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Posts tagged ‘romance’

Emma

Emma

by: Jane Austen

I love rereading books by listening to the audio books but I often struggle to find books narrated by women.  I don’t know why, but there are times when I strongly prefer to listen to a woman’s voice over a man’s and while I have plenty of podcasts that fit the bill, it’s harder for me to find audiobooks.  But I decided, after listening to Pride and Prejudice, that I should continue with my Austen adventure and downloaded Emma.

Emma, is, of course, a classic novel by Jane Austen. Written in Georgian-Regency times (thanks Wikipedia!), it follows the titular character through the perils of matchmaking, romance, and growing up.  My audiobook was narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who was really excellent. Her voice is elegant and has just the tiniest hint of merriment.

When I first read Emma, I was in early high school.  I only read it the once, so while I knew the plot, I really wasn’t prepared for all the comedy I’d missed the first time around.  I had to stop myself from laughing out loud more than once, and I’m sure that I walked around grinning like a fool while listening.  Austen pokes fun at her characters dryly and deservedly, though kindly.  I missed a lot my first read and I remember thinking the plot dragged a bit.  Now, when I can appreciate the subtle satire and the ridiculousness of the scenes, I didn’t think it dragged at all, even though not much happens in the story.

It’s a cohesive story and solid plot, but what I loved best are the individual scenes that can stand on their own.  My favorite scene involved two rather self-absorbed characters, one quite good-natured, engaged in a conversation where each is determinedly wresting the subject back to their favorite brag every time they speak. I was thoroughly entranced and amused the entire scene – it felt real, funny, and I could definitely think of a few people who it reminded me of!  It could have been taken from the story and read just as a scene and been just as satisfying.

Like all Austen books, some of the references and subtle pokes haven’t aged as well – a very few, but there were times when something was clearly supposed to be obvious and I had no clue what was being referenced.  And, of course, there’s a lot of subtlety and unspoken context going on in the novel, as in any Austen novel.

I will say, the ending did feel like it dragged on a bit and then, when it did end, it felt rather abrupt.  It was particularly noticeable because I was listening to it; I couldn’t start skimming over the last bit after I knew the major problems were resolved.  Austen thoroughly ties up every plot line, perhaps a tad too neatly and leaves the reader completely satisfied.  Her characters are believable and engaging. Overall, despite the more complex language, it’s a great escapism novel.

If you like things to happen in your novel, clear and straightforward writing, or a hot ‘n’ steamy romance, this, unfortunately, is probably not the book for you. If, however, you like old-fashioned and sweet stories, you love absurd but realistic humor, or you’re just looking for a book to read in a garden with a glass of wine, then I strongly encourage you to give Emma a read.

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Quotes Worth Sharing

Saturday furrowed his brow. “Why would I care about your First Kiss?” he said. “You can kiss anyone you like.  But if you sometimes want to kiss me, that would be all right, too.”

This absolutely lovely quote, from The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, takes place after our brave heroine, September, apologetically tells her crush, Saturday, that she had her First Kiss with someone else.

I love it. I almost never pick out quotes from books but this deserves to be shared.

What about you, dear readers? Have you read anything lately that’s stuck in your mind? Please feel free to share it in the comments!

Archangel

by: Sharon Shinn

I decided to reread Archangel when I ran across it at Barnes and Noble.  I had mixed feelings about it last time which I hoped to resolve.

The book is set in the world of Samaria, where angels and humans live together in harmony guided by Jevoh, the almighty, all-powerful god.  The angels speak to the god for humans, interceding by prayer in the form of song.  The beginning of the book hints the Jevoh is actually the spaceship Jehovah, in orbit around the planet, which is why the flying angels’ voices are able to reach the ship and receive a response whereas the humans’ voices don’t, with a few exceptions.  The people of Samaria don’t know this; they think the god is real.

