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Want to write about this book asap because, ironically, I know I’ll forget about it very shortly. A book about memory and its unreliability and it’ll soon be nothing but a couple of fleeting impressions and images. It was that kind of book for me.
Overall it’s an easy and ok read, but the Booker Prize did its work and I started out with very high hopes.
The story is about Tony, who takes us on a trip down the memory lane of his youth, his group of four best friends and his first girlfriend. The problem is that neither Tony or any of the other characters are terribly appealing. There’s nothing wrong with flawed characters, unless their main flaw is their boringness.
I found Tony in particular a pretty uninteresting person (and the important question is always: did the author want to make him that way?).
He always seems to have a very mild and detached approach to everything. A detachment that at points seems self-serving, which is confirmed by his sad current life: a failed marriage, a distant relationship with his daughter, a complete lack of friends. He goes out of his way to convince us and himself that he’s actually a caring and considerate person and bends his memory to show it. This careful re-arrangement of memories was probably the best part of the book. Made me think how we all do it, even if just for the sake of self-presentation.
I also had high hopes for the ending of the book, and not only because of the title. I knew from other reviews I could expect a big revelation, but after closing the last page I had to go online just to confirm that I really got it and if that was really all there was to get. Unfortunately, it was. I’m not even complaining about the loose ends (“blood money“?), but the resolution felt a bit (dare I say it of Julian Barnes and a Booker Prize?) unsubtle. And more so because it’s presented as a Dramatic Mystery Resolution.
Also, for those of you who’ve read the book, was I the only one who thought this was a Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus story? Every single woman in it is incomprehensible and/or unbalanced, but again I can’t tell if it’s because we see them thought Tony’s eyes or if Barnes meant them to be like this.
I’m usually a big fan of Julian Barnes, but this one I’ll have to archive in the ok-but-don’t-get-the-fuss shelf.
Other thoughts: Asylum, Pages Turned, So Many Books, The Literary Stew, Tales from the Reading Room, Shelf Life, Aquatique, Shelf Love, Stuck in a Book, nomadreader, Always Cooking Up Something, She is Too Fond of Books, Book Atlas (yours?)
I don’t think it’ll be in mine, but it was still a very good read. Lots of other books and movies came to mind while reading it, from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Firebrand (my favorite book about the Trojan War), to Brad Pitt’s Troy.
It’s very cleverly told: the paragraphs were short, the writing beautiful without being whimsical or overly poetic (always a risk in stories about myths). There weren’t lots of lengthy descriptions or endless impossible-to-memorize names, but it didn’t feel dumbed-down at all, on the contrary, it was accessible and engaging.
I was expecting that, as usual, the fact it was about a gay relationship would be the driver of the plot, so it was refreshing to see it practically as a non-issue and that the demi-God and human factor created much more emotional tension. I wonder if it felt like that because the story is told in the first person, turning a him + him and into a more “generic” me + him.
Lots of other thoughts and wonderings. The biggest was about whether Achilles really did love Patroclus, which may be blasphemy for those of you who cried buckets at the end.
Patroclus is the real hero of the story. Unlike Achilles, he feels fear, but still rescues Briseis and the other women, and goes into battle to save Achilles’ honor. Achilles is the strongest, no one can beat him, and he knows it. His only fear is to be forgotten. He prefers to go into a sure death and win Eternal Glory than have a safe, ordinary life with Patroclus. What if the Gods had told him: you’ll only be famous if you leave – or worst, kill – Patroclus? Agamemnon killed his own daughter – would Achilles do the same?
Odysseus was great. A smartass, but great. Good to see someone using wits over brutal force. In a book where loving relationships are so underrated, his passion for Penelope was really touching and human. Of course there’ll be a certain Calypso in his future, but who’s counting?
In the end, I didn’t cry like everyone else. It’s strange, because I’m usually a literary cry-baby and at the moment that’s exacerbated by crazy hormones. My questioning about Achilles’ real feelings probably distanced me from the expected tragedy. It was still a good read (a first novel – respect!) with lots of food for thought, it just didn’t pull at my heart-strings as I was expecting.
