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The Ritual

In Book Reviews on June 30, 2013 at 2:10 pm

The Ritual

I feel that I have to tell you something about myself before I tell you my thoughts on this book. I hate romance books. I really do. I went through a rebellious stage of my life when my parents told me not to read them. This, of course, ensured that I would. My taste in books has changed over the years and since I started writing I’ve learned to read with a very critical eye. Story, characterisation and motivation are all very important things to me and I’ve read very few romance books which embrace those elements in a way which holds my interest.

I’m certainly not opposed to a bit of romance or even sex in a story. I just don’t like it when they dominate the story.

Love makes people stupid (in real life too). People make decisions that they wouldn’t make if their brains hadn’t turned to mush. I definitely had mushy brains when I met my husband, but I certainly wouldn’t make people sit through pages of description detailing my every little thought.

I don’t like it when everything in a story exists purely to drive forward the romantic entanglement. It’s usually pretty formulaic. Girl meets boy, they hate each other instantly but by chapter 7 they’re in bed. Then it all goes wrong, somebody saves someone’s life and they live happily ever after. Usually these types of books are riddled with angst-ridden thoughts of the protagonist. “Does he like me? Why won’t he be nice to me? Why won’t he tell me his feelings?” I find it all very cloying. I’m a woman of action. I want interesting things to happen. I don’t want to read pages and pages of details of the best orgasms these characters have ever had.

So, now you know.

I bet you think that I’m telling you all of this because I’m going to say some really horrible things about this book but am just trying to soften it. Shame on you. I would only write a negative blog post if the book was offensive. I’m actually telling you this so that you can understand why I only liked this book rather than loved it.

Nutshell blurb: Twin sisters Rin and Shani meet twin brothers Zash and Mior and embark on an adventure to find items for a mysterious ritual.

The writing in this novel is superb. I was actually shocked to find out that this was Miss Dakin’s first book. She clearly has a love for words and uses them effectively. I felt that the copious use of the f-bomb was a bit much, but perhaps that’s just my personal preference.

People who self-publish frequently get a bad rap. I’ve read quite a few self-published novels and in many cases I’ve noticed that the content is good but the delivery is clumsy. That is definitely not the case with this book. Flawless sentence structure and no typos. The writing was clear, concise and elegant.

This author also has some mad world-building skills. She created a believable world which had enough detail to be authentic but not so much as to be confusing. This is a very delicate balance which is difficult to get right. But she nailed it. The world contains humans, elves and half elves. The protagonist was a half elf who are considered the lowest of the low (which kind of made me think of Dragon Age, for those of you gamers out there).

I would really love to see this author write a story which focuses more on the fantasy aspect than the romantic one. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her other work as I think that she’s quite talented.

Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty

In Book Reviews on June 29, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Royal BabylonBroadway Books 1999

Nutshell blurb: This is a whimsical look at European Royalty throughout the ages. It touched on topics such as inbreeding, adultery and the many quirks and idiosyncrasies of various European royals who were, more often than not, complete nutters.

It was quite interesting to learn about the darker side of these people who affected the lives of so many. When I think of princes, princesses, kings and queens my mind conjures up noble people who are committed to ruling their countries. Obviously, I knew that many of them were corrupt and prone to indulging in their desires, whatever they may be, but I still usually think of them as being very wise. Or at least more intelligent than the average person. As I read this book, it became apparent to me that the majority of historical books that I’ve read have been about events and how people have shaped them rather than ones which look into the personalities of these royals.

A lot of them weren’t very bright. There’s a paragraph in this book which describes a conversation between Kaiser Wilhelm’s wife and the chief eunuch of the harem in Constantinople where she asked him if his father had also been a eunuch.

Madness, syphilis and haemophilia ran rampant throughout the royal families of Europe who were so inbred that most couldn’t hope to avoid some type of related ailment. Their strangest whims had to be indulged at all times.

“…the darkly psychopathic Frederick William I, “the drill master of Europe,” was a dangerous sadist known to posterity for his freakish army of giants and the way he terrorised everyone, including his own children.” He apparently ran through the streets bashing his citizens with a stick and would pay any amount for men to join his army of giants. This resulted in many men over 6 feet tall being abducted and forced into service.

I found this book to be a great resource for inspiration as far as my writing is concerned. It’s also made me want to read more about these people and their exploits as sometimes their antics are stranger than fiction. It would seem that with great responsibility often comes great idiocy. This was a very fun read.

Treat Day

In Library Day on June 28, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Hello there! Apologies for not writing since Sunday. I was going to do a mid-week post as I’ve got books backed up but I came down with a stomach bug which took me out of the picture on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve actually got three books to talk to you about so I’ll be working on some posts this weekend to catch up. I will be doing separate posts for each one since I feel that each book deserves it’s own time in the spot light.

I’m actually writing this post to tell you that I treated myself to some books today. As much as I love books, I rarely buy them. I read so many that I would end up living in a refrigerator box on the street if I indulged as much as I would like to. I tend to buy books when I know that I will read them again and again. It makes buying books a really special occasion for me.

