Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Austen Novels narrated by Juliet Stevenson

My Rating:1 Star2 Star3 Star4 Star

The auxiliary cable in my car has broken so I can’t play my iPod when I’m driving and I find silence insufferable so I had to find a plentiful collection of audiobooks to listen to. I was reminded of how much Mandee at Bookish Manicurist had enjoyed the Juliet Stevenson narrations of the Jane Austen novels and my decision was made for me.

I have really, really enjoyed revisiting Austen, it’s been a few years since the last time I read one of them, and Mansfield Park, which I didn’t get on well with. Pride and Prejudice was the first Austen I read – a school text – and it became my favourite simply because of the BBC miniseries. I read it again a few years ago and decided I actually didn’t like it that much anymore, I found Elizabeth to be a bit of a bitch and the antagonist in her conversations with Darcy, constantly pushing his buttons and enjoying it. Pride and Prejudice, for me, suffers from being her most well known, and most told, story too because I was often comparing the narration to the miniseries and saying ‘but Darcy didn’t say it like THAT!’ or ‘Lizzie put a very different emphasis on that sentence’.
it was

Emma quickly became my new favourite to replace Pride and Prejudice. I found her very likeable and I love her interactions with Mr Knightley, they get on so well and I liked watching their relationship change Emma, while we miss the “I love you”, we do get quite a glimpse of how their life will be because we do get to see so much conversation between them throughout the novel. I also love that listening to Emma gives me the perfect excuse to watch the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Emma and Clueless which was one of my favourite movies when I was younger.
from the brother/sister/friend relationship. Austen novels usually focus on the build up to the declarations of love, but gloss over the declaration itself. I’m usually more interested in reading novels that go into the details of the relationship rather than getting there, and I loved that with

While I found reading Mansfield Park a complete nightmare (it took me six months to finally get through it) I
found it did improve slightly as an audiobook – though I must admit part of that was the abridgment making it delightfully shorter. Part of the problem I found was that there were a lot more characters than usual and I found it hard to keep track of who was who. While I don’t really find Fanny to be a very likeable heroine, I did also feel very sad for her that it wasn’t until the very, very end of the novel that Edmund even begins to notice Fanny, and even then only as a second choice. It’s very difficult to feel happy for the main character that has spent many years of her life, and most of the novel, pining over a man that only notices her when his first choice rejects him for being a clergyman and the crazy cat lady concept hadn’t been invented yet.

Northanger Abbey is the only novel of these that I hadn’t read before and I am so glad it wasn’t abridged. Catherine Moorland has become my new favourite Austen heroine – she’s just so refreshingly open and has such a genuine excitement for everything she experiences. I think because she’s several years younger than the standard Austen heroine, Catherine is so much less guarded and more genuinely guileless than the other characters. While Lizzie, Emma and Fanny are so much more aware of social protocols and what is the expected manner of behaviour, they are less open their feelings and reactions and I found Catherine so endearing for having such an abundance of both. She dreams up such fanciful scenarios that are as hilarious as they are ridiculous and I look forward to visiting her world again in the future.

Juliet Stevenson herself is a fantastic narrator. Her voice dances out of the speakers and contains all the humour and delicately cloaked insults in an accent perfect for that time period. She speaks with all the feeling and enthusiasm each character requires and has found the perfect pacing for the story too. While it’s a shame that most of them were abridged because I would have liked to hear the story in its entirety, the story lacks none of the principal plot that would leave holes in the story.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Quote of the Week (61) Intolerably Stupid

The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

In My Library Bag (April)

Hey everyone! So the last couple of books I've read have been really disappointing and when that happens and I'm at the library I tend to grab really random things because I think I'd rather be reading anything other than what I'm currently reading. So these are my library loans for April: 


Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager - So I'm positive I saw someone review this last year but I can't remember who now. I have no idea if I'll actually get to this, it's definitely an impulse loan because anything has to be better than this sort of a loan but who knows. 

The New Hunger by Isaac Marion - I wasn't that keen on the Warm Bodies novel, but I'm kind of curious because one of the things I wanted to know was how it all got started, possibly this will satisfy my curiosity. 

Just A Girl, Standing In Front Of A Boy by Lucy-Anne Holmes - I haven't heard a single thing about this book (I haven't even looked at the back cover) but the title sounded whimsical and the cover looked cute. 

I like listening to audiobooks because I do a lot of driving and it's much nicer to feel like I'm spending my time gainfully rather than just sitting in traffic. It's also a great way to de-stress from work and life in general. I know Mandee at The Bookish Manicurist was listening to the Juliet Stevenson audiobooks and really enjoyed them and she is a lady of exceptional taste. I LOVE the narrations, her voice is fantastic and light and they're so much fun. So far I've listened to Emma and Mansfield Park, both of which I've read before. Sadly though, a lot of Juliet Stevenson's narrations are abridged (both Mansfield Park and Emma were and I think Pride and Prejudice is too) so I'm trying to also track down the unabridged recordings. 

