Books, Recountings

i have been reading disturbing things

*** warning: my recountings are of books with quite horrific subject matter. If you have a delicate stomach perhaps don’t read ***

So I’m sure you have many pressing questions for me (WHERE DID YOU GO AGAIN? DID YOU GET BITTEN BY A RADIOACTIVE CATERPILLAR? CAN YOU SPELL YET? WHY DO YOU DISLIKE CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM?) that you probably spending a large portion of your days simply agonizing over.

Also – why on earth did you shill out for a laptop and then … not use it? (Ah, yes. My good life decisions. I make so many of them.)

I’ve been reading, living, and finding out that Mt. Royal isn’t actually where I thought it was. (How can a mole hill mountain move? you ask. I DON’T KNOW EITHER.)

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THE OPIUM WARS:

THE ADDICTION OF ONE EMPIRE AND THE CORRUPTION OF ANOTHER

[aka wut teh british empire was pretty rubbish huh]

Iopiumwars‘m not sure how much I knew about the Opium Wars before I cracked open this book. But what I found here was awful – if I get the details right …

  •  we were buying a heck of a lot of tea from China
  • China weren’t buying a lot of things from us
  • basically, this was kind of uneconomical and so instead of … doing better market research, for instance, we forced them not to ban our opium from India [The ‘Just Say No’ slogan ran more in the ‘Say Yes Right Now’ direction]
  • and destroyed the Summer Palace
  • and the British Drug Lords were horrible
  • Lots and lots of egos on both sides were involved
  • and a horrifying number of people in China were addicted to opium (I believe the book mentions that at one point 90% of the Chinese army were addicted)
  • and lots of time was spent in trying to work out how the British officials could bow to the Chinese high ups without actually bowing to them.
  • and the Emperor only heard what his advisors thought he’d like to hear. Which wasn’t the best thing when trying to run a war. And led to quite a few bad decisions.

It’s fascinating stuff – the book is well researched and contains excerpts from documents on both sides. It’s also rather depressing and made me take sidelong glances at my cup of tea.

Also, depressing subjects seem to be a common theme in my latest factual reads. Yay.

THE GLADIATOR:

THE SECRET HISTORY OF ROME’S WARRIOR SLAVES

[aka … that’s just not right]

thegladiatorI wrote an extensive review after finishing this book [Actually, it was a page BUT THE WRITING WAS SMALL] and then I found out that Dan Carlin of Hardcore History had released a podcast on the same sort of subject ‘Painfotainment’ … which I haven’t listened to fully yet – but my point is (YOU HAVE ONE?) that this book affected me and I didn’t like it and I decided that I was quite right in loathing some of the Roman Emperors. Seriously. They were jerks.

My problem with this book didn’t lie in the actual history it was recounting – history, is after all, history. You can get mad at it and rave at it but you can’t change it. No, my issues lie in one of the chapters – the crowning chapter of the entire book – in which it describes how a slave is raped and then commits suicide to avoid the games. And this is fictional. To use the story medium as an illustration for how life was back then. A sort of ‘How We Lived and How It Stank’.

Cool. But no. When I read history, I want to read history. When I want to read historical fiction, I pick up a book of historical fiction.

History is bad in plenty of places; give me the facts but by golly, don’t wallow in it. I don’t want to read fictional gratuitous violence in my history book.

And, yes, I did get upset about that chapter, and yes, you’d be right in thinking me absolutely off my rocker for picking up this next book – but there is a difference – one was fiction, and this one? This one is horrible, brutal reality.

THE RAPE OF NANKING

by Iris Chang

nanking.jpgIn December 1937, the Japanese army invaded the ancient city of Nanking, systematically raping, torturing, and murdering more than 300,000 Chinese civilians.

This book tells the story from three perspectives: of the Japanese soldiers who performed it, of the Chinese civilians who endured it, and of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city and were able to create a safety zone that saved many.

This was an awful read. I don’t believe in avoiding the worst points of the world’s history; you can’t understand humankind if you glance at their achievements and virtues. Darkness shows how bright the light can be. But at the same time … what horrors people have done and are capable of …

I think it’s when you look at your fellow man and think of them as less – less than human. Less than nothing. When you forget your humanity, or forget theirs, and then well, you can do anything to them, can’t you? Most of us will think nothing of squishing a bug and there’s nothing wrong with stamping on dirt, is there?