The premise of the book is really interesting.  The peoples of Samaria have a whole religion based around a ship, which is programmed to respond to song.  Yet there’s a lot of talk about fearing, loving, and respecting the god, and being able to feel the presence of the god inside oneself.  I’m not quite sure what to make of that; on one hand, those who don’t follow the religion of the planet are clearly the bad guys, but on the other hand, the whole religion is based around a ship floating in outer space.  Is it a critique of religion?  Or is the book saying the foundation of the religion is less important than the faith and belief of the followers?  Most of the world exists in a Catholic Church-like hierarchy, but there is a group of nomadic people, the Edori, who believe the god is equally close and listens equally to all. (Although you can conclusively prove they are wrong.)

Throughout the book, there is the implication that morality cannot exist outside of the religion in which the people believe – Jevoh calls most intensely for peace and harmony among the people – but the whole religion is based on a lie.  Is the book saying religion is necessary; that people cannot exist with a punishment-based morality system? Or it is trying to say it is inconsequential what the god is, as long as following its will brings about goodness?  I’m not religious myself, so in one light I think the book is fascinating and in the other, I think it is dead wrong.

There’s also attempted critiques on capitalism and money, but they are inconsistent and not well-developed.

I entirely dislike the two main characters.  The book follows the story of Gabriel, Archangel-to-be, and the woman Jevoh picks for his wife, Rachel.   Gabriel is ruled by pride and a rigid sense of right and wrong.  He is completely unable to compromise or even be diplomatic.  This, in my opinion, makes him a terrible person to lead.  He is trying to rid the world of exploitation, slavery, and inequality, so good, and yet the way he handles it leads to unnecessary conflict.  Were he more flexible in his understanding of the world, the situation could have ended much differently, and for the better.

Rachel is ruled by emotions – driven almost completely by anger, fear, and pride.  Much of the conflicts between them are caused  miscommunication or a refusal to communicate, which is my least favorite plot device in the entire world.  It is not that hard to talk to people!  Though she is strong-willed and independent, she also lacks the ability to compromise, empathize, or communicate and is, again, a terrible person to lead a world.  In fact, together they may be one of the worse ruling couples since Marie Antoinette and Louis the XVI, although the book doesn’t acknowledge any of their weaknesses as real hindrances to doing their job.

So at the end, I’m still conflicted about this book. It has some interesting things to say about religion, certainly, but I find the main characters, while well-written and -developed, awful.  If you like science fiction dealing with religion, or romances with strong female characters where miscommunication is a central conflict, you should give this book a try.  If you think that adults in positions of power should be able to communicate, or if you don’t like religion playing a leading role in your books, than this may not be the book for you.

A Farewell to Arms

by: Ernest Hemmingway

Af you read my last post, you knew this one was coming.  Hemmingway is, of course, a classic American author and I am just now starting to truly appreciate him.  A Farewell to Arms is the third novel of his I’ve read, after For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.  

I think I liked this one better than the last two.  I think.  I just finished reading it about an hour ago and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.  (As with all reviews of classics, this is probably going to include spoilers.)

This is Hemmingway’s great romance novel, of course, featuring the young and – impulsive, perhaps? – Lieutenant Henry and his beautiful lover, nurse Catherine.  They meet during Lt. Henry’s service in the Italian army during World War I.  He’s American, but he was in Italy when the war broke out and joined the service – for the hell of it? Because war is a rite of passage? I’m not really sure; he seems to know but it’s never clearly explained in the novel. Catherine is a UK citizen and I never picked up on the reason why she’s in Italy.

One of the interesting things about the relationship is that it almost seems borderline abusive.  Not that it’s physically abusive or even turbulent.  It’s on quite an even keel, honestly.  But Catherine wants to subsume herself into Henry, and in her quest to do so, starts demonstrating several of the warning signs of an abuser.  She dislikes all of his friends and pressures (asks?) him to spend less time with them; she takes steps to isolate him and plays into an “us against the world” mentality; she, at the end, exerts considerable pressure on him, comparatively, to change his appearance.  I can’t bring myself to describe her as abusive – I’m not sure that it qualifies – but I was surprised to see how quickly the warning signs built up as a I read along.  Catherine did seem a little bit emotionally manipulative to me, though I’m open to other interpretations of her behavior.

