Sunday, 22 February 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Three, Books Four and Five

This week was super fun!  I have still been ludicrously busy at work but rather than adding to my workload, this week's chapters proved to be the perfect light relief.  Back to gossip, drama (oh, the drama!) and scandal!  Book Four was easily my favourite book so far.  Book Five suffered a little because I read a lot of it on Saturday after a night out with friends on Friday...it turns out that mumblings about freemasonry are not the perfect hangover cure.  Who knew?

When I'm not seriously questioning my life choices, however, I'm enjoying the story no end.  I continue to be surprised by its capacity to completely capture my attention and this week in particular I've done a lot of gaping at the pages and texting Hanna about all of the DRAMA.  

I finally admitted to myself this week is that I'm very unlikely to read anything else until this read-along is complete.  If I can't get to anything else when the writing and plot were at their most engaging so far, I don't think I'm going to make it to anything else when we're back at the front.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  It says a lot about how much I'm enjoying it that it hasn't sent me running for the hills clutching a box of fantasy.  If all I achieve between now and mid-April is finally reading War and Peace, I think I'm ok. We'll see :)  I also have a few meetings coming up that are pretty far away and will involve a lot of train travel so you never know, my brain might get a rest at some point!

One other unusual side effect of this read-along also seems to be an influx of Tolstoy pretenders as followers on Twitter...anybody else attracting those?!

Anyway, prompt time!

1) Are you managing to keep all the characters straight in your head?

I totally agree with Hanna on this one - I have no problem at all with the female characters and the male characters that aren't in the army but when we get to the front line and are hanging out with the soldiers, I get a bit confused.  I get there eventually but there are a few moments where I go...D-who-now?  (Incidentally, I feel terrible for Denisov - he had better not die in that grotty hospital!)

2) Have your tactics that we discussed in Week One changed since beginning this book?

Not at all, actually.  I'm still reading on my Kindle and I still have it set to show me the amount of time it'll take me to read the next chapter.  I still haven't got round to printing off a character list because I'm too scared of blundering into a big ol' heap of spoilers.  I sort of started reading the Shmoop chapter summaries but that only lasted a few days because although I do think they're helpful and they're entertaining, the website itself is so concerned with advertising at me and getting me to sign up for emails or whatever that it's slow on my laptop and badly formatted on my phone.  So I'm back to where I started and it's working out ok.

3) Aww, poor Pierre. Do we feel sorry for him or is it his own fault for marrying for lust?

Oh, I definitely feel sorry for him.  I never thought the marriage would work out but I didn't really want it to end with him duelling Dolokhov.  While we're on the topic of Helene and Pierre's marriage - did anybody else's edition have the footnote about the original draft of War and Peace containing an incestuous relationship between Anatole and Helene?!  They were obviously written out for the version that was released but let's all be grateful that it was in fact just Dolokhov that Pierre felt compelled to shoot badly at.  I also feel sorry for how bad at everything Pierre is too.  He's trying to help his serfs, sure, but he's a berk and I just can't see anything ending well for him.  Although then again, he seems to be heralded as Tolstoy's personal favourite so you never know.

4) Do you think Dolokhov will get his comeuppance - not only for sleeping with Helene, but for basically bankrupting Rostov?

Actually, I've really gone off Rostov over the past couple of books. I liked his childish enthusiasm in Book Three but in Book Four, I wanted to give him a slap.  For messing about Sonya and basically keeping her hanging because he might want to marry her but also he might never marry her.  So obviously she should just wait around and reject other proposals while he makes up his mind.  Then he goes off to gamble and loses a phenomenal amount of money that he doesn't have RIGHT AFTER his father has a talk with him about the family having money troubles.  So Dolokhov's an arse for taunting people and generally behaving badly but I place equal blame at Rostov's door for the bankruptcy.  For some reason, I feel as though Dolokhov's going to be one of those characters that keeps on being a prat but survives relatively unscathed.

5) Who knew the FREEMASONS were part of War & Peace!? How do you feel about this?

I didn't have a CLUE!  I'm not over-joyed about it, I have to say.  The first couple of chapters of Book Five were...not the best.  I'm glad for Pierre that he has something else to be bad at but I do not care for the diversions into theology.  The "God's folk" hanging out with Princess Mary were also not welcome additions.

6) Do you think Tolstoy dislikes women as much as he seems to, or is it a form of satire?

