Friday, December 2, 2016

Ross Poldark

Ross Poldark
by Winston Graham


Blurb:
Tired from a grim war in America, Ross Poldark returns to his land and his family. But the joyful homecoming he has anticipated turns sour, for his father is dead, his estate is derelict and the girl he loves is engaged to his cousin. 
But his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers of the district leads him to rescue a half-starved urchin girl from a fairground brawl and take her home - an act which alters the whole course of his life . . .


My Reaction:
I decided to try this series after enjoying the first season (and to a lesser degree, the second) of the new BBC adaptation of the novels.  The TV version was fairly faithful to this first book, which is good-- but perhaps this means that the books are less interesting to read after having watched the program...

I have mixed feelings about this novel.  It's capably written and reasonably engaging, but it wasn't a page-turner.  (Again, I'm not sure how much of that is due to the fact that I knew the story after watching the show.)

Some of my reservations have more to do with my personal tastes than with the quality of the book itself.  I suspect that sagas may not be my perfect type of reading.  The fairly wide cast of characters should probably be a good thing, for instance, but I think I could do very well without many of them-- especially if it meant more time with my favorites.  Certain story-lines simply don't interest me as much as others.

Then there's the "soap opera" effect. The story meanders along, and there's not much of a resolution, even at the end of the book. To a degree, that's not surprising, given that it's only the first in a long series of installments-- but I don't like it when major plot points are left just hanging there until the next book. Worse, I get the sense that there may never be an honest conclusion...

As far as the "romance" element of this first book goes, I found it a bit lacking, unfortunately...  Actually, I think the TV series was more "romantically satisfying" than this book, though even the show has its very rough patches.  That said, there are a few scenes (watching the pilchard-fishing, for example) where the romance shines.  I wish there were more of them, but it seems that the bulk of this series is not especially romantic.  For reading material with a true focus on romance, it's better to look elsewhere.

On the positive side, there are some beautiful descriptions and interesting moments of introspection, and a couple of the characters (Demelza and Verity) may make up for the ones I can't bring myself to care about. Maybe if I read further than the TV series has gone, I might find it more compelling, since I won't know exactly what's coming before it has a chance to happen. (The problem is that it looks like I'd have to make it to at least the fifth volume to get ahead of the TV show, at this point!) I'll probably give the next in the series a try before making the decision that I'm satisfied just watching the TV program and leaving the books alone.


Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--I've mentioned this in reviews of other books, but I still don't like it when a hero calls the heroine a "child".  It's not at all appealing.  What woman-- even a very young one-- wants "her man" to think of her as a child?!  Then Ross is jokingly (?) calling Demelza "bud" at the end of the book (which I sincerely hope won't carry over into the next novel)!  Yuck.

--I wish there were less "medical stuff".  It's not that there's an absolute ton of it, but there's still been more than I like.  (However, I know that I may well be in the minority, on this point.  Some people seem to have an appetite for these things; personally, I find it the stuff of nightmares.)

--The novel ends without Demelza telling Ross that she's pregnant?!  That's weird... I assume the next novel practically begins with that scene, but still...  That's one heck of a thing to leave hanging and not even remotely resolved!

--It's pointless to insist that characters in historical fiction have modern sensibilities and viewpoints-- seriously, why read historical fiction at all?!-- but Demelza's subservience was wearing thin for me, by the end of the book.  What put a particularly bad taste in my mouth was her statement that "if you love someone ... tesn't a few bruises on the back that are going to count.  It's whether that other one loves you in return.  If he do, then he can only hurt your body.  He can't hurt your heart".  Um, no.  If my husband hit me and bruised me, I can guarantee that it would hurt my heart, too, and I would take it as a sign that he didn't truly love me-- certainly not as a man should love his wife.  The figurative bruises on my heart would last long after the literal bruises of the body had faded and healed.  That kind of thing is not pleasant reading, in my humble opinion.  It's terribly frustrating in a heroine!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Garden
by Dot Hutchison


Blurb:
Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden. 
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding...


