September 2011

Booking Through Thursday

1. What do you think of reading aloud/being read to? Does it bring back memories of your childhood?

I think it’s great! I listen a lot of audio books and sometimes I read to my niece.
Unfortunately, I have a lousy memory: I don’t remember being read to but I know that my parents read to me a lot. However, I do remember reading to my younger brother, but I read comics to him, not books: Tintin, Asterix, and Westerns.

2. Does this affect the way you feel about audio books?
Probably, yes.

3. Do you now have times when you read aloud or are read to?
I listen to a lot of audio books and read sometimes to my niece.

The first book in the second trilogy set in Carey’s fantasy world.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 943
Publisher: Warner Books

Imriel nó Montrève de la Courcel is the third person in line for the throne of Terre D’Ange. He’s also a thirteen year old boy who has experienced awful things and is trying to cope as best he can. He’s enjoying his time on the Montrève country side as Phèdre’s and Joscelin´s adopted son but his mother casts a long shadow on his life. Imriel’s mother, Melisande Shahrizai, is a master manipulator and one of the most famous traitors of Terre D’Ange. Imriel is trying very hard to be “good”; the opposite of his mother. He’s trying to keep his impulses in check, his sometimes sharp tongue included, and he tries to treat everyone kindly. But he has a lot of baggage: he was kidnapped and kept as slave before he was sold to a place of unspeakable evil. He saw and did things which could have broken anyone. Phèdre and Joscelin saved him.

The book starts with the news of Melisande’s escape. The Montrève household moves to the capital to discuss matters with the queen and prepare themselves against possible revenge. Imriel moves to the capital, too, and has to deal with the courtly life which he clearly despises. The Queen and her husband, the King of Alba, have two daughters. Sidoine, the elder, is destined to rule Terre D’Ange but some nobles don’t like the fact that she’s half-blooded on her father’s side and are trying to promote Imriel as the next king of Terre D’Ange because he’s “pure-blooded” D’Angeline. Sidonie’s younger sister Alais is still a child and Imriel loves her dearly as a sister.

Also, Imriel’s blood relatives want to get to know him. He was reared as a peasant so he never knew his family in the House Shahrizai. He’s afraid of them and doesn’t trust them at all.

Carey’s writing style is as lush and beautiful as ever but the subject matter is quite different. The story centers on Imriel’s inner struggles when he’s growing up and spans quite a few years. In a way, he tries to repay Phédre and Joscelin for rescuing and adopting him, and he also tries to be the opposite of his mother. He’s afraid of himself and he’s trying to suppress his darker side. This affects his sexuality too; he’s very uncomfortable with it at first. He wrestles with his own feelings and is often quite self-absorbed and brooding, which is understandable at his age and with his past.

Later in the book there are people plotting and scheming around Imriel and he’s always trying to catch up to it. He also makes great friends and some enemies. The book has a few sex scene which are integral to character development or the plot or both, but there’s no BDSM elements like in the previous books.

It’s been quite a while since I read the first trilogy and there are lot of reference to the events in the first three books. This is also understandable because Phédre and Joscelin are legendary figures, and so their exploits are told often. Some might be frustrated with the repetition but it fits Carey’s style.

I love Phédre and Joscelin, and it was great to see them alive and happy, and it was also great to see other characters from the previous books: queen Ysandra and her husband Drustan, for example. In fact, I got a yearning to read the first trilogy again. I didn’t like Imriel nearly as much as any of the familiar characters, though. In fact, I liked some of the new secondary characters more than him. Eamonn, the Prince of Dalriada, is a cheerful and carefree warrior who wants to learn and discusses philosophy just as eagerly as battle techniques. He and Imriel duel when they first meet but later become as close as brothers. Later in the book we meet Lucius who seems like another carefree nobleman fob on the outside but turns out to be quite a tormented man. I also rather liked Alais who, at the start of the book, is just a young girl who wants a puppy and grows into an adolescent who has to start worrying about her future far too young. Sidonie is a cool and collected young woman even when she’s just fourteen but I suspect that’s just a front that she has to keep up because she’s the Dauphine. I would have liked to see more of Brigitte, the Skaldi girl who is studying in the university in Tiberium. She’s opinionated, stubborn, and fierce.

