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Merry Christmas + Mini Reviews

Okay, so I’ve been a really terrible blogger (again).  It’s been the usual combination of insanity and me wondering where all my time is?!  Then, I finally return to WordPress to find that everything is different on my dashboard.  And yes, I realize I can switch to classic mode, but I always like to at least try the not-classic.

Anyway, while I haven’t exactly been in a reading slump, I’ve not really read anything that’s made me go “!!!!!!!!!” so I’ve decided to compile another mini-review post.  I kind of hate doing this because this always ends up being a super long post, but such is life.  :-D

The Hollow Hills //  by Mary Stewart  //  Published 1973

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So this book is the second of the Arthurian quartet, which started with The Crystal Cave.  In this sequel, we continue to follow the story of Arthur through Merlin’s voice.  I really liked this book.  The language is excellent, and Merlin’s “Sight” allows us access to important action scenes that Merlin couldn’t/didn’t physically see.  However, a lot of this book is simply slow.  The first chunk of the book is Merlin meandering about waiting for Arthur to be old enough to be interesting.  And while I enjoy many of Merlin’s thoughts and philosophies, the book just didn’t have enough actual action to keep me really engaged.  Still, we do see the beginning of Arthur’s reign in this book, and get to see him being shaped into the man and leader he will become.

Through a man’s life there are milestones, things he remembers even into the hour of his death.  God knows that I have had more than a man’s share of rich memories; the lives and deaths of kings, the coming and going of gods, the founding and destroying of kingdoms. But it is not always these great events that stick in the mind: here, now, in this final darkness, it is the small times that come back to me the most vividly, the quiet human moments which I should like to live again, rather than the flaming times of power. I can still see, how clearly, the golden  sunlight of that quiet afternoon. There is the sound of the spring, and the falling liquid of the thrush’s song, the humming of the wild bees, the sudden flurry of the white hound scratching for fleas, and the sizzling sound of cooking where Arthur knelt over the wood fire, turning the trout on a spit of hazel, his face solemn, exalted, calm, lighted from within by whatever it is that sets such men alight. It was his beginning, and he knew it.

A Murder is Announced  //  by Agatha Christie  //  published 1950 

christie_a-murder-is-announcedIn this next Miss Marple mystery, we begin our story in the small village of Chipping Cleghorn.

Frequently, Christie employs a writing technique that I actually enjoy – chapters are further divided into little mini-chapters, with each little section switching to a different character.  Because most of Christie’s  mysteries are classic cozies with a limited set of players, this style works well, especially in the introductory chapters.

Overall, A Murder is Announced wasn’t really for me.  There were a few too many people killed, Miss Marple was just sort of dropped into the story, and the ending was a bit too much of a jump for me.  Still, the story is paced well, and I always prefer to read in the third person instead of the first.  And I have to say that the execution of the crime/perpetrator was quite well-done – for me, it was the motivation that was lacking.

So, for me, a decent read that really is about what I expect from Christie’s work in the 1950’s as opposed to her earlier, and in my mind much better, earlier writing.

Bellweather Rhapsody  //  by Kate Racculia  //  published 2014  //  A Novel

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This is definitely a book that, if I was reviewing it closer to the time that I read it, would have deserved an entire post.  Tragically, I read it about six weeks ago, so the initial feels I had about this book (and there were a lot) have really quite faded.

In this novel, Rabbit and his twin sister Alice have been selected to attend a state-wide music festival for high schoolers.  The festival is held every year out in the middle of nowhere in an ancient and imposing hotel called the Bellweather.  There, we meet a strange and eclectic group of people whose lives are twined together throughout this weekend as they face ghosts both past and present.

This was an engaging book with excellent pacing.  I’m not going to lie: I was also quite drawn to the fact that the book was published in a classy font that made me happy just to look at it.  in the end, though, the curse of A Novel stuck with this book for me – it was dreadfully depressing, and no one really had a particularly happy ending.

Notes/complaints:

  • Seriously?  Is this how kids think/act/talk in high school?  This book would have made significantly more sense with a setting as a college music festival instead.  The idea that some of these kids were only 14 was not only hard to believe, but, frankly, disturbing.
  • On that note:  Hello?  Chaperons?  Every adult in this book was completely self-centered and only interested in his/her personal activities.  Rabbit and Alice didn’t even know where their chaperon’s room was, and basically didn’t see her the entire weekend, despite the fact that Alice’s roommate disappears and Alice believes she (the roommate) was murdered.
  • The bad person in this  book is a really bad person.  I guess I’m not necessarily saying this as a negative, because she’s actually an incredibly well-written villain.  She is disturbing beyond belief.
  • Adultery.  Per usual.  Because apparently all adults are only driven by sex now.  These scenes where she convinces herself that she should be able to “live her own life” and “let loose” and have this one weekend out of her entire life where she’s truly free – yeah, those scenes are super boring to me.  Basically, what you’re saying is “I feel like having sex with this person, so I’m going to do it despite vows of fidelity that I’ve taken.”  What these scenes also imply is that if you’re married, it’s only because you’re too lazy or too comfortable to find something better, because obviously there is no possible way that you could still love/enjoy being with this person you married so many years ago.
  • Crazy old guy who runs the hotel – excellently done.
  • Person exploring their homosexuality?  Of course we have that.  We always have that.
  • Table of contents laid out like the program for an orchestral performance – beautiful.
  • Did I mention that this is kind of ghost story?  Because it’s kind of a ghost story.  It starts with a murder, bam!  That old ghost story is deftly woven throughout this tale, very well done.

