It’s been over three months (!) since my last “What Janine is Reading” post. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do one of these – the holidays got in the way, but it’s been six weeks since they ended and for that I don’t have a great excuse.
Here’s what I read between mid November and early February:
The Danger of Desire by Elizabeth Essex – This sensual regency era historical had its share of historical inaccuracies but the endearing heroine and hot love scenes made it worth reading. Review here. B-
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – My husband and I tried to read this historical fantasy novel set during the Napoleonic Wars. The book is deliberately written in the style of a regency era book, for example using “shewed” in place of “showed.” The writing style is lovely, and the narration filled with wry asides like “They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they never harmed any one by magic—nor ever done any one the slightest good.”
I was initially charmed and thought I was going to love this book, but the problem was that very little happened in the section we read. For a fantasy novel, there isn’t very much magic (not usually a complaint for me), and not much eventfulness of plot to make up for it. Nor is Norrell, the main character, sympathetic or likable. The book is over eight hundred kindle pages long, and since it takes more than 130 of these for Jonathan Strange, one of the two title characters, to appear, by that point I didn’t have the patience to wait for the much hinted at conflict between Strange and Norrell to materialize. 155 pages in, we quit. DNF.
The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh – I’ve been reading a lot of Balogh’s older traditional regencies and this is one of the better ones. It had a terrific beginning, a pretty good but less compelling middle and a wonderful ending. I loved the hero, and while I had a doubt or two about the heroine, I thought it was so interesting that her resentfulness stemmed from having been done a kindness she could not possibly repay. Review here. B+
How the Marquess was Won by Julie Anne Long – I had high hopes for this one since I’ve loved some of Long’s books but the hero and heroine’s feelings deepened so much so soon after one meeting in which some repartee was exchanged and I couldn’t buy into that level of emotion. Before someone pipes up to say they fell in love at first sight, I will say I know that love at first sight exists, and I have bought intense, immediate feelings in books before. But I didn’t find it convincing here, and as a result I didn’t feel invested in the relationship and the couple. There were more minor flaws, too, as well as strengths like Long’s lovely writing style and amusing humor, but ultimately, I felt this was one of her weaker books. Review here. C/C+
Ghost in the Machine by Barbara J. Hancock – This 88 page post apocalyptic romance novella was a wonderful surprise – different from most romances I read, eerie, haunting and romantic. I don’t have much negative to say about it aside from mentioning that it wasn’t always clear what was going on in the world, technology wise, and the ending was a touch too happy to match the story. Review here. High B+
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey – My husband and I read this together and we came close to quitting in the first third due to myriad issues detailed in my review. Good thing we didn’t, though, because the story improved considerably after the one third point. I can’t say I adored this book like so many readers but neither did I dislike it intensely like others. I am the rare reader who averages out the disappointing first third with the strong latter two thirds to come up with a C+/B- (I gave it a B- when I reviewed it, but in hindsight I think the grade should have been a touch lower).
Graceling by Kristin Cashore — What a suspenseful, breathtaking, emotional read. This was another one I read with my husband. Jia reviewed this YA fantasy back in 2008. While I agree with her criticism of the villain’s one-dimensional nature and the resulting lack of complexity to the external conflict, I disagree with regard to the heroine. Where Jia felt that her killing Grace (power) was the only thing that made Katsa interesting, I was actually touched by the sense of isolation Katsa experienced as a result of being feared.
I also thought that Katsa began the book so out of touch with her own emotions as to almost be stunted (one reason she read younger than 18) and while this annoyed me at first, her growth in this area over the story’s course ultimately made me really root for her. Like Jia, I loved the romance between Katsa and Po, which hung on the issues of independence/interdependence/dependence. But in my case I also adored the survival story in the middle of the book which involves a secondary character. This was a wonderful book. B+/A-
Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel– I recently reviewed this Regency set historical. My main criticism was that I didn’t feel there was much conflict to the story (either internal or external). The heroine’s protestations that she couldn’t fall in love again and the hero’s intention to eventually get engaged to someone else felt like mere lip service. The story was less than fully compelling, but whenever I picked up the book I enjoyed it because the characters were so endearing and the writing was beautiful. Review here. B-
Angelfall by Susan Ee – What a disappointment this was, though on the bright side, I only paid 99 cents for it. This book has been selling well and earning raves so I thought it would be a good one to read with my husband. It started out quite promising but both of us were ultimately disappointed. Angelfall is certainly competently written, with a fair amount of action, so that even though we were tempted to quit reading partway, we kept reading to see what would happen next.
The biggest problem IMO is that the characters had such a limited emotional range. Raffe in particular was almost a one note character but even Penryn did not display a wide range of feelings. They both felt relatively flat to me as a result. You know it’s bad when a small secondary human character like Dee Dum is more intriguing than the supernatural hero of the story.
The worldbuilding was more interesting than the people, but as Jane notes in her review it didn’t always make sense. There were other things that didn’t make sense, for example, it was strongly implied that Penryn’s mentally ill mother had harmed Penryn’s little sister Paige, which is why Paige was wheelchair bound. If that was so, why wasn’t the mother ever arrested and locked up? These events took place before the angel attacks.
To make matters worse I also felt that Penryn lacked agency, since she spent much of the book following Raffe’s orders. I thought it was ironically symbolic when, in a crucial scene, she is literally paralyzed. Also the book, which starts out dark enough, turns into a full-fledged horror novel at the end, and the disturbing scenes late in the book left me in need of a palate cleanser.
I couldn’t help comparing this book to Ghost in the Machine which has a similar setup (both books have dystopian settings, heroines attempting a hopeless rescue her kidnapped younger sibling, and heroes who aid the rescue, have special powers and may be on the opposite side), but Ghost had a lot more heart. Despite the compelling plot, I can’t grade Angelfall higher than a C-.
Have you guys read these books, and if so, what did you think of them? And do you ever find yourself more critical of books that many others love, as I did with Angelfall and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?