Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hand of a Master, Even If the Medium Is Different

Well I finished my books on reserve... and found myself, perhaps due to neglect, with a zero-length backlog.  So I was free to pick up whatever I fancied, as long as I could get my hands on it.  That of course, limited me to Georgette Heyer and a few other choice favorites I have in my possession.  I did, indeed, choose a GH, but the question is, which one? The only one I've read at all recently is Venetia (and I'm not sure how recently that was, since I don't think I reviewed it on the blog) so I had many old favorites I could turn to... then there were those that I like, but that I didn't buy on the first round since they aren't *that* good... and then there's The Quiet Gentleman, which I picked up last summer from the Border's going-out-of-business sale (see if you can find the other book I picked up reviewed here :)) simply because they had it.  This is one I've read once (back when I first read them all and got out the last 10 or so from Pratt library) and I don't think since then.  It's more a mystery than a romance, like Regency Buck, but only the mystery parts.  But Gital (Dov's cousin - is this the first time I'm mentioning Dov? maybe :) - nope, just checked, two other times - I guess he does figure quite largely in my reading life :)))  mentioned that she liked it (she got into GH a few years ago and has been reading them slowly, I gather) and that was somewhat of a recommendation.  Plus Jennifer Kloester's Regency World kept mentioning Gervase Frant of all heroes.  So I was ready to give it another go.

It is indeed, more a mystery than a romance - and mystery is not GH's strong suit (not that it would matter much if it was, since I don't go in much for mysteries no matter how good they are).  But in any case, I've never read any of her actual mystery, but her other romance + mystery is really Regency Buck (though that one is more of a romance / tour of Regency society than a mystery) and I found them quite similar - mostly in the dispositions of the villains, who were both refined, almost smarmy, and overtly concerned for the interests of their victims.  But if the meat of the book was the mysterious accidents that befall Gervase and the fallout from his return to the family seat, there was plenty of distraction in light flirtations, balls, and pleasant conversation.  So don't get me wrong - this book was not hard to read.

In fact, I'd say TQG made me appreciate GH all the more.  Even in a book with little romance, and between a couple I couldn't really get behind for much of the book (I appreciated Drusilla's practicality from the beginning but Gervase did not seem to be "one of the downy ones" until much later and it was hard to see his coolness at first), it was just so much fun to read.  The usual stock characters, the practical heroine, and everything moving along so delightfully.  I'm not saying this book was a favorite, or even that I'm surprised I haven't read it in years, but I'm not sorry I own it, and I'm sure it'll make its way back into this blog (if it's still around :)) a few years from now.

Verdict: 4/5

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Almost, But Not Quite, More of the Same

Remember way back when, through the fog of time, this blog was a newborn babe, and I did other things besides reviewing every book I read, methodically? It was a short but sweet time, glorious in its variety.  Oh how I miss it... but nothing remains the same, not forever anyway... All right, enough nostalgia.  The point is, one of the first reviews I did, about a book I had read before I started the blog, was The Spellman Files #4.  Last year (I think it was last year), I read and reviewed Lisa Lutz's stand-alone, and this year, I'm back to #5.  I think we were all a little surprised that there is a #5, since #4 ended off just fine from my POV.  But she chose to write a #5, and if I have gleaned properly from the website, there's more where that came from!  Sarah Sp. has not been happy with her since at least #4, and I think #3 too, so she wasn't very enthusiastic about the continuation.  My feeling was that Isabel was with Henry, and all grown up, so why go further? And yet, here we are.

Two years into the future that is (and we actually *are* two years in the future, how funny :)) Isabel is with Henry, Rae is in college, and the ex-convict Isabel liberated in the last book has taken up residence with the Spellmans.  Isabel herself has not regressed in maturity, I'm happy to say.  Other than the slight irregularities that are a product of her personality (and perhaps Lisa Lutz's) she appears a stable, relatively successful adult.  The rest of her family is up to their usual antics, but they were never as crazy as Isabel.  So to start off with, less self-destructiveness and just as much harmless zaniness as before.  I think it's a change for the better.  The plot itself is mostly harmless too.  I have to say I don't have that much of a memory for previous plots, which suggests they are mostly of the same nature as this one - lots of meandering threads that get somewhat loosely enmeshed towards the end.  I think it's Spellman as usual, for most part.