Also, where’s the Horse?! I was looking forward to the Horse!
Other thoughts: Book Twirps, Fizzy Thoughts, Always Cooking Up Something, Rivers I Have Known, The Allure of Books, Eve’s Alexandria, What She Read, Lazy Gal Reads, 2606 Books, Fleur Fisher, Novel Insights, Devourer of Books, Nomad Reader, Vulpes Libris, Savidge Reads, Iris on Books, chasing bawa, Farm Lane Books (yours?)
“We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.“
(Cool quote, but doesn’t it sound a bit Lady Gagaish… or maybe Doctor Whoish?)
I don’t like talking animals. Don’t like them in books, movies and especially don’t like them in commercials. I’m ok with anthropomorphism is general – loved Tangled’s chameleon and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon – I just don’t like it when they talk. It’s like it takes my suspension of disbelief too far.
It’s probably because of this that some of the dragon books I’ve read before didn’t quite do it for me, including Eragon of His Majesty’s Dragon. So I had my expectations in check when I let myself succumb to the book blogosphere’s love of Seraphina.
A bit of plot: an unstable peace exists between humans and dragons in the medieval kingdom of Gorred, where dragons walk the streets in human bodies, so as not to frighten people. Outlawing dragons’ natural form is one of the cornerstones of the peace treaty signed 50 years ago between the two races. But when a royal family member is murdered in a suspiciously draconian way just days before the treaty’s 50th anniversary celebration, Seraphina, a talented Court musician, must be careful to hide the truth about herself.
The story, which basically a whodunit, develops somewhat slowly, but that’s not a problem when there are so many interesting details to discover about Seraphina’s world, her past, her profession and her fellow courtiers. Everything about the worldbuilding is interesting, from the descriptions of the cobblestone-covered Medieval city, to the pieces of the history between dragons and humans and the well-thought-of religious beliefs (comparable to the detail George R.R. Martin puts into his ’s Seven/Old Gods system). Lots of stuff to further develop in upcoming books.
Add finely nuanced characters (a shout out to Orma, dragon scholar and Seraphina’s teacher), shapeshifting dragons fascinated by human art and a society balancing mistrust and infatuation and you have a winning combination.
(Spoiler alert, although for something that’s revealed pretty early on) I know most posts about this book focus on Seraphina dealing with her half-breed status, and indeed it’s all done in a very subtle and engaging way, (/mild spoilers) but for me the best part of the book was the dragons vs. humans dynamic. It often brought to mind Star Trek and the relationships between the rational and logical Vulcans (and even droids like Data) and the more flawed (is that the word?) Humans. There’s tension, but also a mutual fascination and need to understand and be understood that can be applied about many inter-human conflicts around the world today. Fascinating stuff!
A short note on the romance bit just to say it was very satisfying without overpowering the book or creating the ANGST that’s ruined so many YAs for me.
One of the best of 2012 and I gladly add my voice to the rest of the enthusiastic choir.
Other thoughts: things mean a lot, Stella Matutina, Magnificent Octopus, The Book Smugglers, Steph Su Reads, Wear the Old Coat, Charlotte’s Library, intoyourlungs, Books Without Any Pictures, The Readventurer, Anna Reads, The Book Swarm, Good Books & Good Wine, Book Sake, Beyond Books, Iris on Books (yours?)
When I first read The Priory‘s blurb I immediately complete the whole story in my mind.
The plot I was given: in 1939 England a family of four faded aristocrats live independent lives in the same country mansion. The money is disappearing fast through a mix of pride, incompetence and irresponsibility, while their heads remain firmly in the sand. Cue the innocent woman on the verge of spinsterhood that agrees to marry the widow father. She’s in love, he’s hoping for help getting his finances and house in order.
What I imagined: fairy-tale story of how the bride arrives and over time brings together the family, magically fixes the financial situation with her bare wits and restores the house to its former glory.