I think it's a bit of both.  I think that the general sexism is probably all Tolstoy but maybe the more extreme examples are satirical?  In the back of my head, I seem to have this notion that the introduction in my edition said that he was devoted to his wife so I like to think that he wasn't generally a woman hater but just a product of his time.  Although if he kills off another nice female character in a lacklustre way out of nowhere, I'll re-think.  Not cool, Tolstoy.  Not cool at all.

See you all next week, read-alongers!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Two, Books and Three!

According to my Kindle edition, this week saw me pass the 25% in War and Peace.  Thankfully, it still feels as though this whole thing should be a lot more like hard work!  On Friday evening, I hadn't quite made it to Book Three (work has been crazy busy this week and has seen more than one 14 hour days...) and thought that this week would be the week that I drifted off schedule.  But I grabbed a blanket and settled down on a slightly gloomy Saturday afternoon and...the pages flew by.  Where Book Two was all war, Book Three saw a return to civilian life and some good old-fashioned family manoeuvring before we were thrown back to the front.

In case you haven't twigged by now, this is the second post in Hanna's War and Peace Read-along - there will be slight spoilers for the story so far so proceed with caution.

1) Do you feel that the tone of the novel has changed this week? Has that affected your enjoyment?

Definitely.  I wasn't overly keen when I first started Book Two but I adjusted to the shift in focus pretty quickly and it hasn't dampened my enthusiasm yet.  I get a bit glazed over with the more lengthy military strategy sessions but I liked how characters that we'd already been introduced to popped up every now and then to stop it being dull.  I welcomed the brief respite from descriptions of dead horses and mud back to Pierre and the Kuragins but it wasn't an overwhelming feeling of relief, which I suppose bodes well for the rest of the novel.  I like the war.  I like the peace.  All is well.

2) Do you feel comfortable telling other people that you're reading War & Peace?  

In real life?  Not so much.  I've talked about it with family and Boyfriend has been subjected to plenty of questions about Napoleon, military terms and other historical details that I could google but prefer to bug him with but outside that I haven't mentioned it.  But then, that's largely because I don't work with anybody who I would chat to about what I'm reading and I haven't seen anyone in the last couple of weeks that I discuss books with (I missed book club because of a particularly heavy workload on the day).  If someone asked, I would mention the book but would almost certainly make a self-deprecating joke at the same time to prove that I'm not pretentious or reading it to seem like a smart arse.

3) How do you feel about Helene and Pierre's marriage? Happily ever after or mildly doomed?

Oh, doomed.  Definitely doomed.  I'm not sure about Pierre's intellect and Helene seems a bit vapid so maybe they deserve each other?  Given that he seemed to base his decision to marry her on the fact that she's pretty and that she will probably look good naked (and he's apparently only just realised that he's a bloke that finds that kind of thing interesting), it's unlikely to be a match made in heaven.

4) Should Marya have married Anatole or should she have stayed at home with her Father?

My heart hurts so much for Marya!  Or Mary, as she is to me...either way, her trying to find something to wear and a way to do her hair that made her look nice was so sad.  As was the moment that she spied sneaky little Mademoiselle Bourienne canoodling with him in the conservatory and realised that the happy married life she'd imagined herself having with Anatole just wasn't going to pan out.  I'm glad that she didn't marry him because I like her and can't bear him and his arrogance but I wish that she'd managed her refusal better.  Why be demure and say that you're just going to stay at home with your terrifying father when you could be all "I don't want to marry him because he's a womaniser and a dick and I caught him smooching one of my only friends!"?  Because it would be unseemly, probably, but I still wish she'd been a little less self-sacrificing.  I so hope things look up for her.

5) Andrei has featured in a lot of the war-related chapters so far. Do you think he'll ever make it to military greatness?

I still think he's a tool but I find him slightly less hateful than I did in Book One.  But that isn't quite the question.  I actually do think that he'll do well, although maybe not single-handedly win the war for Russia as he seems to believe he will.  He seems like the kind of chap that will be able to schmooze the army's bigwigs and will keep on finding himself in the right place at the right time.

If you're reading along too, head HERE to link up your thoughts on Books Two and Three!  See you next week, read-alongers :)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week One, Book One!

10% of War and Peace under my belt feels good.  The fact that it hasn't been a completely horrific experience feels even better!  Hanna played a blinder when she put together the schedule - Book One gave me enough to read that I feel as though I've made a decent start but wasn't so much that I felt as though I was scrambling to keep up and skim-reading just so that I could avoid having to write a post full of excuses today.  It helps that Tolstoy isn't nearly as confusing as I expected him to be and the story is one that I am finding genuinely interesting.  Phew indeed.

1) What pre-existing ideas did you have about War & Peace?

