Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Hunting

Bout of Books
 
It’s the first day of Bout of Books 11.0 and The Book Monsters is hosting Book Scavenger Hunt.

1. A Book that begins with “B”  (for Bout of Books!): Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

Ballad

2. A book that has been made into a movie/tv show: Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks, but I liked the film better. (What? I know!)

Charlotte Gray

3. A series you love: Immortals After Dark by Kresley Cole

IAD collage

And, that’s it. All god things are three, so let’s stop there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Heart of the Lion (Plantagenet Saga #3) by Jean Plaidy

The Heart of the Lion (Plantagenet Saga, #3)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): At the age of thirty-two, Richard the Lionheart has finally succeeded Henry II to the English throne. And, against his father's wishes, he intends to make Berengaria, daughter of the King of Navarre, his Queen. But first he must fulfil his vow to his country to win back Jerusalem for the Christian world. Leaving England to begin his crusade, Richard's kingdom is left in the hands of his brother, John, who casts covetous eyes on the crown, and his sister, Joanna, who is willing to defy even a king.

MY OPINION:

Richard the Lionhearted is often romanticised in fiction. However, Plaidy portrays him in a much more realistic way, with his good and bad qualities. The latter are above all his naivety and the notorious Plantagenet temper and are to blame for some of his mistakes that ultimately lead to his downfall.

Richard begins his reign by setting off on a crusade, the hardships and trials of which Plaidy leaves to a great extent unembellished. For his good looks, charm, bravery, justice and integrity he is loved by everyone – that is, everyone except Leopold of Austria.

Yet, what permeates his entire story is a great friendship (or, dare I say, epic love) between him and Philip the II of France, always mixed with hatred between the two rival kings.

Plaidy presents all points of views, even those of yet again pushed aside women: most importantly, Richard’s wife and Queen Berengaria and his sister Joanna.

The book, of course, ends in tragedy and death (which I don’t believe is a spoiler), not just for Richard, but for England, left at the mercy of his brother John, as Richard’s preoccupation with wars and male friendships and his neglect of poor Berengaria has left him heirless.

Thus, what I have to look forward in Book 4 is the rein of violence and oppression of the erratic, self-serving, profligate king John.

4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: The Heart of the Lion is a well fictionalised tale of one of the most renown kings in the English history, Richard the I.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Bout of Books 11.0 Sign Up & Goals

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

It’s almost Bout of Books time again!

MY GOALS:

I’m still trying to not over-stress myself since this is supposed to be fun, so my goals are once again minimalistic:

  • read every day & finish/read 1 book
  • participate in at least one challenge
  • maybe participate in one twitter chat (hopefully)
  • try to be a little social either on twitter or visiting & commenting on other blogs

Anything of this will be a success.

Books to select from:

  • The Prince of Darkness by Jean Plaidy
  • Grave Suprise by Charlaine Harris
  • Deathless by Catharine M. Valente
  • Loki by Mike Vasich
  • and a few more

I’ll be updating on Twitter (@StrangeNewWords), since that is less time-consuming and I’ll write a wrap-up posts in the end.

Are you in? What are your goals?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grave Sight (Harper Connelly #1) by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Harper Connolly is honest, ethical and loyal - and ever since a bolt of lightening zapped her on the head, she's had an extra-special talent: she can find dead people. It's not a common-or-garden job. Some people find Harper's talent useful and fascinating, but she's getting used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. She's become an expert at getting in, getting paid and getting out, fast.

When Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver, travel to the Ozarks to find a local teenager, missing, believed dead, they discover that someone is willing to go to great lengths to bury a secret. Before long Tolliver's locked away on trumped-up charges and Harper's fighting for her own life.

MY OPINION:

I read Grave Sight very fast, so it must have been good. It definitely held my attention, probably because there was always something about to happen next and I was hardly able to put it down.

Most of the characters are sort-of roughly sketched, enough to give them personality and distinction, but not exploring them in-depth.

Harper, the main protagonist, is an exception. She is quite well explored, so the reader gets a good understanding of what shaped her and how she has been dealing with her past as well as  the present. I didn’t love her, but I liked her. Perhaps it was because she doesn’t let her issues defeat her, she struggles through them and – for the lack of a better word – lives.

