August 30th, 2013

rose, doctor who

Books 4 and 5

I used to think I was the sort of person who didn't read romance novels, but every now and then I go on a spree. Actually, this is mostly the fault of a blog called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books which I occasionally binge-read because I love the way the bloggers talk and their frank reviews and silliness even though I’ve never even heard of most of the books they read. Actually my first adult-romance-binge (I mostly read YA) came from deciding that a Jennifer Crusie book they reviewed sounded interesting. Now I’ve read four or five Crusie novels and own at least three. I started out this narration because Book #4 and probably #6 represent another binge, but then I decided to take a look at SBTB because I haven’t been on in a while and there was a post about a Regency romance novella that was a free eBook and came recommended so...I figured why not? And that’s Book #5.

Book 4: I’ve Got Your Number
Author: Sophie Kinsella, 2012.
Genre: Chick-lit. Romance. Contemporary.
Other details: eBook.

This one was a lot of fun (and a lot of running away cringing - I don’t deal well with secondhand embarrassment). Poppy Wyatt is about to get married to a man she hasn’t known for very long, but she’s over the moon. Except for the fact that his family are all complete geniuses and she feels like an unwanted idiot around them. Oh, and she’s just lost her engagement ring - a priceless family heirloom.

During the search for her ring, her phone is stolen, and in another random coincidence, she spots a phone in a bin and takes it. It belonged to the ex-PA of Sam Roxton, who’s pretty high up in a consulting firm. Poppy convinces him to let her hold onto the phone, and through receiving, forwarding and snooping through his correspondence, she gets to know him. And the pair of them turn each others’ worlds inside out.

This is very much a rom-com in book form, but it’s a fun romp, clever, with a rather thrilling corporate intrigue subplot and plenty of room for the characters to examine each others’ shortcomings, their own shortcomings, and those of the people around them.

Book 5: Ruined by a Rake
Author: Erin Knightley, 2013.
Genre: Regency romance.
Other details: eBook.

Yes, I know. Groan at that title. I was actually expecting a much different breed of 'bad' from this book than what I got.

Eleanor Abbington is twenty-four years old and has very firmly decided that she doesn’t want to get married. She saw from her (now dead) parents’ abusive marriage just how marrying, especially for social/political gain, can ruin a woman’s life, and she relishes her independence. However, her uncle, the head of the family, has decided that he wants her married to further his political agendas. She has three options, basically: choose one of the three men he’s pointed out of her own volition (all old and boring, some of whom remind her of her father), have one chosen for her, or he can bring her impressionable seventeen-year-old sister home and have her married off.

And then her uncle’s step-son, Nicolas, returns home from his stint in the army. Eleanor and her family seem to have always lived with the uncle, and the uncle re-married when she was nine and Nick was seven. Nick and Eleanor have always had this Beatrice-Benedick sort of relationship - all sparring, all the time, with Eleanor at least barely able to admit that she’s sort of fond of him. (Nick, on the other hand, has been in love/lust with her forever).

This novella was such a frustrating experience for me. Somehow I got really invested in Eleanor and Nick as characters almost straight off. Emma was unexpected: a Regency heroine who genuinely doesn’t want to marry! Who’s not naive and has seen the nasty side of marriage! And Nick was unexpected as well - yes, rakish and muscular and handsome, but during the bits narrated by him, we see he has issues of his own, an insecurity he hides behind his brashness. Surely, I thought, we can slowly break through the sparring and find some real connection; surely, we won’t have a rushed-into, guaranteed happy ending.

[Spoiler (click to open)]
I was completely wrong on both counts and I’m so annoyed. Eleanor does see a bit of concern and sincerity from him, but otherwise, she still doesn’t know him much better at book’s end - and at book’s beginning, there’s definitely at least a fundamental misunderstanding between the two of them. It’s possible she knows more about him than she lets on - after all, they spent their childhood together, and he taught her how to fence - but if the author doesn’t tell us this, then it’s not worth anything in the story. During the almost-kiss, I was a bit annoyed by the distance her not really knowing him and just sort of being really attracted to him created; during the first actual kiss, I was put off by the apparently world-shaking loveliness of the kiss; and when she told him, “You have ruined me for any other man. You’ve ruined me for living the life I once enjoyed,” I would have thrown the book at the wall if it wasn’t on my phone.

