Category Archives: Reading

Oracle — Susan Boulton

This book is very clever, which is to say (in part) that it demands a fair bit of attention from the reader in order to follow what’s going on and who’s doing what. This isn’t a bad thing: the world is rich, the politics interesting, and the author doesn’t patronise the reader. One gets a sense of achievement from following the various strands and keeping on top of everything that’s happening. Things are often implied; they are rarely spelled out.At the start, the writing is powerful and poetic. As the POV moves from that character, it becomes more controlled and prosaic, almost. I missed the language of the opening, which had done a lot to draw me in, but all the writing was clear and effective — which is to say, I didn’t really notice it very much after the first couple of chapters.

So, Oracle is clever, well-written and intricate, and the author has a light touch.

That light touch makes the scenes of high emotion — almost all of which centre around Claire — extremely powerful. Possibly because of the time and culture in which the story is set, no one seems to moan or whinge, so it is by actions and by brief conversations that high emotion is expressed.

I wept. Frequently.

To balance the remarkable effectiveness of some of the emotional scenes, sometimes in less emotionally charged situations, I didn’t feel as engaged in the characters’ feelings as I like to be. Since I tend to read YA, however, and this is emphatically not YA, I suspect that’s mostly to do with me expecting more emoting and angst. And in fact, it was quite refreshing not to have it, or to have to think about emotion rather than having it rammed down my throat.

The world is fascinating: quite English-feeling, certainly pre-war, though I changed my mind every so often about how pre-. It felt like I was somewhere in the mid-1800s, after the Charge of the Light Brigade, amongst the chaos of (reasonably) recent industrialisation, with a vaguely Russian serf system where workers were tied to their bosses. That made the struggle to pass reforms fascinating, and the insight into the workings of the factories was also very realistic and nicely done (I live in an area which used to be full of jute mills, and I am well aware that accidents happened, just like the one portrayed).

Perhaps because of my own interest — and my fascination with North and South — I would have liked a little more of that side of things, which does, after all, underlie Matthew’s actions and his refusal to believe in the older politicians. Having said that, while I would have liked more of the factory/ workhouse scenes, because I found them powerful and effective, they weren’t actually necessary to understand what was happening.

inside a Dundee jute millInsofar as there were weaknesses, they were things that didn’t work for me rather than weaknesses overall. So, for example, I tend to avoid books with many points of view (like those by GRR Martin and many others) because I prefer to get to know one or two characters and stick with them through a complete adventure. There are many points of view in Oracle, and while I loved some of them (Claire’s, her father’s and Matthew’s in particular), I didn’t like the switches between them (I never do), and sometimes I resented that I had missed experiencing an event and had only heard it as reported from someone else’s point of view.

Every so often, I got a bit confused about what had happened and how much time had passed between sections. Towards the end, two of the characters got married, and their actually being married caught me by surprise because although I knew it was going to happen, it took place off-screen and very quickly. I was a little sad to have missed it, but Oracle is not a romance (or not really); it’s much cleverer than that.

My only real gripe (and it’s a small one) was that Matthew, who had been a point of view character and a central actor earlier in the book seemed to fade away rather at the end. The conclusion of his story was reported by other characters. His mother-in-law was another character who vanished, and his wife.

I hope Boulton is planning a sequel. I would like to know what happened to those characters. The story was intriguing, the world was fascinating. I really enjoyed it; it raised so many questions I would like answered.

(One tiny addition: if I were reading the book again, I would make a character list. There are a lot of people and some of them have slightly similar names, which occasionally briefly confused me)

 

 

Review: The Queen’s Necklace — Teresa Edgerton (beware! spoilers!)

I’ve lazily copied my review from Goodreads! That’s efficiency for you…

The Queen's NecklaceThe Queen’s Necklace by Teresa Edgerton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, now I’m at the end, I need to gather my thoughts…

I really enjoyed the book. I liked the rich and complicated world and characters and I loved the idea of the goblin machines that were needed to support the existence of life. The frozen society that had been created as perfect and held that way was an excellent background to the characters — few of whom were actually what they seemed to be, and none of whom did what they were told.

Continue reading

Books and bundles

Froi of the Exiles I am emphatically no good at reviews but I do like to rant, so that’s what I’m planning to do here (I think that counts as fair warning — abandon hope, all ye, and that sort of stuff).

A couple of months ago I bought Shadow and Bone, the first of the Grisha books by Leigh Bardugo. I opened it, saw a character list, and put it down again. I was absolutely not in the mood for anything even vaguely epic. A couple of weeks ago, after gorging myself on lots of fairytales and urban fantasy, I picked up Shadow and Bone again and read it in a day (well, honestly, it might have been two days — but it was fast). It’s that sort of book. I loved the Russian flavour to the novel without anything being overdone or heavy-handed. I also really liked the world, and the relationships.

