Monday, December 23, 2013

End of Year Review-itas

I've gotten through more books than expected over the past couple of weeks.  One of them, A Tale for the Time Being, is worthy of its own post, but for those below - I just don't have a ton to say, so I shall combine my comments into one post for them.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch:  I was excited to hear that Scott Lynch's latest installment in the Gentlemen Bastards series was finally out. I enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, though I didn't love Red Seas Under Red Skies. The Republic of Thieves got off to a promising start, with all the quick wit and fantastic one-liners that really set the series apart from a lot of fantasy novels.

But it often felt as though Lynch put a lot more effort into crafting a carefully worded insult or bizarre analogy than into fleshing out the characters themselves. I got tired of all the clever banter and just wanted a plot that interested me. And honestly, there was SO MUCH DRAMA between Locke and his lady love Sabetha that I spent half the book rolling my eyes.  The two of them were so annoying, and I don't think they had much chemistry at all, though clearly Locke thinks they do.  Sabetha - who knows?  I stopped  caring after the first scene they were in together.  So rather than being excited to FINALLY meet Sabetha (for whom there was so much foreshadowing in the first two books of the series), I just dreaded any scene of the two of them together - every one would inevitably end with Sabetha taking offense and Locke groveling for her forgiveness. Ugh. No thank you.

The Third Coast:  When Chicago Built the American Dream
The Third Coast:  When Chicago Built the American Dream, by Thomas Dyja, was a pretty depressing read.  It sounds very positive - America!  Dreams!  Chicago!  But it really isn't very happy at all.  As a Chicagoan, this disappointed me, but I also appreciated Dyja's very honest portrayal of my home city.  Chicago has always been known for having a very corrupt local government, and it also gained a lot of notoriety for race riots during the mid-20th century.  But it also has one of the world's most beautiful skylines, miles and miles of public lakefront property, amazing city parks and a very impressive cultural scene for a smaller city.

But, apparently, all of this was gained through an appalling system of racism, displacement, and terrifyingly horrible mismanagement.  Also, because of Mayor Richard Daley.

A lot is covered in this book, from Mies Van der Rohe's architectural aesthetic and how the Illinois Institute of Technology steamrolled entire neighborhoods to grow under Van der Rohe's guidance to Nelson Algren's sordid affair with Simone de Beauvoir and his one-hit wonder, The Man with the Golden Arm.  From the short, golden age of Chicago film and TV to the brutal murder of Emmitt Till.  There is so much here, and the overwhelming message is - Chicago is a great city, but it could have been so much greater.  And that's hard to swallow as a lifelong Chicagoan.  But it's also so important to understand your home's history and culture and how it came to be what it is now.  And just how much work there is to be done to make it better.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
I read Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl on audiobook.  It was my first childen's audiobook and it was interesting to hear all of the music, the full cast of characters, and the very different intonations that the cast used vs what they would have for an adult reading of the book. 

I became interested in The Goose Girl after I read Thorn, a different retelling of the fairy tale.  At first, I was a little concerned with the similarities between Khanani's story and Hale's.  In both, the princess is lonely, doesn't really get along with her siblings, and is basically ignored by her mother.  She also becomes an advocate for the common people when she moves to a new kingdom.  But luckily, the books were different enough that I was able to enjoy the story once more.

I really enjoy Shannon Hale's writing, and this book was no exception.  Ani is a very nice person and the book is about her coming into her own and making friends.  It's not about her romance with the prince.  I really enjoyed that.  However, the book did feel young to me, particularly when compared with Khanani's novel, which was rich with complexity, gray areas, and many wonderful characters.

I think in future, I'll be reading many more fairy tale retellings!  I do love them, and just how rich a story a gifted author can create out of just a few pages of inspiration.

 Sandra Gulland's Mistress of the Sun has been on my shelf since it was first published.  I LOVED Gulland's Josephine Bonaparte trilogy and was so excited to get my hands on this one, too.  But not excited enough to actually read it until very recently.

Mistress of the Sun is about Louise de Valliere, a young woman sent to the court of Louis XIV (the Sun King) and becomes his mistress.  I was really hoping for a deeply personal account that also highlighted all of the goings-on at the court itself (such as the Affair of the Poisons!).  But instead, I spent a lot of time reading about Louise's relationship with horses (which I did not really care about at all) and about how guilty she felt about sleeping with the King (but it felt oh so good, too!).  I didn't think she was a strong enough character to carry the whole novel, and I didn't really like any of the other characters, either.  No one seemed to really like each other, and so the reader was always at a distance from everyone in the whole novel.  There were no real friendships at all.

I did appreciate the insight Gulland gave us into court life - it seemed rather tedious when it wasn't teeming with intrigue.  And all of the superstitions and home remedies they had for things were quite fun to read about, when not terrifying.

The book did remind me that I have Anne Somerset's The Affair of the Poisons on my bookshelf to read, so maybe some time in 2014, I will read that one :-)

I'll be off now until the new year, which I'll kick off with a 2013 Year in Review post.  Best wishes for a happy holiday week and a fantastic start to 2014!


  1. I really need to get around to reading Thorn. And Happy Holidays! Wishing you all the best in the new year *hugs*

    1. Yes! Thorn and 1491! I hope you get to them in 2014 :-)

      And all the best to you, too!

  2. I'd love to listen to the Hale book :)

    1. Yes, it was a very fun reading experience for sure!

  3. I need to read 'Thorn'. I have it and everything. For some reason I have never had much luck with Scott Lynch. I haven't even managed to finish book 1. And, I just haven't liked Gulland since the Josephine trilogy. :( Happy Holidays to you, too! I look forward to your best of post when you return.

    1. Well, I don't think I am going to read much more Gulland, either. Or Lynch, for that matter. Maybe I would have liked it more if I had read the two prequels again? I don't know.

      And yes! Read Thorn! Especially if you own it!


  4. I'm with you in regards to Locke and Sabetha situation. I was also a bit clueless as to why Locke was infatuated (obsessed) with her. Perhaps the author was intentionally trying to undercut the reader expectations and show a grim character but for the life of me, their courtship just failed to hold my interest.

    The same rinse & repeat patten of "offense-taking and groveling" didn't help but I'm hoping that the author can revert this series to its earlier awesomeness with book IV.


    PS: Have a lovely happy new year ahead.

  5. I sure can see why the Chicago book made you feel sad. I wonder if there's a more positive book. I did read a New Yorker article a few years ago on Daley's son which was quite good.
    Am so impressed with all your reading, and look forward to your year in review.

  6. I wanted to tell you that I wrote back to your comment on my blog, and your words changed my 2014 plans for reading. I thank you.

  7. Anonymous12/28/2013

    The Chicago book sounds very enlightening, but definitely disheartening. I enjoyed The Goose Girl and its sequels. They do read 'young' but I like what Hale does with the world-building throughout the series.

  8. This is such a good idea. Usually when a book doesn't blow me away, I don't review it. But putting a batch together with a short opinion is really helpful. Hope you have a fantastic 2014, Aarti!


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