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September 2014 Reading Round-Up

This month I nursed a reading slump from day two until I realised that if I didn’t get a move on it’d be October and I’d have read only one short book. Granted this thought came to me on the 9th but that’s late when you’re otherwise an avid reader. So I wrote a post, forced myself to choose something from my bookcase and even though Lisa Jewell didn’t wow me, it did manage to break me out of the slump, which was pretty good for a fairly long novel. I did a fair amount of editing this September, which technically means I’ve read more than four books so although I can’t list them here I’ll be considering them in private added to the list to bolster me further.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Elizabeth Chadwick: The Leopard Unleashed – Renard goes back to England bringing his mistress with him, and whilst he knew he’d have rivals to deal with, he didn’t bank on loving his betrothed. A solid book.

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Kamal Ben Hameda: Under The Tripoli Sky – Hadachinou studies those he lives with, telling the reader of the cultural dynamics of his society. A nice vignette of various issues and a socially-driven novella.

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Lisa Jewell: Before I Met You – Betty travels to London from Guernsey in search of the mysterious person mentioned in her grandmother’s will; in 1920s London Arlette lives the beginnings of the Bright Young Things. A fair book but it does have major flaws.

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Taylor Stevens: The Catch – Munroe joins a team without full knowledge of the job entailed and ends up working to solve issues when everything goes pear-shaped. Not the best Munroe.

I would say a difficult choice would need to be made between Under The Tripoli Sky and The Leopard Unleashed. As often happens I liked each for very different reasons; the Peirene appealed to the literary student in me, the Chadwick to my historian self. The Catch was disappointing when compared to the past books in the series, though by itself not so bad.

Quotation Report

If Elene of The Leopard Unleashed had to council, she’d speak of her unintended success in throwing cups about when arguments were in full swing. It won her both the battle and a bit of something else she might refer to with a blush.

The shops are gearing up for Christmas already which is interesting when people are still in shorts, but it does help one to remember they need to look for festive books.

What was your favourite book this month (or week if you round-up each week)?

Elizabeth Chadwick – The Leopard Unleashed

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A leopard can/can’t change its spots – delete as applicable.

Publisher: Sphere (Little Brown)
Pages: 376
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-751-54136-6
First published: 1992
Date Reviewed: 28th September 2014
Rating: 4/5

Renard has been in Antioch for a good few years, and as those years draw to an end he meets Olwen. He’s had dancing girls before, but Olwen sets him on fire and when she tells him she’s pregnant and needs to return with him, he allows it as his betrothed at home does not interest him. But Olwen’s after power as always, and when Renard finds he does like Elene, she moves on to his rival – a man who wants Renard’s lands far more than he wants to fight in the war between Stephen and Matilda.

The Leopard Unleashed is a solid offering from Chadwick, the last of her purely fictional works (the others being The Wild Hunt and The Running Vixen) with a story that may not have you staying up all night but will definitely have you reading until the end.

The editing isn’t so good; there are the usual errors and the usual sudden leaps in time that can be disappointing, however in this case they are particularly disappointing because they come at times such as a major disagreement or where an illustration of chemistry is needed. Instead of a continuation the issues are worked out off the page with simply a sentence or two to summarise and whilst in the case of Renard and Olwen’s affair it later makes sense, other times it does not.

This said the structure of the story overall is good. This book is one in which Chadwick concludes the story at the end of the story (sometimes books are continued passed their natural conclusion) and the balance between war and romance works well. Whilst Chadwick writes excellent scenes in the bedroom that for the most part further the development of the characters, The Leopard Unleashed contains few but still manages to show the characters well. The book is shorter for it, and it could be said that the structure is better, too. The book is certainly a romance but the rivalry strong. This doesn’t mean everything is clear, however – you will need to keep your wits about you as you read, not only because there are a few names repeated but because there are a few battles fought, numerous occasions where the men are waiting for war or entrenched in war, and there are various reasons for all of them. Indeed Chadwick’s book offers the reader a good reminder that whilst the royals might have been fighting for the kingdom, and their subjects chose sides and fought with them, as always local feuds can be more important.

