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The Eleventh Hour

Reading for fun, knowledge and power.

Currently reading

A Hundred Summers
Beatriz Williams
Progress: 10/277 pages
The Weaker Vessel
Antonia Fraser
The Making of a Gentleman - Shana Galen Started out good, but -- about midway through -- devolved into a sloppy, boring mess. The characters are never well-developed, and the plot drags and drags and drags...

The story is this: Armand was a French aristocrat captured during the French Revolution, when he was 11. He was put in a prison cell and left to rot, growing up with only a pet rat for companionship. Somehow, 12 years later, Armand's brother rescues him and takes him to the family's new home in England (they can't very well go back to France, sadly). Armand, of course, is uncouth and dirty and childish in behavior, having been forced to grow up in a prison cell. He also refuses to talk or be touched. So, the family gets him a tutor. A young, nubile, blonde female tutor. Yeeeaaahhh, I don't know. It's an incredibly flimsy plot, just so you know.

Anyway, the story unfolds from there. Armand is, obviously, hot for sexy teacher, Felicity. There's also some sort of ridiculous spy plot or something about treasure. It's dumb and poorly executed, that's all you need to you know. Also, the chemistry between the two leads starts out strong, but then heads to Lukewarm City because the author never bothers to flesh out the characters. They are superficial; there are no hidden depths or motivations. Everything they feel or think, they express. There is no introspection and nothing to indicate that these characters are anything more than Stock Hero and Heroine #25,8897A, ripped straight from the Harlequin vault of characters. Totally bland, completely generic -- ALL THE CHARACTERS, too. No one had a lickspittle of real, genuine personality.

The writing wasn't awful, though. It was competent. However, the story, characters and plot were sub-par. IF you're looking for a rich, deep story with wonderful characters, though, look elsewhere. 2 stars = D grade.
A Bed of Spices - Barbara Samuel I thought this was a truly lovely romantic story. So often historical romances, nowadays, are what I like to call “regency-by-rote.” No matter the author, it’s the same stale characters and plots, recycled over and over again with only the slightest variations to tell them apart. The feisty, book-loving spinster set against the alpha-male rake. You know exactly everything that is going to happen, from the first page to the last. A Bed of Spices is not one of those romances, however; it features a refreshingly different story coupled with interesting characters that have believable romantic chemistry. That’s pretty rare in romance novels – it shouldn’t be, but it is.

When I started reading A Bed of Spices, it was on the recommendation of a friend who suggested it as “something different.” Rica is the pretty, blonde daughter of the local lord, while Solomon is a young doctor-in-training. The plague hit the city where he was studying at university, and he was forced to come back to his hometown of Straussburg. He and Rica meet by accident, as he was receiving medicinal training with her father’s mistress, a healing woman of some repute who was also well-known within the city’s Jewish community. The set-up was written believably, and offered the protagonists a chance to fall in love without having to resort to back-breaking plot contrivances. I also admired how realistically the relationship was portrayed. During the 14th century, a Jewish man or woman who had sexual relations with a Catholic was committing an offense punishable by death. So, any possible happy ending between Rica and Solomon was going to come at a very high price, which – oh my god – it did. The secondary characters, also, were very well drawn, no “stock” characters here. Everyone in the story, from the leads on down, had distinct, well-developed personalities.

A last, little note: I loved Rica and Solomon together. Their personalities were full, complete, multi-faceted; they complemented each other well, and I could see why they were so drawn to each other, despite the obstacles their love faced. I enjoyed reading about their relationship and was rooting for them to make it, in the end. Something else unique about this story is that Solomon is a very gentle, kind beta hero; he is a nice, decent man, who is perfectly at ease with showing Rica his deep feelings for her. Loved that bit, as well.

