Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – Review

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – ReviewEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Series: The Austen Project #4
Also in this series: Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Length: 13 hrs and 21 mins
Genres: Contemporary, Classics
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Evelynne's rating: one-half-stars

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

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon – Review

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon – ReviewDrums of Autumn Format: eBook
Pages: 896 pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

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

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – Review

walkonearthastranger
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – ReviewWalk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 453 pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

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

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016

yellowbrickwar

Hello and welcome to another reading roundup.  Again, it’s been a month where I’ve really struggled to focus on reading and blogging.  I really should be more ruthless about putting books into my Did Not Finish pile.  I spent too much of the month plodding through books which really weren’t doing anything for me.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige
Series: Dorothy Must Die #3
Also in this series: Dorothy Must Die
Format: eBook
Pages: 288 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: three-stars

With regards to Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige, I’ll be perfectly honest and say that my opinion and rating is heavily influenced by my – mistaken – impression that this was the final book in the Dorothy Must Die series.  This is a series involving an updating and reimagining of the world of L Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. I had been expecting, and looking forward to, resolution to the plot points introduced in Dorothy Must Die and The Wicked Will Rise.  So coming towards the end of the book when I realised there were no resolutions coming, I felt annoyed and frustrated.  My own fault, I freely admit it.  Had I known there was one more book to come, I could have better appreciated the continued excellent worldbuilding and character development in Yellow Brick War.  I will certainly read the conclusion when it comes out.  I look forward to reading the conclusion of Amy’s story.

I gave Yellow Brick War three stars out of five.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 336 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery
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Evelynne's rating: two-stars

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is one I should probably have consigned to the Did Not Finish pile much sooner than I did.  The concept sounded fascinating.  In Cavallaro’s world Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were real and their modern day teen descendants Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson meet up at an exclusive boarding school to solve mysteries.  It’s clear that a significant effort was made to reflect the personalities of Holmes and Watson in a modern day setting and to some extent it succeeded.  What completely turned me off this book is that the author introduced sexual tension between Holmes and Watson.  With that partnership it is a meeting of minds, not bodies and I personally lost all interest in the story after that.  That is a personal opinion and your mileage may vary.

A Study in Charlotte rated barely two stars out of five on my scale.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 468 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Supernatural
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

This was my second attempt to read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys.  The first time I started, I just couldn’t get into it at all.  This second attempt was much more successful.  It’s clear that this is setting up a series.  The book opens with a real bang – Blue is fated to meet and/or kill her one true love within the next year.  I definitely want to read how that plays out.  There were multiple points introduced that I expect will pay off in later books – I would say Stiefvater is an architect rather than a gardener.  I found the characters interesting even if not all of them are immediately likeable – or intended to be so.  The type of supernatural events in this book are ones that to me, personally, are very creepy.  I will have to take a break and read a cutesy contemporary to clear my mind before I start The Dream Thieves!

I gave The Raven Boys four stars out of five.

Reading roundup – March 30th 2016Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson #9
Format: eBook
Pages: 350 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

Fire Touched is the ninth book in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  I must admit I wasn’t overly excited about reading it.  I like Mercy and the rest of her allies; I just feel after nine books her story has pretty much come to an end.  I’ve felt that way for the last couple of books.  It’s like a long established, high quality TV procedural.  You pretty much know what you are going to get going into it, but you still enjoy it.  I keep saying I’m not going to read any more, yet I still do and still enjoy them.

I gave Fire Touched three and a half stars out of five.

In other news, I’m beginning to get excited about Book Expo of America, BEA, in Chicago in May.  This will be my first time there, so if any of you old hats could give me some tips that would be very much appreciated.

Upcoming releases in April

There are two books coming out in April about which I’m rather excited.  

The first of these is Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire.  This is a young adult fantasy and I was drawn to it by the concept; what happens to young people like Alice or Dorothy when they return home from Wonderland or Oz?  How do they adapt?  Every Heart a Doorway is released on April 5th and I’ve preordered it in Kindle format.

