Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Respectable Romance: Arabella by Georgette Heyer

Ah, good even to you, my fair readers (if there are any of you out there at all). Well, it's been a while (when isn't it a while?). I've been off having some wonderful adventures, and although not all of them have been reading-related, many of them have been.

One of the really good adventures I've had recently was a resurgence of my romantic spirit. Not many people will admit to reading romance, since it isn't considered "high" literature, but pooh sayeth I to such silliness. A book is a book, is a book, is a book. No writing is bad writing, unless it is poor writing. There are just as many "bad" and "poor" intelligent reads out there, as there are "bad" or "poor" so-called Low Culture reads. I make an effort to try not to classify books into value-laden categories. I find that it says more about an individual when they class books into "high" and "low" categories, and much less about the book, the quality of writing, and the author.

Having said all this, and I
do sincerely apologize for digressing, I am super excited to share with you, oh wonderful readers, my discovery of a truly talented writer, Georgette Heyer.

Oftentimes, one finds much to be lacking in the romance genre. It appears that everything is slash and grab, or in other words unconcerned with the subtleties of human nature. I don't like to be told what I already know in a story. Moreover, I am not a stupid reader, and can usually pick up on hints. This is something that I feel many romance authors forget, although not all are guilty of doing so.

Georgette Heyer was one such author who allowed her story to tell itself for the most part. And I am now planning to sacrifice myself to her writing as often as I can.

Arabella is a simple story detailing the debut of said lady in Regency London. Without giving too much away, she has the tendency to run away with her temper, and this lands her in a bit of hot water, when poor, penniless she is unaccountably considered a wealthy heiress by society, and finds herself the object of many a penniless suitor. How and why this happens is related to her encounter with one of society's highest of the high trendsetters.

As I've already stated elsewhere, Dame Heyer is like a breath of fresh air in the romance genre. There is subtlety in her descriptions, and storyline. Things don't crash and burn. Her characters are realistic. They are not run over by their vices
or their virtues. They do not bear with things that are not meant to be borne with, and yet they do not labor to do that which is absurd.

Conversations between characters are realistic. Relations are not forced. The setting is realistic. What can I say, dear readers? Characters do not merely play at being Regency era ladies and gentlemen while maintaining 21st century ideals and attitudes.

The narrative is neither slow, nor fast. Rather, events occur at a regular, even pace, as they ought to. All in all, Georgette Heyer makes it
very easy and enjoyable to delve into her created world, and it provides a beautiful and relaxing escape.

For myself, I am astonished that I never came across her Regency novels before this, and am eagerly awaiting my next trip to Regency London through the guidance of her prose. You'll find my recommendations below.

To begin, this book is
NOT for anyone who...:

  • despises novels of the romance genre
  • wants to sink their teeth into something dense and heavy
  • can't stand reading about silly Regency era traditions
  • doesn't believe in love
However, this book IS for anyone who...:
  • is looking for an intelligent romantic read (yes, even I was surprised that such a thing exists!)
  • has read and enjoyed reading Jane Austen's novels (although this is a much better cure for Austenitis than Eliot's Middlemarch, Heyer's' writing style is a little different from Jane's)
  • enjoys a light, but emotionally satisfying read
  • does believe in love
Happy reading everyone!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Paranormal Pieces: Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris

It's been a long time since I've posted, but I've been reading. I haven't forgotten my goal of reading at least one book a month, and I've kept myself reading much more than my goal.

My most recent read was the ninth installation of the Southern Vampires series by Charlain Harris,
Dead and Gone. I had originally picked up the first book, intrigued by the setting, the voice of the character, and the fast pace. Hooked by the first book, I've continued to read all the way to number nine.

Dead and Gone, Sookie is faced with yet another murder, but one that's a little more gruesome and hateful than others. To top it off, she gets married unintentionally (and there was no booze involved), and is the target of a vicious enemy (by way of her great-grandfather).

You can expect the usual package of action (there's lots of it), and typical Sookie reactions. But there just seems to be a lot more crammed into this one book than one would expect. It seems almost as if there's enough material in this one volume for three volumes worth of writing.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I've come to enjoy Sookie's upbeat attitude, and I really enjoyed her creative solutions to problems in the past. These days, Sookie's just trying to get through each day without dying, it seems, and that doesn't make for a truly enjoyable story. Sure, she has to worry about her safety, but if the whole plot revolves around her safety and nothing else, it doesn't make for entertaining reading.