This was my first Dorothy Whipple so I don’t know if it’s always her style, but I was hit in the head with her realism. No fairy-tales here. Even though the ending comes wrapped with a nice bow, it’s still at heart a very authentic story about families – families forming, breaking up and reshaping.
Maybe it’s because I’m a mother-to-be, but the way children change everything in these people’s lives really stood out. Anthea (the bride), turns from needy girl-wife into the determined mistress of a household and Christine (one of daughters of the house), goes from sheltered teen who lived all her life in a mansion’s nursery to a low middle-class worker in the gloomy side of London.
This also ties to another strong topic in The Priory: a generation of untrained, poorly educated women, unfit for anything other than marriage and motherhood, but that are suddenly faced with the changing post-War society.
Please don’t get the idea that it’s a heavy book, full of difficult topics. It was actually a very quick read and it felt surprisingly light, probably because of Whipple’s most excellent writing and even more excellent characterization:
“It was a great pity, she thought, that all the violence of life should fall on the young, before they have acquired any resistance to it.”
“Victoria was one of the hardy people who like rudeness to be met by rudeness. Then rudeness becomes a sport in which the players belabour each other to their mutual satisfaction.”
“Since he was very economical in everything that did not directly affect his own comfort, the household had to wait for light until he wanted light himself.”
I love being surprised by characters, to start with a strong first impression and then see them develop, gain layers and make me re-adjust my (often snappy) judgment. A lesson for real life as well?
The Priory was my first Dorothy Whipple, but not my last. Any recommendations on where to go next?
I’ve been increasingly enjoying each book in the series, except for #7, which went to my “I quit” list when I was already half-way through: too many train schedules, too little Harriet. So it was with fingers crossed that I picked up Have His Carcase.
I actually think this book is a milestone for Sayers’ writing. I guess that by making it a Harriet-centered book, she put as much energy (or more) in the character/relationship development as in the crime-solving part.
Every interaction between Harriet and Peter is exquisite and full of subtext. I’ve come to realize I’m a huge fan of subtext and really admire authors to use it well – thank you Dorothy Dunnett!
In the end I kept reading mostly for the sake of those sips of dialogue and interaction, which made me even more impatience to reach the renowned Gaudy Night.
One thing I appreciated in Have His Carcase is the fact that, although there’s angst, it doesn’t feel out of character, it’s not just there to force drama (looking at you Veronica Roth!) and it doesn’t make me resent one of the parties for lack of honest or fairness. Harriet is great in this respect because while her past justifies her reticence, her personality validates her progressive understanding and acceptance of her feelings.
It’s maybe strange for a crime novel, especially one from the Golden Age, but the actually detective-ing parts became very secondary. The plot even felt a bit convulsed and the resolution forced. Also, Sayers has my admiration from creating a complex code that works, but reading the pages-long detail on how to decode it was beyond me.
I’m sure that if I looked hard enough I’d discover some wholes in the plot, but I was too busy reading things like this:
“Peter! Were you looking for a horse-shoe?”
“No; I was expecting the horse, but the shoe is a piece of pure, gorgeous luck.”
“And observation. I found it.”
“You did. And I could kiss you for it. You need not shrink and tremble. I am not going to do it. When I kiss you, it will be an important event — one of those things which stand out among their surroundings like the first time you tasted li-chee. It will not be an unimportant sideshow attached to a detective investigation.”
“I think you are a little intoxicated by the excitement of the discovery,’ said Harriet, coldly. ‘You say you came here looking for a horse?”
If I get no more surprises, this book will win the The Good Surprise of 2012 award. I’ve noticed lately that, when it comes to books, I hardly get surprised. I usually know pretty much what to expect, which is a bit sad since it may mean I’m not risking enough, or maybe it just means I know my tastes very well.
Either way, extra brownie points to The Imperfectionists, a book that had been on my radar because of the nice cover (more than for the raving reviews), but that I only picked up because of my bookclub (bless them).
Everyone seemed to like it, but no one loved it as enthusiastically as I did. This group of short-stories about people working in an English-language Rome-base daily newspaper really hit a chord with me. They are all connected, just enough for the book to have a conducting line but not enough for it to feel like a novel.