Also, the auxiliary cable that I use to connect my iPod to my car stereo has died and I can't be bothered replacing it (again) so I'm looking for some fantastic audiobook recommendations from anyone who's got some? 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Quote of the Week (60) Complete Truth

Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.
Jane Austen

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

My Rating:1 Star

"Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcée. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside."

When their recently widowed father announces he plans to remarry, sisters Vera and Nadezhda realize they must put aside a lifetime of feuding in order to save him. His new love is a voluptuous gold-digger from the Ukraine half his age, with a proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine, who stops at nothing in her single-minded pursuit of the luxurious Western lifestyle she dreams of. But the old man, too, is pursuing his eccentric dreams - and writing a history of tractors in Ukrainian.

A wise, tender and deeply funny novel about families, the healing of old wounds, the trials and consolations of old age and - really - about the legacy of Europe's history over the last fifty years. From GoodReads

As Romeo and Juliet found to their cost, marriage is never just about two people falling in love, it is about families.

I have been very enthusiastically urged to read this book for years; it’s so hilarious, it’s so crazy, it’s so fun! It’s always been in the back of my mind to read this, but one of those ones you never actually get to. Finally, it was selected for my book club and I was really looking forward to finding a fun, kooky story to enjoy. Instead I was treated to some of the worst, irredeemable characters I have ever read and a great glimpse into families at their nastiest and most toxic.

When their elderly father announces he’s going to marry a woman at least half his age from Ukraine, sisters Vera and Nadia put aside their feud to unite against a common enemy: Valentina, the woman trying to marry her way into the UK. As we delve further and further into Vera and Nadia’s attempts to have Valentina deported, we descend further into the depths of insanity and depravity which is the very foundations of the novel.

I found it very difficult to like a single character in the novel; all their interactions revolve around this dispute, and as is always the custom with family feuds, there is much bitterness spoken by all. Unfortunately, we don’t see the characters in any other scenario in the novel and therefore only know them by their bitterness which was the main reason for my strong dislike of them. Even Nadia, the narrator, does not interact with her husband or daughter unless it directly relates to her family – her husband Mike is forced to entertain her father and listen to his babbling and appears to serve no other purpose in her life than that of convenience.

It is my father’s great regret that both his children were daughters. Inferior intellectually, yet not flirtatious and feminine, as women should be, but strident, self-willed, disrespectful creatures. What a misfortune for a man. He has never tried to conceal his disappointment.

The father is also very unlikeable; a strong misogynist who won’t listen to the sound reasoning of his daughters, even after Valentina becomes physically and emotionally abusive and dismisses them anytime they say something he disagrees with. While ordinarily, a frail elderly man being abused and denied basic human rights like access to a toilet would incite outrage and pity, yet I could feel none for a man so prone to childish temper tantrums and acts of selfishness. His childish and selfish ways become even less tolerable when we learn more about his history and discover that he has many times causes great pain – including torture – to family members in order to get things his way. I did not once feel like the girls were helping their father out of love and devotion, but were instead feeling a sense of obligation and a desire to protect their potential inheritance.

The most disappointing character for me was Valentina. She is in no way more 2-Dimensional than any of the other characters in the novel, nor less prone to resorting to nastiness and backstabbing. My disappointment in particular relation to Valentina stems from the representation of immigrants seeking a new, better life in a different country. Valentina is the stereotypical evil step mother – she doesn’t love or care for her husband, she favours her own child over the step children and is only concerned with her own advancement. Her description is the epitome of eurotrash; big breasts (the main draw for Nadia’s father), constant bed hopping for a new sugar daddy, and obsessed with labels to the point of preferring a Rolls Royce that serves no greater purpose than lawn ornament over a fully functional, cheap car.

While there is no obligation for the author to present immigrants in a positive light, I felt especially conscious of how Valentina was presented in light of the constant debate here in Australia and overseas about accepting immigrants and refugees into the country, especially when the author herself migrated to UK. There is very little attempt at explaining why Valentina is so desperate to get into the country that she will marry an old man, especially when the actions of breaking the law and several acts of adultery could so easily see her deported.

I had thought that the title, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, was merely a quirky and odd sounding title. In fact, it refers to the book that Nadia’s father is writing, a strong passion of his from his days as an engineer, and parts of the book are interspersed throughout the novel. I felt that these could have been blended a little better with the story, or perhaps related back to it in terms of themes and metaphors better than it did. I think I may have been able to enjoy them a little more had the rest of the story not been quite so nasty and therefore in such high contrast. Instead, I was finding myself so stressed and irritated by the characters that it detracted from my potential enjoyment of the history of the tractor.

And so I leave you with this thought, dear reader. Use the technology which the engineer has developed, but use it with a humble and questioning spirit. Never allow technology to be your master, and never use it to gain mastery over others.

The resolution of the various conflicts within the family felt like a complete contrast to the rest of the novel. By the time the situation with Valentina has been favourably resolved, the two sisters seem to have come to terms with her, as well as settling the fight between the two that was years in the making. These resolutions and peace treaties did not flow naturally and it felt very out of character for everyone to suddenly and calmly drop their grievances after so much fighting.

