Friday, April 08, 2016

Persuasion by Jane Austen

PersuasionPersuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It took me a while but I finished my first Jane Austen novel read! Apparently this was her last novel she wrote. My advice to Jane Austen book newbies, don't start with this one. If you like the movies and were drawn in by the romance between Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot, you will find that this isn't quite the focus on the novel. Instead it's about society and the way that people behave as influenced by society and others around them. Anne believed and trusted her dear friend Mrs. Russell when she advised against marrying Captain Wentworth. He was of 'low birth' and had not yet made his fortune. Out of fear, she broke off her relationship with him, and for eight years nursed a broken heart. In that time, she has seen what she rejected him for, and it has not made her happy. But when he returns, she realizes that her love for him never died.

I did enjoy the ending very much. It's a good payoff for sticking this book out. I found the writing descriptions a bit tedious and it didn't seem like Anne and Wentworth were hardly together much. Instead, we see Anne watch life pass her by, stuck with her pompous, ungrateful father who has pretty much spent their money so they can't afford to live in their house anymore. Her father and two sisters are obnoxious people, and I got this feeling of Anne living a life of quiet desperation, acceding her needs and wants to the people around her. She has had eight long years to repent her decision. When Wentworth comes back, he seems to have moved on from Anne and actually seems to dislike her (in a polite kind of way). Anne can't hold that against him, since she brought it on herself (by rejecting him) in her mind. But it hurts because he's still the man she loves.

When she meets Mr. Elliot (her cousin), she thinks he's a nice guy and he seems to have a good reputation, and is well-liked. But this is another lesson about appearances being deceiving.

Far be it for me to criticize a great author of her times, but I felt that this book was tedious in its narrative style. Especially Sir Walter (Anne's father)'s long monologues about how superior he is to everyone else, and with his sycophantic daughter Elizabeth eagerly agreeing, not to mention their (and her youngest sister Mary's) endless social climbing efforts, and Anne suffering it all in in silence. The story really gets interesting when Anne meets some of Wentworth's fellow captain friends, and her interactions with them. At the time, I wished that she was actually spending more time with Wentworth, but even as written, this was when I became emotionally connected to the story in a way that I was not before.

I think it's all about expectation. One who has seen the movies expects a straightforward romance, but this is more of a book about society and choices. The persuasion in the title refers to the fact that Anne was persuaded to make a decision that she later bitterly repented. It could also be about how people are persuaded too easily by appearance or what's on the surface or going along with the crowd.

I found Anne to be sympathetic and likeable. Eminently good-hearted, which makes her rejection of Wentworth really just a common and forgivable flaw that any young, inexperienced girl might make. The fact that the years have matured her and she has learned what is important in life makes her more sympathetic. While Wentworth is not friendly to her most of the book (often he ignores her and seems to spurn her), she doesn't hold it against him.

Wentworth's actions don't reveal much of what he's thinking. I think the major weight of his character is revealed through the high level of regard that Anne continues to hold him in, and the respect that his fellow mariners, friends and family have for him. As time progresses, he seems to warm to Anne, and you get the impression he isn't indifferent to her. His letter was wonderful and was definitely a payoff for hanging on and finishing this book. Wentworth is moved by Anne comments to his friend (that he overheard) and it gives him the courage to admit his feelings for her. It is understandable that he is slow to risk being hurt again, in that he was rejected once by her. In the end, the reader cannot be angry at Wentworth either.

This book has no true villains per se, but it shows that society different kinds of people, and there is a morale in that one must be careful what they assume about others, because the surface rarely exposes what's underneath if someone is skilled at playing the game. I think if the ending wasn't satisfying, I would have been much more disappointed in this book.

I couldn't give this more than 3.5 stars because of the plodding pace. Again, it's definitely a matter of expectations. I love the movie with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones, so I think my expectations were a bit too high.

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Friday, April 01, 2016

The Vengeful Groom by Sara Wood

The Vengeful Groom (Harlequin Presents, No 1692)The Vengeful Groom by Sara Wood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a good book for melodrama. Gio and Tina's passionate relationship became one of passionate hate due to a terrible accident and misunderstanding that ended with him in prison for vehicular manslaughter. Tina testified against him, and it ruined Gio's life. But Tina thought she was justified. When Gio returns years later, he wants to reclaim his relationship with his mother, who repudiated him, and to get revenge on Tina. He plans to use Tina to do both.

While Tina had good reasons for what she did, I always struggle with characters who were supposedly deeply in love, but are unable to give someone the benefit of the doubt or at least give that person the chance to defend themselves. I think Tina's insecurity over their past relationship (believing he was just using her while dating a more socially acceptable girl in town) factored heavily in her willingness to believe the worst about Gio.

This wasn't a badly written book. I just got tired of the emotional ups and down and the fact that they didn't actually talk things out. Then, all of a sudden, Tina decided she didn't believe Gio was guilty. Why did it take that long? I felt sorry for Gio for how everyone turned their back on him so easily. No one likes to believe that people who love them could do that.

Okay if you want a lot of drama and back and forth in place of talking things out.