It’s a small book, but there’s a lot in the 11 different stories/people. Each had their different quirks, annoyances and endearing qualities: the faithful reader who insists in finishing every old edition of the newspaper before moving to the next one, leaving her trapped in the past, or the corrections editor who publishes an in-house newsletter called “Why?” where he names and shames the journalist’s worst mistakes:
literally: This word should be deleted. All too often, actions described as “literally” did not happen at all. As in, “He literally jumped out of his skin.” No, he did not. Though if he literally had, I’d suggest raising the element and proposing the piece for page one. Inserting “literally” willy-nilly reinforces the notion that breathless nitwits lurk within this newsroom. Eliminate on sight — the usage, not the nitwits. The nitwits are to be captured.
Parallel to these lives we follow the birth, growth, decline and death of a newspaper that could be one of so many closing down around us. One of the most interesting debates during bookclub was whether if, considering how credible the characters were, any other professional sector would be able to gather in one single office such a group of eccentric, lonely, brilliant, psychotic personalities.
One thing I need in my short-stories is a good ending, the type that makes me re-read the last paragraphs, and Rachman delivered (for those of you who’ve read it: Abby and Ruby’s were a bit of punch in the stomach). It’s a wonderful first novel, with an unexpected mix of humor (“If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power”) and tragedy (“Our worst fear isn’t the end of life but the end of memories.”). I’m glad that it met with general praise and recognition and look forward to seeing what he delivers next.
Other thoughts: Avid Reader’s Musings, Reading Matters, The Literary Stew, Leeswammes, Rhapsody in Books, Chamber Four, Beth Fish Reads, The Captive Reader, Care’s Online Book Club, The Mookse and the Gripes, A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook, Literary License, When Pen Meets Paper, with hidden noise, A Good Stopping Point, Fizzy Thoughts, The Art of Reading (yours?)
Yet another proof that this re-reading thing really pays off and the confirmation that Tigana is still my favorite stand-alone fantasy novel, 10 years after the first read. This time around the experience was further improved by Simon Vance‘s most excellent narration.
(By the way, to all fantasy authors who still write stand-alones: thank you!)
There’s a lot for the grateful reader to sink his teeth on in Tigana, but the central topic is the subjugation of a people. The Peninsula of the Palm was invaded at the same time by two tyrants and sorcerers. The lack of unity among the Palm’s provinces made them easy targets and all were soon conquered and their territory divided among the two invaders.
One province stood out – Tigana. They were the last to fight back and in a decisive battle the son of the most powerful of the two tyrants was killed. He promised and delivered a terrible revenge: first he crushed them in the final battle and then, using his magic, he ensured that only people who were born in the province before the invasion could remember Tigana, its name, culture or history. Buildings were destroyed, music forgotten, books burned. Proud Tigana was now Lower Corte, a poor and minor province in the shadow of its neighbor (and former rival) Corte.
Now, twenty years after the invasions, a group of rebels led by Tigana’s heir have a plan to bring down the tyrants and break the spell. It is the province’s last chance before its name is forever wiped from history.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is one hell of a premise. The use of language during dictatorships and invasions has always fascinated me. Its direct link to identity, culture and sense of belonging makes it an extremely effective tool of subjugation, humiliation and consolidation. As Gavriel Kay explains in the Afterword:
When you want to subjugate a people – to erase their sense of themselves as separate and distinctive – one place to start (and it is sometimes enough) is with their language and names. Names link to history, and we need a sense of our history to define ourselves.
This book is a good argument against the nay-sayers convinced that fantasy books are detached from the real world. It’s impossible not to make parallels with past and present events.Lots of food for thought in
Tigana, but delivered in a way far from preachy or obvious. There’s lots of suspense, adventure, intrigue and romance. The characters, as I’ve come to expect from Gavriel Kay, are masterly built (he paid attention in the “show don’t tell” class), from the tyrants, to the rebel leader to the inn-keeper we meet only in one short scene.