It’s hard reading. I had to put the book down for a while, just for a break. But I finished it and I was glad I did.

Ultranationalists denied that the Rape happened, and for a long time, this atrocity against humanity was a mere lukewarm line or two in Japanese history books. But this book puts the truth out there. It’s terrible and it’s horrid and it’s brutal and awful. But it shouldn’t be ignored or forgotten.

As the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice

The more I learn about history, the more I realise that the answer of humanity does not – nay, cannot – lie within ourselves.

Also, my next factual book after I finish The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over The World is going to be about fish.

Just for a break.

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Recountings

recountings: bachelors anonymous

Look, it wasn’t a Blandings or Jeeves novel and it wasn’t hysterically funny, but it was written by Wodehouse. And a ‘it was alright’ Wodehouse is still wonderfully written with wit and wumour.

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(Sorry. I was trying to keep the ‘w”s going.)

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BACHELORS ANONYMOUS

by P. G. Wodehouse

So. There’s this bloke, Ivor Llewellyn. He has a problem. He’s just become a bachelor for the sixth time.

Yes. You’ve read that right – he’s been in the blissful wedded state no less than five times.

The fault lies in his small talk. He’s terrible at it. When out at dinner with a female, he finds himself proposing over coffee:

“Coffee’s the danger spot. There is a pause in the conversation.”

… “It’s put me off coffee for life”

His lawyer, Mr. Trout – a member of Bachelors Anonymous (inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous), belatedly follows Llewellyn to London. Llewellyn who is frantically dodging the clutches of the actress, Vera Dalrymple. Of whom this can be said:

‘Tell me,” she went on, as the door closed behind them, “what do you think of that gifted artiste? Off the record. Just between you and me.”

It was a question which Joe was well prepared to answer. He did so with the minimum of hesitation.

“Let’s say that I think it possible her mother may love her.”

(The way Wodehouse writes … ah! It makes me laugh. You’re reading along nicely and then all of a sudden BOOM! a hilarious turn of phrase and you’re choking with laughter.)

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Joe Pickering, bodyguard-of-Llewellyn’s-bachelor-state, and Sally Finch, heir-to-a-fortune-if-she-doesn’t-smoke, are attempting to fall in love, but are consistently foiled by hijinks; fate attempts to throw them together, Mr. Trout tries to wrench them apart – for Joe’s own good, of course.

“Like so many young men,” said Mr Trout, “you have allowed yourself to be ensnared by a pretty face, never asking yourself if the person you are hoping to marry is capable of making out your income tax return and can be relied on to shovel snow while you are curled up beside the fire with a novel of suspense.”

… is that the criteria for being a good wife nowadays?

Oh.

Oh dear.

I shovelled snow once. But tax returns?

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There is a chase scene, done in a Wodehousian fashion …

“Follow that car!”

The driver was a stout man with a walrus moustache, not that that matters, who when given instructions like them to be quite clear, with no margin for error. He said:

“What car?”

… and an astounding change of heart by Mr. Trout, confirmed bachelor of countless years.

Mr Llewellyn was staring dumbly, as Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott might have stared when the mirror cracked from side to side and the curse had come upon her. Indeed, if the Lady of Shalott had entered at this moment, he would have slapped her on the back and told her he knew just how she felt.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. In the rush of work and life, holidays and visitors from England, it’s been a while since I’ve sat down with an honest to goodness book, and I’d forgotten how much I love reading.

And I do.

I really, really do.

Bertie Wooster

Books, Recountings

recountings: ten thousand thorns

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TEN THOUSAND THORNS 

by Suzannah Rowntree

Princess Morning Light meditates in a hidden temple surrounded by ten thousand thorns. Guardian of a long-lost sword skill, the princess is destined to wake after a hundred years to return justice to the world.

Or so legend says.

As the Vastly Martial Emperor extends his brutal domination, rebel leader Clouded Sky flees the capital for the safety of his martial sect at Wudang Mountain. Meanwhile, a renegade martial artist seeks a hero to awaken Morning Light. As bounty hunters and imperial guards close in, Clouded Sky must determine who he can trust – and who may be planning to betray him.

An action-packed retelling of Sleeping Beauty in the style of a Chinese martial arts epic!

Ah, I really enjoyed this one.