My Reaction:
I chose to read this because the title, cover, and description seemed promising-- and because it was a freebie (through Prime Reading).  While it was certainly readable, even interesting in a few parts, there was much head-shaking, derisive snorting, and eye-rolling.

I'm not surprised that the author considers herself "mostly" an author of YA fiction, because this felt like a for-adults story written in YA style.  Even though the novel deals with serious, adult themes and situations, the writing feels... immature.  A little silly, to be brutally honest.  Corny, in spots.  It's there in the way some of the characters talk-- the way they behave.  Cardboard-cutout characters kowtowing to the dictates of stereotype.  And at the center of it all, the practically-perfect (but damaged-- but oh, so special!) modern heroine.

A thousand "little things" aside, there are two major biggies that left me in eye-roll mode at the novel's end.  I can't go into them without spoiling the story, so I'll save them for the next section.

Suffice it to say that I wasn't terribly impressed.  This was okay in the sense that it's something to read, if you enjoy the genre and love the typical "modern YA" style-- and can look past some fairly intense silliness and irrational behavior-- but I never stopped feeling that there were better books I could've been reading.  It's merely a way to pass some time-- and probably feel the occasional urge to hurl the book across the room, which is not recommended if you're reading it in e-book form.


Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--One of the "biggies" referenced above:  Why, oh why didn't the girls gang up on the Gardener?!  I mean, seriously.  I know they're afraid of him-- and there's the brainwashed Lorraine to deal with (and Avery, if they timed it really poorly)-- but come on!  The stakes are high enough to merit some risks.  Wait until he's distracted with one of the girls, then sneak up behind him and whack him over the head.  Get him on the floor and kick/hit/whatever-is-necessary him until he agrees to give up the code to open the door.  It's not that hard, really, and at least a few of those girls were tough enough that they should've been able to stomach such unladylike violence.  (Heck, just give me a minute to lace up my sneakers, then let me at 'im-- and he hasn't even hurt me, unless you count the mental anguish of reading about His Creepiness in this book...)

It would have been different if the "Butterflies" were constantly drugged, locked up, or chained, but they had so much freedom to move around (most of the time)-- not to mention a few personal items that could've been used as weapons.  The bare fact that they could freely congregate and that the Gardener never carried/used weapons on them in the Garden was enough leeway to allow them to stage an uprising.  It's unbelievable that they wouldn't have at least tried.

--Second "biggie":  What was that ridiculous twist ending?!  It wasn't just unnecessary; it was actively bad.  It brought the book down a notch, in my reckoning.  Just so, so silly.  Sophia is supposed to be a sympathetic character, and yet she didn't do anything-- didn't even try to help the girls she left behind.

So the police might not believe you... So what?!  You still try.  So you're pregnant and worried about the fate of your child... Well, that makes no sense!  How would the Gardener ever have gotten custody of that child without admitting to the whole world (including his precious, delicate wife) that he'd at least had a fling with Sophia?!  (Not going to happen.)

If nothing else, she could've given an anonymous tip.  I don't believe she could have been completely unaware of the location of the Garden; she would have had some idea of how she'd had to move to get back home-- at least enough to give a tip in the right direction.

It boils down to lazy writing and/or a pathetic, spineless character.  Makes zero sense.

--The lesser annoyances are too numerous to list in entirety, but here's a taste:  The Gardener's ability to tattoo so skillfully seems unlikely.  The torturous good cop/bad cop thing was painful to read!  The only thing sillier than the florid names the Gardener chose for the Butterflies are Maya's chosen name (Inara) and given name (Samira Grantaire).  Too much of the story turns out to have been pointless.  The big reveal at the end was... Well, there really wasn't much of a big reveal, unless you count the twist, which was a monumental let-down.

--Despite occasional reminders that life in the Garden is tough (what with the captivity and rape and the knowledge that you'll be killed at 21, if not before), so many of the Butterflies seem to act as though they're living in a sorority house, with games and crafts/hobbies and girl-talk.  It's one thing to keep hope alive and make the best of things; this feels like something else-- something incredibly weird and unrealistic.