One of the reasons I had come to enjoy the series was the authentic feel Harris was able to give the characters, the setting, and the plot. You could get a real sense of Bon Temps, Louisiana in the first couple of books. You could form the characters in your mind fairly easily.

In the past couple of books in the series, however, the quality of the ambiance has begun to dull down. Things are happening so fast it's hard to keep the days straight. There's nothing normal about Sookie, and nothing will ever be normal again. That's fine, but does everything always have to involve Sookie being beaten to a pulp? Whatever happened to the human side of Sookie? What happened to her relationships?

All in all, I'm not looking forward to the next book in this series with as much hope and excitement as I used to. Now all I'm hoping for is some sort of stabilization. Let us catch a breath, Charlaine. Let us catch up to where Sookie is. Give us some type of explanation for why things have happened so quickly.

I get my copy of
Dead in the Family (Southern Vampires, 10) in June. Let's hope that questions are answered, and things ease up a little. I really don't want to have to give up on this series yet.

This book is not for anyone who:

  • has no read any of the previous Sookie Stackhouse books
  • dislikes contemporary paranormal stories
  • hates vampires, werewolves and fairies (same thing as the prior point, I know - I'm just clarifying)
  • is looking to feel a little better about life or looking for a light and happy read
This book is for anyone who:
  • has read and is obsessed with finding out who dies next in the Sookie Stackhouse series

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strangely Enough: Life, Love, and Reading!

It's December. It's the last month of the year 2009. Isn't that something? To think, eleven whole months have gone by, just like that, and in another couple of weeks, we'll be in 2010. One whole decade of the 21st century will be over. Craziness.

Apart from the wonderful passage of time (it goes so quickly, can't it slow down, take a vacation or something?) it's that time of year again. Yes, yes, tis' the season and ho ho ho. But what I mean is, it's that time of year again when people start thinking about their goals in life, when people start thinking about New Year's resolutions.

Personally, I don't think very much of New Year's resolutions. It's not like very many people tend to keep them. I don't think that very many people make them any more either. Or they just pretend to, but really, no one has time to make and keep resolutions. That would require more time and energy than one can spare from having jobs and keeping up with the Jones'.

Having said all that, you'd think I'd know better than to go off and make a resolution myself, but then that would be disappointing myself and my readers. And so, having left behind the uselessness of making yet another resolution to stay fit and healthy and exercise and whatnot, I, Book Worm, have decided, nay, resolved to make a change this New Year's!

I, Book Worm, in the year 2010, promise myself that I shall treat my brain's taste buds, those lovely neurons of mine, to at least 2 books a month. It is my goal to enrich my life through reading and to do lots of it. I would love to say that I'm going to read one book a week, but the days when I could give up all my time to doing the thing I love most have gone. So I'm going to make do with reading at least one book every 2 weeks.


I'm already scared it's not going to work!

Lifeless Literature: Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes, Middlemarch by George Eliot

Hello everyone. It's been a long time since I've written. Mainly because I haven't been able to really sink my teeth into anything that I thought was worth my reading or writing about. It's been so bad, though, that I just HAD to come online and write this up.

Let me just say this first: I don't want to hav
e to write about books that I read and disliked, especially to the depth that I disliked one of the books in today's review.

First up: the classic tale of a provincial village in George Eliot's

Middlemarch was supposed to be my cure for Austenitis. Having read all six of the Austen novels, the full-length completed ones at least, I had been on the hunt for some more Victorian era novels relating the truth of life in a bygone era. After much internet searching and recommendation hunting, I found myself with a list of books that began with this tome.

My copy of the novel (if you can call an 800 page book that) was borrowed from the library. The first thing I noticed was that Eliot'
s voice was very different from that of Austen. Whereas the love of my literary life was refreshing, clear, and satirical, Eliot, the bane of the literary life, was monotonous, preachy, and stuffy. Although there were some lines that really hit home with me, the vast majority of the two books I managed to complete out of the eight that make up Middlemarch, the narrative on the whole was rather dry.

I think part of the problem may lie with the fact that the novel itself took place in a time earlier than I was used to reading within. There were a number of references that I could not comprehend, and so they fell useless on my modern eyes.

The other problem may be that I may have been expecting a little too much. Once you've read Austen, you can never go back. No one can satisfy like she can. There's just enough of everything in Austen. You have humour, satire, plot, romance, the whole shabang.