As always, as expected, the characters are extremely well written and development. If Chadwick wants you to feel for a character you will, and she provides enough narrative for the rivals that whilst you won’t be able to say they are particularly good people, you can see how with a simple switch of view, the story could just as well have been able them. Chadwick suggests who is good and who is bad, but reminds you that it’s not quite as simple as that when heritage, proclamations, and royalty are concerned. Also as expected, the chemistry is excellent, the dialogue fun, informative, and believable, and the historical details abundant. Being about a fictional family, you know much of the history is made up, simply woven into the factual history, but (or ‘and’, depending on your thoughts) it doesn’t matter a jot.

The book may not be thrilling as, for example, the later Lords Of The White Castle that aimed for the reader to be riding full pelt with the horses, but there is a whole lot to like in The Leopard Unleashed.

Yet despite the pace still, when unleashed, the leopard bites, and feel free to read into this statement both the expected might of war and innuendo because both are intended. It’s not going to be your favourite Chadwick, but you’re going to have a whale of a time regardless, forget the fact that there are no whales in the book.

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Taylor Stevens – The Catch

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All aboard.

Publisher: Crown (Random House)
Pages: 356
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-385-34893-5
First Published: 1st January 2014
Date Reviewed: 25th September 2014
Rating: 3/5

When Munroe is employed to join Leo’s team on the ship in east Africa, she quickly realises that she hasn’t been told everything about what’s going on. She’s been kept in the dark – and kept out of the payment, too. When the ship is hijacked it’s time to reveal her true colours to Leo and the crew, and time to try and find out what happened. She doesn’t care what happened to Leo, but she feels for his wife and Victor, a kind team mate, and whilst she could leave them to fate, she’ll stay to help.

The Catch is the fourth book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. Whilst fair, it pales in comparison to the other books, especially as the previous, The Doll, was so exceptionally good.

The story itself is okay, but there isn’t enough of it and so the narrative has been padded out with repeated details. It’s both a case of necessary filler content and lacklustre editing. Repeated phrases and info-dumps slow the pace to a halt in many places and it may prove difficult to get through a number of chapters and work out exactly what’s happening. There are a great many characters in this book.

However Michael is as good as always, straddling the fence between good and bad, her background continuing to have an affect on her. In The Catch the reader sees her weaknesses – whereas she mostly escapes unscathed, here she is wounded badly and so Stevens is able to explore her willpower further than ever. The wounds are a bit of a problem, as they fall under the repetition – Munroe spends most of the book in pain and we know about it – but it does fill in for the previous occasions. And because Stevens has always managed to have Munroe escape unscathed without it seeming convenient, it is excellent that here she’s allowed the reader to see what happens when she is harmed.

The book feels more a standalone than the others; Bradford is not here and Munroe’s dealings with Leo are new and presumably not to be continued. Certainly it seems like a spin-off of sorts, illustrating what Munroe gets up to without her ‘usual’ team. We may have known she took on similar jobs, but this goes one further.

The Catch may not sport a particularly interesting story, and it most definitely is not the first Munroe book a reader should choose, but it does give you more insight into Munroe.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Book Suggestions For Breaking Out Of Reading Slumps

Last week I asked you all for your suggestions of books to help a reader out of a slump. I thought it might be an idea to compile them all into one post because not only are the suggestions good, that they come from many different readers should mean that there’s something here for everyone. I’ve listed the books by suggestor (suggestee?) and linked accordingly. Obviously some of the content is paraphrased from the comments as I’ve tried to pull them all together into one post.

As for my own reading slump, I’m happy to say I have finally broken it. Interestingly the book that broke it wasn’t one I enjoyed. Lisa Jewell’s Before I Met You had many issues, but I reckon what ‘did’ it was that there was a lot to discuss and think about. Maybe for my slumps that’s most important, the thinking, I don’t know, but I do know it worked.

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Jennifer of Books, Personally recommends Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See for the writing, enchanting elements and history. Sounds like a bit of everything.

Christine of Buckling Bookshelves suggests re-reading an absolute favourite. (I think ‘absolute’ is a very good thing to keep in mind.) Jessica of The Bookworm Chronicles suggests favourites you haven’t picked up in a while. A good point about not having read them recently; it would feel quite new. And as for Jenny of Reading The End‘s re-read suggestion, the point of it being a mix of novelty and comfort is very good.

Jamie suggests Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series, and Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow. I have to second the Morgenstern.