All in all, a very tense and suspenseful read. The writing was pretty good, excellent for a romance novel, but where this book really shines is in its characterizations of normal, everyday people caught up in the political and social turbulence around them.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories - Angela Carter I have never read another writer who writes like Angela Carter. Her writing is beautiful and excessive and utterly lush and extravagant; I can't really describe it any other way. Her wordplay is so elegant and her turn of phrase is beautiful. The stories themselves are twisted versions of dark fairy tales, set in both the present day and in a historical setting. My favorites of the bunch: The Bloody Chamber (Bluebeard in a Victoriana setting), The Tiger's Bride (Beauty and the Beast) and The Lady in the House of Love (vampire story, sad and wonderfully written).

However, sometimes, the prose gets the better of Carter, and the stories spiral into a sort of frantic, wordy, bizarre mess. Still captivating, but very strange. I found The Snow Child, with it's themes of child-adult lust to be off-putting. Puss-in-Boots about...Puss-in-boots, I found it dull, the characters lacking (rare for Carter) and I struggled through that story.

Still, two clunkers out of several stories isn't bad. Angela Carter has to be one of my favorite authors, and this book of stories is definitely a keeper for me.
Reckless - Anne Stuart Lots of fun. I agree with the other reviewer on this page: the plot is nothing revolutionary. In fact, the whole thing is a re-tread of Georgette Heyer's DEVIL'S CUB. And yet...I *really* enjoyed reading this. The hero and heroine were delightful (and consistently characterized); the plot clipped along at a perfect pace; the secondary romance was one of the best I've seen in years. The whole book was a great and entertaining read.

I'd definitely recommend this to fans of Anne Stuart and historical romance. I don't have any complaints about this book; it was naughty, well-written fun -- a great romance novel. 4.5 stars = A grade.
Angels and Insects - A.S. Byatt Hmmm. I'm really torn about this book. On the one hand, the writing was excellent. On the other, it was very bizarre. Lots of insect imagery and themes in the first story, Morpho Eugenia. I felt it was…too much, however.

Although the writing itself was exquisite, I just think I don’t like A.S. Byatt’s style very well. She has a way of telling stories that I find to be very off-putting. She’ll start the story - getting the narrative ball rolling and making me like all of the characters - and then she’ll stop the story, interjecting a thousand different, unrelated poems and fairy tale fables. In Morpho Eugenia’s case, she stopped the story countless times to give the reader very dry, tehcnical narrations on ant behavior. While germane to the story, I felt like I was reading a textbook. Towards the end of the book, the main storyline drops almost completely, becoming a rather dull collection of made-up fables and ant behavior texts, without very much attention to the main characters. It made the end events seem like a surprise, since the character development had all but ground to a halt in the middle of story, leaving little time for the organic character development needed to make the ending believable.

I attempted the second story, but couldn’t get into it at all. Something about Tennyson? Dead lovers? Usually, I’d be all over that, but again - Byatt’s attempts to interject a bunch of faintly related material into the narrative left me cold. Ultimate rating: C (2.5 stars)
Blood and Ice - Robert Masello Ugh. Great, wonderful idea but BAD execution. This story suffered from some serious plot pacing and character problems which made this book a chore to read. When a book is still, on page 300, setting up atmosphere and introductory relationships... Really? I mean, come on. The book could have used some serious editing. I like lush prose as much as the next person (read: quite a bit), but not every single character action and thought needs to be described in meticulous detail. I don't need to know every detail, all the time, of what the character is wearing, their inner thought process, what the wall looks like, the sound of their shoes on the metal hallway...especially when the author keeps repeating the same basic details over and over again.

The characters were completely lackluster, as well. The only thing we get to know about the main character is that he has long, black hair and his girlfriend is in a coma. He has no personality, no family or friends or interests or anything that would make the reader care about him. The couple in the ice are equally poorly drawn; they were stock characters devoid of any real, consistent characterizations.

The writing structure, the actual sentences, were well-constructed, but everything else was utter crap. Pass on this. Total dud. 2 stars = D grade.