the only Jeeves book they had).  So Wodehouse - now, talk about sameness (see review below), these books are all exactly the same. I have no idea if I’ve ever read this particular one since its plot is so exactly like all the other Jeeves and Wooster books I’ve come across. This one was actually PG Wodehouse’s 90th birthday book, so I think it was deliberately derivative (nice, right?) but really they are all the same. You don’t read these books for the plot, that’s for sure.

So what do you read them for? Well the setting, for one thing (again :)) I just love that English aristocratic countryside, even if it’s early-twentieth century (between the wars maybe? don’t even know), not Regency.  The jokes - silly references and plays on words, along with absurd situational comedy (that’s the long form of sitcom, which is probably not what I want - but I mean comedic situations :)) The ever-so-comfortable antics of vapid-but-amiable Bertie, a host of mean, silly, hearty, and other people, and the wise Jeeves who always cleverly saves the day.  After a while, it can all get old, especially with poor Bertie always trying to do the right thing and always getting stuck in the wrong, but you just have to let it all roll off. Does make for a less engaging read, but still very easy to get through :) And inspires me to such eloquence in review, you see? He really was quite the master, that PG.  Will continue reading the same book over and over :)

Verdict: 3.5/5

10 Books In, Has the Premise Run Its Course?

Well I finally did it - almost 4 years after my last trip to the library (August 2012), I put my kiddos in the car and drove the (very short) drive (could have walked but then would have had to deal with the stroller) to the Edison library.  Excitingly enough, this library is less than a 10 minute walk from the house, and right near the train station where I come/go every day, but it took me this long to get there (and I lived for over a year in Carteret without ever taking a book out there (used the Manhattan library though) and in HP without even getting a library card, but anyway).  So what was my first pick? Lauren Willig of course.  I think I even wrote on an FB post on her page once that it would be. How embarrassing :) I didn’t have much browsing time, I got one more book (more anon of course), but let’s just focus on Willig first.

So as you know ;), I’ve been reading these books for a long time.  They are favorites of mine because they are regency romance but not the romance genre (have more literary pretensions). They are also of the historical mystery/drama genre, but less so than, say, Deanna Raybourn or Tasha Alexander.  Anyway, Regency, romance, not trash, and nice and light.  What’s not to like, of course.  So yeah I do like these books.  In recent years (well not that recent), I have noticed a “sameness” about them, and also somewhat liberal anachronism and silliness, so I can’t say I find them *that* well-written, but you know, they are pretty good. Neat enough phrasing, if a bit too pat. So that’s in the past few years. (I have read her books since I stopped going to the library, since I own two of them, so it’s not going back all that far necessarily.  You’ll have to read old reviews to see how far it does go back ;).  On top of this recent impression, and really more along with it, I think I have less tolerance for empty romance than I used to - I need something more in a book than an implausible romance and less-than-mediocre writing. Not saying that describes Pink Carnation books, just that my tastes have changed (matured, perhaps :)) in that respect.

So anyway, back to this particular book, it’s about Miss Gwen (I was, by the way, 3 books behind in the series, as well as not having read the 3 non-Pink books written in recent years, so quite a lot of material :) This was the least recent of the series books.)  Miss Gwen is Jane’s companion, a lady of mature years and prickly demeanor.  So not the most endearing of characters, at least as the heroine of a romance.  The book is supposed to show her softer side, but I’m not sure I want to see her softer side.  I liked her as the steely chaperone Miss Gwen, more ambivalent about “Gwen”.  The Captain is a debonair and likable figure, but I’m not sure I buy the romance.  It’s not forced or anything, just rather… shallow? Here’s where I’m not sure if I’m just picking up on the “sameness” thing (so boring because same), if the books have gotten worse, if my tolerance is lower, or if I really just don’t like seeing Miss Gwen’s softer side. Here’s hoping it’s the last, since I like being able to thoroughly enjoy my books.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the book. It was light reading, which I never mind. It had romance, it had some action, I guess a few laughs. It had characters I care about and the setting I love. So can’t really complain, and look for reviews of the last two books of the series shortly :)

