Sunday, November 30, 2014

November Reading Wrap-Up

It's hard to believe that November will be over at the end of today, and that we are heading into the busy holiday season!  I've already managed to get most of my Christmas shopping completed, and have spent much of this weekend decorating the house.

Reading-wise, I've been in a bit of a slump lately. As discussed in my recent post Genre Fatigue: Historical Fiction Edition, I'm in a major rut when it comes to historical fiction right now and, as indicated by my November reading list below, I'm reading only non-historical fiction books these days. I think my genre fatigue will likely carry-over into the new year. 

Books Read in November 2014:
  • The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg (Fiction - Contemporary Mystery)
  • Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season by Nick Heil  (Non-Fiction - Adventure/Mountaineering)
  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick (Fiction - Modern-day Pride & Prejudice re-telling)
  • The Grey Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima (Fiction - YA Fantasy)
  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden (Non-Fiction)
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (Fiction - Contemporary/Humour)
  • Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg (Fictional)
When I look over my reading list I realize that, other than The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet (click on title to read my mini-review), none of the books stand out as outstanding reads. In fact, a couple of the books on my list were a disappointment:

The Rosie Effect: I really enjoyed Graeme Simsion's first novel featuring Professor Don Tillman, The Rosie Project, but this follow-up didn't have the same effect on me. While the book did have a few laugh out loud moments, and I continue to adore Don, I felt the overall story to be a little over the top.  In addition, I didn't find Rosie anywhere near as likeable in this one.  While The Rosie Effect is by no means a bad book, I didn't have the same connection with it that I did with The Rosie Project, and for this reason it was a disappointment.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg: Based on reviews and blogger feedback I expected Texts from Jane Eyre would produce non-stop giggles. The book features series of text messages sent by famous literary characters, including Jane Eyre. While I found a few of these messages to be quite funny--the texts between Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter, and Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights stand out--the vast majority left me wondering what I'd missed. Granted, many of the characters featured in the book come from novels I've never read, but even those featuring characters I'm quite familiar with, such as Lizzie Bennet from Pride & Prejudice and Scarlet O'Hara from Gone with the Wind, failed to elicit from me any humorous response. While I found this book disappointing, others might find it appealing.

Have you read any of the books on my November reading list? If so, what did you think?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Genre Fatigue: Historical Fiction Edition

After a short hiatus, I decided to return to blogging a couple of months back. Unfortunately, despite my good intentions, I'm still not writing many posts. One of the principal reasons for this is that I'm suffering from severe genre fatigue when it comes to historical fiction, the genre I read and review most widely in. During 2013 and the first half of 2014, the vast majority of the books I read were historical novels. Now, I don't want to go anywhere near the genre. I have a (very) large number of unread historical works on my shelves, yet I've been reading mainly mystery/thriller, fantasy and contemporary novels, as well as some non-fiction, since mid-summer.  I keep waiting for this fatigue to come to an end, and my love of historical fiction to re-assert itself, but this has yet to happen. 

What about you, do you ever suffer from genre fatigue? If so, how do you overcome it? Are there any particular genres you tend to get tired of more than others?

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mini Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
Touchstone Books, June 2014
400 pages

My Review

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, which is based on the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, was an absolute delight to read.  The novel is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's beloved Pride & Prejudice, one which I think does justice to Austen's original characters and story. The star of the book is communications graduate student Lizzie Bennet, whose thesis project involves making video diary entries chronicling her life and that of her family, and posting them on the web with the help of her best friend, Charlotte Lu.  Lizzie's path soon crosses with that of William D'Arcy, an arrogant and standoffish businessman who arrives in town when his friend, Bing Lee, rents a home near that of the Bennet's.  What follows is a tale familiar to any fan of Pride and Prejudice, albeit one told from a 21st century perspective.

I've read a few great retellings of Jane Austen's novels, but The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet has to be my favourite.  I love how faithful the authors are to Austen's original story, and how they develop each of the characters to be representative of Austen's yet unique and memorable on their own.  I had not watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries prior to reading this book, but I definitely plan to do so now.

Highly recommended to Jane Austen fans.  

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review: The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine


Love is as uncertain and as untameable as war... 

In the summer of 1940, most eyes are focussed on the skies above the South of England. The battle for Britain has just begun. But young Evie Lucas has eyes for no-one but a dashing young pilot called Tony. Evie has a glittering career as an artist ahead of her but seems to be wasting her time sketching endless portraits of Tony. She wants his parents to have something to remember him by in case it all goes wrong in the war... 

Seventy years later, and recently widowed art historian Lucy is trying to put the pieces of her life back together. And in order to do that, Lucy needs to uncover the mystery surrounding a painting in her home. But as she accidentally ends up stirring up a hornet's nest of history which has been deliberately obliterated, Lucy finds herself in danger from people past and present who have no intention of letting an untold truth ever surface.

HarperCollins Publishers | July 2014 | 400 pages | ISBN: 9780007513130

My Review

I've been a fan of Barbara Erskine since reading her wonderful historical novel Child of the Phoenix many years ago.  As such, I always look forward to the release of a new Barbara Erskine book.  Like many of her earlier novels, Erskine's latest release, The Darkest Hour, is a dual-time narrative. The present day storyline concerns Lucy Standish, an art historian who recently lost her husband, as she attempts to write a biography of a prominent World War II artist about whom little is known.  The historical narrative focuses on Evie Lucas, a young woman looking to make her mark as an artist as the Battle of Britain commences. When Evie's path crosses with that of handsome pilot Tony Anderson, she turns her attention to him and the hopes that they can build a life together. But not everyone is happy about Evie's blossoming relationship with Tony, including one person who will stop at nothing to keep them apart forever.  As Lucy begins to dig deeper into Evie's life and slowly starts to uncover some it its secrets, it soon becomes apparent that the past is reaching out into the present to prevent the truth of Evie's life from ever being known.

The Darkest Hour is a relatively quick-moving tale that, at times, I didn't want to put down. Both Evie and Lucy are engaging, as are many of the novel's secondary characters, especially those in Lucy's portion of the narrative.  A key component to the success of dual-time narratives is ensuring that the reader is never jolted out of the story when it transitions between the modern-day and historical narratives.  As one of the masters of the dual-time narrative, Erskine's transitions are always smooth.  As is the case with most of Erskine's other dual-time narratives, there is an element of the paranormal that is weaved throughout the book.  I liked this element for the most part, and found it kept me eagerly turning the pages, but did find it to be a little much at times, leaving me with the impression that certain parts of the narrative had become too fantastic for a non-fantasy novel. 

While several of my favourite books are dual-time narratives, I usually have a distinct preference for one storyline over the other, and it's usually the historical narrative I'm most drawn to.  In the case of The Darkest Hour, however, I preferred the modern-day storyline. While I liked both Lucy and Evie as characters, it was Lucy's quest to uncover the truth about Evie's life that I found most intriguing.   My only real criticism of the novel is that the ending felt too rushed. While the novel concluded as I expected (and wanted), I was ultimately left unsatisfied by how quickly everything was resolved and wish the ending had not wrapped up quite so quickly. 

While I don't think The Darkest Hour is Erskine's best book, fans of her previous novels (as well as those interested in dual-time narratives in general) should still find much to like in this book.     

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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