Harper’s brother Tolliver is mostly just a shell, an extension of Harper, and their co-dependent relationship is somewhat annoying. I understand why it is the way it is, but still something was missing, some bit of information or evolvement. Perhaps we will get that in the second book.

The book is written in the first person point of view, which tends to be melodramatic, but that is not the case in Grave Sight. The only thing bothering me was the frequent repetition of how much people frown upon Harper’s way of earning her living.

Therefore, looking at the individual elements, Grave Sight feels like a 3-star book, but taking into account how much it hooked me, it deserves 4 stars. Especially because I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series.

3,5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you like a suspenseful story, with elements of crime novel mixed with a touch of paranormal, this fast and easy read is worth trying. Actually, I think Grave Sight is a perfect summer read.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Revolt of the Eaglets (Plantagenet Saga #2) by Jean Plaidy

The Revolt of the Eaglets (Plantagenet Saga, #2)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): News of Thomas a Becket's martyrdom has spread throughout Christendom and the blame is laid at the feet of Henry Plantagenet, King of England. Two years later, with Becket canonised, Henry's position is precarious: punished at the Pope's insistence for his part in Becket's death, he now also has an enemy in his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, after her discovery of his longstanding infidelity with Rosamund Clifford. Eleanor is determined to seek vengeance, so, with King Philip of France, she encourages her sons to conspire, both against their father and each other. Much embattled, the old eagle Henry struggles to fend off both rebellion and the plots of his aggressively circling offspring...

MY OPINION:

There are several reasons I liked The Revolt of the Eaglets better than The Plantagenet Prelude. 

Firstly, it seemed better written to me, or maybe I just got used to Plaidy’s simplistic style for this saga.

Secondly, as much as I usually root for female characters’ presence in fiction, I think Eleanor’s absence for the most part of the book turned out for the good. When she did appear I liked her better, perhaps because we could then really see the gist of her character. I disapproved of her pitting her sons against Henry and each other, but on the other hand I understood her reasons for acting in such way, and I couldn’t help but admire her resilience and ability to adapt to circumstances and make the best out of them and still find a way to scheme and try to get her way (and succeed).

Thirdly, despite Henry’s many faults, it was captivating to watch him manoeuver between various sides and demands and most of the time manage to get himself out of precarious positions, even if by questionable means (lying, going back on his word, manipulating, etc.) And I felt a little sorry for him wanting to be loved by the sons who hated him, though he had kind of brought that hatred upon himself and though he was a fool (and a willing one at that) to turn a blind eye where John was concerned due to that longing of his for the love of at least one of his sons.

At least Henry’s daughters seemed all right, although the book barely mentioned them, apart from Matilda and Joanna. After all, women were a lot of times only chess pieces, means for making alliances, expanding territories and buying peace. Sad and frustrating, but historically accurate.

Finally, I liked the sense of the author’s sarcastic opinion about the historical events and figures she presents. It appears in subtle, faint undertones in many spots, and I may have just imagined it, but I it gave the book a bit of a special flavour.

Overall, The Revolt of the Eaglets was a gripping historical read, and it convinced me to read more of The Plantagenet Saga. Actually, I can’t wait to start next book, The Heart of the Lion.

4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you are looking for an unembellished presentation of history, Plaidy’s works definitely qualify as such, and The Revolt of the Eaglets is no exception.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cat Diary (25): Conquests, Idleness and Supreme Reign

This is an occasional Sunday feature where my cat, pardon, Her Majesty the Cat, offers her more or less gracious insight into my (and her) life.

Hello, dear blogging friends of my maid, whom you know as Jo,

Have you missed me?

I have decided to bestow on you the honour of explaining to you the reasons for my lengthy absence. As you may know, ruling is a hard and time-consuming job. It has especially been so, since I had had it and decided that it was high time to take a complete and irrefutable control of my kingdom, that is, the palace we live in, also known as “Jo’s” apartment. (Jo will lie and say I have always been fully in charge, don’t listen to her.)

Thus, I have little by little conquered all the last spots I had graciously let Jo “ban” me from. Of course, after all that conquering I deserved to rest a little on my conquests and ascertain my rights to them.

