Archive for April, 2016

Hello and welcome to another reading roundup.  I’ve clearly been on a bit of a social history kick lately – all of the books I’ve read and/or listened to in the last couple of weeks have had social change as a strong theme.  Let me tell you about them.

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Length: 15 hrs and 47 mins
Genres: Social History
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The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson is a slice-of-life look at an English town in the summer of 1914, just before the First World War.  This conflict had a profound impact on British life, especially in terms of the class system and women’s role in society and so this particular period of time about which Simonson writes is a real turning point.  The author clearly has a strong knowledge of and interest in social history and it comes across very well in the book.

Add to this wonderful, engaging characters (I’m heavily invested in our protagonist Beatrice Nash and young Snout) and this is a great read.  I’m about two thirds of the way through the audiobook and enjoying it very much.  Fiona Hardingham is undertaking narration duties and does an excellent job of distinguishing all the characters.

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Series: Belgravia
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Length: Approx 11 hours
Genres: Social History
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The second social historical audiobook I’m enjoying is Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia.  Fellowes is, of course, known for the wonderful Downton Abbey television series, which follows the Crawley family through a period of history that saw major social change in the UK.  How accurate it was is a different discussion.  Belgravia is set a few years earlier, on the eve of Waterloo, but again it follows a family through a period of social change.

The interesting thing about Belgravia is that is being published in a serial format.  There are eleven episodes, each one around one hour long, narrated by Juliet Stevenson.  The first four episodes have been published – of which I have listened to one – and the others are following weekly.  Each episode costs around $2.50 with a complete book to be published when the series is complete.  I enjoyed the first episode and intend to keep following it.

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016The Translation of Love by Lynne Katsukake
Format: eBook
Pages: 336 pages
Genres: Social History
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The final book I’d like to talk about is The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake.  This is a non-typical choice for me.  It tells the story of Aya, a young second generation Japanese Canadian who along with her father at the end of the Second World War after life in an interment camp is forced to choose between moving east of the Rockies or repatriation to Japan.  (Not a great period in Canada’s history).  She moves to Japan where her path intersects with that of Fumi, a young Japanese girl trying to find her sister and that of Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese American who serves in the office of General MacArthur translating the thousands of letters received by the General from Japanese citizens requesting his aid.

I’m about a third of the way through this and am enjoying it very much.  I am unfamiliar with much of Japanese culture, but Kutsukake is doing an excellent job of describing it through the eyes of Canadian born Aya who, raised in Vancouver, is more Canadian than Japanese in outlook.  I am also very much appreciating the characters and following their story.

Upcoming books in May

There are three books coming out in May about which I am very excited. 

First, we have The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan.  This is a new series set in his Percy Jackson Greek/Roman world, but this time there is a twist.  His protagonist is the god Apollo himself, who, stripped of his powers by Zeus, must live as a mortal – with Percy and friends’ help of course!  I love Rick Riordan’s writing style, humour and world building so this is a no brainer for me.  I have pre-ordered it in both Kindle and Audible formats.

The Hidden Oracle is released on May 3rd.  

Also on May 3rd we have the release of The Crown, the fifth and final book in Keira Cass’s Selection series.  The Selection has always been my guilty pleasure with its soapy mix of The Bachelor(ette) meets Cinderella meets dystopian YA fiction and again this was another no brainer, especially as the previous book left a real cliffhanger ending.  I pre-ordered The Crown in Kindle format.

The final book about which I am excited, also being released on May 3rd is A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.  This is the second in the Court of Thorns and Roses series.  Although I prefer Maas’ Throne of Glass series, I did enjoy a Court of Thorns and Roses and expect to enjoy the sequel.  I have pre-ordered A Court of Mist and Fury in Kindle format.

That’s all I have today.  Enjoy your reading and perhaps I’ll meet some of you next month at the Book Expo of America!

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016 was originally published on Canadian eReader

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Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is the fourth in the Austen Project of modern retellings of Jane Austen’s novels and attempts to bring her classic Pride and Prejudice into the 21st century.  Having read the other three Austen adaptations, I was intrigued to see how Sittenfeld would update the story of Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane and Bingley.  From experience I know that Austen adaptations, when done well, can be wonderful. (check out The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube if you don’t believe me.)

