Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 22 August, 2016 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

Another batch of mini-reviews! 🙂


Some of the Best from Tor.com 2015: A Tor.com Original
Format/Source: eBook courtesy of Tor.com

A collection of some of the best original short fiction published on Tor.com in 2015. Includes stories by Nino Cipri, Seth Dickinson, Jeffrey Ford, Yoon Ha Lee, Maria Dahvana Headley, David Herter, Kameron Hurley, Noah Keller, David D. Levine, Michael Livingston, Usman T. Malik, Haralambi Markov, Daniel José Older, Malka Older, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kelley Robson, Veronica Schanoes, Priya Sharma, Brian Staveley, Sabrina Vourvoulias, and Ray Wood.

I don’t always make any blog reviews about fantasy anthologies such as this as usually my reviews run the same responses, but I felt the need to review this compilation as I thought it was a pretty solid one for the most part. Of course there were a few that I liked more than others, hits and misses so to speak, but the range of stories that Tor.com featured this past year was an interesting one. Lots of familiar names, but also lots of names that I’m not familiar with. Kameron Hurley’s “Elephants and Corpses” was definitely a standout (which left me more excited to get around to reading The Mirror Empire), Usman T. Malik’s “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” was absolutely absorbing and well-rounded a novella, and Seth Dickinson’s “Please Undo This Hurt” was quite thought-provoking. That’s of course from the stories that did standout in my mind after all this time (as I am typing this review some time after having finished reading this cllection) but nonetheless I think this is definitely a collection worth checking out.

Rating: ★★★½☆

+++

The Scarlet Pimpernel
By: Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

In the year 1792, Sir Percy and Lady Marguerite Blakeney are the darlings of British society–he is known as one of the wealthiest men in England and a dimwit; she is French, a stunning former actress, and “the cleverest woman in Europe”–and they find themselves at the center of a deadly political intrigue. The Reign of Terror controls France, and every day aristocrats in Paris fall victim to Madame la Guillotine. Only one man can rescue them–the Scarlet Pimpernel–a master of disguises who leaves a calling card bearing only a signature red flower. As the fascinating connection between the Blakeneys and this mysterious hero is revealed, they are forced to choose between love and loyalty in order to avoid the French agent Chauvelin, who relentlessly hunts the Scarlet Pimpernel.

I’ve long heard of this classic but never thought to pick it up sooner for some reason or another. I finally decided to pick it up earlier this year as I noticed I didn’t read as many classics the previous year and this book was honestly one of the slimmer titles waiting on my TBR pile 😛

I enjoyed reading this book, it was exciting and the characters were interesting enough. You really get a sense of the danger that the aristocrats faced in France during the Reign of Terror, and the Scarlet Pimpernel is quite the dashing fellow saving these upper class families under the nose of the Republican guard. But the flipside of the story was interesting in following what’s happening in Britain and how these families are adjusting in exile. I thought the first few chapters were especially strong in setting up the animosity with Lady Marguerite Blakeney, known for denouncing a French aristocrat and sending him and his family to the guilotine. The drama and the tension was quite palpable and made the scene–and setting up the character–quite memorable. What she did sucked but at the same time I couldn’t help a twinge bit sorry for her falling in love with her husband after he had already fallen out of love with her, and presently her torn loyalties between staying out of the ongoing fight and playing espionage to save her brother.

The rest of the book was pretty straightforward as she runs after her husband to France to protect him and try to save her brother from whatever machinations Chauvelin has at work. The reveal was interesting–definitely one of those early takes in secret identities and all that. Overall, The Scarlet Pimpernel was a fun and easy read to sink into 🙂

Rating: ★★★☆☆

+++

The Scarlet Letter
By: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Format/Source: eBook

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

The Scarlet Letter is one of those novels I’ve long heard of but yeah, never studied it in school, and honestly I found it a bit intimidating to pick up (might also be because of the cover? It looks like she’s judging me, okay?) but I finally sucked it up and checked it out 😛

Gosh, how sucky was it back then? Hester Prynne is such a strong character for enduring what she did with her head high and struggling to get on with her life, to survive and raise her child despite of her ostracism and public punishment, let alone the humiliation and the whole everyone-up-in-your-business-making-judgment-calls. And indeed on a deeper level, that’s what this novel is all about: about law and judgment, about sin and guilt, about relationships and survival, about equality (I love how that stranger at the beginning questioned why the man was not brought forward as well in his role in the adultery). Because in truth I was wondering exactly how this novel was going to pan out given that it starts with that infamous scene of Hester being brougth forth before her community and condemned for what happened. Was the novel going to backtrack and explain what happened? And in a way it did reveal itself bit by bit who it was she had a relationship with and what happened, but the novel was really about moving forward and struggling to continue living in such a harsh community, questions about the welfare of her child, and so forth.