Something else that may have lead to a non-completion is my complete lack of empathy or sympathy for the various characters presented. Dorothea is entirely too full of "notions" and religious piety for me to even consider empathizing or sympathizing with. Mr. Casaubon is apparently
unavailable for any emotional connection. The Vincy family is utterly abominable in their attitude of lavish abandonment.

The characters themselves are very real, providing excellent reflections of normal human beings, who contain within their own very limited and narrow experiences a variety of good and bad qualities, manners, and accomplishments.

The problem, however, lies with the manner in which they are presented to the reader. There was nothing in the writing or to
ne of voice that endeared the characters to me. I cared little to nothing about how things would end up for Dorothea, Celia, Mr. Casaubon, Mr. Ladislaw, or any of the Vincy's. I don't like to read a book in which I like the characters but I don't care whether they live or die because the writing is bland and boring.

Call me evil for saying it, but that's how I really felt.

Having said all that, I can assure you that if you were going to pick a book from this post to read, make sure it's
Middlemarch and not Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. At least George Eliot provided her characters with some common sense, intelligence, and interests beyond their own selfish needs.

It's very, very, very difficult for me to be irritated beyond words by a book. (Great alliteration in that sentence there, don't you think?) I have yet to find a book that has grabbed my attention for how absolutely, criminally, undeniably horrible the characters are. It's also nearly impossible for me to anticipate completing such a piece of stupendous scribbles. And yet, complete something so despicable and disgusting I did.

Never in my life has a book disappointed me so much. Never before has a book actually made me feel depressed about the lot of women in this era. Never before have I wanted to ban a person from writing a book ever again. Never before have I actually ever wanted to burn a book, or use it for my dog's litter box.

despise Bergdorf Blondes. I despise it so much that I don't want to waste sentences describing the things that made me want to vomit the words right back out of my brain. So, for the first time and hopefully the last, I present you, oh readers, with a book review in point form.

  • Character development is nil. The selfish, superficial, super-rich female characters show no development or maturity from beginning to end.
  • The book (is it even legal to call such rubbish a book?) is all about clothing, jewelry, shoes, and the cream of the luxury filled life.
  • There is absolutely nothing real about the characters, the plot, or anything really.
  • Celebration of all that is wrong in society (e.g. taking sleeping pills to sleep because you can afford it and it's cool to do so).
  • Propagates a demeaning image of women as money obsessed, boy obsessed, luxury obsessed vulture-like creatures who have no original thoughts or feelings.
  • The main character is immature and naive (e.g. she calls having sex "going to Brazil" or "going to Latin America").
  • A 10 year old could read this book, and if she did, she would probably never amount to anything in her life since the book supports and propagates the idea that money is everything, and who you're with, who you're wearing, and who sees you is the most important thing.
Please, I can't go on. I really, really, can't go on. I can't believe that I held out hoping against hope that at the end of the worst piece of writing I have ever read in my life, that it would amount to something good, that the main character would actually learn to believe in herself, love herself, turn over a new leaf and leave behind her superficial self-obsessed self and learn to be true to herself.

But no. Nothing like that happened. Nothing could save the hours I spent killing my neurons with this piece of trash. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, dear reader. None whatsoever.

The future for women is bleak indeed, what, with these kinds of books and authors lying around. The mothers of women's suffrage must be turning in their graves.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Smart Chic(k): This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

I've read my fair share of Chick Lit and have come across the whole shabang. Things can be bad ("Oh my God! I need to buy that Gucci purse/top/watch/etc, and that boy won't go out with me!") to worse ("Hello, I am a self-obsessed, mean-spirited woman that you like because you want to be me and this is the story of my self-obsessed life.").

But things can be good in Chick Lit World. In fact, they can be really good as I found out with Marian Keyes' novel,
This Charming Man.

This Charming Man is a story told from the perspective of 4 different characters, each with their own distinct voice and style. I don't want to give away the story, so I'm not going to tell you guys too much about them.

What I can tell you though is that each of the characters has the potential to become your new very best make-believe/invisible friend, since Marian Keyes develops them so fully. In fact, the characters are so believable that you'll find yourself having to dry your eyes because something unbelievably hilarious happened (or the exact opposite).

