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review 2017-01-09 19:37
Pleasantly Surprised
The Enemies of Versailles: A Novel (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy) - Sally Christie

I'm not even sure how I ended up with an ARC of this book. My reviews of the previous two novels weren't exactly glowing. After the end of the second novel, I had promised not to even bother with the final book in the trilogy. Well if I had a nickle for every broken promise, I'd own a lot more books. 


I was not blown away by the final installment of the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. The manner in which the author handled the French revolution and the demise of the nobility was rather well done. I actually found myself feeling sorry for a character. This is quite the accomplishment since most of Christie's leading ladies have been nothing more than brainless, foot-stomping, spoiled brats. The leading ladies in this novel are not much different, especially Madame Adelaide, daughter of Louis XV. The reader is constantly beat over the head with Madame Adelaide's arrogant internal dialogues. I get it. She's a princess. She was raised to believe she's better than everyone else. When one is reading about French princesses who spend most of their time feasting in the halls of Versailles, the arrogance is implied. There's no need to keep reminding me. 


Countess du Barry was once again portrayed as just another one of Louis XV brainless mistresses who cares more for shiny jewels and new clothes than whatever is going on in the world around them. However, her end was excellent writing. If the writer had applied that level of emotion and insight to all three of these novels, I would be recommending them until I was blue in the face. 

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review 2017-01-09 18:13
Synthesis, Story, The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov,Larissa Volokhonsky,Richard Pevear

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov doesn't lend itself to summary, it throws a lot at the reader and keeps you off balance. A summary would probably be more confusing than anything else. Depending on what you have seen or heard, the devil is involved and a cat somehow plays a significant role. Also Soviet Russia, and whomever those title characters are, which -- like in the story -- I won't get to until later. But I'd like to write about technique, because the way Bulgakov has put together this story is enough to recommend in itself.


So, the lot of it. To start, there are a lot of characters -- including a Nikanor Ivanovich, a Nikolai Ivanovich and an Ivan Nikolaevich none of any relation to the others -- and it takes a while to try to sort out who is important and who isn't. Indeed, the important characters show up pretty late. We meet Berlioz right away and spend much of the first 50 pages with him, but then he is dispatched with. We don't even meet Margarita until more than halfway through the book! This isn't a critique. As I've said, the way Bulgakov withholds information makes the book exciting, we don't know what to make of this devil, and everything proceeds with this air of menace, especially when it touches characters we actually care about.


Lending to that menace, the first 200 pages seem to take from Kafka as much as Goethe, who comes up frequently in the footnotes. Nobody called for the devil -- not intentionally anyhow -- and mostly people want to get away from him. The punishments seem arbitrary at first and are convoluted. The devil and his crew are not above threats of violence but they seem to prefer going through official channels. It's surprising that Bulgakov was able to publish, even if he leaves the most unsavory aspects of Soviet life merely implied. The point is, there's no evil bargain, the devil here is more trickster than tempter. 


The ensemble in The Master and Margarita is unlike others I have come across, like Anna Karenina or even The Corrections, in which individual characters or plots occupy distinct tracks. In some stories they kind of balloon, the characters start together then go off in different directions and finally collide again at the end. In others, say in Anna Karenina, they sort of orbit each other, Anna's story and Levin's don't seem to affect each other, though they do both serve certain thematic elements. 


The Master and Margarita makes sense more as one of those perspective statues that are assembled from junk but at the perfect angle create some cohesive image. Here, the devil roams around menacing various bureaucrats in what at times feels like a series of vignettes. One chapter is even called "Hapless Visitors" which just sounds like a bunch of unrelated stories. But the devil also links them, forming a center from which all these stories spring, and back to which they ultimately point us, before the design starts to bear out in Book 2. Saying he is the center seems a weird way to phrase things, but it would be wrong to say the story is about the devil. The perspective is usually tied to the people he encounters and the story does seem to belong to the Master, Margarita and Homeless than to Woland (the devil), but he is more present. He is what happens to the protagonists, and all of Moscow.