Resting

And Jo calls this me being lazy. Lazy! I beg your pardon, who do you think watches over her laptop when she leaves it just about anywhere (on the couch), or keeps company to her books, or checks the underside of the dining table in case it would need some repairs, or regularly inspects all the nooks and crannies for dust? Without my supervision this place would fall apart.

Baby sitting Jo's writing things(Apparently this is the only proof of my good deeds, because I am supposedly not still enough to take good pictures most of the time. Hmm.)

Phew!

Now all this bragging has tired me out. I think I need another rest. Have one yourselves as well, or even better, a vacation, and enjoy it.

I’ll update soon (or when Jo feels like it).

Until then,

P.S.: Jo says this whole post is an excuse to show off my prettiness. She might be right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Second Sight (The Arcane Society #1) by Amanda Quick

Second Sight (Arcane Society, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Her career as a fashionable photographer catering to society's elite has enabled Venetia Jones to provide a comfortable living for her brother, sister and elderly aunt. But, thanks to her psychic ability, disaster looms around the corner.

MY OPINION:

All of Amanda Quick’s romances follow basically the same pattern, which gets tedious. However, since I hadn’t read one of her books in a long time, I enjoyed this one more than I had expected.

Second Sight is no exception to Quick’s trademark writing as far as romance is concerned – by the way, intimate scenes are not her strong point – as it is quite clich├ęd and predictable, both plot- and characters-wise.

Yet, with a touch of suspense, mystery and sort-of paranormal, the story kept me intrigued throughout the book and I liked the characters well enough, though my favourite was, rather than one of the main protagonists, Edward, Venetia’s younger brother, who unwittingly spilled family secrets and thus prevented those silly misunderstandings between ‘fated’ lovers which tend to occur in romance and which I detest.

Hence, Second Sight was a fast and easy read: something entertaining (I laughed a few times), undemanding and not-upsetting, but still interesting – just what I needed at the time.

3 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you are looking for a nice light summer read you can relax with and rest your mind, Second Sight might just be it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Fall of Arthur by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fall of ArthurSUMMARY (from Goodreads): The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere's infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred's rebels and foreign mercenaries.

Powerful, passionate and filled with vivid imagery, The Fall of Arthurreveals Tolkien's gift for storytelling at its brilliant best. Originally composed by J.R.R. Tolkien in the 1930s, this work was set aside for The Hobbit and lay untouched for 80 years.

Now it has been edited for publication by Tolkien's son, Christopher, who contributes three illuminating essays that explore the literary world of King Arthur, reveal the deeper meaning of the verses and the painstaking work that his father applied to bring it to a finished form, and the intriguing links between The Fall of Arthur and his greatest creation, Middle-earth.

MY OPINION:

Anyone expecting The Fall of Arthur to be an epic story dealing with Arthurian legends, would be disappointed, as The Fall of Arthur is only Tolkien’s unfinished attempt at his own retelling of the legend of King Arthur.

Tolkien’s poem, written in a form that more or less resembles the Old English alliterative verse, is only about 40 pages long. The rest belongs to Christopher Tolkien’s explanation of his father’s possible sources for the poem as well as his writing process and finally an excerpt from Tolkien's lecture on alliterative verse.

The poem itself, though beautifully crafted, is a clear evidence of Tolkien’s dwindling interest in it, or perhaps running out of time for finishing and editing it, as the beginning is clearly better done, especially in terms of the rules of alliterative verse, than the end. Yet, even in such an unfinished state, the poem is still another proof of Tolkien’s genius.

The rest of the book, with speculations on sourcing and development of the poem, may be of no interest to people only looking for a story, or may seem boring, as its value is above all meta-linguistic and meta-literary. However, to me – from a writer’s point of view – it was not only interesting, but also inspiring to see a glimpse of Tolkien’s writing process and his approach to it, both concerning this particular work as writing in general.

Hence, The Fall of Arthur was a fascinating read, and I enjoyed it very much.

4 stars
RECOMMENDATION:
The Fall of Arthur is largely a non-fictional, analytical read, and as such quite demanding but intriguing. However, it might be a disappointment if you just want a good story.  

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