Anyway, most of my reading of the novel was fairly heavily colored by that observation.  I’m still not sure what to make of it and how it fits into my interpretation of the novel, though.  They are so consumed with each other and the relationship. I think that culturally, I would expect such a relationship to be full of ups and downs, a constant cycle of fights and make-up sex but that’s not it at all.   Set against the backdrop of warfare and horrific fighting, it is placid, calm, and constant.  They never disagree and Catherine wants only for Henry to be happy.  I can’t argue that such a relationship is healthy; I could, however, argue that it is understandable given the circumstances.

Catherine at first seemed rather ordinary – a little insecure, a little torn up by life, but pleasant and intelligent enough.  But she becomes more and more interesting as the novel goes on and by the end I didn’t know what to make of her.  Is she an unfortunate, loving woman who is only abnormal because of the time period in which she was born? Or is she someone quite different from whom Lt. Henry sees her to be?  Relatively little information is given about her; Henry is in love with her present self and shares little about her past.  Their future exists only in terms of the war; no thoughts are shared on how to live life together beyond the most pressing needs.  I can’t tell if Henry loves her or an idea of her that she buys into in order to keep his love.  Certainly, she thinks he loves her because of how she presents to him rather  than who she actually is.  But I can’t determine enough about her to say if that’s true or not.

Henry is a whole ‘nother story.  He is almost a prototypical member of the Lost Generation, I think: running off to Europe, joining an army, and becoming disillusioned with war and life in general. He has moments of clarity and is honest with himself about who he is; at least, for those parts of himself that he chooses to self-examine.  He is exceptionally likable as a narrator.  There’s no pretension in him and his sharp observation of characters, easily conveyed in few words, is quite enjoyable. (Though I suppose that’s more Hemmingway than Henry.)  His love for Catherine springs from a vulnerable moment, now that I think about it – another trait common to abusive relationships.  He’s sympathetic but nothing he does is ever particularly brave or particularly cowardly.  It’s quite understandable.  In fact, much of who he is becomes defined by his relationship.  Hmm.

Well, 800 words later and I’m still not sure what I think of this novel.  I think anyone interested in Hemmingway, WWI, or the Lost Generation should definitely give it a chance! You might want to give it a pass if you like flowery styles, even in the smallest amounts, happy endings, or a focus on the emotional process, though.

Comments are especially encouraged here, guys!  I’d really love to hear how others read this novel!

Once Upon a Tower

Once Upon A Tower

by: Eloisa James

This book is part of James’ fairy tale series – it’s (very)loosely based upon the story of Rapunzel.

Our heroine is Edie, a lady who plays the cello rather brilliantly.  It is only her gender that keeps her from becoming a famous cellist, but Edie, only daughter of a wealthy earl is happy with her lot in life nonetheless.   Attending a ball despite her illness one night, she makes the acquaintance of Gowan Stoughton, a Scottish duke (and yes, that first name does make some of the more erotic scenes just a wee bit confusing.  Or, at least, it did for me.)  He falls in love at first sight, proposes, and the rest, is well…

Quite complicated, actually.  I really like James and I thought that this book shone in ways that some of her latest works haven’t.   First of all, Edie’s parents (father and significantly younger stepmother) are the product of a fairy tale romance and they find themselves struggling after the happily ever after.  Layla is unable to conceive a child, there’s a complete lack of communication, and there’s absolutely no understanding from either party of the importance of communication.  (They just don’t work like that, you understand!)  Layla and Edie are good friends, and depictions of female friendships are truly sets James apart from other romance authors.   Though her parents’ relationship is a very secondary part of the story, it dramatically affects Edie’s love story.

Layla is also young and flighty and, though a good friend to Edie, not always the best source of wisdom, which does help create the major plot point.  The juxtaposition of a couple just finding their happily ever after with a couple answering the age-old question of what comes after the HEA is rather brilliantly drawn.  It also gives a sense of richness to the ending; that even though our hero and heroine may (do) find themselves back in wedded bliss, there are other obstacles that must be overcome.  Takes away a bit of the tint from the rose-colored glasses, if you will.