Seen from the end The Master and Margarita is a much more structured and complete novel than it sometimes feels while you're reading it, but you don't have to get there to enjoy it. The story is fun throughout, mischievous and funny, and melancholy enough to give it weight.


Four and a half stars. This feels a bit generous but I'm in a generous mood, and it's a book I would like to read again, which says a lot.


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text 2017-01-07 14:53
The Russia House: Reading progress update: I've read 161 out of 453 pages.
The Russia House (Penguin Modern Classics) - John le Carré

Joining the stream he let it carry him, not caring which way he went. By contrast with his determinedly contented mood the early food queues had a restless and unsettled look. The grim-suited labour heroes and war veterans, their breast-plates of medals jingling in the sunlight as they waded through the crowds, had an air of being late for wherever they were marching. Even their sloth seemed to have an air of protest. In the new climate, doing nothing was itself an act of opposition. Because by doing nothing we change nothing. And by changing nothing we hang on to what we understand, even if it is the bars of our own gaol.

(p. 149)

So good. Especially after I finished a re-read of Thunderball just yesterday. Just the right mix of thriller and satire.

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review 2017-01-01 22:31
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden - ARC review
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

Disclaimer: I received an ARC review copy from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

I devoured this book like I haven't devoured a novel in months. It feels like my soul was starved for this story, and now I just feel hollow. I miss it. I want to reread it already.

If you have been following me for a time, you may know my struggle with Russian literature (I tried to read Anna Karenina for three entire years). This is not Russian Lit™ but it feels like it. I can't exactly put my finger on it but this felt like every piece of Russian lit I've tried to read (but been completely unable to get more than halfway through). In contrast to literally every experience I've had with Russian lit, The Bear and the Nightingale was gripping. It held me in its teeth from page 1 and would not let go.

This was my last read of the year, finished an hour or two before midnight, and the perfect way to end the dumpster fire that was 2016. The Bear and the Nightingale was a good mix of honest, humorous, frightening, and fantastical. Vasya kicks ass and I love her and - drum roll please - she talks to horses. As soon as a girl talks to horses you have me. I'm sold.

Some parts are a little slow, which I know some people don't like and prefer to be whisked along from page to page on a whirlwind, but it fits the cadence of the story. It's beautifully written and flows really well. In closing, I'll share a couple of my favorite quotes, but keep in mind I'm reviewing from an ARC copy and this may change in the final version!

We do not speak to many, and the spirit of horses does not reveal himself to anyone. There is magic in your bones. You must reckon with it.


"All my life," [Vasya] said, "I have been told 'go' and 'come.' I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man's servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent got. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. [...]"
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review 2016-11-29 19:15
Who Is to Blame? A Russian Riddle by Jane Marlow
Who Is to Blame?: A Russian Riddle - Jane Marlow

The book is set in the 1800s before the emancipation of the serfs and follows Count Stepan Maximov and Elizaveta who is a peasant.

Elizaveta loves her childhood friend but they can’t marry because marrying your godparents’ child can’t happen. Instead, she has to marry a man she knows is a violent one and the marriage isn’t a happy one. But it seems like abusiveness kinda runs in Ermak’s family and Elizaveta’s sister-in-laws aren’t having any more luck in their lives.

Maximov’s lost their child and Stepan’s wife never got over her grief and it starts to affect their marriage too. Stepan struggles to run the estate, to find new ways to grow and develop it but new things takes time. In the latter part, we see more of Anton, the eldest Maximov son who spends most of his time drinking and playing cards.

I don’t really know what to say about this. I loved the book and was pleasantly surprised how good it was. It’s always hardest to write about a book you like… I just wanted to keep reading and wanting to know what happens next!

You can see that the author has done her research and there are lots of little details but it’s well written in the story.

We get to see how disconnected the nobility and the peasants were and had so little contact with each other. Nobility thought that the peasants should be thankful because they are being taken care of…. By working them to death yet they were seen as just lazy…

I wanted to slap Anton so many times that I’m not surprised that Stepan was so frustrated with him. He did change his ways a bit in the end but I would like to know if he manages to really change. But I think there is next book coming so I’m hoping we’ll see that.

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