I read 15 books this week. I cannot fathom how I managed it, but it explains why I haven’t averaged more than 3 hours sleep per night. Reading this much usually means I’m cross at the world. Looking at the books I read (mostly romances i.e. my comfort genre) well, we can deduce that I spent most of this week being very cross at the world. Crisis over, here are my thoughts:
Books of The Week: Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. I also read Catherine Anderson’s Coulter series, Nora Roberts’ The Bride Quartet series, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Danilla Sacerdoti’s Watch Over Me, Elisabeth Naughton’s Wait For Me and Shelly Laurenston’s The Mane Attraction.
*The Night Circus is fantastic. It came out in 2011 and has been on my ‘to-read’ list since then. It’s a lush, lyrical, evocative book about magic in all its forms- actual magic, the inherent magic of a circus, the magic of faith and belief and the magic of beauty. Written with flawless precision and vivid imagery, it will have you seeing every scene as if you were watching a film and dreading the time you’ll eventually have no more pages to turn. It follows the rivalry of two magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other by their parent and mentor respectively. Their challenge is simply to beat each other, the venue for the competition is a gloriously wonderful Night Circus or Cirque des Reves and the story is full of colourful secondary characters and a fair amount of wonder. Highly recommended.
**Anderson’s Coulter series consists of 6 books (Phantom Waltz, Sweet Nothings, Blue Skies, Bright Eyes, My Sunshine, Sun Kissed) following 5 Coulter brothers and their sister Bethany. They all live in smallish-town, rural America where they are either cowboys or closely connected thereto. It’s all standard romantic fare for the most part- ruggedly handsome man from a big loving family who isn’t ready to settle down but is knocked off his feet by a woman who blows into his life etc. These books aren’t literary masterpieces and are a bit repetitive, especially when read in one go, but they’re warm, comforting and easy to read. Extra points for ingenuity due to Anderson’s attempt to give her heroines real issues such as physical and mental disabilities and domestic violence. If you enjoy these books, there are more connecting books following the extended Coulter family to sink your teeth into.
*** Roberts’ Bridal Quartet series consists of 4 books (Vision in White, Bed of Roses, Savor The Moment, Happy Ever After) following 4 childhood friends who grow up to jointly own a wedding company called Vows. One bakes the cakes, one does the photography, one does the flowers, and one provides the venue and plans the weddings. One after another, they all fall in love with hot men. These books are all a bit too perfect and the dialogue was at first a bit too choppy to work for me but by Happy Ever After, I was over it. They’re good for what they are but they’re not Roberts’ best work- as with the Coulter series above, read for comfort not quality.
****Stranger in A Strange Land is a book I’m ashamed to have taken so long to read. It’s long, shockingly clever, a bit slow and weird in places ( I bought the author’s original draft which is 60,000 words longer than the version that won the Hugo Award) but quite obviously a classic. It follows the adventures of Valentine Smith, a man born and raised in an advanced Martian culture. Set in the future, all hell breaks loose when a space exploration team goes to Mars, finds him, and brings him back to Earth. It’s often hilarious, especially when Heinlein has fun taking a look at ‘normal’ human customs through the eyes of entirely innocent Valentine. But it is also enormously silly in places (lots of orgies, for example, which serve no real purpose but then again, it was written in the 60’s) and downright offensive in others (a major female character says that rape is 9 times out of 10 the girl’s fault). Read if you’re into sci fi, like me, or at least interested in reading thought-provoking ideas on human nature, philosophy and religion.
*****Watch Over Me is basically Marion Keyes diluted but it’s so earnest that you can’t help but like it. Set in an idyllic Scottish village, it’s a romance engineered by the long dead mother, now in spirit form, of protagonist Jamie. Jamie’s wife has done a runner leaving him the broken and almost alcoholic father of a precious little girl called Maisie. Eilidh has just had a miscarriage after years of trying for a child with her unfaithful husband and the pain of it all has sent her racing back up to the tiny Scottish village she grew up in and Jamie still lives. A bit of help from ghostly mum and Jamie and Maisie meet up with Eilidh and they all fall in love with each other. I’m making it sound ridiculous, and I suppose it is, but it is very sweet and quite heart-warming. It has some major flaws, Eilidh’s family are all painted as arseholes for no reason I could see, there are a few side stories that should have been edited out but overall it’s a book most will enjoy despite itself.