THE WRITING

The writing is clear and crisp, and it truly draws you in; almost as if you are watching a movie – seeing the shadows, hearing the clash of weapons, and watching the cast interact.

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Some of the descriptions were quite perfect:

‘she moved as lightly as a dandelion seed blowing on the wind’

THE CAST

The characters are delightful, Iron Maiden in particular. Sometimes heroines can really get on my nerves (you know what I mean … ‘I AM A STRONG, POWERFUL WOMAN WHO CAN FIGHT BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. I ALSO HAVE AS MUCH CHARACTER AS A CARDBOARD CUTOUT. NO! LESS!) but thankfully, such was not the case in this book.

What really was nice, was the way that Rowntree wrote her – skilled, but not flaunting it. Feminine, but more than capable of handling herself in a fight. The balance was right, and so I was really able to enjoy reading about her.

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Everyone was saying Very Wise And Poetic Sayings, which gives me life goals because I would very much like to drift around and say things like ‘truly, one happiness scatters a thousand sorrows’ (…and then crack out some ‘Awkward-Octopus-Strikes-Thrice-And-Falls’ martial arts move, afterwards, of course.)

THE PLOT

At first, I was a little overwhelmed (gee, doesn’t that make me like a swooning heroine!) with the amount of names, details etc there were – but that could be because my brain has the retention skills of a colander.

But once I caught the gist of the story and memorised names and who was who and what was what … it was clear sailing.

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There were some PLOT TWIST! moments that I enjoyed, and I found the way that the fairy tale was retold to be unique and quite clever.

TO SUM UP …

Altogether, I found this story to be an action filled martial arts adventure, garnished with the perfect touch of swashbuckling charm.

And also, my word, it felt like Rowntree had throughly researched the setting for her book – so hats off and kudos to her for that.

amazon // goodreads

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge in return for an honest review. I would have happily written a review in return for a dragon, but I wasn’t offered any.

Books, Recountings

recountings: LET THERE BE BLOOD!

Red Rising is like Jane Eyre but without:

  • Mr. Rochester
  • Jane Eyre
  • Wives In Attics
  • St. John Rivers (THANK GOODNESS.)

(So basically … it’s nothing like it … but still … )

It does, however, feature a character who decides upon a course of action … and keeps to it. Darrow has a plan, and my word, does he carry through with it.

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I am rereading the book series because a) it is one of my favourites and b) Iron Gold is soon to be released.

THE WORLD 

I adore the world building that Brown has put into his work – there’s a colour coded class system, heavy Roman influences, and an utter ruthlessness that permeates through the upper levels of society.

It’s fascinating. And maddening. (The Reds. Oh the poor Reds. That particular plot twist was ruined before I first opened the book – it was written on the back cover. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH. I WOULD HAVE ENJOYED THAT TWIST.)

THE CHARACTERS

Occasionally, I grow frustrated with myself; I have this desire to write insightful, intellectual posts analysing books in an interesting fashion. To say: THE MAIN CHARACTER WAS AWESOME!! rather puts a halt to this urge.

Oh well.

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But it is true – I find the main character, Darrow, to be quite something. The bee’s knees, so to speak.

Why?

  • He isn’t a wimp
  • Much like Jane Eyre (an analogy that I refuse to regret) he sticks to his guns. To put it more bluntly – he is like a rocket of justice that WILL NOT be swayed by the winds of opposition and peasant feelings. He’s got his mission and by golly, he’s going to do it.
  • He is like a legend of old; the whole business of ‘The Reaper’ sends shivers down my spine. (Okay, that is a tad dramatic. But to put in my mindspeak: THIS. IS. AWESOME!!!!!)
  • He has a conscious. A heart.

Sevro … is still a creepy, lovable character. The bromance is strong and it does me weathered heart good to see it.

‘I killed their pack leader,’ Sevro says when I ask why the wolves follow him. He looks me up and down and flashes me an impish grin from beneath the wolf pelt. ‘Don’t worry, I wouldn’t fit in your skin.’

As for the others? I’ve read the trilogy, I know what happens and I’m bracing for impact.

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I am, however, secretly hoping that some things will change with this reread. But don’t tell anyone that.

THE PLOT

With this second read, I think I burned myself out a little, fried zee little grey cells. I binged this book in one day.  I looked at its sequel – Golden Son – and left it on its shelf (I know, le gasp, how could I not continue?!) my brain was that fried.

