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review 2019-01-10 21:53
The Soldier's Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian
The Soldier's Scoundrel - Cat Sebastian

At a recent bookseller's conference I attended a session dealing with selling romance novels, a category I felt we'd been missing the mark on in my store. There was a lot of good advice - chief among them was that booksellers should actually read romance if they want to sell it. 

 

'The Soldier's Scoundrel' was difficult for me to get into. I'm willing to toss aside characters behaving anachronistically for the sake of the novel having to exist, but I could not get over the constant sexy interruptions.

 

Jack and Oliver were realistic characters with each having a supporting cast and convincing backstory, the mystery they were investigating was well plotted enough for me to be irritated every time they got over their self-loathing enough to get it on. The sex was...well described? Something about writing about romance reduces me to 6th grade book report-speak. I think it got in the way of what I was wanting from the story.

 

I'd dabbled with some romance awhile back - looking at you 'Tigers and Devils' - and, while it was a decent read and I still hypothetically plan on reading the sequel, I obviously haven't made it a priority.Perhaps the genre isn't for me, we'll see. I was given a whole reading list covering highlights of m/m in the genre, so I'll pick up something soon in another category.

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review 2019-01-10 18:15
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton

'The Miniaturist' was a satisfying and weird historical fiction set in 17th century Amsterdam. Nella Oortman is the new wife of Johannes Brandt, but her life is not what she expected it to be. Her sister-in-law dictates everything in the household and Nella feels that her life is more restricted here in the city then at the backwater estate of her childhood. 

 

Johannes is an unusual husband in that he doesn't seem to take much interest in her, not even visiting her in the night. Instead, he gives her an extravagant house cabinet and instructs her to have it furnished. Despite the tinge of condescension in the gift, Nella places an order with the one miniaturist listed in Amsterdam and things really start getting strange.

 

The prose of this book was lovely, and I enjoyed the reveals. For the most part the book felt true to the period, but I would have enjoyed a lot more description on the methods used in crafting the miniatures such as the furniture making/restoration in 'The Goldfinch'. In all other respects I liked the descriptions of the household and daily life.  I wish there had been more time spent on developing Nella and Johannes' relationship, their bond was crucial to the last act of the story and I wasn't buying it. As for the fantastical elements in the story...I felt there was a lot left unresolved, but it didn't bother me. This is one of those books where the central mysteries of the book made it hard to put down, but didn't need to be explained at the end.

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text 2018-11-14 16:01
Reading progress update: I've read 170 out of 336 pages.
The Soldier's Scoundrel - Cat Sebastian

This is proving to be much more of a challenge. The story is good, the characters solid, but I probably shouldn't be irritated so much every time they stop everything to canoodle.

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review 2018-08-06 01:11
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
The Red Address Book - Sofia Lundberg

I'll bend my rule about posting reviews for unreleased books as this 'The Red Address Book' has had considerable success in Europe even if the American edition won't be released for some time.

 

Sofia Lundberg's novel follows 96-year-old Doris as she remembers the people who have come and gone in her life, all of the crossed out names in the address book given to her by her father on her last birthday at home. Her only living relative is a grand niece Jennifer and Jennifer's children in America and Doris depends on their weekly Skype calls.

 

I can't say how accurate of a translation this is, but it read smoothly and had a light, easy to read style throughout. Doris is an independent woman, but a recent injury has left her vulnerable and the indignities attached to being dependent on visiting nurses and facing pressure to give up her home are well illustrated.

 

The novel picks up steam as the narrative picks out a few key people in Doris' address book - a book full of names, the majority of which are crossed out and marked 'deceased'. The conceit of the address book is a good one, but many readers will have problems with how, er, eventful Doris' life turns out to be. It isn't enough that she's lived a long life and taken care of loved ones, she has lived more than anyone else has ever in the history of living. The events of her life become more far-fetched as the story goes on.

 

You may be looking at my high rating. The book can be problematic, narratively and with some objectionable plot elements, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story even with its issues. Sappy, but satisfying.

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review 2018-07-27 04:46
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlemarch - George Eliot

'Middlemarch' is the daunting 5th novel from George Eliot. It primarily concerns the lives of the gentry and middle class, but showcases Eliot's dazzling ability to create worlds. The English novel typically had large supporting casts of characters and depended upon depicting shades of rural life, but Eliot was a master of crowd-work. Her four major plots are punctuated by extended sequences of social calls, gossip, and plain conversation that reverberate through the main text and give it life. I hesitate to call many of the characters minor not merely because of the their place in the plot, but in because how deftly they're drawn. These characters have layers. No matter how small their role is in the plot, like Miss Horner, or even a barely mentioned Mr. Clintup, have history and lives going on behind the scenes. They also have subtle social relationships with each other.

I read this novel at breakneck speed, perhaps 12 hours altogether over two evenings and a morning, and that allowed me to really experience the close relationships between many of the characters. Eliot provides vast insight into the inner lives of her characters, but also in their differing outer relationships with each other including all of the misunderstandings that create the two 'main' marriages of the plot, and, more cunning, the relationships which possess understanding. Dorothea and Casaubon; Lydgate and Rosamund; as fraught as their whole situation is, it was the relationship between Camden Farebrother and his family, Mr. and Mrs. Garth's mutual recalculation of their lives in the wake of Fred's note coming due (without Mrs. Garth knowing beforehand!), and even Trumbull, the auctioneer, being bequeathed a gold-headed cane seemed to be punctuation to a long-told joke.

Maybe I'm still worn out from all of that not sleeping so I could read 'Middlemarch' in time for the book club, but everything in this meandering novel is significant. It is not significant with the everything is an allegory way either. Eliot raised the bar again with her research, giving 'Middlemarch' an impeccable timeline and even mined 40-year-old medical journals for Lydgate's benefit. I loved this.

This novel merits the reams of words that have been written about it. She is rapidly becoming my favorite author. I was disappointed by 'Silas Marner' and my appreciation for 'Romola' is (mostly) academic. I had a bad time of it in college when I had to read this for the most boring man ever to scrape a chalkboard, but I'm so glad that I gave it another chance. Many serial novels suffer from how they were written, even with polish and editing, there's usually something disconnected. I'm including Thackeray and Dickens in that criticism, among others. Eliot was a planner and the end-notes of my edition repeatedly referenced her process. Read it in a glorious rush the way I did, or in your own serene time, but this one is worth it.

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