Laurie of Bay State Reader’s Advisory suggests Alan Bennett’s An Uncommon Reader for its shortness, humour, and because it’s about reading. If reading doesn’t work, maybe reading about reading itself will?

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Fiona’s last reading slump was broken by reading Mira Grant’s Parasite. She said the premise is intriguing and the story moves along well, which I’d say is just what you need, so if you like eerie reads you might want to try Grant’s work.

I reckon Blodeuedd of Book Girl Of Mur-y-Castell’s statement that she doesn’t find herself in serious slumps because she reads a lot of genres is something to think about. Literary Feline agrees, recommending mixing genres.

Here are Scott of Some Smart’s suggestions: Garth Nix’s Sabriel, Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name Of The Wind. Some excellent names there.

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Alice of OfBooks reckons on Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or something short, for example J D Salinger’s Franny And Zooey. Chunkster or novella?

For the classics and/or literary fiction lover, Violet of Still Life With Books has a fair-sized list: I Capture The Castle, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, We Have Always Lived In The Castle, Cold Comfort Farm. She also recommends anything written by Barbara Pym or Beryl Bainbridge.

Whether you commented on the previous post or not, have you any (other) suggestions for slumps?

Lisa Jewell – Before I Met You

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Before the time.

Publisher: Century (Random House)
Pages: 456
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-846-05923-0
First Published: 19th July 2012
Date Reviewed: 16th September 2014
Rating: 3/5

Betty lived with and looked after her step-grandmother during her early twenties. Now its time to move on. Armed with a few clues from the awesome older woman, Betty takes on the task of tracking down the mysterious inheritor of most of Arlette’s wealth. Back in the 1920s, Arlette made a series of choices and it’s up to Betty to find out what it all means.

Before I Met You marks a step in a new direction for Jewell, ending her run of chick-lit titles and looking towards something more literary. Featuring a dual plot line and the addition of history, the novel is a fair step if not particularly successful.

Jewell seems to be aiming for a more literary style of writing. It is more literary, however it’s still similar her chick-lit work and is thus likely to suit past readers rather than those looking for lovely language. But it does fill a gap in the market, making a case for dual plot line fiction that isn’t literary fiction.

Along with these changes are growing pains, so to speak. The editing could be better, there are research errors, and the book is far too long. The historical section being somewhat predictable means that the extra chapters (that one can assume are there to further the change in genre) are superfluous. There are also many occasions where, almost oddly, a little more ‘telling’ would’ve been excellent, as the narrative jumps, sometimes weeks into the future, wherein given the previous scenes an update would have been useful. Betty’s sudden interest in a pop star she doesn’t have any interest in signals a bit of a character hole, as do many of her other decisions.

What’s better is Arlette’s story, her journey. Although we read mostly about 21 year old Arlette, Jewell introduces the 90 year old well enough and for long enough that the jump in time here isn’t so ‘bad’. It may be that the young and old versions of the character don’t match but this makes senses and it means that instead of throwing the reader into the story of someone they will never meet except in hindsight, there is reason to read about Arlette. You even get a good idea of where it ends (this is different to the predictability, showing you how Arlette ends up later on rather than at the end of Betty’s search).

Good too is the historical information. A lot is fictional however it is akin to reality enough to be of interest. Jewell slots in a few references to the beginnings of racial tolerance and interracial relationship tolerance (though forgets sometimes other places where it would have cropped up), as well as discussions of the impact of war upon the youth at home, the way war changed perceptions and goals. The tolerance/intolerance especially is written well, being rather quiet as befits the particular situation but no less problematic. And of course Jewell deals with the difference between life on a small island and in a big capital city.

It’s safe to say that Betty’s story, away from her search, resides fully in chick-lit territory. She may not be quite the same as Jewell’s previous heroines, but she is definitely in the same boat, as are those around her. She smokes, she meets various men, she has her moments of wonder. Jewell may have taken a new road, but she wants her fans to follow her along it.

Before I Met You is a mix; a mix of genres, a mix of good and bad. The few too many plot threads, the development, and the random changes in character (Betty isn’t the only one who sees sudden personality changes) do mean it may take a while to get through the book. If you’re already a fan or looking for that non-literary dual plot line, you might want to give it a go, otherwise there’s nothing here that can’t be found to greater success elsewhere.

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