--Maya/Inara's backstory is so maudlin and melodramatic-- just one long sob-story, like a very poorly-written soap opera.  I suppose some people's lives truly are exactly that awful, but it seems very unlikely that everyone in her young life would be so crappy.  (Except for the perfect young neighbors, of course.)

--In the end, I ran out of ability to suspend my disbelief.  There are limits.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"The Death Warrant"

"The Death Warrant"
from The E.F. Benson Megapack
by E.F. Benson


Synopsis:  
After learning that he has an incurable disease, a man shares his musings on the approach of death.


My Reaction:
I would not call this a short story-- and certainly not a "horror story"-- but I'm having difficulty deciding how it should be classified...  In any case, it makes a startlingly abrupt change from the previous story in the collection, which was lighthearted and humorous, despite its war-time setting.

Maybe it's as much a reflection of my current mood as the quality of the writing, but reading these few pages brought some tears to my eyes (as I walked along on the treadmill!).

It feels very intimate, immediate, and honest-- much more powerful than the stilted language of Benson's "scientific paranormal" short stories.  It's hard to believe they were written by the same person!

Some might think the style is a little Victorian-- slightly more florid than necessary-- but it touched me more than I had expected.


Merlin's Keep

Merlin's Keep
by Madeleine Brent


(Edited) Blurb:
They called her Jani, but she once had another name-- and a past she never knew.
From far-off Tibet to England's rich countryside, this marvelously enchanting novel unfolds the incredible saga of a lovely young half-caste whose strange destiny pulls her into a world of love and terror-- all while a mysterious power moves slowly toward her, threatening her sanity... and her life.


My Reaction:
This was another very good read from Madeleine Brent.  The protagonist, Jani, is an appealing, capable girl (and later, woman) who demonstrates admirable loyalty and strength of character.  She may be a little too good to be true, but she remains likeable throughout the book.

Though it is billed as a romance-- and though Jani's romance is certainly a big part of the story-- I found that aspect less satisfying than in Moonraker's Bride (by the same author).  I'm not sure what was lacking... Maybe it just needed more scenes of the two interacting before the "declaration"...  So, the love story could've been improved upon, but in general, Jani's relationships are well-drawn and strong-- particularly her touching bond with Sembur.

The book has its minor flaws, but for the most part, I enjoyed the experience and look forward to reading more from the author (and I'm still completely impressed that he, as a man, was capable of writing female voices so convincingly).  However, I do think I'll try to wait a while before reading another Madeleine Brent novel, because they do seem to follow a definite pattern.  The author struck on a formula that works-- hits most of the right notes for me, at least-- but if read back-to-back, one might feel a little too similar to the next.


Specifics:
--The featured cover on Goodreads is misleading.  If you read Merlin's Keep on the basis of a steamy cover, you'll be disappointed.  While there is romance, pretty much everything happens behind closed doors.  The bigger misfortune would be if potential readers are put off by the suggestion that it's a bodice-ripper, because this book is not a "trashy romance", by any stretch.

--Coincidences?  Oh yes, they're here in droves, as in Moonraker's Bride.  Though actually, maybe it's less coincidence in Merlin's Keep than "fate" and mysticism.

--I could have gone through my whole life not knowing that sometimes when a cow gives birth, her uterus comes out, too, and must be pushed back inside-- but thanks to this book, I am now cursed with that nightmarish image.  Thank you so very, very much, book.  Ah, what a wonderful world!


Thursday, October 6, 2016

"Mrs. Andrews's Control"

"Mrs. Andrews's Control"
from The E.F. Benson Megapack
by E.F. Benson


Synopsis:
A middle-aged couple dabble with the psychical, including automatic writing.  (This is more a humorous character study than a tale of horror.)


My Reaction:
The earliest known date of publication for this short story is September 1915.  In it, Benson plays with some ideas that he used in his Mapp and Lucia series of novels, which were published between 1920 and 1939.

Devotees of the Mapp and Lucia series will certainly recognize the playful gibes at dieting fads and fashionable "games" of a psychical nature-- specifically crystal-ball-gazing and automatic writing.   Benson pokes gentle fun without malice, and it's an amusing few pages.

References to WWI ("the German war") will be of particular interest to history buffs.