******Wait For Me is (yes another one) a romance with some actual suspense in it. Kate has amnesia and relies on her husband for everything. He’s a bit of a twat as husbands go, but apparently well-meaning and with her son Reed, Kate is happy enough. Then Kate’s husband dies and while going through his things, Kate finds a picture of a little girl who can’t be anyone other than her daughter and some medical records which raise some serious questions about her amnesia. Meanwhile, Ryan is slowly getting over the death of his wife Anne in a plane crash, helped along by his best friend/ brother in law and precocious daughter Julia. Kate’s search for answers brings her to Ryan’s door and the similarities between Kate and Anne are startling. Is Kate Anne? And if so, who faked her death and why? Naughton creates a pretty good mystery and all within the first few chapters. There's also some pretty intense chemistry between Kate and Ryan. However, the book starts stronger than it finishes- some of the loose ends are tied up quite lazily, the conflict between Kate and Ryan is often unnecessary and contrived, the writing could be better and there’s a bit too much swearing by adults in front of kids to suit me. It's not a bad book but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
*******The Mane Attraction is another one of Shelly Laurenston’s wildly popular shifter romances. Laurenston has a great ear for dialogue and comedy. She is also deliciously bloodthirsty, the result being that she succeeds where a lot of other paranormal romance writers fail- she paints a wildly improbable world in such a charming and satisfying way that you’re quite happy to play along. I like everything she writes, this book included, though it’s far from my favourite (see Bear Meets Girl). Our leading man is quite shockingly lazy and there’s a bit too much of ladies doing the cooking for the big man to suit me. That being said, our leading man is actually part man/part lion and everyone knows that lionesses do most of the work so I suppose Laurenston was being true to life. Sort of.
OH: I also read Barely Breathing by Rebecca Donovan. This was a total accident and I thoroughly regret it. It’s a shitty YA book, full of all the crap I hate about shitty YA books: a female protagonist who makes truly idiotic choices, too much angst for no reason except for angst, bad writing, a love triangle and mind numbing tedium. It’s apparently the second book in some sort of series about a girl who seems to exist only to have a really awful things happen to her which she responds to by making choices that seem to have the sole result of ensuring that more awful things continue to happen. It ought to be a book that deals with the very real issues of child abuse and alcoholic parents but it just comes across as gratuitous angst and stupidity. Avoid.
TV Show of the Week: Scandal
*I heart Scandal in the same way I heart Grey’s Anatomy. Save for the truly shite Private Practice, I have drunk of the vine of Rhimes and I like it. Far from The West Wing but more than good enough to suit me, Scandal follows the life of Olivia Pope; political fixer, PR guru, fashionista and presidential mistress, and her team of ‘gladiators in suits’ as they skirt the bounds of the law to keep the movers and shakers of Washington out of public trouble. The most recent episodes- with Fitz being in a coma- haven’t been my favourites because I am sappy enough to admit my favourite bits are the Fitz/Olivia chemistry scenes. But I think it was an enormously clever thing to do- we can’t just have naughty fumbling in the Oval Office to keep us going- and the ‘procedural’ aspect of the show, with a weekly PR crisis to solve, is what will keep it running for season after season. I disagree with critics who say that Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope is irritating because Pope is meant to be this total badass but Washington always looks fragile and about a second away from tears. Men are allowed to show their emotions and no one considers that weak because ‘manly’ emotions, such as anger, shouting, swearing, are perfectly acceptable in the work place. Feminine emotions however are some sort of weakness? Bollocks. As she gets results every time, I think it’s entirely fine Washington/Pope does it while looking like a pretty pixie. And if she occasionally has a lip wobble, well, given her case load, I think she’s entitled.
That’s it for this week, guys. Sorry this one was a bit late. Don’t forget- comment below and/or get in touch via Twitter (@miafarradaily) to share your reading lists/opinions. Love you all booskis!