Library Scavenger Hunt: November

This month’s challenge was to read a book that I should have read in school, and really, I could’ve picked any number of things, as I used to really hate reading, and tried to avoid assigned reading whenever possible. But since most of those books are ones I still have very little interest in reading, my choice was somewhat obvious:

NORTHANGER ABBEY
Jane Austen

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is obsessed with Gothic novels, and all the horrors that they can offer, and when she’s given the opportunity to visit Bath with some family friends, she’s able to meet others who share her passion – but her new friends are not all who they appear to be, and Catherine may be leading herself into a different kind of trouble than what’s found in the books that so enthral her.

I first started reading Northanger Abbey in secondary school, but only made it about halfway through before my own feelings of embarrassment on Catherine’s behalf made me unable to continue; and while her visit to the Abbey was just as awkward as I remember, I’m happy to say that I managed to power through this time, and actually finished the book. And, more importantly, I really loved it! 😁 Catherine is still naive and foolish, but in a way that makes her seem incredibly true to life, rather than just irritating, and I really enjoyed her relationship with the Tilneys, and how it contrasted with her relationship with Isabella and John Thorpe.

Austen’s writing is also as excellent as always; there are lots of asides in this book where she talks about the literary and societal conventions of the time, and they’re frequently hilarious. One of my favourite passages in the book is one such aside, where Austen discusses how novels are looked down upon as a choice of reading material, and how strange it is that authors always seem to write about heroines who despise them… 😂 Austen is frequently praised as an excellent romance writer (which she is, of course), but she also had a brilliant sense of humour, which shouldn’t be overlooked.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Advertisements

Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (Spoiler-Free)

Liz Bennet and her sister Jane have returned to their childhood home in Cincinnati to look after their father’s health, not to be pestered by their mother about their non-existant love lives, and rapidly approaching expiration dates – but apparently nobody bothered to inform Mrs. Bennet of that fact… Enter Chip Bingley, wealthy doctor, reality TV star, and on the lookout for love! He’s everything that Mrs. Bennet ever wanted for one of her daughters. But although Jane does like Chip very much, Liz’s feelings are complicated by the presence of his obnoxious, entitled best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Eligible is a novel that brings Pride and Prejudice beautifully into the present day, managing to modernise the storyline without abandoning any of the complexities that gave the original story its charm, but instead updating them to work in a modern setting: The way to fix the Bennets’ financial problems is not simply for one of the daughters to find a wealthy husband, and Liz could never marry even this new version of Mr. Collins (who she’s actually quite fond of), not only because he’s her cousin, but also because she will always think of him as the naked three-year-old that he was when they first met. The way that Sittenfeld interpreted the Wickham episode by breaking it in two I found particularly clever, and while the progress of Liz’s relationship with Jasper Wick was somewhat predictable, the fued between Wick and Darcy had an interesting origin, and I loved the portrayal of Ham Ryan, the second half of Wickham who is heavily involved in Lydia’s character arc.

The writing and pacing are both excellent as well. I found the first few chapters quite slow, but by the time I was around fifty pages in I was completely hooked, and I managed to read the whole book in just a few sittings (and it’s a pretty long book; around 500 pages, with a tiny font and margins). Sittenfeld also side-steps a lot of the common problems with Jane Austen retellings by not even attempting to imitate Austen’s style (something that’s frequently done, even in modernisations, but usually just comes off as contrived), and also by ageing up the main characters from the early twenties to late thirties…

This is a book that I never knew I needed in my life until it was already there, and I’m so glad that I read it! It’s miles better than most of the other best Pride and Prejudice retellings I’ve come across (and I’ve read a lot of them), and interprets Austen’s original tale with wit, originality, and an undated outlook on the world. While it’s far from the best book in the world, it was buckets of fun to read, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for more of Lizzy and Darcy in their life.

Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from Ancillary Justice, so if you haven’t started the series at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of the first book.]

Athoek Station is almost as far from the Lord of the Radch’s influence as it’s possible to get without leaving the Empire; with a great deal of wealth and prestige – both from it’s thriving tea industry – and an alarming schism between the ruling and working classes. Breq has been sent here in order to protect the Station from the no-longer-secret war between the two different parts of the Lord of the Radch herself… but she has her own agenda, too: to make contact with the Horticulturalist Basnaaid Elming, the younger sister of Lieutenant Awn.

This book involved a mixture of politics and culture that made for an incredibly interesting story, but the scale of it surprised me somewhat; the ending of Ancillary Justice seemed to promise far-reaching changes to the Radch Empire, but it seems that Athoek Station is just a bit too far for those changes to have taken effect. And although this does make sense when considering that Athoek is a remote station, on the very edge of Radch territory, it makes it an odd place for Leckie to have chosen to set the book.