However, the plot is very slow compared to the previous books. Imriel’s growth pains aren’t as interesting as Phédre’s and Joscelin´s adventures. However, the latter third of the book is quite intense and there are heartbreaking moments in it, too.

I really enjoyed the latter half of the book which is set in Tiberium, this universe’s Rome. Imriel enrolls into university and studies under Master Piero who takes his class outside the university lecture halls and into the real world, and is of course thought to be mad by the other professors. Tiberium is quite close to the old Rome in culture; women can’t inherit, submissive gays are barely tolerated, women have to monogamous instead of taking on lovers openly, like in Terre D’Ange. Imriel seems to fit in quickly, though. Of course, as a man the restrictions don’t really apply to him. And of course, I prefer the Terre D’Ange culture where all forms of consensual love are sacred and nobody is made to feel shame or guilt for what they may desire.

I enjoyed the book but not as much as the previous ones.

Today, in the Top Ten Tuesdays the topic is Top Ten books I want to reread.

For once, I don’t have an awfully lot of these. 🙂

1, Kushiel’s Dart and the two sequels by Jacqueline Carey
I’m currently reading Kushiel’s Scion, the first book in the second trilogy, and it has a lot of references to the first books. I read them before I had a blog so I haven’t even gushed about them. Unfortunately, each of them is over 900 pages long.

2, The Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
One of only two series I reread regularly. They’ve always a joy to read again, or in my case relisten.

3, The Phoenix Guard by Steven Brust
I recently read his latest book, Tiassa, which has a lot of the same characters as this one.

4, Dark Mirror by Diane Duane
This is a Star Trek: The Next Generation book set in the Mirror Universe. I love well done alternative universes and this is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

5, The Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My favorites from childhood. These are quite slim books so I might reread them soon.

6, The Black Stallion books
Another nostalgia trip. I’ve actually read only three of them because the translations were discontinued and I’ve been curious about the rest of the series.

7, The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
I read these when they first came out and I think they could benefit from a back-to-back reading.

But I’ve got so many new books to read that I think this well have to wait for a while longer.

Today the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life is Favorite Paranormal Races other than Vampires and Werewolves.

I have two clear favorites:

1, Witches and Wizards
Ever since Willow became a witch in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, witches have been a favorite of mine. Granted, they aren’t usually a separate race.

2, Faeries
Various fae are interesting to follow from Jenks the Pixie to the half Daoine Sidhe Toby Daye.

But I’ve also enjoyed reading about these creatures:
3, The Djinn
From Caine’s Weather Warden series.

4, Demons
The scheming bureaucrats from Liz Williams’ Chen series are highly entertaining.

5, Ghosts

The first in a series of historical adventure novels.

Publication year: 1905
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1935
Format: Audio
Publisher of the audio translation: Otava
Narrator: Vesa Mäkelä
Translator: Armida Enckell
Running Time: 6 hrs, 5 double sided cassettes

The book is set in 1792, during the French Revolution. The nobles are fleeing France to avoid the guillotine and a mysterious cabal of English noblemen called the Scarlet Pimpernel is helping them. Often the daring leader of the group himself is in disguise and helping the hapless nobles, mostly women and children.

However, the main character of the book is a young noblewoman Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a celebrated French beauty who is married to English Lord Percy Blakeney. She is accused of giving away French nobles to the French police and the rescued French nobles shun her. This was mostly an accident but nobody will give her the time to explain. The rumours don’t seem to affect her standing in England, where she’s in the center of society.

However, Marguerite’s marriage is in trouble. She loves Percy but unfortunately, Percy found out that she inadvertinately caused the Marquis de St. Cyr and his two sons to be killed. Ever since Percy has been distant towards his wife. Marguerite has likewise become disillusioned by Percy’s lazy behaviour.

