Thursday, February 9, 2017

Scoop

Scoop
by Evelyn Waugh


Blurb:
Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the Daily Beast, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner party tip from Mrs. Algernon Stitch, Lord Copper feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. So begins Scoop, Waugh's exuberant comedy of mistaken identity and brilliantly irreverent satire of the hectic pursuit of hot news.


My Reaction:
(This was a shared read with Donald.)

Though of course I'd come across references to Waugh from time to time, I didn't know much about him, and I'd never read anything of his until this.  We elected to read Scoop because I saw Waugh's name on an "if you like that, try this" list of authors-- and because I just happened to have picked up a copy in a library book sale, sometime.

That list of author suggestions I mentioned before indicated that Waugh would be good reading for fans of P.G. Wodehouse.  I suppose I agree that fans of one of these authors might enjoy the other, but though Waugh feels somewhat more literary than Wodehouse, I never quite warmed to these characters, and the laughs weren't nearly so numerous as I've had from Wodehouse at his best.

This is definitely a "product of its time" novel, with language to match.  Many modern readers will find aspects of the novel unpalatable.  I hesitate to admit it, but there were also times when I felt that certain things were flying right over my head...

In short, I was not exactly captivated.  I'd certainly give Waugh another try, but he's no Wodehouse-- and to be completely honest, I much prefer E.F. Benson's style to what I saw in Scoop, too.  However, maybe some of his other works would be more to my taste.  Brideshead Revisted, perhaps?


Friday, January 27, 2017

Frederica

Frederica 
by Georgette Heyer

(Edited) Blurb:
When Frederica brings her younger siblings to London determined to secure a brilliant marriage for her beautiful sister, she seeks out their distant cousin the Marquis of Alverstoke.
Normally wary of his family, which includes two overbearing sisters and innumerable favor-seekers, Lord Alverstoke does his best to keep his distance.  But with his enterprising-- and altogether entertaining-- country cousins getting into one scrape after another right on his doorstep, before he knows it the Marquis finds himself dangerously embroiled...

My Reaction:
On the whole, this is quite an enjoyable read-- particularly for fans of the Regency period.  I liked it very much, but never quite loved it.  I'm not sure what was lacking for me... I mean, I could nitpick a few things (see section below), but essentially, it's a good, happy-making read.  It just doesn't merit heart-shaped googly-eyes for me...

But on the positive side, it's warm and pleasant and amusing.  This is a cozy, comforting little world where you can rest your weary nerves in safe assurance that nothing truly awful will happen.  *sigh of contentment*  Isn't it nice that such books exist, when you need them?


Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--I don't love it when a book that purports to be a romance (or just any book for adults) is heavily populated with child-characters.  I find it takes too much of the focus off of the parts of the plot that I actually care about, and all too often, the children are written in such a way that they annoy me greatly.  To be fair, the younger characters in this book (Jessamy and Felix) are much better than average; they feel like they are an organic part of the story-- not just characters shoehorned in from ulterior motives.  Still, I did sometimes get bored of them and wish that the book might have spent a little less time on their exploits and scrapes.

(To continue from above...) However, if there had been less time spent on Jessamy and Felix, that would've meant more time with Alverstoke and Frederica, and while I liked them pretty well as a couple, for most of the book I wasn't clamoring for more of their interactions.  It was quite a restrained romance, let's say.  Their occasional banter was... fine... but it didn't set my heart aflutter, unfortunately.

That said, this romance feels more realistic and likely than most I've come across.  (That may be why it's not quite so thrilling to read about!)  I do like that in the proposal scene, Frederica is not initially completely sure if what she feels for Alverstoke is love.  It's not the fantastical, over-the-top emotion she has witnessed in her younger sister's attachments, but she realizes that this calmer affection and deep comfort with one another is love-- a more mature, steady, reliable connection than the flash-whiz-bang, sometimes crazed infatuation of youth.

--Alverstoke is another hero who can't for the life of him stop referring to the heroine (his romantic interest) as a "child".  Even "my child", sometimes.  That is one of my pet peeves.  Yuck.  Authors, just don't do it.

--The language of Heyer's Regencies is so often amusing!  Moonling, for instance.

--If you want to laugh, look up some period illustrations of the "Pedestrian Curricle" (of the type that Jessamy uses).  The fancy gentlemen with their legs stretched out, toes pointed--!  A "Pedestrian Curricle" was basically an early, inferior version of the bicycle.  Lacking a chain and pedals, it was powered by the rider pushing along the ground/pavement with his feet.  Kind of like a Flintstone's version of a bicycle.

