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.