The second is Eligible, the next in the Austen Project series of modern retellings of Jane Austen classics.  Eligible is the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and is written by Curtis Sittenfeld.  There is a sneak peek of the audiobook available on SoundCloud, which sounds fantastic.  I have preordered the book in audiobook format based on this snippet.  That’s not to say I don’t have my concerns.  The Austen project adaptations have ranged from the bland and uninspired (Emma, Sense and Sensibility) to the very, very good (Northanger Abbey).  Pride and Prejudice is probably the best known – and most adapted – of Austen’s works and Eligible has a lot of work ahead of it to compare to the superb Lizzie Bennet Diaries YouTube series. I am intrigued that Sittenfeld has moved the story to Cincinnati and aged up our protagonists to nearly 40, giving a more modern pressure point for Lizzie and Jane to look for a husband.  It could well work, and from the snippet I am cautiously optimistic.  Eligible is released on April 26th.

Have a good week and will review more books soon. 

three-stars

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare – Review

ladymidnight
Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare – ReviewLady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Series: The Dark Artifices #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 720 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is the first in The Dark Artifices, a new Shadowhunters series set around the Shadowhunters Institute in LA.  It focusses on Emma Carstairs and her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, characters introduced in City of Heavenly Fire, the final book in the Mortal Instruments series.  This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016 and I LOVED it.  The setup for Lady Midnight was one of the things I enjoyed most about City of Heavenly Fire and it more than lived up to its promise. I devoured this 700+ page book in less than a day.

What I liked

The characters.  Although Emma is a smart, engaging kickass heroine, I found my sympathies being drawn more to Julian – his struggles and challenges spoke to me even more than Emma’s.  I was also very interested that this time we meet some Shadowhunters who do not necessarily fit the mould of young teens, perfect in mind and body who embody the ideals of the Clave.  Particularly interesting to me was Tiberius, who is clearly on the autism spectrum.  I thought it was wonderful how he was shown to make a significant contribution to our protagonists’ quest even if it wasn’t always by going out and fighting demons.  I am interested to see how the Clave tries to handle him in the future.  We also have Mark Blackthorn, who, although technically a Shadowhunter has been strongly influenced by his time with the Fae.  In both these cases we clearly see how Shadowhunter society in general is not very accepting of those who do not fit a specific mould.

The Law.  The Law is a major theme in this book, specifically how to handle a law that seems harsh or unfair.  This is symbolised by two Latin phrases “Sed lex, dura lex” – the Law is hard, but it is the Law – and “lex malla, lex nulla” – a bad law is no law at all.  This refers mainly to the law against helping the Fair Folk, and this is used to hinder our protagonists in their quest.  We see attempts to get around this law both by diplomatic means and then by less open methods.  Of course this theme also applies to the law against parabatai falling in love, which is also a major issue for our protagonists.  All in all, it didn’t leave me feeling very positive towards the Clave and Council.  I look forward to seeing how Julian and Emma and their friends change their world for the better.

The world.  I really don’t need to say much here.  Clare’s world is absolutely phenomenal and fascinating.  What was particularly interesting this time was seeing a post Dark War world.  The struggle with Sebastian has left its mark and even five years later, the results can still be seen.  We learn of new, elite Shadowhunters and processes that have been put in place as a result of the War – processes that aren’t necessarily for the best.  I’m not sure if Clare was aiming to reflect our modern post 9/11 world in this, but that is certainly what it made me think of.

What I didn’t like

Bland, boring antagonist.  I wasn’t especially engaged by the antagonist – however, I suspect that the real villain of the piece was intended to be the rigid, inflexible attitude of those in charge of the Shadowhunters and the climate of fear that seems pervasive.  I would imagine we’ll see our heroes come into direct conflict with that later on in the series.

I gave Lady Midnight five stars out of five – when is the next book due out?

five-stars

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – Review (minor spoilers)

gatheringofshadows
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – Review (minor spoilers)A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #2
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer
Length: 16 hrs and 9 mins
Genres: Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab is the second in the Darker Shade of Magic Series which centres on Kell, an Antari magician who has the ability to move between different worlds, and Lila, a young woman from “our” London who has ended up in Kell’s magical home world.  I really enjoyed the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, and was very much looking forward to this next instalment.  I LOVED this book and am happy to recommend it.