But Spellman as usual can get irksome after 5 books.  Rae is definitely not aging gracefully.  And I find the unnecessary rudeness and shenanigans... unnecessary.  And maybe it's just this book, but I feel like I can very much hear Lisa Lutz writing.  Isabel is funny when we're laughing at her and her insane family.  But if Isabel is right in her "quirky" view of the world, even a little bit ... well what's there to laugh about?   I guess what's left is a certain cleverness in the antics.  I definitely stayed curious the entire book, through all the plot twists and jumps.  There is the little annoyance of *constant* event-droppping (just coined the term) where all we hear is "we'll get to that later".  If *you* know, we want to know too! Get that through your head.  But I guess it's just par for course with the Spellmans... even though I bet Lisa Lutz could write a whole book in chronological order and I would still find it interesting.  Really, she should try it.

ANYWAY... why am I going on and on about this? It's not like I care about any of this (ok not like I care *most* about any of this :)) What's going on with Isabel and Henry? Of course that's the question on all your minds :)) And first, let me say that, in book #5, I would have been just fine with letting I&H fade into the background as a mature couple - their story was well-played out already.  What I am NOT fine with is them breaking up! I will however forgive LL if/when they get back together in #6.  I'm betting they will, because otherwise, what was the point of breaking them up? To be realistic? I mean, really? I'm definitely going with engagement in a book or two.  But even with that, I'm not sure we needed a breakup now... Oh well, what's done is done.  'Twere well it be repaired forsooth.

Verdict: 3/5 (I don't know, I just didn't find it at all hard to read)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Humorous Side of Chic Lit

More familiar authors, though less avidly followed perhaps - Sophie Kinsella's latest is one of her one-offers, not a Shopaholic installment - that means greater potential for romance, but nothing to get too excited about if its last few predecessors (Remember Me, Twenties Girl) are any indication.  Anyway, I've Got Your Number did not impress fellow readers Huvi and Chava (Huvi read it three Shabbosim ago at Bubby's, Chava at my house :) two Shabbosim ago), but they are rather harsher judges than I.  I expected not much, as most of Sophie Kinsella's characters are utterly silly, but maybe some good chic lit-style boy-girl plot.

Now, from the start, IGYN promised to live up to any SK work in both plot and character silliness.  First of all the character - Poppy Wyatt, a Becky Bloomwood soul mate in flakiness, some naivete, and a gift for twisted logic and getting herself into trouble.  Then there's the plot... I gave Dov's family the pleasure of a synopsis, which was greatly appreciated as a piece of unlikely farce - girl loses ring, then fire alarm rings, then phone is stolen, then she steals another phone... and then she strikes up a relationship with the phone's owner, all the while refusing to return him his property?! Only forgivable because in chic lit, implausibility cannot be allowed to stand in the way of good romance and maybe some funny moments along the way.  So far, so silly... I could well understand H and C's lack of enthusiasm.

But, even with all the ridiculous setups, snort-worthy scenarios, and lack of common sense I couldn't stop noticing, I found myself laughing out loud once in a while.  She does have great comic timing, Ms. Kinsella, no doubt about it.  So she succeeds in at least part of her goal (what I assume is her goal), to write a book that keeps us laughing most of the time.  At the beginning, I was doing less laughing though, and more worrying, as Poppy was (of course) being an idiot about dealing with the loss of the engagement ring (word of wisdom, it's ALWAYS better to tell).  But then... it didn't spiral off into disaster after fiasco... about half-way through, it's actually resolved! Leaving us to concentrate on Sam (the phone owner's) problems, which are much more interesting, and also much less tense than our heroine's (last tense because they aren't our heroine's, strictly speaking he has lot more on the line).  So we are left more free to enjoy both the funny stuff and the romance.