Meanwhile, Citizen Chauvelin has come to England in order to find out who is the leader of the Scarlet Pimpernel and to catch him. Chauvelin blackmails Marguerite to find out who the mysterious leader is. Chauvelin’s agents have stolen a letter that implicates that Marguerite’s beloved brother Armand is part of the Scarlet Pimpernel society. Marguerite has no choice but to agree.

The plot structure is somewhat different than is usual to modern novels. The main character Marguerite is first seen in Chapter 4 and the other characters discuss about her before she is introduced. The start of Chapter 5 is the narrator telling us about Marguerite’s background and character. The previous chapters are spent telling about the circumstances in France and about Scarlet Pimpernel’s brave exploits until they focus on a small tavern where we meet a group of people, Marguerite among them.

We are told that Marguerite is the smartest woman in Europe in addition to being wealthy and beautiful. When Chauvelin blackmails her, she agrees to help him but secretly she is always looking for a way to get rid of the police officer without endangering her brother. She’s very loyal and quite brave, and when she finds out that her husband is in danger, she disguises herself and follows him.

Lord Percy is outwardly a lazy dandy but even in conversation he’s quick to maintain that image and to deflect any chances of heroism or dueling. He maintains his cover so well that even his wife doesn’t know him. He feels that he can’t trust Marguerite.

Chauvelin could have been just doing his duty to his country but he’s depicted as a cruel and viscous man who is hates the Scarlet Pimpernel especially and often uses underhanded techniques to capture him. The French as also described as villainous because they want to execute innocent children who had had the misfortune to be born noble.

The plot is fast-paced and has unexpected twists. It centers on spying and intrigue rather than violence. Once again there was surprisingly small amount of misogyny in the book, compared to some modern books. Unfortunately, it had quite a lot of antisemitism, describing a Jewish character awfully and the other characters felt free to treat him very badly.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the translation. I fully admit that it could be because the translation was done in 1935 and it has simply gotten old. Still, some idioms are translated literally and I found some of the inflections strange. Also, both he and she are translated “hän”. This is, of course, literally correct but makes listening the text a bit difficult at times. Most of the time it’s possible to deduce from the surrounding context just who is doing or saying something to whom. However, these days it’s customary to change the he/she to a name or to woman/man to make the text make coherent to Finns.

However, I enjoyed the story a lot and I’m already listening to the next translation.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you carry books with you when you’re out and about in the world?

And, do you ever try to hide the covers?

Yes, I read in trains and buses.
No, I don’t hide the covers. If other people are so small-minded that they want to judge me based on a cover of a book I’m reading, that’s their problem. However, I live in Finland and it’s quite uncommon for people to start talking to total strangers.

The second fantasy book set into Chalion.

Publication year: 2003
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Kate Reading
Running Time: 16 hrs and 22 minutes

PoS is one of my favorite fantasy books but I’ll try not to squee too much. 🙂

PoS is set about three years after the end of Curse of Chalion but it’s not strictly necessary to read Curse first. However, you’ll get more out of the characters and the setting if you read Curse first. And of course, PoS spoils Curse mercilessly.

Ista is pretty much a unique main character in fantasy, or I’ve never encountered anyone like her. She’s an adult woman, and a mother of an adult woman, and a grandmother, and according to tradition her life is pretty much over and she should just wait for death, quietly. She’s a widow, a dowager royina (a queen), who had lived under a curse for decades and so was considered mad. People close to her aren’t convinced that she’s gotten better and they still want to protect her, especially from herself. During her years of madness she lived in Valenda, under the care of her mother who was a formidable woman and a guardian of her daughter.

Now, Ista’s mother is dead and Ista grows restless in the suffocation of the castle and the older waiting women who want everything to continue as it had before. Ista is also afraid the people still think that she’s mad and in anxiety she simply walks away in her silk slippers. The castle warden and some guards fetch her back but she has time to meet a rather eclectic group of people on a pilgrimage and she decides to do that. The elderly people around her try to make is huge affair but she manages to escape with a small group of young people: the courier girl Liss as Ista’s lady in waiting, a group of soldiers from the Daughter’s Order as protection, and by Cabon, a divine of the Bastard’s Order, as a spiritual adviser.