I went to Waterstone’s with the intention of buying World War Z. The hubs and I want to go see the film next week but I wanted to read the book before I watch the film. I feel quite strongly about this even in cases where the book is vastly different to the film. I hate when I’ve seen a film and then read the book because the visuals from the film get stuck in my head and I get really disappointed when they don’t match up. This happened with The Woman in Black and I am Legend. This might also be one of the reasons I’m having a hard time slogging through Harry Potter. If I’ve read the book first then I already have an image in my head and I can accept that the film is a different animal.

Anyway, I found World War Z and, much to my delight, it was in the Buy One, Get One Half Off pile. Obviously that meant that I had to buy another book otherwise I would have rendered the offer useless. We can’t have that, can we? CAN WE?? (The answer is NO.)

So I picked up a copy of Wool by Hugh Howey which is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a while.

I pretty much have to read World War Z this weekend and do three blog posts. Guess I’d better get to it!

The Red Chamber

In Book Reviews on June 23, 2013 at 6:00 am

The Red ChamberVirago Press 2012

This book was fantastic. I loved it so much. It was a retelling of Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuequin which, according to the author, is an “18th century novel widely considered to be the most important work of fiction in the Chinese literary tradition”. I haven’t read the original (and I probably won’t as it’s a daunting 2500 pages long) but apparently Ms. Chen took a bit of artistic license to make the story a bit more concise. The result is a beautiful story which focuses on a few of the people who live in the same house.

Nutshell blurb: Two families live in a rather sizeable house and the story follows several people as they try to cope with the problems that result when people with different personalities live under one roof. The lives of these people are governed by a shrewd and domineering matriarch who puts the future of the family above the desires of the individuals.

Please note that there will be some spoilers below.

For some reason I could really identify with Xifeng (although I’ve certainly never experienced what she did) and her story moved me the most. She was smart, numerate, literate and oversaw the day-to-day running of the household. She was exceptionally good with the finances but she was somewhat feared by the other females in the house. In three years of marriage she could not produce a living child for her husband (after miscarrying once) so her man decides to take a concubine. The woman he takes happens to be Xifeng’s maid. These ladies have spent their entire lives together and it was incredibly humiliating for Xifeng. To make matters worse, the other woman ends up pregnant almost immediately. Xifeng must endure the disinterest of a husband who now has someone new whom he prefers and have the pregnancy flaunted in her face. It was really painful to read. I really wanted her to find some kind of happy ending which, of course, she doesn’t.

Another situation in the book that really made me sad was that two of the characters fell in love but were not allowed to marry. The guy really wanted to marry a certain girl, but the old bat of a matriarch refused and had him married off to someone else within the family. What made it moving was that there were no teary-eyed declarations of love or plots to run away together; just a calm acceptance of the inevitable. That’s the kind of thing that makes my heart ache.

At several points when I was reading this book, I would stop to tell my husband what was happening and he would ask me why I would want to read a book that made me so sad. (You might be asking the same thing.) The answer is that I love to wallow in emotion. When I’m angry, sad or happy (or any emotion in between)  I really like to channel it, savour it and, essentially, marinate in it until I’m well and truly pickled. It’s a delicious feeling and it makes me so happy when a book (or film) can make me feel this way. Even when it’s something that makes me sad.

The one negative thing that I would say about this book is that I really and truly hate a narrative that is in the present tense. I find it really jarring and it took me about a quarter of the book to actually get into it. Once I was able to forget about it, I really got into the book and was able to appreciate it for the beautiful story that it is.

Currently Reading…

In Library Day on June 21, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I’ve got two new books on the go at the moment.

The RitualThe first one is my home book, for which I put down Shaka for the moment. I’m a quarter of the way through it and it’s excellent so far. It’s a mixture of fantasy and romance and while I’m not really a fan of romance novels, the writing is superb. The world that Miss Dakin has built is captivating and the characters are interesting. So far, so good.

 

 

 

Ice Land

This book is my commute book and is absolutely gorgeous so far. It’s a different take on Norse mythology and it’s beautifully written. I am so in love with this book at the moment. I was tempted to stay on the train past my stop just to keep reading. I’m only a hundred pages in so hopefully it will keep me enchanted.

 

 

 

 

 

Library Day

In Library Day on June 18, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Library Day has come back around. And yes, I’m aware that I’ve capitalised it as though it’s a holiday. Even though I only get an hour, it’s like a short holiday away from work. I returned 5 books and came out with 6. That’s fairly typical with me. The worst part about Library Day is that I get super excited about the books I bring home and want to dive into them right away. This is problematic because I still have 4 books at home that I have to read.

So, why, you ask, do I go to the library to get more books if I already have some at home to read? Two reasons.

1) I have a fear of finishing my last book and then having my library trek postponed for some reason and being without a book to read. Obviously, this would never ever ever happen as we own a reasonably large amount of books. But what if some apocalyptic event happened and I was stuck in my flat with no new books to read? Or if I came down with some illness that left me bedridden? So many things could happen. It’s best to be prepared.

