Princess Harueme has lived her life in the shadow of Japanese emperors. In the winter of her years, though, she needs to leave court and head to a convent, where she already knows she will die. Compelled to fill empty notebooks, Harueme begins telling the story of Kagaya-hime, a cat who has lost her family and her fudoki due to a horrible fire in the middle of her city. As the story progresses, Harueme intertwines the tale of her own life with Kagaya-hime’s, and we slowly learn about these two women and their individual struggles.
I never doubt Ana when she recommends a book and this is one I can specifically trace back to her recommendation. I could not resist the idea of this cat-turned-woman story. Even so, as with so many books, it sat on my wishlist until a friend bought it for me, and then I finally read it – and, of course, I loved it. It immediately drew me in with the tale of a tortoiseshell cat who loses her entire family and just barely survives the fire; it’s sad, but poignantly written, and it felt just pitch-perfect. The book remains just that perfectly and magnificently written.
This story of intertwined women shines so brightly and has so many things to say about life that I’m not even sure I can review it properly. It’s one of those books that illuminates things that I hadn’t necessarily thought about, but in a way that stuck me as perfect.
Perhaps some quotes can illustrate this better than I can:
What man, what lost love or deceased kinsman is worth death? The space in my life that my half-brother once filled is now an aching icy pain, like the hole left after a tooth is pulled, and I am dying in weeks or months – and yet I still fight for life, as every mouse does, until the final beak-blow. The grace in tragedy is not to succumb, but to fight on. (87-88)
It’s such a beautiful book. I loved the format with the story of the two women, I loved Kagaya-hime’s cat-like sensibilities, I loved Harueme’s thoughtful reflections on her life gone by. It’s a book to make me wish I was more articulate so I could explain better just why it appealed to me. I haven’t read The Fox Woman which is Johnson’s first book, but I wish that I had, as I’ve read that the books are connected in small ways. In a way, though, I’m glad, because it’s an excuse to read this book again.
Domei once told me that he missed war.
“How can you?” I asked, shocked.
He was drunk and more candid than usual: he slurred as he spoke. ” I have never had such good friends.”
“You are surrounded by people who love you,” I said, “and no one is dying here.” How could war be better than this? Than me?
“We are all dying,” he said. “We just forget that when nothing is trying to kill us.” (233)
Very highly recommended.
Seraphina has spent much of her life refusing friendships and hiding herself from those who might get close to her. Why? Because she is half dragon, would be considered an abomination by almost everyone she knows, and cherishes her relative freedom from prejudice and prosecution. The love between her parents was forbidden and she has already overstepped her bounds slightly by taking a job in the royal court, helping with the orchestra and giving the Princess Grisselda music lessons. The peace between dragons and humans is an uneasy one, however, particularly when dragons can take human form, indistinguishable from real humans if they fail to wear their bells. Both dragons and humans are wary, and it would take just one powerful rebel to tip the balance.
Seraphina is a book that completely surprised me. I don’t know why – I bought it because I’d seen many praising reviews of it around the blogosphere, so I knew, objectively, that I might like it. But subjectively, it didn’t actually appeal to me that much. I didn’t feel like reading a book about dragons, the cover didn’t broadcast to me that I would like it (although why I’m not sure – on a closer look it’s actually lovely), and YA is not my favorite genre. I bought it when it was on the Kindle Daily Deal, as something that I knew I should try, but had no particular plan to read it. And then I was on the train on Friday, I’d finished the last book I was reading (Widow’s Web by Jennifer Estep), which had ended on a slightly low note, and I just had no idea which book I wanted to read next. For whatever reason, Seraphina called to me then, so I opened it.
It wasn’t even love at first few pages. In fact, I found it difficult to get into, and if I wasn’t sitting on train with nothing else appealing to me much, I might have wandered over to my bookshelves and chosen something else. But I stuck with it, because I had twenty minutes to fill. And then I fell in love with it, and found myself absolutely glued to the Kindle until I finished. I loved it even more because it blind-sided me and I expected not to like it; instead I found an absolute gem. The book has a fantastic, multi-layered world, deep characters, and a plot that races along and managed to surprise me at the end.
I simply adored Seraphina. I loved that the book took prejudice head-on and showed that this tough, brave, sensitive, clever, gifted girl is someone that most of the population around her would hate if they knew her true nature. They adore her, but how easily that could change, and how worried she is despite that affection – this is a worry that is justified but this book is a perfect example of how well fantasy can teach us about our world, too. I even loved how Lucian Kiggs, another significant character in the book, shares some stigma with Seraphina because he’s a bastard, but in a totally different way. We could also talk about how much I loved the romance and how utterly perfect it was, but that really just capped off a book that was already spectacular.