The romance is decent, nothing to rock the world, and I'd say in the background for the most part - but that's pretty typical SK, she's never all about them getting together.  And it was there all the while, something to look forward to.   And if its progression was fairly typical, I have to say there were a few surprises along the way for the plot in general.  Nothing *major*, but I was definitely surprised at how certain things were resolved (the fiance's parents, Sam's Dad, Lucinda...) Impressively not what I'd expected, I'd say.

So the book was silly, no doubt about it.  It wasn't the greatest romance ever written, without a question.  But as a solid, funny, chic lit romp, I have to say, I was quite, quite pleasantly surprised! Less tense, less predictable, and quite a bit more funny than I would have thought.  Not bad, Sophie K.  Not bad.

Verdict: 3.25/5

Monday, March 5, 2012

Perhaps a Bit Warmed Over, Still Tastes Good

While I was immersed deep in the P&P universe, a few long-reserved titles arrived at the library.  The first of those to which I turned my attention was naturally the one the excited me most - Lauren Willig's 9th Pink Carnation, The Garden Intrigue.  The PC series is, of course, one of my favorites, uniting accurate (ok, somewhat vaguely realistic) history, well-formed prose, and *solid* romance.  The books might almost be categorized as romance novels, especially the earlier ones, but they are so superior to the lot as to be almost literary in comparison :) So what more could I want than a well-written romance novel? Well-written and true to its chosen time of course.  That's as far as the series goes, and #9 is really true to form.  A new hero and heroine with as classic a romance as any, liberal "good angst" moments abounding, and a plot to keep things going without distracting.  There's also Jane around (unlike some of the latest ones) to keep us entertained, admiring and waiting for her story.

But... I'm really not sure what it was, my enjoyment of the book did not compare to previous times.  Some of it was almost definitely things I just happened to pay attention this time (or this time more than others) - notably the very anachronistic writing style, and even conversation at times.  This doesn't really bother me, as it's done deliberately to amuse - I don't find it particularly amusing, but I can hear the smirk behind it so the inaccuracy doesn't grind the way it could.  I do think that the little jokes may be becoming more prevalent (and obvious) though - Be careful with that case, it's a Vuitton? Approaching the level of Terry Pratchett when it comes to tongue-in-cheek anachronism,  but without his skill and certainly outside his genre.  But like I said, that didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book.

It was more like... I don't know, I just didn't have patience.  My heart failed to wrench at Emma's memories of Paul and her regrets of past life, Augustus's unwillingness to think of home never went anywhere at all, and the characters' constant second-guessings and wistful imaginings left me mostly unmoved.  Even the love story itself seemed somewhat hurried and unsatisfying.  It was certainly not developed well, as the time during which they were supposed to fall in love is brushed through in a single, short chapter of notes back and forth.  But that's ok, they're believable enough as a couple.  It was more like that once the real happenings got going - the scenes on the stage, on the lawn, in the guesthouse... I just felt like it was all just too pat.  We knew he would say this, we knew she would feel that - not that I ever expect romance to be unpredictable, but this time it almost felt like it all unfolded along premarked lines.

And that's the part where I'm not sure whether it's me or the book.  I'd like to think it was the book, since that means I haven't lost my ability to enjoy romance.  And I think it's definitely somewhat that LW is probably feeling the same fatigue I am on #9 - yet another couple, with their own cozy little romance.  And there's the fact the Augustus is a poet, so a little high-flown sentiment may have seemed in order, even at the expense of more relatable writing.  But there's no question that if I had read this book a year or two ago, I would have enjoyed it a little more.  I guess that bothers me a bit, but it's not like I couldn't read this at all... and I do think that a good part of my failure to get interested was reading it in so many bits and pieces, which I can remedy easily (well as easily as I can free up some time on a Shabbos :)) So maybe The Garden Intrigue has been a gentle prod towards diversifying my book pool from romance.... but I wouldn't say it's not a good, old-fashioned example of my favorite genre, all the same.

Verdict: 4/5