What I liked

The characters.  Right from the beginning, Lila had me chuckling along with her sassy attitude and I sympathised with Kell and Rhy as they tried to come to terms with the events of the previous book.  Some new characters are introduced, notably Alucard Emery.  This is a particularly interesting new addition as both our protagonists have very different attitudes towards him.  This leaves the reader somewhat torn about how to feel about him.  He’s rather a mysterious characters – It’s clear that he’s a lot more than just the pirate – excuse me, privateer – that he claims to be.  I really hope we learn more about him in subsequent books.

The romance.  The relationship between Kell and Lila was so cute and beautifully done, especially given how little time they actually spend interacting with each other in the book.  There were so many adorable instances of Lila thinking things like “oh, that guy’s hair is almost the same shade as Kell’s”  or Kell’s seeing something pretty and thinking of how much Lila would enjoy it.  Of course, if confronted both would vehemently deny being in love.  A clear case of showing, not telling.  Brava Victoria.

Interesting pacing.  As the book blurb indicates, a significant focus of this book is the Element Games, a magical equivalent of our Olympics.  Yet, they do not provide much dramatic tension.  They are generally non lethal, and the outcome of winning is little more than achieving bragging rights.  In fact, until about 85% of the way through the book very little actually happens.   Towards the end, it was very clear that this story would not be self contained in the way that the first one was, and that I would have to prepare for a cliffhanger.  The wonderful thing, however, is that I really didn’t care.  I was having too much fun following these two crazy kids and their mixed signals romance and the magical world in which it takes place.  The last few chapters of the book really speed things up though and I can’t wait for the next book.

What I didn’t like

Lack of variety in the Element Games.  Each level of the competition follows the same format. I would have welcomed some changes in structure for the subsequent bouts.  Also I did have to suspend my disbelief at certain participants.  Did Stasion really think he could compete at Olympic level with his limited experience of magic?

Despite those minor gripes, I adored A Gathering of Shadows and it gets a well-deserved five stars out of five from me. 

five-stars

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – Review

glass-sword
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – ReviewGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
Series: Red Queen #2
Format: eBook
Pages: 469 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard is the second in the Red Queen series and continues the story of Mare Barrow and her struggle to end the oppression of the non superpowered Reds by the Silvers.  

When we left Mare at the end of Red Queen she was not in a good place, both in a practical sense and emotionally.  She feels betrayed by those she cared about and many of her allies are lost or alienated.  Nevertheless, she focusses herself on the goal of rescuing those who, like Mare, are of Red heritage but display Silver abilities.  

Although that is the goal of the book, the focus is far more on Mare’s psychological distress as she attempts to come to terms with what she has experienced as well as what is expected of her.  The title is clearly a metaphor for Mare; she is a weapon, but is very fragile and could easily be shattered.  In this respect, Glass Sword is faintly reminiscent of Catching Fire or Mockingjay which also deals with the protagonist’s PTSD.

What I liked

Vulnerable protagonist.  I enjoyed that the main character is struggling to deal emotionally with the situation in which she finds herself – it feels more realistic and relatable that young teens who seem to breeze through their crises.  Mare’s psychological trauma was well written and was a natural and logical progression of her circumstances.

Some interesting plot developments.  There were a few plot developments in the novel which were unexpected and reengaged my attention at times when it was flagging.  

Strong premise.  I really enjoyed the main premise and worldbuilding in Aveyard’s world.  The Red/Silver conflict and the addition of the newbloods made for gripping reading.

What I didn’t like

Bland characters.  Yes, I know I said that Mare’s vulnerability made her more interesting, but despite that, the characters in Glass Sword are still rather bland, typical YA heroes/heroines.  Perhaps I am being unfair here; I have just started A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab and within a few paragraphs, Lila Bard had already leapt out of the page and had me completely engaged in her story in a way that Mare never did. 

New characters not fully developed.  Some interesting new characters were introduced in Glass Sword such as Nanny, Cameron and Nix, but none of them were given enough page space to be developed fully.  That is perhaps due to the first person point of view and Mare’s own emotional struggles, but I would have liked to have seen it handled better.

Despite these issues, I did enjoy Glass Sword and gave it three and a half stars out of five.  I will probably read the final book whenever it comes out.

three-half-stars

Reading roundup – all over the place

littledribbling

Gosh, it’s been quite a while since I last posted.  My apologies.  I seem to have been going through not quite a reading slump but a lack of focus in my reading – I’ve been all over the place.  I’ve started so many books and not actually finished them before moving onto another book.  Sigh.