This is the book I wish I’d read instead of all of those disappointing YA fantasy books I did read. Highly, highly recommended.
Ivan Vorpatril, never regarded as one of the brightest in the Miles Vorkosigan series, gets his own book in the Vorkosigan saga with Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. Consigned to a relatively minor military governance role, Ivan’s life is relatively peaceful and his job is one that he does well. That is, until his cousin Byerly Vorrutyer appears on the same planet and informs him of a plot against a woman in the same exact city. A gentleman at heart, Ivan goes to investigate and befriend said young woman, and before long finds himself more or less accidentally married.
I’ve written a lot about how much I love the Vorkosigan Saga and thus it’s no surprise that I actually preordered this book as soon as I discovered its existence. Ivan is mentioned a lot in the saga as Miles’s less intelligent cousin who ends up involved in a great number of the latter’s schemes, and it was a great idea to give him his own story so we could finally see inside his head. Because I actually waited a few months to read this book, I’ve seen a number of reviews and read quite a few opinions already, and I do have to agree that while this particular installment isn’t as amazing as some of the other books in the series, it’s a lot of fun and worth reading.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is a book that is very well-plotted, with events taking place at all turns, and a certain elegance to the way that all of the various schemes by all of the characters play out at the end of the book. It felt a good deal lighter than some of the previous books in the series, though, perhaps because the life-or-death circumstances generally aren’t quite as severe as the situations that have faced Miles. Really, they’re over by the time that Ivan and his surprise bride, Tej, get married, and a lot of the rest of the book has to do with how that particular couple get on both with one another and with some of Tej’s family.
A lot of the ensemble cast from the rest of the series appear, too; some of them only appear for a few pages, but they do add a certain something to help the book fit in with the universe. For this reason, though, I think a new reader of the Vorkosigan saga would end up confused, as there are a number of little in-jokes and references to the world that would simply pass them by. This is definitely one for those who have already read most of the series. Chronologically, it takes place in the years before Cryoburn, and it wouldn’t surprise me if preferred reading order later places this in front.
Overall, though, I had a lot of fun with Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and it’s certainly worth reading for those who have enjoyed the rest of the saga.
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Everyone has heard the rumors about Mr. Wright. He’s a notorious rake, and not at all appropriate company for Miss Eliza Cade. While she’s old enough to be out in society, her family is convinced that she’ll bring them all down into scandal; so convinced that her three sisters must marry before she can have her first Season. And so, spending time with the very scandalous Mr. Wright is dangerous, leading her right down the path her family worries about, but somehow Eliza just can’t resist.
This novella was simply delightful. I’ll admit to being shallow and mainly buying it because the title was so appealing, but I have read and previously enjoyed a few of Tessa Dare’s full-length novels so it was worth the very small price tag.
Immediately, I was struck by how very clever the writing in this book was. I read it in Kindle format, and the number of “highlighters” – other people marking a passage in a novel as significant – was higher than any I’d ever seen in another romance novel. The author has a habit of sneaking truths in dialogue that catch you off-guard and immediately build character. Take this example that comes from Harry when Eliza suffers grief:
“You’ve seen that all the joy and beauty of the world is fragile. Just bright daubs of paint on the surface of an eggshell. Now you’ll reach for it more cautiously. No more wild grasps at glory. It’s that innocence you’re mourning.”
And from Eliza, at a flirtatious moment:
“It’s a funny thing about suspicions, Mr. Wright. All too often, they’re just vain hopes in disguise.”
Little statements, caught in dialogue, but snatching at truths about life and growing up and understanding these characters.
I loved the way Tessa Dare challenged external assumptions in such a short form. Harry – Mr. Wright – might be deemed scandalous, but why? What does it take to gain that reputation? Similarly, Eliza’s parents are convinced she’ll get into trouble because of something that happened when she was young, but once the reader discovers the reason behind it, we’re compelled to question our assumptions about both characters and revise what we previously thought. They have to do the same with each other throughout the book, and watching them learn one another’s true characters was a real pleasure.
Moreover, the novella format means that we’re focused on just one thing; there aren’t any sideplots and the only other romances are Eliza’s sisters’ in the background. No, here we have a love story between two people who are attracted to one another from the start, but who have to learn a great deal about each other before they can properly fall in love. The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright is wonderful and sigh-worthy, and completely recommended for an evening in. Excuse me while I go gorge on the rest of Tessa Dare’s wonderful books!
