Currently $1.99: Grant Takes Command, by Bruce Catton. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Dirk Gently's Detective Agency & The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (one volume), by Douglas Adams. The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie. Want to read Christie in French? They have several French editions of her novels, including Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for sale at $1.99 each.
Currently $2.99: Still Life and A Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny (the first two books in her Inspector Gamache series). N or M? by Agatha Christie. Bare Bones, by Kathy Reichs.
This was a very uniquely told fantasy story. It’s set in England (mostly) in the early 1800’s, and the author tells it in an authentic-sounding manner. It mixes in a bit of the real world with the fantasy world, and uses some archaic words like “shew” (show) and “chuse” (choose) to add flavor. There are also a lot of footnotes that add depth. The tone of the story, combined with the footnotes, often made it feel a little more like I was reading a historical text rather than a fictional story. Well, aside from all the magic and stuff, of course. :) There’s also some humor. It’s a somewhat dry humor that comes in large part from the despicable characters populating the story.
The basic story is that true magic hasn’t been seen in England for a very long time. When the book begins, we’re introduced to a bunch of argumentative men who call themselves “magicians” but in fact have never cast any sort of spell. They just study the history of magic, but they don’t practice it themselves or know of anybody who does. Then we meet Mr Norrell who, much to everybody’s surprise, is a “practical” magician – he can actually do magic. Mr Norrell has decided to make it his goal to bring magic back to England. But Mr Norrell does not have the type of personality you might expect, nor does he go about things in a way that might seem most effective to a rational reader.
It was an interesting story, and the writing was impressively done, but I was never very absorbed by it. It’s far more character-based than plot-based, which isn’t a problem for me, but there weren’t too many truly likeable characters in this book and some of them were downright awful. The book is broken up into three parts. The first part features mostly despicable characters, the second part gives more page time to some of the more likeable characters, and the third part picks up the pace of the plot more significantly. I thought the book steadily got better and better, but I still found it easy to put down. For all the depth and authenticity the author put into the setting and the characters, I wasn’t too thrilled with the magic itself. There seemed to be no real or consistent rules and, at times, it seemed terribly overpowered.
This book is 850 pages, not counting the footnotes that were all counted as page 850 in my Kindle edition. The footnotes made up the last 7%, which would be about 64 pages. So yes, this book was slightly tome-ish! If anybody reads this on a Kindle, be careful because some of the footnotes get cut off in the pop-ups. Many of the footnotes are quite long, some being practically short stories rather than ‘notes’. When reading on the Kindle, you can follow the link to go directly to the footnotes to make sure you’re seeing it all. In my case, I chose to read the book on my tablet instead, even though I don’t normally use it for reading. It was just a little easier, plus the footnote indicators stood out better on a color screen with their blue numbers and I didn’t want to miss any. I’ll be very happy to get back to my Kindle, but my tablet did give a slightly more realistic “weight” to my tome. :)
I have a couple of more specific comments that I’ll need to put within spoiler tags:
I thought the most interesting parts involved secondary characters. I was very interested in Childermass. I wish he’d played a more prominent role in the book, but the air of mystery surrounding him was part of his appeal. I also enjoyed the parts with Stephen Black quite a bit. Segundus was also interesting, what little we saw of him.
Jonathan Strange was somewhat likeable, certainly far more so than Mr Norrell. He was rash and a bit self-absorbed, but I liked his openness and his desire to spread knowledge. He seemed to have good intentions, even though his carelessness was sometimes a problem. Mr Norrell, on the other hand… ugh! Setting aside the fact that most of the problems in the book were the result of his selfish choices, he just had a horrid personality. I hate information hoarders, and he took it to extremes. He tried to suppress other magicians not out of genuine concern that they might cause harm, but because he was afraid somebody might equal or surpass his skills and siphon off some of his credit. He wanted all the glory for himself, and he cared more about his own pride than the greater good. He irrationally worked against his own stated objective of bringing Magic to England by actually suppressing it. Ok, yes, he struck a nerve with me. :) I guess that says something for how well-written he was if he managed to evoke so much dislike from me.