On a total side note: them ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ lol. I’m sure I’ve read a few classic novels to date utilising these forms (plus a few prayers on a regular basis) but still, it was pretty hardcore here, you knew you were reading a novel set in a Puritan community 😛

Anyway, I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this book!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

+++

A Study in Scandal (Scandalous #3.5)
By: Caroline Linden
Format/Source: eBook

After a youthful infatuation went terribly wrong, Lady Samantha Lennox gave up all thought of suitors and happily-ever-after. But when she angers her strict and demanding father, the Earl of Stratford, he retaliates by arranging a marriage for her to a man she could never admire, much less love. In a panic, Samantha flees to London, only to find herself lost, alone, and nearly kidnapped—until an unlikely hero saves her.

Lord George Churchill-Gray is an artist, not a knight in shining armor, but he doesn’t hesitate to rescue Samantha from disaster and offer her temporary sanctuary. He wouldn’t mind if she repaid him by modeling for his latest painting. He’s enchanted by her face… her smile… all of her, really. But with every study he sketches, he falls a little more in love with her, and Samantha begins to suspect her scandalous actions might lead to the sort of love she never thought to find…

So I’ve read all of Caroline Linden’s Scandalous series to date (see author tag) except the final novel; if you haven’t read them and you’re into historical romance, I highly recommend them as I find the couples in this series to deal with the various obstacles between them in a different way–there’s definitely a lot more communication going on, which I find refreshing 🙂

Anyway, the principal couple here is Benedict’s younger sister Samantha and artist aristocrat Lord George. At the end of It Takes a Scandal (review) Samantha was left at a precarious situation whilst in Love in the Time of Scandal (review) the situation had already been resolved. This book gives a glimpse as to what happened and how they ended up together. Suffice to say I enjoyed it, Samantha and George are a lovely couple with a shared love of art and who support each other in different ways. Samantha’s plight from her evil father (he’s evil, definitely one of the vilest I’ve come across in stories) was harrowing and it definitely highlights the status of women during this period. And George is such a sweetheart in just everything he does–his little sketches of the skunks were definitely a highlight! I think I have a thing for artists in historial romances; Benedict from Julia Quinn’s An Offer from a Gentleman (review) is also a favourite! 😀

All in all, a wonderful novella and a great addition to the series 🙂

Rating: ★★★★☆

+++

The Major Works
By: Percy Bysshe Shelley
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was a Romantic poet of radical imaginings, living in an age of change. His tempestuous life and friendship with Byron, and his tragically early death, at times threatened to overwhelm his legacy as a poet, but today his standing as one of the foremost English authors is assured.

This freshly edited collection–the fullest one-volume selection in English–includes all but one of the longer poems, from Queen Mab onwards, in their entirety. Only Laon and Cythna is excerpted, in a generous selection. As well as works such as Prometheus Unbound, The Mask of Anarchy, and Adonais, the volume includes a wide range of Shelley’s shorter poems and much of his major prose, including A Defence of Poetry and almost all of A Philosophical View of Reform. Shelley emerges from these pages as a passionate and eloquent opponent of tyranny and a champion of human possibility.

Not much I can say about this collection except it was an interesting one that really showed Shelley’s range as a writer. From poetry (lots of long epics, but also some shorter ones, which was appreciated compared to Coleridge) to stage plays to essays, he was clearly interested in a lot of mediums and topics. I find I love his poetry more than Coleridge’s; there’s something about the lyricism of his stanzas that really evoke a sense of feeling, of nature, of imagery that he’s trying to portray. Whether it’s his poetry or his plays, his voice really stands out. I dn’t know what else to say here except amongst the Romantic poets, I think I’d recommend Shelley’s works first 🙂

Rating: ★★★★☆

+++

And those are the mini book reviews! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to “Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews”

  1. Have you ever seen the movie The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellan? It’s amazing. It isn’t exactly like the book, but I think it makes the story even better. I don’t love the novel, but I love that movie!

  2. I’ve always loved The Scarlet Pimpernel. Even if parts can be melodramatic, I think the emotional ties between Percy and Marguerite really carry the story. For them, love is messy and confusing, but they still find a way to make it work.

Leave a Reply