2) I am a book addict and I HAVE NO SELF CONTROL!

That’s actually the main reason. Also, it’s because they’ll let me. I think that I’m allowed to take out up to 12 books. Or is it 16? It doesn’t really matter. I pick up as many as I can comfortably carry on a 15 -20 minute walk back to work.

Some of today’s collection are on my TBR list (which on Goodreads is up to 128 at the moment) and a couple I just picked up because they looked interesting. So here they are:

The Trial   Tamar   Gone   Blonde Bombshell   Tank Girl   King Lear

Have you read any of these? If so, did you like it/them? (No spoilers please!)

 

Currently Reading…

In Library Day on June 17, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Shaka the Great

This is the latest Home book I’m reading. F bomb in the first sentence. Wowser… We’ll see how it goes and I’ll let you know.

As an aside, the insides of my thumbs are sore from all of the books I’ve been reading lately. They’ve all been kind of beefy books that dig into that spot where my thumb joins my hand. On both hands! I’ve considered wearing my husband’s weight lifting gloves when I read. Do you think that’s too dorky? Ok, then I won’t tell you about the Pivot Tables I’ve made of my TBR list…

Life as We Knew it

In Book Reviews on June 16, 2013 at 6:00 am

Life as we Knew it

This edition by Marion Lloyd Books 2010

This book left me confused as to whether or not I liked it. I’m loving post-apocalyptic books these days and I felt a bit disappointed in this one. It felt decidedly un-apocalyptical. (And yes, I like to make up words.) I never felt like the main character was in peril. Towards the end, they started running out of food and some of her family got sick, but that was it. I cringed (as I do when I read these types of books) waiting for all hell to break loose, riots in the streets, attacks on their house, one of her family members dying, but all of my cringing was for naught.

The writing was excellent, though, which is why I was so torn. And then it hit me. 16-year-old Buffy would have loved this book. It was a very safe end of the world story and I really liked safe back then. My tastes have changed though, and 38-year-old Buffy needs a bit more. I kind of feel that in these types of stories the main character really needs to go through some difficult stuff to become a really interesting main character. This usually involves losing her family or at least the primary caretaker so that she would be forced to figure things out for herself.

I loved the premise of this story. Oh, and I almost forgot my Nutshell blurb: An asteroid has hit the moon and has moved it closer to Earth triggering tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. This is the story of Miranda and her family (told in journal format) and how they try to survive.

I felt that this would have been far more interesting if it was told from the perspective of someone who was trapped on the top floor of a high rise building when a tsunami floods the entire city. Or something similar. That would give me more of a sense of fear than following the lives of a family who are slowly running out of food. I need to feel that all is lost and that the characters are going to somehow rise above it and be better for it. The main character did grow throughout the story which made me very happy as she really got on my nerves in the beginning.

I enjoyed reading this book but I probably won’t read the sequels. I can’t criticise it too much because it was intended for a much younger audience.

Currently Reading…

In Library Day on June 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Royal Babylon

I’ve just started reading this on my commute. It’s a non-fiction selection and, as the title suggests, it looks at the behaviour of European Royalty. I haven’t read much of it yet, but the writing style is very whimsical which is right up my alley.

The Last Wish

In Book Reviews on June 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm

The Last Wish

Gollancz

English Translation 2007

This was a pretty good read. It contains a series of short adventures or quests on which our anti-hero embarks as he fights his way across the land.

Nutshell blurb: A witcher, Gerault is resting in a convent/nunnery/temple and flashes back to the adventures which brought him there.

I’m going to start with the negative things about this book. The first thing is that I didn’t realise he was flashing back to his adventures until I happened to read it in The Witcher wiki which I looked at to find which came first: The Witcher or The Last Wish. (Incidentally, it was The Last Wish.) I don’t feel that it was made clear in the writing, unless I’m just super unobservant and wasn’t paying attention. Through the entire book. I thought that he just really liked this temple that he was staying at and kept going back to it. I would almost count that as a cardinal sin. Mysterious = good. Vague = not so good.

The second thing that I didn’t like was that all of the stories were told as flashbacks. I don’t mind a flashback here and there, but I want peril. I want to find out at the end whether or not our hero/anti-hero survives. I don’t want to know that he’s relaxing with some hot chicks through the entire book while the action is going on in his memory. There’s no sense of immediacy. No threat of something really bad happening to him.

On to what I did like. I was pleasantly surprised that this book contained re-tellings of various fairy tales. I think that I might have told you in a previous post that I’m becoming more fascinated by re-tellings and although they weren’t the focal point of the stories, they made it interesting. I liked reading the author’s take on these fairy tales and how they could fit in with a dark and gritty story. They certainly weren’t inspired by Disney.

The characters were interesting and the action was action-y which is always a plus for me.

Overall, it was pretty standard fantasy fare but I found it fun to read.

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