The girl being brought into a world she had nothing to do with reminded me a little of Eon by Alison Goodman, another book I enjoyed very much.

Right off the back of Shadow and Bone, I started reading The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, which has to be — along with The Exiled Queen and The Grey Wolf Throne – one of my favourite ever stories. I love those characters and their relationships so much I dreamed them (which doesn’t happen often now I have other things to dream about, like my seven year old’s homework and the theme from Scooby Doo). So that was me started on one series, having thought I was sick of series.

The Seven Kingdoms is so readable and involving (and I say this without having read The Crimson Crown, despite a certain amount of hoop-jumping to get it) partly because of the characters. I rarely dislike a character — if there’s someone I’m supposed to identify with, pretty much I do However, the characters in The Seven Kingdoms are wonderful. They are sympathetic and clever and fully-drawn. They have flaws but the flaws are not what defines them, and I really loved them completely.

To fill in the time between finishing The Demon King and getting The Exiled Queen, I read Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, which I’d had on my Good Reads list for a little while but for some reason (probably partly the brief anti-traditional fantasy allergy) I hadn’t got yet. Anyway, it was completely fabulous as well, and I have been living in my own little world of fantasy with these two series, bouncing back and forth as I wait for the next book to arrive.

I have only good things to say, and the main thing is: read them for yourself!

The Demon KingRight now I am waiting for Quintana of Charyn and The Crimson Crown to arrive from Abe books. I feel kind of sad buying second hand since I know that means money doesn’t go to the authors, but everywhere in the UK is out of stock of The Crimson Crown and they don’t know when it will be in again, and Quintana isn’t released in the UK until the summer. So buying the books from the States and getting them sent over works out significantly faster and cheaper than buying them here. Which feels kind of illogical.

I know that bundling is something vaguely discussed these days as a possible future for books — so that when you buy a story on Amazon, for example, you also get the e-book. They’re doing it now with music and I cannot say how much I love it. I know it’s obvious, but if I had got the e-book as soon as I ordered The Crimson Crown, I would have been happy to wait the four weeks or whatever it’s going to be until the physical book arrives.

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

I just finished reading this and I’m reading it again so it’s probably obvious that I liked it.

Disclosure: I love the way Holly Black writes, and I love what she writes. I haven’t read all the Spiderwick Chronicles yet (because my kids get scared and I have to stop) but the books of The Curse Workers trilogy are among my absolute favourites, I love Valiant and I was sick with envy and Image of Coldest Girl in Coldtown cover (hand with writing down inside of the wrist)also (a little) with love at the tortured fae knight of Tithe.

It would take a lot to make me hate something Holly Black wrote.

I’ll try to come up with a negative… um. I didn’t like the writing quite as much as I liked the writing in the Curse Workers, and I have a feeling that might have been because it’s third person past instead of first person present. I know lots of people prefer third person past, but I find fpp ridiculously immersive and instantly involving. Not much of a negative, because I still loved the writing. There were sections — especially of conversation — that I loved beyond all reason.

Second maybe-negative: vampires. I’ve read a fair number of vampire books over the last few years (Sunshine by Robin McKinley was probably my favourite, with all the cinnamon rolls and the fantastic touches of worldbuilding — I so badly wanted the story to continue and I’m sick that she never writes sequels — but I enjoyed Twilight and the Sookie books and lots of others too, and I read Anne Rice all those years ago (but I confess I probably liked her witches books better than the vampire ones)). I was so very sure I was sick of vampires. There was a stage when I picked up a book, discovered the love interest was a vampire and put the book down again straight away.

This isn’t really a negative either, for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, because I didn’t hate these vampires at all (except the ones I was meant to hate — I mean, they didn’t make me groan and close the book just because they were vampires).

But… (the rest of this post contains kind-of spoilers for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown — proceed to page 2 if you don’t care)

Ten romantic heroes

Where’s the line between arrogant stranger and abusive nutcase? A fair number of books I’ve read recently have been leaning a little far to the abusive nutcase (yes, Patch, I’m looking at you — you scared me), and I’m trying to identify the line to draw. I like romantic heroes who aren’t all sweetness and light. Actually, I can’t think of a single “nice” romantic hero who really made me go “oooh!” (and I do, in fact, go “oooh!” when I truly love a romantic hero).

So my top 10 romantic heroes. Possibly in ascending order of niceness (but let’s not hold me to that). And in case you’re wondering, Heathcliff is nowhere on this list. He’s a barking lunatic well beyond Patch, and I’ve never understood why anyone would like him.

10. Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre).  Oh, Mr Rochester, you are fabulous in your allure, you cross-dressing, manipulative bigamist. And yet, despite all your questionable activities, you really love Jane, and I really see why. There’s no alarming stalking her down corridors and no emotional blackmail (well, not much).Plus Jane is more than capable of JANE EYRE 2006 3 235telling you where to stick your dishonest wedding ring. So what if her principles mean she narrowly avoids dying on a moor and even more narrowly escapes the significantly worse fate of marrying a pompous wuss like St John? (Plus, you’re lovely in The Eyre Affair).