They journey for a while until they are attacked by a bear which turns out to be possessed by a demon. The demon jumps into one of Ista’s protectors and shortly after, the group is attacked by group of soldiers. They are from Roknari, a neighboring country where the servitors of Bastard are considered demon worshipers, and tortured and killed.

The start is pretty slow. Ista and her entourage journey quite a while until something “happens” in the traditional sense. However, the payoff is very much worth it. PoS is a character driven story where things often turn out to be different than what you can see at first glance.

Also, theology is actually important to the people and the plot. The five gods in this setting are everywhere; they each have a season, a color, professions, and times of people’s lives dedicated to them. For example, the Father’s season is winter and he governs over male parents, justice, and law, and his colors are gray and black while the Bastard is the god of things that are out of season, and his color is white. A couple of gods make appearance in the book. However, they can’t influence anything directly; but have to work through people and animals so they are quite limited.

The cast of characters is pretty diverse. Ista herself is still bearing a lot of guilt for the things she has done in the past. She is bitter towards the gods that they didn’t make things clearer but she also blames herself for being too stupid to understand. She has a grim sense of humor.

Ista appropriated Liss, the courier girl, as her lady in waiting. Liss is a straight forward country girl. She’s often uncomfortable with other nobles but not around Ista. Liss is honest and learns quickly. She loves horses and riding, of course, and is very good at her job. Ista very much appreciates Liss down-to-earth attitude after dealing with the uptight elderly nobles for decades. Even though a courier seems to be an uncommon profession for a woman, nobody suggests that it’s not proper.

The dy Gura brothers are the leaders of the small soldier group. They are also honest and down-to-earth men and they were minor characters in the Curse of Chalion.

Dy Cabon is a more complex character. He’s a bastard but his noble father acknowledged him and gave him a good education. He’s obese but, for once, he isn’t made a villain or a humorous stick figure. Instead, he tries very hard to give Ista advice when her strange dreams start.

Later we meet another pair of brothers: Lord Arhys and his half-brother Lord Illvin. Arhys is the handsome master of Castle Porifors who, it seems at first glance, to get everything he wants. However, he spent his boyhood trying to please an absent father who died before Arhys could impress him so Arhys couldn’t get what he most wanted in life. Illvin grew up in his brother’s shadow but instead of hating Arhys, he loves Arhys dearly and they are quite close. They are both experienced soldiers.

I rather enjoyed the pilgrimage group at the start. They’re quite a colorful collection of people. I believe their inspirations were the characters in Chaucer’s Cantebury Tales.

The writing is lush and beautiful, and the book has some beautiful lines. “She knew what she feared: to be locked up in some dark, narrow place by people who loved her. An enemy might drop his guard, weary of his task, turn his back. Love would never falter.”

“The gods and I are not on speaking terms.”

“Anyone who desires to see the gods face-to-face is a great fool, thought Ista. Although that was not an impediment in her experience.”

My newest review: Marie Brennan’s A Star Shall Fall.

Great historical fantasy and the third book in the Onyx Court series.

494 pages so I’m adding this book to my Chunkster challenge.

The second Hellboy animated movie.

I enjoyed the first movie but this one I liked a lot more. Essentially, it has two story lines: one of them follows the team of Hellboy, Liz Sherman, Abe Sabien, Professor Bruttenholm, and Sydney Leach when they investigate a house for a possible haunting. The house has been recently bought by Oliver Trumbolt, a millionaire who wants to make it tourist attraction. The BPRD team thinks that their presence is just a PR stunt. Except for the Professor who insisted on joining the team.

The second storyline starts in 1939, the young Professor and a local Transylvanian team are hunting Erzebet Ondrushko who is not just a vampire but also Goddess Hecate’s high priestess. The professor and the local priest are the only ones of the team who survive. The story moves back in time through out the movie. This team resembled somewhat of the team in Dracula except that it contained a priest. Otherwise, there’s a young bride who is the victim of the vampire and her groom, and the knowledgeable outsider. The constable might be mapped to Lord Godalming.