It was a little surprising to me, at least at first, that Norrell became so fond of Strange’s companionship, but I guess it makes sense that he would enjoy his first opportunity to converse with somebody who shared his interest in and aptitude for magic. Given Norrell’s history of dishonesty and selfish behavior, I imagine he will hinder Strange rather than help him solve their little curse of darkness, out of a desire to keep Strange all to himself.
Whew… I guess my review was a bit of a tome itself!
Like most readers, I have a boatload of books I own that I have yet to read. This year, I will read 25 of them. Here are the musts.
I've read a bit of Borges, and have deeply enjoyed it. That's why this is here.
The Deathstalker series is the only one I have yet to read by Green, and these are the novellas that introduce that universe. I own the whole series, so I should maybe get started, yeah? Besides, Space Opera rocks!
I've started this a couple of times, and got distracted. Not this year! It's la lyrical beauty that can't be rushed, but I will make the time.
I've read and loved the Gates series, as well as Connolly's second collection, Night Music. I started this one years ago, and will actually follow through this time.
Another one I got distracted during (are we sensing a theme?), this is a serious beast of a book, but I've loved what I've read, and the depiction of Faerie is unique, to say the least.
A genuine horror classic that I've been threatening to read for about a decade. There is no reason I haven't read this yet.
Another big mother(shut yo mouth), this fell into the must list after I read The Terror last year. That one started slow, but was frigging awesome. I'm hoping this one kicks in a little quicker.
There's my seven must-reads from my ridiculous TBR pile, but there's a lot more where those came from. At least 18, some even more imposing.
As imposing, anyway.
I haven't been posting these regularly like I had originally planned. My workload has been increasingly unwieldy lately, plus I've taken on some freelance. I'm hoping this new installment will be a renewal and I will be able to start posting weekly again.
(I got the term “genre kryptonite” from Book Riot. It is essentially defined as a genre/type that is a personal weakness, i.e. something that you just can’t resist. The term confused me at first, as I associate kryptonite with something that can destroy you, but that’s not how it’s being used here. These are also a combination of genres and subgenres.)
Nonfiction books about Jane Austen. I have a Jane Austen shelf. I must have read at least 30 nonfiction studies of her work by now, and I never get tired of it. Of all my reading habits, this one makes me miss my college library the most. Since I’ve already done a F5F for Austen I won’t bother listing titles. The link if you would like suggestions: Fabulous Five Friday debut.
Georgian/Victorian/Gilded Age fantasy. Fantasy is often focused on medievalism and pre-modern tropes, which is great but overused. I love that fantasy set in the 19th and early 20th century mashes together my favorite historical period to study with magical elements, and the best examples often have that delicious social complexity that makes novels from that period so enjoyable for me. My ultimate favorite in this category is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
Books about feminism and gender. This covers an immense array of possibilities across fiction and non-fiction. I’m especially partial to essay collections and literary studies that use gender studies and feminism as the key reference point. The representative title for me currently is Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist.
Short story collections and anthologies. I’m especially partial to short speculative fiction and “weird” stories, often by authors like Kelly Link, Nalo Hopkinson, Hannu Rajaniemi, Jane Yolen, Alison Nutting, Neil Gaiman, and many others, though I’m also partial to themed anthologies that give you a lot of variety. I’ve collected way more than I’ll ever read, but I’ll keep getting them anyway. My current favorite (most likely since it’s the most recent collection I’ve read) is Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love with Hominids.
Books about Parisian and overall French culture. Francophilia is not rare, but I still find my attraction to these books a bit weird. I’m especially drawn to those “how to be French” lifestyle books, even though they really offer nothing more than surface-level, unrealistic aspirational stuff. But I find something fascinating in looking at a culture that is so incredibly focused on assimilation, and yet cares so little for people’s opinions. One of my favorites is What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier, since she combines her outsider view with an insider’s access (she is an American married to a Frenchman).