The basic premise of the novel is that a man (isn't there always one?), Paddy, has gotten engaged. This is apparently really big news since he's the most eligible (but unavailable) bachelor in Ireland. He also happens to be a very in-the-spotlight politician. What ensues after his engagement is announced is a number of very interesting trips down memory lane that tell a tale darker than you usually find in chick lit.

In a way, that's kind of why I don't want to call this novel a Chick Lit book. It's too smart to fall under the same umbrella as some of the poor excuses for fiction/literature that are called Chick Lit. And yet, at the same time, I can't help but feeling that giving This Charming Man the label of Chick Lit will help uplift the genre itself.

Moving on. The book itself is paced fairly evenly. It's not too slow, it's not too fast. It's a good moderate pace, and it's got plenty of cliffhangers that make you almost want to curse at Marian for having left you in suspense for so long (almost being the key word there).

The novel isn't rocket science, but it's not at a grade five reading level either. So if you're looking to be entertained, would like to be meaningfully entertained, and are into "Chick Lit", be sure to pick this charming book up.

This Charming Man is not for anyone:
  • who hates all that feely shmeely talk that girls go through all the time
  • who needs, requires, or lives on High Culture/Art and needs a hot mess of literature
  • is looking for poetry in their prose
  • is looking for an excuse to think about designers, jewelry, high-end vacations and lifestyles in a book
This Charming Man is for anyone:
  • thoroughly enjoys intelligent reads about real women in real life situations (i.e. women who have lives and careers apart from being rich heiresses in need of yet another manicure)
  • looking for a read that doesn't require too much effort to get interested and isn't too heavy/depressing
  • looking for a read that will make them feel good even though life sucks
  • who is looking for a peek into how to get over a man very quickly

Friday, October 9, 2009

Strangely Enough: Life, Love and Reading!

I don't know about you guys, but I seem to have reading cycles. In summer, I tend to go for lighter fare when it comes to reading. You can find me picking up chick-lit more often than not. Come fall, I start craving something a little more substantial.

October, my birth month (yay!) is usually when I pick up mysteries. I guess it's my nod to the end of the month and Halloween.

Come winter, I have a steady tradition of always reading all the
Harry Potter books at some point in time during that month prior to Christmas. After Christmas, I like to read something that helps calm one down after the stresses of the season. My usual choice? Miss Austen and her lovely leading ladies.

Spring time brings with it a sense of freshness, and the novel of choice for that time is ALWAYS
Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen. It's a story about a woman who gets a visit from the Virgin Mary. No, it's not a diabolical tome, or depressing, or even chick-lit. It's just the most interesting story that makes you really think about things.

This year, I plan to add Charles Dickens'
A Christmas Carol to my pre-Christmas reading list. I think it'll be interesting, to say the least.

What about you guys out there? Do you have reading cycles? Are there special books that you always read at certain times of the year? An inquiring mind wants to know!

Doubtful or Delightful? The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I've been dreading doing this review for a few weeks now. I'm not the type of person where I enjoy leaving a book unfinished. In fact, many a time, I will just plow through my own feelings of boredom constantly hoping that the end of the book will prove me wrong.

However, I find myself unable or unwilling to do so with Elizabeth Kostova's epic,
The Historian. I hate to say this but for the first time in my life, an historical, supernatural thriller has got me giving up! I'm rather confused at this outcome. The Historian seemed to offer everything that could have possibly interested me in a book in the first place.

To begin, there's a mystery involved. There's history, there's travel, there's interesting dialogue, there's a plot that thickens with each chapter, there are unexplained events. So what went wrong?

Well... It might have something to do with the unendurable repetitiveness of the story. I feel as though the very first mysterious story is re-written every 50 pages or so. Every new character that enters the story is retold the whole story from beginning to end, and the poor reader has to re-read it as well!

There are phrases, and patterns that just keep being repeated. If it had been repeated once or twice, I would've enjoyed it. But halfway through the book, I wondered if there was any story to this story at all, or if at the last page, I'd find myself re-re-re-re-re-re... reading the original story again.

And so... I had no choice but to give up.

The sad thing is that this novel received just wonderful, glowing reviews on Amazon.com. How could so many people be wrong?

Maybe it's just me. I've decided to go back and pick up the pieces. Maybe I'll get through it eventually. But not until AFTER some other books are read. You'll get the reviews of those soon. As for the completed review of
The Historian? Don't hold your breath for it. I might never go there.