The other absolutely amazing part of this book – truly wonderful, I loved it so much – is that the sex isn’t great.

In fact, it’s terrible.  The physical attraction is there, mind you, but neither party really knows what they’re doing.  And it’s a huge point in the book; it is the pivotal issue around which several major issues rest.  James handles it beautifully – Edie’s feelings upon being unable to orgasm, when her husband so desperately wants to please her, and the choices she makes in response are realistic and, I think, felt by modern women still.  Gowan’s reactions and emotions are equally well-depicted and I imagine very relevant, though I am less familiar with the social pressures men feel than with the ones women feel. (James has used bad sex before but neither so well nor so prominently.) And the solution to the bad sex is not, as it is in so many romance novels, more sex.  Edie is thrust into the throes of passion by his magic manhood, nor does her magic womanhood suddenly endow him with the skills of a Casanova.  This despite the fact that they’re both so very attracted to each other! In fact, sex only worsens the problem exponentially.

The solution, the reader begins to believe, is what Dan Savage himself would preach – communication.  Do they begin to communicate? Does Edie ever orgasm?  Does she come down from the tower?

I’ll quickly note that I did not much care for the epilogue – one could very well not read it and still be satisfied with the ending.  In contrast to what I wrote earlier, it is a little too pat and happily ever after for my tastes; epilogues often are.

If you, dear reader, love romance, novel love romance, or are looking for an honest depiction of a common problem that is ignored in most of literature, you should read this book – even if you don’t like romance novels, you should give this one a shot. If you read romances for the torrid sex scenes or if you like stories featuring Casanovas, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.  Although it is excellent and everyone who wants to be in a relationship should read it.  Just sayin’.

Lover at Last

by: J.R. Ward

Here is J.R. Ward’s latest addition to her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which feature a group of warrior vampires with six-chambers heart and a weirdly accelerated puberty process (don’t ask.)

I wrote a post about this a little while back – this book is her first foray into the gay vampire romance story business.  It’s – well, honestly I think most of her work is entertaining but dreadful.  I mainly read them just to see how far Ward’ll push the envelope of the romance genre.  I only read about 1/3 of the novel; generally I ignore any plot lines that don’t involve romantic interaction between the two main characters or whatever characters she’s prepping for the next novel.  But everything is so over the top that it’s great fun.  And she does write fairly hot scenes most of the time, with a good balance of character interactions and sex scenes – about 3-4/400-600 page book, though keep in mind I don’t read the entire book.  (This is important in considering one’s steamy romance novels.  Whatever your personal preference is, too little sex and you feel like you’re missing out and too much and you feel like there’s not enough significant character interaction to justify a happy ending.)

Honestly, if I paid attention to the books I would feel obligated to think about the fact that all the females are exceptionally nurturing and submissive,  with the exception of one that’s somewhat well-written  (she dies and comes back as a ghost though?) and one that basically has the male personality in a female body.  All the men are testosterone poisoned territorial alphas who “prove” their love with big romantic gestures. (except a couple of the gay men, who are normal men). Seriously!

And the fact that these several hundred year old vampires refer to their shoes as “shitkickers”.  And say things like “his hand ten and twoed on the steering wheel hard.” Please stop making verbs out of my nouns, world.  Please.  And when she referred to fantasizing about another person while masturbating as cheating on your significant other. And that the king seems to rule by threatening half of his people and ignoring the other half.  And how love magically heals everything and calms the beast and the touch of the women fixes all the mens…

Okay.  Well, suffice it to say that these books are highly entertaining as romance novels should be and great escapism, as they’re meant to be.  And while they have a lot of problems with gender roles, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying them! I really do enjoy seeing how outside of the mainstream she’ll get.  Kudos to her for stepping outside of the box! If you’re into over the top vampire stories, you’ll enjoy these and I almost guarantee you’ll find whatever kind of tortured male/healing female story is your particular favorite.  (My personal favorite is the literally tortured and abused by former female abuser/never known love.  My psyche…Sigh.)

So, this is less of a book review and more of me rambling about this series.  But whatever. Like the books? Hate them? Leave your thoughts in the comments!