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The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician KingThe Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although it wasn't a perfect book, this is a worthy follow-up to The Magicians. There is advancement in Quentin's story, and he's actually growing up and being less of a putz. I did like Quentin more in this book, but he'll never be a favorite hero of mine. Actually, none of the lead characters are especially likable, to be honest. Julia has more of a POV in this book, and I found that I had a violent dislike for her in some aspects of the story, and mild sense of sympathy in the others. Overall, I will never be a big fan of her.

One of my big problems with Julia is that she continued to blame Quentin for her misfortunes and was unwilling to accept any fault for her own choices. Yes, she suffered from depression, but that shouldn't be an excuse to abuse and hate others who don't measure up to overweening sense of superiority. Yes, he should have spoken up for her so she could get another chance at Brakebills, but it was her fault she didn't take her exam seriously. Julia has a sense of mental superiority and a general antipathy for people that I found off-putting. She might be extremely intelligent and had become a top level magician (admittedly making huge sacrifices for that), but she didn't seem to learn how to treat others with respect. Having said that, what she suffered was beyond horrible, even if, in a strange way, it helped her to achieve what she wanted. In the end, it turned out that she gave up everything for something that turned out not to be the path to true happiness. And in a strange way, Quentin turns out to be a true friend to her in a way that she never was to him.

Grossman is a very good writer. His imagery and descriptive flare is incredible. I feel that he suffers in writing characters that are sympathetic. It's all and good to keep a reader reading because of witticisms and clever ideas, along with entrancing imagery, but many people read books because want a hero to root for. Quentin did become more of what I consider a hero, but he has some negative traits that make his armor look dull. Julia has a personality that's more like the Wicked Witch than Dorothy. How about a happy medium?

This series is not for readers who find bad language and who get offended at an acerbic and hypercritical view at traditional values. As with the first book, attitude that anything goes as far as sex and drinking and doing drugs can be hard to swallow. Also that mental superiority of the characters gets pretty old.

Why do I keep reading these books? Because I am in love with contemporary fantasy, and Grossman has a very interesting point of view on that subject. The vantage point of the hedge magicians' world was highly fascinating. Grossman takes the world-building to the next level without the narrow confines of the Brakebills system, and he doesn't limit the setting to good old Fillory, which was nice. His explanation for mythical creatures in the modern, non-magical world was a nice touch.

I wasn't too fond of the direction he took with investigating paganism as a way to achieve a higher level of magical ability and that event that resulted was really hard to read (or in my case listen to). Some readers who have an issue with rape will want to be very careful with this book. I question was that a necessary choice and I wonder why that seemed to be the way to deal tragedy in a heavy dose for one of the characters instead of another type of plot device. I also question the anti-climactic conclusion of this novel as far as Quentin's hero's journey. Having said that, I will pick up the finale in the near future.

As an aside, the SyFy Channel production of The Magicians is very good. It has much of what might appeal to readers, and is pretty faithful to the book overall.

I will keep getting the audiobooks for these because they are really good to listen to. This has a different narrator than the first book, and I think I liked him better. He was less snide-sounding. With these characters, one doesn't need more of a snide, I'm better than everyone tone.

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Batman:The Black Miirror by Scott Snyder (Writer), Jock (Artist), Francesco Francavilla (Artist), Jared K. Fletcher (Letterer), Sal Cipriano (Letterer), David Baron (Colourist)

Batman: The Black MirrorBatman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a bit hesitant about reading a Batman where it's not Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is the one and only Batman to me. Yes, I know that's not true or canon. I just love Bruce Wayne. Having said that, Dick is a good Batman. And this was a very good graphic novel collection. It's very creepy and dark. I like how everything ties together to the climax. At first, the stories seem unrelated, but they all lead down a sinister path.

The villain is someone that is deeply familiar to Dick, Commissioner Gordon and Barbara, and that makes it all the worse. The idea that someone you love could grow up to be a sociopathic/psychopathic killer is deeply disturbing. As if Gotham isn't full of enough darkness and sickness of the soul.

The artwork is suitably grim, and the look of the villain is classic and inspires dichotomy of banality and menace in the reader. I like the use of shadows and shades, along with reds and blues and oranges to illustrate the narrative.

While Dick isn't my true Batman, he'll do in a pinch.

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Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking GlassThrough the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the audiobook version for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass (My Review) so much that I was happy to get the Playaway for this. The narrator is the same, and she's great. She is awesome with the varied voices. She made this more enjoyable than it would have been had I read this book.

I enjoyed this slightly less than the first book. I think this had too many poems and songs for my taste. While I enjoy poetry, I'm not a big fan of it taking over a prose narrative. A number of the scenes were quite funny, and I found myself laughing as I listened to this working on my Design project today (I laughed more with the first book though). The interactions between the three queens (including Alice) went a little too long for my tastes, but I did enjoy some of her other adventures, including the soldier who kept falling off his horse.

After the clever storytelling in the first book, this one feels like more of an afterthought. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't found the recitations tedious. I do love Alice though.

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