Ondrusko’s loyal minions, two very short old women with sharp teeth, are calling her back to unlife at the manor, of course. The Professor is haunted by his past but is reluctant to reveal more until he’s sure.

The story is quite intense and action packed. The BPRD are an experienced team who rely on each other and clearly know each other well. Leach is the new character who is on his first field assignment but he isn’t a screw up, either, and the other characters don’t pick on him as the newbie. The Professor even gets some character development and it was great to see how the other team members tried to protect him.

The team fights ghosts and there’s an even epic fight with Hecate herself. At the end, there are pretty clear clues to Hellboy’s real identity and the “Right Hand of Doom” is mentioned. I think they planned to have more Hellboy animated movies. A pity that didn’t happen.

In the extras, there’s a short film called Iron Shoes. In another clip the second story has been put together in a chronological order.

A historical mystery story where the detective is Dante Alighieri.

Original title: I delitti del mosaico
Publication year: 2004
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 331
The translation’s publisher: Otava
Translator: Leena Taavitsainen-Petäjä
Publication year of the translation: 2006

It’s June 1300 in Florence and Dante Alighieri is suffering from a horrible headache. The Bargello, a chief of the City Guard, comes to meet Dante because of horrible crime. Dante is a prior of the city so he agrees to go to scene of the crime, which is an abandoned monastery outside Florence. The victim has been murdered in such a gruesome way that he hasn’t been identified yet. It seems that the victim was a master mosaic artist who has come especially from Rome to build a mosaic into the church which is going to be rebuilt as an academy for learned men. The artist had been suffocated with quicklime, one of his main tools.

Dante is intrigued by the crime and starts to investigate. On his way back home, he stumbles to an apothecary to get help to his growing migraine. In addition to a new remedy, he finds out that the apothecary and the master mosaic artist where both members of a group of learned men who meet in an ill-reputed tavern. They call themselves the Third Heaven. Dante invites himself into the next meeting and meets a group of eclectic men who have all come recently from Rome.

14th century Florence is full of intrigue; the Guelphs and the Ghibellines are ready to fight for the fate of the city and the Pope has sent an emissary to the city. Dante is right in the middle of it as a prior; he supports the Ghibellines who want the Holy Roman Emperor to have all the Earthly power instead of the Pope, and he isn’t shy about it.

As historical story, the book succeed fairly well; the people behave and talk as they might have. Dante is a hot headed man who is very likely to start arguing with, well, anyone. He’s equally good at arguing about astrology, the Pope’s power, or what the murder’s motive might have been. Indeed, there are lengthy discussions about astrology and it’s effect to the justice system, and about various religious topics. I found some of them fascinating. The Third Heaven group also discusses love a lot, especially for seemingly unattached men whose only interaction with women is through whores. Unfortunately, all of this means time away from the mystery.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t work very well as a mystery. More time is dedicated to the various current day subplots than the mystery itself. There are a lot of suspects but I, at least, thought that I didn’t know enough about the victim or the suspects to be able to deduce the murderer.

Also, Dante isn’t a likable character. He’s arrogant and clearly very privileged man. He constantly mocks pretty much everyone else around him: the other priors, the guards, the poor, the beggars, women, especially priests. He doesn’t seem to have any friends. He’s hot tempered, and quick to grab his dagger or bellow. I also found it somewhat strange that his family, wife and presumably kids, are only mentioned once in the whole book and they don’t appear. He also thinks that he is the only logical man around; yet, his logic is based on previous authorities and common knowledge more than facts.

The book has only one significant female character who is a tavern dancer and whom Dante constantly calls a slut in his mind. She’s extremely sensual and strikingly beautiful (of course, insert an eye roll here) and all of the men drool over her pretty much all the time, Dante especially. There is an air of misogyny in the story but that is, alas, probably consistent with the times.

All in all, this was a pretty good glimpse at Florence at the time but, for me at least, it didn’t really work as a mystery.

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