Verdict: 3/5

A Matriarchal Memoir

Before we get on to the aforementioned new stuff, need to finish up Pesach reading.  After finishing up Slaughterhouse 5, I moved on / back to Cheaper by the Dozen - or, actually, Belles on Their Toes. I ordered it after so thoroughly enjoying CbtD (ordered CbtD too, since I’m sure I’ll want to reread it one day :)) Obviously, I’ve read and enjoyed Belles on their Toes before, but I did want to see if it held up quite as well as Cheaper by the Dozen did.  It’s definitely a sadder book, both because the father is no longer living, and because it features extensive passage of time, which I always find somewhat depressing.  And it has fewer hilarious incidents than the first book.  That’s not to say it’s sad though, maybe just not *quite* as humorous.  But still humorous, very well-written, and a lot of fun.  It’s definitely up for discussion whether the book would be as much fun had we not been introduced to the Gilbreths already, but I kind of think it would be.  The main thing is that the Gilbreths are so much fun to read about - they make even stressful situations fun and light-hearted.  So even though there’s more stress in this book, there’s not that much less fun.  What makes this book special is right there in the intro “this is Mother’s story” (might not be the exact quote). Mother, who is an admirable figure in Cheaper by the Dozen, really comes into her own in Belles on their Toes.  She is strong, wise, and kind, a career women whose children adore her.  It is clear from the book that the Gilbreths love their mother, and I have to say, I love her too.  The story of the Gilbreths after Dad died is a happy one, told in light and entertaining fashion, and she made it all possible.

Verdict: 5/5

Friday, May 13, 2016

Powerful and Kind of Depressing - Yup, It's a Classic

It's already been a while since Pesach and I gots me some new books to dig into, some high time I review my Pesach reading.  Actually wasn't too much of it - trying to remember what I did the last days, but I think it was just picking up random Gordon Kormans at the 'rents.  First days, I finished the book I started the week before Pesach at the in laws (yes we were there two weeks in a row, actually have been at either parents or in laws 5 straights weeks :)) and started another one, which I haven't finished yet because I left it there and just got it back. SO... Pesach reading material consists of Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut.  Impressive, you say, stroking your chin.  Yes - the Gertler house in Teaneck contains many books, many of which (I think it's the fiction ones) are now arrayed in beautiful order on the new built-in bookshelves in the basement.  And most of those fiction books are either children's fantasy (Shoshana, Rami ones presumes) or (the majority) classics, many of the intellectual bookshelves of Grandpa's East Brunswick library.  Anyway, Slaughterhouse 5 is a short and famous read, so I decided to be intellectual and read it.

Obviously, expectations here were not to thoroughly enjoy this book in the vein of a Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen.  So what were the expectations (must always set the stage)? Definitely, writing would be good.  Likely, message would be powerful. Possibly, message one I agree with.  How did the book line up? Well, not that I'm any judged, and of course I'm predisposed in favor, but writing was exactly what I expected. Crisp, clean, vivid - good in a very modernist way.  Story was bizarre (it was supposed to be), which possibly was meant to add to the power of the message. I think it did - certainly it's engaging, strangely when given the detachment of the style and the lack of attractiveness on the part of Billy Pilgrim (protagonist).

Message I agree with? Well the message was that the bombing of Dresden was horrible.  Can't disagree there.  More largely, that war is horrible. Can't disagree there either. And I think it is important to remember the horror of it, and not think only in terms of abstract numbers.  I can't say I do know much about the exact horrors of war (whether fire-bombing in Dresden or mustard gas in WWI (saw a picture of a victim on Quora yesterday)), and it is valuable to know.  Not that I make decisions about people going to war or not, and not that I'll ever be in a position to :)

But of course, there's the other side.  War is horrible, but avoiding war can be horrible too.  The argument in Slaughterhouse 5 is that Dresden was unnecessary, a miscommunication, strategically meaningless and thus unjustified.  And while it certainly is possible for something like Dresden to happen unnecessarily in the fog of war, and it's important to avoid that, the truth is, Dresden wasn't that simple.  At least according to the Wikipedia article on it :), many of made the case for its strategic necessity. And further, while Slaughterhouse 5 claims the number of dead to exceed the deaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in fact, the number was far lower, somewhere in the lower 10s of thousands.  Not that that's really any better, but the point is, if Vonnegut gets it wrong there, then I don't put much faith in his analysis of the strategic advantages of Dresden.

Vonnegut was (apparently) writing from personal experience of the horror, and the book absolutely is able to viscerally portray the monstrousness of the bombing and of the horrors of war.  But I assume this book is meant to be something more because 1) the bizarre plot of time travel and aliens would not seem to be necessary just to get across that message and 2) this book is considered a great work, so probably has more to offer?  The message of the alien / time travel stuff is, I guess, that nothing matters in the long run, or that all of our fights, no matter the scale, are petty and meaningless? This is more my speculation, and I don't exactly have a PhD in this stuff, but let's discuss it for what it's worth. I of course don't agree that nothing matters at all just because it doesn't matter in the long run - we are here for a purpose. But it is true that we don't see the full picture and life would look very different if we did. Hey - if that's the point of this book, totally up my ally :) But I think the book sees different = meaningless and I see different = perfect. So not quite the same. Anyway, like I said, it's all speculation.