These are the first two books in the Weather Wardens series. I thought it was easiest to review both in one post and share more general thoughts on the series, rather than a specific book review for each.
Joanne Baldwin can control the weather. As one of the Weather Wardens, she’s responsible for maintaining the natural flow of the weather and helping even out major crises. But things aren’t going so well for her, as she’s acquired a Demon Mark and the only person she knows who can help her get rid of it is in hiding. In fact, he’s impossible to find, and Joanne is running out of time. With deceitful Djinn (genies) in her way and secretive friends, Joanne isn’t sure who she can trust to help her get rid of her Demon Mark and return to her job.
Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres. I have plenty of examples of the genre where the characters are amazing and develop with realistic relationships and death-defying odds and cool magic systems – everything that I look for in a fantasy novel. Unfortunately, these books didn’t deliver on what I wanted, and as a result I think I’ll be leaving this series behind. I’d purchased these books in a 2 for 1 style deal, so I thought I’d keep going, but the second one didn’t really improve on the first.
Primarily, I didn’t connect at all with the main character, Joanne. She’s too focused on fast cars, attractive men, and clothes for me to like her, in perfect honesty. She doesn’t seem all that bright and she doesn’t make the right choices. Or, I should say, the choices I would make in her shoes, nor is she the sort of character that I’d try to understand anyway.
Secondly, maybe I’m not far along enough yet in the series, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a unifying factor. A lot changes in the second book, yes, but then could be completely reversed at the end, which makes me wonder what was the point of reading it at all. The relationships didn’t develop in ways that I believed in, and the characters apart from Joanne felt mostly like cardboard. It’s really an action and emotion novel; you have to get sucked in to follow the ride, and this time I simply wasn’t sucked in at all.
It’s a shame because I really wanted to like this series, and it isn’t as though I minded reading it. I just feel like my standards for this genre have been raised so high by the utterly amazing fantasy that I’ve been reading that these two books weren’t really there. I am afraid I can’t recommend this series.
I purchased these books.
This review will contain spoilers for Blackout. You should always read that first before you read this book or this review!
Mike, Polly, and Eileen have finally found one another in the midst of the London Blitz in 1941, but they’ve discovered, to their dismay, that none of them can get back to their own time. Oxford in 2060 is several lifetimes away and they may need to resign themselves to living in the Blitz forever. They keep trying, however, sending messages to the future and coding things to let their time travelling cohorts find them more easily, and slowly the pieces of how they got lost in the past start to fall together.
These two books - Blackout and All Clear - have received a lot of criticism for being too long and under-edited. I’ve seen plenty of cynical remarks to the effect that two books sell more copies than one. I am going to say that I never really felt that way. They were long books, yes, but perhaps I read through them so quickly that neither dragged for me. After I finished Blackout, I immediately picked up All Clear so I could get right back into the disrupted lives of these three time-travelling characters.
I was glad that, not too long into this book, the plot threads start to go together and everything begins to make more sense. While the first book was about each character’s realization that they are trapped in an incredibly dangerous historical period, the second book is about how they will get themselves out of that and what actually happened to a few of the other characters mentioned in the previous book. They are still very much required to deal with the situation, but everything actually wraps up. There were a couple of characters introduced in the first book without any real background story and their roles were clarified and we did figure out who they all were.
Everything I loved about the first book is still true; the atmosphere remains fantastic throughout and I appreciated that we continued to get a feel of the different parts of the war, too. The main focus is really on London and precisely what happened, and there are some very tense and dramatic scenes as the characters fight to keep themselves and others alive. Willis really can make you feel as though you’re in the midst of each and every struggle with the characters.
There isn’t much else I have to say about this book that I didn’t say about the first, but rest assured that if you are looking for a dramatic read set during World War II and don’t mind or would love a little time travel in your books, this is a duology well worth reading. Highly recommended.
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Piscine Patel is the young son of an Indian zookeeper. A deeply religious boy, he loves every sign of God, even in the animals that his father keeps. When Pi’s family is forced to leave their native India and move to Canada, many of the zoo’s animals in tow on a massive industrial boat, Pi is alternately excited and devastated. When the ship sinks, though, and Pi must battle for his life, devastation, survival, and even religion take on new meaning.
Life of Pi is a book that I had kicking around for more than four years, knowing that other people had loved it but somehow never making the time to read it for myself. The release of the film, and the possibility that I might see a film before I’d read the book that inspired it (gasp), led me to finally pick it up and see for myself what all the fuss was about. What I found was perhaps the first book featuring magical realism that I’ve enjoyed and a striking tale about survival and stories and, in the end, true meaning and whether or not it matters.
