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 :))