It’s also never made entirely clear why Breq is sent to Athoek at all. She mentions several times in the first book wanting to track down Awn’s younger sister, Basnaaid, which is motive enough on her own part, but why does the Lord of the Radch want her there? Is it simply to spread the word of the now-open war? Because that would seem to be a mission that Breq would approve of, but she expends very little effort in trying to convince the local government of what’s happened. Or is she simply there to defend the station? That’s definitely a task that she throws herself into, but it seems strange that the Lord of the Radch would send Breq to protect a place that is both incredibly far away from her, and also grants her very little tactical advantage… While I did enjoy the story a lot, I’m still not sure why it happened, or how it’s supposed to affect the series going forward.

Another surprise in this book was how small Seivarden’s role in it was; when at the end of the last book, she decided to accompany Breq on Mercy of Kalr, I expected that their relationship (which was one of my favourite things about Ancillary Justice) would be explored a lot further, but although Seivarden’s feelings towards Breq are made even more plain in this book, they actually spend very little time together. I did, however, like the focus that was put on some of the newer characters: Sirix provided an interesting and unique perspective on Athoek Station; Tisarwat played an unexpectedly prominent role in the story, and managed to bring out a new side of Breq that was both frightening and compassionate. And I particularly liked the contrast between Mercy of Kalr’s human crew who acted like ancillaries (usually represented by Kalr Five), Breq who was an ancillary but was thought to be human, and the actual ancillaries of Sword of Atagaris that they encountered at the station…

(If you’ve noticed that I didn’t even mention Basnaaid Elming, then it’s because she also played a surprisingly small part in the book.)

Ancillary Justice is a tough act to follow; it’s probably my favourite book of the year so far. My sky-high expectations, combined with a dramatic shift in tone, meant that naturally this sequel was something of a disappointment to me… but it’s still an excellent book. I’m very eager to finish the trilogy.

Library Scavenger Hunt: October

This month’s challenge was to find a book with either an alliterative title or an alliterative author, and I knew immediately what book I was going to seek out; the final book in a series that I’ve been meaning to finish for ages (and also conveniently checks off one of my year-long reading challenges, which I really need to buckle down on in the next few months if I want to complete them… 😓): the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series…

LIBRARY OF SOULS
Ransom Riggs

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but may contain references to events from previous books in the series (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City).]

With their friends now missing along with their beloved ymbryne, Miss Peregrine, Jacob and Emma are forced to continue their rescue mission – through some of the world’s most dangerous time loops – with only the help of Addison the peculiar dog. Luckily, Jacob’s still-developing powers seem to have manifested in a useful new ability: controlling hollows…

The main problem with this series as a whole, I think, is that it tries to pitch itself as a scary story, when it’s really, really not. Or at least, no more so than any other adventure series (such as Harry Potter or Percy Jackson) that would probably be pretty scary to live through, but is not so horrifying to read. Even in this third book (the readers of which presumably all know exactly what they’re in for), there are comments – this time in the form of a mini author-biography – that try to play up the creepiness of the series; a creepiness that is barely present in the book itself.

This is on the publisher, however, not the author. Taken as the adventure series it is, the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series is interesting, well-written, and great fun. It’s certainly not without its flaws, and I personally felt that Hollow City and Library of Souls were much weaker novels than their precursor, but it’s a solid, entertaining series to read…

Some Library of Souls-specific things I wanted to bring up (since this is, in fact, a review of Library of Souls, and not the whole series): Jacob’s new hollow powers play a major role in the plot; so major that none of the other peculiars’ abilities are important for more than a moment, and they are able to deus-ex-machina many of the situations that Jacob finds himself in. I did find that they took the story in an interesting direction, however, and I enjoyed the strange bond that developed between Jacob and “his” hollow – though that was a thread of the story that remained sadly open-ended. The final few epilogue-style chapters also involved a very sudden and very convenient plot development, which was somewhat disappointing.

In regards to the photos, I found that the ones that were included in Library of Souls were both less interesting in and of themselves than those in previous books, and also less relevant to the plot. There are some notable exceptions (Mother Dust on page 252, the ambrosia dealer on page 229, the grimbear with its ymbrynes on page 185, and so on), but in most cases they only showed people or things that Jacob noticed in passing, without having much effect on the story. In fact, the passages in the novel where these things are mentioned often seemed shoe-horned in in order to justify including the pictures. I don’t know if it’s just that Riggs has already used his most interesting pictures or shown pictures of all his most important characters, or if the novelty of the combination has simply begun to wear off for me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both, but its a shame regardless of the reason, as the way the story and pictures worked together was a big part of what made Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children so compelling.