I’m sure that this book has a lot of artistic merit, and, like I said, I found it to be an engaging read.  But it was just so depressing, and I am so over being told that marriages that last longer than five years only last that long because the people involved are too stupid to bail.  It would be really nice if someone wrote a novel about a couple who like each other and get along and still like hanging out because I know people like that so they definitely do exist in real life.  

Still, if you want to read a rather depressing-yet-intriguing tale that involves a lot of musical language, you should give it a try.   Also, I first heard about this book over at PaperBreathers, so if you want a more positive review, check out what Sophie has to say!  :-)

The Last Enchantment  //  by Mary Stewart  //  published 1979

2715068In the third book of Stewart’s Arthurian series, Merlin is growing old.  This book mostly covers Arthur’s reign and Merlin’s attempts to protect and help him, as well as the building of Camelot.  But, surprisingly, this book was really not very interesting.  I’m not sure how or why, but I really wasn’t able to connect with the characters very well.  Despite the length of these books, there isn’t a lot of depth or emotional attachment to the characters.  A lot of this book was about Merlin having ‘feelings’ or visions, and then kind of wandering about from place to place.

And, at the risk of sounding like a raving feminist, this book was really quite anti-woman.  Every woman in this book, with the exception of Nimue, was shown as either weak and flat, or evil and conniving.  Although, if I’m honest, the men weren’t much better, as they were all either stupid brutes or sneaky weasels.

The other thing that frustrated me about this book was the incredibly vague way that time passed.  I genuinely have no idea how long of a timer period this book is supposed to cover, especially since Merlin starts referring to himself as elderly in his mid-30’s!  (And yes, that struck a little close to home.)  Even though it seems like a minor thing, it made it really hard to follow what was going on.  Overall, The Last Enchantment didn’t leave me yearning to read the fourth and final book.  (Spoiler alert: I still did.)

They Do It With Mirrors  //  by Agatha Christie  //  published 1952

81In2eIi7-L._SL1500_This Miss Marple mystery was actually about Miss Marple, which was nice.  In this tale, Miss Marple goes to visit a childhood friend whom she believes may be in danger.  With an astonishingly unlikable group of people to choose from, the hardest decision I had was which of the characters I sort of hoped was the murderer!

Even though I didn’t really like any of the players, the mystery itself was well done, and I found the ending to be quite plausible.  I do enjoy the way that Christie quite often presents you with all the information you need – it’s not another clue that you need to find, but another way of looking at the clues you already have that ends up being the key to the puzzle.

While this isn’t a favorite of mine, it was still a fine read.

The Wicked Day  //  by Mary Stewart  //  published 1983

!B80Jq+gBWk~$(KGrHqUOKp!Ey+jC1UHjBM4DykfP4w~~0_1Okay, last review for this post.  I started to include Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield, but I legit do have enough to say about that book to justify making it its own post!  So we’ll finish off these mini-reviews with the final book of Stewart’s quartet, and some thoughts on the series as a whole.

In this final book, we no longer have Merlin’s voice narrating.  At the end of The Last Enchantment, Merlin basically retires (long story), so The Wicked Day is told in third person.  This book focuses on Arthur’s son, Mordred.  Mordred was conceived (and, by the way, this is all according to Stewart; I’m not really super familiar with traditional Arthurian legend, and I’m sure she’s changed things to fit her narrative) incestuously when, before he was king, or knew that he was the son of the king, Arthur slept with his half-sister, who also happens to be a witch, Morgause.  Merlin has prophesied that Mordred would be Arthur’s downfall and bane.

Mordred, like his father before him, doesn’t know how is father is, and definitely doesn’t imagine that it could be the king.  He grows up in Orkney, raised by simple fisher-folk.  When he gets a bit older, Morgause contrives to have him brought to the castle to live with her and her sons, but most people (including Mordred) believe him to be the bastard of Morgause’s dead husband, King Lot.  Eventually, King Arthur calls Morgause and her sons to Camelot, where, eventually, Mordred discovers his heritage.  He is the only son of Arthur’s body, since his wife, Guinevere, is barren, and Arthur refuses to set her aside and take another wife.  As the story progresses, Mordred and Arthur come to know and love each other, and Mordred is chosen to be Arthur’s heir.  Despite this, darkness still hangs over them and, in the end, though unwitting, Mordred is, in fact, the cause of Arthur’s death.

I really, really struggled to get through this book.  I did not like a single person.  Most of them were rather flat and uninteresting anyway.  Mordred’s half-brothers are bloodthirsty and dreadful, and there are a couple of rather graphic and gruesome deaths.  And, once again, it was just boring.  Actually, this whole series kept reminding me of when I read the Eragon books.  They came highly recommended, and I enjoyed the first book in the series, but they just kept getting less interesting and more depressing, and the characters, instead of growing and evolving, were just astonishingly flat for a books of this length.

I will say that, in many ways, Stewart has written an account of King Arthur that is (mostly) plausible, and maybe part of the reason that these books were so unexciting was that they rather read like a historical account instead of adventure in fiction.

In the end, I felt incredibly MEH about the whole series, but there are some passionate fans out there – I’ve seen these books highly recommended several places – so it’s possible that they may work for you.

*****

Okay, that’s all for now!  The Afterworlds review will be coming soon, and then maybe I’ll (sort of) stay on top of things for a while.

Merry Christmas!!

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