I really, really wanted to like this book – I love Jane Austen, and the pre released teaser sample sounded excellent – but no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t sit well with me.  In the interests of fairness, given how well known and beloved Pride and Prejudice has become, it was always going to be one of the trickier ones to adapt.  Let me talk about what I liked first.

What I liked

The modernisation.  Many things in the update worked surprisingly well.  The transfer of the action from Hertfordshire to Cincinnati was seamless and gave a very similar flavour of the small town mentality that caused Darcy’s snobbish attitude.  The Bennet family’s future being at risk because of the lack of a male heir is not something that would fit well with a modern tale, so Sittenfeld uses a more up to date threat which works in well.  Surprisingly the whole reality TV show plotline adapts well and served to enhance both the story and the characters.

The narration.  I listened to Eligible in audiobook format.  Narration duties were undertaken by Cassandra Campbell who did a great job of narrating the tales of the Bennet sisters.  I chose the book in audiobook format because of the sneak peek narration.

What I didn’t like

The chapter break up.  The audiobook is 13 hours and 21 minutes long, so approximately 800 minutes.  This is relatively short in terms of audiobooks.  I believe the hard copy comes in at around 500 pages.  There are over 180 chapters in the book.  Let me say that again.  One hundred and eighty chapters.  This means that, on average, there is a new chapter roughly every four minutes.  Some chapters last less than 40 seconds.  Especially in the audiobook I found it extremely distracting and detrimental to my engagement in the story to have it broken up so frequently.

Character development.  My biggest issue with Eligible was that I didn’t feel Sittenfeld accurately portrayed – or even at times understood – Austen’s wonderful characters and/or their journeys.  It is fair to say that, perhaps her interpretation of Elizabeth, Jane and Lydia just isn’t the same as mine; however I would argue that they also differ from Austen’s.

To take Lydia first; while both Austen’s and Sittenfeld’s youngest Bennet sister is young, immature and, yes, does occasionally push the boundaries of propriety I have never perceived her as being downright crude and vulgar as she comes across in Eligible.  Admittedly, I will never be able to read P&P with an Austen era mentality, so I could be wrong here. Secondly, Lydia’s story arc in Austen’s original has her family (and ultimately Darcy) having to step in to protect her from the consequences of an imprudent and ill considered decision.  While it is not an easy task to come up with a modern storyline that has the same shock value and social repercussions that nineteeth century Lydia’s running off alone with a man would have, and I can see what Sittenfeld was trying to do, I personally disagree with her choice.  At that point in the story I found myself thinking “What imprudent decision?  What consequences?”  Sittenfeld even has her Lydia try to sit down with her parents and discuss her decision before taking action and the impression I was left with was that it was a far more balanced and thought out decision than Austen’s Lydia would have made.  

Jane’s character arc, too, wasn’t always given the service it should have.  In my mind, in the original, Jane’s character flaw was that she wasn’t confident enough to express her feelings adequately to Bingley.  This allowed Darcy to interfere in the relationship believing that she was not very strongly attached to Bingley.  This is a flaw which she must overcome to achieve her happy ending.  In Sittenfeld’s reworking, it’s Jane’s circumstances which force her to be more reserved about expressing her feelings, therefore no flaw, no character development.

Finally, we come to Elizabeth, the second oldest Bennet sister.  My impression of Elizabeth from Austen’s original was that she is an intelligent, strong willed woman, who has a strong sense of self worth and who is not prepared to compromise that.  Sittenfeld’s description of her Liz’s relationship with Jasper does not show a woman with a strong sense of self worth.  Perhaps that’s Eligible Liz’s character arc, to regain that sense of self, but it’s not the arc of Austen’s character, and as such I didn’t feel it should have been part of the story, especially as Austen’s Elizabeth already has a strong character development arc in overcoming her prejudice of Darcy.

While there were some excellently written parts of Eligible, for me, it is the weakest of the Austen project books in terms of bringing Austen’s characters to life in a modern setting.  I gave Eligible only 1.5 stars out of five.