It’s also very rewarding in its complexity: nothing is black-and-white, characters are never just the Heroes or the Villains and are often put in scenarios that seem like psychology case-studies where there’s never a clear win-win decision.
I plan to re-read The Fionavar Tapestry ( and maybe The Sarantine Mosaic) next year.
One of my favorite quotes:
He carried, like baggage, like a cart yoked to his shoulders, like a round stone in his heart, images of his people, their world destroyed, their name obliterated. Truly obliterated: a sound that was drifting, year by year, further away from the shores of the world of men, like some tide withdrawing in the grey hour of a winter dawn. Very like such a tide, but different as well, because tides came back.
Other thoughts: The Literay Omnivore, The Speculative Scotsman, just add books, Fantasy Cafe, Only the Best Fantasy & Sci-fi, Ela’s Book Blog, Speculative Book Review, The Readventurer, Necromancy Never Pays, Doing Dewey (yours?)
American Gods goes into my mental list of “it’s not you, it’s me” books. (I feel I’m loosing some imaginary “coolness factor” by not having loving it, like there’s social pressure involved. Some books have that aura.)
After all, it seemed to have all the ingredients necessary to win me over, including the epic scope and the appealing plot – old and new Gods fighting for the hearts and minds of Americans without them knowing? Sign me up! Also, I loved my two previous Gaimans (The Graveyard Book and Good Omens), always a good sign.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what didn’t do it for me, because the writing is clearly brilliant and none of the narrators in my audiobook was particularly annoying.
Although the plot sounded great, throughout the 20 hours of audiobook I had to tell myself to suspend my disbelief (unusual for me in fantasy novels) and stop over-analyzing, like:
- Why should I be on the side of Shadow and Odin and not with the new Gods of Television, Internet and Money? Didn’t Odin instigate wars, rape and murder? Why are we safer with the Old Gods? If I had a choice, I’d probably go with the new ones.
- Are we really more obsessed with money today than, say, 200 years ago?
- Isn’t there be a better way for Odin and his buddies to gain power? Maybe try to gather more human followers by doing a few tricks. Show off a bit. There are birds of thunder flying around and Shadow can control the weather, for crying out loud.
- Where are the current, strong Gods like Jesus Christ and Allah? Wasn’t it a cop-out not to include them?
There are a lot of contradictions in the plot line and in the end (because of it?) the story becomes very secular: Man has the power and (I ask myself) if Man has the power, why do we need Gods at all?
“Jesus does pretty good over here,” (…) “But I met a guy who said he saw him hitchhiking by the side of the road in Afghanistan and nobody was stopping to give him a ride. You know? It all depends on where you are.
Maybe Gaiman’s whole point is to make the reader think about this. Either way, all this questioning made me disconnected from the characters and it’s always more difficult to love a book with characters you don’t care about and whose deaths you’d be indifferent to.
I did enjoy it in general, especially the resolution of the missing girls’ mystery in the sleepy small town. The road-trip was a great opportunity for Gaiman to display his humor, clever writing and even cleverer observations of people and culture.
I just wish that Shadow felt more like someone with an actual will and opinion, that I cared 2-Euro-cents about his zombie wife, that all the build-up and premonitions had an explosive finale, that the Gods we get to know in the “interludes” (probably my favorite parts) made an appearance somewhere in the main story. Lots of things felt too… loose.
Technically, American Gods is grand but unfortunately I can’t really say that it won me over.
things mean a lot, The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Reviews, That’s What She Read, S. Krishna’s Books, Birdbrain(ed), Man of la Book, just add books, Entomology of a Bookworm, Life with Books, Melody & Words, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Reading with Tequila, a book a week, The Little Red Reviewer, ResoluteReader, A Lifetime of Books, The Labyrinth Library, Once Upon a Bookshelf, Amy’s Book Obsession, 50 Books Project, biblioathlas, Postcards from Asia, Becky’s Book Reviews, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On (yours?)
My commitment to re-reading has proven to be the best idea of the year. It’s been great to go back to favorites of 10 to 20 years ago, but most of all, it has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate my position on Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.
