Weekend Reads

weekend reads

It’s Friday! And thus usually the time I get most of my reading done. I’m a bit more flexible about my hours during the week at the moment but it’s still the weekends where I often save a book I’m really excited about for some serious reading time. Sometimes I make plans to read a specific book or reread an old favorite and close the door on the hectic world. So I expect weekend reads to be epic adventures, new worlds to explore or a mystery to figure out. If you want to loose yourself in a book this weekend, let me recommend some weekend reads to you:

tooth and claw

1. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Family drama and money intrigue, Victorian era, Pride and Prejudice with dragons!, social commentary, dragons!

fingersmith

2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Victorian London, Dickens with lesbians, super twisty, class, thievery

niko

3. Niko by Kayti Nika Raet

Please don’t judge the book by its cover, post-apocalyptic wasteland, this is how you do diversity, body horror, kick-ass heroine

the between

4.The Between by Tananarive Due

Floridian horror or is it a mystery or a thriller, Black family history, what is going on, warning for Due always delivers on the creepiness

sorcerer to the crown

5. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Ye stuffy olde England now upgraded with magic, familiars, diverse characters, and the best heroine ever. You can read this in a day and then lament the wait for the sequel.

Do you make reading plans on some weekends? What are your favorite weekend reads?

 

 

Advertisements

Thoughts: Vera

vera

I finally made use of my kindle again, for the disconcerting reason of not having any unread novels at my place. This has never happened to me before, and frankly, I’m still a bit shocked. But since I only moved to my current place for the first semester and am moving again (at least in the same city) soon, I only packed one small box of books. And then I found out I was out of unread books at night on a weekend…well I’m so happy there are great free e-books and that I own a kindle. Deciding on one book wasn’t easy, but I finally started Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim. I had this vague notion of having read a short story by her about Germans and a pension- and then realized that was Katherine Mansfield! And then after googling von Arnim I remembered why I had never tried her works, it’s the plants. I like flowers in my home, but other than that gardens and plants and such are not really my thing. Luckily, Vera is a plant-lite book. So, Vera is my first von Arnim experience and I have to say I absolutely loved her writing and characterization and want to try another one soon (Any recommendations? I thought of trying Fräulein Schmidt next).

Vera is about Lucy Entwistle, who is vacationing with her father, when he suddenly dies. Then, she meets Everard Wemyss, who has just lost his wife under tragic circumstances, and they bond, fall in love and get married. That sounds all very romantic complete with a happy ending, but that’s actually only the first part of the novel. It gets very much darker, and quite sad after that. I’m horrible with spoiler warnings, simply forget about them when I want to discuss a book, but even if I won’t reveal the ending, if you don’t want to know more about what happens and why the tone gets darker, better stop reading, I guess.

When Lucy and Wemyss get married, she comes to learn that her husband is controlling, has a temper and sulks like a child. She is still very much in love with him, but his character makes it nearly impossible to hold onto those feelings. Having only recently lost a father who protected Lucy, she is very much an innocent, and in part relishes Wemyss’ protectiveness. But he infantilizes her, calls her his “little one” and his “baby” (part of what first attracted him to Lucy was her girlish hairstyle and that she looked so young, much younger than her 22 years) and will not allow her any time to herself or make any decisions.

As Lucy mostly fell in love, because she understood Wemyss to be as bereaved as she was, she is horrified that he takes her to the house where his first wife died and never even thought of changing anything and later flatly refuses to. Thus, Vera, named after the first wife, is somewhat of a forerunner to DuMaurier’s Rebecca. The books are completely different, and yet like in Rebecca, Vera’s presence seems to linger. Thus, Lucy has to eat under the watchful gaze of the life-sized portrait of Wemyss’ first wife and her room is now Lucy’s. However, there is no Mrs. Danvers and as her husband turns out to be a completely different person and the love is difficult to hold onto, Lucy rather takes comfort in Vera’s lingering presence (for Vera was married to Wemyss for 15 years).

I really enjoyed the way Lucy was only first portrayed as somewhat simple, the intellectual circle of her father and their discussions were something she never felt part of and freely admits to finding their arguments too difficult to comprehend and too exhausting to follow. But, Wemyss, whom she first considers so wonderful, because he likes to keep things simple and has a clear-cut black and white view of the world, completely resistant to change, begins to feel strange to her and Lucy comes to realize the importance of ideas and discussions for herself. I really liked that she wasn’t simple, but instead grew when she finally experienced life outside of her father’s influence, even if her marriage is hell. Wemyss in contrast is basically a bully and the baby he always calls his wife.

The other character of importance is Lucy’s aunt, a spinster, who wants the best for Lucy, but also feels that as an old spinster, she cannot decide for her young niece who is so in love. While the smart, spinster aunt is a stereotypical figure, I really appreciated how von Arnim’ characterization of her was complex, even if she provides readers with something of a heroine character, who we can cheer for and sympathize with. Because that is not really possible with Lucy, who is trapped in a marriage, and not really the person to take a stand and be decisive. Lucy’s portrayal is great exactly because of that, but I still appreciated Miss Entwistle.

One other thing I loved, von Arnim knows how books should be treated! Absolutely loved this passage:

“She was accustomed to the most careless familiarity in intercourse with books, to books loose everywhere, books overflowing out of their shelves, books in every room, instantly accessible, friendly books, books used to being read aloud, with their hospitable pages falling open at a touch.”

(The context: Wemyss has a library of books he doesn’t read, what matters is that they are the best and most expensive editions and he keeps them behind glass doors, which he keeps locked with only him having the key.)

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!)