Bottom line, what this book gave me was a powerful perspective on the bombing of Dresden in particular and the horror of war in general. That doesn't make wars not worth fighting - on the contrary, remembering it and fighting the right wars is what keeps us human (how poetic).  As far as any other deep meaning, I'll go read the wikipedia or cliff notes of the book now so I can actually get it :)

Verdict: 4/5 (only that high b/c it was good writing and short, do not take this as an endorsement)

Update: Oh it's about free will. A worthy conundrum.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Better than Fiction

And for a something a little different - during some Shabbos at my in-laws' in Jan/Feb (forgot when), I neglected to bring reading material from my house, and had to make do with what was there.  They recently reorganized their books, so there was lots of new scope, and, to my delight, I came across Cheaper by the Dozen. I'm not sure when the last time I read this book was, but I don't think it'll be long before I read it again :) (must order a copy).   History of this book goes back a while, and it's fun to go down memory lane.  One day in CL, Peryl started telling me about a really funny book she had read about a family with a dozen kids.  The specific story she told me was, if I recall correctly, the story of the Peeping Tom and Ernestine, and I was very intrigued.  I got the book out of the Peckville Library (the old Interboro Library) and loved it.  Read it many, many times since then (I was certainly in elementary school when I first read it, though I'm not sure what age), and read Belles on Their Toes as well (that one used to be harder to find, I remember being excited when I picked it up in Towson).  Rereading it now, it's funny how many of the references I understand that flew over my head.  Some innuendo, but some more intellectual ones.  I'm sure I understood them in later readings, but I've forgotten those and the earlier ones stick in my head.  Anyway back up memory lane...

This book is great! It is, literally, laugh-out-loud funny.  The writing is neat, quick, fresh, and amusing - every phrase is well turned.  And while it's strange to speak of characterization in a non-fiction book, the characterization of bother Mother and Dad (forgetting what they call him at the moment) Gilbreth is fantastic.  I picked the book up expecting to just read a little, and then kept on reading most of Shabbos. Finished it this past Shabbos on Friday night.  There are so many moments in there that I feel like have stuck in my consciousness without me even realizing where they are from. And quotes that make me smile every time I hear. It's classic.

It's also kind of fun reading about NJ now that I am a resident of this fine state :)  Montclair, of course (I looked up Eagle Rock Way on google maps, it's still there), but even New Brunswick was mentioned once or twice.  Also interesting to look up the Gilbreths on Wikipedia and follow them for a bit - not much info there, but the last one (Fred I think) just passed away a few months ago as it turns out.

Anyway, I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be handing it over to my kiddos when they are old enough to start appreciating it (maybe 5-6 years, that's all, iyH :)) So glad I picked this one up again, and I'm sure I'll follow it up with Belles on their Toes at some point.

Verdict: 5/5

(p.s. the pic is the original version that I read)

GH In A Crotchety Mood

Slightly more recent finish, but only because it dragged on for a while - I'm pretty sure I started Lady of Quality either on my way back from Florida or maybe the Shabbos after, but with various busy Shabbosim and a Commentary, I only finished it a few weeks ago.  It's a Georgette Heyer, and one that I own, so obviously a lovely book but... I have to say, this one irritated me more than usual.  It was never one of my favorites, but I think it's fluctuated in line.  I haven't read it in a while (this was actually the first GH I owned, picked it up in the airport in England (or maybe it was Scotland) when I was there on my post-sem trip).  But right away, I found myself annoyed by Annis's intolerance of Miss Farlow coupled with Annis's tolerance of Ninian and Lucille.  It's funny, because I used to find GH's portrayals of "children" or young adults ridiculous for their unrealistically young behavior, but I guess I'm old enough that I find seventeen-year-olds (or however old they are) acting like babies to be completely realistic. So it wasn't that that annoyed me... more like, if they are that annoying, then why does Annis tolerate, indeed like, them so much? And just because Miss Farlow talks a lot, she's villified into this barely sympathetic sour creature.  I mean, of course I understand we're supposed to look down on her for being jealous of Lucille. But really, she isn't *that* bad, and I find Annis's unwillingness to put up with her foibles not very sympathetic when compared with her indulgent treatment of Lucille.  And it's much the same with Mr Carleton - we are supposed to sympathize with his and Annis's connection, because they have the same unwillingness to pander to the world and put up with silliness - but really, is silliness all that bad? Are people unworthy of sympathy because they are not intelligent?

I'm taking this all a bit too far of course, but I'm just trying to pin down what was bothering me as I read the book - this feeling of, but that's not what you should be feeling right now, no, you should be feeling less/more annoyed etc.  It really did get in the way of my enjoyment of the book.