If you want to see a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice done well, I recommend you rather take a look at The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube.

one-half-stars

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon is the fourth in the time travelling historical fiction series following our protagonists Claire and Jamie Fraser as they attempt to start a new life in the American Colonies.

Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, or 44 hrs and 54 mins of audiobook, this is a real behemoth of a book.  It’s also the book on my shelf that’s taken me the longest to read.  GoodReads tells me that I finished the previous book in the series, Voyager, back in April 2015, and I started Drums of Autumn around that time.  This means that Drums of Autumn has taken me almost a year to finish.

I read it in chunks.  I would read a large section – usually when the Outlander TV series piqued my interest again – and then struggle to continue and put it aside for other books.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it; I simply struggled to maintain my interest to read 800+ pages over a short period.  

What I liked

The characters.  I love the characters in the book, particularly Claire and Jamie and their unconventional romance.  Gabaldon has said that she wanted to show a mature relationship – one in which the partners have been together for many years – and she certainly achieves that with Claire and Jamie.  Brianna and Roger also take centre stage in this book and that was wonderful to read.

The Jamie/Brianna relationship.  For me, this was one of the highlights of the book.  I adored the interactions between Jamie and his daughter.  They are both stubborn Frasers, with differing views of morality due to their different upbringings in different centuries and both have red headed tempers.  it was clear that things were never going to go smoothly for them.  I loved that Claire was stuck in the middle and was uncertain if she should physically separate them or let them fight it out.  What was particularly beautifully written was the way in which Jamie’s and Brianna’s past experiences created a real bond and connection between them.

What I didn’t like

Repetition.  I must admit, earlier parts of the book are rather foggy in my memory having been read almost a year ago, but I seem to remember there was a distinct pattern of Jamie and/or Claire getting into some kind of situation in which they are in mortal danger and then they are rescued.  Rinse and repeat.  Given that this is the fourth in a (likely) ten book series, there was absolutely no dramatic tension at all.  There was no way either of our two main protagonists was not going to survive.  I imagine this was intended to provide colour to show how dangerous their environment was, and perhaps to develop their relationship, but I must admit I found it a little tedious after a while.

All in all I really enjoyed Drums of Autumn and gave it four stars out of five.

four-stars

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson is the first in a young adult historical fantasy following the story of Leah Westfall, a young woman from Georgia with the gift of sensing gold.  Circumstances lead her to seek her fortune in California as part of the 1849 gold rush.  This first book deals with Leah’s departure from Georgia and the first part of her journey west.

I really enjoyed this book.  I was highly invested in Leah’s story and loved the depiction of the trek across the country.  Upon finishing it I immediately preordered book two, entitled Like a River Glorious, due out in September 2016.  And can I just say, isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

What I liked

The protagonist.  I really enjoyed reading from Leah’s perspective.  She is a young woman with a good heart, and a strong mind.  It’s clear though the toll her secrets are taking on her.  I liked that Leah does sometimes does make mistakes and errors in judgement – it keeps her real.  The supporting characters are also very engaging and in many cases have significant character development.

The historical detail.  I admit that this is a period of American history about which I am not too familiar.  Carson was able to evoke a wonderfully vivid atmosphere of what life would have been like travelling West during the Gold Rush.  From the author’s notes at the end I have the strong impression that Carson did a significant amount of research when writing this book.

The fantastical.  While there is some fantasy in Walk on Earth a Stranger, it is very subtle and well integrated into the story.  The focus is very much more on historical fiction than fantasy though.

The tropes.  This was a mixed like/didn’t like.  Carson used so many tropes in this book it did get a little obvious at times.  We had the girl dressing up as a boy trope, the wicked uncle trope, the best friend as potential love interest trope, the refusal of the Call to Adventure until the Inciting Incident trope.  However, Carson makes them work very, very well together and has created a wonderfully cohesive story.

What I didn’t like

The love triangle.  This is a young adult book, so a love triangle is unavoidable.  While I did think that, at least, the third member of the triangle was convincingly written I really didn’t care for this aspect of the book.

There was very little I didn’t enjoy about Walk on Earth a Stranger.

I gave Walk on Earth a Stranger four and a half stars out of five. 

four-half-stars

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader