Tides of War by Stella Tillyard

Tides of War

I picked up this novel because I had enjoyed Stella Tillyard’s nonfiction, historical book Aristocrats. She wrote that history book as if it were a novel and I was engaged. As a trained historian, Tillyard’s research would not be in doubt for a book about the Napoleonic wars. Also coming off the Heyer’s A Civil Contract, these two books are set in the exact same time period and even share a few similarities in references to the setting.

While I was satisfied for the ending, I struggled to really enjoy a lot of this book. Do you ever get the sense that some books would be better read at another time in your life or another mood? There was something about this book that I wasn’t in the mood for at the beginning. Maybe i should have put it off longer. The more I read it, the more I realized that this is was not one of the better reads of recent times. Or maybe it was just a bad idea to read a historical novel about war. War and Peace showed me that I tend to glaze over the war parts of the novels. This one had its ugly, dark war moments too. That wouldn’t have been so bad if I had felt more for some of these characters.

There are a lot of characters, both real and fictional. I found it hard to feel or care for most of them until the very end. I couldn’t get a ‘hold’ on them. There were too many and there was
not enough time spent on them to really get a grips on their characterization, motivations and personalities until the very last pages. Some of them I didn’t even give a hoot about. I even became really annoyed with a couple of the characters, as it happens sometimes when indifference languishes on for most of a book. For example, the cast is mostly male and a lot of them are unfaithful jerks (historically accurate I guess?), and those that weren’t didn’t get enough focus in my opinion. I found myself glazing over certain narratives because of my lack of engagement with the characters.

With books and tv/movies, I don’t have to like the characters, but I have to find them interesting and engaging. I want to know more about them. It just seemed with this book, less would have been more in the number of characters. It would have been more pathos and events would have carried more impact if there were fewer of them.

All that said, I learned a couple of things from the history aspects of the novel so that is always good as I love the subject. Secondly, I did care about the endings to the females in the book so it was satisfying even though it was a bit depressing at times that I wondered how the book would end on a hopeful note. Thankfully, it did.

Read April 29th 2012.

Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series Books 5-7

Outlander the novel

In 2008, I listened to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon on audiobook and liked it. The audiobooks are excellent; they are narrated by Davina Porter. She does such a great job that sometimes when I am reading the books, I hear her voice for the character’s. Back in November 2011, I decided to finish what I started with this series. I read Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn, books 2-4 of the Outlander series, and listened to some of it on audiobook too in a very short amount of time. I also read The Exile – an Outlander graphic novel in December.
I was up to chapter 22 of The Fiery Cross (Book 5) but didn’t pick it up again until this month. It was in my Kindle which never helps since I get distracted by books from the library, by movies/tv, or life.

Since I have The Scottish Prisoner from the library, I decided I should at least finish TFC before starting another Outlander universe book.

I try not to be too spoilery in my book reviews, but with a book series, it’s even harder. I have put my thoughts on the three books under the cut, but the spoilers are very mild.

As a general review of the series, the books usually start off slowly and build up momentum so they can be hard to put down. This series’ time travel aspects appeals to me greatly, and I tend to like books about characters transplanted from one era to another in fiction. It makes for fascinating drama.

I also think there was a lot of good character and historical developments at this period of the books. The characters were in Scotland, France, the Caribbean and colonial America. I find this series to be one of the better ones I have read in the last few years. They are detail-oriented, well researched, and long. Also, I really enjoy the characters; I’ve grown quite attached to almost all of them.

There are a lot of characters in this series, but they are all mostly well written. Gabaldon also has a way of balancing her five or so main characters. Giving them each perspective. I also like how flawed each of them are, but weirdly relatable even though all of them are from a different time than I have experienced.

Unlike some books in other series, Gabaldon’s endings aren’t edge of the seat cliffhangers, but they do make you intrigued about what will happen next. The endings usually prove satisfying and also set up for future things.

Onto my mini reviews of books 5 to 7.

Read More

Outlander

This book is 627 pages long, but I listened to the audiobook. It was narrated and read by Davina Porter; unabridged and 32 hours and 30 minutes long on 28 discs. I have been acquiring audiobooks for knitting purposes, and I had heard about this one in particular from Audiobook Knitters group on Ravelry. I am very glad I did listen to the audiobook. Though it took me a bit to adjust to the narrator, I was continually engaged with the story and the characters by her narration and the evident good storytelling.

I only knew a little bit about the story going in. I usually just jump into book, only vaguely knowing what they are about. It is better that way because then I can judge and interpret the story as the author presents it. For Outlander, I knew that it was a historical romance of sorts. It was violent in parts which is appropriate for the era, but it was darker than I thought it would be especially at the end. The book surprised me with its flawed but interesting characters, dark moments, and its ability to be engaging while being very long. It is incredibly well researched; I learned a lot about the time period, Scotland and clans while reading it. Diana Gabaldon was apparently a scientist and professor before becoming a writer which explains how in depth the book and research is.

At the beginning of the audiobook, it was not easy to warm to Davina Porter’s voice because the majority of the characters are male and I felt I was listening to a one woman play rather than muti-character story. I was impatient and wanted to read the books, but then I got more use to her voice and the characters. She is an excellent narrator. Her delivery at parts makes me smile, and I admire her choice in reading styles. It must have taken weeks to make this audiobook, and I’m aware she has done the others in the series as well. I would really like to listen to her narration more. Her British voice is the voice of Claire in my mind. I can see her so much more clearly with Ms Porter’s vocal interpretation. It is unlikely that I will listen to the others in the series because the books are all long, each ranging from 33-47 hours. I’d prefer to read it if that were the case. I’m too impatient for resolution. Abridged versions are not an option as I prefer unabridged, and I’m aware those are read by another narrator.

In conclusion, now I have another series to follow. I will review as I go along, and I am looking forward to the other books.

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

BeowfulfMany people who have read Beowulf are rather turned off by its old style, slow story, and almost complete lack of characterization among other things. I never studied this in school, but I think I would have liked it more if a passionate English teacher had done so especially with this translation of the story. I am not going to lie; I found the story rather long and ardurous. My mind wandered quite a bit while reading this text. It was not the most enjoyable thing I’ve read in awhile. On the other hand, I really appreciated the translation by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. There were some margin notes and the original text on the left page to guide you through the book. There is something in the prose of the translation and the arrangement of the text that makes me aware that Heaney is a poet, and this work has been well thought out.

I love a good translation; it really can make or break the story. When I was 13, I read a very old translation of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but in my last year of high school, I found the best translation in Robert Fagles’s version. I highly recommend his translations if you are undertaking the two Greek texts.

Even with a good translation, this is still Beowulf. I think part of the problem is that these stories are so different from present conventions and not created originally for a literary text form or modern prose. I would have much rather listened to this story as it is meant to be. These stories are meant to be recounted by a talented storyteller with a booming bard voice. I’m pleased to say that Seamus Heaney has recorded an audiobook, and exerpts from it can be heard at Northon Anthology.

In the end, I’m still glad I read this classic as it does give me more ideas of the Dark Ages and the literary traditions that have derived from this era. I doubt I’ll read

Read for the Book Awards Challenge. Text won the Costa/Whitbread award and Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a MurdererBased on the book of the same name by German writer Patrick Süskind, several directors including Stanely Kubrick and Martin Scorcesse pronounced the film unadaptable. I haven’t read the book, and as I often do when I happen to watch the movie before the book, I wish I did. Not that it would make things less odd, but it would leave me feeling less disjointed afterwards. I know that if I had not read Trainspotting, the movie would have been more confusing. This story takes place in 18th century France, and it’s shot very well. I think the directing, design, and cinematography are the best things about the film along with the casting. I wanted to see the movie based on the ensemble cast including Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, two of my favourites. Rachel Hurd-Wood who played Wendy in 2003’s Peter Pan was also in it with well done dye job on her red hair which I don’t think is her natural hair colour. The protagonist is played by British actor Ben Whishaw whose cheekbones could glass for all I know. The story is unique though, and the protagonist is an antihero rather than a clear cut out character to sympathise with. The book is apparently classified as Magical Realism which explains a lot. The ending is weird and offbeat, and the whole film is different than most stories or films. I think the film can be accused of being pedantic and absurd by others. I don’t know if I would recommend the film, but I don’t hate it. Then again, I rarely truly dislike a book or a film. I think there are positive aspects to almost everything. In this film’s case, the visuals, the casting, and the style of shooting. I may seek out the book, but not soon.

On a related note, I have kept a list of every book to movie adaptation I have read and then seen or vice versa. I’ll post the list in the near future. Now, I need to get started on Watership Down.

The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman

The Tin PrincessThe last of the Sally Lockhart quartet. Published in 1994, Pullman notes on his website how this was the most enjoyable of the books to write. This book is different from the first three books in two major ways: 1) It is not set in Victorian England, and 2) Sally Lockhart is not the protagonist and remains missing for most of the novel. The setting is a fictional kingdom in Prussia called Razkavia involving the eponymous Adelaide as one of the protagonists, Jim as the male lead, and a 16 year old named Becky as another female lead. Becky’s age reminds me of Sally in the first book, and I love that Sally has become the type of woman. I can see how much fun it must have been to write because it’s certainly less intense and in a better setting than the first three novels. It was really good to read about Jim again because I missed him when he was absent from the last book. While I liked this book as I did the others, I found that I really missed Sally. Not that the two strong female leads weren’t well written. Indeed, I was reminded in this novel about how Pullman is very good at writing female characters. I’ve grown quite attached and fond of Sally Lockhart, and it was almost jarring not to have her in this novel knowing she could be involved. This book also followed what I consider to be the most extreme of the thrillers so this did not affect me as much as a reader. Still another quick page turne, and I’ve liked every ending for the characters in the series. Pullman notes on his website that he still has ideas for adventures for these characters. Who knows if he’ll ever publish another Sally Lockhart & Co book, but the year after this one, Northern Lights / The Golden Compass was published, beginning one of the most interesting trilogies of recent years.

The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman

The Tiger in the WellWhen I read the summary for this, it seemed very psychological and intense. I’ve grown quite attached to Sally Lockhart and the other characters. Sometimes I think Pullman is as good as Dickens when making up Victorian characters. The actions in this novel were very horrible to read about because the idea of having one’s child taken away from you especially in a patriarchal, puritanical society such as Victorian England is extremely cruel. I can’t imagine being in Sally’s situation, and while it is sensationalist and fictional, the historical accuracy in these books is more or less correct. I really wanted to get to the end so it could be all resolved and see how it all was connected. The only one grievance I have was that I knew who the enemy was when reading the summary, but it took Sally 3/4 of the book to figure it out which I don’t blame her since I’ve read many more books, movies and television shows. Once again, another good thriller from Pullman, and probably the most tense so far. Though, I’ve noticed he tends to like to use the chilling and malicious monkeys.

The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman

The Shadow in the North My original plan after reading The Ruby in the Smoke was to write a big review of the whole Sally Lockhart quartet because I wrongly assumed the other three books would be as short as that first book. I should have foreseen this as it happened with the His Dark Materials too. Unlike HDM, these books can stand alone, but that doesn’t mean there is not a not a hook to connect these Victorian mystery thrillers. They are definitely page turners, and while I have little experience in adult mysteries or thrillers, I’ve enjoyed the young adult ones I have read. Pullman is not a writer who writes specifically for an age group, and I’ve always been in the belief that adults should read good books no matter the intended age group, just as young adults should read adult books if they are mature enough readers for it. He has admitted on his website that he wrote them with melodramatic undertones, but resolves them in his realistic style and detail (he calls fantasy classified HDM “dark realism”). One of the highlights in this series is the ensemble cast of characters; I thoroughly enjoyed them in the first book and found it almost comforting to see how much has happened since tRiS (six years between the two books). I did not understand how engaging the book was until I found myself shocked at the climax. Well played, Mr Pullman. As much as I want to read the next book, it looks particularly intense that I’m going to hold it off for a nonfiction or two. These books require one or two sittings to finish off before bed.