I think there is nothing so aggravating as experiencing a story and sticking with it because you see those seeds of potential and so desperately want them to play out, but instead it just gets more and more trite and undeveloped and just plain crap.

I suppose in a sense I get what I paid for, but still. Ugh. The potential.

Book 154: Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Book 154: Back to Blood.
Author: Tom Wolfe, 2012.
Genre: Contemporary. Crime. Race. Politics. Art.
Other Details: Hardback. 704 pages.

As the police boat speeds across Miami’s Biscayne Bay, the scene is set for Officer Nestor Camacho’s great moment of heroism. Except that in this feverous melting pot of a city, Nestor's one act of heroism can be seen as an utter betrayal of his Cuban roots. As Nestor’s world disintegrates – his family disowns him, he can’t get a Cuban coffee without ugly stares, and his girlfriend Magdalena leaves him for her sex-addiction psychiatrist boss – his quest to right the wrongs brings him into contact with the full panorama of modern Miami. The Cuban mayor, a Yale-marinated journalist, the black police chief, a Haitian professor whose ambitions to be French are thwarted by his Creole-spouting son, the clueless baying art-buyers and an Anglo billionaire porn addict all come up for scrutiny in Tom Wolfe’s high-energy, scrupulous and hilarious reckoning with our times.. - synopsis from UK Publisher's website.

I'd be the first to admit this is a messy novel: messy yet in my opinion quite magnificent. Very much carrying the hallmarks of a classic Tom Wolfe novel, a writer who people seem to love or hate. I'm firmly on the love side of the equation and have found all his works that I have read to date memorable. Tom Wolfe has a very distinctive style, which owes a great deal to his early career as a journalist, so that the narrative feels raw and immediate as though he is an observer reporting on these people and events rather than sitting at his desk creating them.

Here, as in The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe explores the complex racial tensions of Miami's urban melting pot with little regard for political correctness and combines this with a subtle yet biting satire of class, wealth, sex, celebrity and the modern art market. Wolfe is very a very confident writer, strong in his opinions especially about art. This aspect was a strong point for me given my background in art history and familiarity with his scathing non-fiction on the subject. His views haven't softened with the years.

Despite its 700 page length Back to Blood proved a fast read as I was carried along by the power of its narrative. I admire Wolfe's writing and felt this was one of his best for its energy and perception about the clash of cultures. During my teenage and young adult years I lived in Miami and even though the cityscape has changed greatly since I left it was still recognisable.

The roots of these issues were present then as well as the ever expanding gulf between the have and have nots. As one of the novel's many character observes about the immigrant siltation: "I was talking to a woman about this the other day, a Haitian lady, and she says to me, ‘Dio, if you really want to understand Miami, you got to realize one thing first of all. In Miami, everybody hates everybody.’ ” It was a sobering observation for the character, the current Mayor of Miami, as well as for me as a reader and former Miami resident during a time that seems in retrospect much more innocent and willing to embrace the city's increasing cultural diversity.

Book #43: HHhH by Laurent Binet

The text on the back of Laurent Binet's debut book states: When you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up?

The book's title is an abbreviation of Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich), and tells the true story of a World War 2 operation to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo.

Lauren Binet takes a very unconventional approach to writing this by starting off talking about how he got interested in the story and the research he's doing into it, and the narrative is constantly intercut with Binet's comments about his research and his own personal feelings about what he is finding out.

The story that Binet tells starts off with him imagining Heydrich's childhood and what it must have been for him growing up before talking about the growth of the third reich and his place in it, talking about real events, but also speculating on how he imagines events taking place. At times the narrative gets quite harrowing, mostly because it talks about how Adolf Hitler ordered the killings of Jewish people in the concentration camps, though strangely there are a few moments that are quite amusing, not only because at times he portrays Heydrich as being somewhat daft, including a comment that he changed his first name to "Reinhardt" because it made him sound harder.

As the story progresses, he tells of how two Czechoslovakians were assigned with the task of assassinating Heydrich, and what happened. I noticed towards the end that Binet imagines that he is actually in the middle of the action, going as far as describing himself as limping along after a bomb blast at one point.

The book was translated by Sam Taylor from the original French, and I found this to be very compelling and that I wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. Overall, this is a fantastic debut novel for Laurent Binet.

Next book: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett