book log: 45) Madeleine Robins — Lady John

Note – I received a review copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Reprint ebook edition of a Regency romance first published in 1982. I’m not a follower of historical romances in general and Regency romances in particular, so I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who reads the occasional romance rather than someone who goes into nitpicking detail about exactly what type of glassware they had on the table in a particular decade. If you’re a hardcore Regency reader you’ll need to look at someone else’s review.

With that in mind, my first impressions weren’t good. I found the characters as initially introduced very two-dimensional, and in one case decidedly unpleasant. I really did think I might have trouble getting through enough of it to give it a fair chance. And then I realised that I was eagerly reading to see what happened next.

Lady John is a young war bride and widow who met her husband on the Continent and has never met any of his family save for a younger brother. She’s invited by her late husband’s family to visit them in England, mostly out of courtesy and some curiosity. She gets on very well with most of them, particularly her mother-in-law, who is set on helping her into society with a view to a fresh marriage.

But when her brother-in-law brings home a guest one night, Lady John and her new family are startled by his cold and rude behaviour to her. The last time she saw Menwin was on the Continent, just before Lord John proposed to her, and they had been friends then…

Misunderstandings abound, and I found some of them rather too contrived, particularly the way in which both Lady John and Menwin had never questioned what they were told by a third party some years earlier. But the scheming by various characters to put things right was entertaining, and I found this a fun light read once I got past the first couple of chapters.

The first few pages are available as a free sample at Book View Cafe, and it’s worth taking a look if you like Regencies.

http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/lady-john/
http://www.librarything.com/work/1576198

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2011 book log: 102) Edward Gorey — The Lost Lions

I feel rather guilty about taking so long to write my review of this one, partly because Pomegranate were clearly hoping for timely reviews to drive sales for Christmas gifts, and partly because so many of my friends would doubtless have been very happy to help with the “Christmas gift” sales figures…

102) Edward Gorey — The Lost Lions

Note: I received a review copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Pomegranate provides a treat for Gorey fans with this new edition of a title from 1973 which has been long out of print as a standalone book, although it was available in omnibus format. Hamish, a beautiful young man who likes being outdoors, opens the wrong envelope one day, and finds himself on a path to fame and fortune in films. He finds this to be less appealing than one might imagine, and prefers to raise lions… The story is told in a bare 14 pen-and-ink illustrations with one sentence per illustration, and can be skimmed in a few minutes, but Gorey does a great deal with those 14 illustrations. It’s not as blatantly macabre as some of Gorey’s work, but still has that eerie, off-kilter humour that was his trademark. And the book might take only a few minutes to read the first time, but you could lose yourself for hours looking at the detail in the drawings and thinking about the things implied therein.

There are other books which are more accessible to new readers and I’m not sure this one would be ideal as someone’s first introduction to Gorey, but you don’t need much familiarity with his body of work to appreciate the faintly sinister whimsy of The Lost Lions.

At US$13, this edition isn’t cheap, but you do get what you pay for. Pomegranate have a done a superb job on the physical production side. The book is a small hardback with high quality paper in sewn signatures, and crisp reproduction of the pen-and-ink illustrations. It’s laid out with one sentence and illustration facing each other per page spread, on a 6 inch square page size that makes it easy to take in the whole illustration at once while still being large enough to see the fine detail. The cover illustration is in colour, but the interior illustrations are in the original black and white. If all you want is access to the story, there are other options, but Pomegranate’s new edition is a gorgeous presentation that’s a joy to handle. This is a perfect “indulgent treat” for anyone who loves both beautiful books and Edward Gorey.

My review copy came packed with two Pomegranate catalogues, and one of their Edward Gorey bookmarks, which was a nice item in its own right, and I think well worth the $2 catalogue price if you like nice bookmarks. It’s crisply printed on heavy stock, and comes in a heavy plastic protective sleeve, from which it can be easily removed if you prefer to use it without the sleeve.

Hardcover smyth-sewn casebound book, with jacket. 32 pages, 6½ x 6 inches.

ISBN 9780764959578

Edward Gorey — The Lost Lions at the publisher’s website.

Librarything entry, with more reviews.

Book review: Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet

Note: I received this as a review copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Omnibus edition of the Starfarers Quartet, published as an ebook reprint edition. The basic concept is a near-future setting where a space habitat is being built and fitted out for the first attempt at an interstellar voyage, using a recently discovered piece of cosmic string in the Solar System as a means of accessing almost instantaneous travel to another solar system. The habitat is set up as a university campus under international control.

In the first book, the station’s purpose is being politicised, with an attempt by the US government to commandeer the habitat and re-purpose it as a military station for use in a peacekeeping mission on Earth, nominally under international control but in reality completely controlled by the US.  The university faculty vote to continue their mission as planned, even if it means making an emergency run to the string and out of the solar system.