Some of the books that I have managed to finish have been by Brandon Sanderson who published not one, not two but THREE books in the last couple of months.  These are: Bands of Mourning, Mistborn: A Secret History and Calamity.  Bands of Mourning and Mistborn: A Secret History are both set in Sanderson’s Mistborn world, the first being the third in the four book Wax and Wayne series and Secret History a short novella set just after the events of the original trilogy.  While I very much enjoyed Bands of Mourning – the pacing, characters and plot were all wonderful, and an incredible ending – I was less happy with Secret History.  For those of you unaware, all of Sanderson’s adult novels are set in the same world, which he calls the cosmere.  In other words, Mistborn, Warbreaker and the Stormlight Archives are all happening in the same universe.  At this point in the Mistborn story the worlds are beginning to collide and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that.  I gave Bands of Mourning five stars out of five and Secret History four.

The final Sanderson book I read was Calamity, the final book in the Reckoners trilogy.  I had high expectations of this one as one thing Sanderson does very very well is end a series.  His endings to the Mistborn trilogy and his work on ending Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time have been among the most memorable for me.  I must admit Calamity didn’t quite live up to expectations, although that was more of a personal choice for me; I just didn’t enjoy where Sanderson took the story and characters as much as I’d hoped.  I gave Calamity four stars out of five.

Reading roundup – all over the placeThe Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Nathan Osgood
Length: 14 hrs and 4 mins
Genres: Travelogue
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

One book I did very much enjoy this month was Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling.  This is a travelogue in which Bryson takes a trip around the UK.  Bryson is an American married to a Brit who lived in the UK for many years.  It’s always refreshing to see one’s home country from a foreigner’s perspective and this is no exception. This is one to enjoy in audiobook format.  The style of the book is as if Bryson were sitting down over a cup of tea with the reader talking about his travels, which makes this an excellent choice for listening and Nathan Osgood does a great job as narrator.  Each chapter is introduced by some music typifying the region which adds a little something to the experience, too.  Be warned though.  The audiobook includes a song “The Bryson Line” written and performed by Richard Digance which is a real ohrwurm.  I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. I gave The Road to Little Dribbling five stars out of five.

Reading roundup – all over the placeUprooted by Naomi Novik
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Julia Emelin
Length: 17 hrs and 43 mins
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a book I listened to this month which very nearly went into my did not finish pile.  This is a stand alone epic fantasy about a young woman who is chosen against all odds to serve the local magician as he works to contain the evil Wood.  Novik has created a wonderful, magical world, and the characters are interesting.  However the pacing and buildup is very, very slow.  For quite some time I kept saying to myself, OK one more chapter and if I still amn’t hooked, I’ll leave it.  Eventually I realised I was finally becoming invested in the story and characters and was happy to finish the book.  I did very much enjoy the audio performance of Julia Emelin.  The book is worth persevering with and I gave Uprooted four stars out of five.

Reading roundup – all over the placeThe Diary of River Song by Big Finish Productions
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Various
Length: 2 hours
Evelynne's rating: five-stars

This is a production I’ve had on my radar for a while.  As I’ve mentioned, the relationship between River Song and The Doctor is one of my favourite fictional relationships and I was intrigued to see how she would pair up with the Eighth Doctor.  Big Finish has long been known for Doctor Who audio productions – indeed most of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures take place in this medium – and their production quality is absolutely stellar.  For this particular adventure they hired Alex Kingston and Paul McGann to play River and The Doctor and both really get their characters.  I must confess to a slight disappointment that River did not reveal her true identity to Eight; but then again that would have broken the internal logic of the TV show.  All in all these productions are wonderful and if you like Doctor Who you really should check them out.  I gave The Diary of River Song five stars out of five.

And now onto books I started but did not finish this month.  The first of these was White Queen by Philippa Gregory.  At first, I found myself being really sucked into this story – it is written in a very engaging manner.  However, historical dramas is not my usual genre and I found myself leaving it aside for my more usual fare.  I imagine I will return to White Queen at some point in the future.

Next up was The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey.  I really loved the narrator and her sassy attitude in the face of alien invasion.  However, I read the rest of the synopsis on Wikipedia and decided I really wasn’t interested in where the story was going.  