I admit that I was a bit perplexed when I first started reading. Nearly a third of the book takes place before Pi has even left India and a surprising chunk of that part of the book is consumed by his religious nature. He decides that he believes in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, praying and taking mentors for each religion. He just wants to worship God, and all ways of worshipping God are sacred to him, an idea which I found fascinating but which didn’t seem related to the part of the book that I knew about, which was the part where he is on a lifeboat with a tiger.
It all makes perfect sense in the end, fortunately, and I think what Martel is trying to comment on is really the nature of story. If you read to the end of the book, he offers two explanations for what happened to Pi on the lifeboat, but it doesn’t really matter what truly happened. Either explanation can be true; one just requires more of a leap of faith than the other. In such a way, religions require that leap of faith, that belief, but at the core of them, the stories are human. I’m an atheist myself but I found the whole story and the end fascinating. It wasn’t what I’d expected at all, and I immediately felt that this is a book I’d like to talk about in a lot more depth, which might take on new significance the more it’s considered.
Regardless of how you take the story within this book’s pages, it’s a moving portrayal of Pi’s spirit and will to survive in the face of elements clearly much larger than he is. Definitely a book worth reading – and now I’m looking forward to seeing the film!
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In 2060, humans have discovered time travel, and it’s now a fantastic method for historians to get a real view of what happened in the past. For three young historians, England during World War II is the destination of choice. Eileen, or Merope in 2060, is assigned to be a maid in a country house, looking after evacuees. Mike Davis finds himself posted to just before Dunkirk to watch the boats depart. Polly Sebastian, meanwhile, heads straight into the heart of the London Blitz. Each goes armed with knowledge to survive his or her particular assignment and full knowledge of where their “drop” points are and when they’re meant to check in. But, around the same time for each of them, things start to go wrong, and these historians find that rather than simply observing history, they have to live it.
I put Blackout on my pile for Long-Awaited Reads Month and am I glad – this is a book I shouldn’t have put off for a year. There were many aspects about it that I really, really liked, and by the time I reached the end, I was thrilled that I had All Clear on the shelf waiting for me to pick this story back up again. The book doesn’t really end, it just cuts off, and there are many loose plotlines left dangling for the second book to pick up again. I’ve since had a poke around the internet and I’m fortunate to have picked it up after All Clear was published; one big complaint for early readers is that they were left hanging for an entire year. I’m happy that won’t happen to me.
While my edition of this book is over 600 pages long, I found that it fled by as I got wrapped up in the individual problems of Eileen, Mike, and Polly. My previous experience with Willis’s time travel books is Doomsday Book which I also loved, so I was prepared to get deep inside each character’s mind as everything starts to go wrong. I actually found the whole process that each of them went through really fascinating – they’re all so confident in their ability to escape at will that they don’t really think much about where they’re going. Polly, for instance, gets an implant with each and every bombing incident during the part of the Blitz that she is meant to experience, so she’s not meant to be in any real danger. Instead, she’s assigned to just watch how those who are actually in danger experience it, and that’s all she expects. Of course, when the drop doesn’t open and she realizes that she’s actually stuck in the middle of the London Blitz, and sometimes has no real way of actually knowing where and when is safe, her perspective completely changes.
At that point, when the three of them start to wonder about what’s happened to their retrieval teams and their drop points, they each start to actually live in the midst of World War II. There is some element of repetitiveness, as a lot of what they experience is quite similar; there are meant to be retrieval teams that investigate if they haven’t returned at a certain point, and they each spend a lot of time pondering their arrival. In addition, they start to worry that they’ve affected history, despite the apparent truth that historians can’t alter history, particularly Mike, who finds himself seemingly changes events at a critical period in World War II. Not only do they panic about what happens next to themselves, they start to feel as though they genuinely *don’t* know what’s going on in the war.
I particularly loved how Willis depicted ordinary heroism in the face of extraordinary danger. At times, particularly during the bombing raids, her descriptions reminded me how devastating a war this was for London and that it didn’t happen all that long ago. Even for people who weren’t that close to the bombs, living with the reality and unpredictability that each night might be their last took an incredible amount of courage. The atmosphere that she evokes is incredibly well done. One of my very favorite parts of the book had a Shakespearean actor getting up in the middle of an air raid shelter and going through monologues to distract the others in the shelter. That scene is going to stay with me for some time.
Blackout is a book that I had an amazing time with, but don’t read it unless you have All Clear ready to go immediately after – otherwise, you’ll be frustrated that it ends in the middle with no resolution whatsoever. So far it looks like I’ll be recommending these!