The second book begins with the Starfarer’s arrival in the Tau Ceti system, accompanied by a parting shot from the military cruiser which had been sent to stop them. The alien contact team who were the main focus of the narrative in the first book now get to do their job for the first time. The third and fourth books continue the story of the Starfarer crew’s attempts to interact with Civilisation

I found the first book somewhat frustrating to begin with, as I found the writing style a little hard to get on with, particularly the way a lot of point of view characters were simply dropped into the narrative with their own chapter and then abandoned for a while. It made the book feel very bitty to begin with. But once I had a handle on who all these people were and how their individual stories started to weave together, I found it fascinating.

The first book ends on something that is both a bit of a cliffhanger and resolution of the main plot. It could be read as a standalone. The next three books each end with resolution of that book’s piece of the story arc, but leave the reader expecting to see more arc — and unfortunately that includes the last one. It felt to me as if the author had left too many loose ends dangling at the end of the quartet, even though we do see the resolution to the main question of whether they will both make it safely back to Earth, and whether they will be able to leave the Solar System again once they have returned.

Some of those loose ends *really* needed tying up, to the point where I found it seriously irritating that they weren’t. It’s not billed as a mystery, but one of the plot threads certainly came over to me as being a mystery, with clues being dropped that the Starfarer crew had got something wrong — and it was never resolved as to whether they had or not. It may be just that I was misreading the author’s intentions and she *had* intended for the wrap-up somewhere in book 2 or 3 to be the Final Wrap-up of that thread, but if that was the case she should have refrained from making suggestions that there was a further secret behind the one unveiled. It left me feeling as if the final bit of that storyline in the last few pages was missing a significant part.

That niggle aside, I found the books very enjoyable to read once I’d picked up enough of the character threads in book 1 to follow what was going on. There is wonderful, wonderful world-building with a description of the maiden voyage of Earth’s interstellar ship, and the things it finds Out There.  And while the number of characters introduced in a very chop and change manner is confusing at first, it makes for a great depth to the characterisation over the course of the four books.

Some particular points of note — this series has both good science and good emotional development. And on the latter front, the people side of it includes the three members of a poly partnership amongst the lead characters – in a world where legally binding romantic partnerships of any sort are mildly unusual. This isn’t thrown in for titillation, but forms part of the world-building. And while we’re on the subject of diversity, the lead characters aren’t non-stop Default White American.

While I’ve rated this 3 stars overall, that’s partly a reflection of my disappointment with the ending. I’d happily recommend that people download the first book, available as a free sample from BookViewCafe, and try it to see if they like it enough to buy the full quartet.

Book log: Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet

23) Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet: Starfarers
24) Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet: Transition

This is an in-progress review, which will be added to as I read my way through the collection.

Note: I received this as a review copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Omnibus edition of the Starfarers Quartet, published as an ebook reprint edition. The basic concept is a near-future setting where a space habitat is being built and fitted out for the first attempt at an interstellar voyage, using a recently discovered piece of cosmic string in the Solar System as a means of accessing almost instantaneous travel to another solar system. The habitat is set up as a university campus under international control.

In the first book, the station’s purpose is being politicised, with an attempt by the US government to commandeer the habitat and re-purpose it as a military station for use in a peacekeeping mission on Earth, nominally under international control but in reality completely controlled by the US. The university faculty vote to continue their mission as planned, even if it means making an emergency run to the string and out of the solar system.

The second book begins with the Starfarer’s arrival in the Tau Ceti system, accompanied by a parting shot from the military cruiser which had been sent to stop them. The alien contact team who were the main focus of the narrative in the first book now get to do their job for the first time.

I found the first book somewhat frustrating to begin with, as I found the writing style a little hard to get on with, particularly the way a lot of point of view characters were simply dropped into the narrative with their own chapter and then abandoned for a while. It made the book feel very bitty to begin with. But once I had a handle on who all these people were and how their individual stories started to weave together, I found it fascinating. I’m looking forward to finishing the quartet.

Thinging Through Tuesday

It’s two years this week since I set up my LibraryThing account. The original motivation was to get an off-site catalogue of my books for insurance purposes, but it’s become a lot more than that. The social networking side of it is *fun*. Amongst other things, I joined the Early Reviewers programme, which does pretty much what it says on the tin. Publishers supply review copies of books, programme members indicate which ones they’d be interested in, and the LibraryThing database is used to select good matches to review the book based on what people have in their catalogues. We get free books, and the publishers get reviews and word of mouth.

This week I did two things connected with LT. I posted my first review of a book I received through the Early Reviewers programme. And I set up a WordPress account to join a group blog, which meant I had a spare personal blog lying around as well. I decided that it would be a useful place to mirror my book and DVD reviews from my LiveJournal — and then wandered over to the LibraryThing forums and found a thread suggesting that we set up a book blogging circle for the ER group. Serendipity…

So you’ll find the new bookblog here: https://julesjones.wordpress.com/
I don’t expect it to have anything that’s not on my LJ, but it’s another way to pick up my reviews, LT-related posts, and the occasional serious writing post. There’s a section on the blogroll for the LibraryThing Early Reviewers blogcircle, and we’re planning to do a regular LibraryThing group blogging exercise. The Boston Bibliophile is our host for Thinging Through Tuesday, and the first post is here.