But despite all this, I did enjoy the book a lot. It’s both exciting and well-paced, with very few moments where nothing seemed to be happening at all. And there were a few important new characters introduced, too: most notably Sharon and Mr. Bentham, though I personally thought that Mother Dust was the most interesting of them all, both in terms of her peculiar abilities and her role in the story. I’m glad that I took the time to finish this series, but I doubt it’s one that I’d re-read, and I’m unlikely to be picking up the spin-off (Tales of the Peculiar).

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: September

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with “journey” (or a synonym) in the title – was chosen in honour of my best friend and co-moderator, Chloë, who’s just moved to Japan. I didn’t really have any idea of what I was going to read for it, and actually abandoned my in-person search after a few hours without success (the only book I could find was Fear Itself: Journey into Mystery, which is something like the twentieth book in a series, so no thanks… 😓). My second go was via the online catalogue, and I’m happy to say that this time I found more success! The book I ended up picking was…

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Jules Verne

Brilliant but eccentric Professor Lidenbrock discovers a 300-year-old runic manuscript, which his nephew Axel is unexpectedly able to decode. It spells out the first step of what will become an extraordinary voyage – first to Iceland, and then on to the Earth’s core, with all kinds of unlikely discoveries to be made along the way.

What a fun book! It’s silly, but an incredibly good read. The story was well-paced, eventful and exciting, and though the characters didn’t seem too deep, their differing personalities made them interesting travelling companions. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Lidenbrock’s wild theories (which seemed mad, but more often than not ended up being right) and Axel’s anxiety over them (which was actually very sensible, but was treated as – and came across as – the attitude of somebody who was just closed-minded). Hans’ unflappable nature was also delightful, and whenever the party got into a pinch, it was always fun to see how Hans would save them…

The Extraordinary Voyages series is massive, and seems only to be thematically connected, so I don’t know that I’d be likely to seek out the rest of them. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to reading a few more, though, if I stumbled across their paths.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Spoiler-Free)

Dimple Shah has one dream, and one dream only: To create an app that can make a difference in people’s lives, while still being fun. The elite Insomnia Con could go a long way towards making that dream a reality, but she’ll need her parents’ permission (and funding) if she wants to attend the expensive app development course, and their plans for Dimple’s future are very different; a husband and family, as soon as possible.

Rishi Patel is hoping to attend Insomnia Con, too, but not because he has any particular interest in coding… He’s there just for Dimple, the girl his parents (and hers) have arranged for him to marry.

This book has been hyped to the skies recently, and I’ll admit that I may have fallen victim to that to an extent, but my main problem with When Dimple Met Rishi was not that it wasn’t what I expected, but just that it’s not very good. 😑 The advertising for the book is certainly misleading in regards to how important Dimple’s app (which, by the way, sounds very much like a narrower, less customisable version of Habitica) would be to the story, but as I was anticipating this (the first time I even heard about this aspect of the story was in a list of books that lied about themselves), it didn’t bother me too much.

What did bother me was how much of the book was taken up with the talent show sub-plot, which could easily have been cut without any consequences whatsoever – except that the book would only have been about half the length. To be honest, it was strange that this talent show was taking place at all at a convention that was supposed to be so labour-intensive that it’d been called “Insomnia Con”… It is explained after the show is over that the prize money is supposed to go towards the winning team’s app, but it doesn’t seem to me to justify the amount of coding time that’s sacrificed in order to prepare for the show. A question for people who know more about app development that I do: Is the money that goes into an app more important than the time? If yes, then I guess this is a non-issue, but otherwise… (Also, if yes, then Menon really should have tried to find a way to make that clear.)

And the characters were also pretty frustrating. Both Dimple and Rishi started out reasonably likably, but their characters went rapidly downhill once Insomnia Con started. They were really judgmental (Rishi less so than Dimple, but not enough to save him from also being incredibly irritating) about everyone around them, and in particular a group that they referred to as the Aberzombies – a trio of wealthy, elitist teenagers who were the most clichéd and one-dimensional villains Menon could possibly have added to the story. Celia and Ashish were the only other major characters at Insomnia Con, and they also only seemed to be there for the benefit of Dimple and Rishi: Celia’s presence meant that Dimple would always have amazing clothes on hand, without Menon having to portray her as the kind of girl who takes her whole wardrobe on holiday with her (which kind of feels like judgement from the author, as well as the characters; liking clothes doesn’t automatically make a person shallow), while Ashish popped up in order to teach Dimple and Rishi how to dance… And also to provide a contrast to Rishi. But since that contrast had already been provided in Dimple, there was really very little point to his being there.

I did find Dimple and Rishi’s different perspectives on Indian culture very interesting, so that’s something that this book has going for it, and I also thought that the relationship between Dimple and her father was very sweet… Menon seemed to be going for a mixture of cute and quirky that makes so many contemporary romances so fun to read, but ended up with something that was mostly just shallow. On the whole, When Dimple Met Rishi ended up falling rather flat for me.