I started listening to Star Wars Darth Plagueis at the gym, but the story never really grabbed me.  I had been hoping for some insight into the world of the Sith and maybe I didn’t give it long enough, but the first few chapters really didn’t grab my interest at all.ianna

Having watched a couple of episodes of Outlander, I dived in once again to the fourth book, Drums of Autumn.  These are real doorstops of books and much as I love the characters and story, I find I cannot read them all at once.  I read a few chapters, wait a few months, then go back in again.  I did enjoy the chapters I read which focussed more on Brianna’s and Roger’s adventures.  

So there you have it – my update for the last month.  Hopefully in March I will be more focussed.  We do have Cassandra Clare’s latest Shadowhunter series starter Lady Midnight being released as well as the conclusion to Danielle Paige’s modern adaptation of the world of Oz, The Yellow Brick War.  I’m hoping they will keep me out of trouble!

five-stars

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken – Review

passenger
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken – ReviewPassenger by Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Format: eBook
Pages: 496 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken is a young adult fantasy novel, the first in a duology, marketed as a treasure hunt through time.  It focusses on the characters of Etta, a young 21st century woman and Nicholas, a black man from the 1700s, both of whom have the genetic ability to travel through passages in time and space.  They embark on a journey through time to locate the astrolabe, the series McGuffin, in order to prevent its falling into the hands of the Ironwoods giving them power to change history.

What I liked

The time travel system.  I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.  It was very well thought out and the rules and limitations were well explained.  Often in fantasy it’s the limitations on magical powers that make them most interesting and generate the most interesting stories.  At the risk of spoiling the novel I won’t say too much more, but this aspect was very well done.

The character development.  Writing believable and consistent characters is one of Bracken’s strengths.  I could easily believe the characters actions and reactions based on what they’d already experienced.  

The social commentary. Having two characters whose race or gender has historically deprived them of power and placing them in situations where that is emphasised was inspired.  It leads to some scenes that are both funny and poignant.  

The writing and the pacing.  This was excellent – the story kept moving along at a brisk pace with the tension managed expertly.  It’s amazing what a deadline can do for plot pacing!  Of course, I hadn’t expected anything less from the writer of The Darkest Minds series.

What I didn’t like

The romance.  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the relationship between Etta and Nicholas.  What irritated me though was the fact that they allowed it to overshadow everything else.  They were on a very tight deadline and yet they still took a lot of time out to enjoy each other’s company.  Focus, people!

Bland characters.  I will say I enjoyed the situations in which the characters found themselves more than the characters themselves.  Yes, they did have a few moments of awesome, and yes, their character development was realistic, but I wasn’t particularly engaged by them.  

All in all I really enjoyed this book and gave it four out of five stars.  I look forward to Wayfarer, the conclusion of the story.

As an aside, if you enjoyed Passenger, I would strongly recommend you check out Kerstin Geir’s Ruby Red trilogy. This explores a very similar premise of time travel, but the heroine is much more fun and sassy than Etta.

four-stars

My top three fictional relationships

Today I thought I’d tell you about my top three fictional relationships.  While I do not consider myself a hard core shipper, there are a few pairings in which I am super invested, and here they are.

The Doctor and River Song (BBC, Doctor Who)

Perhaps I should provide some background here for those readers unfamiliar with the BBC series.  The Doctor is a space and time travelling alien from the planet Gallifrey who has a special fondness for Earth and who is frequently called upon to use his smarts and trusty sonic screwdriver to save the world.  As a Time Lord, he has the unique trait that, when he is severely injured, his body regenerates, giving a whole new look and personality to the character.  River Song is a slightly-more-than-human time traveller whose timeline collides on a regular basis with that of The Doctor.

Showrunner Russell T Davies, who introduced River to the show, has said that his inspiration for the character was Audrey Niffinegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife in which a time traveller’s relationship with his wife is complicated by his meeting her at different points in her life.  The first time we – and The Doctor – meet River is shortly before her death when it’s clear she has already enjoyed a long and event filled relationship with The Doctor, one of which The Doctor is unaware.  Her devastation that her Doctor doesn’t know her is beautifully and poignantly played by Alex Kingston.