In the end, I found very little, if anything at all, to enjoy about this book and I wish I could undo my decision to read it. I would rather think of it much more fondly with a sense of ‘to read at some point in time’ with a sense of wistful excitement of potential enjoyment that I’d felt for it a few weeks ago.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Quote of the Week (59) Respect the Tractor

Every technology which is of a benefit to the human race must be used appropriately and with respect. In no instance is this more true than in the case of the tractor. 
Marina Lewycka
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Up From the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

My Rating:1 Star

There’s always one more grave to dig.

Lately, life has been unnaturally calm for vampires Cat Crawfield and her husband Bones. They should have known better than to relax their guard, because a shocking revelation sends them back into action to stop an all-out war…

A rogue CIA agent is involved in horrifying secret activities that threaten to raise tensions between humans and the undead to dangerous heights. Now Cat and Bones are in a race against time to save their friends from a fate worse than death…because the more secrets they unravel, the deadlier the consequences. And if they fail, their lives—and those of everyone they hold dear— will be hovering on the edge of the grave. From GoodReads

In my lifetime, I’d been shot, stabbed, staked, burned, bitten, beaten, strangled, hit by a car, and tortured by physical and metaphysical means. Nothing compared to the anguish I felt when our gazes met and I saw the acceptance in hers. She knew nothing could save her, and despite her obvious fear, she’d come to terms with that. Maybe it was because, in her short, captivity-filled existence, she’d never known there was more to life than ugliness and death. So much more, like hope, love, laughing, dancing…and now she’d never know.

I have loved the Nighthuntress series since my best friend told me I had to read Halfway to the Grave a few years ago. Cat and Bones had everything I wanted – they were full of snark, there was a delightful British accent, there were fabulous dollops of humour and action, there was great chemistry between the two and they were just so damn fun!

The last few books in this series have gotten rapidly worse and more disappointing and I think the end could have come a lot sooner. I’ve been wondering about the direction the series was taking for several instalments and, having reached the conclusion, I’m still not sure it went anywhere at all.

The great thing about the series was always Cat. She’s fiery, resourceful and damn has she got a mouth on her. She always had the funny, sassy lines and she had an endearing growth arc in the first few novels. Her personality worked so well with Bones; they had fantastic banter, they loved each other dearly and they were a great fighting duo that had developed quite a legacy. Their relationship grew steadily more boring and this last book was definitely the worst. There was no spark in their relationship, no intimate moments between the two and I’m not even sure if there was a sex scene this time. Though really, after the let’s-have-sex-while-flying-through-the-atmosphere-Keep-A-Look-Out-for-Planes and the I’m-currently-being-possessed-by-an-evil-demon-but-why-won’t-you-TOUCH-ME scenes from the previous books, that’s probably a good thing.

Since finishing Up From the Grave I actually went back and reread the first two books to remind myself of how good they used to be and how much I enjoyed them. It is probably my 10th reading of Halfway to the Grave and I really liked not only the awesome banter between Cat and Bones, but the format of the story – a bounty hunter and a vampire hunter teaming up to take down a prostitution/feeding ring after several girls go missing. The development of the plot in these two novels was very well done – there were plenty of fight scenes interspersed with the more humorous downtime of the characters, and the clues and investigation moved along at a nice pace. While I would ordinarily race through these books in a couple of hours, this book took me nearly two weeks because I just felt no motivation to pick it up.

*spoilers ahead*

I think the most disappointing thing for me was the very Twilight – Breaking Dawn turn the novel took. After Cat learns that her friends Tate, Juan and Cooper have not been heard of for days, Cat confronts Madigan as to their whereabouts. What follows is an investigation into the genetic experimentation he has been performing for years on vampires, ghouls and humans in order to make the perfect crossbreed that is virtually indestructible. Not only has Madigan succeeded in making a child soldier that is part vampire, human and ghoul, but such a creation also turns out to be Cat’s biological daughter.

What angered me so much about this was that in book 3 Cat, like Bella, made the choice that she would rather live forever with Bones than find someone else and have children. She weighed her options and decided that a life with Bones, and life as a vampire, was preferable and the series moved on from there. While a series about extremely attractive, extremely wealthy immortal beings is always going to be a touch too sickeningly sweet in its Happily Ever After, Cat and Bones did not have to act out EVERY possible Happily Ever After. While I take offence to any suggestion that two people that love each other enough to contemplate eternity cannot possibly be complete without having a child, Cat made a very conscious choice against motherhood and to take that back implies that Cat and Bones on their own would not have been enough to sustain their relationship.

Had Frost been so absolutely resolute that Cat and Bones must have a child, it could just have easily been a human/vampire/ghoul genetic experiment of no relation that they decided to adopt in the hopes of providing a better life. I probably would have found that less of a slap in the face to Cat’s choice, and the broader statement about all women/couples in general. It could possible also have saved Cat the embarrassing “But I’m a mother now, I automatically must nurture because I know the meaning of life” when in the end, Bones was the one that knew how to relate to the child.
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