--I recall being confused when, reading another book, I came across a character who reacted to a genuine, appreciated compliment by "bridling".  At the time, I thought perhaps it was an error on the part of the author, because I'd only ever seen the word used to describe someone reacting with annoyance or anger.  However, this book provides another instance of that usage-- "bridling with pleasure".  Apparently that is indeed "a thing", though I persist in the opinion that it sounds wrong.

--Restorative Pork Jelly!  It made me laugh, as intended, but I also found it interesting, in light of the modern trendiness (in certain circles, at least) of bone broth.  Not that bone broth and pork jelly are the same, but they definitely have some qualities in common.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Dark New World

Dark New World
by Henry Gene Foster and J.J. Holden


Blurb:
Society crumbles after an EMP attack, and the terrifying nightmare has only just begun…

Three people from different walks of life each experience the end of America. Cassy is a 33-year-old prepper and single mother, away on business. Ethan is a hacker and conspiracy nut living underground. Frank is a family man out camping with friends and family. When a devastating EMP attack in the middle of the night destroys America’s infrastructure, they are propelled on an unforgettable journey across an ocean of chaos to reach safety… Safety from an unknown invader and from once-fellow Americans now hungry and desperate. Dark New World is a prepper story of survival and the fight to retain humanity in the face of an apocalyptic event.


My Reaction:
(I listened to the audiobook version of this title.)

Hm... I found myself rolling my eyes and scoffing far too often, while listening to this short novel.  I can't do more than round it up to three stars, unfortunately.

The blurb describes this as a "prepper story of survival", and that's about right.  The heroes/heroines are preppers, and the whole thing feels like it's very strongly aimed at preppers-- which is fine.  I mean, if you're writing a book for preppers, I suppose this is what you get.  It does feel a little cartoonish at times, though... It's like someone took a long list of things a prepper might think about when planning for a disaster scenario, then went down it and checked them off, one by one.  (...And yet this book doesn't go into great detail about how to be a prepper.  In my opinion, that doesn't really belong in a work of fiction, anyway.  This is more of a prepper-themed adventure.)

At first, it's refreshing to have characters who are prepared (for once) for the disaster at hand.  I enjoy the "planning and taking calculated action" portions of post-apocalypse/doomsday stories, myself, and this has a lot of that.  However, planning can get dull after a while-- and to keep the drama high, our primary heroine, Cassy, has to find herself in some bad situations, some of which she (as a prepper/survivalist) should probably have been able to avoid.  

Cassy-- well, pretty much all of the characters, to be honest, started to get on my nerves after a while.  Too many of them were stereotyped, for one thing.  Yes, sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason, but I can only handle so many of them in one dose.  (Oh my gosh, that teenage girl!  So annoying!)

There were times when I felt I was almost being lectured or preached at-- or at least bombarded with heavy-handed "lessons", which is unpalatable.

I also have some issues with the timeline and pacing.

First: Maybe it's naive, but I don't think that society would break down quite so quickly as it seems to do in this book-- or at least not so completely in such a short space of time.  I do think it would/could happen at some point, but friendly next-door neighbors threatening to shoot one another in only one or two days?  ...I find it doubtful.

Second:  (Spoilers to follow!)  The story sped up at the end to the point that I had a hard time keeping track of what was happening to whom, because the perspective shifted so frequently.  I'm still not entirely sure what happened to injure Cassy and how she ended up in the bunker.  Of course, part of the problem is that I was doing yard work while I listened and may have been distracted for a few moments-- but I still think the pacing was a bit off in the last section of the book.

Readers may be disappointed that there's not a completely satisfying conclusion at the end of this first installment of the series.  At least all the main characters have come together, but there's still a long way to go before they reach relative safety-- and you have to continue with the next book to see if/how they make it to Cassy's farm.  Based on a little peeking, the series will have at least four books-- maybe more-- and it sounds like each one leads directly into the next.  Very serialized.  At the moment, I doubt I'll bother with the second book.  The premise of the series still interests me, but I found too many of the characters too annoying to want to spend much more time listening to or about them...