I tried to appreciate Eo (Darrow’s wife); I understood her a little more but … her *spoiler* still seemed somewhat flimsy. But I could feel Darrow’s motivation so much the better for it.

Some people have compared Red Rising to The Hunger Games. I’ve never read The Hunger Games (HEATHEN!) so I wouldn’t know. I can tell you, however, that this entire book is brutal, ruthless, bloody, and unforgiving.

And I love it.

“Tactics win battles. Strategy wins wars,” I say.
“Oooo. I am Reaper. God of wolves. King of strategy.” Mustang pinches my cheek. “You are just too adorable.”

goodreads // kindle


PS. Suzannah Rowntree, from Vintage Novels, has a Proper Review right here. I always find her reviews on books that we’ve both read to be thought provoking; here she puts her finger on some of the issues in the book that I appreciate. (And expresses them in a far more lucid style.)

Books, Recountings

recountings: the cover is pretty though

Some books and I get on very nicely; if they were a person, we could have tea and crumpets and bemoan the weather together quite cheerfully. I didn’t like Wintersong. There will be no tea and crumpets.

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Liesl likes to compose but her dreams in that direction are fading. But then her sister gets nabbed by the Goblin King and Liesl must save her. She does so, but runs smack into Angst! True love! (And dishes of eyeballs.)

SOME POSITIVES

  • Jae-Jones is a talented writer and can turn a phrase quite nicely.
  • The front cover is excessively pretty.
  • I liked the feel of the book. The font was a nice size and the spine was lovely and soft, but not too soft.
  • The ending, Liesl was able to take a stand as her own person. Huzzah for character growth.

LIESL NEEDS VALIDATION

Whether it be from her family, or the Goblin King himself, Liesl looks to others for validation; for her worth.

Yes, in the end, Liesl is able to walk away …

Elisabeth, entire.

… which is brilliant, but the path to her arriving at such a conclusion was fraught with looking to others to validate her worth. I thought this to be odd. For you see, it’s really best not to look to others in order to best view ourselves.

Like, no. Find your own mirror.

THE SETTING WAS NOT MINE SCENE

I didn’t like the Underground. The very idea of being stuck underground is an awful, no good thought. If there was a choice of: ‘would you like to go to the Underground Kingdom which is full of ILLUSIONS!!! And goblins and dishes that look nice but are actually eyeballs and lots of gothic weird and wonderful things OR paint a country house in the shade of eggshell from top to bottom’ I would choose the country house.

(I hate painting. And country homes are huge. And their ceilings are massive and, being no Michelangelo, I loathe painting ceilings. I’d still chose it though. Every time.)

THE ROMANTICLE ROMANCE

The Terrible Sorrow, Pain, and Heart-Wrenching Love that Surpassed All Others was ‘meh’.

I’m sorry. I didn’t get it; I did in that I understood the plot, but my emotions were never invested or in danger of sending streaming rivers from my teary ducks.

WRONGLY FILED

Look, unless YA fiction has greatly changed whilst I wasn’t looking (which is possible. I look away for long periods of time), I think this book is in the wrong category/genre. There are scenes that shouldn’t be classed as Young Adult. New Adult – yes. Mills and Boon – that too. But Young Adult? No. Nope. IS THERE NO INNOCENCE LEFT IN THIS WORLD?

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THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE CAST

… were selfish and horrible and unlikable. The sister. The brother. The parents. All of ‘em. Apart from the Goblin King. Maybe. I can’t remember – I was going to reread this book, just to make sure but after deep thought and momentary reflection, I decided … nah. Life is too short.

TO CONCLUDE

If you’ve read Wintersong and enjoyed it … than that’s wonderful. I’m pleased for you. But as for me? No. I didn’t like it. And that’s okay too. It’s good to have differences of opinion and books you don’t like. If we all liked the same thing, why, the world would be an astoundingly boring place.

In the future, if I ever feel the pressing urge to read about goblins, I shall pick up The Hollow Kingdom.

But take a character I didn’t much like, pop her in a setting that depressed me, add in a huge dollop of romance that felt more ‘meh’ than a cardboard sandwich, and we find ourselves with a book that simply wasn’t my cup of tea.

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Thank you and goodnight.