So you didn't like the book, you'll ask? Well it was a GH.  I'll put up with a lot from a GH - Still my world, still my girl :)  But I'm not sure how soon I'll be picking this one up again.

Verdict: 4/5

It's interesting that this was her final novel - published posthumously I think. Perhaps it needed some refinement. Or perhaps it was GH getting crotchety in her old age, and passing it on to her characters :)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

More Romance (Gets Boring, Doesn't It? :))

And the other book from the trip, somewhat similar in that it's a fantasy romance, but decidedly for adults (and not based on a classic fairy tale) - Summers at Castle Auburn.  Sharon Shinn is an author I've read for a while (though I haven't picked up her new books recently (well I haven't picked up anyone's new books recently :))).  I've read almost all of her books and enjoyed most of them. She's a regular fantasy world-builder, which I can take or leave, as long as the worlds are good (if they're not good, then I have no tolerance for it :)), which hers generally are. And she very often has a satisfying romance at the heart of the story (those are the "most" I enjoy :))  The first book I read of hers, Archangel, was described by Peryl (who discovered it), as a romance disguised as a fantasy (I don't think we realized at the time that this was far from a novelty, more of a genre :)) But anyway, yeah, her books are fantasy romances, often with some more complex world-built story to be resolved.  The story with Summers at Castle Auburn is that the library (BCPL and whatever other libraries I had access to at the time) didn't have this one and I wanted read it, so I borrowed it from someone (probably the Spitzes) and read it, I think during Yaelle's sheva brachos. I LOVED it, and eventually bought a copy.

This is Sharon Shinn fantasy romance, but light on the fantasy, heavier on the romance :) Takes place in a world that's quite close to say, Rennaissance Europe, not too much complicated magic or whatnot going on.   I remember the first time I read it someone told me she gets together with the wrong guy, which cause me to root for the one I thought was the wrong guy... which, it turned out, *was* the wrong guy, since she got together with the one I had originally thought was the right guy! which kind of muddied my enjoyment for the first read, but made for a more satisfying second read (not that this is relevant to what's probably my 4th or 5th read but just funny. Same thing happened with Agatha Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit).

So anyway, on further readings, I noticed that despite the lack of a an impending war or great destruction to bring urgency to the plot (not atypical of Sharon Shinn), the book is somewhat serious in tone, and the romance is serious with it.  It's also a bit interesting because of the youth of the protaganist during much of the book (are we supposed to root for a romance between a 14 year old and a 19 year old? it's a lot less weird by the time she's 18 :)) But that's all built in to my expectations from previous readings, so I didn't mind it too much.  And it really is a beautiful romance - Kent's secret devotion coupled with his myriad wonderful qualities, oh my.  And like I said, there isn't too much distraction from major plots about wars and such, which is a good thing in my book. Mostly castle intrigue, which I find more to my liking.  So certainly enjoyed the book, in line with my expectations :)

Honestly, I read so little these days that I probably would enjoy anything, so who knows if these reviews are fair in any way...  and who cares? :)

Verdict: 4.5/5

(also btw, let's pretend you are an avid reader of this blog, you will recall that I've reviewed this book at least once before, as I read it on my trip to Glacier back in 2012 :) can't remember if the time before that was when I was doing reviews)

Romance for Children (and Me)

Well, I'm months behind as usual, so you (whoever you is) get a less interesting review. sorry 'bout that.  I had a perfect vacation in Florida at the beginning of February and snuck a few books in of course.  First one (think first one anyway) was Ella Enchanted (continuing my streak of children's fantasy).  Again a much-loved, much read book, though not to the same extent as Court Duel.  Ella Enchated is a real children's book (I first heard of it in 6th grade, when numerous girls did book reports on it), but a good romantic story nonetheless (Cinderella).  The movie is good too - Hugh Dancy ;) I like it enough to own it, but it doesn't hold the same place in my heart as, say, Court Duel, so my expectations for it are lower.  I never considered it to be the best-written or most satisfying romance, just a good, romantic story.

This reading lived up to that - the romance was about as good as I remembered - not the most full of angst, pathos, glorious moments and whatnot, but some subtle-ish well done male POV and a good arc.  The story outside of the romance is (other than being a retelling of Cinderalla) a well-constructed fantasy world that I enjoyed reading about.  The book is a Newberry Honor book, and I think that's a deserved honor.

So like I said, too long ago for me to have much to say (not sure I would have had that much to say in any case), but I've always liked this book and I continue to like it. Probably won't pick it up for a few years so I can enjoy the novelty again when I do :)

Verdict: 4/5