9. Rath Roiben Rye (Tithe). Murderous, tortured (handsome). At least you’re forced to it. And vulnerable. Why is that so sexy? (and while I’m in the area, a little mention to Ravus from Valiant, who deserves to be further up the list, with the nice guys. Except his spell hurts Val. So maybe he’s okay down here).Wentworth 1995

8. Captain Wentworth (Persuasion). Truly, Captain, you are an arrogant git at the start, and you say many things that poor Anne should not have to hear. But for all that, you are honestly devastated that the woman you loved rejected you, and you appear to distinct advantage compared to the alternatives, especially the awful William Eliot, but also the drippy Benwick. Also, the letter you wrote made me weak at the knees, and I’ll forgive a lot for that kind of eloquence.

7. John Thornton (North and South). Honest, hard-working and only slightly prejudiced, Mr Thornton’s one of my favourite heroes. You could never imagine him trying to murder the girl he fancies, and if it takes the risk of penury to rid him of some of his arrogance,  you can probably understand why.

6. Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice). Handsome, arrogant and rich. Well, aren’t you a catch. But at least you’re above dishonesty and scary sneakiness. I like you because I’m not afraid for Lizzie. She’s smart enough to rejeColin-Firth-as-Mr-Darcy-mr-darcy-683456_1024_576ct a proposal when it’s an insult — and there’s no messing around, either. If you were interested in Jane, it would be a catastrophe, but luckily you’re braver than that. Your transformation when it comes demonstrates that beneath the thoughtless snobbery, you were always trustworthy and noble and… goodness, now you’re worthy even of Lizzie.

So, Mr Darcy, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

5. Alan Ryves (The Demon’s Surrender). Alan, Alan. You’re a lying murderer, who would put anyone second to your brother. You’ve run away and tried to leave him, you’ve doubted yourself, and you’ve never loved a girl enough to stop lying. You’re broken and vulnerable and lovely. I did not see you coming as the romantic hero of the third book in the Demon’s Lexicon trilogy but it is by far my favourite, and that’s because of you.

4. Valek (Poison Study). I can’t help it. I was hopelessly in love with you from the start. Leader of assassins, poisoner and manipulator of the doomed. I have no idea why, but I like Michael in Nikita as well. You’re not a very nice man, but then Yelena’s not very nice, either. I’m afraid you deserve each other.

3.5 (Yes, all right, I forgot him when I was writing the list) Corlath (The Blue Sword). You deserve to go next to Valek, because you’re a kidnapping, honour-impeaching bully (well, maybe not a bully, or not always). And yet, like him, you’re wonderful. Actually, you’re a lot nicer than Valek and an excellent example of good-man-in-bad-situation, which puts paid to my theory that (slightly) mean men are more attractive. So I think I’ll suggest that guys who do or say nothing wrong are not as interesting as those who do (I’m looking at you, Mr Knightly, and most especially you, drip of drips, Edward Ferrars).

3. Thomas Lynn (Fire and Hemlock). Well, let me see. You find a young girl, try to train her to depend on you, and willingly endanger her in your attempt to escape your ex-wife (who, admittedly, intends to have you murdered). And yet, yet… you’re basically a decent person, you never lay a finger on her, and all it takes to warn you off is a talking to from her grandma. You allow her to leave you, which means you’re facing death. Yes, I love you, but I’m not sure I should.

2. Severn (Cast in Shadow, and the rest of the Chronicles of Elantris). You’ve done awful things. Yet you’re honourable and loyal, honest and — most of all – sensible. Plus, you truly love Kaylin. You’re not a crazy stalker boy, you have too much sense and self-respect.

1. Mordion (Hexwood). You’re honourable, courageous, honest and kind. You’re also a mass-murderer, but didn’t want to be so I’ll let you off. A bit.

 

Death! (YA thoughts)

Generally, my favourite books are those where the characters have hope. I detest tragedies; I hated Cover of Thirteen Reasons Whyeverything I read by Thomas Hardy (if only they’d stop forcing people to read The Mayor of Casterbridge at school — actually, they may have done. Macbeth, too).  I don’t like books where important characters are killed (so, yes, I struggle with “grimdark” or whatever the term is for books where people are being murdered all over the place). I need to feel there’s a chance of things ending well.

I know that makes me a wuss but I have just about come to terms with it and I tend to stick to stories where I’m reasonably sure I’m not going to be deeply traumatised by the characters’ fates.

Beware! The rest of this post contains spoilers for Thirteen Reasons Why, Before I Fall and Codename Verity. Not very serious spoilers since I’m talking about the beginning of the books, or even about stuff that’s printed in the blurb, but still, I’ve split the post into two pages so no one accidentally trips over information they don’t want.