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Trouble for Lucia

Trouble for Lucia
by E.F. Benson


(Edited) Blurb:
After her election to the preeminent position of mayor of Tilling, it seems Lucia's lofty ambitions are at last fulfilled-- but there are always new horizons to conquer, with accompanying perils and pitfalls.  The tearooms quiver with delicious gossip as she flexes her mayoral might.  Will Lucia finally dare too far and take a humiliating tumble from the pinnacle of her career?  
This is the last of Benson's Lucia novels, a delicious study of outrageous snobbery.


My Reaction:
(This was a shared read with Donald.  We've been working our way through the Lucia series together.  I've read all of them once before, on my own.)

I'm not sure what it is about this series, but I love it.  This is not my favorite of the series, but I still enjoyed it very much, on the whole, and as the final book of the six, it's certainly well worth reading.

I've seen the Lucia books described as shallow and populated with mean-spirited characters.  True, they're not challenging masterpieces-- nor stepping stones on the path to true enlightenment-- and the characters are certainly only too eager to gossip about one another, but there is something intensely human and pleasant about this series!  Nothing of any importance ever happens, and that, apparently, is just fine with me.  It's enough that it entertains me and warms my heart.

The book (and with it, the series) comes to an end rather abruptly, with little warning.  But perhaps that's as it should be.  There's no big climax, because that's just not how these stories work.  I like to imagine the funny, gossipy circle of "friends" continuing on in more or less the same way, forever.

I'm sad to come to the conclusion of the series again... They are such cozy books!  There have been several more volumes written by a few different authors.  The little I've read about them suggests that they're a mixed bag.  Some sound awful (to be honest), but others might be worth a read.  ...The more I think of it, though, the more I wonder if it might be better to stick with the originals, after all.  Maybe I'll try the "continuations" someday, but probably not immediately.


Monday, January 2, 2017

I See You

I See You
by Clare Macintosh

Blurb:
You do the same thing every day.
You know exactly where you're going.
You're not alone.
When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it's there. There's no explanation: just a website, a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it's just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.
Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make...?


My Reaction:
(I listened to the audiobook version.)

I See You moves along at a fairly brisk pace (though there are parts that could've been edited down), and if it's formulaic and a bit of a stretch when it comes to believability, I still think this crime thriller has reasonable entertainment value.

I found some of the characters (Zoe's kids, mainly) annoying, at times, and after a while the narrator's voice patterns for certain characters (particularly the daughter) grated on my nerves-- but on the whole, I enjoyed the listening experience.

Taken for what it is-- a mass-market thriller-- it is perfectly readable.  Nothing amazing, but a solid three stars for me.


Specifics (with SPOILERS):
-- I always have a hard time believing in "bad guys" who have successfully hidden their evil natures from their close friends and family for years.  We've all heard stories about serial killers (and less violent psychopaths) who manage to blend into society for decades, but (perhaps naively) I still have a hard time accepting that there are no red flags... In any case, it seems very strange and unlikely to me that friends and family wouldn't have noticed something "off" about either Melissa or Zoe's son, whose name I simply cannot recall (a side effect of my only hearing his name instead of seeing it in print).

-- Zoe really has rotten luck.  Not only is her next-door neighbor/best friend a well-disguised loon, but her own son turns out to be even worse-- eager to mete out death to his mother and sister!

-- I'm afraid I had to roll my eyes over Melissa's motivation against Zoe.  She complains that Zoe's a self-centered whiner who doesn't now how good she has it (two kids, left an ex-husband who still loves her, lives with an adoring boyfriend)-- but a fair chunk of her anger seems to be over the fact that she (Melissa) never had kids of her own.  ...Yeah, wishing you'd had kids can be enough to turn you into a willing accomplice to rape and murder, apparently.

-- How many reprobate men are there in London, anyway?  I mean, I'd like to think that there aren't that many men who'd be interested in availing themselves of the services of such a creepy website.   The whole set-up seems very unlikely.  These clients aren't getting a whole lot of value for the money, considering that searching for, selecting, and stalking the victim isn't exactly boring busywork, from a predator's perspective.  Even a busy murderer-on-the-go probably wants to choose his own "special projects" from as deep a pool as possible (unless he's more of an opportunistic, spur-of-the-moment type monster-in-human-form, in which case, the website still wouldn't seem particularly useful).

-- In skimming reviews, I keep seeing the author's first book mentioned, usually in favorable comparison to this one (as in, "after how great that was, this was a let-down"), so I'll be adding that other novel to my to-read list-- because even with its faults, this was an entertaining listen.  If the debut novel is something more unusual, consider my interest piqued.