Thoughts: An Instance of the Fingerpost

Iain Pears’ novel has been sitting on my tbr pile for quite a while, but this month I gave myself a push, motivated by Anna and Iris’ “longawaited-reads month”. Long awaited it was indeed, but I am so happy to have finally read the book.

 An Instance of the Fingerpost is a historical, scholarly (according to the blurbs) mystery set in 17th century England, mostly Oxford. Charles II is only just back on the throne, the country is still reeling from the civil war and everyone with at least a passing interest in power and politics is still scheming. The book consists of four narratives: The Venetian Marco da Cola, the student Jack Prescott, the cryptographer Dr. John Wallis and the archivist Anthony Wood. All write down their version of the events surrounding the murder of the Oxford don Grove, years after it happened, each contradicting the others’ narrative.

At the heart of the story, however, is Sarah Blundy, a young woman, who is caught up in the events and intrigues spun around her. She is from the lower classes, something of a herbalist, educated and holds progressive views on gender equality. As a result, she is alternately taken for a witch, a whore and a prophetess. The way she is treated is abysmal, but of course many of the attitudes regarding women are only articulated differently today. She was by far the most interesting character, but the prophetess thing threw me I have to admit. But then I couldn’t relate to the religious aspects at all.

What I was most excited about was the history of medicine, I always get a kick out of that. This is the time during which the Royal Society is beginning to emerge and Robert Boyle figures in this novel, too. It was fascinating to read a fictional account about how blood transfusion could have been first attempted and it is during the 17th century that methods are beginning to change from the humours approach and the set of the stars etc, to more “modern” approaches. In fact, the characters hold very different opinions on what is legitimate medicinal treatment and constantly argue in Aristotelian fashion.

 I don’t think this worked for me as a mystery, but I really enjoyed its other aspects so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The first 100 pages were a bit hard going, but after I had oriented myself so to speak, I got really into it. I was scrambling to remember classes on English history, but in the end a bit of googling helped me picture the time and the connections between the historical characters better. Perhaps the blurbs are a bit misleading, this is not a page-turner, but this is one well-researched historical novel, nt some crap put together after glancing at a Wikipedia page and if you’re interested in 17th century politics, gender relations, religion and the history of medicine, I doubt that the amount of pages without instant gratification will bother you. Oh and it’s extremely well-written, too!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link.

Review: Maisie Dobbs 1-3

 

Maisie Dobbs is the first book in a series of mysteries set in England in the 1920s/30s. Its title heroine is an investigator and psychologist, just setting up a business of her own after the retirement of her mentor. Maisie’s first case is the supposed infidelity of a wife, but of course there soon turns out to be much more to it. This is very much the first book in a series and is mostly there to establish Maisie’s investigative approach and to give her back story. The mystery is not terribly well-constructed but my problem was mostly with Maisie as a character. I read this book in June and never thought then that I would voluntarily read more of the series. Maisie, as we learn from the flashback to her early years, is from a humble background and used to be a servant in the household of Lady Rowan Compton. This lady becomes Maisie’s patroness and her friend Maurice Blanche becomes a sort of mentor. Maisie is unbelievably intelligent, hard-working, good-looking, and loved by everyone she meets (except for the reader that is, I was beginning to hate her guts at that point). A third of this book is devoted the exceptional Miss Dobbs and her Hollywood-meets-Dickens story. Also, Maisie’s detecting involves a lot of esoteric psycho stuff that I’m not very comfortable with. She imitates people’s body postures to find out what they are feeling and thinking. And she feels the spirit of people in their abandoned rooms. Ugh! So neither the mystery nor the main character did much for me but what I did enjoy was Winspear’s description of the long-lasting effects of WWI, the trauma of the soldiers and their families and how those who were affected the worst were often shunned by a society that felt guilty but also wanted to move on.

After all my complaining about Maisie Dobbs, are you surprised that I went and read the second book? I was! Book 1 left me feeling very unsatisfied, I felt that there was a lot of potential that hadn’t been realised in the first part of the series. And I’m glad that I gave the series another try, for I enjoyed Birds of a Feather a lot. Maisie has come into her own, her business is successful and since book 1 has established how brilliant and wonderful she is, Winspear doesn’t seem to feel the need to harp on about Maisie’s qualities. The mystery is sound and interesting, though it’s not too difficult to guess who did it. Still, this book is a good example of the cosy British mystery that I enjoy, but it’s in the period description that this novel really shines. I found the references to the white feather campaign especially interesting, I had no idea that some women distributed white feathers to men to get men to sign up in WWI (the white feather was a symbol of cowardice). Times like these remind me how fantastic access to academic databases is!

Since I enjoyed book 2 so much, I quickly moved on to book three, Pardonable Lies (I guess Maisie is growing on me after all). The third installment is interesting as Maisie’s trauma finally catches up with her when she returns to France. Winspear handles Maisie’s trauma very well and I think it helps make Maisie more human, I know I connected better with her in this book. Winspear’s descriptions of England and France in the 30s are very well done and reading about people still recovering from one war makes it all the more devastating to know about the second one which is already looming (I find that one of the most difficult things in reading literature from the 20s and 30s, reading about the devastation and exhaustion and trauma of the survivors, but knowing what is still to come).

I’m still a bit bothered by Maisie’s esoteric approach to investigations, but either I’ve gotten used to it, or Winspear has toned it down a bit. Either way, I’m glad I kept going with this series. If you enjoy classic mysteries or are interested in the 20s and 30s, you should give Maisie a chance.

 

Other thoughts:

Ana on Maisie Dobbs