Throughout the following series, we learn more about River and her relationship with our favourite Gallifreyan.  Not only is their relationship complicated by jumping in and out of each other’s timelines – their first action upon meeting is to compare diaries to pinpoint where they are in their timelines – but also The Doctor’s changing personality due to his regenerations.  

Why I love this relationship.  In spite of the time travel and fantasy elements, there is a lot of human in this relationship, particularly the fear that a loved one will no longer be able to remember you or share in the memories of events you’ve experienced together.  That is the aspect of the relationship that touched me the most.  I’ll be perfectly honest here and say that much of my investment in this relationship comes from Alex Kingston’s performance as River.  it has to be said, she has some very cheesy lines: “I live for the days when I see him, but I know that every time that I do he’ll be one step further away. The day is coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes, my Doctor, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.”  Kingston delivers those lines with such truth you can’t help but feel for her character.

Fitz and The Fool (Robin Hobb, Realm of the Elderlings)

Again, perhaps some background might be necessary here.  Fitz is the protagonist of Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.  These are typical epic fantasy novels in which  the Fool prophesies a dire end for the Six Duchies unless he and Fitz can work together to prevent it.  Their adventures together creates a very strong bond between them, and it is a joy to watch their friendship develop.  

What makes this relationship very different in epic fantasy is the Fool’s gender fluidity.  At some points in the narrative he (I’ll use the male pronoun just for convenience) presents as male, at other points, he is female.  Throughout the series the Fool is extremely careful and adept at avoiding situations which may reveal his physical gender – he avoids bathing in public and refuses medical attention.  There are moments where Fitz could ascertain the truth of the situation but out of respect for his friend he refuses.  At this point I wonder if the Fool’s physical gender will ever be revealed – and more to the point, what difference it would actually make.

His gender has absolutely no bearing on the Fool’s love for Fitz; as far as he is concerned, Fitz is the centre of his world, his other half.  Fitz, on the other hand, views things differently.  For him a physical relationship is an integral part of a pair bond, something he struggles to accept with the Fool, given that he views him as male.  The Fool’s comment on that is very astute;  “You are confusing plumbing and love again.” I believe though that Fitz is lying to himself about the depth of his love for the Fool.  This central conflict between the pair has yet to be resolved – there is one more book to come in the Fitz and the Fool series – and I am so impatient to see how Hobb has the pair overcome this hurdle.  

As far as I am concerned, Fitz and the Fool is endgame.  Hobb all but confirmed it when Jinna the hedge witch reads Fitz’s palm and says “By your left hand, I’d say you had a sweet and true love in your short life. A love that ended only in your death. Yet here in your right hand, I see a love that wends its way in and out of all your many years. That faithful heart has been absent for a time, but is soon to return to you again.”  The very next chapter it’s not his previous love, Molly, who returns to Fitz’s life but the Fool.

Why I love this relationship.  The depth of the connection between Fitz and the Fool is so movingly written.  Both would happily give up their lives and/or happiness to ensure the other’s wellbeing.  I am so invested in the relationship and am keen to see how it develops.

Tessa Gray, Jem Carstairs and Will Herondale (Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices)

Generally I am not fond of love triangles, especially in young adult fiction.  All too often, it’s very clear from the beginning which couple the author intends as endgame (did anyone seriously expect Bella to end up with Jacob?)  and the third party serves as little more than a temporary roadblock on the way to true happiness.  Bleugh.  I’ve read that scenario far too often now for it to be remotely interesting.

The love triangle between Tessa, Jem and Will in The Infernal Devices is different.  The triangle is perfectly balanced in that both Jem and Will are written as valid partners for Tessa.  Clare does not make it clear which couple is endgame.  Jem and Will also have a very strong pre-existing bond and they love and respect each other as brothers.  Both are willing to sacrifice their lives and happiness so that the other may be happy.  I was genuinely upset that one of them had to step aside, and I couldn’t decide which Tessa should choose.

Why I love this relationship(s).  That ending.  Wow.  The way Clare resolved this triangle was just so beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. She clearly did her work well to evoke such a reaction in me.

So there you have it, my top three fictional relationships. What they all have in common is that the love between the pairs is selfless – they would all give up their lives in a heartbeat to ensure their partner’s happiness – and that they all have interesting obstacles to overcome.  Let me know about your favourite fictional relationships in the comments!

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