That it would be confusing and difficult to read.  That I wouldn't be able to keep track of enough of the characters to actually enjoy the story.  That it was too long and that I'd be bored to tears by filler and endless descriptions of military tactics and obscure events from Russian history that I would neither understand nor care about.  You know, all the best feelings for a book that you're about to spend three months reading and talking about...

2) On that note, is it as bad as you'd expected? :P

Ha - touché, Hanna.  But no, no it is not.  I expect that I'll spend the next three months saying this but I am constantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying War and Peace.  Hanna's right though - that isn't the kind of thing you can actually admit to without sounding like a complete plonker.  I'm reading The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon alongside it and there have been evenings where I would have chosen to pick up War and Peace even if I hadn't been trying to make sure I didn't lag behind at such an early stage of the read-along.  It's unsettling.

3) What strategies are you employing?
e.g. reading in short bursts, using your Kindle on your commute, taking notes about the characters...

I drive to and from work and my team's going through a busy spell so I was a bit worried about finding the time to fit in the reading.  I'm reading on my Kindle so that I can always have it with me in case I find some time to read unexpectedly.  Is that a strategy when it's something I do anyway?  Probably not.  I think the only change that I've made specifically is to set my Kindle so that it shows the amount of time it thinks it will take me to finish the chapter instead of the 'location' (because who even understands those anyway?).  It means that even if I know I only have 15 minutes to read, I can see that I can squeeze in a chapter.  Also, I'm planning on reading War and Peace from each Sunday until I've finished the reading for that week before reading whatever else I fancy until the next Sunday.

4) How are you getting along with your translation?

Given that it was a free Kindle edition, I'm quite impressed.  The phrasing isn't awkward so it seems as though some care has been taken not to just translate the worlds but make the story work in English.  It reads smoothly.  I obviously can't say for certain but it doesn't feel as though too many liberties have been taken with the original text with too many Anglicised names and such so generally I'm happy.  It also has some handy footnotes where the characters make references to authors or other figures that were well-known at the time, which means that I can appreciate more of the book.  Some of the footnotes are also nudges to let me know when a main character is being introduced so I know to pay attention to them!  

My only real gripe (and I don't know if it's my edition or the original) is that there seem to be an awful lot of references to "the princess" or "the prince" when there are about five present at the time.

5) Most and least favourite characters?

There's nobody yet that I've massively warmed to but I like Nicholas Rostov because he's idealistic and he seems sweet.  Princess Mary Bolkonskaya seems like she'll be a good character too and I desperately hope that she doesn't end up married to the juvenile and generally charmless Anatole Kuragin. 

My least favourite is easily Prince Andrew.  He's selfish and completely dismissive of his seemingly pleasant wife, Lise.  

6) How do you feel about the way women are treated in the book?

Tolstoy's habit of introducing every female character with a note on their physical appearance is great.  How am I supposed to know whether a like a woman if I don't know whether they're beautiful or not?  There seem to be a couple of strong (relatively) women but generally speaking they seem to only be pretty figures to be stared at and/or married off according to their father's whims and political/financial ambitions or meddling older women.  I imagine that Russia in the early 19th century wasn't the most progressive of places for women but I'm still hoping that things will improve.  My edition reliably informs me that Natasha Rostov will be a main character so hopefully she'll get to do more than get married and procreate *crosses fingers fervently*

If you're reading along too, head HERE to link up your thoughts on Book One!  You can still sign up HERE if you're persuaded by how painless our first week has been :)  See you next week!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Review: 'The Forever Song' by Julie Kagawa

**SPOILER ALERT - THE FOREVER SONG is the last book in the Blood of Eden trilogy.  If you haven't read the first book, The Immortal Rules, you might want to head over to my review of that HERE instead.  This review won't contain spoilers for The Forever Song but may contain spoilers for earlier books in the series**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

(HIGHLIGHT BELOW FOR BLURB - it's jam-packed full of spoilers for the second book, The Eternity Cure, so I'm keeping it hidden so that it doesn't catch someone's eye and ruin the whole series for them. That's just how much I care)

Vengeance will be hers.

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster? With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.

Monster.

Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions - her creator Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost - the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie. 

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, her triumph will be short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone.

THE FINAL HUNT IS ON

Review

One of the things that I loved about the first two books in the Blood of Eden series was that they managed to be both YA books about vampires and decent.  They were dark and had a satisfyingly threatening atmosphere, taking some of the best bits of the paranormal YA and dystopian genres and making something that felt a bit different.  There was romance but it wasn't too much and it didn't feel to me like it was the heart of the series, just another layer to Alison's experience as a relatively new vampire.  And then along came The Forever Song.  I was really looking forward to seeing where Kagawa took the characters after the gut-wrenching bombshell of an ending to The Eternity Cure and I was really hoping that it would feature a lot more of Sarren, who I found almost unbearably creepy.