They’re favorites of friends whose opinion I really respect, and after reading the first two the first time around I thought them ok, but failed to see what the fuss was about. This time around, I really liked The Thief, thoroughly enjoyed The Queen of Attolia, but The King of Attolia… well, this one entered the year’s top 5 and propelled them all to my group of favorites series of all time. Still have A Conspiracy of Kings in the TBR because I’m all about delayed gratification.
They’ve also entered my list of books I can wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, independently of age, sex or literary genre preferences. I can recommend them to people who read, who don’t read, who don’t read YA, and who don’t read fantasy. There is enough depth, character building, romance, power play and, ultimately, just good story-telling, to please everyone.
With The King of Attolia I gained for MWT the sort of awed respect that I reserve only for the likes of Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O’Brian (and with a *gasp* YA book!). She was goooood and she never assumes the readers are slow-witted and need to be explained everything. My kinda writer.
Throughout the series we follow the main character – Gen – closely and by the third book we know just how clever and sneaky he is, so to keep us on our toes, MWT writes the story from the POV of someone who is oblivious to Gen’s skills. We know Gen’s up to something, but can make guessed from what the narrator tells us. I can only imagine how difficult this must be to pull off without frustrating the reader, but she did it perfectly, and the result is an intellectually stimulating and fun revelry.
And the romantic angle – oh my! The relationship between Gen and Irene is right up my alley because, again, I don’t need to be spelled out everything to understand it. In The King of Attolia we’re not privy to what’s going on between them, but there are scenes that, without being explicit, have the emotional impact of a Pride & Prejudice proposal. Anyone who’s not in love with Gen by this point must have a heart of stone.
I won’t go too deeply into the plot to avoid spoilers, just a little teaser: when the series starts we meet a young thief called Gen (short for Eugenides) who boasts he can steal anything. Ready to test these claims, a Magus challenges him to steal an object that can change the precarious balance of the region’s three kingdoms…
Oh, the feeling of discovering new favorites! Makes life worth while
Other thoughts on individual books: Dear Author on #1, #2 and #3, Chiachic’s Book Nook, Steph Su Reads #1 and #2, The Literate Mother, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castlell #1 and #2, It’s All About Books, Jacus’ Book Blog, bookshelves of doom, birdbrain(ed) book blog, let’s eat grandpa, Presenting Lenore, Literary Fangirl Book Reviews, Fyrefly (yours?)
One of my favorite moments as a reader is when a book out-wits me; when I think I know what’s going on and then a twist catches me off-guard. I’m usually pretty good at spotting a twist (my boyfriend makes fun – “wish we could make some money out of it!”) so it’s always a thrill to be surprised.
With Gillespie and I it helped that I went into it without knowing anything about the plot. It helped, but it also made me *this close* to giving up half-way. For a long time the pace felt slow and without direction, but I later realized that was just Harris preparing the ground very carefully.
So no summary from me – it’s up to you how much you’d like to know.
I didn’t completely love Gillespie and I as much as a lot of you out there did. I thought it was very clever and well done. I’m glad I read it and spent some happy hours discussing all the details with friends – it’s the kind of book that demands a post-reading deconstruction. But I wish Harris had been able to pull it off with 100 pages less.
It would also help if the Victorian-speak didn’t feel forced at times, as if the author applied Word’s “Replace All” tool to exchange “house” with “habitation” or “happiness” with “felicity“. Some expressions were really on the border of the ridiculous and I’m now sorry I didn’t write them down. One of then, however, stuck in my mind: someone asks the main character if she’d like something else to eat and she replies “no thank you, I’ve had ample sufficiency“…
Other thoughts: Savidge Reads, Reading Matters, Iris on Books, Reviews by Lola, nomadreader, BookNRound, Sam Still Reading, She Reads Novels, BooksPlease, Vulpes Libris, Buried in Print, Capricious Reader, Secluded Charm, an adventure in reading, A Musing Reviews, The House of the Seven Tails, Cornflower Books, Wordsmithonia Yours?)