All external book links are affiliate links. I purchased this book and its sequel.
Cherry St. Croix lives in two worlds, London Above and London Below. Above, she’s the somewhat ostracized daughter of a mad scientist and his aristocratic, much-loved wife; after their deaths when she was a child, Cherry has had to navigate the waters of London’s social set with the guidance of her guardian, but she has never had much success or care for the intricate social politics. Below, she’s a Collector, a detective of sorts who finds and turns in people who owe something to others. As the only female collector, and one who has to keep her identity a secret, Cherry takes great pride in her success. But then, one of her bounties disappears, and the “sweets”, or prostitutes, of Below’s menagerie tell her about a horrible murder and ask for her help in finding the killer.
I really liked this book; it’s a twist on steampunk London, adding fantasy and new elements that made for an interesting world. I thought the actual, literal split between London’s rich and poor was a fascinating division, and it means that whoever shows up “Below” has a real motive and a reason for being there. It appears to be a racial divide as well, although I don’t recall any explicit mention of this. All of the characters of color are met under London, and the social elites are all white. The literal divide means that Cherry actually does live in two worlds, and her different identities in each are starkly defined.
The story itself is actually wrapped up in Cherry’s identity, though; the mystery that she attempts to solve is closely wrapped up in her own past, and as a result we do get a significant amount of her backstory in this one book. We need to, just to understand what’s going on and why it matters. I thought the story was decently intriguing, although readers should be aware that it doesn’t end here at all, and plenty of mysteries are left unsolved for future books in the series.
There is also a romance element to this particular book, although it doesn’t actually get very far. Cherry doesn’t really fall in love with anyone, but she has an intense attraction to two men who personify the split between her two worlds. The first is the leader of the Menagerie, a dark and charismatic figure that Cherry can’t avoid being attracted to; the second is the son of her worst aristocratic nemesis, a tall and golden-haired earl. It’s immediately clear that to be with either, Cherry would have to sacrifice one of her identities, but there’s no hint of a choice in this book, just the beginning of what could be a love triangle in the future.
While Tarnished was a good read, it remained a like, not love, book, for reasons I can’t really explain. Certainly good enough to continue with the series, though; I’d recommend it to those who like urban fantasy and steampunk, but it wouldn’t be the first on my list for current urban fantasy series just yet.
All external book links are affiliate links. I purchased this book.
Translating, often assumed to be a fairly standard process, is in reality anything but. Text is one language is not directly transferable to another language. Just try translating an idiom from one language to another; finding a needle in a haystack or having your mouth water is not something that can be directly translated. And what is translation, anyway? To what extent do you change the text to make it fit in, and to what extent do you change it further to give a text an “atmosphere”? In this book, David Bellos, a translator himself, deconstructs the process and examines why we do what we do when we convert something from one language into another.
My interest in this particular topic has been prompted by the fact that the company I work for in real life specializes in multilingual and multinational search. We have a translation agency in our company, and I’ve personally been involved in many projects where translation is involved and is really important to the project in question. Plus, with such an international workforce, it’s fun to get into debates about how different languages are and how it’s much more difficult to translate between some than others. We always focus on local and local knowledge as much as we possibly can, but there has to be the ability to translate somewhere, and that’s why I was quite curious about the actual process – plus, an ongoing interest in linguistics that I’ve abandoned since university is always a factor.
That said, I’d expected something a lot lighter than this book actually was. Bellos is an academic and his book reads like one that was written by an academic. Some parts are fascinating and full of facts, while others are a bit dry. He has one particular chapter that’s about meaning and how it’s expressed, which isn’t a light read for anyone. It’s all fascinating, in my view at least, but it took me longer and more brain power to get through than your average non-fiction read.
I did feel as I was reading that I was really learning something, though; I don’t speak anything but English fluently, so a lot of the book was new to me since I don’t know what goes through a translator’s head. I loved particular little tidbits which really made me feel I was genuinely learning, such as:
For the ancient Greeks, the sound of the foreign was the unarticulated, open-mouthed blabber of va-va-va-, which is why they called all non-Greek-speakers varvaros, that is to say, barbarians, “blah-blah-ers”.
I already knew about what he says directly after – that the Russian word for German means, basically, deaf – but that about the origin of the word “barbarian” just made me smile.
Bellos wraps up the book with more thoughts on meaning, and how we can express meaning without language at all. It’s a thoughtful look back at the whole book and the way people actually understand each other. I really liked Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, but I don’t think it’s for everyone; if you do enjoy languages and translation, though, it’s certainly a book that you should try.
I purchased this book.