The sad fact is that The Forever Song just wasn't as good as I'd hoped it would be.  Where the first two books had well-placed moments of angst amongst the action, this one had occasional action to detract from the angst.  And even when there was a bit of action, it was quite repetitive.  Alison and a combination of the other main characters are travelling.  Alison and her companion(s) smell (literally) something amiss.  Alison and friends get attacked by a bunch of rabids, prompting a fight during which Alison will whirl around with a katana while Jackal bashes at things with an axe and Kanin rips them apart with his bare hands or slashes at them with his knife.  Rinse and repeat for roughly half the novel.

I could have lived with that though (I think), if it hadn't been for the labouring of Alison's moral quandary that earlier in the series was reasonably well handled.  I don't know if I've become less tolerant as the series has gone on or if this instalment really was more clumsy but I do know that I did an awful lot more sighing during The Forever Song.  Alison's struggle to 'contain' her demon and Kanin's constant judging/mentoring presence just got too much. If I'd had to read something like this one more time, I'd have rolled my eyes right out:
"There is a difference between killing while in the throes of Hunger or Blood Frenzy, and giving in to the monster. Once you fall, once you willingly cross that line, it changes you. Forever".
We get it, Kanin.  We get it.

By far, my favourite thing about The Forever Song was Jackal.  He was the only character that remained consistently interesting and entertaining to read about because he was the only one who didn't become predictable.  

But I liked the ending and when some characters who shall remain nameless for spoiler avoidance reasons finally stopped feeling so bloody sorry for themselves and being so horrendously whiny, I enjoyed it.  The second half was far, far better than the first and felt a lot more like the rest of the Blood of Eden series that I'd enjoyed so much.  It saved the book from being a complete disaster and was more than a little responsible for the book getting a 3.5 star rating and not being a complete washout.  I still feel as though the series is a good one and I definitely think that it stands head and shoulders above some of the other more generic vampire stories that the urban fantasy/paranormal market seems to be saturated with but I'm not sad that it's over, which is sort of sad in itself.

Overall:  A good ending to the series but getting there is a bit of a bumpy experience.  I still have generally positive feelings towards the series overall but can't help wishing that the quality of the first two had been sustained to the very end.  Don't abandon the series if you've made it this far but do open the book with a little bit of caution and a lot of patience.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 08 January 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: YA; Urban fantasy
Pictured Edition Published:  in May 2014 by MIRA Ink

Sunday, 1 February 2015

War and Peace Read-along: Let's go, Tolstoy!


It's time, friends.  Time for Tolstoy.
"Times are tough, anxiety and fear are pervasive, and people are searching for answers to questions big and small.  The country is at war, change is in the air, and the future remains uncertain.  Welcome to Russia at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Welcome to the World of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace" [Loc 346, Simon & Schuster eBook]

I actually started this morning and against all of my expectations, I like it.  Sure, there are an awful lot of people milling about and many a Russian name but it's no more difficult to follow than any other classic and it's not particularly hard to read.    

I'm reading a free Kindle edition because 1,200 + pages are heavy and I figured I could just ditch it without feeling guilty if it turned out to be rubbish.  So far, I'm quite impressed.  The translation doesn't feel awkward and it translates where the characters drift off into French.  And it has a great introduction.  I don't usually read introductions because I hate it when they usually have a pretty liberal approach to doling out the spoilers but this one was kind of a ode to Tolstoy and the enthusiasm was infectious.  I found myself genuinely looking forward to getting started, which was tremendously unsettling.  The relaxed tone helped.  If you have a Kindle and haven't got started, I recommend having a nosy at this introduction, even if just for the random facts about Tolstoy like this one:
"Tolstoy could be wildly unpragmatic, and the career advice he gave to his eldest son, Seryozha,upon graduation from the university - "Take a broom and sweep the streets" - borders on what can only be called parental malpractice.  As does his intention to give his and his family's property away to the peasants, and his renunciation of the copyright on all of his earlier works, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina" [Loc 494, Simon & Schuster eBook]
If you haven't signed up yet and aren't overly concerned about being too happy over the next few months, get yourself over HERE and sign up.  Want a little more information before dropping yourself in it?  Our reading schedule is HERE.

See you all next Sunday to chatter about Book One!  We can do this.